THE POLITICS OF WAR: Absurdity and Economy
Two novels about the displacement of war with political or economic motivation are THE SAND PEBBLES by Richard McKenna and CATCH 22, by Joseph Heller. One is a political portrait of early 20th Century gunship diplomacy in Indo China. The other is a farce about the absurdity of the Military Industrial Complex. Both are negative political commentaries about US interests abroad.
Each of these novels was made into equally fine movies that were well received. But apart from their entertainment value, there are some interesting and serious points made about the socio-economic situation of the early and middle 20th Century. I will review The Sand Pebbles first and later in the month return to review Catch 22.
THE SAND PEBBLES by Richard McKenna
Set in China on the eve of revolution in the 1920s, this novel tells the story of a U.S. Navy gunboat and her dedicated crew of the "Sand Pebbles." “ The San Pablo” is the actual name of the vessel, which was given over to the nickname “Sand Pebbles” by the crew. There are two interesting metaphors to be derived from these two names. The first is the idea of a boat with a Spanish name cruising the waters of the Yanktze River in China under the US flag. This symbolizes both a sense of world wide diplomacy as well as Nation Building . The nickname reflects an attitude of insignificance on the part of the Captain, who is brooding for naval action with a left over Spanish American War vessel.
There is civil unrest in China, a result of several dominant foreign countries trying to bully the fragile nation into an alliance. War Lords are fighting each other, while a Nationalist Army has been created to stave off foreign interests and designs on China. This has the American Captain on edge and ready for a fight.
The novel describes a life of boredom and then sudden battle action based on a desire to engage an inocuous threat, but the chief conflict is between the traditional western ideas which saw China in racist and imperialist terms and emerging nationalism.
The protagonist, engine mechanic Jake Holman, is new to the boat and begins to teach his Chinese workers – he refuses to call them “coolies”– to master the ship’s machinery by understanding it, not just “monkey see, monkey do.” But this infuriates the Chief Cooley who feels his honor has been exsponged by the attitude of the Machinist Mate taking over.
Holman is not well received by most of the crew as well, because of his compassion for the coolies who are treated like slaves by the rest. But they serve the ship well, being allowed to sleep aboard the vessel and given left over food scraps.
An incident involving British gunboats leads to the Captain ordering the crew not to fire on, or return fire from the Chinese, to avoid diplomatic incidents. He is not happy with those orders and wants to engage the Chinese. But, The San Pablo is stuck in port at Changsha for the winter due to low water levels. It must deal with increasingly hostile crowds surrounding it in numerous smaller boats. The Captain fears a possible mutiny. Frenchy (the only friend of Holman) has saved a Chinese woman, Maily from prostitution by paying her debts. He marries her and sneaks off the ship regularly, after shore leave has been revoked.But he dies of hypothermia one night. Holman searches for him and finds Maily sitting stunned by Frenchy's corpse. The Chinese nationalists burst in, beat up Holman, and drag Maily away.
Holman returns to the ship. The next day, several Chinese float out to the San Pablo in small boats and demand the "murderer" Holman be turned over to them. Apparently, the nationalists killed Maily and blamed Holman, trying to provoke an incident. Holman informs the Captain what really happened. When the Chinese demand for Holman is refused, they blockade the San Pablo. The American crew fears for their safety and demand that Holman surrender to the Chinese against the Captain's orders. Order is not restored until the Captain fires across the bow of one of the Chinese junks.
When spring arrives, the ship is ordered back to the coast but the captain defies those orders and steams up the Yanktze to rescue a Christian Mission which has been blockaded by the Nationalists. It is directed under false pretense by the ambitious captain. A boom of junks tied together with heavy rope await the vessel .On board are several Nationalist soldiers. A fire fight breaks out and a battle ensues. The blockade is broken and the ship steams on toward the mission at China Light. The captain knows that the missionary will refuse his help but he insists.
The climax is a depiction of false pride in a captain who is single minded in his quest for glory and patriotic inertia. The crew pays for it with the loss of several soldiers and the missionary, himself, who is fired upon by the Nationalists, even though he waves a document renouncing his British Citizenship and all citizenships. Even Holman is killed not understanding the deeper ramifications of the action at China Light.
“What happened?” he asks plaintively, nursing his fatal wound.”What the hell happened?” he states again as he lays next to his mortally wounded captain. The collateral damage in this final metaphorical scene is a toll taken out of unneccessary political pride. It depicts the wrecklessness of Imperial Nations over others.
Resident Philosopher Doug Taylor
You are invited to Oak View Library’s Book-to-Action series of discussions to be held during the month of July, featuring the book, A Place at the Table: The Crisis of 49 Million Hungry Americans and How to Solve It edited by Peter Pringle.
This book is a companion to the 2012 nationally released documentary of the same title, which shed light on the fact that nearly 50 million Americans and one in four children - don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Registration is limited, so please call 805-649-1523 or visit the Oak View Library to sign-up, pick up a copy of the book, and get reading. The discussions/viewings will take place on Thursday evenings from 6-7pm on July 11, 18, and 25.
Become a Road Scholar with Jill Swaim
Elderhostel-Road Scholar is a learning, travel adventure organization created to inspire adults to explore their world.
The Road Scholar learning adventures engage expert instructors, provide extraordinary access, and stimulate
discourse and friendship among people for whom learning is the adventure of a lifetime.
Jill Swaim, Road Scholar Ambassador, will discuss the history, name change, and purpose of this not-for-profit organization and share stories of Road Scholar adventures.
Sisters in Crime - everyone loves a mystery - four authors discuss "Who dunit?"
- Dr. Joan Blacher, psychotherapist and author of the mysteries, Murder Canyon and Lethal Lake
- Sheila Lowe, forensic handwriting expert whose fictional character, Claudia Rose, testifies in cases where her handwriting analysis skills are put to the test
- Paul D. Marks, former script doctor and author of the award winning noir thriller, White Heat
- Sally Carpenter, whose book The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper was a Eureka! Award finalist for best first novel
The mystery is solved at Avenue Library, 606 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura.
Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury
451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which books burn. This is the physics of heat and entropy. And this is a tale of censorship and defiance. “The system was simple”, Bradbury begins his story. “Books were for burning along with the houses in which they were hidden”.
Burning books is the central premise upon which the story unfolds. Guy Montag is a firefighter. However, in this day and age, firefighting has taken on a whole different meaning. Guy is charged with the socio-political responsibility of burning books wherever they may be found. There are still all the lights and sirens that we associate with being a firefighter — they even have a pole to slide down on — but now, when the fire engine pulls up outside your door, it is met with trepidation not relief. Whereas water used to be the fluid of salvation, kerosene has become the liquid of suppression. Guy goes about his duties with the typical verve that a firefighter must have and he never thinks twice about lighting a match to save people from themselves. That is, until a new neighbor moves in next door to him.
“Have you ever read any of the books that you burn?” The neighbor asks him. “Of course not,” he returns. “Books are illegal”. But such begins a change in the man. One that causes him to question what he is doing. It infuriates his boss and worries his wife who persists that he watch “the people in the wall” referring to huge television screens placed into the wall. Of course, the shows on television are antiseptic and shallow. They are meant to be, because keeping the flock ignorant means that you can control their minds and behavior. It is quite Orwellian.
Media consumption is an underlying theme and it smacks of the silly mindlessness of so many TV programs today. What better way to control information than by not allowing it to disseminate freely. Instead, give the people what they want, harmless, shallow mindlessness. Part of what makes this story seem real is that Bradbury has connected his story with our current media trends.
Nothing is ever mentioned about the totalitarian government that has decreed these laws about books. It is simply “understood”. This is because Bradbury doesn’t want his characters striking back at the Regime politically. He wants them making self discovery choices that transcend the socio-political turmoil that this society reflects. Choices that cause Guy Montag to find a secret society of people who choose a book and then memorize it, taking on the name of the title as their own to preserve the book from the fiery Gates of Hell.
This is the way you fight the Unseen Monster, with defiance. The Regime IS the true “monster from the Id” in Bradbury’s book. And like the creature in Forbidden Planet, it is illusory and unnatural. It can be defeated, but not in any conventional way. Both situations in these books are confrontational. They must supply a moral paradigm. And they became that way because of the misuse of science.
Resident Philosopher - Doug Taylor
Guess the Mystery theme!!! Books displayed all share a Mystery theme. Can you guess what it is? Submit your response on the provided form found in the library. Correct submissions will be entered into a drawing to win a Mystery Prize!!!
Guess the Mystery theme!!!
Books displayed all share a Mystery theme. Can you guess what it is?
Submit your response on the provided form found in the library.
Correct submissions will be entered into a drawing to win a Mystery Prize!!!
Well, three or four weeks ago I did my annual harvest of one of my favorite plants in my garden, garlic. I know this may strike many as unusual, but it is a delightful plant to grow. I’ve been growing garlic for five years. This year was a very successful garlic growing year in the size and quantity of the garlic bulbs.
The process of growing garlic is one of patience, having the ability to suppress one’s curiosity, more patience, plus having a great sense of timing. Patience is needed at the beginning of the garlic growing process, for a month or so there will be no indication of the plant growing on the surface, once it starts, all is well. As the plant grows one will become interested in the size of the bulbs growth, but put this out of your mind, for the bulb to reach full growth it will take six to seven months, curiosity suppressed. Where more patience and timing come into play are near the end of the growing cycle, pull the garlic too early the bulbs won’t reach their full size, too late and the garlic will decay. What needs to be observed is approximately one third of the lower stems brown in color, then it is time to dig up the garlic. If you timed it right nice large bulbs will see their first light of day and the cleaning, trimming, and curing will begin. One thing I did not mention, it is best not to water a week prior to pulling the garlic, less soil will stick to the roots and bulbs. Shake off the loose dirt, trim the roots, and hang the garlic in a well ventilated dry covered area.
This year I was lucky to have the very crafty SMS braid the garlic, her sage advice and display designs are invaluable to the “Dish”. The “Dish’s Kitchen” now sings with rusticness and possesses the lovely aroma of curing garlic.
One garlic book available at E.P. Foster library that I really enjoy is The Official Garlic Lovers Handbook, by Lloyd John Harris, it is a 1980’s era book, but I love it all the same. The Official Garlic Lovers Handbook, is a gem of a book with history and recipes, including the hungrily sought after garlic ice cream recipe, poems, and a very risqué illustration on page 101. Parents and sensitive types please be well advised of this. Another book near and dear to my heart is A Garlic Testament by Stanley G. Crawford it’s the book that inspired me to grow garlic. I hope many of you read this book and come October, decide to plant some garlic.
Check out the book at Foster Library, or put a hold on it - we will send it to you!
If there are any cookbooks in Foster Library’s collection that you would like me to try out, please leave the title on our Facebook page and I’ll get cooking.
THE PHYSICS AND SOCIAL CONSCIENCE OF SCIENCE FICTION:
There are basically two kinds of Science Fiction themes that are preponderant within this genre. One looks at the Science that influences the stories and the other investigates the moral and social implications within a story. Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and A.J. Deutsch are among those who did the math and physics within their storylines, while H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury tended to ponder the social and moral implications of their futuristic novels.
On rare occasion, an author would combine both into a story line with great effect. One such was Forbidden Planet by W.J. Stewart. He combined elements of physics and psychology known to an advanced alien civilization (the Krell) that was experimenting with the “ID”. It subsequently created a mental monster of such magnitude that it destroyed their civilization thousands of years before the arrival of earthlings to their planet. The term “Monsters from the ID” became a household word back in the 1950s for adventurers of Sci-Fi. It was devised in the mind of the Krell and became as real and ferocious as any creature here on earth. So the story was a moral parable as well.
The two authors chosen for this expose are Deutsch and Bradbury because they represent these two themes in fascinating and compelling ways, much like Stewart did with Forbidden Planet. Deutsch looks at what can happen to a subway system from a postulate about systems connectivity in A Subway Named Moebius, while Bradbury postulates what can happen to a society when it is denied the availability of reading books in Fahrenheit 451. I will begin with Deutsch and later return to write about Bradbury’s tale of woe.
A SUBWAY NAMED MOEBIUS: A.J. Deusch 1950
The principles of connectivity state that as a system makes more connections to other parts of itself, the connectivity of that system increases in an exponential fashion to staggering levels. The subway under Boston had been growing in complexity for years. When the Transit Authority entered a new line into the system, it became so complex, that the best mathematicians could not calculate its connectivity. The topology of the system became overloaded.
Then the first train disappeared. The system was closed, so it couldn't have gone anywhere, but when all the trains were pulled, the transit Authority still couldn't find it. The searchers would see a red light, wait curiously, and hear a train passing in the distance, sometimes so close that it appeared to be just around the next bend. Where was the train? What happened to the passengers?
This is a cautionary tale of what could happen if you make your subway system too complex. And it revolves around the idea of a moebius strip; a twisted plane that goes from having two sides to just one in a closed system. Deutsch was a U.S. astronomer who understood the math of complex systems and made an example of extreme complexity to the degree that a moebius was created causing two parallel planes within a singular closed system. The mathematical connection with a moebius band is tenuous but the story is still intriguing.
The danger became real enough when two trains were found traveling within the same space but in two separate planes. At any time, the one train traveling within the other dimension created by the moebius could return to the plane and the track that the other train was traveling and cause an accident.
The whole idea is quite “Frankensteinian” . Deutsch seems to want to suggest that a Quantum Monster has been created underneath the city of Boston. These are not Monsters from the ID however, but rather monsters of Mathematical Complexity. And he is pondering the moral prerogative of examining the responsibility involved with making decisions about interacting too much with exponentially complex systems. Is he suggesting perhaps, that we “look before we take that quantum leap” accidentally into another dimension? Intriguing stuff, indeed…
--Doug Taylor, Resident Philosopher