21 May 2015

Book Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013) by Lawrence Wright

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For the Church of Scientology, the shit has hit the fan. If you can only read one book about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, this is the one. I have had a perverse hobby of researching this cult for many years, and I’ve read most of the important exposes of the cult. They are all informative and most often riveting, but this book is the gem of Scientology critiques because of its journalistic rigor and completeness. It is very well written.

(There has been a recent HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), directed by Oscar-winning documentary maker, Alex Gibney, which is based on Wright’s book and which includes interviews with Wright.)

Although I have read many books about Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (L. Ron Hubbard, or “LRH,” 1911-1986), this book by Lawrence Wright provided a lot of additional information about him and his religion. Wright dug deep and interviewed many “apostates” who left Scientology but who were witnesses during its important years, and he mastered the vast literature of the multitude of ex-Scientologists.

He also acknowledged some of the reasons that make Scientologists so loyal to their group. He sees LRH as not only as a liar and a fraud but as a charismatic fabulist that fascinated many people and made them believe him on faith. He notes that LRH, while still successful at grabbing money for power, spent much of his time alone with his E-meter developing his “spiritual technology.” LRH worked obsessively on working out a route to higher levels in his church doctrine. Wright asks: “If it was all a con, why would he bother?” He apparently believed his own bullshit. LRH was astoundingly complex, and Wright appreciates this while not sparing him radical criticism.

Lawrence Wright is an eminent American journalist on the staff of The New Yorker, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, in which he accurately nailed the relevant terrorist ideology, origins, and activities.

He wrote this book on Scientology in a measured style, honest and reality-oriented – brutally honest – yet also showing sincere compassion for true believers who were positively affected by Scientology. E.g., Scientology has netted some celebrities as high-profile icons/recruiters; and actress Ann Archer (Patriot Games, Fatal Attraction) and her husband agreed to be interviewed by Wright – and I really respect them for such openness and forthrightness – and Wright is respectful of their deep devotion to Scientology.

Scientology is very much a Hollywood style religion of the late 20th century, but it has its perverse dark sides and the well-documented extreme horror stories of totalistic confinement, mind control, families ripped apart through forced “disconnection,” and ruthless revenge against anyone who is considered to be a critical “enemy” of the church. The Hollywood celebrities are shielded from such controversies.

Academy Award winner Hollywood screenwriter and director Paul Haggis is a big part of this story because Wright wrote a long 2011 article on Haggis’s journey in and out of Scientology in The New Yorker called “The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.” Chapter 1 of Going Clear is “The Convert,” an account of Haggis as a young man pursuing the allure of Scientology in the early 1970s. The book will tell, near its end, of Haggis investigating and re-thinking Scientology after 35 years in it, and Haggis is very honest and courageous in his criticisms.

Chapter 2, “The Source,” focuses on LRH (Hubbard), the “source” of all cult doctrine. He was such a bullshitter! His lies about his wartime service and intellectual accomplishments are covered in other of my posts here.

Chapter 3, “Going Overboard,” covers LRH’s exile when running from governments in the 1960s and 70s. One very interesting item is about when he wrote the “theological” level Operating Thetan Three (OT-III), the secret knowledge of Galactic overlord Xenu 75 million years ago and how Xenu caused the mindfuck that continues on planet Teegeeack (aka, Earth). In the late 60s LRH was in Tangiers “researching” OT-III, the “Wall of Fire” level, and he wrote to his wife in England that he was “drinking lots of rum” and downing drugs, “pinks and grays,” while researching. He sounds inspired. The reaction of Paul Haggis when he finally earned the right to read this secret story about Xenu – which is now all over the internet – is one of my favorite parts of the book.

Hubbard moves his base of operations to Clearwater, Florida in the early 1970s, while personally hiding out elsewhere. This is the time of his aggressive campaign to “destroy” Paulette Cooper, a journalist who wrote The Scandal of Scientology (1971), and he almost did destroy her. (Her story is the subject of another great recent book by Tony Ortega, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, which I will review soon.) The Church of Scientology is infamous for its litigious practices, suing opponents into the ground. Hubbard’s doctrine was to viciously attack and to completely destroy perceived enemies. The church’s dirty tricks were often criminal.

At this time Hubbard also declared war on the US government, and other world governments, in his “Snow White Program,” which I have described before. It is called the biggest domestic infiltration of the US government in history. The FBI raided the church in 1977, and 11 high-level church officials, including Hubbard’s wife, ended up going to prison.

Chapter 4 is “The Faith Factory.” Borrowing from Jon Atack’s research, Wright applies the work of Robert Jay Lifton on “ideological totalism.” Lifton studied Maoist “thought reform” (which the CIA called “brainwashing”), especially the techniques of public confession and then re-education. Numerous Scientology defectors describe these exact techniques as a principal tool of control in the Sea Org (SO), the core “clergy” unit of the church. The horror stories are consistent from many different informants.

Meanwhile, the cult cultivates celebrities, especially Hollywood ones. John Travolta was one of the first big names. Tom Cruise is now the biggest name. LRH always emphasized going after famous people as icons and recruiters, and Hollywood was his main target. Celebrities are insulated from the harsh realities of rank and file church members.

LRH died in 1986 – or rather his mythology says that he “dropped his meat body” in order to do research amongst the galaxies and he will reincarnate someday here on Earth. He had still been an exile living in secret locations, hiding from his enemies.

New to me were some of the further historical details about Scientology’s present supreme leader, David Miscavige (DM). DM took over the church after the death of LRH, and he continues the ruthless policies of the Founder. With a vengeance.

DM micromanages every detail of the church’s activities, including the extremely cruel traditional LRH revenge and dirty tricks actions. Miscavige’s violent physical and mental assaults on his staff are very well documented elsewhere, but Wright’s documentation of DM’s history of violence shows us that he was abnormally violent while a young teenager. I can only conclude that Miscavige is a psychopath, by most accounts a dangerously angry bully who delights in crushing anyone he dislikes. And he has over a billion dollars in a slush fund which he uses to litigate or hire private detectives to harass his enemies.

Most of the recent Scientologists who have “blown,” i.e., who have managed to escape this religion that ruthlessly tracks you down and harasses and intimidates you to stay within the cult, have already told their stories elsewhere and the stories are very, very consistent.

Most of Hubbard’s own children have blown. Quentin Hubbard, LRH’s heir apparent, blew in 1976. Quentin was gay in a religion that considered this extremely perverse. He was found in Las Vegas, comatose in a car with the engine running and a hose from the exhaust to the window, and he died later. When Hubbard got the note about Quentin’s suicide, his reaction was: “That little shit has done it to me again!” (!!!)

Hubbard’s daughter Suzette blew in 1988. As did his youngest son Arthur that same year. The only remaining child of his third marriage, Diana, lives as a recluse on the California desert base.

In 1993 the Church of Scientology won a long-fought victory against the IRS, gaining tax-exemptions as a recognized religion. They won by wearing the IRS down through over 2,000 lawsuits against its district offices and individual employees. The IRS lawyers were completely overwhelmed, and the director made it all go away by simply surrendering to the cult’s demands. Now Miscavige has accumulated billions in cash and real estate.

“Google: ‘Lisa McPherson’.” In 1995 Lisa was given the church recognition of having achieved the state of “Clear,” meaning being perfectly healthy and on her way to higher Scientology levels. Yet she was psychotic. Who was the church auditing case supervisor who declared her to be “Clear”? It was David Miscavige. DM himself (although the church now denies it). When Lisa was soon hospitalized in a psych ward for running naked in the streets, the church moved her to their own hotel and “treated” her with LRH’s wacky theories. In 17 days she was dead. Miscavige micro-managed her entire treatment. The church only resolved the embarrassing situation in their favor after declaring a long war on the medical examiner and forcing her to reverse her judgment and retire in shattered health. Bastards.

You won’t believe some of the nutty accounts in Chapter 8, about David Miscavige in the Church headquarters out in the California desert near Hemet. But the witnesses are too many and too consistent. Give a madman like him money and unlimited power, and the incredible cruelty follows when no one will speak up at the time. Meanwhile TC (Tom Cruise) and DM are best buddies, and the abuses just cruise over Tom’s head.

The Sea Org (SO) members work endlessly for measly pay and are “thought reformed” into submission. All their (rare) phone calls are monitored, their mail opened, their bank records watched – like under the Stasi. Meanwhile, DM lives a lavish lifestyle with the best of everything.

Defections from the cult are multiplying, and they include high officials. Mark “Marty” Rathbun was second only to DM in the cult, as the Inspector General. With decades in the church, Marty was trusted to “audit” (i.e., counsel, mentor) Tom Cruise on the E-meter when Tom returned to an active role in the church. Rathbun blew in 2004, stayed silent for five years and then started a blog critical of DM’s dictatorship. He has been harassed unmercifully under DM’s micro-managed revenge machine. His inside knowledge of the church is priceless.

Marc Headley blew in 2005, and this also reflected badly on Tom Cruise. When Tom was in earlier church training he had to in turn audit someone else. Marc Headley was a SO employee who never had time to do his own advancement in Scientology levels, so DM had Tom audit Marc. The point is that if Marc blew, his auditor (Tom) is supposed to share a lot of the blame. Not that it will happen. Marc’s wife, Claire Headley, blew after Marc did, and she was the overall case supervisor of Tom Cruise’s auditing process. Embarrassing, no? Marc’s fine book, Blown for Good was reviewed earlier here.

In 2010 John Brousseau blew, and this shook things up because he had intimate knowledge of DM’s behavior and of the work SO laborers did for Tom Cruise for slave wages.

In 2007 Mike Rinder blew. Mike was a top official, the church’s spokesman for many years and executive director of the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), the cult’s spy org that replaced the old Guardians Office. With uncommon inside knowledge of the cult, he knows “where the bodies are stashed.”

As far as Hollywood celebrities blowing, Jason Beghe, an actor who takes no BS from nobody, left the cult loudly and unafraid. Paul Haggis was concerned about the hypocrisy he saw in church leadership, and he did (forbidden) research on the internet to have his eyes opened to church abuses. Haggis wrote a long detailed letter of resignation from the Church of Scientology and he shared it with a few people. The letter found its way to Marty Rathbun, who asked Haggis for permission to reprint it on his blog. Haggis said sure. What surprised Haggis was that Rathbun’s blog post with his letter had 55,000 hits that very afternoon! Scientology is being watched by multitudes of folk who don’t like what they see.

There is much, much more interesting material in this masterful work. Lawrence Wright had a legion of fact-checkers and an army of lawyers doing their homework before publication, because the cult is notorious at suing critics into the ground. Their work was so well done that the cult can only squawk.

In his Epilogue, Wright puts the Church of Scientology into historical perspective. He compares them with the early Mormons. Joseph Smith was a pathological liar, habitual fraud, and a con man, but he was charismatic enough to have a following of thousands in his short life, and today the Mormons are a flourishing almost-mainstream sect. They even had a Mormon run for president. (Although Mitt said his favorite novel was Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard! Jesus Christ! People voted for this guy?) Wright points out that the Christian Scientists oppose mainstream medicine even more the Scientologists, yet they have been accepted in American life for the most part (even though they are diminishing in numbers these days). And as far as Scientology’s policy of “disconnection”, the Amish do the same thing, calling it “shunning,” and the Amish have settled into their niche as an accepted, marginal, sect. Scientology won’t die soon, despite the shit hitting the big fan right now. What will it evolve into?

Wright is harsh when he has to be and compassionate when that is called for. But he is adamant that the Church of Scientology has to be confronted for its egregious abuses. He calls on the celebrity members, naming Tom Cruise and John Travolta, he maintains that they cannot be blind to these abuses, and he challenges them to take responsibility and renounce or try to change the cult’s present practices under David Miscavige.

In sum, this is a great book. I enjoyed reading it, even though many (not all) of the facts were already known to me – mainly through reading the daily blogs on Scientology by the indefatigable journalist Tony Ortega for many years now; Ortega has been covering Scientology for 20 years and is a clearing house of info, and he is also interviewed in Gibney's documentary Going Clear.

Wright is able to combine impeccable documentation with wonderful storytelling. This is a book I will be reading again someday, as a timeless account of the cult.

-Zenwind.

19 May 2015

An Allegheny Mountain Poem

“Hot summer afternoon has transformed into

Early twilight coolness and stillness. Listen …

The Hermit Thrush!”

(-Ross Barlow. From decades ago)

-Zenwind.

15 May 2015

Movie Review: Lost River (2014)

Bizarro! Bizarre, as in, “This is one bizarre movie!” It is a darkly weird fantasy neo-noir, and I do NOT recommend it. You probably will not like it, so don’t waste your time. Many critics did not like it either.

However, I kind of liked it. What does that say about me?

Written and directed by Ryan Gosling, it was filmed in seedy, desolate, abandoned parts of (once) greater Detroit, and the cinematography focused on the decay of long-deserted houses that are slowly collapsing and quite occasionally burning. It’s bleak. Neighborhoods are dead, and the last rats are abandoning ship, people heading to other places – anywhere but here. Violent criminals rule the wasteland, and perverseness is everywhere – except for a fragmented family, a mother and her two sons, struggling to maintain some traces of normality. It has a vaguely mystical element with a story not easy to explain.

The music, by Johnny Jewel, was very, very interesting – especially in theater sound – and I was surprised a few times by the eccentric selection of old songs. It’s very hard to describe, as is the entire film.

I saw this movie out of curiosity because I had read that it was Ryan Gosling’s first time directing and that the cast included Christina Hendricks (who I saw in a couple of old episodes of Firefly (2002 TV), Saorise Ronan, and Eva Mendes.

As a plus, Ryan Gosling did not appear in it as an actor. I first noticed him in Fracture (2007), a movie I liked immensely because of its great story and an unusually excellent cast, and I thought that he played his role very well in that one. But Gosling’s other acting roles have never impressed me much. Blue Valentine (2010) and Drive (2011) seemed pointlessly depressing and he never seems to show emotion. I liked Only God Forgives (2013) a bit only because it was filmed in Bangkok and I recognized many streets scenes, but his acting didn’t impress me here either.

I never saw Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), which he was in, but it is now on my list of films to try to see only because I learned that Emma Stone is in it. (My eyes were opened to Stone’s acting talent from her Oscar-nominated supporting role in Birdman (2014); I’m now her fan).

As a writer, Gosling hints that he may have other interesting screenplays in his future, although they will be strange ones. As a director, he has a very good eye for framing unforgettable scenes in this dark and bizarre vision.

But again, although I liked Lost River, I do not recommend it to you, as you most likely will be disappointed – unless you are truly weird. You have been warned.

-Zenwind.

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18 April 2015

Movie Review: Child 44 (2015)

Banned in Russia!

For history-lovers and libertarians I highly recommend the movie thriller Child 44 which opened worldwide this week. [Update: Apparently in the USA it is only in “limited” showing but hopefully will appear more widely later.] Putin banned it in Russia (and I wonder why!). It portrays the stark brutality and paranoia of the Soviet Union in the Stalin years without compromise.

I saw it only on a hunch that it might be good, because it was the cast that first caught my notice: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman. I was surprised and impressed with the film. The writing was very well done and showed the horror hell-house that was the USSR in 1953.

It is over two hours long, and it is an adaptation of a novel of that name by Tom Rob Smith, the first of his trilogy involving his fictional character, Leo Demidov, a former MGB agent and his wife, Raisa. The story is loosely based on the case of an actual Russian serial killer – in the “socialist paradise” where the very existence of crimes such as murder was declared to be “impossible” by state doctrine, and anyone suggesting otherwise could be committing a serious thought crime.

It is grisly, as was its era. Not a date flick.

-Zenwind.

05 February 2015

Book Review: This Perfect Day (1970) by Ira Levin

This excellent novel is one of the few by Ira Levin that was never made into a movie. (Not quite anyway; see below.) It was called to my attention from one of my favorite sources of book recommendations: the Libertarian Futurist Society, which gave This Perfect Day a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. By the time I finished reading it, I found that there are some very interesting libertarian connections with artistic influences and intellectual debts.

The world of this novel is a future Earth dystopia of conformity and perfect equality which is run by a master computer called “Uni” (short for “Uni-Comp”), and everyone is strictly required to take a monthly dose of “treatment” (meds) to deaden their desires and individuality. Thus medicated, people dread being “different”, a sense of that being sin. The idea of “choosing” seems odd and heretical to them. The very idea of choosing a job instead of Uni assigning it to you, of “deciding” and “picking” anything – these are all “manifestations of selfishness” and are outlawed in this future world. The only historical knowledge people have is vaguely that of the “pre-Uni chaos”, and they never really study it.

Part Two is “Coming Alive.” Our protagonist falls in with some non-conformists, proto-individualists who are able to reduce their treatment dosages without getting caught, and they tell him about what these new experiences are like. They introduce him to new concepts, such as “consent”, which they explain means “your body is yours, not Uni’s”, and he doesn’t have to take the treatments.

The reduced treatments wake him up for the first time in his life. He and his new friends start furtively going through old pre-Uni books in museums and find that these ancients indeed had some bad experiences but also happy ones: e.g., going wherever they chose, “earning” things, “owning” things, and always choosing; the ancients were more alive.

By reading to this point in my review, you might see a parallel between this 1970 novel and a certain 2002 movie. The Introduction to my Kindle edition of This Perfect Day is by Jonathan Trigell, and he mentions the close similarity between this novel and Kurt Wimmer’s film, Equilibrium (2002), one of my favorite movies which I had earlier reviewed here. This film had originally been recommended to me on a neo-Objectivist-libertarian e-list over ten years ago.

This novel also reminds one of Ayn Rand’s 1938 novella, Anthem, e.g., a person cannot choose his or her profession but is rather assigned it. And there is an even more interesting Rand connection.

Jeff Riggenbach writes (in Mises Daily, 3 December 2010) that Levin had read Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and that he studied a bit at Objectivism’s original educational enterprise, the Nathaniel Branden Institute, in the late 50s and early 60s, and – quoting Barbara Branden (1986) – Levin “began to enter the circle of Ayn’s friends.” Riggenbach’s review of the novel is very good (but he does give away a few spoilers), and he points out that the book’s primary weakness is in economics. Still, he calls This Perfect Day “one of the top half-dozen libertarian novels ever published in our language.” Coming from Jeff, that is high praise.

-Zenwind.

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24 January 2015

Movie Review: American Sniper (2014)

Here is an intense film in the traditions of the “all-American” movie. It is an emotional rush, showing the horrors of war; it is very well made; and I highly recommend it. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Bradley Cooper portraying the late great Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle, the patriot acclaimed as the deadliest sniper in US military history from his four (!) tours of duty in Iraq. The film is based on Kyle’s book of the same name, and his widow had a hand in ensuring the film’s authenticity.

Personally, I was very much against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (foreseeing it as a stupid, counter-productive, bumbling disaster), and so was director Clint Eastwood. But Clint explained his desire to direct this particular story because it so highly honored American military servicemen who believed in, and fought for, what they thought was their country’s defense against rabid enemies; and it portrays the burdens their families suffered from this “war on terror.”

Eastwood’s direction is expertly done, and Bradley Cooper’s acting is his very best yet. The film’s editing is extremely tight with no wasted moments. It is one hell of a story.

-Zenwind. .

08 January 2015

Book Review: Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology (2009) by Marc Headley

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Blown for Good is an autobiographical narrative but it reads like a thriller. In Scientology’s esoteric babble, to be “blown” is to have escaped from the Sea Org (SO), the cult’s dedicated hard core of workers and executives, each of whom have signed up for a “billion year contract.” And one must really achieve an all-out desperate escape, because they send out a massive manhunt of security people and SO staffers to drag you back in; they scour bus stations, airports, and any other place you might try to get away. Scientology has elsewhere been very accurately called the “prison of belief.” I knew that Marc Headley “blew” several years ago, and I knew the eventual outcome, but his story had me enthralled with its suspense to the very last page. I couldn’t put it down. His depiction of the cult as an “Iron Curtain” is perfect. Think of the people risking all to escape East Germany from 1945 to 1989.

Marc Headley grew up in Scientology with his mother and sister, and at age 16 he signed the “billion year contract” to join the Sea Org. Long hours, hard work, little sleep, poor food, pathetic “pay,” insane policies, and brutal harassment were the norm in the paranoid and crazy International Base in the California desert. This is Scientology’s headquarters, run by the Chairman of the Board (COB) of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), David Miscavige, who is the indisputable dictator of the entire worldwide cult and a certifiable asshole. Headley gives proof and describes Miscavige as being “evil” and delighting in the suffering of others – a fact confirmed by countless others who have experienced his cruelty and have escaped from the cult.

One of the things preventing anyone from “blowing” from Scientology is that if you do you will be “declared” as a “Suppressive Person” (SP), a kind of apostate heretic, and your family members still locked into the cult must “disconnect” from you and never communicate with you ever again. It is an absolute church law for all (unless you are a special rich celebrity like Tom Cruise). Marc and his wife Claire have been disconnected by almost all of their families, who refuse to communicate with them per church commands. The church denies having this policy, but it has been church doctrine starting with the founder L. Ron Hubbard, and it still goes on.

After 15 years of loyal, productive, and hard work at Scientology’s headquarters, taking an increasing amount of abuse in an increasingly crazy organizational atmosphere, Marc decides to blow. His story is fascinating.

Scientology has a special language of acronyms and slang that is hard to get through. But Headley has provided a Glossary for acronyms to help you maneuver through it.

I have read many books on Scientology, but this is one of the best because it describes individual life on the inside the cult so well.

-Zenwind.

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22 November 2014

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)

This is a really great film and one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. It is intense and full of surprises. J.K. Simmons plays an uncompromising studio jazz band leader at a top music conservatory, and he comes off as a raging Drill Instructor from Hell – demanding complete perfection and even more. Don’t miss his performance, because there will be major award nominations for it. The student that he drives so hard is played by Miles Teller. And the music is great.

Update: I just read that Damien Chazelle, the writer/director, is said to have been inspired by the intense USMC Drill Instructor played by R. Lee Ermey (once a real-life Marine D.I.) in the first half of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Whether it is true or not, it would make perfect sense.

Update: J.K. Simmons won his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. No surprise.

-Zenwind.

22 October 2014

Book Review: Mao: the Unknown Story (2005) by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

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This huge biography of Mao Tse-tung (Zedong) is very well researched – 12 years in the making, interviewing scores of people who were on the scene in Mao’s circle as well as people connected with him from around the world, and consulting numerous archives.  Author Jung Chang was a teenage Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution (aka, the Great Purge), and her parents were both longtime cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  Her husband Jon Halliday is an Irish historian. 
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Mao Tse-tung comes out as an even more twisted mass murderer of civilians than I had thought.  In terms of sheer body count, he was worse than Stalin and Hitler -- combined -- and is without a doubt the top killer of all time.  Their evidence in this book caused R.J. Rummel – the renowned authority on “death by government,” i.e., the murder of civilians by their own government – to upgrade (to actually double) Mao’s murder count to well over 70 million Chinese citizens deliberately killed by his policies.  These were not war casualties; they were deaths of civilians by calculated government actions (such as deliberate famine, labor camps and torture as well as executions) with Mao in command.  It is a horror story, made worse because of its reality. 
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If Machiavelli had lived during the mid-20th century, he would have presented Mao as his prime example of power-by-all-devious-means, rather than Cesare Borgia.  Mao had an evil genius for power plays combined with a total lack of humaneness enabling him to follow through. 
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I heartily recommend this book, with one important caveat:  It does not mention the gross atrocities of Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist (KMT) enemy of Mao (and an ally of the USA) who retreated to Taiwan in 1949.  According to R.J. Rummel’s research program into civilian “death by government,” Chiang ranks number four among the all-time mass murders by government leaders, behind Mao (with over 70 million deaths), Stalin (with around 40 million), and Hitler (with around 20 million).  Rummel estimates Chiang’s number of killings to be 10 million Chinese civilians.  That is hard to ignore or sweep under the rug, but our authors do it. 
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Major myths surrounding Mao are exploded in this book.  E.g.: during the Long March, Mao didn’t march; he was actually carried on a litter, a sedan chair, by others for most of the march.  Mao was ignorant of most military strategy, and the way he wasted tens of thousands of his own Red Army soldiers was appalling.  He would frequently waste the lives of enormous numbers of troops solely to jockey himself into a better position of power over his rivals in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  He routinely instituted terror for population control.  He was a monster who never thought twice about killing huge numbers of humans. 
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Red China (the PRC) and the CCP were creations of the USSR, and the documentation is here.  Soviet military intelligence (GRU) consistently aided the CCP with organizational guidance, with important intel, with technology, and arms.  Moscow consistently backed Mao, amongst all the other CCP leaders whom they had trained, because of Mao’s willingness to use extreme brutality, unspeakable tortures and killings.  Mao always looked to Moscow, because he knew the source for guns and money. 
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Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT allowed the Reds to go on their Long March when he could have crushed them at the time.  Chiang wanted the Red Army invasion of the Southwest provinces in order to scare the independent warlords into an alliance with him.  Also, Chiang had to appease the Soviets, who had his son hostage.  He “herded” the Red Army west. 
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From 1942, in Mao’s settled base at Yenan, Mao’s style of governance was apparent.  Humor was banned.  (!)  Everyone was required to write endless “thought examinations.”  A cult of personality was developing, terror as a means of control was increasing, and he quickly destroyed the local economy with absurd taxation and hyper-inflation policies.  And Mao would never learn from his mistakes, ever. 
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In the later post-WWII civil war with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT), Chiang’s army completely out-classed the Red Army and took over the industrial heartland of China in Manchuria.  The Red Army could very well have been finished off except for the good old USA.  General George Marshall brokered a truce, which gave the CCP and Red Army breathing space and the chance to be re-armed and trained by the USSR (with captured Japanese arms and pilot instructors).  Gen. Marshall had served in China in the 1920s and was “ill-disposed towards Chiang, mainly because of the corruption of Chiang’s relatives.”  (Or perhaps he witnessed Chiang’s own murderous history.) 
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By 1949 Chiang and the Nationalists folded and retreated to Taiwan, leaving Mao and company in charge of Mainland China as the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Mao is so dependent on the USSR for arms that he begins what will be a long-term policy of exporting food to pay for arms, while Chinese people starve to death. 
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Mao’s terror amongst the peasants was from the same playbook as Lenin and Stalin:  he set quotas.  He decreed that 10% of the peasants were “land-owners” (“kulaks” in Russian parlance), and they were rounded up for expropriation of property, abuse and/or death. 
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Once the Reds were in charge, nationalization of larger private industrial property was postponed a bit at first, so business and agriculture started to recover from the chaos of war.  But censorship was total.  Public execution spectacles were designed to terrorize and brutalize the people.  Around 27 million people were executed or died in prisons or labor camps under Mao’s rule. 
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At the end of the Korean War, around 21,000 Chinese Red Army troops were POWs of the US and allies, and of these fully 2/3 of them refused to return to Red China, most of them going to Taiwan.  Mao’s drive to industrialize, militarize, and especially to get an A-bomb, meant that even more food was taken from the peasants and exported.  This was resisted by the Politburo (and by Chou En-lai, who was otherwise loyal to Mao), so Mao relaxed it a bit, making 1956 and 1957 relatively better.  But not for long. 
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In 1957 Mao laid a trap for intellectuals and dissidents, called “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom.”  People who wanted democracy and the rule of law were encouraged to express themselves in public.  Then Mao closed the trap, calling it the “Anti-Rightist Campaign,” rounding them up.  He again set quotas for arrest, just as Stalin had done. 
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In 1958, in his Great Leap Forward, Mao knowingly caused the worst famine in human history, from 1958 to 1961.  Huge amounts of food were taken from the peasants and exported.  He exported food to Russia in return for massive military assistance, including the means to produce atomic weapons, while nearly 38 million Chinese died from starvation and/or overwork.  In 1960 alone, 22 million died in this famine. Mao’s Number 2, President Liu Shao-chi, admitted to the Soviet ambassador that at least 30 million had died before the famine was over. 
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Then the president of the PRC, Liu Shao-chi, politically ambushed Mao at a huge CCP conference in 1962, damning the obvious carnage of Mao’s policies.  The Party cadres overwhelmingly agreed with Liu, and Mao had to back off, thus ending the worst of the famine.  Mao salvaged much of his power by being backed by the defense minister, Lin Biao, as well as Chou En-lai.  Mao would strike back with revenge later. 
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Meanwhile, the “Big Destruction” in Tibet was Mao’s drive to annihilate the Buddhist culture there after the 1959 invasion.  Monasteries were destroyed, monks and nuns were killed.  In 1963 in China proper, all art forms in all of the PRC were denounced.  It was declared that “people read too much.” (!)
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In 1966 Mao launched his Great Purge, the Cultural Revolution.  His main allies who helped him pull it off were the defense chief Lin Biao and the loyal Chou En-lai.  Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) spearheaded the “kill the culture” campaign’s beginning.  Students, the Red Guards, were given food and then encouraged to turn on their teachers.  They invaded homes, burning books and destroying paintings, musical instruments, etc.  To me, this defines barbarity
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(The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia adopted this Maoist philosophy, rhetoric, and policies in the late-1970s, and their murder rate, as a percentage of the population murdered, out-did Mao.) 
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Mao then turned the momentum of terror against Party members who had opposed him earlier.  Off to labor camps (often a death sentence) went artists, writers, scholars, actors, journalists, etc.  Education basically stopped.  Leisure time vanished, replaced by mandatory group study sessions on Mao’s “thoughts,” and group denunciations of members.  Sounds like Hell on Earth to me. 
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The Red Guards purged CCP president Liu Shao-chi and his wife as “capitalist roaders,” along with Deng Xiao-ping.  Liu died in 1969.  However, Deng will be a survivor. 
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In 1967 the Red Army commander at Wuhan opposed the Cultural Revolution.  Mao went there himself to reestablish control, but the up-surge of popular anger there was so overwhelming it threatened him to the point he had to flee for his very life via a very close-call airplane escape. 
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By the late 1960s, Mao’s worldwide revolutionary authority had waned.  US president Nixon visited and fed Mao’s superpower dreams, but later with Watergate and Nixon’s fall, these dreams ended. 
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The loyal Chou En-lai had cancer, and early treatment would have helped him, but Mao delayed Chou’s treatment.  For one, Chou was the smoothest diplomatic personality he had and was needed for the Nixon negotiations.  And Mao didn’t want Chou to outlive him.  Nice reward for a comrade for a lifetime of loyalty! 
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Mention must be made of Madame Mao, Jiang Qing, who was ascendant during Mao’s last years.  She was nuts.  A completely paranoid evil bitch.  She was active in the early Cultural Revolution, pushing all Chinese to ever more austerity while she lived an extravagant personal lifestyle.  Her special private train would often stop at her whim, completely clogging all regional railroad traffic; and she justified it thusly:  “In order for me to have a good rest, and a good time, it is worth sacrificing some other people’s interests.” (p.730)  (Oh, yeah! We's da rulers, and yous' da low-life scum!)
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Deng Xiao-ping, who had been purged earlier, had to be rehabilitated by Mao because Chou was so ill, but Mao countered him with the “Gang of Four” (which included Madame Mao).  Mao was failing physically.  He had lost control of the Red Army, but he stubbornly advocated the Cultural Revolution to the very end of his days.  Mao faded out to extinction, yet Deng survived and the Gang of Four were tried and executed.  Deng later started the process by which the economy of China was freed of its most insane restrictions, thus leading to the phenomenal unleashing of Chinese economic genius. 
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How shall I summarize Mao?  Since he personally loved scatological language, how about this:  “He was a sadistic, psychopathic, sack of shit.” 
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-Zenwind.
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11 October 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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This is a really great action science fiction (SF) movie, capturing very well – through its sights, sounds, and story action – the authentic chaos, the confusion, and the quick, quick, too quick terror of immediate combat reality.  It puts you squarely into the war zone with no rescue possible.  It is one of Tom Cruise’s better roles in recent years, primarily because of the fine story writing history.  But for me it is Emily Blunt who really stood out as a warrior heroine, and seeing her performance here was the main event even though Cruise has the featured role. 
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The premise of Edge of Tomorrow is based on the short Japanese SF novel, All You Need Is Kill (2004), by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The film also gives homage to other classic war movies, e.g., briefly to Platoon (1986) but more especially to Saving Private Ryan (1998). 
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Part of the story’s appeal is that it has a “time loop” somewhat like the film Groundhog Day (1993), always setting the protagonist (Cruise) back a day.  But it’s not funny.  It’s terrifying.  Cruise keeps getting reset back to the day before the combat action that he knows will certainly kill him in some ghastly new way each time.  Over and over again.  The only virtue of this repeated time loop is that he remembers each earlier time and thus may possibly learn from his past mistakes, kind of like one’s feeble attempts at karmic improvement while struggling and stumbling on through endless Samsara. 
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The human warriors fight ruthless alien invaders, and they are physically reinforced by powered armor exoskeletons as originally inspired by Robert Heinlein’s classic 1959 SF novel Starship Troopers (but it’s best to forget that dreadful movie with the same name).  The odds are against humanity, and it looks like extinction for us. 
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Emily Blunt is fantastic as a warrior who fights individually with a heroic ferocity that reminds me of Homeric times, e.g., the desperate combats on the beach at Troy.  An epic heroine, she kicks ass and inspires the human fighters in their grim defensive cause.  They call her the “Full Metal Bitch” and are in absolute awe of her prowess.  Her performance is one of the best female action roles I’ve seen in a while.  Still, as my cousin Holly remarked, Blunt’s character inevitably seems to play second fiddle to that of Cruise, the great established male Hollywood mega-star. 
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We need more heroines in literature and film.  Intelligent steely-eyed warrior women with individual courage, independent vision, and sovereign executive judgment.  In the Western tradition, we only have a few and their roles have been much too brief:  e.g., the Amazon queen Penthesilea, the Greek goddess Artemis, Joan of Arc, Spenser’s Belphoebe and Britomart, etc.  Even Ayn Rand dropped the ball when penning her great heroic females, having them bow too much to their men in the end. 
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(My perspective, above, is more of a long-range historical one.  However, isolated SF, action, thriller, and dramatic books and films in recent decades actually have produced some remarkably great heroines, and I would really like to recollect and catalog them into a personal Heroine Hall of Fame someday.  Any suggestions for my list?  Please help me here.) 
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Tom Cruise is best when he precedes his heroics by playing an unsavory person, in this case a cowardly weasel and a very reluctant hero.  (Tom is experiencing low ebb in his stardom these days, possibly because of the unpopularity of his real-life persona as a complete $cientology dickhead.  Katie showed him the door with great intelligence and resolve.  Go, Katie!) 
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This is science fiction, but when Tom shows up in the first scenes in a bastardized knockoff of a USMC officer’s uniform, it made me want to puke.  But the Corps et al is redeemed in the scene(s) when Tom wakes up handcuffed and disgraced, and an NCO with a naval-block cover yells at him, “On your feet, maggot!”  (Ah, sweet Parris Island nostalgia.) 
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And Bill Paxton gives a supporting performance here that is an absolute classic.  His role as Master Sergeant Farell is one with such an absurd mock-military attitude that it makes me want to smile with every bit as wide of a shit-eating grin as his.  He’s a master. 
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But it is Emily Blunt who steals the show.  See the movie on DVD. 
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-Zenwind.
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05 October 2014

Book Review: The Darkship Series by Sarah Hoyt

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Sarah Hoyt has written a series of three very fine SF novels which are recognized by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS) as either a winner or nominee for Best Novel.  Darkship Thieves (2010) won the LFS’ 2011 Prometheus Award, and its sequels, Darkship Renegades (2012) and A Few Good Men (2013) were nominee finalists more recently.  The love of freedom goes through all of these books.  Hoyt’s characters are always well-drawn, there are heroes and heroines aplenty, and her descriptions of family dynamics are always interesting.  Bio-engineering is a big controversy in this future world, as are the age-old arguments on Liberty vs. Power. 
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The first book, Darkship Thieves – which is dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein – introduces us to a far future where Earth is governed feudally by an oligarchy of 50 “Good Men.”  Our protagonist, the Patrician Athena Hera Sinistra is a heroic young woman with a lot of fight in her.  There is action and mystery right off the bat on her father’s spaceship out beyond Earth.  Athena must escape this ship because she is attacked by the bodyguard goons serving her father, the Patrician “Good Man” Sinistra.  (Everyone in her family lineage is left-handed.) 
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In her flight she runs into a Darkship Thief named Kat, who is from a society of refugees who had fled Earth centuries ago and who now inhabit an obscure asteroid named Eden.  It is a society without government, yet with traditions of justice.  Athena settles in on Eden but must go back to Earth for an emergency, and the tyranny on Earth puts her and Kat in grave danger.  [“Is there any other kind?”]  There is a ghastly family secret about her father and the other Good Men ruling Earth. 
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Darkship Renegades continues the story of Athena, Kat and his family, and it explores the political nature of Eden.  A tyranny is developing in Eden, although there is no legal system.  It is a tyranny of the Energy Board.  What makes the Board so powerful is that it is a traditionally inherited family monopoly of the directors’ positions of what is traditionally a collective-ownership of energy resources.  With no actual private property in energy, and no tradition of competition within the energy sector, the Board uses their monopoly directorship’s control of vital energy to threaten and control everyone in Eden.  And it’s getting grim and violent.  To break the monopoly by putting energy technology into private hands, Athena and friends must return to Earth to get long-lost info on energy tech – with troubles confronting them again on that planet of tyrants. 
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A Few Good Men is in the same world and timeline as the first two novels, but it shifts its focus onto different characters more this time.  All the action takes place on Earth, and there is revolution in the air against the Good Men’s oligarchy.  We have heroic characters again, and their basic principle is the individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It is an excellent story.  The debates about freedom are believable – because they parallel in many ways the real historical debates among the American Founders.  Hoyt has one character give a very brief but vital distinction between the principles of the historical American and French Revolutions, and the results that followed from each. 
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Highly recommended.  I hope she adds more to the series in the future.  Read the novels in their proper order.  I could not find paper copies here, so I got them on Kindle. 
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-Zenwind.

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