Monday, May 28, 2012

Another Reason the Depression May Not Have Led to American Fascism

I have stated that I believe the primary reason the Great Depression in the US did not lead to a serious fascist movement was that we have an unusually strong two-party system that largely shuts out third parties.  Another reason may be that fascism, traditionally at least, has tended to be simultaneously openly anti-democratic, nationalist and populist, that is an extremely difficult combination for any American organization, because Americans see democracy as a matter of national identity.

But then again, the far-right anti-immigrant groups arising in Europe today are not openly anti-democratic in the manner of traditional fascism.  They simply want to make democracy narrower and less inclusive.  And Americans, after all, have a longstanding tradition of people who were eager to say democracy for me but not for thee.  My guess is that one reason fascism never posed a serious challenge in the U.S. during the Depression, despite an exceptionally severe economic crisis (see graph below) was  that our nearest equivalent of fascism, the Ku Klux Klan had had its heyday during the 1920's and been discredited.

The 1920's Klan flourished under conditions of economic prosperity, but cultural upheaval.  Immigrants were changing the face of the United States.  Catholicism challenged Protestant supremacy.  Biblical literalism was being increasingly called into question.  Blacks were leaving the South and moving into northern cities.  The country was becoming increasingly urban.  And, of course, there was Prohibition, together with bootlegging, flappers, widespread automobiles, movie theaters, and a general changing and loosening of mores.

The KKK had significant power and held offices at the state and local level, but a strong two-party system limited its national influence.  Over time, the Klan wore outs its welcome.  Its violence and open bigotry lost their appeal.  Its leaders proved to be unprincipled opportunists exploiting gullible followers.  In particular, D.C. Stephenson, head of the Indiana Klan (perhaps the strongest in the country) was convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, which seriously undermined the Klan's reputation as guardians of law and order.  Stephenson took revenge for his conviction by revealing the web of corruption that the Klan had become.

One can only wonder what might have happened if the Klan had flourished in a time of economic, as well as cultural crisis.  As it turned out, though, by the 1930's, the Klan was thoroughly discredited and despised by respectable people everywhere.  This discrediting of the Klan, I suspect, largely eliminated the hard right as an alternative to Hoover's center-right, and channeling anger over the Depression to the left.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When Does Depression Turn Politics to the Left?

It has been much remarked that American liberals and progressives seriously miscalculated on this economic downturn.  Seeing it as a failure of unregulated financial markets, we expected calls for tighter financial regulation.  Recalling how the Great Depression brought FDR to power in the US, and how the Latin American center-left came to power following a turn-of-the-millennium economic crisis, we expected this one, also, to turn politics to the left.  Instead, politics, both in the US and Europe, have turned rather sharply to the right, and the hard right seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the downturn.

Looking back on it, perhaps we were naive to expect anything else.  After all, while the Great Depression brought Roosevelt to power in the U.S., the hard right was its primary beneficiary across Europe.  The Great Depression led to fascist movements arising all across Europe, and to a wide range of struggling democracies giving way to right wing dictatorships.  Latin America's turn to the left following a turn-of-the-millennium economic crisis happened only after an earlier economic crisis in the 1980's led to a conservative tide and a wave of adopting free market economics.  In the U.S. remembering that the Great Depression brought Roosevelt to power does not give a complete picture.  The landmark election of 1932 was a great realignment moving away from the realignment that followed the Panic of 1893. That economic crisis took place after President Grover Cleveland signed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. William Jennings Bryan ran on his famous Free Silver platform and eloquently appealed to the interests of farms and labor, but the American people blamed the Democrats and silver money for their misfortunes and saw William McKinley and sound money as the remedy.  Republicans won by a landslide and remained dominant until the Great Depression.

Many people have proposed the thesis that economic crises tend to favor the "outs" over the "ins."  I believe this logic is sound, but would add another hypothesis.  By and large, economic crises tend to shift politics to the right, unless the right has been thoroughly discredited.  Consider:

In the United States, the Great Depression brought the center-left Roosevelt Administration to power.  it was also the heyday of left-wing parties like the Communists and the Socialists.  The United States has an unusually strong two-party system.  Third parties have at times made significant inroads at the state or local level, but nationally, the choice is binary.  The Depression hit with the center-right Republicans in power.  By 1932, Herbert Hoover and his party were thoroughly discredited.  Given the workings of the two-party system, the American people had nowhere else to turn except to the center-left Democrats, led by Roosevelt.*

Much the same dynamic was at work in Latin America during its turn-of-the-millennium crisis that brought the left to power.  Prior to the 1980's, the hard right, in the form of brutal military dictatorships, held power.  They were brought down by a seemingly endless economic crisis, and gave way to democracy.  With the restoration of democracy, center-right parties stepped forward with free market economic platforms and won.  Only after a decade (or more) of disappointing results, followed by yet another crisis, did the left come to power.  The center-right had no one else to blame for the region's economic problems, and the far right (in the form of military dictatorships) was hated and thoroughly discredited.  There was nowhere else to turn.

Or consider the dynamic this time around.  Yes, the center-right Republicans lost in the U.S. because they were, after all, in power when the crisis happened.  But has the center-left Democrats have yielded disappointing results, Republicans are moving sharply to the right and racking up electoral victories.  In Europe, conservatives and the far right have been the big winners.  But there have been notable exceptions.  Iceland is an obvious one.  Like most Nordic countries, Iceland is little troubled by political extremism.  Since its conservative government was thoroughly and utterly discredited, there was little room to turn except the center-left.  In Greece, as elsewhere, the mainstream parties have been thoroughly discredited, but the far left is outpolling the far right.  Why this should be so is less than clear.  My guess, though, is that Greece had the experience of being a right wing dictatorship more recently than most of Europe, and that the hard right has been severely discredited as a result.  The same has been suggests (can't find link) about Spain -- that despite the severity of Spain's economic crisis, neofascism has made little appearance in Spain because of the memory of the Franco dictatorship.

My general prognosis:  Rough sailing ahead.

*There is another reason the far right lacked power during the Depression in the US that I will get to in a later post.

Friday, May 25, 2012

False Memory: pp. 161-257 (with intervals)

While Dusty lies in bed, figuring out what is has happened to Martie and Skeet,Koontz proceeds to give the whole thing away in his parallel narrative with Susan.

With Martie gone, Susan is in her apartment all alone. Koontz describes the domestic rituals she uses to fill her time, being all alone and unable to go out.  She locks the door, engages the deadbolt, and sets a chair against it.  None of this has thwarted her phantom rapist before.  She prepares dinner and drinks Merlot, noticing that her alcohol consumption is going up. (Again with alcohol.  She already had two beers with lunch, and now she is drinking wine with dinner.  Given the stress she is under, I suppose we can understand why she is drinking more.  But it just goes to show that Koontz accepts alcohol as a coping mechanism).  It also occurs to Susan that her passivity and victimization are out of character for her.  Although she congratulates herself on making it out of the house to go to therapy twice a week, it occurs to her that she has been remarkably submissive to Ahriman when normally she does not let anyone tell her what to do.  (Another clue, although so close to the big giveaway that it hardly counts).

Her phantom rapist has not been by in three nights, so she knows he will be by tonight.  None of her precautions have been able to stop him so far, but then it occurs to her to set up a camcorder and videotape him in the act.  She calls Martie to see what Martie thinks, but (as we know), Martie is in the middle of her own crisis and doesn't answer.  So she hides the camcorder in her ivy-covered ming plant and gets ready for bed.  She used to wear sexy nightgowns, but now she sleeps in a white cotton T-shirt and panties because (she believes) these represent a renunciation of her sexuality, which she has now come to associate with rape and pollution. She eagerly awaits seeing what is happening to her, though with a tiny fear at the back of her mind that her rapist really is a demon who leaves no reflection in the mirror and no image on video, and she sees only herself thrashing around in bed. Then the phone rings.  A male voice identifies himself at Ben Marco.  And Susan says, "I'm listening."

If I were Dean Koontz editor, I would recommend that he stop right there.  He's revealed what everyone has figured out by now, that Susan is under mind control, and that her phantom rapist is getting in simply by commanding her to let him in.  The audience may very well also have begun to suspect Dr. Ahriman.  After all, since the only men we know of in Susan's life are her estranged husband Eric, Dr. Ahriman and (arguably), Dusty, her best friend's husband, the suspect list is short.  And of these, the psychiatrist is by far the most likely to be able to exercise this type of mind control over her.  But as yet, the interlude with Skeet is all we know about how, and we certainly don't know what will happen when Susan videotapes him.  If I were running the story, then, I would stop here and leave the audience to wonder what happens next.*

Koontz, however, takes a different approach.  First her mystery caller leads her through her haiku, just like Skeet's.

The winter storm (The storm is you).
Hid in the bamboo grove (The grove is me).
And quieted away (In quiet I will learn what is wanted).

He then commands her to let him in, just in case you had any doubt how Susan's phantom rapist gets past her locked door, wedged chair, and so forth.  Chapter 29 ends without revealing who He is. In Chapter 30, he is revealed to be Dr. Ahriman.

He then gives a little demo for the readers to show how the mind control works, even as Dusty is still figuring it out.  As Dusty guessed, she can answer questions only with a request for more information, but always obeys all commands.  To demonstrate this for the audience, Ahriman asks her, "Do you know who I am?"  "Do I?"  "Am I your psychiatrist, Susan?"  "Are you?"  But when he commands her to tell him who he is, she correctly identifies him as Dr. Ahriman and when commanded to tell him his profession, she knows he is a psychiatrist.  Apparently, Dr. Ahriman was able to achieve this level of control by three times drugging her with his own unique blend (how?) and conducting three programming sessions, which give him control over her if he says "Ben Marco," followed by the haiku.  The agoraphobia, of course, is also his suggestion.  When under Ahriman's control, Susan has access to all her usual knowledge, but no independent volition or emotion.  Ahriman can make her do anything (consistent with the laws of physics, of course).

After demonstrating his mind control techniques for the audience, Ahriman then demonstrates how evil he is.  Not only does he rape her and subject her to acts so unspeakable that Koontz can only darkly hint at them, he makes her think that her own father is doing these things.  He has apparently videotaped their actions before and several times mentions doing it again.  Although Susan has no volition, she has access to her own knowledge.  Every time Ahriman mentions videotape, her eyes turn to the ming tree.  He senses something is wrong, but can't figure out what.  We also learn that her seemingly innocuous and rational change of sleep wear (to a white cotton T-shirt and panties) was suggested by Ahriman.  At the end of the session, Ahriman tells her to lock up again, but the chair back, go to bed, count to ten, and awake upon ten with no memory of what happened.  If she realizes she has been raped, she is to suspect her estranged husband, Eric, but she is forbidden to confront him.

Susan does what he says and, upon awakening, realizes she has been used.  She still suspects Eric.  She considers confronting him, but thinks no, it is forbidden, and then wonders why she thinks such an odd thing.  Then she watches the video and, of course, sees Ahriman committing "a series of depravities" best left to the imagination.  The game is up.  She calls Martie to tell her, but Martie is in the midst of her own crisis and doesn't answer.  Susan says, "It isn't Eric, Martie.  It's Ahriman.  I've got the bastard on videotape."  But she still has agoraphobia and can't face calling the police without Martie present to support her.

Meanwhile, as Ahriman is driving away, he thinks over Susan's odd obsession with the ming tree and realizes she looked at it every time he mentioned videotape.  He realizes what happened.  So he turns around, drives back, calls her, and re-establishes control.  Seeing the videotape and panties, he makes her give them to him.  (He doesn't want to touch anything for fear of leaving fingerprints).  And then he makes a critical mistake.  He asks her (or rather, commands her to tell him) whether she has spoken to anyone about the tape.  She truthfully answers no, she she has not actually spoken with Martie.  He neglects to ask whether she has told anyone, because by leaving a message, she did actually tell Martie.

He then makes her clean every surface where he could have left fingerprints.  He is confident that if any of his fingerprints are found, his friends in high places will obstruct the investigation enough to keep him from being prosecuted.  But he will be inconvenienced and might receive bad publicity.  This is the first suggestion that Ahriman is not acting alone, but is part of a larger conspiracy.

After cleaning the house, he makes her take a hot bath to wash off and signs of his violation.  Then he makes her write a suicide note and cut her wrists.  He sticks around to watch her bleed to death.  Then he leaves, taking care to put a Kleenex between his hand and the door.  He locks up, using a spare key he made her give him.**  The only detail he cannot take care of is the security chain.
As I say, knowing what is going on takes a lot of suspense out of the story.  Yes, you still wonder whether Dusty will catch on, but no longer are you left as much in the dark as Dusty is, so you no longer wonder with him.  Later on, Dusty and Martie will try calling Susan, get no response, and wonder what has happened, since her agoraphobia keeps her from ever going out.  Imagine how much greater the suspense would be if you, the reader, did not know either.  Imagine if you knew she was setting up the videotape to catch her attacker in the act, but did not know how it turned out.  Imagine if she was found dead in an apparent suicide, but you did not know how it happened, and last saw her full of energy and enthusiasm at the prospect of finally catching him. Wouldn't that be much more suspenseful than watching Dusty try to figure out what you already know?

*I was originally going to say this is what I would recommend for the movie, but actually False Memory does not lend itself well to being a movie.  It gives vivid descriptions of terror, but up till now the terror has been entirely internal, with no outward sign of anything out of the ordinary.  That works for a novel, but would be impossible to convey on screen.
**This eliminates a potential glitch.  Susan has changed locks several times.  Ahriman doesn't actually need a key, since he just tells her to let him in.  But he needs one to lock up after killing her. Having him take the spare key in the house avoids the question of whether he got his own duplicate every time she changed locks and, if so, how he avoided undue attention.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Does Depression Spawn Fascism?

With the rise of anti-immigrant right-wing extremist parties, we are getting comparisons to the 1930’s and comments that depression spawns fascism.  This is true, but not the whole truth.  The bigger picture is that two things seem to bring down governments – any governments – more than any other.  One is losing a war.  The other is economic crisis.

There is at least some evidence that democracies survive losing wars better than non-democratic governments.   The U.S. government remained stable throughout the darkest days of the Civil War, and the Confederate government (which was democratic so far as white people went) also help up to the very end.  Napoleon III, by contrast, was overthrown when he lost the Franco-Prussian War.  Russia’s abortive revolution of 1905 came in response to losing the Russo-Japanese war.  WWI brought down the monarchies of Russia, Germany and Austria, while the democratic governments of France and Belgium held up even when all seemed lost.  The French Fourth Republic fell when it lost the war in Algeria, but gave way to the Fifth Republic.  Military dictatorships in Pakistan and Argentina also collapsed when they lost wars.  On the other hand, the dictator most likely to survive losing a war is the harshest and most brutal one, Saddam Hussein, for instance.  Stalin also held onto power even when the Germans invaded and all seemed lost.  And the Nazi government went down fighting.  Why the harshest dictators should survive best is clear enough.  They brutally crush all opposition.  Why democracies might hold up better is not clear.  Maybe one it is because in a democracy, the people have the option of throwing out the scoundrels who lost the war without violent revolution.  A lost war, after all, is a sunk cost.  It is too late to go back and win, and the newly elected government will not be responsible for losing.

Economic crises are a different matter.  Economic crises can continue for years without improvement.  Voting out the scoundrels who started it does little good if the next government can’t improve things.  Sometimes this leads to desperate measures and revolution.  This isn’t altogether bad.  It applies to democratic and dictatorial governments alike.  

Clearly the Great Depression was a disaster for democracy.  Hitler was merely the most (in)famous of many right-wing dictators to come to power in its wake.  True fascism was limited to Germany and Italy, but Austria established Austrofascism,  Hungary trended in that direction, and democracies fell and fascist movements arose across eastern and southern Europe.

The process was reversed in Latin America in the 1980’s, where one military dictatorship after another gave way to democratic reformers under the pressure of an economic crisis.  Well do I remember those days, and newspapers that commented that just as an economic crisis undermined democracy in Europe in the 1930’s, it was undermining dictatorship in Latin America in the 1980’s.  The Asian crisis of the 1990’s brought down the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. 

And now we have come full circle, with yet another economic crisis in Europe, the rise of right-wing extremists (as well as the far left in Greece).  The rise of extremists in Europe is not just a desperate reaction to declining economic conditions.  It is also a response to a general consensus in favor of self-destructive policies -- fiscal austerity, monetary policy set by Germany to German needs, and calls for "internal devaluation."  These policies harming Europe, but they are they have the universal support of "respectable" opinion everywhere.  Only extremists, especially semi-fascists, are willing to rebel against German-dictated terms and even consider leaving the euro.  Let this be a lesson.  If "respectable" authorities persist in policies that undermine European economies, people will look elsewhere for a way out.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Should This be So?

So, granting that now and in the 1930’s the basic dichotomy of left=economic interventionism; right=non-intervention holds much better in the United States than in Europe, the next question is why this should be so.

I believe what is at work today is not quite the same as what was at work in the 1930’s.  Europe of the 1930’s was still heir of a history where a landed aristocracy once held sway and commercial and industrial capitalists were once the insurgents.   These capitalists were seen as the “liberal” force.   They were the ones who overturned hereditary privilege, separated church and state, established parliamentary democracy and enshrined the notion of individual rights.  They could also be quite brutal and rapacious in economics.  The old landed aristocracy had a paternalistic tradition and regarded the capitalists’ raw pursuit of money and self-interest with distaste.  The conservative aristocracy was not necessarily averse to  some measures to establish a social safety net and protect labor.  Conservative leaders like Otto von Bismarck or Benjamin Disraeli were often at the forefront of such efforts.  The United States was different.  The struggles so hard fought in Europe in the early 19th Century were already won in the United States.  Capitalists (commercial or industrial) were seen as a conservative aristocracy from the very start.*  There was no conservative Bismarck or Disraeli to establish a safety net or labor protection as a modern form of aristocratic paternalism.  Such attempts in the U.S. were always of the left, whether the moderate left in the form of middle class reformers or the hard left in the form of a militant labor movement.   So the dichotomy of conservative = laissez faire; liberal = interventionist was (and to some extend is) much stronger here than in Europe.  This, I believe, was the major dynamic at work in the 1930’s.

Something different is at work today.  Europe’s far right is rebelling against austerity these days not so much because it is laissez faire, but because it is being imposed by a foreign power.  The dichotomy of right wing = nationalist; left wing = internationalist does hold good on both sides of the Atlantic.**   The United States, having its own currency and full sovereign control of its budget, is not being forced into austerity by a foreign power.  Quite the contrary, many Republicans are urging massive cuts to the safety net precisely because it smacks of European-style social democracy that would be un-American to have here.  Europe, by contrast, has the euro.  The European Central Bank, by its control of credit, has considerable ability to limit members’ ability to run budget deficits.  This severely rankles right-wingers, who resent the infringement on their sovereignty.  Defense of sovereignty leads Europe’s far right to advocate what center to center-left economists would recommend – devalue the currency and run up the deficits.  Unfortunately, this essentially sound economic prescription is being yoked with a decidedly ugly trait common to both the U.S. and Europe – scapegoating of the Other.   If the European right is less anti-state than its American counterpart, it can be even more anti-other.

*Of course,we had a landed aristocracy in the form of southern planters.   But in the early years of our Republic, it was the commercial and later industrial elite that was seen as the dangerous aristocracy and the leaders of the conservative party.  When southern planters formed an opposing party, it was the party of the left, of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy acting in alliance with ordinary people against an oppressive capitalist aristocracy.  
**In this, both the United States and Europe differ from Latin America where left-wing nationalism, in the form of standing up to Yankee imperialism, is well established.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Difficulty of Political Labels

In theory, there is a simple progression from left to right or right to left on how to deal with an economic crisis.  At the far left, there is nationalization and central planning.  At the center-left are Keynesian calls for fiscal stimulus.  In the center are Friedmanite calls for monetary expansion.  Related (I think) are people influenced by Friedman’s warnings about the danger of fixed exchange rates, who believe the best path to recovery is to devalue one’s currency and experience an exports boom.   At the center-right are warnings that what are needed are long-term structural reforms, and that not much can be done in the short term.  At the far right are Austrian-style warnings that the crisis is necessary to shake out bad investments and that any attempt to counteract the downturn only prolongs the suffering.  The extremes themselves shade off into more and less extreme versions.  Hence nationalization and central planning can range from partial, temporary measures to calls for a complete government takeover of the economy (not being heard so far).  And beyond Austrian-style calls to let the crisis work its way out are the true Austrian school economists who call for a return to the gold standard.

This spectrum applies pretty well in the United States.  Here, center-left President Obama made an initial attempt at fiscal stimulus, is vainly proposing more, or at least avoiding too much austerity, and has appointed officials to the Federal Reserve who favor monetary expansion.  Center-right Republicans call for major fiscal austerity, possible monetary tightening, and warn that our problems are structural and that not much can be done in the short run.  Over on the far right, Ron Paul is calling for a gold standard, but is still generally regarded as crazy old uncle.  (No one is calling for central planning, and devaluation is a non-issue since we have a floating currency).

In Europe, by contrast, this spectrum does not hold up so well.  There all "respectable" opinion holds to the center-right view that what is needed are structural reforms, including austerity, with any sort of fiscal or monetary stimulus rejected as madness.  On the European center-left, we are seeing the earliest stirrings of not-quite-Keynesian views that austerity is doing more harm than good and should be ended, although "respectable" opinion still sees this as madness.  No one is calling for central planning, nor, so far as I can tell, for a gold standard.  But the only people calling for an end to the European equivalent of a gold standard, the euro, are on the far right.  The allegedly far left Syriza in Greece opposes any further austerity, but rejects Friedman's favored solution of devaluation.  In the Netherlands, it was the far-right Freedom Party of Geert Wilders that rejected further austerity.  In France, it is the far-right National Front that wants to abandon the euro.  In short, while the right wing view in the United States is to embrace austerity, fear falling currencies, and let the whole thing work itself out, in Europe the far right is that faction that most strongly rejects that view.

Much the same thing happened during the last great economic crisis of the 1930's.

In the United State, center-right Herbert Hoover maintained a currency peg to the gold standard and wavered between trying to balance the budget and fighting unemployment with public works.  He was unceremoniously voted out in 1932 and replaced by the center-left Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who abandoned the currency peg, launched a major fiscal stimulus, and experimented (not very successfully) with moderate forms of central planning.

Things were more complicated in Europe.

In Sweden, the center-left Social Democrats came to power, abandoned the gold standard, adopted a fiscal stimulus, and quickly recovered.  Elsewhere the picture is more muddled. 

In Britain, the Labour Party was in power for only the second time.  Faced with a major fiscal crisis, the Labour government struggled vainly to balance the budget and maintain the gold standard, raising interest rates in the middle of a depression in a desperate bid to stem the gold flight.  These polices cost them the next election.  The successor Conservative government devalued against gold and began to experience a modest recovery.  Recovery did not really take off, though, until Hitler began to menace and force a military buildup.

In Germany, the center-right government of Heinrich Bruning struggled to balance the budget as the economy sunk deeper and deeper.  The center-left Social Democrats did not question the need to balance the budget, but urged cuts in the military instead of unemployment insurance.  By late 1932, General Kurt von Schleicher, a right-wing militarist with ties to illegal paramilitaries, was beginning to grope his way toward something like a Keynesian theory of fiscal stimulus and desperately sought an unofficial accommodation with the Social Democrats to implement it.  The Social Democrats rejected this approach, simultaneously calling for a balanced budget and seeing the Depression as the final death throes of capitalism.  The result, as we know, was that Hitler came to power and turned out to be the greatest military Keynesian of them all.*  The Japanese government also turned out to be both far right and highly successful military Keynesians.

Depression came late to France and the Netherlands, but just as they thought they have escaped, it hit them as well.  Perhaps because they were the last to decline, these countries were also the last to leave the gold standard and the last to recover.  In France, too, conservative governments struggled to balance the budget, raise interest rates to keep the franc from falling, and manage a deflation that was considered necessary.  When the economy only sank more and more, the French, in desperation, elected the Popular Front (Communist/Socialist coalition) under Leon Blum that introduced pro-labor policies, but resisted devaluation until it became inevitable, and witnessed an ever-greater disintegration.  In the Netherlands, a conservative government remained non-interventionist and struggled to balance the budget, but did eventually leave the gold standard.

In short, in the the assumption that the left favors countering economic downturns with expansionary policies and the right opposes it has held good in the United States both in the 1930's and today.  In Europe, the correlation is much less clear.  (It should also be noted that if one defines a fascist party as one that favors economic expansion and nasty scapegoating of immigrants, as appears to be the case in Europe today, there is no equivalent in the present-day United States.  The party that favors expansion and the party that scapegoats immigrants are separate here).

My next post will address why this might be so.

*And I am well aware that many on the right classify Hitler as left wing on the grounds that he was the ultimate Keynesian.  By their logic, the far more classically conservative Schleicher would also have to be a leftist.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

False Memory: pp. 150-250 (with intervals)

It is at this point that Dusty and Martie come together and stop having parallel stories.  The paralleling technique has worked so well for Koontz, though, that he decides to keep using it, but with someone else.  The someone else, for now, is Susan, but we will skip her story for now.  Suffice it to say that Dusty and Martie will be together for the rest of the novel.

Dusty drives in as Martie is wielding the crowbar.  She flees throughout the house, warning him to stay away, into the bedroom.  There she realizes that there is a gun in the dresser that she never bothered to get rid of when getting rid of all the other dangerous things.  She fears that Other Martie inside her cunningly led her to the gun just as Dusty was there and she could hurt him.  She gets it out.  The chapter ends at this point, with lots of suspense as to whether she will shoot.  She doesn't, just unloads it, reciting the Hail Mary.

Now that's interesting.  Apparently Martie is a Catholic, or at least was brought up as one.  Dean Koontz is himself a Catholic.  His characters, however, generally have strong moral compasses and vague spiritual beliefs, but do not belong to any specific religion.  Certainly, in this book Martie reciting the Hail Mary is the only reference to any particular religion.  Dusty believes in God and that he has a benevolent plan and everything happens for a reason, but there is nothing to suggest that he goes to church.

Anyhow, Martie flees and tries to lock herself in the bathroom.  Dusty forces his way in and holds her until she calms down.  He serves her two glasses of Scotch to calm her down and has two himself.  That is another interesting point in the story, by the way, the characters' regular consumption of alcohol, and not just as a flavored beverage, but as a mood-altering chemical.  Martie has already had beer for lunch.  When trying to Martie-proof the house she threw out a half-empty bottle of Chardonay from dinner last night and two unopened bottles of Chablis, presumably soon to be consumed.  We will see them drinking many times as the story proceeds. Apparently Koontz has no problem with alcohol in moderation, even if used as a mild drug.

But I digress.  Dusty brings back the kitchen ware and puts them in the dishwasher.  He prepares dinner and they eat, although Martie uses a spoon only.  He also comes across the book in her raincoat pocket and expresses surprise that she is still reading it.  Martie says, "The plot is entertaining.  The characters are colorful.  I'm enjoying it."  This seems very odd to Dusty, but Martie is too exhausted to discuss it further.  She fears that she will sleepwalk and do something violent, so she takes three sleeping pills and insists on being tied up.  He tries saying Dr. Yen Lo and reciting the Clear Cascades poem, but Martie just says, "Either you're making no sense or this stuff is kicking in."

As Martie sleeps, Dusty lies beside her, understandably insomnic.  He tries to sort through the strange things that have happened, convinced that it can't be a coincidence that the two people dearest to him both broke down on the same day.  He looks for commonalities.  First, he considers Skeet's complete failure to remember anything that happened when he was in the odd trance.  Martie, too, believes that she is missing pieces of time.  Then he remembers answering the phone call, telling Valet the dog that it was someone trying to sell him the Los Angeles Times and seeing Valet asleep, "as though" ten minutes had passed.  Having a perfect photographic memory, he scans the scene and realizes that he still can't remember anything about the conversation, and that dog falling asleep during the conversation means that it really did go on for ten minutes.  He's having memory lapses, too!  This is our first definite clue that Dusty, too, is under mind control.  They will start coming on hard and fast soon.

Speaking of Valet, he starts getting restless, too, looking up, raising his hackles and growling, just the way he did in New Life Clinic.  Clearly he senses a hostile presence, as does Dusty.  The animal with keen intuition far beyond what humans can command is a classic literary trope.  And relax, this particular clue will later be well explained.

Dusty manages to sleep a little and has a strange nightmare.  He dreams he is lying on the bed with an IV attached to his arm.  Some invisible presence is taking his blood pressure.  Martie is sitting to the side, motionless.  Lightening flashes, without rain or thunder.  The lightening and a shrieking heron enter the room, menace him, and then go into his IV bag and from there into his blood stream.  Martie opens her eyes that are now heron eyes and says, "Welcome."

Dusty wakes, terrified, and soon goes back to trying to understand his odd exchange with Skeet.  Thinking it over, he realizes that Skeet responded to all his questions with questions of his own, asking what he should do or think.  He treated statements as commands and commands as -- well, he fell asleep on command.  What more can one say?  Dusty thinks of the haiku, first as a tool for operating Skeet and later as software programmed into him.  He also thinks of Skeet's statement that the pine needles are missions.  He tries thinking of synonyms for missions.  The one that makes most sense is instructions.  And then he realizes that when Skeet stood on the roof, he said that the angel of death had instructed him to jump.  Suddenly the suicide attempt starts looking less like typical addict behavior and more like some sort of instruction from his controller.

And I must say for Dusty that all of this is a brilliant deduction and extremely relevant to understanding what is going on.  It works well.  Or rather, it would work if Koontz hadn't spoiled the whole thing in his parallel narrative (Susan, remember?) by explaining the whole think and thereby taking away the mystery and suspense.

My next post on the subject will discuss that.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

False Memory: pp 92-149 (with intervals)

When we last left Dusty, he had picked up some things from Skeet's apartment to bring to his brother in rehab. In the apartment, he was surprised to see a sheaf of papers with the name "Dr. Yen Lo" written on it, over and over, 39 times, with growing distress, until the pen broke.  Now we are getting into some serious clues.

Dusty takes Valet the dog and a couple of suitcases to Skeet in rehab.  Because Skeet is on suicide watch, Dusty has to follow him, even into the bathroom.  As Skeet is washing his hands, Dusty asks who Dr. Yen Lo is. Skeet says, "I'm listening," and goes catatonic.  He ignores the water on his hands getting hotter and hotter.  When Dusty turns off the hot water and replaces it with cold, Skeet ignores that, too.  Dusty leads Skeet back into his room, where he appears to be in a semi-catatonic trance.

Skeet again says, "I'm listening," and a very odd exchange follows:
"Listening to what?"
"Listening to what?"
"What're you doing?"
"What am I doing?" Skeet asked.
"I asked what you were listening to."
"Yeah, okay, so tell me who's Dr. Yen Lo."
"Me?  I'm your brother.  Remember?"
"Is that what you want me to say?"
Frowning, Dusty said, "Well, it's the truth, isn't it?"
Although his face remained slack and expressionless, Skeet said, "Is it the truth?  I'm confused."
"What club do you want me to join?" Skeet asked with apparent seriousness.
The exchange continues in much the same manner until Dusty asks if this is some sort of Abbot and Costello routing, and Skeet says, "Is it?"  But when Dusty tells Skeet to look around, Skeet looks around.  When Dusty says, "I'm sure you know where you are," Skeet does, indeed, know.  When Dusty, assuming Skeet's odd behavior is the result of taking more drugs, asks Skeet if he sneaked any more drugs, Skeet answers, "Is that what you want me to me to say?"  When Dusty tells Skeet just to tell the truth, Skeet says no.  Dusty then asks what is wrong with him and Skeet says, "What do you want to be wrong with me?"

Skeet is having weird eye movement, similar to REM during a dream, except that his eyes are open.  He complains that Dusty is not following the rules.  Naturally, Dusty asks what the rules are.  "You know the rules," says Skeet.  "Pretend I don't," says Dusty.  Skeet identifies three rules.  The first rule is, "Clear cascades."  The second is, "Into the waves scatter."  The third is, "Blue pine needles."  Dusty demands an explanation.  Skeet says he is the waves, Dusty is the clear cascades, and the pine needles are missions.  He also says that Dusty is Dr. Yen Lo, and that Dr. Yen Lo and the clear cascades are one and the same.

Valet the dog is quite disturbed by this conversation. He growls, raises his hackles, and goes out into the corridor, looking for an intruder.

The incomprehensible exchanges, much like the one above, then continue, until Dusty, frustrated, tells Skeet to give him a break and go to sleep.  Skeet obediently falls asleep, to Dusty's great alarm. His alarm grows when he is unable to wake Skeet.  Nurses and the doctor come in any try unsuccessfully to wake Skeet.  When they are unable, they start examining him for various conditions that could have made him fall into a coma.  All are negative.  The drugs he took that morning have largely been metabolized.  There is nothing medically wrong with him, nothing to indicate that he is anything but asleep, except that he can't be awoken.

But then, after causing great consternation, he finally yawns, stretches, and awakens, with no memory of the odd exchange.  Dusty doesn't dare ask about Dr. Yen Lo again, but he does ask about the "rules."  They sound vaguely familiar to Skeet, and he immediately recognizes, "Clear cascades/Into the waves scatter/Blue pin needles" as a haiku that seems vaguely familiar.

Okay, this is our second introduction to haiku.  The first time was the never-explained "Pine wind blowing hard" haiku that Martie could not quite remember whether she heard in Dr. Ahriman's office or read in the novel while waiting.  It is also the first clear introduction of a parallel between the two stories, although the implied theme of memory lapses and mind control is also present in both cases.  It is also another opportunity for a strange semi-catatonic reaction like Susan's.  If Dusty presses Skeet as to where he learned the haiku, this would be another example of Getting Too Close, and an opportunity for Skeet to react like Susan -- going catatonic as the questions become more and more dangerous, and then abruptly snapping out and remembering nothing.  But apparently Koontz decides that he has put Dusty and Skeet through enough for one night, because Dusty decides Skeet has had enough for the night and declines to press.

Then Dusty starts getting a strange, paranoid feeling that the clinic is not safe.  Somehow everyone seems just a little too perfect to be real.  This would seem to suggest that at the time, Koontz was thinking of making the entire clinic be staffed with brainwashed pod people under Ahriman's control.  This is later determined not to be the case, so I can only assume that Koontz changed his mind.  (Ahriman does turn out to be connected with the clinic, though, so Dusty's suspicions are at least partly justified).  After leaving Skeet, Dusty goes sleuthing around.  Standing on the ground outside, he thinks he sees a male figure, too tall and wide-shouldered to be any of the clinic personnel, standing over Skeet's bed.

This is more or less the last of the dangling clues.  Nothing comes of the mysterious figure Dusty thinks (but is not sure) he sees standing over Skeet.  It is possible that Dr. Ahriman pays Skeet a visit in the clinic that night, but nothing else in the novel says so, and it is distinctly implied elsewhere that he does not.  So why bother with that mysterious figure at all?  Like so many clues up till now, this one is raised, goes nowhere, and is then dropped.

Fortunately, this is about the end of the misleading clues, and everything becomes increasingly relevant.

Dusty head home, where, unbeknownst to him, his wife is totally freaking out.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What I Fear

Right now we are headed for a fiscal cliff. Taxes are set to rise at the end of the year and major budget cuts are mandated.  Worse yet, the debt ceiling will run out, and there is no end to the mischief Republicans can make if Obama is re-elected.  In effect, they lose all incentive to prevent disaster, because if they drive the economy off the cliff, Obama will be blamed and they will benefit.  Now at least two commentators are urging surrender.  Don't worry, they say.  Out of power they may (essentially) advocate rolling back the New Deal, but in power they will recognize how unpopular that is and quickly discover that deficits only matter when a Democrat is in the White House.  Republican deficits don't count.  But they are willing to drive the economy off a cliff if a Democrat holds the White House.  So let's give them the presidency, or they will kill the hostage.

I have long believed that Republicans want a de facto one party state a whole lot more than they want to repeal the New Deal.  Doubtless their preference would be for both, but if it becomes apparent that any serious attempt to end the New Deal will lead to their losing elections, I have no doubt the Republicans will be willing to kick the can down the road.  Right now, going with the Ryan Plan, Republicans seem to be hoping to cut spending on the poor as much as they can get away with, while cutting taxes enough that sooner or later (they hope) the bond vigilantes will attack and force massive cuts in everything but armies, police and prisons.  But it may be true that once in power, this will start to look a lot less important than just holding power.

But even if they don't undo the New Deal, giving the Republicans a monopoly on power because they will drive the economy off the cliff is a Democrat is ever elected again is incompatible with any normal definition of democracy.  In the days of the PRI, Mexico was democratic on paper, but not on the ground.  Something similar may be said of Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party.  So far as I understand it, both parties kept in power largely by controlling patronage and buying the votes of the majority.  This led to an extraordinary level of corruption in both countries.  But still, I am inclined to prefer a one-party state maintained by bribing a majority of the population to vote for them to a one-party state maintained by the threat to completely wreck the economy and government if the opposing party is elected.  In the end, both the PRI and the LDP were defeated, and both grumbled, but duly stepped down.  Democracy ultimately prevailed.  If Republicans are intending what they seem to be intending, that will mean they intend to take things further than the one-party states in Mexico and Japan, and refuse to accept the results of a democratic election.  This goes beyond mere corruption into disloyalty*.

So, if Obama wins in November, Republicans will drive the economy off the cliff for partisan advantage.  If Romney wins in November, Republicans will have ultimate blackmail tool, the threat to drive the economy off a cliff if any Democrat is ever again elected President.  If the Republicans lose and drive the economy off the cliff, they get their monopoly on power by reminding people of the horror that occurred last time a Democrat was in office.  If the Republicans win, the economy will (presumably) recover, and they get their monopoly on power by constantly maintaining the implied threat.  (Actually saying, vote for us or we will drive the economy off the cliff is, of course, to obvious an act of black mail  to be done openly).  Both choices are unpalatable.

In the end, though, I cannot agree with the people who counsel surrender just this once, because we can always come back and fight when the economy is stronger.  Default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling will always be disastrous.  The only alternative I can think of is to somehow bring Republican blackmail out into the open so that they cannot escape blame for their actions.  Democratic strategists had damn well better be figuring out how.

*Disloyalty in the sense of putting loyalty to party ahead of loyalty to the public good.  In opposition, this means being a disloyal opposition.  In power, it means disloyalty to basic democratic norms.

Friday, May 11, 2012

False Memory, pp. 91-150 (with intervals)

At this point, chapters become less useful as designations.  In fact, I ended my last post on Martie just before the end of Chapter 9 because the subject markedly changed at the end of the chapter.  Martie had just left her friend's house and was heading home.  As she puts her key in the ignition and turns it, she has a vision of herself  driving the key into Dusty's eye and turning it. She is violently sick, then gets back in the car and drives home.  Caught in a traffic jam on the way home, she calls her doctor, Closterman, and says she has an emergency but can't discuss what it is about.  She gets an appointment at 8:30 the next morning.  (When is the last time you got a doctor's appointment that fast?)

Arriving home, she finds the mirror broken and assumes Dusty did it by accident.  Apparently, she has no memory of breaking it.  This is the third mention of that damn mirror.  What gives?  It plays no further role in the story whatever.  I can only assume its purpose is to show that she has memory lapses.  But couldn't Koontz show that in some way that is better integrated into the story line?

Anyhow, she has a deep, irrational fear that she will do something terribly violent and sets out to Martie-proof the house by throwing away anything dangerous.  She throws out knives, forks, scissors, wine bottles, rolling pins, matches, cleaning chemicals, a mortar and pestle (Koontz, by the way, confuses which is the mortar and which is the pestle).

All this goes on for a total of about 16 pages.  Koontz, by the way, shows an extraordinary talent here for creating an atmosphere showing the morbid thoughts going through Martie's head as evening falls:
Already, fat night crawlers squirmed out of the lawn, onto the walkway,  Snails had come forth, too, oozing silvery trails behind them. 
A fecund odor arose from the wet grass, from the mulch and the rotting leaves in the flower beds, from the darkly glistening shrubbery, and from the dripping trees.
In the gloaming, Martie was uneasily aware of the fertile life to which the sun was forbidding but to which the night offered hospitality.  She was aware, too, that an awful centipedal part of herself shared an enthusiasm for the night with all the wriggling-creeping-crawling-slithering life that came out of hiding between dusk and dawn. . . . Outside, the shrill singing of toads in the wet twilight.
In the midst of Martie's panic attack, Susan calls to reveal the terrible secret she couldn't tell before.  Her estranged husband, Eric, isn't just sneaking in at night while she is asleep.  He is drugging and raping her.  She goes to sleep in a T-shirt and panties and wakes up sore and bruised, dirty and degraded, with his semen in her underwear.  She has changed locks several times, each time with a new locksmith.*  But no matter how often she changes locks, he keeps getting in.  She wedges a chair against the door and puts powder on the window sills to catch him if he comes in by one of the windows.  But it does no good, somehow he keeps getting in, leaving the door locked and the chair wedged when he leaves.  Convinced she is being drugged because she never wakes while being raped, she has changed where she orders her food (she gets it from groceries that deliver because she can't go out).  But it keeps happening.  And she can't flee because of her agoraphobia.  She could almost believe her phantom rapist is a demon and not a flesh-and-blood man.

Martie is herself in the grips of a panic attack when she answers the call and desperately wants to get off the phone to resume emptying the house of weapons.  She asks if Eric denies this.  Susan admits that she has not confronted him because it is "forbidden."  Naturally, Martie asks who has forbidden it.  This is a perfect opportunity to return to what we saw before when someone starts Getting Too Close -- for Susan to go catatonic and be unable to answer further.  It has the distinct disadvantage in this case that the conversation is happening by phone, so Martie can't see Susan go catatonic the way she did before (this was before Skype), so it is understandable that Koontz decides not to use it.  Instead, when Martie presses Susan on who has forbidden her to confront Eric, Susan just changes the subject and the conversation continues.  Desperate to get away, Martie ends the conversation, promising to call back.

Her panic continues.  The house has a gas fireplace with fake logs.  Now she begins to fear she is having memory lapses and may have turned on the gas during a blackout.  She has, so far as she knows, no reason to suspect that she has memory lapses, but she does vaguely remember that odd sequence at the doctor's office where she can't quite tell whether she was looking out Dr. Ahriman's window, or it was a scene in the novel she was reading.  (The broken mirror, on the other hand, does not come up).

Finally, she sets to work on the tools in the garage.  First, she smashes them with a sledge hammer.  Then she realizes she is being violent and enjoying it way too much.  So she cuts off the heads of the tools with a power saw.  Then she realizes how deadly the power saw is, so she smashes it with a crow bar.  And then, of course, she realizes the crow bar is as deadly as any other tool, and a lot harder to disable.  It is at this point that Dusty pulls up in his car.

I will stop here, even though it is not the end of a chapter, because it is at this point that the Dusty and Martie stories come together.  Next post will be about what Dusty has been doing while all this was going on, because he is starting to unearth some real clues.

*This puts a small crimp in the story.  It has already been made clear that Martie has a key to the apartment.  If Susan changed the lock, she would have to give Martie a new key, and Martie would naturally wonder why.  But we can pass over that). 

Just a Quick Note

I refuse to post at length on President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage.  Our economy has gone through its worst crisis since the Great Depression and is making an excruciatingly slow recovery, assuming it doesn't fall off the "fiscal cliff."  All the Bush era abuses except for torture are still in place and stronger than ever.  Republicans see a real opportunity to repeal the New Deal and turn the clock back to the Gilded Age.  The general militarization of law enforcement proceeds apace.  And I'm supposed to be all excited over the prospect of gay marriage?!?!?!  Sorry, but no.  I have other priorities.

Monday, May 7, 2012

False Memory: Chapters 12-18, ppl 66-85 (with intervals)

When we last left Dusty, he had taken his drug addicted half-brother Skeet to rehab following a suicide attempt. I did not dwell at length on Dusty's adventures up to this point because they contain very few clues of things to come and nothing to suggest anything below the surface. 

That changes about page 66 when Dusty returns home to change into dry clothes.  Valet the dog is happy to see him, but seems strangely disturbed about something and wants Dusty to look at the downstairs bathroom.  When he does, he finds that someone used the waste basket to break the mirror.  So now we know, back on page 15 when Martie didn't like what she saw in the mirror, but she knew what to do about it, that what she did was break it.  We later learn that she has no memory of breaking it.  What we never learn is why Ahriman would tell her to break the mirror and then not remember that she did it.  Dusty at first suspects burglars, but there is no sign of a break-in, no other damage, and nothing stolen.  So he concludes that it must have been some sort of accident by Martie.  He cleans up the broken glass.

Dusty changes clothes and decides to take Valet with him to the clinic.  The phone rings, and he answers.  When he hangs up, he says that someone was trying to sell him a subscription to the L.A. Times.  Valet is napping "as if Dusty had been on  the phone ten minutes rather than thirty seconds."  Dusty gets the dog into the car and going, grumbling all the time about his dislike of newspapers, except in toilet training dogs, and sales people.  It occurs to him that despite having a perfect photographic memory (this was mentioned earlier), he does not remember whether it was a man or woman selling the paper, or what he said. 

Okay, so once again, Koontz has done a good job of suggesting something creepy happening over the phone, but disguising it well enough that the audience could easily miss it.  In fact, the only reason to notice it this time around is that something similar happened to Martie about 50 pages ago.  But once again, while Koontz does a good job of disguising his clue, he utterly neglects to explain it later on.  This time there is quite a plausible explanation.  Most likely Ahriman is calling to ask how the suicide went and finding out that it failed.  This may be so.  But if it is, we are never told.

Dusty then goes on to Skeet's apartment.  The perishable food in the fridge is minimal (a loaf of bread, a pack of bologna, and a carton of milk) and well past its expiration date.  But the apartment is impeccably neat, to Dusty's surprise.  Dusty is right to be surprised.  I don't know how much Dean Koontz knows about real life addicts and losers, but I have more experience with them than I care to admit, and it has been my experience that people whose lives are a shambles do, indeed, usually have apartments that are also a shambles.  (For that matter, in my own life, I can chart when my morale is down by when I start letting my housekeeping go).

Skeet's neatness is decidedly odd, but it is essential to the story line because it allows Dusty to spot the one thing in his apartment that is not neat -- a messy scattering of loose pages from a notepad.  Written over and over on the pages is the name, "Dr. Yen Lo."  At first the writing is neat, but the handwriting deteriorates over time, written unsteadily and with great emotion, the pen bearing down so hard it starts to tear the paper.  Finally, after 39 iterations, Skeet presses the pen so hard that it breaks.  Dusty looks through the phone book under physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists, but does not find any Dr. Yen Lo. 

This turns out to be perhaps the most important clue yet, one that leads straight into the real story of what is going one, one that is definitely not left hanging.  But it is also the worst anomaly of the whole novel.  The other dangling clues that go nowhere don't quite fit the premise of the book but can be explained with some imagination.  This one (as we shall see) goes directly against it.

Reflections on European Elections

What alarms me most about the recent European elections is not that the radical left got 17% of the vote in Greece.  It is not that the radical right got nearly 18% of the vote in France.  It's not that the Netherlands coalition has fallen apart as far-right leader Geert Wilders refuses to continue in the present self-destructive course of austerity.  And it certainly isn't that France just elected a respectable, mainstream leader who thinks that Europe's current course of self-destructive austerity might not be a good idea.

It's that people are reacting to the election of a respectable, mainstream leader who questions Europe's current self-destructive course as if it were the election of a wild-eyed extremist.  Now that's dangerous.

It makes me think of Scott Sumner.  Scott Sumner is a blogging economist and a disciple of Milton Friedman who still likes to cherish the illusion that that makes him a conservative.  These days, being a disciple of Friedman on macro issues makes you a wild-eyed left winger.  He urges conservatives to agree to a more expansionary monetary policy, even if it means a little more inflation, lest the alternative be the "horrible, statist policies" of a Roosevelt or a Kirchner.  As if a Roosevelt or a Kirchner were the worst conservatives had to fear.  I will grant that there is much to criticize in both men.  Both had some authoritarian tendencies and left much to be desired on the civil liberties front.  But both were ultimately democratic politicians.  Anyone who did not like their policies was free to contest them through the democratic process.  The reason that such efforts failed was not that either crushed his opponents by brute force, but that both were extremely popular because the economy flourished under their leadership.

The trouble in Europe right now is that the VSP's (that's Krugman's name for Very Serious People) treat any deviation from the current suicidal course as completely outside all reasonable discussion.  The VSP's will quickly make clear to Francois Hollande that he has two choices -- embrace the current madness, or forfeit all claim to respectability.

So what happens when all respectable players embrace a highly self-destructive course of action, and identify such self-destructiveness as the very defining feature of respectability?  Well, challenges to self-destruction don't go away.  They merely migrate to the fringes.  And the fringes get bigger and bigger.  Proposals to do what has to be done, like reject German demands for austerity and even consider withdrawal from the Euro, start to be coupled with very disturbing xenophobia in-group loyalty. 

Does Sumner fear that the current inflation aversion will lead to a Roosevelt or a Kirchner?  Let him consider some of the worse people depressions have brought to power.  Let him consider Marine LePen winning on an anti-immigrant platform.  Or the radical left attempting to form a coalition in Greece.  Or some very disturbing developments in Hungary.  To say nothing of You Know Who.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

False Memory: Chapters 11-17, pp. 64-90 (with intervals)

All right, this section has the last of the major hanging clues, although there are still a few lesser ones scattered about.  It also starts the serious progression of Martie's phobia and understanding what it is.

Martie and Susan leave the doctor's office and head home.  Martie almost forgets her book, and hesitates in picking it up when Susan reminds her.  Martie stops for Chinese takeout and Tsingtao beer.  When they get back home, Martie insists on eating with chopsticks because the fork makes her nervous.  She has uncomfortable thoughts about a fork gouging someone's eye or tearing out someone's arteries.  The bottle opener has a sharp point and makes her so uneasy she lets Susan open the beer.  Mirrors continue to make her nervous.  Again she wonders about that grapefruit juice that never gets explained. 

And then we get a significant, real clue.  When Martie watches Susan eating with a fork, she is not alarmed.  The fork seems harmless when Susan holds it.  It is only the fork in her hand that Martie fears.  Which suggests that what she fears is not the fork, but what she might do with it.

And then comes the hanging clue. Up till now Susan has defended her estranged husband, Eric, even though he could not cope with her agoraphobia and left her.  Now she changes her  mind and calls him a "selfish pig."  (That actually turns out to be significant in another way as well).  She says she has changed her mind because her agoraphobia may like in problems with her marriage.  In fact, she suspects now that Eric is having an affair, something she had never so much as hinted at before.

Susan says, "Sometimes a discovery like that, all of a sudden, it makes you feel so vulnerable. . . . And that's what agoraphobia is -- an overwhelming, crippling feeling of vulnerability."  But she says the words without emotion, as if quoting a psychology textbook.  Martie asks why she never hinted at this before.  Susan says maybe she was too ashamed.  Martie asks her why she should be ashamed when her husband is the one who has wronged her.  Susan is puzzled, doesn't know, doesn't appear to have even thought about it before.

We can see what is going on here.  Susan is not expressing her own beliefs or feelings, but simply reciting canned phrases Dr. Ahriman fed her, sort of like Martie's repeated phrases about the book, "The writing was good.  The plot was entertaining.  The characters were colorful.  She enjoyed it."  As long as she is simply reciting canned phrases, Susan never questions what she is told.  But when she is challenged, she has neither experience nor reasoning to back it up.  This by itself would work, but then Dean Koontz goes further.

Susan searches for ways to blame herself, but Martie challenges her.  She asks what Eric has to say for himself.  Susan gives a vague answer, saying they haven't discussed it in detail.  Martie demands to know who the other woman is.  Susan doesn't know.  Martie is shocked, "Didn't Eric tell you?"  Susan goes blank and says, "Eric?" Susan whispers, her face "as inanimate as the face of a doll" that she didn't learn this from Eric.  Martie demands to know where she did learn it and Susan goes nearly catatonic:
Susan's flawless skin was no longer the color of peaches and cream, but pale and translucent as skimmed milk.  A single drop of perspiration appeared at her hairline.

Reaching across the table, Martie held one hand in front of her friend's face.

Susan apparently didn't see it. She stared through the hand.

"Who?" Martie gently insisted.

Suddenly, numerous beads of sweat were strung across Susan's brow.  Her hands had been folded on the table, but now they were fiercely clenched, the skin stretched tight and white across the knuckles, the fingernails of her right hand digging hard into the flesh of her left.

Ghost spiders crawled along the back of Martie's neck and crept down the staircase of her spine.

"Who told you Eric was screwing around?"

Still staring at some spectre, Susan tried to speak but could not get a word out.  Her mouth turned soft, trembled, as though she were about to break into tears.

Susan seemed to be silenced by a phantom hand.  The sense of another presence in the room was so powerful that Martie wanted to turn again and look behind her; but no one would be there.
 Martie then snaps her fingers, and Susan completely snaps out of it.  In fact, she doesn't seem to remember the whole conversation and certainly doesn't want to talk about it anymore. She suddenly smiles and seems cheerful and energetic, but determined to stick to innocent topics.

 Clearly this is a classic scene from a mind control novel, a sign that the questioner is Getting Too Close, so the brainwasher has implanted this a a sort of a fuse to short circuit this line of questioning.  The trouble is that it doesn't work so well in this mind control novel, because it never happens again, even there are some excellent opportunities for it to happen.  Nor is any explanation ever given for Ahriman implanting this short circuit mechanism, as opposed to something less suspicious.  I can think of at least three golden opportunities in the novel where this technique could have made another appearance.  To use all three would undoubtedly be overkill.  But Koontz does not even reuse it once.  To work properly, this strange reaction would have to occur at least one other time and be explained.

As evening approaches and Martie prepares to leave, Susan hints that something more terrible and sinister than she has admitted may be happening.  She won't say what, other than that she suspects Eric is coming into the apartment while she is asleep.  This, one suspects, as much as his purported affair, my account for why Susan called him a "selfish pig" and has become so hostile to him.  But she refuses to say what is causing her suspicions.  Martie playfully threatens to read her segments from boring academic tomes by Dusty's father and step-fathers if Susan doesn't tell.  She also drops what proves to be a clue, saying that Dusty's current step-father, Derek Lampton, wrote a psychological book entitled, Dare to Be Your Own Best Friend.  Susan promises to call, and Martie leaves.

 I am actually breaking off about a page before the end of Chapter 17, because the last page of the chapter moves us into a whole different tone than we have been experiencing before.  But before that, we have to learn what Dusty has been up to after leaving New Life Clinic.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

False Memory: Chapter 9, pp. 53-58

Then, after building so much tension as Martie and Susan approach Dr. Mark Ahriman's office, he suddenly breaks it when they and why not?  Throwing a curve ball is a perfectly good literary technique and keeps readers guessing.  Dr. Ahriman is tall, handsome, athletic and very professional.  He exudes "affability, genuine interest in people, and relaxed self-confidence."  He is also a celebrity therapist with best-selling books. Susan goes into his office, undisturbed by his huge picture window.  Martie talks with him, and he seems entirely compassionate and professional, saying the sort of things you would expect a psychiatrist to say, assuring Martie that even if Susan is getting worse, it may just mean she is on the verge of a breakthrough, and telling Martie how valuable her friendship is to Susan.  If anything about the scene seems creepy, it is perhaps that Ahriman is too calming and too reassuring.  But on the whole, he calms and reassures the audience as well as Martie and Susan.

Koontz introduces two clues which do not seem sinister now, but turn out to be altogether relevant to the story later on.  There is a main reception area and waiting room when they come in, but down the hall, outside Ahriman's office is a second waiting room with a door directly to the corridor outside the office suite.  This arrangement ensured privacy for anyone accompanying patients to the office, so that they do not run into other patients or their companions.  It also, as we discover, allows Ahriman to step out of his office and bring people in the waiting room under his control without being observed.  Jennifer, the receptionist, gives Martie coffee and a biscotto.  The coffee is excellent.  It is also the perfect opportunity to drug unwary non-patients.  But we only learn any of this later.

Next comes a sequence that is a perfect clue for a generic brainwashing and mind control novel, but just doesn't fit the premises of this brainwashing and mind control novel.  It creates yet more clues that are never explained and (perhaps) gives the audience too many clues, too early as to what is going on.  Once again, I will have to quote it in full, with interspersed comment, to do it full justice.  Martie has brought a book with her to read while she waits.
After a while, she was able to concentrate on the book.  The writing was good.  The plot was entertaining.  The characters were colorful.  She enjoyed it.

The second waiting room was a fine place to read.  Hushed.  No windows.  No annoying background music.  No distractions.
Okay, none of this sounds particularly disturbing.  But consider what follows.
In the story, there was a doctor loved haiku, a concise form of Japanese poetry.  Tall, handsome, blessed with a mellifluous voice, he received a haiku in while he stood at a huge window, watching a storm:
Ok, so who is a tall, handsome doctor with a mellifluous voice?  And who as a huge window in his office, with a storm outside?  Of course, the novel could parallel what is really happening right now, but the coincidence seems like a bit much.
Pine wind blowing hard,
quick rain, torn windpaper
talking to itself.
 Although it is not yet apparent, this is the first introduction of haiku into the story.  Haiku turns out to be highly significant.  This haiku, however, never has any further significance and is never seen or heard again.  So what is it doing here?
Martie thought the poem was lovely.  And those succinct lines perfectly conveyed the mood of this January rain as it swept along the coast, beyond the window.  Lovely -- both the view of the storm and the words.
 Okay, this makes clear what what previously just hinted.  This scene is not a scene from the novel.  It is a real life scene.  Martie is looking out the window in Ahriman's office, at the storm outside in the here and now.
Yet the haiku also disturbed her.  It was haunting.  An ominous intent lurked beneath the beautiful images.  A sudden disquiet came over her, a sense that nothing was what it seemed to be.

What's happening to me?

She felt disoriented.  She was standing although she had no memory of having risen from her chair. And for God's sake, what was she doing here
 Clearly something is the matter.  She can't quite make out what.  She was just in Ahriman's office, and now she is in the waiting room again.  She is standing, even though she has no memory of getting up.  And something feels hostile for reasons she cannot explain. 
Then she closed her eyes, because she must relax.  She must relax.  Relax.  Have faith.

Gradually she recovered her composure.

She decided to pass the time with a book.  Books were good therapy.  You could lose yourself in a book, forget your troubles, your fear.

This particular book as especially good escape reading.  The writing was good.  The plot was entertaining.  The characters were colorful.  She enjoyed it.
 Okay.  Obviously Martie is not reading the book, although she thinks she is.  So if she is spending an hour in the waiting room twice a week and thinks she is reading a book but really is not, what is she doing?  The scene in the book, that is really a scene in reality, appears to suggest that she is actually in Dr. Ahriman's office, and that he is reciting haiku.  I can see two problems here.  Already creepy and inexplicable happenings are specifically being associated with Dr. Ahriman's office.  It is fair to ask, is Koontz getting ahead of himself, directing suspicion to Dr. Ahriman too early?  But maybe Koontz has decided that people will start suspecting the psychiatrist anyhow, so he might as well encourage them. 

The more serious problem is that he seems to be suggesting that Martie is having real memories of the time in his office, vaguely glimpsed as part of the novel she thinks she is reading.  There is only one problem here.  Never at any other time in the novel is it so much as suggested that people might have sort of ghost memories of their time under his control, disguised as scenes from a novel or anything else.  We later learn that forbidden memories can sometimes arise in the form of dreams, although not directly, but only through symbols.  Here, by contrast, she almost certainly remembers the scene exactly as it was, but is not aware that it was a real scene.  Nothing else in the novel so much as suggests that this is possible, let alone gives any explanation how it could happen.  Once again, Koontz is dropping a huge clue that is never repeated, followed up on, or explained.  Once again, what he suggests here does not seem to fit the premise of the rest of the novel.

 The good news is that we are almost to the end of the hanging clues.  Soon the clues will, indeed, be highly relevant to the story as it develops, though with a few anomalies.  The last of the big hanging clues is coming up in the next segment.

False Memory: Chapters 5 and 7, pp. 29-47 (with intervals)

Chapter 5 widens the scope of the story as we discover what Martie's obligation on Tuesdays and Thursdays is, and learn of another major source of stress in her life.
Martie's best friend, Susan Jagger suffers from agoraphobia (fear of open places).  Before the onset about 16 months ago, Susan worked as a realtor and lived in a three-story house with her husband Eric, an investment advisor.  (No children or animals).  The agoraphobia has ruined all of these.  Her fear of open spaces made it impossible for her to do the driving necessary for a real estate agent.  After four months, her husband moved out, unable to deal with her disorder.  (That turns out to be a clue, too).  So, with her earning capacity gone and her husband leaving her, Susan has rented out the bottom two stories of the house and lives on the third floor, conveniently equipped with a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath, and accessible by an outdoor flight of stairs.  Eric also sends her a monthly check.  At first, Susan could handle leaving the house so long as she stayed in enclosed spaces.  Now anywhere but her  house and her psychiatrist's office feels unsafe.  Four months ago, she could look longingly out the window.  Now just the view alarms her and she has to keep the windows covered.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Martie drives her to her psychiatrist for therapy.  She has a key so Susan does not have to go to the door and confront the great outside (also significant, it turns out).  Invariably, Susan is overcome with anxiety about leaving the house, and Martie has to exhaust her store of coaxing, cajoling, jollying, bullying, threatening, taunts, insults and sarcasm to get her going.  Today is much like any other such occasion, except that Martie is suffering from anxiety as well.  In fact, it crosses her mind that dealing with Susan is another major source of stress in her life and may be responsible for her anxiety attacks.  The mirrors in the house make her uneasy, but do not trigger all-out panic.
Then, on the way out, Martie sees Susan's mezzaluna and has a sense of alarm.
Here I will have to admit that I did not know what a mezzaluna was, but apparently a Mezzaluna is a two-handles knife in the shape of a half moon (mezzaluna means half moon in Italian) that is good for dicing by rocking back and forth. 

Martie asks about the knife and Susan cheerfully says it can dice an onion in a flash.  I like this sequence.  It is well done for two reasons.  First, it is the beginning of a marked progression in Martie's phobia.  Expect to see a lot of similar reactions, ever escalating.  Second, it very nicely makes the point that phobia is not indivisible.  Susan is terrified of going out.  It takes every ounce of persuasion Martie has to overcome Susan's fear and get her to leave the house.  And even as they are in the middle of the "extraction," Martie is overcome with a phobic reaction to something that has no effect on Susan at all.

Outside, Martie's anxiety grows, even as she is coaxing and bullying Susan along.  The storm outside seems wild and menacing and to waken something frightening in Martie.  When she gets out her car keys, she notices for the first time how sharp and jagged they are, and the harm they could inflict.  She wonders if this is a reaction to the grapefruit juice she drank that morning.  And you know what I think about that grapefruit juice.

Neither the car, nor the corridor, nor the elevators at the psychiatrist's office are enclosed enough to reassure Susan.  The only place besides her home where she feels safe is in his office.  Not even the waiting room is private enough.  The closer they get to the office, the less Susan holds back and the more she wants to hurry up and get there, muttering, "Almost safe, almost safe."  Martie feels strangely uneasy.  The mirrors in the elevator make her uncomfortable for some reason she cannot quite name.  She is overcome by a strange feeling that they are walking into great danger, and that she should grab Susan and run.

Just in case it is not clear by this point, Susan's psychiatrist turns out to be the villain.  I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising.  If the characters are victims of brainwashing and mind control, the psychiatrist is, after all, the most plausible suspect.  Who else could do it?  I think this part as they approach his office fairly broadly hints as much.  Susan's feeling safe in his office seems just a little disturbing.  Why is everywhere else outside her house so frightening except this one place?  And her craving for the his office makes one uncomfortable.  She is behaving like a moth, flying into a flame.  Or, perhaps, she craves her psychiatrist's office the way Skeet craves his drugs.  It has the feeling of being just as much an addiction, and no healthier.  In short, I think Koontz is dropping unmistakable clues here that all is not well with Susan and her psychiatrist.  Unlike many of his other clues, these ones turn out to be quite true.

Did I Despair Too Soon?

In 2008, I pounded pavements for Barack Obama for a simple reason.  I hoped he would roll back the abuses of George Bush in his War on Terror.  I did not really expect or care if he prosecuted offenders, but I did want him to expose what they had done and stop it from continuing.  To say he has disappointed would be an extreme understatement.  He has stopped torture (at least as an official policy), but that is all.  Holding suspects indefinitely without trial, massive vacuum of data and datamining, FBI use of entrappment, surveillanc on legal activities, and abuse of many of the powers in the PATRIOT Act, all continue unabated.  Not only has Obama done nothing to prosecute Bush-era abuses, he is doing his best to keep them concealed.  All this drove me to despair.
But maybe I have despaired too soon.  At the time Obama took over, there were all sorts of hysterical warnings against prosecuting Bush era officials.  We aren't a banana republic.  We don't prosecute policy differences.  (No, then how about prosecuting torture?)  Obama himself said we should look forward, not back.  What these warnings ignored was that we were behaving exactly like a dictatorship transitioning back to democracy. Unless all-out revolution sweeps the old order away (which causes a whole lot of new problems), deposed dictators' power doesn't vanish overnight with the transition to democracy.  They continue to exercise a lot of it behind the scenes.  And one of their first priorities is to protect themselves from prosecution and cover up evidence of old crimes.  Often times it is best to let it happen that way.  Dictators are unlikely to give up power without the assurance that it is safe to do so.  A real attempt to deal with the past is too raw and too ugly when it is too new. 
Such, I believe, was the case with us as well.  Painful as it is to say, I do not believe that our body politic in 2009 was strong enough to withstand a thorough-going investigation of the crimes of the Bush Administration.  Too many powerful people were penally vested in preventing that; and many less powerful people were emotionally vested in defending Bush's actions.  You think our politics are bad now?  They don't even compare with what would have happened if Obama had made a serious attempt to expose, much less prosecute, the crimes of Bush.  The result, tragically, as been to perpetuate Guantanamo, to actually make it illegal to close it or to give a fair trial to the inmates there, and to cement the worst excesses of the national security state.  Many times, I have despaired.

Maybe that was premature.  Bits and pieces of what happened are slowly coming to light. Senate Democrats have poured over millions of pages of classified documents, studying the CIA torture program and whether it yielded useful results.  A report will be coming out.  I doubt it will change many minds.  Changing minds takes time.  But it happens.

This article gives me hope. The author points out that we've seen this script play out before in Latin America where, indeed, the transition from dictatorship to democracy was possible only by guaranteeing the former dictators against prosecution, or even exposure.  But exposure couldn't be stopped, and over 20 years it led to prosecution:
Each of these regimes left office armored with amnesties and immunities, with official decisions to decline prosecution, and, significantly, with strong public support for the use of torture as a necessary evil in the battle against terrorists. But in the past few years, former heads of state and leading figures in the intelligence communities of each of these countries have been charged, tried, and convicted of crimes that include torture and conspiring to torture.
What happened? Across more than two decades, public opinion steadily turned against those who had used torture. This process was driven by disclosures of photographs and tapes of heinous acts, by the meticulous work of forensic pathologists who gave the victims a voice, by survivors who forcefully recounted their experiences, by journalists who published exposés, and by lawyers who pressed for information to be revealed and who painstakingly assembled facts for lawsuits.
 We've been through this before.  Our government, in the Cold War, committed heinous acts, worse, in many ways, than what Bush has done.  Those acts have never been punished.  But they were exposed in the 1970's, the participants discredited, and the practices outlawed.  The War on Terror proved the perfect excuse to go back to the practices of the Cold War.  But the War on Terror will end, just as the Cold War ended.  It didn't even take the end of the Cold War to expose what had been done -- just a thaw, and a President who went too far. 

In 2006 I thought electing a Democratic Congress would expose George Bush's misdeeds.  In 2008 I thought electing a Democratic President would do it.  Both times I have been proven wrong.  But time, confidence, waning passions, and the death of a thousand cuts may ultimately expose what was done and persuade us to mend our ways.  It won't happen this year, or next.  Maybe, as in Latin American, it will take 20 years.  In the U.S. it arguably took 40 years from FDR's beginning abuses to exposure after Watergate.  But maybe playing a long game, exposing every chance we get, we can actually win this thing.  The wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine.