Book review: Thirteen by Richard K Morgan

ThirteenThirteen by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When society stops being violent someone will try to genetically re-engineer violence.

Carl Marsalis is a specialist bounty hunter. Genetically engineered and indoctrinated from birth to be a dangerous weapon, he now hunts others like him. After landing in prison in the wrong part of the former USA – Jesusland – he is seconded to track down someone who is killing his way across the former USA after eating his way through the crew of a Mars-to-Earth flight. But the cannibal seems to be a step ahead of the game and not picking targets at random. It’s as though he has help and is possibly working for someone as their hitman.

After recently finishing the Altered Carbon series, I decided to see what other Morgan novels I could get my hands on. Thirteen promised to be similar to Altered Carbon. The setting was similarly cyber-punk, the mystery/detective narrative is front and centre, and Marsalis likes to get violent and have sex with any and all female characters.

But where Altered Carbon used those elements in a compelling way, Thirteen was too indulgent with them. The novel feels padded out and runs far too long. This leads to pacing problems, with some sections really bogging down. The charisma of Kovacs is not present in Marsalis, despite their similarities, so you don’t feel the same thrill from him dispatching a bad guy or having the love interest* throw herself at him.

I think I could have forgiven those aspects a bit more if it weren’t for the “conversations” between characters about genetics. These were long discussions that bashed the reader with the point. I’d have had less of a problem with them if they weren’t quite so wrong on the science. The “conversations” amounted to telling us that we are essentially only our genetics. That’s not only nonsense (GxExM is how we discuss genetics in science) but is pretty much spouting modern-day scientific racism.**

That point is particularly ironic given the obvious analogies for racism and backward thinking being drawn. “Look at how backward these religious bigots are. Look at how badly they treat black people. Hey, check out my thinly veiled racism disguised as science!” I don’t know if I missed something, but this really did read to me as admonishing racism whilst justifying it as not something we can get over. If that was Morgan’s point, then it would have been great if he could have done it in about 150 pages less.

With all that said, this was still enjoyable and I am looking forward to reading more from Morgan.

* I’m being overly flippant and critical here. Sevgi Ertekin is a fairly well-developed character but her role does appear to be just the love interest and character motivation.

** Yes, scientific racism is back. Modern-day phrenology comes in many forms. Often it is IQ studies and hereditarianism, sometimes it is labelled Human Biodiversity (HBD), other times it will be straight up eugenicists and white nationalists. Reading about its insidious creep into academia and mainstream discourse is sickening.

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Book review: Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-RightKill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right by Angela Nagle

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

“Your mild demands made me become a Nazi.”

In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle attempts to document and explain the rise of the Alt-Right out of the online space and into the Oval Office. She discusses many of the toxic forums and their leading mouthpieces and their war against the left/liberals in their forums/safe-spaces.

This book hit my TBR list as it was highly recommended and one of the few to document the online culture that lead to the rise of a change in political and social discourse worldwide. Having existed online and been familiar with many of the “players”, I was hoping for some deeper insights and analysis of how these forums become toxic and how that spreads out.

Let’s just say that this is not the book I was hoping for.

For much of Kill All Normies, I found myself thinking that I don’t just disagree with many of the points made, but that Nagle gets many things factually incorrect or offers up a very poor understanding of points raised.* If I was unfamiliar with much of the material, this book would have been very misleading. Just one example of this, in a later chapter Nagle refers to Germaine Greer being de-platformed over transphobic comments, to which she claims Greer hadn’t written about trans-issues in 15 years. That’s blatantly false. In fact, worse, it is a lie from transphobic sources that this book is meant to be, in part, critiquing.

This article offers a few more examples, including the Greer example. Another accuses her of plagiarism. Apparently, Nagle and Zero Books (her publisher) had both offered rebuttals to these pieces, but they are now dead links.

Another problem I had with Kill All Normies was that a lot of Nagle’s expressed opinions seemed to utilise the terms of reference used by those she was supposedly exposing. But only in one direction. For example, when Nagle criticised the online misogynists she would treat their claims as having merit, but when she was criticising the multiple genders of Tumblr** they were treated as though they didn’t have merit.

There was also a level of misrepresentation or laziness in the accurate portrayal of several events mentioned. One of the above-linked articles discusses a Jordan Peterson example. I noted an egregious one about Milo Yiannopoulos. The Berkley campus protests that shut down Milo’s talk supposedly shows an unwillingness to engage him in debate and challenge his ideas, instead resorting to shutting down free speech… Except that’s revisionist nonsense that ignores several hard facts. Milo wasn’t actually available for a debate, he was there to lecture and browbeat unprepared audience members during Q&A. Given that these examples were key to Nagle’s argument about how these bad ideas should be addressed and challenged with the liberal idea of debate and free speech and the market place of ideas and… Well, that might be a tad hard to do when you don’t get to have any free speech other than protests outside the venue.

There were also several things I felt were lacking in the coverage of the online culture wars. Very little was said about the atheist and skeptic YouTube movements that are noted for their early adoption of anti-SJW and anti-feminist stances. This is especially important given many are seen as gateways to the Alt-Right, often platform Alt-Right figures, and would fit the definition of Alt-Lite. I mean, Carl “Sargon” Benjamin even went into politics with the far-right UKIP party and was referred to as a great entry point to the Alt-Right by white nationalist*** Richard Spencer. How can you leave that out?

Nagle also didn’t cover a very important part of the Alt-Lite and Alt-Right, particularly the online media it has created. The money. While much of the book makes it sound like the internet is filled with communities living off of one another, crowdfunding being racist or bronies – depending upon your kink. This ignores the documented money coming from rich conservatives interested in promoting their agenda on one side of this culture war. And prior to this, there was also the organised astroturfing that occurred, again funded by rich conservatives, that fed into a lot of the online communities (some of this was documented in training sessions organised during the Tea Party movement). Suddenly that crowdfunded “both sides” feel to the online communities takes on a more one-sided and darker reality than portrayed in the book.

Finally, I come to my main critique which is also the underlying thesis of the book. Nagle is essentially arguing throughout that all of these really nasty, racist, sexist, bigoted forums and subsequent culture is the left’s**** fault because they have been successful in getting gay married, not having women tied to the kitchen sink, and having public discussions of other progressive ideas. The Shock! The Horror! This is the classic “the left caused people to drop liberal principles and become alt-right extremists” argument that Matt Bors skewered. It is no less stupid and unsupported here than elsewhere.

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Source. Check out Matt’s other comics as well.

I’d be near the front of the line to agree that “the left” is filled with smug intolerant people, a la the Vampire Castle. But much like the criticism of Exiting the Vampire Castle, it’s a tad unwise to treat the issues being raised by those “lefties” as somehow wrong or a valid reason for someone to pushback and become a Nazi. There has always been pushback against successful progressive social changes, and while many of the reactionary behaviours we see in the culture wars exist across the political spectrum, a proper critic of these culture wars would address these arguments more carefully, with more insight, and would stop pretending that Alt-Right propaganda claims are valid points to base a thesis around.

I was highly disappointed and annoyed with this book.

* There is also a very important point to be made about Nagle’s lack of quantitative insight. One piece of data I keep thinking back to is the demographics of various online platforms. It is interesting to note that male-dominated forums (4chan, sub-Reddits, Youtube comments sections) tend to be more toxic than those with a neutral or female dominant audience (Tumblr). Almost as if there is an important point to be made here. With stats. With some analysis. Something. Side note, women are larger users of social media than men.

** The Tumblr list used in the book wasn’t actually from Tumblr and most likely a satirical version.

*** Richard Spencer loves to dance around being called a white nationalist or neo-Nazi, but that’s just because he knows those terms are toxic. It’s why he coined the rebranding term Alt-Right.

**** A lot of the points being made about left/liberal people (two very different groups that appear to be used somewhat interchangeably in the book, odd given that Nagle identifies as a feminist lefty) amount to lefties can be reactionaries too (call-out culture, etc). Oddly, not much discussion of the reactionary nature of all the groups being discussed and how that feeds the culture wars.

I apologise for posting a negative review. As I said in my negative review of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, I will try to keep my blog reviews 3 stars and above. I will endeavour to keep the exceptions to a minimum.

View all my reviews (My negative reviews are on Goodreads)

Another review of Kill All Normies.

Book vs Movie: BlacKkKlansman – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers the amazing Spike Lee film based on the autobiography of the same name: BlacKkKlansman.

I have been reading quite a bit about fascism and racism lately. As someone who got lucky to be living in privileged skin, these are issues I feel we all need to be more aware of and actively standing against.

Instead of my normal comment on the film or book, I suggest watching the Vice coverage of the Charlottesville rally, Philosophy Tube’s videos on racism, Antifa and fascism, and reading the book on how to oppose fascism.

Will Australia become a Chinese state?

Xenophobia: just history repeating.
Xenophobia: just history repeating.

1, there’re many industries like dairy & realestate purchased by Chinese and their govt.

2, more CHN immigrated to Oz, but didn’t integrate into local society. They’re criticised coz of their “traditional” habits.

3, many Chinese prefer profits rather than quality. many ppl argue oz will be destroyed*

Little known fact: the entire world will be owned by the Chinese in the next two decades. Unfortunately, when Western governments stopped their wars against the “reds under the bed” they left the door open to the great peril. Since that time, China has been buying up everything it can get its hands upon. So it isn’t a matter of if Australia and the rest of the world become a Chinese state, but when.

Let’s look at some facts. So much of Australian land is being bought up by the Chinese. Of the 134,000 farm businesses in Australia, only 99% of them are family owned and operated.

Aussie farms – after providing 93% of the domestic food requirement – export a massive 14% of produce to China. Australian Social Trends, Dec 2012

You also have to look at the huge influx of non-Aussie farmers. It won’t be long before we’ll be overrun with non-Aussies. It may be 11% of farmers being born overseas, and most of those being from the UK or Europe, but won’t somebody think of the Aussie Children!!

More broadly the immigration of Chinese people to Australia threatens to displace all those good white Aussies. Including second, third, fourth and fifth generation Chinese-Australians, they make up a whopping 4% of the population. They don’t integrate at all, since only 3.4% are Catholic, with most of them (63.2%) practicing the heathenish No Religion. Clearly they can’t integrate if they don’t follow the traditional religions of this nation.

And it is just like those socialist commies to prefer profits above all else!!

We should live in deep fear of China. Definitely don’t worry about real issues, like climate change.

Update: Some more scary figures are available now that the Australian Government have created a register of farm owners. It is worse than first thought!

Only 86.4% of Aussie farmland is owned by Aussies – you know, the ones born here, with the right skin colour. The biggest foreign owners are definitely the Chinese, who rank 5th with 0.29% of the farmland ownership. They were narrowly beaten by the UK with 7.2% of farmland, USA with 3.5%, Netherlands with 0.57%, and Singapore with 0.38%.

And by foreign owned it was definitely owned and not mostly leased.

Key findings of farm register:

  • Foreign ownership is 13.6pc or 52.1 million hectares of Australia’s total agricultural land
  • Of these foreign-owned hectares, 9.4 million was freehold, 43.4 million hectares held as leasehold
  • Highest use of foreign-owned agricultural land by area was livestock production with 45.8 million hectares or 88pc of the foreign-owned total
  • This is followed by cropping at 1.5 million hectares or 2.8 per cent of the total

2014-510--threats-to-Australia-expressed-as-animals---TERRORISM-GLOBAL-WARMING-ENVIRONMENT

This post originally appeared on Quora.

*NB: The question and quote are verbatim.

Why did Australia abolish the White Australia Policy?

The White Australia Policy was a fantastic piece of legislation that was brought in just after Australia’s federation in 1901. Back then it was popular to think that Aboriginals didn’t exist, or weren’t worthy of acknowledgement, and women were still a year away from full voting rights nationwide. Great time to be alive.

After the second world war – commonly referred to as WW2 and the go-to source of movie badguys (Nazis: hate those guys) for the next 50 years – the Menzies and Holt governments started rolling back pieces of the legislation. In 1975 Gough signed in the Racial Discrimination Act to stop any further problems. Totally worked.

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After the war there was a lot of people wanting to immigrate, preferably to countries that hadn’t been turned into massive craters by years of bombing. There were also a lot of ex-servicemen who were stationed overseas and had discovered the local non-white women. They’d also made friends with non-white people in general. Suddenly there were Aussies who wanted their non-white wives, friends, and associated families to come to Australia. In 1949 Harold Holt allowed Japanese war brides into the country. Ten years later legislation was passed so that they were able to be sponsored for citizenship. Holt later introduced the Migration Act in 1966, effectively dismantling the White Australia Policy. Holt was so pleased he went swimming a year later, he’s due back any day now.

So what ended the White Australia Policy was the military in action.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Update: this article has some further details.

If a charismatic Aboriginal Australian with an attractive political agenda ran for office, would he ever get elected as Prime Minister?

Sure why not. We’ve elected people who can’t swim, people whose claim to fame was drinking beer fast, and people who think it is appropriate to wear these in public:

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So it isn’t unreasonable to think that there are better qualified people who could rise to the top despite our casual racism. We still can’t get sexism right, but we managed to have a female Prime Minister.

It should be pointed out that while Australia has a proud history of treating Aboriginals like fauna, Indigenous Australians have been elected to state and federal seats. The big problem would be getting the support of one of the major parties to be leader, and that major party holding the balance of power.

I notice that the question implies Aussies elect the Prime Minister directly. We’re not silly here in Australia. The last thing you want in a democracy is the people getting to decide important decisions like who is preselected to run for a political seat, how their elected representative should represent them, or who is Prime Minister. Best to keep these decisions out of the hands of the people they impact and make sure only the political insiders get to make those calls.

Our Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that holds the balance of power. Thus, the party decides who is Prime Minister, and is not directly elected. For an Indigenous Aussie to become leader of the party would be no small feat, and they’d have to watch out for knives to the back.

Hopefully we will see an Indigenous Australian Prime Minister. Hell, they might even be non-male just to shake things up a bit. Just hard to tell how many old white guys we’ll see before that happens.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

A guide to bigotry in the 21st century

A lot of things have changed in our modern society. I’m writing on the internet, you could be from just about anywhere in the world, and we can all agree that the US government should tactically nuke the Kardashian residence. Bigots are no longer able to say the things they used to be able to. In this modern age they need to know who it is okay to insult.

Former Targets

Racism, sexism and the like are no longer cool. We’ve realised that everyone has the same colour blood, that women and men are two sides of the same coin and that religions are all saying roughly the same thing – hell, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

It has to be said that gay people, especially men, still suffer as a target of bigotry. I’ll leave it to Steve Hughes to point out the flaws in the bigot’s statements.

Line Call

Fundamentalist religious kooks

Yes, kooks. Even I can’t help myself. The reality is that there are extremists out there hiding under the banner of religion. It is a pity they are giving religion a bad name, especially with the promotion of anti-science. As a result it is only okay to be bigoted against idiots who are giving religious people a bad name.

New (acceptable) Bigotry Targets

Fat people

Between the double chin and the ability to eat a weeks worth of groceries in one sitting, fat people are one giant target for bigots. There is no end of insults available and doing so only makes them an even bigger target, as they seek comfort snacks. Plus, it is easy to justify the insults out of love and concern for their health. And the laughs.

Racists

It’s about time racists got a taste of their own medicine.

Sexists

This group are so popular that you don’t even have to be a sexist to have been accused of being a sexist. All you have to do is be part of the demographic that used to be sexists a generation ago.

Scientists

Where do scientists get off anyway? They just don’t understand the world like normal people. With all of their study into how the world works, they have lost touch with all the people who don’t know about the world. Snooty bastards!

Politicians

This group have always been a bigotry target and they will remain one of our favourite targets until society dispenses with them for good. Fuck ’em.

Reality TV Stars

If they are going to be attention whores, then at least let the attention be negative. The person who flour-bombed Kim Kardashian recently got their bigotry target right.

People who are sick but come in to work anyway.

You know who you are. We all hope you burn in hell next to the rapists, child molesters and people who talk on the phone in the cinema.

People who talk on the phone in the cinema.

These people rightly deserve every ounce of hate they receive. Hopefully it comes in the form of Terry Tate.