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November 19, 2007

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I am leaping frantically in ahead of Gary Farber to remark that, if you read a lot of SF, this sort of thing becomes a distressingly regular discovery. Writers get older and/or insane and... well, look at Philip K Dick, poor guy. Turned out mind-bending novels at a phenomenal rate, before he lost his grip completely and wrote "Valis". Look at Robert Heinlein. Started writing terrific stuff in the 50s and 60s. Ended up writing "The Number of the Beast--". Look at Salman Rushdie. Opened the batting with "Midnight's Children" and "The Satanic Verses" and hasn't written anything nearly as good since.

It's generally known as "the Brain Eater".

Oh, and great Star Wars metaphor.

I always thought the Brain Eater was at least as much about readers' limitations and blind spots as it was about anything in authors. I'm not an expert, but it seems like these are really different cases...

Philip K. Dick was a very complex man, deeply humane, deeply flawed, out to make sense of very strange things happening to him, and he never stopped asking questions or started accepting answers that seemed comfortable at the moment. His last few novels are dear to my heart because of this. I think their differences from his life's work before the early '80s are vastly overrated, mostly by people who simply don't want to be bothered to think that much about the intrusions of the numinous world in the here and now.

Robert Heinlein, on the other hand, actually did have a stroke or near stroke. He also shifted markets and no longer had to deal with editing for the juvenile market, so that things that he'd always wanted to write, he now could. So that's partly a matter of genuine organic damage and also partly the uncorking of what had always been there.

Thomas Friedman doesn't have either of those kinds of excuses, so nearly as I know. The deliberate turning away from a challenging world into the safety of one's own schemes is a different sort of problem, anyway.

Ajay: I really liked "Haroun and the Sea of Stories". Maybe not quite on the level of "Satanic Verses" but a great novel none the less.

"Kim Jong-il: Worked for me."

i just want to simultaneously censure you and applaud you for this shameless theft of one of billmon's signature moves.

it's as morally repugnant as beethoven ripping off mozart's melodies wholesale.

i.e. keep up the good work; half of genius is knowing who to steal from.

absolutely, i've done that for a while (less so here), but I've always admitted that I've adopted a lot of his stuff (including that). in fact, I think he invented the block quote paragraph-only post (which I always used to do a lot more of).

i like to think of it more like a modern day guitarist using methods first learned from jimmy page.

Haroun was fantastic, the live version at the National a few years back even better. If you ever have the chance to see it, do so.

...and yes, Friedman's arguments are all the more grotesque given the (supposed?) heights of his earlier work.

I have to defend Ajay's use of the Brain Eater paradigm here. The question of whether Dick and Heinlein actually fell victim to the Brain Eater is one that people of good faith can argue about. That being the case, James P. Hogan would be a better analog to Friedman. Somewhere along the line, a writer who was being called "the next Arthur C. Clarke" back in the '70s went off the rails and wound up embracing Velikovsky nuttery.

That's what we have here with Friedman. This is definitely the Brain Eater at work.

"Robert Heinlein, on the other hand, actually did have a stroke or near stroke."

No, he didn't. But it's not important that you got the medical details wrong. He had medical problems in 1970 at the time that I Will Fear No Evil was almost finished that included pneumonia and peritonitis and other conditions that put him in the hospital, while he was still scheduled for gallstone and hernia surgery, and then he developed shingles. He wasn't lucid during part of this time, and couldn't do the final edit on I Will Fear No Evil, but he never had a stroke or "near stroke," garbled rumors to the contrary.

(Bill Patterson's biography, which I've read in manuscript, which will eventually be out from Tor, confirms the details.)

Personally, I don't think there's any doubt that Phil was a paranoid schizophrenic, but, hey, he made it work for him. Kinda.

I'm probably never going to get over being bemused at how huge and Discovered he's become in recent years, posthumously, but, then, I feel that way to various degrees about several folks who aren't even dead yet!

I do, however, question whether Friedman can honestly be described these days as a liberal, unless it's in the "even the liberal New Republic" sense used by conservatives.

"Kim Jong-il: Worked for me."

i just want to simultaneously censure you and applaud you for this shameless theft of one of billmon's signature moves.

I'm barely familiar with billmon and his style, so I'm curious what's distinctive about ostensibly quoting someone: what usage, exactly, is he being stylistically credited as inventing?

Presumably it's not just putting humorous dialogue in someone's mouth?

Wasn't this about Friedman bashing, or am I in the wrong comment section?

But seriously: are there people for whom Thomas Friedman was an important figure in their intellectual, academic, or political lives? What line of work are you people in? Can I avoid it at all costs?

Henk, you're definitely in the wrong comment section if you can't tolerate digressions. Threads often wander far from the original post.

But seriously: are there people for whom Thomas Friedman was an important figure in their intellectual, academic, or political lives? What line of work are you people in? Can I avoid it at all costs?

Well the thing is, a lot of people whose only real knowledge of Friedman was "Beirut to Jerusalem" gave and to a large extent still do give him a lot of credit for thoughtfulness. The fact that he now writes The World is Flat (blatant excuse to link to the definitive bad book review) and says "suck on this" doesn't make him less thoughtful, it serves to make those "ideas" more acceptable. Yes, he's an idiot, but idiocy is sadly no barrier to influence these days.

hi gary--i'm one of *your* biggest fans, too.

i could be totally wrong about whether in the larger republic of letters someone else is more closely associated with this particular usage (and note that "signature move" not equal "invented"). in fact, come to think of it i seem to recall shakespeare putting humorous dialogue in someone's mouth.

but given the relatively narrow and impoverished world of blog-dialectology, i took a guess on where publius in particular might have picked up the idiom, and it looks like i was right.

if you don't know billmon yet, you've got a treat in store. i'm sure there's still an archive out there. it's substantively prescient and stylistically sublime.

do a google search for "moon of alabama" and i think the archives are there.

[...] i could be totally wrong about whether in the larger republic of letters someone else is more closely associated with this particular usage (and note that "signature move" not equal "invented").

[...]

but given the relatively narrow and impoverished world of blog-dialectology, i took a guess on where publius in particular might have picked up the idiom, and it looks like i was right.

Fair enough.

"if you don't know billmon yet, you've got a treat in store."

I've read a moderate amount over the years. I liked some of his work, but not so much of other of it. Some of it I thought was so wildly wrongheaded I took him off my blogroll a couple of years ago.

Moon of Alabama seems to be a person named "Bernhard": "This site's purpose is to discuss politics, economics, philosophy and blogger Billmon's Whiskey Bar writings."

Gee, I hadn't realized there were bloggers with cults out there.

Philip K. Dick had the excuse of speed addiction. What's Friedman's excuse? Is this belated moronic false machismo the product of late-middle age erectile dysfunction? It ain't just the world that's flat.

Gary, is it then not true that Heinlein had a transient ischemic attack in 1977? If the Heinlein Society is misinformed they'd probably like a correction. Anyway, that's what I was thinking of in my comment.

And there's that bit in _Expanded Universe_ (I think, since I read it not long after it came out and haven't looked at it since) where Heinlein himself recounts walking down the beach with his wife, one side of his body suddenly going numb, and balancing on his other leg and saying to her, "I think I've just had another heart attack." I recall thinking, jeez, that sure sounds more like a stroke to me.

"Gary, is it then not true that Heinlein had a transient ischemic attack in 1977?"

It was January, 1978, and he had a transient ischemic attack, which isn't a stroke. I'm sure Bill would prefer I not quote from his manuscript, which isn't final, but he specifically quotes the doctor by name stating that it wasn't a stroke, just a momentary blockage of blood.

But the story about the stroke went around about the event in 1970, which led to the publication of IWFNE without a final edit. That's the incident that always was rumored to be when he had the blockage, and which did lead to IWFNE being published in the form it did, which is the book at which the "Heinlein is in decline because of what happened to his brain" stories all went around. Honest. It was 1971 the rumors went around and were in print, not 1977. I was just getting into fandom when I read them in '71-72, not all that long before meeting Heinlein in '73. The attribution of Heinlein's decline to his rumored stroke were rife in the sf world throughout the early Seventies.

Time Enough For Love was finished before his medical incidents of 1978; the novel that was affected by it was then called "The Panki-Barsoom Number of the Beast," and he and Ginny concluded that it wasn't up to par due to his condition of the time.

He had a heart bypass operation in April of '78, which cured up the problem, and he rewrote his manuscript into a very different Number of the Beast.

I'm one who agrees that IWFNE was the beginning of Heinlein's decline as a writer, and I don't think any of his subsequent books were fully artistically successful, with the exception of Friday, but naturally, people have different views: some harsher than mine, some far more positive. (I do agree that many of the negative views of his late period tend to lack understanding of what he was attempting.)

Regardless, though, it's hard to see how his TIA affected his writing, other than in the early manuscript of Number of the Beast, since it hadn't taken place prior to any other books when it occurred on January 4, 1978, while walking on the beach in Tahiti, and was cleared up in April, '78, after his bypass on April 28th, after which he rewrote NotB.

Anyway, not a big deal.

I'm amused that the FAQ is still playing coy here: "The first marriage was a brief one. We do know her name and other information on her life (we helped track down her and her fate) but are withholding it until Bill Patterson presents the material in his upcoming biography on Heinlein (so don't ask, we won't tell)."

I say "coy" because the name slipped into Wikipedia some months ago. Bill does have some further interesting material, though.

Isn't it high times that "Middle East Expert" appear in scare quotes next to Friedman's name, like "Foreign policy specialist" and the Poedhertzes, or the Pipeses....or "Leader" and Giuliani....

Best

L

Billmon was easily my favorite blogger and the best I've ever read. I don't know what you read, but the idea of posts of his being 'wildly wrongheaded' doesn't seem plausible.

"I don't know what you read, but the idea of posts of his being 'wildly wrongheaded' doesn't seem plausible."

I don't think I've ever known someone who hasn't ever been wildly wrongheaded.

I'm certainly wildly wrongheaded at times, which doesn't prove in the least that there aren't countless people who have never, ever, ever, even once been wrongheaded, but seems worth noting now and again.

I certainly admire the fervor billmon's fans have for him, though.

Regardless, it may be worth entertaining the notion that disagreement with him at times might have been legitimately possible.

Or not.

In defense of Friedman:

Ahmedinejad is not developing a nuclear program because Dick Cheney was mean to him. Ahmedinejad is developing a nuclear program because he is on a mission from God:

"Our revolution's main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi," Ahmadinejad said in the speech to Friday Prayers leaders from across the country.

http://www.iranian.ws/cgi-bin/iran_news/exec/view.cgi/13/10945

The 12th Imam comes to us at the same time a blinding light is seen over Baghdad. Get it?

Notice the trend. Islamic countries can be kept stable with a strong Dictator (Shah, Hussein, Ataturk, Tito, etc.). Remove the Dictator and you get the Islamists. Who rule until the economy collapses and are then replaced by a strong Dictator. It’s the Islam dance, it’s terminal, and it’s very dangerous in the era of modern weapons.

"Except him who snatches off but once, then there follows him a brightly shining flame." (37.10)

Qu'ran quote. For God's sake don't forget the Qu'ran quote.

Ahmedinejad is not developing a nuclear program because Dick Cheney was mean to him. Ahmedinejad is developing a nuclear program because he is on a mission from God:

Ahmedinejad is not developing a nuclear program, nor is he in control of the parts of government that are developing a nuclear program.

Its amazing that the citizens of the most powerful nation the planet has ever known can be consistently reduced to bedwetting children.

Suck it up.

Ahmedinejad is not developing a nuclear program because Dick Cheney was mean to him. Ahmedinejad is developing a nuclear program because he is on a mission from God

Right, because obviously, the fact that we invaded two countries on their border and called them part of the "Axis of Evil" had nothing to do with the Iranians electing a macho nutjob who promised security.

But hey, OUR macho nutjob is better than theirs, 'cause he's just trying to make a quick (billion) buck by starting wars. I mean, yeah, our guy actually helped stage invasions killing thousands of innocent people, whereas Ahmedinejad has so far maybe sent in a few death squads to the war next door (who could resist?). But at least Cheney's motives are impure, so we don't really need to worry. It would be awful if we had a President who sincerely believed that it was his religious duty to help bring about the end of the world that some nutty prophesy tells him will start with a war in the Mideast...
Oh, wait.

Time Enough For Love was finished before his medical incidents of 1978; the novel that was affected by it was then called "The Panki-Barsoom Number of the Beast," and he and Ginny concluded that it wasn't up to par due to his condition of the time.

He had a heart bypass operation in April of '78, which cured up the problem, and he rewrote his manuscript into a very different Number of the Beast.

Gary seems to be implying that there was a book upon which NotB was an improvement. The mind reels.

Mike--

My 13-year-old self from 1980 wants to beat you up. Fortunately, I have the little bastard under control.

"I mean, yeah, our guy actually helped stage invasions killing thousands of innocent people, whereas Ahmedinejad has so far maybe sent in a few death squads to the war next door (who could resist?)."

Since Ahmedinejad is in charge of neither Iran's military policy, nor Iran's foreign policy, this doesn't even work as sarcasm, since it doesn't make any sense.

"Gary seems to be implying that there was a book upon which NotB was an improvement."

I have no idea what the quality of the earlier manuscript was. I only reported that the Heinleins felt that the original version wasn't up to par, and wasn't a proper "Heinlein novel," in Bill's words. And, yes, after all, they thought very well of the final version, and his subsequent work, which I don't so much.

For what it's worth, RAH also apparently felt very strongly that he was writing sophisticated metaliterary experimental works, in his late works, that were generally little understood, and whose points were frequently missed.

Please don't shoot the messenger, me, for passing on that tidbit: it's his view, not mine. As I said, I think that Friday is a relatively decent/good Heinlein novel, if nowhere near as cutting edge as pre-1967 work, but I'm unfond otherwise of anything he did post-1966. And Farnham's Freehold I recall as a terrible mess, as well, although I'm due to reread it, and see what I think after not having done so in over twenty-five years or more.

(In other words, I'm more or less a fan of his work up to 1963, and of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and not so much of his later stuff, although I don't hate it with a passion, either.)

"He had a heart bypass operation in April of '78, which cured up the problem"

Amusingly -- at least to me -- that wasn't me trying to be funny, but my fingers being creative. What my brain told them to type was "cleared up the problem."

But my fingers often have different ideas.

your innocence will not protect you
- naomi wolf

war crime in motion
- dennis kucinich

sane officers oppose cheney
-joe conason

But hey, OUR macho nutjob is better than theirs

Quien es mas macho?
Which one is teh hott!!!1!?

Welcome to our world.

Thanks -

Is it true, that Heinlein helped Dick out when the speed and the crazy were freaking him out?

Can Friedman's dementia be ascribed to the dreaded "Broder Syndrome"? Where a one shot wonder, because of his white knuckled grip on status, power, and money and under the spell of his faded relevance, continues with the blessing of a core readership as shallow and deluded as himself to regress into a dark, windowless world of high school newspaper platitudes and increasingly vapid self plagarization? Copies of copies of copies...great writers steal liberally (as noted above); one can, however, easily see Mr. Tom Friedman at his desk, ponderin' and theoreticalizin' furiously so's to birth yet another purely Friedman gem upon the world. What a maroon.

The 12th Imam comes to us at the same time a blinding light is seen over Baghdad. Get it?

No, I don't get why you think the Iranians would nuke a Shiite city run by a friendly government, which we very kindly installed for them.

Notice the trend. Islamic countries can be kept stable with a strong Dictator (Shah, Hussein, Ataturk, Tito, etc.). Remove the Dictator and you get the Islamists. Who rule until the economy collapses and are then replaced by a strong Dictator

Ah, and on the subject of the Brain Eater, here's one of its latest hors d'oeuvres.

Ataturk was not removed. He died. He was not replaced by Islamists, but by Ismet Inonu (whom you've probably never heard of). Turkey, almost seventy years after his death, is a stable, secular state, with a Muslim population but without an Islamist government (in any meaningful sense of the word).

Tito was not the ruler of a Muslim country. Yugoslavia was predominantly Christian (Orthodox and Catholic). He was not removed, but died. No Yugoslav successor state is now ruled by Islamists. In Bosnia, which has the largest Muslim population, there are no major Islamic political parties. (The Bosnian Muslims are not noticeably devout.)

Apart from Iran, there are not many other Muslim countries in which a secular dictatorship has been replaced by an Islamist government. Afghanistan is one. Iraq is another. You could make a case for Gaza under Hamas as a third. Most of the time, their secular dictators tend to stay in place, unless toppled by external military action... hmm. Maybe there's a lesson in that!

Is it true, that Heinlein helped Dick out when the speed and the crazy were freaking him out?

From the introduction of The Golden Man, by P. K. Dick:

Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in the world. I don't agree with any of the ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time, when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn't raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to him in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine looking man, very impressive and military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I'm a flipped out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.

L.S.,

À propos reasonable: Clearly you haven't heard of the House of Lords ruling in Sidaway. Between five justices, they proposed three rules for what constitutes informed consent to medical treatment. Here goes:

- What a reasonable doctor would do/say.
- What a doctor could reasonably do/say.
- What a reasonable patient would want to know.

In reference to Friedman: I don't recall reading 'From Beirut to Jerusalem' (unless one of the chapters started out with something about Sharon never sending anybody flowers).

My familiarity with his writing dates back to the 1990's, and those writings actually track with his post-9/11 writings. In both cases, his position on the NYT editorial page was as Servant to Power.

In the 1990's, that was mainly service to the powers of neoliberalism; his message on globalization was a combination of 'it'll be good for you' and 'it's inevitable, suck on it'. In the 200's, that was mainly service to the powers of neoconservatism, and again, mixed 'it'll be good for you' and 'suck on this'. He is very much like Broder, an unabashed servant of the powers-that-be.

And his beliefs are very harsh, merely covered in technocratic language. His famous 'popping the terrorist bubble' statement translates into simpler language as 'some sand-n*ggers killed a bunch of us white folk; we gotta kill us a whole bunch of sand-n*ggers to teach them some respect. And it doesn't matter which ones, 'cause sand-n*ggers is sand-n*ggers; they all alike'.

"Is it true, that Heinlein helped Dick out when the speed and the crazy were freaking him out?"

As d-p-u noted, sorta yes. RAH loaned Dick money when he needed it, at any rate. He did the same for Ted Sturgeon, and gave him a bunch of story ideas, when he was blocked, as well, and also helped fund SFWA out of his pocket in its early days.

Like most people, he did a variety of kind and unkind things over the course of his life.

"From Beirut to Jerusalem" is actually a good book. It detailed quite well what was going on in the Near East at the time, and still has useful insights today. Friedman's problem is that he's gone "Native"; gone from being the outsider reporting on a culture he wants to understand, to being a member of the Washington Village. "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", "The World is Flat" and his columns have to be seen in the context of his being mired in the culture of DC. H's interpreting all these things with the filter of his time as a star columnist for the NYT and member of the cocktail circuit over a 10+year period, instead of his almost constant presence in Israel and it's surrounding countries.

I wouldn't say 'mired in the culture', I'd say 'successful in that culture'. He's one of them - to me, his NYT columns alone would be a very nice reference in a course analyzing mass media in terms of class and power.

"Oh Sh**te! Militias!"

one of my fellow insurgents just saw friedman in CVS and gave him a scowl and thought to himself "tendentious bitch."

http://tshirtinsurgency.com/about-us

The inclusion of the URL makes it difficult to believe you didn't post primarily as a commercial, murt.

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