I love spy thrillers, especially the old Cold War ones, like the show Secret Agent with Patrick McGoohan. Those stories were a little different than modern high-tech thrillers, with lots of gadgets and gizmos–they relied on good old-fashioned intrigue, cleverness, and rising tension.
Number Seven is a book in that vein. The titular character is an ex-soldier now working as a government-assigned bodyguard for a star athlete. Number Seven and his charge find themselves caught up in political machinations that involve not only themselves, but also an old friend of Seven’s who brings a good deal of sex and romance to the story, in the fine spy thriller tradition.
The book has more romance than I was expecting, but that was also true of a lot of older spy/espionage stories–they tended to tell stories about people caught up in events, rather than merely using people as catalysts for exciting events. I appreciated that.
This is a short book, which in my opinion is not at all a problem, especially in a thriller. Better a short, tight novella with a good pace than a padded-out novel that drags when it doesn’t need to. It’s a good length for the story it has to tell, and never wears out its welcome. I enjoyed it.
I know I’ve said this before, but you can get a pretty decent overview of how government works by watching the BBC sitcom Yes, Minister. The series is premised on the conflict between the naïve, attention-seeking British Cabinet minister James Hacker and the cynical, experienced civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby. Most episodes follow this formula:
Hacker comes up with some well-meaning but often-ill-considered policy reform to fix a problem.
Sir Humphrey uses cunning, bureaucratic jargon, and his connections in the Civil Service to prevent any changes being made to government policy.
Sir Humphrey explains to Hacker why things are better off staying as they are.
Because it was a sitcom, Hacker sometimes wins—usually by using Sir Humphrey’s own tactics against him. But the basic dynamic is what’s key here: the approval-seeking politician who wants to change everything vs. the entrenched bureaucracy that wants to keep things as they are until they can retire and collect a pension.
The thing is, it’s possible to cast either side’s motivations as good or bad: the politicians could be called heroes trying to do the work of the people, or attention-craving narcissists trying to get famous. The bureaucrats could be called lazy do-nothings stubbornly resisting change, or intelligent and competent administrators unwilling to bow to the fashions of the moment.
This is the same dynamic that’s at work when you hear people talk about the “Deep State”. It gets dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but that’s largely because of the terminology:“Deep State” sounds a lot more sinister and intimidating than the more accurate label, “the permanent bureaucracy”. The former makes you think of shadowy figures in Deus Ex-style Illuminati conference rooms holding secret meetings. The latter evokes some balding pencil-pushers.
We citizens tend to think of “government” as the politicians we elect every couple of years. But they are only the tip of the iceberg—the real government consists of people working in various agencies to carry out policy. These people are, for the most part, not politicians at all, but simply technicians trying to keep the machine of bureaucracy running. And they don’t run for office.
Technically, these people work for the politicians. But that’s only in a nominal sense—in practice, someone who has decades of experience working at a Federal agency knows a lot more about the nitty-gritty details of governance than a newly-elected politician.
Canny politicians know how to work the system to their advantage. For example, in the book Angler, Barton Gellman describes how then-Vice-President Dick Cheney contacted a relatively low-ranking official in the Department of the Interior in order to implement a change to government environmental policy.
Cheney had worked in government since 1969, and had a thorough knowledge of who did what, and which strings to pull in order to advance his agenda. Love him or hate him, he was an excellent example of someone who thoroughly understood the bureaucracy.
But most politicians aren’t like Cheney.For one thing, he started out as a congressman from uncompetitive and tiny Wyoming, and didn’t have to spend a lot of time campaigning. Other politicians don’t have that luxury. They rely on other people to handle the bureaucracy for them. Besides, many of the politicians are in it because they love crowds and applause and power and prestige. The bit where you iron out the policy details is boring.
This creates a disconnect: the people nominally in charge of governing are on a track that’s entirely separate from those who actually handle the day-to-day business of implementing government policies. So it’s true: there are people in government who ignore what the elected officials say, and keep doing what they’ve been doing. Whether you think these people are heroes or villains depends largely on your opinion of the government’s overall performance over the long-term—say, the last half-decade.
You’ve all heard various conspiracy theories about “the Illuminati”, right? When you love reading conspiracies as much as I do, you see the Illuminati crop up all the time. But for all the times I’ve heard about them, I never bothered to visit their Wikipedia page and ask: “just who are these guys?”
Well, turns out there was a historical group called ‘the Illuminati“. They were an offshoot of the Freemasons founded in Bavaria in the 1700s by this guy Adam Weishaupt. But they came into conflict with the Church and were disbanded in 1785.
And just wait till you hear what diabolical schemes these scumbags had in mind! Are you ready to hear what the legendary, mystery-shrouded, secret society wanted? Wikipedia gives the grisly details of their nefarious doctrine:
So… the famed secret society… the group whose name has formed the basis of all kinds of conspiracy theories… were a bunch of liberaltarians?
It’s a bit underwhelming to go looking for a sinister cabal of super-powerful malevolent cultists, and instead find the blog section at The Daily Beast.
Now, I do want to point out that in the 229 years since the society dissolved, considerable progress has been made towards almost all of the Illuminati’s goals throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Europe. And, truth be told, I think that’s a good thing.
To a conspiracy theorist, this makes it look as if the Illuminati weresecretly controlling events behind the scenes. After all, how could their goals enjoy such success without the hidden hand that holds the world manipulating things? Pr-etty conve-e-enient, eh?
On the other hand, it could just be that Weishaupt and his friends foresaw that societal trends were going in that direction anyway, and were just ahead of their time.
But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. The best part is that in 1799, a guy named Augustin Barruel wrote a book called Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism that claimed the Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. And you probably thought the John Birch society was who came up with blaming them for everything. Quoth the Wikipedia synopsis:
Barruel defines the three forms of conspiracy as the “conspiracy of impiety” against God and Christianity, the “conspiracy of rebellion” against kings and monarchs, and “the conspiracy of anarchy” against society in general. He sees the end of the 18th century as “one continuous chain of cunning, art, and seduction” intended to bring about the “overthrow of the altar, the ruin of the throne, and the dissolution of all civil society”
More than anything else, Barruel’s writing reminds me of Peter Hitchens whenever he gets on the subject of what he calls the “cultural revolution” in the 1960s. He too sees cultural change and social upheaval as a conscious effort secretly advanced by important people in society. And who can say for sure if that’s wrong? Heck, Edmund Burke attested to the existence of a conspiracy as described by Barruel.
Conspiracies or coincidence? They report, you decide. But I’ll leave you with this: maybe the pattern is real, but there are no century-spanning conspiracies–it’s just that the same things keep happening over and over. “Condemned to repeat it”, like the fella said.
This movie really surprised me. It was made in 1948, around the time of what is called the “Second Red Scare“, when concern about communist infiltration was very high. Given that, the content of the movie is astounding.
Fred Dobbs (Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are unemployed guys looking for work. They convince an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston) to help them on an expedition for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains. The first remarkable thing about the movie is a speech given by Howard in his first scene:
Howard: Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?
Flophouse Bum: I don’t know. Because it’s scarce.
Howard: A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it.
Flophouse Bum: I never thought of it just like that.
Howard: Well, there’s no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain’t good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.
What’s so remarkable about that, you wonder? Well, what Howard is describing there is what is known as a Labor Theory of Value–the value of something is determined by the labor put forth to get it. This is an economic idea that is commonly associated with a fellow named Karl Marx. And it’s a response to the claim that gold’s value derives from its scarcity–a major component of non-Marxian, liberal economics.
So, about twenty minutes into the movie, we have gotten a lecture on Marxian economics. This is all the more interesting because the rest of the movie is devoted to proving over and over that greed for wealth corrupts people–specifically, Dobbs. Howard repeatedly predicts that the gold will drive men to madness, and does it ever.
Dobbs’s inevitable corruption is fun to watch–that Bogart guy was a pretty good actor, you know that?–and Walter Huston is excellent, even though his role is fairly predictable. He is, essentially, an infallible sage, and normally those characters are pretty dull, but Huston imbues him with personality. What is not clear to me is why he bothered to come along, since he believes almost from the outset that the expedition will be a disaster, and it proves to be exactly that.
It was odd to me that the movie’s most famous, yet often mis-quoted, line: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges” was spoken by a rather poorly-acted, bandit character. I thought his character was pretty weak. In fact, I felt that the bandits had too big a role in the film, when all they really needed to do was show up at the end when Dobbs’s luck runs out.
I keep coming back to the economic “moral” of the movie, though. It’s a very socialist message, what with the capitalist who desires to earn for himself being depicted as either a monster or a buffoon, and the character who opens up describing the labor theory of value depicted as a wise and thoughtful figure.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Well, this is it– Mysterious Man has finally gone completely crazy and is now seeing communist conspiracies everywhere. He must have been listening to Glenn Beck too much, and he just lost his tenuous grip on reality.”
To be clear, I’m not saying I think this movie was some kind of evil communist-Hollywood indoctrination plot. It was based on a book by a mysterious German called “B. Traven“, who was apparently a socialist. Well, when your movie is based on a book by a German socialist, you can’t be surprised if some German socialism creeps in. I doubt John Huston wanted to make Marxist propaganda; he just wanted to make a Western, and the book he adapted it from had some Marxist propaganda in it.
What surprises me is that, despite how popular accusing people in Hollywood of communism was at the time, the film wasn’t banned or censored, and John Huston wasn’t hauled up before the H.U.A.C. to explain himself. I’m not saying any of that should have happened, I’m just saying it’s weird that the film apparently got released without any censorship or controversy, which is kind of amazing given the zeitgeist.
I assume that it’s some sort of hoax, though it’s hard to see how he’s pulling it off.
On the other hand, if it isn’t a hoax and everyone learned how to do it, the decrease in demand for food would probably cripple the economy, so I figure the Indian government will probably hush it all up,send the guy somewhere secret, and hide all the relevant studies in a giant warehouse; like at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.
To be fair, other scientists say that the world is, in fact, warming. I assume we’ll only know for sure when a) we are all burned alive or b) we all freeze to death.
I’ve always been sort of conflicted about the whole global warming/climate change/whatever debate. On the one hand, it always seemed slightly hysterical and a little too perfect in how well it suited the leftist worldview. On the other hand, common sense suggests that more humans engaging in new kinds of activities is bound to produce some of sort of change in the overall climate. Of course, part of the problem is that I’m not a climate scientist.
Personally, I’ve been operating on the assumption that human activity affects the climate in ways that are variable and hard to measure, and that it’s a huge oversimplification to call it “warming”. The leftists say that this is a bad thing, and use it as an excuse to push for various changes in society; some of which are relevant, and others which are not. Because it is impossible to tell which is which, conservatives dismiss the entire issue as a hoax so they don’t have to deal with it. The upshot is that one side says human activity is very, very bad for the planet and should be minimized, and one side that says it has no effect.
FYI, my suspicion is that some country will ultimately figure out how to manipulate human activity (more precisely, chemical emissions) in such a way as to control the climate. Whichever country does this will basically rule the world. I suspect that most climate research is actually dedicated to figuring out the relationship between human activity and climate; so as to be the first country to harness this power. (But remember, I’m not a climate scientist.)
As I have discussed here and here, an attempt seems to be going on to subtly revise history so that people forget George W. Bush was President on 9/11.
One question I didn’t address in the earlier posts is: Who is doing it? Now, you might think it’s obviously the Republican party doing it, as part of an effort to rehabilitate the image of Republicans as better at National Defense. This is quite likely, although it seems like it would be simpler to demonize Bush, and claim that his Presidency is not typical of Republican ideology.
But is there any other group that would have an incentive to make this effort?