Farnham's Freehold

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A little history: I got this book sometime in the mid-sixties, a cheapie edition from the Science Fiction Book Club. I still have some of those old SFBC books, but not Farnham's Freehold. It might have simply fallen apart; I know that's what happened to the first book I got (a ten-cent come-on): Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, all three books in one flimsy volume.

Anyway: read once, way back then. And not reread until it came up in the Great Reread-Heinlein Project.

So I got the Kindle version from Amazon for $7. A few typos caused, I assume, by scanning. For example, three occurences of "modern" are spelled "modem" on the Kindle.

The book begins with a scenario we managed to avoid (at least for now): an all-out nuclear holocaust between the US and USSR. The protagonist, Hugh Farnham is prepped with a fallout shelter. He and his companions manage to survive a couple nearby detonations, but then a really big bomb makes a direct hit…

But instead of radioactive oblivion, the shelter and its occupants get transported to, um, somewhere else. Sort of. (Trying to avoid spoilers for a 57-year-old book.) And we get a tale of survivalism: Hugh didn't expect to have to recreate hunter/gatherer society on his own. He would have packed differently!

He is accompanied by his shrewish, alcoholic wife, Grace. His mama's boy son, Duke. Daughter Karen, and her friend Barbara. And black servant Joseph. There's some tedious (but standard Heinlein) folderol about how things should be run in this new world; although he'll listen to advice, Hugh insists on his command decisions being obeyed. Duke attempts to resist, but it's futile. Joseph also has qualms.

But they muddle through, until… oops, turns out they're not alone.

So I read this book as a (relatively) straitlaced Omaha teen, and—whoa!—there's a pretty explicit sex scene right there at location 613, I think I was shocked.

OK, a small spoiler: you may detect Racial Overtones in the book. The N-word appears ten, count 'em, ten times. And there's shoe-on-the-other-foot speculation about a society where… Well, Heinlein's descriptions have come in for some rough treatment. There are certain kinds of dystopia you can't describe.

URLs du Jour


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  • Get it? Point? The Pun Salad fave Eric Boehm noticed: Joe Biden Invoked 'I, Pencil' To Explain Supply Chains, but He Seems To Have Missed the Point.

    Midway through an otherwise pretty unremarkable speech from the port of Baltimore on Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden uttered a few words that will make any libertarian's ears perk up.

    "Even products as simple as a pencil," Biden said, "have to use wood from Brazil and graphite from India before it comes together at a factory in the United States to get a pencil. It sounds silly, but that's exactly how it happens."

    Yes, it appears the president (or one of his speechwriters) has at least a passing familiarity with "I, Pencil" the 1958 essay by Leonard Read that offers a first-person perspective—that of a simple pencil—into the incredible supply chains that make even the most common household products readily available. It remains probably the greatest (and certainly the most concise) defense of the merits of free markets and free trade.

    The last paragraph above contains a link to Read's essay, so go read Read if you haven't. I'll wait…

    Oh, good, you're back. Now for the people hoping that Biden had suddenly started appreciating global capitalism, there's some bad news…

    But—and you knew there had to be a "but" coming—it took Biden less than five minutes to toss all that aside and begin promoting his "Buy American" agenda. That "won't just be a promise but an ironclad reality," he promised.

    What happened to the wood from Brazil and the graphite from India being used to make pencils here, one might wonder.

    The simplicity of the pencil-making metaphor destroys the performative politics of Biden's "Buy American" rules, which will accomplish little besides forcing taxpayers to pay higher prices for just about everything the government purchases. Those rules also mean that Biden's just-passed $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan—Wednesday's speech was a victory lap moment for the president—will be less significant than it otherwise would be.

    And it means that Biden didn't really digest the meaning of "I, Pencil."

    Frankly, I did not expect he would.

  • Leave it to Josh. Robert Tracinski looks at Senator Hawley's TV Land Economics.

    “a fully refundable tax credit of $12,000 for married parents”—a “fully refundable tax credit” is the new trick for disguising a welfare check as a tax cut—but only “$6,000 for single parents.”

    Tracinski comments:

    This crusade is rooted in nostalgia for an imagined ideal of the 1950s and the traditional family—the whole Ward and June Cleaver setup: a dad who works and a mom who stays home with the kids in a leafy suburban neighborhood.

    Obviously, this is false nostalgia, fed by taking glossy advertisements and old TV shows as representative of how everyone actually lived—as if people looking back at the 1990s were to assume that the notorious apartment from “Friends” was normal and angrily ask why today’s 20-somethings can’t afford 1,500 square feet with a terrace in the West Village. Similarly, it seems that a generation of conservatives grew up watching old television shows on Nick at Nite or TV Land and use this as the baseline for their social and economic expectations.

    Ironically, that 1950s life depicted on TV may actually be more attainable now, but it also may not be what most families actually prefer. But rather than face up to that fact, conservatives are latching onto solutions that accomplish nothing except to feed their culture war obsessions.

    Social engineering via tax policy is tons of fun for all pols. Just say no.

  • More sober semi-sense from Yglesias. I've been catching up with Matthew Yglesias's substack, and found this from earlier this month: Energy innovation needs more than R&D. He's got something interesting to say about my "Geez, just build nuclear plants" stance.

    A company called Oklo is currently midway through the licensing process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to try to get approval for a tiny 1.5-megawatt nuclear reactor that can be built in a factory and then run for 20 years without refueling or staff.

    The Aurora, if it gets approved, would still be a high-cost electricity option that probably appeals mostly to people in unusual situations (an Air Force base in Alaska) or institutions with particular PR needs (a bitcoin mining company that wants to say it’s carbon-free or a tech company that wants zero-carbon server farms). But the theory is that since you’re building small reactors in factories rather than doing custom jobs on-site, you exhibit falling costs as you increase the scale of your output — both because of learning-by-doing, but also just because of the nature of mass production: if you use your facilities more intensively, your per-item costs drop.

    But beyond the specifics of Oklo, this is the first significant test of the NRC’s mandate from Congress to develop a regulatory approach suitable to new reactor designs. Part of Oklo’s application is a proposed regulatory methodology — a way they think the safety of these reactors ought to be assessed — which, if accepted, could be used by other startups in this space.

    Yglesias notes an interesting glitch about "regulation", as it comes to nominations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: "Good names keep getting floated for these jobs, but they keep getting spiked by the Nevada delegation because basically anyone you can find who is pro-nuclear has, at some point, said there is no technical problem with the Yucca Mountain waste storage concept."

  • It's a growth industry, unfortunately. George F. Will reports Progressives ruined San Francisco, but at least ‘advocacy’ is thriving. For their bit of social engineering (see above), a new book by Michael Shellenberger is cited:

    Meanwhile, Shellenberger says, “drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for non-elderly San Franciscans, accounting for 29 percent of deaths of residents under sixty-five in 2019.” Last year, about one-third as many San Franciscans died of covid-19 as died of drug overdoses.

    An “advocate” says: “We can’t end overdoses until we end poverty, until we end racism.” So, in 2020, the city put up two billboards promoting the safe use of hard drugs (heroin, fentanyl): “Change it up. Injecting drugs has the highest risk of overdose, so consider snorting or smoking instead.” “Try not to use alone. Do it with friends. Use with people and take turns.” Last year, however, San Francisco did ban smoking in apartments.

    As GFW says: If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair … "but watch your step as you hopscotch around the excrement."

  • Health tip: don't get old. Or fat. Philip Greenspun quotes two NYT commenters, "Ben" and "Jeff" who go Full Totalitarian: Wear a mask and get a vaccine so that SARS-CoV-2 can attack you when you’re older and fatter. I'll just snip some of the stuff Phil emphasizes:

    [Ben:] We ban the unvaccinated from work but don’t ban obesity which is a higher risk? I am over covid and want to live my remaining years in peace without masks.

    [Jeff:] If half the money/effort spent of COVID related stimulus/prevention were given to improving the daily health of our country, we would save exponentially more lives than COVID itself will ever claim.

    Style tip: instead of saying “many”, say “exponentially”, because it makes you sound more sciencey.

    [Also left as a comment on Phil's blog.]