H. L. Mencken on anarchists

The last round of Berkeley riots reminded me of this quote from H. L. Mencken:

“To the average American or Englishman the very name of anarchy causes a shudder, because it invariably conjures up a picture of a land terrorized by low-browed assassins with matted beards, carrying bombs in one hand and mugs of beer in the other. But as a matter of fact, there is no reason whatever to believe that, if all laws were abolished tomorrow, such swine would survive the day. They are incompetents under our present paternalism and they would be incompetents under Dionysian anarchy. The only difference between the two states is that the former, by its laws, protects men of this sort, whereas the latter would work their speedy annihilation.”

You may have seen it around. Glenn Reynolds posted it several years back on Instapundit (no relation to his source), and still finds it well worth an occasional requote. But I hadn’t seen it after the Berkeley riots.

This comes from Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1913), which may be found at Project Gutenberg. That passage fits the Black Bloc to a tee. I can’t help but think that the surrounded paragraph could almost fit the backstory of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where their society had been rescued (or taken over) by military veterans.

H. L. Mencken is generally remembered today for his observations and quotes that had been collected over time. It is remembered less that he opposed the New Deal and U.S. involvement in World War II. He was definitely not a fan of FDR. He had stopped writing his columns before the war, but you can find a few quotes from his later years. I had almost used one for a chapter epigraph in One Thousand Years. Another of his quotes is tentatively set for use in my upcoming sequel. (More on that later.)

Why they burn

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933 — (from image in U.S. public domain)

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933

Do you remember why Ray Bradbury’s firemen burned books? I thought of this again when I saw that the free speech advocates over the pond at English Pen were screening the movie version of Fahrenheit 451.

I confess to being skeptical whether they’ll get to the original reason, but maybe they will. Their announcement quotes from the book:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.” — Ray Bradbury

Like most people, I’d forgotten Bradbury’s reason until The Observer’s Ryan Holiday reminded us of the real reason we need to stop trying to protect everyone’s feelings:

If you’d asked me what it was about before last week, I would have told you: “Firemen who burn books.”

And if you’d asked me why on earth they did that, I would have answered just as confidently: “Because a tyrannical government wanted them to.”

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Note that he said “conveniently remember.” That trend has only gotten worse. Or better, depending on your point-of-view.

Bradbury’s society did not burn books because of the government. Holiday quotes the book:

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? … Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, to the incinerator.”

It’s the people rioting in the streets that want your books burned. Perhaps it’s not so much that Bradbury saw this coming but that it has often been this way.

It was the German Student Union that organized burning books with the SA brownshirts in Nazi Germany.

Colonizing the bubble

Wil Wheaton, Star Trek’s Wesley Crusher, is an internet star with a lot of Twitter followers.

He gets a lot more traffic than the rest of us do. Some of it must make him uncomfortable. I’m sure some of it is really bad. He’s apparently pretty quick with Twitter’s block feature. That’s where you tell it not to show you tweets from people you’d rather not hear from.

He has a reputation for blocking people simply for saying “Shut up, Wesley!”

That’s his right. The trouble I see is this:

Join that, and you’ll miss tweets simply because Wil Wheaton disagrees with their senders. That’s a lot of people to censor yourself from. Needing his block list is a sign that you’re on Twitter too much.

Bubbles are dangerous. Join his blocklist and you’re in one. I’m reminded of the apocryphal quote of Pauline Kael: “How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

Just imagine missing a retweet simply because the original writer had once said, “Shut up, Wesley!”

Raumpatrouille: 1960s German SF

Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) was a seven-episode German science fiction show in the ’60s. The style was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Forbidden Planet.

YouTuber Rewboss gives a short but thorough explanation for English speakers:

The show is well worth a look. The first episode is here. Be sure to turn on the subtitles for a translation.

This is what people in the ’60s thought the future would be like. Expect more than a few scenes to be unintentionally funny. The dancing in the background reminds me of SNL’s Sprockets, which adds to the charm.

All seven episodes are available on YouTube. Some videos don’t have the English subtitles, but there is an alternative if you look around.

Patrolling the seas in a new era

Found via OldNFO J.L. Curtis, who says Hawaii’s last P-3 squadron is leaving: “1937-2017… 80 years of maritime patrol squadrons is ending this week.”

This is one of history’s milestones. That was the first takeaway.

From Stars & Stripes: Last 3 planes from Navy patrol squadron to depart Hawaii for new home in Washington state.

This part was funny to me:

“This is an old bird, and I think we’re lucky that we’re catching and being able to be a part of this, because the new P-8s and new aircraft that are coming out now, they tell you what’s wrong through a computer,” said Young, who’s deploying with VP-9. He said he likes the fact that the P-3 is “old-school. It’s mechanical.”

I know that feeling. There were still P-3Bs flying when I was in the Navy, and I remember thinking that very same thing about their avionics. (I suppose the difference between a P-3B and P-3C didn’t matter as much to those in the cockpit.)

But I see this as more than wistful memories of P-3s. The Navy will still be flying those for a few more years. They just won’t be doing it out of Hawaii in significant numbers. Instead, they will only have a P-3C detached from Whidbey Island, Washington, until two P-8A Poseidons replace them. Only two.

It’s not so much about the P-3s leaving. They’ve had various types of aircraft before that. Think of the squadrons of PBYs flying out of there in WWII, then Marlins in the 1950s, P-2s and P-3As during the Vietnam War, followed by the P-3B through P-3E’s (although, apparently, VP-9 stopped with the P-3C). It is patrol operations in Hawaii that are practically closing up shop.

Part of this is that the Navy’s needs and budgets have changed. I’m hoping that another part is in greater capabilities of newer technologies. Perhaps some of that will be in the P-8. Then there are the roles played by the new satellites and drones.

Even here, the robots are taking over. That was the second takeaway.

SpaceX going around the moon

This is a big milestone. SpaceX has been launching rockets to the ISS, but they haven’t put a man in space yet. Now they will, and it will be a flight around the moon.

You probably know that already. Everybody else is talking about it. But I’ve got one more thing….

They’re not actually landing, but if this seems like been-there-done-that, consider these names and their missions:

  • Apollo 8: Frank Borman, James Lovell, William Anders
  • Apollo 10: Thomas Stafford, John Young, Eugene Cernan
  • Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin
  • Apollo 12: C. “Pete” Conrad, Richard Gordon, Alan Bean
  • Apollo 13: James Lovell, Jack Swigert, Fred Haise
  • Apollo 14: Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, Edgar Mitchell
  • Apollo 15: David Scott, Alfred Worden, James Irwin
  • Apollo 16: John Young, T. Kenneth Mattingly, Charles Duke
  • Apollo 17: Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, Harrison Schmitt

This is a very small club of 24 men who’ve been out that far to see the other side of the moon. (Lovell, Cernan and Young made the trip twice.) Every other astronaut since then had to remain a lot closer to home.

Now, after what will be over 45 years — not since December 1972 — two more will join the list.

MIT Technology Review’s top 10 breakthrough technologies

Via NextBigFuture: The top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017 according to MIT Technology Review:

  1. Reversing Paralysis (in 10 to 15 years)
  2. Self-Driving Trucks (in 5 to 10 years)
  3. Paying with Your Face (available now)
  4. Practical Quantum Computing (in 4-5 years)
  5. The 360-Degree Selfie (available now)
  6. Hot Solar Cells (in 10 to 15 years)
  7. Gene Therapy 2.0 (available now)
  8. The Cell Atlas (in 5 years)
  9. Botnets of Things (available now)
  10. Reinforcement Learning (in 1 to 2 years)

NextBigFuture describes each item, and links to each individual article in MIT Technology Review, whose main article is here.

I’d rather that things like reversing paralysis were available now, with the 360-degree selfie being 10 to 15 years away. Perhaps the progress on items 4, 7, 8 and 10 can accelerate this timetable.

Free Speech Movement ends where it began

Actually, there never really was a “Free Speech Movement,” other than using that name. It was started in Berkeley in the ’60s by radicals. I’m sufficiently jaded that I can’t imagine them having supported Barry Goldwater’s freedom of speech. He may or may not have needed special protection to speak back then, but he certainly would today, and groups like this would be the reason.

In any case, it would be funny to think that it ends with Milo Yiannopoulos. His own Berkeley speech was cancelled last night due to a riot.

The linked article blames “black bloc” anarchists. That’s where a group wears masks and black clothing to make it more difficult for the police to identify and prosecute.


Here is such a group in 2007 Seattle: You obviously can’t say they oppose censorship. You can’t say they oppose torture. You can’t even say they oppose slavery.

You can’t buy this kind of publicity.