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Barbarian’s Book(s) Review: David Weber’s Honorverse Series

By: Ohio Barbarian Tuesday June 3, 2014 4:03 pm
Cover of On Basilisk Station, "Introducing Honor Harrington"

David Weber introduced Honor Harrington & launched the “Honorverse” in On Basilisk Station

Back in 1992, David Weber started a series of highly popular books about a female Horatio Hornblower-like character named Honor Harrington in On Basilisk Station. In the first eleven books, which came out roughly yearly, the emphasis is on highly technical military science fiction. Honor is an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, which is a kind of British-style constitutional monarchy fighting for its life against the People’s Republic of Haven, which is a sort of French Revolutionary Republic gone Stalinist.

The Manticoran aristocracy, while hereditary, is supplemented by meritorious additions to that same aristocracy from commoners who deserve promotion, Honor herself among them. Politically, the message in those first eleven books is pretty clear: conservative, at least somewhat democratic constitutional democracy Good, revolutionary leftist dictatorship Bad, although the Havenite characters are often quite sympathetic and realistic fictional people. Meanwhile, ever lurking in the background, is the Solarian League, an extremely powerful and populous interstellar country with its capital on Old Chicago, on Old Earth, that is unabashedly corporatist, whose leaders pay only lip service to the old Federal Constitution. This should sound familiar.

Then, in September 2003, with the publication of Crown of Slaves, the political story strongly shifted. Weber was writing this during the run up to the Iraq War, and it shows. While out-and-out slavery is almost universally banned, officially anyway, certain renegade transtellar, ie multinational, corporations do profit handsomely from real human slavery. And if there’s one thing that the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven have in common, it’s a genuine hatred of slavery and a contempt for the hypocritical Solarian League that doesn’t really do anything to stamp it out because too many of its leaders are profiting from the slave trade in one way or the other.

The most egregrious of these transtellar corporations is called Manpower, Inc. It’s no coincidence that it bears the same name of one of America’s biggest temporary employment agencies. Based on a planet called Mesa, Manpower turns out to be controlled by a group of people who believe in eugenics, and have been breeding different genetic lines of human beings, from Huxley-esque alpha lines to genetic slaves, for centuries. In Crown of Slaves (wonderfully co-written with Eric Flint) and its sequel, Torch of Freedom, the slaves successfully revolt on one planet, aided and abetted by two colorful secret agents of both the Star Kingdom and the People’s Republic, Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat, respectively.

Meanwhile, the wars drag on, with Honor Harrington rising to the rank of Admiral among many feats of military derring-do in the finest Horatio Hornblower tradition, and eventually the People’s Republic is overthrown by its own people and the Old Republic of Haven is restored. Then things get really interesting.

Beginning in 2010, with Mission of Honor, followed by A Rising Thunder, Shadow of Freedom, and A Cauldron of Ghosts (the latter two also co-authored by Eric Flint), the attention shifts to the nefarious eugenics nazis of the secret “Mesan Alignment” and the corrupt Solarian League. The Solarians are clearly Americans, and its corrupt, lying, self-righteous, sociopathic and arrogant government officials come straight out our own headlines of the last few years.

As Ursula K. LeGuin once said, “Science fiction is not about the future, or the past; it’s about the present.”

 

9/11/2001…Get OVER It, Already! Now, It’s Just Bad Propaganda.

By: Ohio Barbarian Thursday May 15, 2014 5:23 pm

The 9/11 Museum is now complete and open to the public. The 9/11 Memorial stands proud and much ballyhooed. Whoop. Dee. (Old English verb deleted) Doo!

Freedom Tower with memorial at the base

The 9/11 Museum is open at the base of the Freedom Tower.

I’m sick to death of 9/11.  I remember it. I saw the second plane hit the second World Trade Center tower on September 11,  2001 on live TV as it happened.  I heard the stunned announcer say, “…and another small plane has crashed into the other tower,” and thought, “That wasn’t a small plane. That was an airliner,” while brushing my teeth while getting ready to go to work in Denver.

Yes, it was a Bad Thing. A group of religious fanatics hijacked planes and deliberately crashed them into tall buildings in New York City, and another group hijacked another plane which was probably crashed when its passengers stormed the cockpit because they knew that they were going to die, anyway, so why not fight? I honor those passengers. Some 3000 people died that day.

Still, the events of 9/11/01 have been used in a most reprehensible manner by those in power in my country as an excuse to do horrendous things. I can certainly understand a punitive strike on Afghanistan, whose government allowed the conspiratorious fanatics to operate with impunity. But that’s it.

The subsequent and ongoing occupation of said country is way over the top. The conquest of Iraq, on the pretense that the Iraqi government of the time was somehow in league with one of its most inimical enemies, was a travesty. And, ever since, not one but two presidential administrations have used the events of 9/11/01 as an excuse to aggressively curtail the civil liberties of the American people, to justify military interventions in numerous countries around the world, and to do whatever it takes to advance the interests of Corporate America wherever and whenever possible.

And now we have a shiny new museum complete with the keychains and shoes of the dead, just like the Holocaust Museum. The only problem is that the Holocaust killed a LOT more people over a LOT more years. The Holocaust deserves a museum. 9/11? Not so much.

Maybe a memorial. But a big honkin’ museum? Let’s get real, here.

More Americans died on December 7, 1941, than died on September 11, 2001. They have the Arizona Memorial. I know. I’ve been there. It’s impressive and haunting. You stand there, and look down through the clear water into the wreck of the USS Arizona. It’s powerful as all hell. When I was there, I was surrounded by tearful Japanese tourists.

That was just as powerful too, in its own way.

Do you think for one minute that 50 years from now you’ll see tearful Saudi tourists at the 9/11 Museum? Didn’t think so.

On September 11, 2001, a horrible crime was committed. A crime of vengeance. Which begat not only more vengeance, but crimes committed by our leaders against US,  We The People of the United States of America, and which continue to be committed in our name but without our consent and certainly not in our interests nor for our well-being.

And the same people, who wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes and tell us that what they are doing to us is for our own good, are laughing all the way to the bank out our expense. George Bush II, Barack Obama, all the Talking Heads, keep doing it and doing it, over and over. Using the horror of those few hours, of that day, to advance their own interests at the expense of our own.

Secession in Ukraine Accelerates: Ukrainian Army Units Refuse Orders from Kiev

By: Ohio Barbarian Thursday April 17, 2014 6:55 pm

In spite of all of the bluster from the neo-Fascist regime in Kiev, the Obama Administration in Washington, and, to a lesser extent, several Western European governments, it seems that some ordinary Ukrainians themselves, and probably ethnic Ukrainians at that,  just really, REALLY,  don’t want a war with Russia. Or, even worse, a civil war with their neighbors the ethnic Russians.

Ukraine's seat of parliament, Verkhovna Rada

Kiev’s current regime is in “deep trouble.”

I can’t really blame them. Anyway, the World Socialist Web Site has an excellent little piece of real journalism on the subject, there’s not even any Trotskite rhetoric or theory, it’s just the story.

In short, in spite of heated rhetoric from Kiev about “annihilation” of its domestic foes, the Ukrainian soldiers sent to do the job just…didn’t. They don’t recognize the authority of the current government to order them to kill their fellow citizens. But our American government does, and no doubt considers the inactions of those Ukrainian soldiers to be committing mutiny.  So, they’re going to do,

What?

I suppose they can tell the Kiev folks to crack down now before this spreads, and the latter may try, but it may not succeed. When a government loses the support of a good portion of its military, as is happening right now in Ukraine, it’s in serious trouble.  It can possibly survive by appeasing the military,  as the British did their navy in 1798, or by taking the hard line and waging civil war, as Lincoln did to American army soldiers who joined the Confederacy starting in 1861.

The Kiev government is definitely not in Lincoln’s position. There was a good chance that foreign powers would not intervene on behalf of the secessionist slave states. Slavery just wasn’t that popular in most of the rest of the world back then. Lincoln gambled on that predominant global sentiment and won.

But what, exactly, does the Kiev government stand for? Ethnic Ukrainian nationalism? Definitely. With maybe a little ethnic cleansing on the side?  Part of it, anyway. I’m sure Ukrainians of all ethnicities are quite familiar with the example of Yugoslavia’s breakup. It should come as no surprise if most of them decide they’re just not going to go down that road. It’s also very possible that they will choose to take a different path, one that gives their children a better chance of growing up.

Or does the Kiev government stand with joining the European Union and thereby subjecting their people to the joys of EU and IMF austerity? Well, yes it does. And all in the name of nationalism and fear of the big, bad Russian Empire. While both are understandable, is either one of them worth a civil war and Russian intervention?

Again, it should come as no surprise if most Ukrainians decided that “No” was the correct answer to that question.

If that happens, and I think it is a strong possibility, then the eastern Ukraine will simply go the way of Crimea and not very many people will get hurt.

As for the current Kiev regime, it’s in deep trouble either way. If it chooses the path of civil war, Russia invades and the West will do nothing militarily to help it because the West will not risk a nuclear war with Russia. Even the more fanatical NATO enthusiasts in Poland and the Baltic States are not willing to risk that over Ukraine, not if push comes to shove. Oh, there’ll be lots of dire rhetoric, vetoed UN Security Council resolutions, and maybe some weapons that will come too little, too late. But no troops. Count on it.

If the regime lets the ethnic Russian provinces go relatively peacefully, then it will be more dependent than ever on the financial aristocracy which dominates the governments of Western Europe and America. It’ll go full tilt towards austerity and whatever else the latter want. Maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what some of our financial aristocracy want. Let part of Ukraine secede, then mercilessly exploit what remains.

After that, my little crystal ball goes dark. I just don’t know how the western, ethnic Ukrainians will react to that after all of the crap and stress that they have lived and will live through before they ever reach that point. Thanks for reading, and have a nice night.

Ukraine Teeters on the Brink of Civil War and Invasion, or Not

By: Ohio Barbarian Sunday April 13, 2014 7:30 am
Russian anti-nazi propaganda poster from WWII shows nazis fleeing a Russian tank.

“The West keeps underestimating the intelligence, resourcefulness, and courage of the Russian people.”

Ethnic Russians began seizing government buildings and police headquarters in several cities in eastern Ukraine weeks ago.  Just in the last day, shots have been fired and there have been a few deaths reportedBBC speculates on whether Russia is orchestrating the protests, While this morning on ABC’s This Week, Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, came right out and accused Russia of doing exactly that on the grounds that they are just too well-coordinated for the local ethic Russians to have done on their own.

Just like the Obama Administration said about the largely bloodless secession by Crimea a few weeks ago. But really? If the majority ethnic Russians in the Crimea could pull it off, why not their cousins in eastern Ukraine? It seems the West just keeps on underestimating the intelligence, resourcefulness, and yes, courage of the Russian people. Napoleon did it. Czar Nicholas II, who really should have known better, did it. Hitler did it, and now Obama appears to be doing it. Will they never learn?

For its part, the right wing Ukrainian government in Kiev threatened a blood bath, but backed down some over the last day. Meanwhile, the protests continue, the occupations of government buildings continue, and the ethnic Russians show no signs of backing down, as this article about what is going on in Donetsk attests. Why should they?

They don’t want to be ruled by a bunch of hyper-Ukrainian nationalists who want to essentially make them second-class citizens, and are quite understandably leery of a government with openly Fascist and even neo-Nazi elements. Besides, they know full well that if the Kiev government actually does try for a forceful and bloody crackdown, Vladimir Putin won’t hesitate to send the Russian Army to their rescue. Even if military forces loyal to the Kiev regime resisted as best they could, I estimate the Russians could successfully invade and occupy the eastern third of Ukraine in a matter of days.

And there’s not a damned thing Obama or western Europe can do about it. Neither the American nor European militaries are going to allow a direct military confrontation with Russia–Ukraine is just not worth risking a nuclear war over, period. Besides, it lies in what has long been considered Russia’s sphere of influence.

Probably the best thing that could happen for Obama is for eastern Ukraine to go the way of Crimea, with little bloodshed, and for him to just shut up about it. Somehow, I don’t think he’s that smart. Maybe the Kiev government is. Time will soon tell.

Anyway, crisis or no crisis, it’s a beautiful day in northeastern Ohio, and I have errand to run and (gasp!) yardwork to do. I’m off, but I’ll be back. And have a nice day.

Thursday: Pope Meets Obama. Friday: Pope Goes to Confession. Coincidence?

By: Ohio Barbarian Friday March 28, 2014 3:55 pm

This past Thursday, Pope Francis I met with President Obama in the Vatican. The very next day, for the first time in history, the Pope went to confession in public.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Coincidence? Hmmm…

I can’t prove it, but I, who believe firmly that coincidence is more common than dirt, doubt it. So, if I’m right, just what was ol’ Pope Francis confessing so that everyone could see that he was actually confessing?

Did he need to be absolved because he felt like ripping out the hypocritical, warmongering, fascist bastard’s esophagus out and strangling him with it? Because he failed to do so? Because he grudgingly smiled and was polite to the #1 Servant of Mammon, against the judgment of his conscience?  Or maybe the Pope felt so dirtied by shaking the Fascist’s hand and being cordial to him that he just HAD to seek absolution.

Perhaps we will never know.  Somehow, the timing is just too neat. And, if the confessional booth had no electronic listening devices, even the NSA will never know.

That’s OK. I like this Pope. Far better than I like the President of the United States.

As for any gods that I may consider following, I think Thor is having a good laugh.

Women: The Kinder, Gentler Face of Fascism

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday March 22, 2014 9:12 am

For the last several months, maybe longer, I’ve noticed a trend in corporate advertising and political framing. Women are taking the stage front and center. Here in northeastern Ohio, you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing a Giant Eagle commercial featuring its CEO, Laura Shapira Karet, in the grocery store proclaiming that she would never feed her customers anything her own family wouldn’t eat. Alternatively, there’s another commercial with Karet bragging about how much food Giant Eagle donates to local food banks every year because they care so much.

Of course, not a word is said about the wages and salaries of Giant Eagle employees, which are working poor at best these days, and Giant Eagle employees even have a weak union. But with a face like Laura’s, surely she cannot be a vicious, sociopathic capitalist, can she? Of course she can, and is. Come on, those wages still qualify most employees for food stamps and Medicaid. How generous and motherly of her!

During Obama’s last State of the Union address, he proudly pointed out Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, as a wonderful leader of our times.  Some nonsense about turning GM around and creating good middle class(it’s always middle class with him, isn’t it?) jobs. Not a peep about how new GM workers make only half of what their parents did without being adjusted for inflation, and have far fewer benefits. But look at her! She’s a woman! She simply must have a good heart, yes? Ha!

Then there’s the wonder woman of the IT industry, Meg Whitman, who makes a mere $1.5 million a year salary as CEO of Hewlett-Packard after spending $180 million of her $2 billion or so fortune trying  to buy the Governor’s office in California, and is all the rage on the Sunday morning political talking head shows. Never mind what she actually did to Hewlett-Packard or its employees, or what she actually says she believes in.

Of course, all this glass ceiling-breaking can’t help but paint the election of Hillary Clinton as President in 2016 as somehow just part of an inevitable trend of female empowerment. And, assuming she does get the Democratic nomination, be sure that the future H-bots will be out there accusing anyone attacking Hillary as being somehow a bigoted misogynist, just like anyone who attacked Obama just had to be racist.

I must admit it’s a pretty slick psychological and electoral strategy to defend the financial aristocracy of which all of the women I mentioned above are a part, just like the race thing was used to help Obama. The fact is that subconsciously and culturally women are simply perceived as being more nurturing and caring than men, which they frequently really ARE.

It’s just that when it comes to advancing corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, which I equate with fascism,  a gender difference does not a genuine difference make when it comes to which gender is trotted out as the ruling class’ leaders. They’re all the same. They all think the rest of us are just human resources to be exploited and discarded.

Beware the kinder and gentler smiling face.

The Tragedy of Ukraine, Stuck in the Middle Again

By: Ohio Barbarian Thursday March 6, 2014 4:37 pm

Ukraine. A country most Americans probably couldn’t even find on a globe a few weeks ago, and probably still can’t, has taken center-stage in the corporate media lately. I’m presuming FDL readers are at least somewhat familiar with the current situation, so I’m not going to go into too many details on that subject. What I hope to offer is a basic understanding of the region’s long and often tragic history, and why I think the independent nation of Ukraine, based on the borders of the old Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, simply cannot survive for long.

Downtown Kiev, with historic buildings and modern shops

On the history & culture of Ukraine

Ukraine is, basically, the steppe, a vast natural grassland with huge rivers flowing through it, ideal for both grazing and farming for thousands of years, bounded by and sometimes incorporating everything from the Carpathian Mountains in the west, vast forests to the north, rougher steppe(with lots of coal) to the east, and the Black Sea to the south. This Wikipedia piece has a decent map of the same.

It’s long been a highway for migrating groups of humans. Horse cultures predominated for thousands of years–Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Tartars. It also boasts some of the greatest farmland in the world. The Ostrogoths, migrants from Scandinavia, settled there during Roman times, only to be driven into the Roman Empire by the Huns and greatly contributing to the collapse of said Empire. Slavic peoples settled and farmed. Vikings, largely from Sweden and called the Rus, sailed down the great rivers from the north and founded some of the first cities, including Kiev, playing a huge role in both Ukrainian and Russian history.

The Khazars, a Slavic tribe, established a nation. They found themselves sandwiched between the Christian Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire and the Muslim Arab Caliphate at one time. Not wanting to fight either great power on their borders, the Khazars legendarily converted to Judaism in the hopes of being left alone by both. It even worked for awhile. There’s a good argument that most Jews in the world today are ultimately descended from this Slavic people, not the Semitic Hebrews of Israel. Then the Mongols came. Then the Ottoman Turks. Then the Russians.

The modern Ukrainian language is essentially a dialect of Russian, or maybe the reverse, depending on your point of view. Both Ukrainians and Russians have been largely Orthodox Christian for centuries now. The Russian Empire gradually conquered the whole area, including the definitely non-Ukrainian Crimea(it was, and still is, one of the last Tartar strongholds) in the 1700′s. First the Russian Czars, and later the Communist Russians, did their best to settle large numbers of Russians in what is now Ukraine, especially in the east and south. They were quite successful, as these CNN maps of the current linguistic and political divisions of Ukraine illustrate quite vividly.

Western Ukraine, closer to the rest of Europe, was often not part of the old Russian Empire at all. Lwiw(Ukrainian), or Lvov(Russian), or Lemburg as the Austrians called it, was successively part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, the Russian-dominated Soviet Union, and now independent Ukraine in the last century alone. Poland, BTW, would love to get its old Ukrainian possessions back. Central Ukraine has been everything from an imperial Russian province to German-occupied territory(twice) to White Russian to Soviet to independent Ukrainian. Crimea and the eastern third of the country have been predominantly Russian for a long time now. It is to Moscow that they look for leadership and protection, not Kiev.

This is illustrated by the Crimean Parliament voting today to secede from Ukraine and join Mother Russia, and the takeover of government buildings in the eastern city of Donetsk by ethnic Russian demonstrators demanding the same. These incidents are NOT something that just HAD to be engineered by Vladimir Putin, those people really feel that way no matter what Fox News or John Kerry or Barack Obama might say.

Libya, a Tale of Two Cultures, Maybe Three

By: Ohio Barbarian Wednesday February 19, 2014 5:35 pm

Libya has been much in the news lately, though the corporate media doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, or probably both, about its history. Without some basic understanding about its history, one really can’t understand what’s going on now.

A narrow street in Tripoli's historic Old Town

American foreign policy in Libya represents a serious misunderstanding of its culture & history.

The country now known as Libya was once divided into three distinct regions, populated by very different peoples, with at least three very different cultures. Most of Libya’s recorded history since the end of the last Ice Age happened within a hundred miles or so of the Mediterranean coast, in two very distinct regions, west and east, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, now dominated by the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.  And then, there’s the desert interior, which is something else entirely.

The Phoenicians, a Semitic language-speaking people from what is now mostly Lebanon and northern Israel, settled the western part of modern Libya and most of modern Tunisia back in, oh, the 600′s BCE, with their greatest city, Carthage, in what is now Tunisia. The Greeks settled in Cyrenaica, the eastern “hump” of modern Libya, near what is now Benghazi, around the same time.  Two very different civilizations, with two very different languages and cultures.  They both got there in galleys, which were big rowboats with sails.

They sort of co-existed for awhile, and then the Semitic-speaking Carthaginians kinda sorta dominated the whole coast. Then came what we know as the Punic Wars, which resulted in a new imperial power from the north, Rome, dominating everything. The Romans, whatever their faults, were good administrators. They governed both new provinces of first the Roman Republic, and then the Roman Empire, separately. They never even tried to conquer the desert interior. Who wants to own the desert, anyway? The various tribes of the desert are recorded in raids and reprisals, but not much else. Anyway, they weren’t that numerous. How many people can subsist in a desert?

The Romans lost what is now the coast of Libya to a Germanic tribe called the Vandals, from which we get a common word, vandalism. I could expound some on the Arian Vandals, but I won’t. They didn’t last long. They were crushed by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian’s legions and largely disappeared.  Then the Arabs came with the explosion of Islam out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 600′s CE.

The Arab Caliphate recognized the two distinct coastal regions and governed them separately, while sending missionaries, and horse and camel soldiers, into the interior to successfully convert the indigenous peoples there to Islam. After the Caliphate fell apart, the Ottoman Turks came along and controlled the coastal area in two distinct provinces, west and east.

The Americans appear during the era of Ottoman decline, during conflicts with the so-called Barbary Pirates in the very late 1700′s and early 1800′s. Remember “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli?” As the Ottoman Empire declined, semi-independent states only nominally loyal to the sultan in Constantinople engaged in widespread piracy in the Mediterranean, which really pissed off the new American republic, which responded by sending very well-designed sailing ships and Marines at the time to persuade them to back the F off of preying on American merchant shipping. The British and French, who were suffering from the same depredations, cheered them on.