Stranger in a Strange Land

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I've recently re-read some old Heinlein novels that have been re-released in "uncut" versions: Red Planet and The Puppet Masters. And now comes the biggie: Stranger in a Strange Land.

The version originally published in 1961 weighed in at 160 kilowords, cut back at the publisher's insistence from Heinlein's original 220 kilowords. I read it a few years later as an impressionable teen, because I was a Heinlein fanboy. It didn't exactly blow my tiny mind, but I was semi-shocked at all the sex, gratuitous nudity, cannibalism, and its, um, complex attitude toward religion.

And—after all these years—I still had this bit stuck in my head, from one of the book's descriptions of the state of the world:

A colossal campaign opened to sell more sexual organs of plants…

I found it impossible to attend any religious service after that without thinking about the appropriateness of an open and proud display of the sexual organs of plants right in front of all comers. Yes, just a mindworm planted fifty years ago by RAH.

Anyway: Heinlein discorporated in 1988, the original Stranger manuscript was discovered and published in 1991. I have what appears to be a Book Club edition, bought at some point after that, and… it's been sitting unread on my shelf since then, about 25 years. (Sheesh.)

In case you aren't aware of the story: Valentine Michael Smith, or "Mike", is the lone survivor of Earth's first doomed mission to Mars. Adopted as a newborn infant by the Martian "Old Ones", he grows up with their odd notions of time, space, death, and reality. And then he's "rescued" and returned to Earth years later. He's impressively naïve about Terran mores, and also has some interesting mental powers picked up from his alien caregivers.

For some sleazy reason, Earth's government finds it useful to keep Mike under wraps. An intrepid nurse, Jill, and her investigative reporter boyfriend, Ben, uncover the nasty conspiracy. Fortunately, government security doesn't prevent Jill from absconding with Mike, and taking refuge with Jubal Harshaw, who manages to suss out the diplomatic/legal/moral tangles just enough to make Mike a "free man".

And then comes the sex and religion stuff. I see the iconoclastic points Heinlein was trying to make. He's occasionally pretty good at making them. There's a lot of yakking. None of which is particularly realistic-sounding to modern ears; I found myself thinking that it was very similar to how witty people talk in 1940s screwball comedies, turned up to 11.

I can't tell if the extra 60K words improve the book, or just make it longer. In the preface, RAH's widow, Virginia, argues that it's better, and that the publishers agreed.

URLs du Jour


Proverbs 16:30 takes a side trip into body language interpretation:

30 Whoever winks with their eye is plotting perversity;
    whoever purses their lips is bent on evil.

I'm pretty sure this is an unreliable guideline, but it does give us an opportunity to make fun of Hillary once more in our pic du jour.

"Let me try to make one of those facial expressions that I've observed other humans use to seem 'folksy'. Here goes…"

■ In an entirely predictable taxpayer sellout reported by Peter Suderman at Reason: Senate Reaches Bipartisan Deal to Keep the Government Open By Spending More Money On Everything. Bottom line:

Republican leadership in Congress spent the better part of the Obama years warning that mounting debt posed a dire threat to the nation's future. But now, with control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, it looks likely that the GOP's two most signifcant legislative achievements will be a tax reform law that raises the deficit by $1.5 trillion and a spending deal that increases the federal tab by hundreds of billions more.

With reference to today's Proverb, I'm pretty sure there were plenty of winking eyes and pursed lips in the Senate yesterday.

■ Is our infrastructure "crumbling"? Well, let's ask David Harsanyi. Our Infrastructure Is Not ‘Crumbling.’ Repeat: Our Infrastructure Is Not ‘Crumbling’.

One of the great myths of American politics, no matter who is president and no matter who runs Congress, is that our infrastructure is “crumbling.” Barack Obama repeatedly warned us about our “crumbling infrastructure.” Donald Trump now tells us that our infrastructure is “crumbling.” The next president is going to hatch a giant plan to fix our crumbling infrastructure, as well, because most voters want to believe infrastructure is crumbling.

The infrastructure is not crumbling. Ask someone about infrastructure, and his thoughts will probably wander to the worst pothole-infested road he traverses rather than the hundreds of roads he drives on that are perfectly safe and smooth. That’s human nature.

I must admit, that's where my thoughts wander too, specifically to the stretch of Oak Street between Portland Avenue and Broadway on the Rollinsford/Dover NH boundary line.

But anyway, Harsanyi's article offers a good guideline: if you hear a pol use the phrase "crumbling infrastructure", it's a sign of ignorance or dishonesty. Or maybe both.

■ Or perhaps you're wondering: what does rent control need? At Bloomberg, Megan McArdle answers: Rent Control Needs Retirement, Not a Comeback.

According to the Wall Street Journal, rent control seems to be making a retro comeback. Most forms of intelligent life could be forgiven for asking why.

Serial experimentation with this policy has repeatedly shown the same result. Initially, tenants rejoice, and rent control looks like a victory for the poor over the landlord class. But the stifling of price signals leads to problems. Rent control starts by producing some sort of redistribution, because the people with low rents at the time that controls are imposed tend to be relatively low-income.

Megan makes the point which will probably seem familiar to our readers, anathema to statists: if you want to house people in your city, build more housing. Which means "loosening the legal restrictions and community veto points that make it so hard to add supply."

■ This is a point that (even) some California Democrats are figuring out, as a Wired story relates: A Bid to Solve California’s Housing Crisis Could Redraw How Cities Grow.

Scott Wiener, the California state senator representing San Francisco, has a pretty good idea for how to save the world. In fact, sitting in a coffee shop in his city’s Financial District, Wiener seems downright perplexed that anyone would be against it. Here’s the idea: Build more housing.

So, with his fellow senator Nancy Skinner, he authored a bill, SB 827, that overwrites some metropolitan zoning—putting policies that had been in the hands of cities under the authority of state government—to allow medium-sized multistory and multiunit buildings near transit stops.

This fumbling, limited, step toward letting market forces operate is drawing expected vitriolic opposition from rent-seekers and their political allies. For your amusement:

This isn’t some dry policy fight. The mayor of Berkeley called the bill “a declaration of war against our neighborhoods.” A Los Angeles City Council member said it will make the residential areas he represents in LA’s tony Westside “look like Dubai.” A community organizer in LA wrote that Wiener is a “real estate industry puppet” who supports gentrification and displacement, and compared SB 827 to President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.


To repeat a point I've made before for Granite Staters: it's easy, but incorrect, to laugh at those reality-challenged, state-obsessed Californians. See the Cato study "Freedom in the 50 States" rankings on land use regulation: California is (sure enough) near-bottom at #48. But New Hampshire is #43.

■ The Google LFOD news alert rang for the latest effort by our statist pols. In the Concord Monitor: Buckle up for new fight in old battle over adult seat belt use in N.H. For folks unfamiliar with the issue: New Hampshire is the only state that doesn't have a law mandating adult seat belt use. And some legislators say…

Democratic Rep. Tim Horrigan of Durham, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the Monitor the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto might be misapplied in this case.

“I think opposing the seat belt law you’re maybe mixing up the slogan and maybe thinking it’s ‘Live Free and Die,’ ” he said

Ho ho! See what he did there?

[Personal note: at the University Near Here, Tim's mom was a great assist to me when I was a grad student, and later a much-admired co-worker.]

Does the Union Leader take a different slant on this? Let's look: NH lawmakers revisit mandatory seatbelt law. Well, at least the article notes that LFOD was quoted by an opponent of the legislation:

“I don’t wear my seatbelt,” [Merrimack Republican state Rep. Dan] Hynes told the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday as it considered House Bill 1259, the first effort since 2009 to introduce a seatbelt law in the Granite State.

“I think it’s a personal choice,” said Hynes. “I have the right in New Hampshire not to do it. We’re the only state in the country that doesn’t require it. That’s even more of a reason for us to continue not requiring it. We shouldn’t be following what the other states do.”

The state’s motto came up several times in the hearing. “Live Free or Die’ is most applicable to this bill,” Hynes said. “It’s right on our license plate … If this bill is passed, it’ll just give police another reason to stop people.”

It's as if some legislators, like Tim, wake up wondering every morning: "How can I use my political power today to shove people around? Uh, for their own good of course."

■ And the Babylon Bee notes that some matters have proceeded to their logical conclusion: Southern Poverty Law Center Adds Itself To List Of Hate Groups

In an update Wednesday to its Hatewatch blog, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced the newest addition to its authoritative list of hate groups: the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We have identified an organization with a clear history of rank intolerance toward faith communities based solely upon their sincerely held religious convictions,” the statement reads. “This organization has encouraged ostracism and threats toward people, politicians, and businesses that do not adhere to its rigid progressive agenda. It has existed and operated right under our noses for years. It is known as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).”

I recently reread Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. The above reminded me of a joke therein:

One worm asks another, “Will you marry me?” and the other worm says, “Marry you? I’m your other end!”