The Long View 2008-03-07: Nuclear Apocalypse; Threatening Choirs; The Documentary of Doom; New Jersey; Motorcycling

Even if you are not interested in the apocalypse, the apocalypse is interested in you

Even if you are not interested in the apocalypse, the apocalypse is interested in you

John’s comment here is apt:

The Nuclear Apocalyptic Novel is culturally important in a way that Hitler Wins Alternative History never will be.

The Cold War made an impression on the psyche of the West. An absolutely enormous amount of popular art is an attempt to think through the stakes of the apocalyptic contest between the United States and the USSR. Science fiction in particular is marked by this, but the Cold War was not limited to that corner of popular entertainment.

Mainstream satire like Dr. Strangelove[Amazon link], post-apocalyptic masculine adventure like Mad Max[Amazon link], and videogames like Fallout[Amazon link] all draw from the same well.

Nuclear Apocalypse; Threatening Choirs; The Documentary of Doom; New Jersey; Motorcycling

The Nuclear Apocalyptic Novel is culturally important in a way that Hitler Wins Alternative History never will be. Therefore, I was happy to find online an academic treatment of the genre, Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction by Paul Brians, Professor of English, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. I have not read it yet, but I note that the stories it covers were written between 1895 to 1984. Yes, the first story with the menace of radioactive mass destruction was written as early as 1895.

Weren't X-rays discovered in that year?

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An attentive reader sends a link to this BBC concert featuring sacred choral works. It will still be accessible online for a few more days. The motive for the concert does not lack for ambition:

Rachmaninov's unaccompanied choral setting of the All-Night Vigil draws on Orthodox Church chants, and in Sir John Tavener's new work, commissioned as part of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, he attempts to reconcile the world's warring religions through music and the contemplation of death.

Am I the only one who thinks that that last bit reads like an "or else"?

* * *

Readers will recall that the troublemaker Spengler at Asia Times preemptively endorsed an upcoming documentary by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is perhaps best know for recently suggesting that the Koran ought to be banned. The documentary is designed to do on purpose what the Danish cartoons and the Regensburg address did by accident, but this time eliciting so much violence that Islam will be banned from Western civil society as categorically as Nazism.

The documentary is to be called Fitna, "Struggle." When it is issued, it is supposed to be immediately available online: Geert Wilders presents Fitna.

Let me suggest that, if you strike at a king, you must kill him. This will have to be the most effective documentary ever filmed if it is to justify the amount of trouble it is likely to cause.

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Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal expresses great admiration for Hillary Clinton's resilience, but leaves us with this thought:

I end with a deadly, deadpan prediction from Christopher Hitchens. Hillary is the next president, he told radio's Hugh Hewitt, because, "there's something horrible and undefeatable about people who have no life except the worship of power . . . people who don't want the meeting to end, the people who just are unstoppable, who only have one focus, no humanity, no character, nothing but the worship of money and power. They win in the end."

It was like Claude Rains summing up the meaning of everything in the film "Lawrence of Arabia": "One of them's mad and the other is wholly unscrupulous." It's the moment when you realize you just heard the truth, the meaning underlying all the drama. "They win in the end." Gave me a shudder.

Ruthless people are rarely dangerous, unless they are also romantics. Ruthless romantics have the imagination to think of dangerous things to be ruthless about. Whatever her other gifts, I don't think that Hillary Clinton really falls into that category.

* * *

Here in New Jersey, the cash-strapped state government has been forced to reduce the subsidies that have so long maintained the state's redundant municipalities in the "independence" to which they have become accustomed:

Few places provide as a vivid a perch to view the exercise of home rule as the municipal building here on Main Street, where [a certain official] governs a borough of just 2,023 that has its own police force, department of public works and fire inspector.

For the state’s 566 municipalities, 616 school districts, 186 fire districts and 21 county governments, such independence is considered almost a God-given right: a source of civic pride, municipal jobs and control over zoning.

But now the autonomy of the smallest towns in New Jersey is being threatened as never before, forcing towns to consider everything from consolidating police and fire departments to merging with neighboring small towns.

No, the local governments of New Jersey are not a source of Pride: they are a source of Fraud, Graft, and Indictments. The actual populations of these municipalities are usually ignorant of their functions, and often of their borders. The local governments continue to exist chiefly because they are easier for real-estate developers to suborn. There are places in the US where very small municipalities are necessary and provide good government, but New Jersey is not one of them.

These comments from P.J. O'Rourke's Eat the Rich (1997) provide a useful analogy:

I went to Albania in 1997, and I know a country is screwed up when I can tell something is wrong with its history and social organization from 20,000 feet in the air. Flying over the Albanian Alps on the trip from Rome to Tirana, I noticed that the villages are not tucked into the fertile, sheltered valleys the way the villages of Austria, Switzerland, or even Bosnia are. The villages of Albania are right up on the treeless, soilless, inconvenient mountaintops. Before sky lifts were invented, there was only one reason to build homes in such places. A mountaintop is easy to defend.

To look at a political map of New Jersey is to have a similar experience: a small state with accommodating geography and a population of 8.7 million (a little more than neighboring New York City) is nonetheless divided among hundreds of political units. Surely dozens would suffice? In effect, the political system is pocketing the money that would otherwise be saved by economies of scale.

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The numerous readers of this site who are also interested in motorcycle road tours will certainly want to see Twisted Roads, the new blog of my old friend, Jack Riepe. I knew this man long before he was worth knowing; after 40 years, I'm proud to say I still do.

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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