The Road: A Bleak Panegyric to Civilization

The Road, a novel by Cormac McCarthy, Vintage International, 2006, 256 pages.

It’s hard to recommend this incredible book. Though gripping, moving, and beautifully written, it is not easy to read. I had to put it down every so often just for the relief of reconnecting with the living world we take for granted. The end credits of the film based on the novel are accompanied not by music, but by the mundane ambience of a suburban neighborhood: people talking, lawnmowers, barking dogs, planes passing overhead — sounds forever lost in the post-apocalyptic world in which McCarthy’s characters struggle — a world so well rendered it is painful to contemplate.

McCarthy’s style is an acquired taste. He never met a metaphor he didn’t like and his Westerns have so much weather one can easily lose track of the plot. This novel is written in a kind of blank verse, with paragraphs structured as stanzas.  My initial reaction was to return the book to the shelf in disgust at what seemed an artsy affectation, but the words captured me. In truth, the abstract style helps make the horrific events in the story bearable. Quotation marks are neither used nor required, since, for the most part, there are only two characters – The Man and his son, The Boy –  and one always knows who is speaking. Potential readers who believe the style might be off-putting are encouraged to listen to the audio book, performed wonderfully by Rupert Degas. Listening to it, one has no idea the printed version is not written as a conventional novel.

An unspecified calamity has devastated the world. Inaugurated by a “long shear of light and then a series of low concussions,” the Apocalypse might well be the aftermath of an asteroid impact like the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Years later, ash continues to fall from the perpetually overcast sky and the earth trembles with aftershocks. The man and boy push a shopping cart filled with their meager provisions through a nightmare landscape of dead forests and looted cities. Hiding in terror from roving gangs of cannibals, they trudge south, where it might be warmer; where there might be…something. The man’s tattered road map taunts them with the names of places that no longer exist. They carry a pistol with two bullets: one for each of them, should they be captured by cannibals. The man drills his son, who is, perhaps, ten, in the art of effective suicide.

The bleak tone is reminiscent of Nevil Shute’s 1957 post nuclear war novel On the Beach, but while Shute’s characters wallow in well-fed self-pity, McCarthy’s man and boy, although starving and freezing, reassure one another that they are “carrying the fire,” that they must not merely survive but remain the good guys. A physician before his world ended, the man has tried to plant the spark of civilization within his son, to teach him a code of ethics that makes him more than a starving animal. The boy takes the lesson to heart and pleads with his father to show kindness to those even more wretched than they. Shaped by his father’s fierce love, the boy radiates angelic goodness even when they are both at death’s door. It sounds corny but McCarthy pulls it off. At the end the reader is convinced that as long as such a child can exist, there is hope, even in the midst of horror.

McCarthy’s subtext is that civilization is as fragile as a soap bubble. We are bound together by an intricate web of trust and cooperation. Snap one strand of that web, and things fall apart with surprising suddenness. Cosmic calamities are not required to end civilization. Something that merely prevented grocery trucks from making their scheduled deliveries for a couple of weeks would do the job. Admirers of the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations might do well to consider this. The roadside reenactment of the Paleolithic Era stopped short of offering a practical demonstration of the sustainability of the socio-economic scheme being advocated, which is, in essence, cannibalism.


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The Oddball Club

I resonated to this essay by classicist Victor David Hanson. Dr. Hanson expresses eloquently the angst of wandering the world feeling as if one’s head is about to explode into a vacuum of stupidity.

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“Sunshine” — Ed Wood, Eat Your Heart Out

In all fairness, I was prepared to hate “Sunshine” by reviews that praised its “stunning” imagery but nothing else. Mainstream reviewers generally don’t know what to make of science fiction and when confronted by an incomprehensible mess like this movie they assume they’ve witnessed something deep and meaningful that was way over their heads, so they play it safe by praising the imagery. I approached “Sunshine” with extremely low expectations but was bitterly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, my family and I enjoyed watching it, once we got into “Mystery Science Theater 3000” mode. Viewed that way, “Sunshine” is in a class by itself. There are rare films like”Gattaca” in which good acting, writing and direction serve a plot driven by an intriguing SF premise. There are lightweight romps like “Star Wars” in which the heroes ride spaceships instead of horses. There are occasional clever transpositions of classical drama into SF, such as “Forbidden Planet,” based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” There are  epics like “2001: A Space Odyssey” that break the rules and still mostly succeed. “Sunshine” fits in none of these categories. Although it wants to be “2001,” it is more akin to “Plan Nine from Outer Space” — the “Citizen Kane” of bad science fiction films. It is so bad that it is almost worth watching just for the fun of mocking it.

No plot spoilers follow here — because there is no plot to spoil. In any case, we’ve seen it all before. The only original plot device in “Sunshine” is a minor one (although it is unintentionally hilarious).

In some vague future the sun’s pilot light has gone out and the giant spacecraft Icarus Two is dispatched to drop a bomb to reignite it. Icarus One, we learn, went missing some years before. There are, I think, eight crew members on Icarus Two: Unstable Asian Guy, Sensible Asian Guy, Asian Chick, White Chick, Suntanned Dude, Sensible White Guy, and Soulful Bug Eyes, the purported hero. Wait! That’s only seven. I’m sure there was another guy. Oh well. It doesn’t matter. Nobody will miss him.

While passing Mercury they pick up a distress signal that comes from — surprise — Icarus One. Although the fate of the world depends on their mission and whenever this happens on Star Trek it means trouble, they decide to change course to investigate. Using a supercomputer, Unstable Asian Guy — their crack navigator — makes a mistake in his arithmetic that somehow sets fire to the greenhouse that produces their oxygen. They extinguish the fire by flooding the greenhouse with — brace yourself — oxygen. Honest. Bleeding the air off into space or filling the greenhouse with nitrogen doesn’t occur to these hand-picked, fate-of-the-human-race-rides-on-their-shoulders geniuses. The resulting flash fire forces them to choose who must be sacrificed to ensure that enough O2 remains to complete the mission. Pathos and heart-rending decisions loom, but fate lends a hand and characters start dying randomly from various misadventures, sparing them the need for any development.

Meanwhile, I think, they rendezvous with Icarus One and board it. Although the derelict is filled with several tons of dandruff its greenhouse is still going strong and there is much rejoicing on Icarus Two, but — surprise — a monster lurks aboard Icarus One. He has really bad sunburn and asthma — probably from the dandruff. We named him Crispy Critter. Crispy is the lone survivor from Icarus One and he has theological issues with the whole relighting the sun business, so he kills a couple of guys and sneaks aboard Icarus II, where he kills everyone else except Bug Eyes. Lots of things happen and there are bright colors and spectacular special effects and loud noises. Eventually, Bug Eyes drops the bomb on the sun and goes to Heaven or burns up or something, and the world is saved.

David Letterman used to have a spot titled “Limited Perspective,” in which a specialist would review a movie from his own narrow point of view: thus a dentist might evaluate the actors’ teeth or a doctor would enumerate the injuries likely to result during a fight scene. As a stunning imagery specialist, I found “Sunshine” underwhelming. The incessant lens flares and solarized frames mean nothing. They are intended to create the illusion that something deep and profound is happening, but, in reality, nothing is. The huge spaceship turns and tumbles murkily and incomprehensibly in needlessly tight closeups, so we never get a sense of its scale or any feeling that it is a vessel carrying people. The spaceship interiors consist mostly of long shiny corridors, which might be a welcome change from the standard smoky, claustrophobic, spacecraft interiors that “Alien” made de rigueur, if anything interesting ever happened in them, but nothing does. There is no reason to care about any of the characters and, indeed, we are delighted as they die off, because they are so astoundingly stupid and boring and every demise brings us closer to the end of this tedious and pointless ordeal.

With a good script, the premise could have been made to work. The device of an urgent space mission threatened by insufficient consumables engendered sweaty-palm suspense in Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story “The Cold Equations.” Instead of exploiting the drama inherent in the situation, however, “Sunshine’s” director throws it away by dragging a monster in by the ears. Even if we cared about it, the oxygen shortage becomes meaningless when there is a monster on the loose.

Bad money drives out good, and bad cinematic SF makes it harder to produce movies based on the good story ideas that remain untapped in literary SF. “The Cold Equations” could be produced with a minimal budget and a cast of two working on one set, and it would have infinitely more drama and pathos than a thousand big budget cow flops like “Sunshine.”

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Space Art : How to Draw and Paint Planets, Moons, and Landscapes of Alien Worlds

cover of space art book
Michael Carroll; Watson-Guptil; 144 pages, color illustrations, paperback, $24.95, ISBN 9780823048762

Reviewed by Don Dixon

I learned to paint from the wonderful Walter Foster art book series, which featured titles such as “How to Paint Landscapes,” “How to Draw and Paint Seascapes,” etc. Every niche of hobbyist painting was covered, from sunsets to still lifes. Typically, each subject would be explored through a series of illustrations showing the development of a painting from simple charcoal sketch, to rough color, to the finished work. Popular masters of the 50’s and 60’s such as Robert Wood and Violet Parkhurst let us look over their shoulders, sharing their “secrets” with struggling beginners. How I wish Michael Carroll’s Space Art had existed back then!

Space Art is not a primer on painting, although a beginner can pick up valuable techniques unlikely to be covered in more traditional “how to” books. While there is a good, brief discussion of media and tools, and an excellent presentation on color, the book assumes a basic knowledge of how to mix and work acrylics. What the beginning painter might find particularly useful, however, is Carroll’s discussion, throughout the book, on how to “see” — how to observe and depict the interplay of light and objects and atmosphere.

Any basic art book will contain a diagram showing how to render and shade the cube, cone, and sphere, but Space Art links this exercise to nature in a way that traditional art books generally do not. For example, most landscape artists rarely paint the moon correctly, either depicting it as a featureless white disk or a weird, banana-shaped crescent. This is, I think, because they haven’t made the conceptual leap that allows them to see the moon as a sphere, subject to the same rules of lighting as is an orange in a fruit bowl. They don’t see the illuminated part of the moon as its “day” side, and the dark part as its “night.” They haven’t realized that the dividing line between day and night — the terminator, to use astronomical parlance — is an arc of an ellipse: the shape of a great circle seen in perspective. After reading Space Art and attempting its exercises, beginning painters will have a deeper understanding of light and shadow that will make them better artists in any genre of painting.

Space Art takes the reader through fourteen exercises, ranging from the the almost mundane — “Earth seen from the Moon” — to the science-fictional landscapes of extrasolar worlds with binary suns. Brief essays by established space artists punctuate the exercises. These essays touch only lightly on technique, but delve more deeply into how space artists interpret the raw data of science and apply this knowledge to imaginatively portray a subject in a way that transcends a mere photograph. The sample illustrations by these guest artists range stylistically from plein air sketches to digital photographic realism. Carroll wisely restricts his exercises to techniques available to the beginner. Although he may sometimes use the airbrush or computer in his commercial work, subtle gradients in the exercises are created using fan brushes and sponges.

Space Art is not only a useful book, but a beautiful one, well printed and rich with color. A reader is likely to learn a bit of astronomy and geology along the way, and Carroll’s impish sense of humor comes through in the text, maintaining the friendly tone of a teacher who loves his work. Again, I wish a time traveler had brought this book to me forty years ago. Highly recommended for beginning — and developing — artists, in any genre.

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My Two UFOs

picatinny_ufo_smallPart of the fun of being an astronomical artist is that you get asked engaging questions. A surprising percentage of people are eager to buttonhole anyone who might have some inside info on things celestial. Often, folks want to follow-up on a news story, like the man who read about an impending collision between two galaxies and was curious how it had turned out. Some people just want reassurance that the moon landing wasn’t faked. Nearly everyone is fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life. This sometimes leads to a discussion about UFOs, which makes me squirm a little, because, doggone it, I’ve seen ‘em. Two, in fact. But I don’t really “believe” in them. It’s a subject that causes some personal cognitive dissonance.

My creepiest UFO sighting occurred in 1969. In those halcyon days I often loaded a homebuilt telescope into my mom’s Falcon and drove into the Mojave desert in search of clear, dark skies. I would invariably get the car stuck in a sandpit on some abandoned road and spend hours extricating it. Eventually, in a suitably god-forsaken place, I’d set up the ‘scope, toss my sleeping bag on the ground, heedlessly bed down with the scorpions and sidewinders, and gaze at the heavens. On one occasion I was adopted by a pack of coyotes, but that’s another story.

On the night in question, I was setting up the telescope an hour after sunset. The clear sky would allow a nice view of Saturn when it rose in the wee hours. I had just finished aligning the polar axis of the telescope when something caught my eye: in the southeast, just above a ridge of hills near the horizon, was a perfectly straight, luminous line. It was about half the apparent size of a full moon, absolutely horizontal, and moving slowly west. It was clearly too thin and too straight to be anything natural. Cue X Files theme.

There was a weird scintillation to the object and, in my mind’s eye, I could see the sequentially rippling running lights on the edge of a saucer cruising over the desert, its hull cooling from the plunge into earth’s atmosphere as its pilots searched for a suitable landing spot after their journey of who knew how many light years. That line from War of the Worlds about “minds vast, cool, and unsympathetic” came to mind and I could feel goosebumps sprouting. I half-expected green death rays to blast me where I stood.

Then I noticed that the object seemed to be slightly larger. It was headed my way! Mingled terror and awe. First contact. Take us to your leader, who, God help us, happened to be Nixon. I also noticed a creamy glow developing in the east, but I knew what that was: the moon, getting ready to rise. Then I noticed something else: I had a telescope! Homer Simpson wasn’t even a twinkle in Matt Groening’s eye, but this was an early “Doh!” moment. I deftly aimed the instrument toward the object, peered through the finder telescope, and was even more mystified.

The scintillation was real. There was indeed a line of lights flashing on and off, but they were not turning on sequentially. Nor were they spaced with the geometric precision one would expect. Each light was, however, flashing with a regular pulse, and the period seemed to be pretty consistent for all the lights: about three flashes a second. I centered the spacecraft (now firmly convinced that’s what it was) in the finder’s field of view and looked at it through the 60 power eyepiece of the main telescope.

The strange green sheen of the hull betrayed the alien nature of the craft. Auroral curtains shimmering at the base of the ship hinted at the power of its advanced magnetic drive. They had come. The world was about to change forever.

Well, maybe not. What I actually saw was even stranger until my brain made the right connections. I was indeed looking at alien life forms: geese, on their way to some avian resort. The underside of their wings was reflecting the light of the moon, which was still hidden by hills at my location. Distance and perspective had blended the flock into a single line. Eventually the geese got close enough that I could see their characteristic “v” formation and hear their faint, evocative honks.

Without a telescope it would have been impossible to determine the nature of this UFO, which makes me think that most of the twenty-percent as-yet unexplained UFO sightings by sane, sober, honest people could have become explicable given a bit of optical aid or a different point of view. Under the right conditions even the most prosaic things can look extraordinary: Venus; weather balloons; swamp gas — all the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me official explanations. If investigators at Project Bluebook had suggested that I had seen a flock of geese I’d be looking over my shoulder for black helicopters even today. No way that was a flock of geese! But the telescope revealed that it was.

Item Number 2 in my UFO casebook isn’t quite so easy to explain. The desert encounter occurred when I was 18, arguably well above the age of reason (which I actually didn’t reach until 35, like most of my generation, but that, too, is another story). At least I was old enough and knew enough to eventually figure out what I was seeing. My first UFO sighting, however, happened when I was a mere lad of seven, and I thought nothing of it at the time.

The sighting lasted maybe three seconds. I was sitting directly behind the driver of our school bus as it cruised through a New Jersey forest ablaze with the colors of autumn. I was looking out the window, studiously ignoring Sharon Blake, the cute little red-haired girl across the aisle. The sky was blue and early morning sun dappled the treetops. Just ahead of the bus there was a flash of light. It was the sun gleaming off a shiny metallic disk flying over the road from right to left at maybe a thirty degree angle. I watched it for a couple of seconds until it went behind the trees. I thought it was kind of cool. Some new type of airplane, maybe, but no big deal.

I’m blessed — sometimes plagued — by the ability to retain vivid images. I remember looking out through the bars of a crib and can recall the shiny varnish that coated the top of a bannister at my grandmother’s house, viewed from the perspective of a babe in arms. This is not a particularly useful talent, but it allows me to recall details about that flying saucer that suggest the sighting was not a synthetic memory based on a dream or a misapprehended conventional aircraft such as a helicopter.

The UFO was lustrous silver and perfectly circular, sufficiently oblate that it looked basically flat, but there might have been a slight convex bulge to the bottom. As it glided across the road, a dazzling sub-solar glint slid along its edge, properly obeying the laws of optics. The most amazing thing about it was that its silvery underside reflected the orange and red treetops. I was able to see the trees as if in a mirror. This brief, bird’s-eye view is what enchanted my seven-year-old mind and it is the primary detail that convinces me I saw a real, physical object that morning.

If I were filling out a UFO report I would guess the thing was about 50 feet in diameter and 200 feet up. If it were much higher or bigger the tree reflections wouldn’t have been so distinct. It was likely moving at about the same speed as the bus, maybe 30-40 miles per hour. Given the location of the sun glint and the time of day, the bus was headed west and the UFO was traveling southwest. That should be enough to pin down the location of the saucer nest, don’t you think?

Did I see an alien spacecraft? Probably not. The least-bad explanation is that it was a test device from the nearby Picatinny Arsenal, covered with the same kind of aluminized Mylar envelope used on the Echo satellite two years later. This observation happened in 1958, post Sputnik, at the dawn of the Space Age, when America was frantically trying to catch up with the Russians. We could hear test firings of the Redstone rocket every few days, so they were doing bleeding-edge work at Picatinny. Perhaps it was an exotic balloon, like the one that supposedly went down at Roswell. Aeronautical engineers were trying all sorts of weird designs then. I’ve seen footage of a wacky flying saucer-like test craft from that time, but I don’t think it ever got more than a few feet off the ground; the computers required to stabilize such a thing weren’t around yet. The object I saw flew very gracefully.

Anybody know what it might have been?

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Theological Implications of Time Travel

The usual plaintive queries regarding God’s whereabouts have followed the Virginia Tech massacre. How could a loving God permit such horror and injustice? The standard answers are offered: God has a plan, the victims are in heaven now, and we need better gun control. Such bromides provide little comfort and less illumination. Far greater intellects than those given voice in the mainstream media have confronted the problem of evil, or theodicy, for centuries, and the best answer they’ve come up with is this: God has granted us free will. Interference by God would restrict our freedom to choose between right and wrong. For whatever reason, this is how the universe is designed.

This answer may not be comforting, but it is logical. The argument that God should intervene to prevent evil begs a multitude of questions. Should God prevent all violence? How about suicide? How about bungee jumping and mountain climbing — activities that can harm not only voluntary practitioners but their innocent friends and families as well? Should we be guaranteed a peaceful death in our sleep on our 75th birthday? The notion of God as a cosmic crossing guard seems a bit ridiculous.

To be sure, many religious folks are willing to give God credit for an occasional intervention: the vest pocket Bible that stops a bullet; the serendipitous ledge that stops the climber’s fall; the spontaneous remission of illness. Folks even pray for such interventions. They are called miracles, and perhaps they happen, but such events occur so inconsistently that they are indistinguishable from dumb luck. The fact remains that the Virginia Tech killer was permitted to accomplish exactly what he set out to do. His guns didn’t jam and he did not keel over suddenly from a brain embolism. Innocents died.

So what does this have to do with time travel?

The recent movie Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington, explores the issue of free will in an action/adventure format. (Warning: mild plot spoilers follow). Washington plays an ATF agent named Doug Carlin who is dispatched to investigate a terrorist bombing of a ferry in New Orleans. Carlin is teamed with other government agents who are ostensibly using a plethora of remote sensing satellite data streams to reconstruct events that transpired four days in the past (that being the fastest the data can be integrated). Inconsistencies in the information lead Carlin to discover that they are actually looking into the past via an Einstein-Rosen bridge, or wormhole, and that there may be a possibility of influencing past events to prevent the disaster. He has himself sent back in time.

The usual time-travel paradoxes are dealt with in an amusing fashion; Carlin receives messages from an alternate version of himself and battles against the forces of destiny with apparent futility. One of the scientists says that Carlin’s efforts to change the past are analogous to changing the course of the Mississippi, and the protagonist’s struggles seem exactly that hopeless. It’s an exciting story, once you buy the premise.

After watching the video, my wife and kids tried to untangle the plot and explain apparent holes in it. I pointed out that time travel will probably never be invented because of the apparent dearth of time traveling tourists. Dramatic historical events, such as the JFK assassination or 911, should have attracted huge, popcorn-crunching crowds, including folks from the far future with large, bald heads and six fingers. One of my kids suggested that perhaps time-travel is carefully regulated to restrict tourism. Another pointed out the impracticality of such regulation being consistently enforced for millions of years. My wife, ever logical, pointed out another possibility: time travel may not have time to be invented. Our civilization — and perhaps our species — may not survive long enough. Even if another intelligent species were to arise 100 million years down the line, they would be unlikely to either know or care about our historical turning points.

This cast a pall over the conversation, and we went to bed. It got me to thinking, though. The absence of time travel is perfectly consistent with consensus theodicy. Just as intervention by God would restrict free will, so would time travel.

Does the absence of time travelers suggest that God exists, or that the future doesn’t?

NOTE (posted July 9, 2007) — I just stumbled on an interesting debate between Philip E. Graves of the Department of Economics at the University of Colorado and a devout atheist named Vexen Crabtree in the U.K. that touches on many of these points.

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Another Reason to Avoid Movie Theaters

Victor Davis Hanson has some comments about Hollywood’s chronic infatuation with moral relativism…

Actors, producers, screenwriters and directors of Southern California live in a bubble, where coast, climate and plentiful capital shield the film industry from the harsh world. In their good intentions, these tanned utopians can afford to dream away fascist killers and instead rail at Western bogeymen — even in the midst of a global war against Middle East jihadists who wish to trump what they wrought at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

If Hollywood wants to know why attendance is down, it is not just the misdemeanor sin of warping reality, but the artistic felony that it does so in such a predictable manner. (more)

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The Awful Truth About the Jedi

Ever since the final scene of the original “Star Wars,” when Luke and his buddies were presented with gold medals in a ceremony that looked suspiciously like it could have been held at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, I’ve had a queasy feeling about the Jedi Knights. George Turner has posted a brilliant analysis that should be studied by every high school English class as an excellent example of persuasive argument.

..Lucas takes the truth and twists it, using music and lighting to color your perceptions. He’s so skilled at it that he could make you want to marry a camel with one beautifully lit slow motion gallop scene. Don’t be fooled by Hollywood trickery. Don’t fall for Jedi lies. Anakin didn’t, being strong in the Force, the truth finally flowing through him, the lies and deception washed away, exposing the perfidity and treachery of the Jedi Council…

The essay is very funny, and immensely clever.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Mini review

In space, no one can hear you yawn….

Douglas Adam’s books were witty, ironic, inventive, and funny. The radio adaptation was amusing. The movie version of “Hitchhiker” is so jaw-droppingly tedious, stupid and amateurish that halfway through, I decided to request a refund on my ticket. This is the second-worst movie I’ve ever half-seen. (The worst was “Legally Blonde 2” — which I three-quarters saw).

The movie (at least the first half of it) is badly written, badly acted, and idiotically edited, with scenes that go on much too long and desperately repetitive jokes that don’t work.

What in hell were the filmmakers smoking? We can only hope that, should anyone be so misguided as to produce any future project they might conceive, that they at least opt to purchase a higher grade of it.

What a waste of time, money, and good material.

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An Evening in the Belly of the Beast

Students of the Soviet Union will recall that its citizens were often required to attend consciousness-raising meetings at which the obvious purity and nobility of Marxism and Dialectical Materialism were proclaimed by members of the Party Nomenklatura. The audience sat, listened, and applauded — if they knew what was good for them.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 15 years ago, the Nomenklatura (roughly translated: the “list of people who matter”) is alive and well in Hollywood, California. I sat with them last night, in The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater. We were there to honor the nominees for Best Documentary Film of 2004. This was a preamble to Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony where the creators of a documentary film will be awarded a golden statue. (I predict that the winner will be “Born in a Brothel” primarily because of it’s cool title. Most of the people who vote won’t bother to actually watch it, but will figure that it must be the best because of all the “buzz” surrounding it).

The festivities were hosted by Mario Van Peebles, the son of film pioneer Melvin Van Peebles, who was present at the reception that followed. Papa Van Peebles essentially invented the “Black” movie genre in the ‘70’s and his son recently paid artful homage to this achievement in the film “BAADASSSSS!” — which I had actually kind of wanted to see before this evening. Now I’m not so sure.

Mario started off fine, working from a script, but then felt a need to become Deep and Relevant. Five minutes into his introduction the dreadful incantation “Halliburton” was intoned, in response to which there was a smattering of applause, and strained silence from the majority of the audience. He later went on to explain to us the true meaning of Martin Luther King’s definition of “non-violence” — “If they hit you in the head with a bat, you don’t hit back.” Okay. Fine. Probably a correct reading. But then he took it just a tad over the top, when he explained that the 911 murderers might just have had a dandy reason for offing 3,000 folks, and we maybe shouldn’t have been so quick to hit back.

Okay. His opinion. He’s allowed. It’s a free country. There was the polite smattering of applause. But I had a sense that the overwhelming majority of the audience were thinking “BULLSHITTTT!” They were, however, silent. Polite. Cowed.

Because, you see, we were surrounded by Those Who Share The Fashionable Worldview — liberals, progressives, whatever you want to call them — the Enlightened. The Sincere. The Politically Correct. The Nomenklatura.

The Party Bosses.

Long ago, I made a conscious decision not to pursue a career in the film industry, because, frankly, I hate jerks, and want to minimize my dealings with them. Hollywood is run by jerks, and they take their fashion cues from the Nomenklatura, who were well represented in the Academy theater last night.

I found two things disturbing: the climate of fear and the presumption of power. The theater was filled with ambitious people, eager for a shot at the big time. The reception was characterized by vigorous networking. (Some poor souls even thought that I might be important because I had gray hair, a beard, and a pretty wife). They all know that, no matter how much they may boast about their independence from the control of evil corporations, they are all at the mercy of the Nomenklatura. Deviationists will be punished. Who does not toe the Party line, shall not be financed. Everyone in the theater knew what the correct attitudes were, and knew their careers would be over if the Nomenklatura even suspected deviationism.

It’s all sad and mildly sickening. What can you say about people who proclaim proudly that they are brave and independent, but who are in reality craven conformists? But these are the folks who are determining, by default, our society’s agenda.


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