The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Today, I wanted to share a thought piece I recently submitted to Quora, which I wrote over the course of weeks in reponse to the question, “Is the United States going to finally collapse?“. This is something I wanted to answer because I’ve been pondering it myself for some time. Ever since the days of the Bush administration, I’ve been made aware of the fact that the US was behaving precisely like an empire in decline.

Continue reading “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire”

Epic Rap Battles of History – Science Edition

epic_rap_battlesIt occurs to me that I really haven’t given the ERB site its due over the years. They’ve provided me with endless hours of enjoyment and all I ever did was post about one of their videos. Granted, I have nowhere near the kind of following that would needed to actually give their traffic a shot in the arm, but it’s the thought that counts!

And so I thought I’d a little compilation here of some of their funniest, and educational, videos. Whether it was the match ups between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (made shortly after Jobs death as a tribute to his life), Einstein and Stephen Hawking, or Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, these guys have shown a real commitment to their art and are clearly willing to do their homework!

Enjoy!

Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates:


Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking:


Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla:


Note: Though I am well aware of their existence, I have assiduously avoided posting the videos of Darth Vader vs. Adolph Hitler. Though I found them hilarious, such material is bound to offensive to some. Although, if people were willing to give me permission… 😉 😉

New Drones Art Campaign

UAVsOver at deviantART, a constant source of inspired art for me, there’s an interest new campaign designed to raise awareness and stimulate debate on a rather controversial issue. I am referring, as the topic line would suggest, to the use of drones and UAV’s and all that it entails.

As one of the greatest concerns facing developed nations today, not to mention the developing world where they are being increasingly used, this campaign is not only timely and relevant, but an intriguing display of artwork motivated by social conscience. In short, it asks the question: how is this debate reflected in art and what will future generations think of it?

looking for a hole, by arcas art
looking for a hole, by arcas art

Inspired by similar projects which are taking place around the world, the purpose of the campaign is to draw attention to the fact that were are living in a world increasingly characterized by surveillance and killing machines. Or as technognotic puts it:

Drones have become the white hot center of debate for a multitude of deeply consequential concerns for the entire Earth Sphere. No matter the digital end point or theatre of conversation, whether it be politics, war, privacy, pop culture, or the rise of machines – Drones or UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) are the current catalyst du jour in any number of flashpoint discussions…

Even more interesting is the tone of inevitability of outcome. Core discussion seems to focus on a coming drone-filled sky and how we might govern our selves accordingly as this fact becomes a reality… Is this the dark side of human creativity and inquisitiveness that will ultimately one day spell our doom or the first signs of a coming technological Utopia.

galaxy saga - white gryphon, by ukitakumuki
galaxy saga – white gryphon, by ukitakumuki

In addition, the campaign features the thoughtful essay of the same name by Jason Boog (deviantART handle istickboy), who takes a look at how killing machines and drones have been explored through art and popular culture. Beginning with a short romp through history, identifying the first “drone” to ever be used, he goes on to examine how several generations of artists chose to portray them and their use.

Things culminate in the modern age, where spending on drone development and humanitarian concerns have culminated to make this a truly global and auspicious concern. With remote-controlled drones giving way to autonomous models and UAV’s being used for domestic surveillance, there’s no telling where things could go.

mysterious journals, by sundragon83
mysterious journals, by sundragon83

On the one hand, a concerned and mobilized public could place limits and controls on them, or counter using their own form of “sousveillance” (public counter-surveillance). On the other hand, we could be headed for a police state here privacy is non-existent and robots decide who lives and who dies – maybe entirely on their own!

As you can certainly imagine, when I first learned of this campaign I could tell that it was right up my alley. Being such an obsessive geek for all things technological and how innovation and progress affect us, I knew I had to post about it. And as you can certainly tell from the samples posted here, the artwork is pretty damn badass!

I would recommend checking it out for the aesthetic appeal alone. Knowing you’re taking part in a campaign dedicated to public awareness is just a big bonus!

For more information, and to take a gander at some galleries, visit the campaign at techgnotic.deviantart.com.

Serenity, Best Lines!

And we come to the final installment at last. Given the sheer kick-ass nature of the show’s writing, it took me three whole posts to get all the best lines from the single season that the show produced. And it was not even a full season! But of course, honoring Whedon’s criminally under-appreciated sci-fi creation wouldn’t be complete with including the movie Serenity. Much like the show, it had all the elements of classic sci-fi, space westerns, and the touching themes of loss and the ties that bind. So here she is, the fourth and final installment! Shiny!

Serenity:
Quick recap: The crew of the Firefly are still flying, albiet by the seat of their pants. The Alliance continues to expand into the outer reaches of the system, making it that much harder to get freelance work, honest or otherwise. At the same time, the Reavers seem to be pushing inward, raiding systems closer and closer to the core. Meanwhile, an “Operative” is looking for River and will stop at nothing to find her. His appearance coincides with the crew’s realization that her condition goes far beyond anything they’ve seen before. In addition to being a “reader”, she is also programmed to kill and knows things about secret Alliance projects. Following a lead, the name “Miranda”, the crew uncovers a massive planet-wide conspiracy which could threaten to destroy the Alliance itself.

River: People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.
Teacher: River, we’re not trying to tell people what to think… only how [cut to lab where River is being experimented on]

[My favorite line of the movie, so chilling!]
Operative
: “Key members of Parliament”. Key. The minds behind every military, diplomatic and covert operation in the galaxy, and you put them in a room with a psychic.
Dr. Mathias: Look… even if River Tam did by any chance read the minds of any of the visiting Parliment members here, whatever government secrets she may have read she may not even remember any them for they are all probaly buried under layers of psychosis.
Operative
: Secrets are not my concern. Keeping them is.

Mal: What was that?
Wash: Did you see that?
Mal: Was that the primary buffer panel?
Wash: Did seem to resem-
Mal: Did the primary buffer panel just fall off my gorram ship for no apparent reason?!

Wash: Yeah well, if she doesn’t give us some extra flow from the engine room to offset the burn through, this landing is gonna get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define interesting.
Wash: ‘Oh god oh god we’re all gonna die?’
Mal: [through the intercom] This is the captain. We have a…little problem with our engine sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then…explode.

Mal: Come a day there won’t be room for naughty men like us to slip about at all. This job goes south, there well may not be another. So here is us, on the raggedy edge. Don’t push me, and I won’t push you. Dong le ma?

Mal: Doctor, I’m taking your sister under my protection here. If anything happens to her, anything at all, I swear to you, I will get very choked up. Honestly, there could be tears.

Jayne: Shiny! Let’s be bad guys.

Mal: You all wanna be looking very intently at your own belly buttons. I see a head start to rise, violence is going to ensue. Probably guessed we mean to be thieving here but what we’re after is not yours. So, let’s have no undue fussing.

Zoe: [to a security guard] You know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later.

Mal: Listen up! We’re comin’ down to empty that vault.
Guard:
You have to give me your authorization password. [Jayne fires into the vault] Okay.

Mal: [negotiating with guard where to shoot him] The leg is good. It’ll bleed plenty and we avoid any necessary organs.
Guard:
I was thinking more of a graze?
Mal:
Well you don’t want to look like you just gave up.

Jayne: Gee, it sure would’ve been nice to have some GRENADES don’tcha think?!

Jayne: You shoot me if they take me! [sees Mal’s gun pointed at him] Well don’t shoot me first!

Simon: Oh ‘one simple job, she’ll be fine’!
Mal:
She is fine! ‘Cept for still bein’ crazy she’s the picture of health!

Zoe: Sir, I don’t disagree on any particular point. It’s just…in a time of war, we would’ve never left a man stranded.
Mal:
Maybe that’s why we lost.

Jayne: I’ll kill a man in a fair fight. Or if I think he’s gonna start a fair fight. Or if he bothers me. Or if there’s a woman. Or if I’m gettin’ paid. Mostly when I’m gettin’ paid.

Mal: Kaylee, this is a place of business. We can talk about Simon-
Kaylee: When he’s four worlds away? Or the Alliance gets ahold of him and River?
Mal: That ain’t my worry. I gotta finish this job, get us another one. Can’t do that carryin’ those two.
Kaylee: How can you be so cold?
Zoe: Cap’n didn’t make them fugitives.
Kaylee:
But he coulda made ’em family. ‘stead of keepin’ Simon from seein’ I was there. And I carried such a torch! And we coulda…goin’ on a year now and I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!
Mal:
Oh God! I can’t know that!
Jayne:
I could stand to hear more.

Mal: Fanti. Mingo.
Mingo: He’s Mingo
Mal: He’s Fanti, you’re Mingo.
Mingo: How is it you always know?
Mal: Fanti’s prettier.

Fanty: Do you know that girl?
Mal: I really don’t.

Mal: I’ve staked my crew’s life on the theory that you’re a person, actual and whole, and if I’m wrong, you’d best shoot me now…
[River cocks the gun she is pointing at Mal] Or, we could talk some more.

Mal: What in the hell happened back there?
Wash:
Start with the part where Jayne gets knocked out by a ninety-pound girl, ’cause I don’t think that’s ever gettin’ old.

Malcolm: You had a gorram time bomb living with us! Who we gonna find in there when she wakes up? The girl? Or the weapon?
Simon: I thought she was getting better.
Jayne: And I thought they was getting off. Didn’t we have an intricate plan on how they was gonna be not here any more?
Kaylee: We couldn’t leave them now.
Jayne: No, now that she’s a killer woman, we ought to be bringing her tea and dumplings.

Wash: Inara. Nice to see her again.
Zoe
: So… trap?
Mal
: Trap.
Zoe
: Are we going in?
Mal
: Oh, it ain’t but a few hours out.
Wash
: Yeah, but, remember the part where it’s a trap?
Kaylee
: But how can you be sure Inara don’t just wanna see you? Sometimes people have feelings. And I’m referring here to people.
Mal
: You all were watching, I take it?
Kaylee
: Yes.
Mal
: Did you see us fight?
Kaylee
: No.
Mal
: Trap.

Mal: Zoe, ship is yours. Remember: if anything happens to me, if you don’t hear from me within the hour, you take the ship — and you come and you rescue me.
Zoe: What? Risk my ship?

Mal: She is a mite unpredictable. Mood swings, of a sort.
Operative
: It’s worse than you know.
Mal
: It usually is.
Operative
: That girl will rain destruction down on you and your ship. She is an albatross, Captain.
Mal
: The way I remember it, albatross was a ship’s good luck, ’til some idiot killed it. [to Inara] Yes, I’ve read a poem. Try not to faint

Operative: I already know you will not see reason.
Mal: The Alliance wanted to show me reason, they shouldn’t have sent an assassin.
Operative: I have a warship in deep orbit, Captain. We locked onto Serenity’s pulse beacon the moment you hit atmo. I can speak a word and send a missile to that exact location inside of three minutes.
Mal: You do that, you’d best make peace with your dear and fluffy lord.
Operative: [Mal tosses a mechanism, he catches it] Pulse beacon…

Operative: I want to resolve this like civilized men. I’m not threatening you. I’m unarmed.
Mal: Good. [shoots him]
Operative: [grabs Mal from behind] I am, however, wearing full body armor. I am not a moron!

Operative: You are fooling yourself, Captain. Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena.
Inara: And that’s not incense. [the “incense” explodes and knocks The Operative out]

Mal: Half of writing history is hiding the truth.

Jayne: Oh yeah, hidin’ up the Shepherd’s skirts, that’s a manful scheme.
Mal: You wanna run this ship?!
Jayne: Yes!
Mal: Well y-…you can’t!

Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?
Mal
: I don’t murder children.
Operative: I do. If I have to.
Mal: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?
Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Mal: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?
Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster.What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

Mal: Ah, hell, Shepherd, I ain’t looking for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.
Book: Why when I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?

Book: [last words] I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.

Mal: This is how it is. Anybody doesn’t wanna fly with me any more, this is your port of harbor. There’s a lot of fine ways to die. I ain’t waiting for the Alliance to choose mine. [shoots Alliance soldier crawling from wreckage] I mean to confound these bungers. Take my shot at getting to Miranda. Maybe find something I can use to get clear of this. So I hear a word out of any of you that ain’t helping me out or taking your leave, I will shoot you down. Get to work!

Dr. Caron: These are just a few of the images we’ve recorded. And you can see, it wasn’t what we thought. There’s been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable. It’s the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There’s 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die.

Mal: This report is maybe twelve years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there’s a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They’re gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people…better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave.
Jayne
: Shepherd Book used to tell me, “If you can’t do somethin’ smart… do somethin’ right.”

Zoë: It’s a fair bet the Alliance knows about Mr. Universe. They’re gonna see this coming.
Mal: No. They’re not going to see this coming.

Wash: I’m a leaf on the wind…watch how I soar.
Mal: [smiling at battle around them] Chickens come home to roost!
Wash: [flying debris glances off ship’s hull] It’s okay… I-I’m a leaf on the wind!

Jayne: Cap’n’s right. Can’t be thinkin’ on revenge if we’re gonna get through this.
Zoe: Do you really think any of us are gonna get through this?
Jayne: Well I might!

Mr. Universe: [via his buffybot] Mal. Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that?

Simon: My one regret in all of this is never being with you.
Kaylee
: With me? You mean to say, as in… sex?
Simon
: I mean to say…
Kaylee
: [cocks her gun] Hell with this. I’m gonna live!

Operative: Do you know what your sin is Mal?
Mal: Ah Hell… I’m a fan of all seven. But right now… I’m gonna have to go with wrath.

Operative: Do you really believe that?
Mal: I do.
Operative: You willing to die for that belief?
Mal: I am. [shoots the Operative repeatedly] Course, that ain’t exactly Plan A.

[Deleted scene]
Operative: Serenity… you lost everything in that battle. Everything you had, everything you were. How did you go on?
Mal: If you’re still standing there when that engine starts, you never will figure it out.

Mal: You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do since you already know what I’m about to say.
River
: I do. But I like to hear you say it.
Mal
: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love. She’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the world. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down. Tells you she’s hurting before she keels. Makes her a home.

[last line]
Mal: What was that?

Final Thoughts (on an awesome series!):
Well that’s it I guess, show’s over… (Sniff, sniff) Excuse me for a moment! Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let me offer some final thoughts on this series that I didn’t think to mention before. One thing I am impressed with about the movie is how they really got into the mentality of the Alliance in greater detail. All throughout the original series, it was clear that they were motivated by a desire to expand and consolidate, and generally justified themselves with the whole “civilizing mission”, calling to mind the age of Imperialism and the American Frontier, “Manifest Destiny”, “White Man’s Burden” and all that crap!

But here, they got a little more in-depth. Calling to mind more recent phenomena like the goal of “spreading Democracy” and questions like “why would people not want to be like us?” And what was brilliant about the execution was the fact that the people who asked these questions and did these things really weren’t evil. At least, they didn’t think they were. Even The Operative, a self-confessed monster, wasn’t all bad. He truly and honestly believed that he was doing the right thing, that there would be a payoff for other people as a result of his murderous actions. And he accepted the fact that, come the day of a perfect society, he wouldn’t be allowed to live in it. In a way, he was kind of selfless. In a way…

And ultimately, Whedon and the cast captured the other side of the equation perfectly as well. Whereas the powers that be saw their mission as a civilizing one, a drive to create a utopia, they saw the horrors inherent in such a vision. As all fans of dystopian literature know, the whole premise is based on the idea that the drive to create the “perfect society” quickly gives way to a very imperfect one. For in the end, the drive for perfection is an illusion, and dreams can give way to nightmares very quickly!

Wow, deep stuff, and to be found in a space-western of all places. And with so many cheeky and fun lines to boot. Is it any wonder why people who love this show love it as much as they do? It’s a cult classic, man! And now it’s gone… (sniff!) I’m sorry, I thought I was all cried out! But can you blame me? This movie is emotional, and it’s big finish was a fitting sendoff to the show. Climactic, full of resolutions, but still with enough uncertainty to keep the viewers wondering if someday, there might be more to come…

Alas, seems like this show was destined to succumb to its own central theme. Much like the Browncoats, it was stamped out by an unfeeling, remorseless giant known as Fox. But alas, there’s still hope. If I get rich one day, I have said that I would purchase the rights to the show, recruit as much of the old cast as possible, and put it back on the air. Or, maybe just spring for a couple DVD movies, or a some sequels… Or maybe I’ll just buy the damn Fox Network, force them to re-air this show and many others they so foolishly cancelled. It could happen… Yeah, and monkeys could fly out of my ass! Ah well, until next time, keep on flying!

Alternate Histories…

When it comes to science fiction, alternate histories are a special kind of sub-genre. They explore the what ifs of history, challenge our notions of inevitability, and open up whole worlds based on what could have been. They are a source of fantasy and speculation on the one hand, offering the reader a chance to explore endless possibilities, and realism on the other, showing how a drastically different world can be entirely plausible.

Some might ask why this sort of thing would be considered sci-fi at all. Why not simply file it under the heading of historical fiction next to all those recreations or Dan Brown novels (Ha! Take that, Brown!)? Well, the answer is that, like time travel novels, there is a scientific basis for this kind of story. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the Multiverse or Alternate Universes hypothesis. In essence, these theories arise out of quantum mechanics as well as pure fantasy, positing that there may be an unlimited number of alternate universes in which all possible realities have been realized.

So really, creating a world where things unfolded differently from our own is not only fun and creative, its also a relatively scientific approach. Who’s to say that this world doesn’t exist somewhere out there, in a different dimension of the universe as a separate quantum reality? Hell, there may very well be countless such realities paralleling our own. And imagining how and why things unfolded differently in any one of them is what makes them fun!

All that being said, let me get into some prime examples of Alternate History and what was good about them. For starters, the classic tale by Philip K. Dick and the world where the Allies LOST the Second World War.

Man In The High Castle:
This story takes place in the US during the 1960’s where a different kind of Cold War is brewing between two superpowers. But unlike the world that WE know, in this world those superpowers are Japan and Germany. After losing the Second World War, the US was divided between these two powers, a loose federation of Midwestern states is currently unoccupied between them, and Jews, Africans and other “undesirables” have all but been exterminated. The rest of the world is similarly divided, falling into either the Greater German Reich, the Japanese Empire, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire.

Man In The High Castle, Map

The reasons for this are made clear throughout. For one, the assassination attempt of FDR by Giuseppe Zangara’s in 1933 was successful. As a result, the US experienced a weak string of governments led by FDR’s VP John Nance Garner and then Republican John W. Bricker. Without FDR’s leadership, America never recovered from the Great Depression and was unable to offer military assistance to Britain and Russia or defend itself against Japan when WWII broke out. As a result, the Axis powers won and the US itself was conquered and divided by 1948.

In the world which resulted, the Mediterranean has also been drained, Africa has been sterilized through the worst manifestation of the Reich’s human experiments, and the Reich is sending people to the Moon and further into space. Technology has advanced quicker within the Reich, but at a tremendous cost in human terms, and the resulting impact on the Reich’s culture is evident everywhere. Madness and mass murder have become a permanent part of their psychology, which is part of the reason why they are planning on war again. The Japanese sphere is much more peaceful and phlegmatic by comparison, but technologically less advanced. In any coming conflict, they will be at a disadvantage and they know it!

Enter into this world a series of characters who represent the various facets of society. There’s the Japanese Trade missioner in San Francisco, Nobusuke Tagomi, Mr. Baynes, a Captain in Reich Naval Counter-Intelligence who poses as a Swedish Industrialist, Frank Frink, a secret Jew who is trying to start a jewelry business with his partner, Wyndam-Mason, an industrialist and the former boss of Frink, Robert Childan, an American antiquities dealer who sells his wares to Japanese customers who are interested in owning examples of pre-war Americana, and Juliana Frink, a Judo instructor and Frank’s ex-wife.

In the course of the story, we find that Baynes is traveling to San Francisco to meet with Tagomi, ostensibly as part of a trade mission, but really to deliver a warning. Germany is gearing up for war with Japan and plans on using nukes! Mason introduces the subject of the book known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate history that deals with the subject of how WWII could have been won. Frink and his partner begin manufacturing jewelry in the hopes of selling it through Childan, who does good business with antiquities but finds that innovative new things are not appealing to his Japanese customer base. And finally, we see that Juliana, after hooking up with a Reich secret agent, is traveling to middle America to find the author of Grasshopper, a man known by his signature – “Man In The High Castle”. The Reich wants this man dead, for obvious reasons.

By books end, Juliana kills the German agent once she discovers his identity and finds the man for herself. She learns that, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, he is actually a perfectly normal man who was inspired to create something groundbreaking. His inspiration for the book apparently came from the Oracle, an aspect of the I Ching which people use to ordain the future (and which plays a central role in this story). How he applies the Oracle to past events is never fully explained, but the point is clear. By book’s end Juliana realizes that they are living in the wrong reality. Germany and Japan were meant to have lost the war and the history was meant to unfold differently.

While difficult to follow at times, mainly because of the sort of stream of consciousness way PKD writes, this book was fascinating and is the perfect example of an alternate history. The plot device of the book, itself an alternate history, illustrates beautifully how history unfolded differently in this alternate universe and spares the reader from having to read through an intro that explains how it all happened. And aside from some debatable scenarios, like the draining of the Mediterranean, most of what goes on in it seems highly plausible.

Fatherland:
Another example of an alternate history in which the Axis once again won World War II, but did not conquer the New World. In addition to being a novel, it was a adapted into a TV movie starring Rutger Hauer, Miranda Richardson and Peter Vaughan. The author, Robert Harris, has done many works of historical fiction, including Enigma (also adapted into a movie), the Roman historical novel of Pompeii, and a trilogy centered on Cicero (Imperium, Lustra, and Conspirata). And though Fatherland does resemble Man in the High Castle in many respects, it is arguably more realistic and novel in its approach.

The story opens in the Greater German Reich in 1965 after a murder has taken place. Investigating this murder is Xavier March (played by Rutger Hauer in the movie), an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo). The victim is a high-ranking Nazi named Josef Bühler, and his death was meant to look like an accident. As he investigates further, he finds that Bühler’s death is linked to several deaths of high-ranking Nazis who lived through the war. In each case, their deaths are made to look like accidents.

At the same time, Charlotte “Charlie” Maguire, an American journalist, has come to the Reich to witness Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday. This event is also being used by the Reich to heal the rift between the US and Germany, as there has been a state of detente between the two since Second World War. While in Germany, she is slipped a package from a stranger containing details about Bühler and begins looking into it herself. In time, March and Maguire meet up and begin exchanging information, hoping to discover the truth behind all the deaths.

In time, they come to uncover that the deaths are part of a cover-up conspiracy whereby the planners of the Holocaust are being eliminated one by one. This is being done in preparation for the meeting between Hitler and Josheph P. Kennedy (the president of the US in this story), basically to ensure that Germany’s crimes don’t get in the way of a new alliance. When the Gestapo get wind of their discovery, March is arrested and tortured, but Maquire escapes and heads for Switzerland with the proof they’ve found.

March is eventually freed with the help of the chief of Kripo, but quickly realizes his rescue was staged so he might lead them to Macquire. He instead heads for Auschwitz, which has been dismantled since the war, looking for some indication of what went on there. He soon finds bricks in the undergrowth, indicating the existence of old structures. Satisfied that it was real, he pulls out his gun and prepares for the inevitable.

The story not only does a good job of postulating what would have happened had Germany won the war (i.e. the Holocaust would have been covered up and disavowed by later generations in order to protect Germany’s reputation), but also on how this victory came to be. In addition to Reinhard Heydrich (the chief of Reich security during WWII) surviving his assassination attempt in 1942, the Germans also learned that the British had cracked their Enigma codes and changed them, thus being able to successfully cut off Britain with their U-boa ts and starve it into submission by ’44. In the East, the Germans also manage to defeat the Russians in the Caucasus in 42′, thus securing the Baku oil fields, cutting off Moscow from supply and finishing them off by 43′.

With victory in Europe complete, they then begin testing their own nuclear weapons and developing “V-3” intercontinental rockets by 46′. However, the US wins in the Pacific and drops their own nukes on Japan, ending the war there and leading to a state of Cold War between the US and Germany. Thus, in this alternate world, it is the US and Germany that are the global, nuclear superpowers rather than the US and USSR. The story also ends on a cliffhanger note, leaving the reader to wonder if war breaks out between the US and Germany and whether or not the main characters survive.

However, not all alternate histories revolve around WWII or even recent events. Some go much farther back in time, tackling pivotal events like the “discovery” of the New World, or the fall of Rome, or, in the case of Harry Turtledove, the outcome of the American Civil War. This is an especially good example of alternate history because of its apparent plausibility.

Guns of the South:
In this story, historian Harry Turtledove explores the very real possibility of what would have happened had the South won the war. It involves some South African ultra-nationalists (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) traveling back in time to supply Robert E Lee’s army with AK-47’s and nitroglycerine tablets (to treat Lee’s heart condition), thus ensuring a Southern victory at Gettysburg and in the 1864 campaign. The motives for this aid are made clear in the course of the story when Lee finally questions the helpful men who’s accents and technology they find strange and intriguing.

In essence, the leader of the time travelers (known as the AWB, the anglicized version of which is “America Will Break”) tells Lee that in 2014, where they have come from, white supremacy has not endured and that in South Africa by their time, blacks have eclipsed whites as the dominant power. They feel that the only way white supremacy will survive is if the American South won the Civil War, thus ensuring that it would have a home in the US in the future. Lee accepts their help, and the Confederates eventually win the Civil War and the Union, England and France are forced to recognize the CSA.

What follows this is not only intriguing but highly plausible. Lee becomes president of the new south and abolishes slavery, in keeping with his views and the reality of the post-war situation. Not only is slavery untenable from a moral standpoint in his view, Lee knows that forcing former slaves to return to the plantations will only lead to violence and spur on black guerrillas who are now operating throughout the Confederacy. At his inauguration however, men from the AWB attempt to kill him with Uzis and end up murdering his wife, VP and several dignitaries. Lee then seizes their HQ and finds many more things from the future (like lightbulbs and books about the marginalization of racism in the future). He then successfully uses these books to convince his congressmen that slavery is obsolete and must be condemned. Abolition is thus passed in the South without incident.

The story ends with the Union, angered by British recognition and support of the South, invading Canada. Also, Lee is made aware of the fact that they are developing their own version of the AK-47 in case of future war. However, he remains convinced that the CSA will maintain its technological advantage, and will in time catch up with the North in terms of industry and be able to defend itself if worse comes to worse.

Having completed this one volume, Turtledove went on to create ELEVEN more books in the series, drawing out this alternate history thread and creating a very plausible timeline in the end. To sum it succinctly, the US enjoys mostly peaceful relations with the CSA for about fifty years, but angry over England and France’s support of the CSA, aligns itself with the new power in Europe at the end of the end of the 19th century – The German Empire! As the alliances take shape in the early 20th century, it’s Germany, Austria-Hungary and the USA versus Britain, France, Russia and the CSA. Neat huh? One can see without much effort how this will shake things up!

In the US too, politics change as the Republican Party is blamed for losing the war. It disappears and Lincoln, himself despised, ends up joining the Socialist Party, the only rival to the Democrats. With America and Germany as allies, cultural changes occur as well, such as fine mustaches becoming all the rage. This is in reference to Kaiser Wilhelm who was renowned for having a bushy soup strainer on his upper lip!

But its the wars where the real change occurs. When World War I comes around, America is immediately involved and the stalemate of trench warfare is seen running across the Mississippi river and also between Canada – part of the British empire – and the northern US. The black former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by President Robert E. Lee in the 1880s but then left to rot, rise in a Communist-backed revolt in 1915 but are ruthlessly crushed. In the end, the US army conquers Canada in 1917 with the use of tanks and breaks through the Confederate lines in Kentucky and Virginia. Russia is similarly brought out of the war by a revolution in this timeline, but not a Communist one. The US navy then turns its attention to Britain and puts up a blockage with starves it into submission. The USA and Germany have won the war.

Also similar to real history, the victorious powers impose harsh peace terms on the losers, complete with territorial losses, “war guilt” clauses, reparations, and disarmament. Politics thus become radicalised in the defeated powers – Britain, France and the Confederacy – and fascist parties gain control in all of them. The Second World War then arrives on schedule after a demagogue who is voted in in the CSA who resembles Hitler, though his hatred is aimed not at Jews but at blacks. The war opens with a Confederate blitzkrieg into Ohio that almost cuts the US in half, but in time, the weight of numbers begins to swing the balance the other way. Much like in the real WWII, the death camps run by the Freedom Party to exterminate the South’s blacks continue to run full blast, even as their armies are in full retreat.

Both sides are also racing for nuclear weapons, and some are used in the end – but Germany and the USA have more of them than Britain and the CSA, so the victors in the First World War win once again. And this time, the Confederacy is fully occupied and formally abolished. The United States is reunited after generations of disunity, but a genuine reunification will not come for many generations, if at all.

Thus, while some small changes in historical events led to some rather cataclysmic changes in Turtledove’s story, things pretty much meet up with real history in the end and come to resemble the world as we know it today. Russia is not Communist, and the Cold War of the post-WWII era is markedly different, but the general outlines are the same. So in a way, his story is just like PKD’s and Harris’ in that things diverge in the beginning but come back to what we, the readers, interpret as the normal course of history in the end. Hmmm, one might construe that their is a point in all this, a lesson if you will. And in that, they’d be right!

The Lesson of Alternate History(?):
This humble narrator would suggest that if there is a lesson to be learned from Alternate Histories, it is that the force of history is a powerful, weighty thing and that while small changes can have a big impact, the general pattern reasserts itself before too long. At least, that is what the authors in question appear to be saying. In PKD’s Castle, the story ends with the character of Juliana Frink realizing that Germany and Japan lost the war and that the author of the alternate history book wrote it for just that reason. Fatherland ends with every indication that the Holocaust will be revealed and that the US and Germany will remain enemies. And Turtledove’s Guns of the South, though it takes about half a billion words to get there, ends with WWI and II playing out pretty much the same as they did in real life.

But as I’m sure someone wise might have said (might have just been me!), books tell us far more about the author than the subject. It could be that history is a chaotic arbitrary process and the idea that it will meet up with us or overcome obstacles that are artificially put in place is an illusion. For all we know, causation and inevitability are things we impose based on a false consciousness, that we believe we are where we are meant to be because we have to. That idea is often explored in alternate history as well, where the characters believe that their own timelines are the “right” one and that if tampering took place, it was for ill. However, the stories always seem to end with things going back to the way they were meant to be. Everyone’s happy, or at least, a sense of balance is restored.

Either way, it tells us much about ourselves, doesn’t it? We are creatures who like to tamper with things, who like to ask “what if” and experiment with the natural order. But in the end, we also depend on that order and want to know that it will unfold as its meant to. Whether its an illusion or its real, its one of the many things without which, we would be lost!

Sidenote: Shameless plug, but it so happens I wrote some articles on the subjects of the multiverse and alternate universes. They are available at Universe Today.com, here are the links:

Multiverse Theory
Altnernate Universe

What does Osama’s death mean?

I did not start this blog with the intention of getting into politics. There are few things more subjective and divisive than where one stands on various issues, political parties, or where they fall in the big spectrum. However, once in awhile something comes along and you just have to take to whatever forum you have available and comment on it. And so I come here, to my webpage where I usually do reviews, to comment on this groundbreaking story.

Yes, it finally happened. After ten years of obscurity and unconfirmed whereabouts, after years and years of being told “we think he is in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan”, Bin Laden was not just found, but killed. And the big question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, what happens now? Obviously, 9/11 was a turning point in history. Whether or not you agreed with the assessment that it “changed everything”, you had to admit that it was what Gibson described as a “nodal point” in our history. It changed many things, for better or for worse, including but not limited to how the world thinks of terrorism, how the US executed its foreign policy, what that policy entailed, and had a huge impact on international relations. It also put a face on global terrorism, again for better or for worse. And with Bin Laden’s escape from the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq and torture controversies, many people have been left wondering about the course of the whole “war on terror” and whether or not it was even worth pursuing anymore.

And now, ten years, and two inconclusive wars later – not to mention some “enhanced interrogation techniques”, hundreds of thousands dead, and a whole lot of unanswered questions – the man responsible for 9/11 and this detour in our history is finally dead. But the question remains, what now? Does Bin Laden’s death mean anything for the “war on terror”, even though the term has been dropped, and will it effect the fortunes of Al-Qaeda or US foreign policy? Second, and perhaps of equal importance, is a question I asked myself today. How will future generations look at this period in our history? Will they see it as an aberration, like we do Vietnam, or will they see it as something that began with tragedy and ended with triumph, albeit with some bumps along the way?

Personally, I think the answer to the first question is a resounding no. While Bin Laden’s death is certainly a symbolic victory, and definitely a victory for Obama (if he exploits it just right), his death really doesn’t change things vis a vis the bigger picture. Why? Because the war on terror ceased being about Osama many years ago, shortly after Afghanistan was invaded in fact. Which I think helps to answer question two, but one thing at a time! As it stands, the US is still engaged on a number of fronts with its former “war on terror”, and its enemies go far beyond Bin Laden and his small band of people. Whether it’s the resurgent Taliban, Islamic militants in Pakistan, or the possibility of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the US finds itself committed to war on several fronts. And they aren’t going so well!

On the plus side, the US has pulled out of Iraq after seven disastrous years of occupation. The long-term effects that it will have on the region are also unclear. But one thing is for sure… after years of insurgency, civil war and most areas of the country still living in fear and dire poverty, things couldn’t get much worse. Any hopes the neo-cons have that something good will come out of the Iraqi war, hence saving Bush’s legacy, cannot be taken seriously anymore. There are those who predict it will get even worse, that the sectarian violence is nearing phase two, the current government can’t possibly control the country, and that some kind of fundamentalist autocracy with strong ties to Iran is inevitable. Some think there’s nowhere to go but up, but even many of them believe that it was the withdrawal of the US that now makes this possible – i.e. that nothing good could happen so long as the occupation continued, the Iraqis needing to “build democracy” on their own.

So realistically, Osama’s departure from the international scene is really not a decisive factor anymore. At least, not in my humble opinion. And this, like I said earlier, goes a long way towards answering how this whole episode will be viewed by future generations, provided I’m right of course ;). Given the fact that the US can’t use this as a pretext to pull out of Afghanistan, stabilize Iraq, restore the US’s tarnished reputation in the Middle East or amongst it allies, mend fences with Russia, end North Korea and Iran’s defiance, or bring back the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or Afghanis, future generations are likely to see this whole campaign as a resounding failure.

So indeed… what now? What can be done to salvage the situation that 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and the “war on terror” has left us with? What can we do, short of turning back the clock and killing him back in 2002 when the opportunity first presented itself, thus avoiding all the crap that happened between now and then?