Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Darkness At Noon

A book review

     I should have read Darkness At Noon many years ago, in college, when it was assigned reading for a course I took that studied "Intellectual History In The Twentieth Century," or some similar title.

     But I didn't read it then, sorry to say.  However, in my recent explorations of history, I ran across some references to this classic, and I decided to order the book online.  I'm glad I did.

     Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian Jew, was only thirty-four when he completed the manuscript for this influential book; but he had packed a lot of experience and intellectual freedom and development into those few years. 

     He had grown up in Hungary under both prosperous and straitened circumstances; had survived the violent Hungarian Bolshevik Revolution of 1919 and the violent reaction, led by Admiral Horthy, that displaced it; had enrolled in a university and suddenly dropped out; had lived on a kibbutz in Palestine, and worked in Berlin for Jabotinsky's brand of militant Zionism; had flown (as a journalist) with the polar aviator Lincoln Ellsworth in the Graf Zeppelin; had joined the German communist party; wrote anti-Fascist literature for the Comintern; participated in the Spanish Civil War, where he was imprisoned under sentence of death; was released; edited a successful Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge; and had decisively broken with communism -- in fact, with all totalitarianism -- by 1938.  This was at a time when both Nazism and Stalinism were in their heyday of popularity among European (and American) intellectuals.  Koestler was certainly charting his own course.

     The early date of this book's genesis makes the author's insights into the intellectual (and even spiritual) failures of revolutionary thought very impressive to me.  (The book was begun in 1938, even before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact that sent shock waves throughout the intelligentsia.)

     The context of the book can be best understood by Koestler's dedication:

The characters in this book are fictitious.
The historical circumstances which determined their
actions are real.  The life of the man
N. S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number
of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials.
Several of them were personally known
to the author.  This book is dedicated
to their memory.
Paris, October 1938 - April 1940

     It is the story of the last few weeks in the life of a high ranking Communist who has run out of favor with the Stalinists and has been arrested and imprisoned.
     The main character, Nicolas Salmanovich Rubashov, is an old bolshevik whose commitment to the Revolution predates 1917.  He has held a high position in the Party, and has worked in foreign countries as both a revolutionary activist, and as a high government functionary.  He understands what is ahead of him in prison: he has been there before, and he knows how the game will be played.  And he has time to think.

     I cannot call the fictional Rubashov a good man.  But he is certainly a man.  And through him, Koestler preserves the memory of a whole class of men whom we might otherwise only know, and therefore dismiss, as nothing but apparatchiks.  Something of human experience, and therefore of humanity, has been preserved; and for that I must thank Arthur Koestler.

     I shall not further summarize or analyze the book:  it is best to read it as Koestler wrote it.  But its deep insights into the failures of logic and rationality, the failures of personal philosophy, the failures of Marxist historicism, and the essential failures of both the Trotskyite and Stalinist factions of the Party are, in my view, of especial relevance today.

     Why?  Because while Stalin is dead and discredited, the ghost of the old bolshevik Trotsky lives on in America in the mindset of men like Saul Alinsky and Leo Strauss, whose influence has been enormous on the thinking, and the modus operandi, of the CIA and the current crop of Neo-conservatives who run both American political parties in their appointed directions.

     And Rubashov -- Koestler -- knows, at the last, where that mindset is going to lead.

     Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the last part, where Rubashov discovers, within himself, what he calls "the Grammatical Fiction."  I will not give his discovery away; but you can easily discover it for yourself.  I hope that you do; or have.

     It could make you hope that Darkness At Noon might be subtitled, "Or, A Small Candle At Midnight."

     I urge a fresh reading of this important book.

*       *       *

     Wikipedia has summaries of both Koestler's life and Darkness At Noon.   Comments and criticisms are most welcome.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paul Craig Roberts on the Economy, March 8, 2012

     There are many people who would really like to know what is going on in the economy, if they knew where to find out.  They -- we -- are too much the captives of the talking heads (and clicking keyboards) of the mainstream media who, whether of the left or of the right, are presenting a mixed and muddled message.  (For a number of reasons that I'm sure will occur to you, we need not discuss them here in detail.)

     May I recommend that you watch a recent video?  It has its own set of talking heads, to be sure, and it also has its limitations, as you will see.  But it has two things, at least, going for it:  (a) Paul Craig Roberts, an economist (whom I have mentioned before, here and here), and (b) a friendly interviewer who is genuinely interested in what he has to say, and gives him a chance to say it.

     The relevant part of the video is a little over 20 minutes in length, and is enlightening.

     One of the important points that Mr. Roberts makes is that the financial "deciders" (my word), are exclusively interested in the short-term benefits for the few (themselves), rather than the long-term benefits for the larger population.  I was reminded of Henry Hazlitt's perspective, very different from that of the modern financial class, which he clearly gives in his essay, "Economics in One Lesson."  This essay is a readily available and easily readable classic from several decades ago, and mentioned by me in an earlier post.

     I hope that you can spare a few minutes to listen to Paul Craig Roberts.  The interview begins with the current Republican campaign (ho hum), but soon moves into more important matters.

     This might be a link worth passing on to a friend.

*       *       *

     Your comments, necessarily incomplete and perhaps even fragmentary, are nevertheless most welcome.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb

A book review

     We've all seen the famous pictures of nuclear explosions.  That first one over Hiroshima, with the mushroom rising through a layer of clouds.  Or one of the early hydrogen bomb tests, with the central pillar of cloud and fire, and around it the perfect ring (caused by the invisible heat wave), rapidly expanding like a receding halo.

     If you looked at those pictures only with the eyes of a mathematician or a theoretical physicist, you could imagine you were seeing some kind of grandeur, some great triumph of science -- the symmetry of it; the awe-inspiring revelation of E equals m c squared.

     But there are also the eyes of the biologist and the chemist, who see a vast community of living creatures destroyed or crippled, instantly erased from the world, or dying quickly of radiation sickness or slowly of cancers, the soil sterilized and the land wasted, the thousands of tons of toxic dust and compounds instantly created ex nihilo to do their dirty work, then to be carried on the wind around the world, silent killers entering the food chain, latent poisons working ghastly deformities upon unborn babies.  Some of these new-formed chemicals will last for many thousands of years.

     And there are the eyes of the seasoned soldier, who sees hidden under the mushroom one more battlefield, and knows from indelible experience what all battlefields are like, and what they all mean.

     And there are the eyes of the terrified children and their confused mothers, trying to escape from whatever just happened.

     Just my thoughts.

     In Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb, Richard Rhodes has written a masterful history of the development of nuclear weapons, not only from the point of view of the western powers' Manhattan Project, but also of the Soviet program, and the vital factor that forever linked them -- the licit and illicit transfers of technology from West to East by politicians, scientists and military men, and the espionage activities that accompanied them.

     The book is thorough and detailed:  one can follow the technical and moral history through the experiences of dozens of the participants.  I was particularly interested in the stories about Harry Truman, Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and Curtis LeMay.  One can see their moral development -- or lack of it -- as the story unfolds.

     Truman, of course, "made the decision" to drop the bombs.  Interestingly he also, later, resisted pressure to drop them in Korea, or indeed to use them anywhere else.  He did not like the thought of killing thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of innocents.

     Oppenheimer also had his doubts.  And he also had outright moral convictions, which some of his associates understood and shared.  But some of them, including Edward Teller, did not; they had other ambitions.

     The stories of the famous spies, Klaus Fuchs and Julius Rosenberg, are told in considerable detail, allowing one to ponder intelligently their technical and moral consequences.

     Mr. Rhodes' careful and diagrammatic explanation of the techniques necessary to bend and concentrate the enormous nuclear energies in upon themselves -- an implosion, the indispensable pre-requisite of a hydrogen bomb -- cause one to realize how much focused intention, how much determination, how much sustained human effort was necessary to produce a phenomenon so artificial and so destructive.

     The book does not much discuss the subject of who was really behind the efforts to build the bomb.  I will, likewise, leave it alone.  If you can read between the lines, it is probably as clear as it needs to be.

    But I do want to say that I was strangely affected by seeing two photographs that are included in the book.

     The first one is a photo of the Soviet test, in Khazakstan in 1949, of "Joe 1,"  the Russian copy of the American "Fat Man" bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  When I look at that chaotic, streaky, filthy, fiery-black cloud, I can almost smell it.  It just reeks with poisonous death.

     The second photo is worse.  It is a picture of a nuclear test in Nevada, presumably in the 1950s.  There are a handful of Joshua trees, tiny in the foreground, and behind them looms hugely the beginning of the fireball.   It is already perhaps a thousand feet or more in diameter, and it will extinguish the trees in another split-second.

     It has only been a few milliseconds since the detonation.  The thing is almost a perfect sphere, an enormous bubble.  You can see a kind of wavy shimmering skin, like some kind of unnatural borealis.  Hundreds of spots of light, small and smaller, are visible within it.  And unexpectedly, starkly visible on the left side, at its equator, is some sort of disfigured vacuole with a pair of white puffy gloms that look like nothing so much as they look like protoplasmic tissue.  The effect is like seeing the hatching of some horrible Cosmic Egg, the emergence of some Growing Death.   Or maybe just seeing a Giant Blind Eyeball.

     I know that it is illusion.  Apparently some bit of mechanism on one side of the test device has been more resistant to the forces of disintegration, and the process of vaporization is not quite complete.  It is nothing living, just the consequential resolution of enormous energies.  It has no mind, no awareness that it kills.

     Nevertheless, the strange, creepy, sickening impression remains in my mind.  Is it the visual equivalent of fingernails scratched heavily across a chalkboard?

     I wonder if the whole idea of exploding nuclear bombs on this earth is creepy in its unnaturalness.  Or is it just me?

*       *       *

     Comments are always most welcome.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Another Little Hole In The Cover Story

     Last May, 2011, when "Osama Bin Laden" was "killed" in a "daring raid" by brave "US Navy Seals from Team Six," and "his body was buried at sea" out of "respect for Muslim traditions," I posted an article with numerous links to fairly authoritative sources, indicating that the whole affair was an elaborate fabrication, for the simple reason that Mr. Bin Laden was almost certainly long dead.  Long, as in about a decade.  You can re-read that article here, if you like.

     Information has now been released that the "body of Osama Bin Laden" was NOT "buried at sea" -- as had been solemnly announced by the Obama Administration last year.  Instead it was loaded onto a plane by the CIA, and shipped to Dover, Delaware.  Details here.   (Where is "the body" now?  Perhaps Stephen Spielberg has found a place for it in some government warehouse, beside the Ark of the Covenant.)

     Where does this leave us?  It leaves us stuck with a government that is lying again, that's where it leaves us.

     And our news-and-entertainment people cover for them.  Again.

*       *       *

     I originally added a harangue about our Two-Party Establishment, but decided to drop it.

     Comments always welcome.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Google Advances

     According to internet sources, Google has altered its Privacy policy, as of today, March 1.  Which is to say, more precisely, Google has announced its enlargement of its No-Privacy policy.

     We are advised that now, all our personal data is collected and kept in one place, presumably forever.  Our website choices, our Facebook profiles, friends, and conversations, our Google searches, our map searches, our book searches, our You-tubes, our downloads, our comments on other sites.  Given that our computers have permanently resident cookies, and our operating systems have backdoors and trapdoors, this suggests that our on-line banking transactions, passwords, security arrangements, keystrokes -- in a word, everything -- is available.  To whomever, wherever, whenever.

     We are to suppose that Google is operated by a few young, free-spirited entrepreneurs who are really fun-loving folks just doing us a big service.  Their development of our personal profiles is only to serve us better!

     Well, who cares whether they profile you or not?  As long as you can get good air-fares, special discounts, link-up with friends -- what's not to like?

     And, for producing this site, I am, like all the rest, under the Friendly Eye.  And you, who are reading it right now, are under that same Eye.

     Not of Mordor.   Of course not.

     It is only the White Hand of Isengard, my friends.  Saruman the white wizard has ever been our friend.

     But.  It is always a good time to . . . think carefully.  Choose your friends.