Summary for the month of Oct 2017

Here’s a summary of activity for October, 2017.

It continues to get darker and drearier up here, as the cold starts seeping in for real. The cats are getting more and more cuddly, and the weight of them at night is like sleeping in a mummy bag, trapping me in cat created claustrophobia …

Lots of reviews this month, and food. Cats, books, and food. I’m okay with that.

Do check out what I’m up to over at Rigaroga’s Odd Order and Hermetic Library for more.

If you can, drop a buck in the tip jar or become a Patron to help me create a firm foundation with a Basic Income and also keep the cats healthy and happy!

Here’s a summary of posts on the blog from last month

Itsy Bitsy

Itsy Bitsy by John Ajvide Lindqvist is my first return to the corpus that contains Låt den rätte komma in, and its adaptions, about which I swooned a while back.

It’s definitely the same literary voice I recall, though from translations by the same translator, so … who’s voice is it luring me in? Ironically, the title story is only the first 1/3rd of this volume. The remaining 2/3rds is taken up by two previews for other Lindqvist books. So … this story is something of an anglerfish trying to tempt you in with promises for more of what you want.

*ahem*

The story itself is a twist on what seems at first to be a simple tale of a paparazzi waiting to capture the perfect picture to sell, but is taken down by a tickle being given to his deep desires.

I made 3 highlights.

Principles of Extreme Living

The pamphlet Black Book Volume 1: Principles of Extreme Living by Christopher S Hyatt, with Nicholas Tharcher, S Jason Black, has a lot of quotable quips, but one must consider them in context of the question “to what end?” I suspect that far too many would read this as a primer on how to justify being worse assholes instead of a call to action to become better. I think the text’s attempt to be shocking and a splash of cold water make it difficult to arrive at the challenge to exceed of the latter, and will ultimately appeal mostly to those seeking the former as confirmation bias to stay stuck.

In this sense, I might argue that the kind of “extreme living” is a form not of excellence but of self abuse, not just abuse of others, ultimately amounting to a kind of principled self-hate for the human condition, which I think is a social one that draws an overall arc to increase interdependence and mutual aid in spite of meanness and hatred. If one constantly draws the circle of their care in the world closer and sharper to the self then there’s no surprise that so much hate springs forth from such sad little monkeys who drive themselves slowly insane nurturing hate for others ultimately cannot but aim inward for recognition of their own inexorable humanity into become self-hate and abuse.

There’s a Venn diagram of reasons I read this, which include Hyatt’s esoteric work, the place of Falcon Press as a once great publisher of still notable esoteric and outsider materials, and so forth, but also that I was interested in trying to understand a bit more about how groups such as the MRA people justify themselves to themselves. Although I read this before the most recent events around alt-right and white supremacy movements occurred, I have to recognize there are a lot of overlaps, not just to Men’s Rights Activists. There’s a strain of thought here that seems to get picked up over and over again through the years.

It all still seems like faulty thinking and broken feeling to me, and I can’t help but wonder if they might find a way to heal themselves from whatever damage they are acting out and perpetuating if they tried to less willfully cleave to and suckle from the dystopian wire monkey of their hatreds.

If you can filter that dross and drek out, and not be put off by the overstatements attempting to shock, there is a call here to realize that the self lives in relationship with other, and that means there is useful dialectical interplay between both self and other. If one manages not to forget the relationship part, there’s something to be said for the need for a kind of rigor to being true to oneself as long as one is heading along whatever path toward excellence one takes. There is a healthy reason to have a balance, even if maintaining that balance requires discipline that may seem harsh at times to others; moreover that discipline of self balance is itself a skill to develop.

But I think the idea of extremes advocated here is more likely a form of dysfunction than one of excellence, most attractive to those seeking to justify being shitty in a world trying to route around them as energetic dead ends, those who are essentially necrotizing tumors in the collective body the rest of us all share.

I have a kind of morbid historical curiosity about the other volumes in the series, but, really, I don’t see the point in going further. It seems to me these kinds of screeds are best remembered as examples of how thoughts and feelings can go wildly wrong and then become codified scar tissue, not as exemplars to emulate or follow. I suspect one should know these errors well enough to avoid them and then do that.

I made 40 highlights.

Red Dragon

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is the first story where the character Hannibal Lector appears, and is the launching point for a series of books, movies and television, not the least of which are Jonathan Demme’s revelation that interior menace was far creepier and disturbing than the externally gross on screen with Silence of the Lambs and the tour de force apotheosis of everything Bryan Fuller that is Hannibal. I could say so much about those two reifications, but will try to focus on the book in particular, though they must be included in passing by reference.

After so many years, this was the first Thomas Harris book I read, and I must admit I finally put it on my to read stack because of Fuller’s television series. But I was surprised by how many esoteric references there were, and some of that comes out strongly in Fuller’s series. To be sure there’s the obvious William Blake connection with the Great Red Dragon image, but there’s so much about becoming and will and good and evil and nature and choice and the interaction and intertwining and internecination and integration of all these selves and shadows here to contemplate and with which to make pacts.

There’s plenty in this fiction to entertain and worth recommendation, but even moreso for those with esoteric interests who will find an even heartier eucharist.

I made 144 highlights.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T Malik is a grim fairy tale fantasy with time and reality twisting short story that is full of excellent middle east magical realism centering around human and jinn interaction. I definitely recommend this.

I made 56 highlights.

The Yanthus Prime Job

The Yanthus Prime Job by Robert Kroese is a novella featuring Pepper Melange from the Rex Nihilo / Starship Grifters series. This is by far the best story out of any of the Starship Grifters books, though available separately it is also included in Aye, Robot, book 2 of the series.

There is not a single bit of Rex Nihilo in this short to annoy, and where Nihilo is an annoying doofus, perhaps like Bill the Galactic Hero but more like that douche Zapp Brannigan, Pepper Melange is smart and capable and funny and perhaps merely a few words of Esperanto away from being as cool as Slippery Jim diGriz, who you may know as The Stainless Steel Rat, with a little bit of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow for good measure.

I really liked this story and the main character in this story. Pepper Melange seems to me to suffer a bit of a personality change and is short changed by being a supporting character in her appearances in the other stories, but here there is just her and her complicated caper plotting savvy and snappy shenanigans that go awry to enjoy.

I’d love to read more stories with Pepper Melange as the main character, but this makes a nice complete story by itself, which I’ll have to be satisfied with. If I hadn’t read this story, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the other books in the Rex Nihilo series, but I did and I did. To be honest, I’d be more excited about the others remaining in my to read stack if I knew they featured Pepper Melange instead of Nihilo.

I made 5 highlights.

Histoires à lire le soir

Histoires à lire le soir by Marc Thil is an amusing collection of easy to read short stories in French. Unfortunately, I’m just not fluent enough yet to really get these, but I made it through them. What I was able to understand was funny. But, what I got most out of this collection was something that I could read aloud to myself to practice pronunciation, reading, and, to what small measure I could manage, comprehension. Besides, it amused my cats to hear me read it, so there’s that too.

Omon Ra

Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield, is weird. But, like, good weird. Like, you should read it weird.

Although this is the first book by Pelevin I’ve read, I’ve had The Helmet of Horror, also translated by Bromfield, part of the Canongate Myths series, on my to-read stack for ages, and I’ve ended up with some other works in my stack beyond those. But this was the first I’ve gotten to read.

There’s a mix of absurdity with realism here that reminded me a lot of Stanisław Lem, and I felt the kind of cinematic weight of Tarkovsky’s rendition of Solaris on me while reading.

For me there is here no small remembrance of the fatalistic loss and distance from My Life As A Dog, which was an oddly influential movie to my feeling in my youth. Moreover, I ended up guessing ahead of the reveal, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s some strange kerning on the cover image for this edition that makes the title seem like “Om on Ra” which may tickle a few specific occult antennae out there. But, there’s also the cosmonaut on the cover with the falcon head of Ra, which is a codename chosen by the main character, based on his childhood dreams. Ultimately, there’s a little bit of tie-in with Egyptian myth, but it isn’t quite so integral as it might seem from first glance. One might try to say this is a retelling of Ra’s journey in the underworld, but that seems like a stretch.

There’s discussion of the soul in bodies which is reflected in the story of cosmonauts in their vehicles, and there’s a strange inversion where Gurdjieff, whom I understand was a critic of the Soviet and Marxist systems, is a Party hero who criticized the “bourgeois” belief that “organic life on earth serves merely as nourishment for the moon”, which I gather was actually something Gurdjieff talked about himself. This inversion links to something mentioned about time looping, as an hourglass, where everything lives in reverse when the glass is turned. So, for me, it seems the events here may all occur in that alternate flipped timeline.

I’m not sure this is actually a profound story, but it sure has elements that sound profound and had me thinking about life, self, time, souls, earth as a clockwork, the nature of heroism, and fate. But at least it is a novel about the human condition and yearning, that, in summary, is largely about bittersweet and uncertain survival against the demands of organizational and systemic absurdity.

I made 41 highlights.

Straw Boss

Straw Boss by J R Evans is a novella tie-in with Straw Boss: A World of Adventure for Fate Core. A lot of times that might seem like a warning sign, as game tie-ins aren’t always so great; but this one is not only perfectly good as a stand alone without any need to know about the game, but also a well done spoopy October read in and of itself. The only thing that I didn’t get from the novella was what the title references, but the narrative quickly builds its world and premise, and explores it well, and the creepiness creeps up on you to an end that I didn’t see coming. There’s new bits of the world revealed all along the way, in a story with flashbacks, that feels very well supported and developed.

The story explores one character’s experience at a particular cult compound in the rural United States, as well as, episodically, a road trip to return a kidnapped child to her mother. But, as one says, things are not as they seem. The framing premise is that there’s a cult of Scholars, founded by John Dee, that exists around the world; and that they adopt orphans whom they train to become possessed supernatural warriors. If you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural and the idea of the Men of Letters, this cult is kinda like that, but maybe with a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Watchers and The Following mixed in. Basically, you get to conquer your demons and put them to work for you in the game while on the frontlines between dark and light in a mix of mundane reality, myth, and magic.

At one point, I was amused to see that Murmur seems to get a few cameos in places for some reason. Murmur’s seal showed up on the TV show Sleepy Hollow, back in 2013, on S01e08, as an “Egyptian hieroglyph”, which I found risible, and was pretty much the point when I gave up on that show. Then in 2016, Murmur showed up in Erwin and the Method Demons. So, as an aside, what I’m saying is that Murmur cameos are a thing. Case in point.

The Straw Boss novella does a solid, standalone job of telling an interesting story that would make a good read for October, or another time. Whenever. Murmur murmur murmur. Also, check out the game world supplement!

I made 3 highlights.

Perfectibilists

Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati by Terry Melanson is a rich treasure trove of history, much of which I found I hadn’t quite been familiar with yet, and that, in spite of the author’s barely hidden bias, really puts the infamous Illuminati in a heroic position in their time.

I’ve always been surprised, and am now even more surprised, that the Illuminati are vilified. They were on the ground in the front lines of what became the Enlightenment. They were struggling against entrenched and violently repressive regimes in religious, scholastic and secular society. I think, ultimately, the Enlightenment and Revolutionary periods left them in the dust, perhaps justly, but they were there, at the beginnings, part of the vanguard for what has become the modern world. In the days before Revolution was possible, it seems rational to think “the only recourse, it would seem—short of a revolution—is to operate in the shadows.”

For example, I think, aside from the, perhaps spurious, part about poisoning and a caveat in regard to “passion rather than reason”, I can agree quite strongly with “such vicious moral and religious sentiments as that life should be controlled by passion rather than reason, that suicide is justifiable, that one may poison one’s enemies, and that religion should be regarded as nonsense and patriotism as puerility.” And, I largely laud “how harmful and dangerous the Order of the Illuminati will be for the State and religion, if allowed to flourish here and beyond.” I find I am mostly in agreement with the sentiment that “every King and every priest is a traitor and a thief,” just maybe not quite the Populist rural rabble’s revolting take on that, but in rather an equalitarian and egalitarian way of where humanity could be, if only it were perfected. I fear, for the author’s sake, I’m more aligned with the idea and ideals of this historical Illuminati now having read this history than I was ever before.

I agree with Weishaupt “in the indefinite perfectibility of man” and that humanity “may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, & of course to render political government useless.” To the extent this is a “conspiracy against all government” and against the “evils of private property” then so be it, but we’re also not there yet.

The role of the Rosicrucian orders as agents of the Counter-Enlightenment was a bit of a surprise to me. Finding that out explains several things I found curious, not the least of which is Franz Hartmann’s switch from a Rosicrucian to an Illuminati focus in his fiction. But, I have a stronger idea of the tension around what became of literary Rosicrucianism when it began to accrete later innovations. But, suffice to say, it turns out, for me, anyway, the Rosicrucians are the villains that most people seem to think the Illuminati are.

I’ve gotten a lot of new book titles and names of people from this that I’ve put on my list of things to research. I’ve also become far more interested in the way Deism has played out in the Enlightenment in Europe and the Revolutionary period in North America. I’ve also started to read ancillary materials mentioned here, for example I picked up Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey because of this book. So, in addition to the historical information contained directly, this was a great point of departure as well.

Through this book I developed an appreciation for how the secrecy and hierarchical nature of the Illuminati went from being a reasonable and rational security culture to being a burden and ultimately, I think, the reason they were left behind by the overall Enlightenment, which proved too popular and too widespread for them to stay in control as much as the opposition was unable to control its advance. There’s much in the critical analysis of how the Illuminati failed as an organization that could be considered and contemplated by other orders that exist in the world. For example, Baron von Knigge is quoted:

“[As a rule, under the veil of secrecy, dangerous plans and harmful teachings can be accepted just as well as noble intentions and profound knowledge; because not all members themselves are informed of such depraved intentions, which sometimes tend to lie hidden beneath the beautiful façade … because for the most part, unknown superiors lie in ambush and it is unworthy of an intelligent man to work according to a plan, which he does not fully see, for whose importance and goodness he is responsible to people, whom he does not know, whom he must bind himself to, without them binding themselves to him.. because they [secret societies] cost time and money;…because they soon became the assembly places for adventurers and idlers; because they favor various species of political, religious, and philosophical Scwärmerei [zealous or insane enthusiasm]; because a monkish esprit de corps prevails in them and brings about much harm; finally, because they provide the opportunity for cabals, discord, persecution, intolerance, and injustice against good men, because they are not members of such an order or at least not the same order.”

In addition to technocratic autocracy dangerously enabling organizational dysfunction and antagonists, there’s much to be taken seriously here in the analysis of how hierarchical and secret orders can become burdens to themselves and their membership and the society in which they operate. I’m afraid that here I must finally, for reasons principled and philosophical and personal, part ways with this illustrious company so closely aligned with my own thinking, but ultimately not my allies.

The author makes a largely credible case that the Illuminati continued at least indirectly to exist past the point when it is largely considered to have demised as an order. I don’t take very seriously the idea that indirect influence and inspiration qualify as absolute continuity of conspiracy, as the author seems to believe, but it seems clear enough that the ideas of Enlightenment and methods of organization championed by the Order of the Illuminati were broadly influential long after the order, per se, ceased to be.

But, one thing else, that does come across for me, is that the Enlightenment is an ongoing struggle against which the collective diverse forces of Counter-Enlightenment are constantly and continually resisting. This is even more serious a point to me in the intervening months since I read this work to the time that I am writing now. There are people of serious mind to return to the way things were before the Enlightenment, and some of them are currently running the United States. The struggle is real. The Enlightenment is in danger.

Perhaps there is still a place, and moreover a need, for the Illuminati to continue to exist after all. But, it’s clear they don’t exist, because even if they did still exist, then they’re doing a really damned shitty job.

In the Kindle edition, the illustrations are awful and tiny. There’s also a lot of errors that appear to me likely problems of taking the original text and turning it into an ebook without proper quality control. One of the most common issues is that hardcoded line endings end up in the wrong place, causing lines of text to be split mid-sentence. Someone just didn’t bother checking the ebook output, I think. But there’s other numerous egregious errors, for just one example repeatedly misspelling something as obvious and central as “Wishaupt” instead of Weishaupt.

I made 151 highlights.

Descent Into Hell

Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams is an amazement. I was taken by the curiosity of the Endymion Press cover of this book having a unicursal hexagram. So, I think I picked this up without really knowing much about it other than the oddity of its appearance. But, in the end, this was fantastic to finally find.

This is quite a wonderful, convoluted, interesting story! There’s moments that seem to presage the style of the Beats, and a grand theory of a kind of Christian magic detailed here; but it’s an intensely written episodic twisty tale mostly drawn with magical realism, but that reaches some great creepy and supernatural heights.

I didn’t feel that this supposedly “Christian” book was particularly so. At least it didn’t put me off at all, so it was not preachy but rather well woven in. And the particular magical theory of exchange and substitution described is quite interesting to see developed, and something to consider for one’s own personal experiments. I’m curious to learn more about Williams’ Companions of the Coinherence, and if there’s much to be found on that topic.

I was on a Gothic binge for a while, and this is a great bridge from there to here. The writing is luscious and thick, but there’s a newness to the pacing and the style. There’s as much inbetween-ness to the action as the novel itself, for me.

Reading this wasn’t, I’d say, easy, but I felt it was well worth the effort to get far enough in that I was drawn to finish. I’m wildly impressed with this book enough that I’m very interested in what others by Charles Williams might be like.

I must admit that I was not really aware that Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, along with J R R Tolkien, whose writing I’ve adored, and C S Lewis, whose work I cannot seem to enjoy. Because I couldn’t ever get into C S Lewis, I think I pretty much gave up on exploring the work of Inklings other than Tolkien. I regret not ever having read anything by Williams until now.

I also didn’t recall knowing Charles Williams was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you don’t know already, for those into esoteric traditions, you will find out that Charles Williams is one of us, part of our cultural inheritance, and someone whose work is worth getting to know.

This story is an experience worth having. I highly recommend it.

I made 149 highlights.

Frontier Communications is wack and sketchy

If you are using Frontier Communications, check your bill.

I happened to notice, randomly, not because I was looking, an article about Frontier Communications billing issues and overcharges.

People battling Frontier Communications over billing issues, overcharges—Lauren Rozyla, ABC Action News

From the start, Danielle Ferrari, has been in a battle with Frontier Communications. She owns a small clothing and consignment store in Tampa.

“The very first bill was wildly wrong,” Ferrari said.

Bills show it was more than $340. Ferrari said it was supposed to be a little more than $100. She said she called and Frontier and they promised to fix the mistake. However she said in the months that followed, she was repeatedly overcharged in various amounts.

Indeed, I’d already been planning on posting about my experience with Frontier Communications because it has been abysmal. Unfortunately, they are the only wired option for Broadband in my area.

When I called to set up an account, I asked for the fastest speed I could get. I was not sold the fastest speed I could get. Their sales script is poor at determining what a customer actually wants, and they pay more attention to the script than to what the customer says they actually want. Also, there was a whole tier of faster service than their basic offerings that I should have been told about but was not, which I qualified for but was not set up with by sales.

Also, they really, really want to sell you a bundle. And, they will find a way to sneak their bogus and bloaty “security bundle” on to your account even if you ask nothing else be added.

I had two installation dates pass by without any communication from Frontier Communications. I finally gave up trying to call them about when they would show up and just accepted they would or wouldn’t. They did finally after over a month of trying.

As I mentioned, my initial configuration was not the one I should have gotten, so after the initial install I had to wait another 3 weeks for it to be upgraded. The area sales guy was supposed to call, but didn’t. I ended up calling in myself again and crossed my fingers that there’d be an actual install on my install date.

Their network is extremely congested. I was seeing ping times in the 1000ms range and packet loss over 40% if I tried to use my service at speed. Here’s some examples, but not the most egregious I’ve seen.

Frontier Communications congestion, ping time and packet loss

Frontier Communications congestion, ping time and packet loss

It’s gotten better since, but it’s not stellar. They clearly aren’t spending on their infrastructure at the NAP I’m connected through.

Then, my first bill came. Frontier overcharged me by $200 on my first bill; including a double charge for something free & a bloatware addon.

On my first bill they charged me $323.67 but it should have been something like $131.72. Everything in a red box on this was their mistake.

Frontier Communications bill with mistakes and bloat

They charged for installation and double for equipment that should have been all free under their promotion.

And they add on, without asking, a bloatware security bundle, that no one needs, that they charge $10 for but then credit back $5 of it as a “security credit”.

I called and spent a couple hours dealing with explaining all that had gone wrong already with the service and the bill, and was told, finally, that it was all sorted out.

Then my second bill came and they hadn’t corrected it completely. They also add late fees if you don’t pay their mistake balance, because they adjust the next bill not the current one.

I called and spent a couple hours dealing with explaining all that had gone wrong already with the service and the first and second bills, and was told, finally, that it was all sorted out.

We’ll see if the third bill comes correct, with the account supposedly showing a credit currently.

It’s as if Frontier Communications is competing to be worse than Comcast. Their accounting and item descriptions are wack. Their onboarding is awful. Their service is poorly provisioned.

Be aware and wary. Frontier Communications is wack and sketchy.