Posted by: New Class Traitor | June 21, 2017

The three lefts

It is a tragicomic spectacle to watch the left descend ever deeper into a pit of insanity — and more recently to see them “eating their own”. Case in point: this blog post this blog post (via Nicki Kenyon) about how a left-lib professor at Evergreen State U. had to go into hiding after criticizing some of the latest hard-left lunacy. Or the HuffPaint blogger who cheered North Korean mistreatment of Otto Warmbier (RIP) because at least in one place his “white privilege” didn’t help him. (No, I will not link to this evil spew.)
But of course, “the left” is no more a monolith than “the right” is. Leaving aside nuances of social/economic/religious/… left (some of which are specific to local contexts), at a more abstract or “meta” level, we can see three large streams within the left, distinguished by their epistemology (approach to knowledge).
The first, and the oldest, is the rationalist/constructionist left, or what I might call “the gnostic left”. Here we find the orthodox Marxists and the like. Like some hardcore theoreticians in the physical sciences, they are so in love with theoretical purity and logical consistency that they cannot be bothered with inconvenient “experimental” observations (cf. the famous story of Engels offering to show Marx around a factory, and Marx declining). Indeed, they remind me of the Gnostics of old, who considered the physical world intrinsically corrupt and thought truth could only be found in proper doctrine. How ironical, for a movement that waves the flag of “dialectical materialism”.
There are few people who despise communism and its fellow travelers more than I do—yet at least in principle, the old-school hard left still subscribes to rational thought. Hence a hard leftie like physicist Alan Sokal (a onetime Sandinista) may find himself a strange bedfellow with conservative critics of postmodern flimflam after thoroughly punking a postmodern “scholarly” journal.
The second kind of left is what I would call the “empirical, pragmatic left”. Historically, this is where you found social-democratic parties in Europe, and to some degree the labor movement in the USA—these are the kind of people we might think of as “old-school liberals”. They had little patience for theoretical mumbo-jumbo or any messianic visions of class struggle followed by perfect society: they arose against specific perceived injustices and proposed concrete solutions. This is the kind of left the liberty-minded among us have a common language with. In many cases, we may actually agree about the disease if not about the cure–and many of the solutions proposed by that left seem oblivious to the Law of Unintended Consequences, or to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Still, this is the wing of the left with which a dialogue is possible. It is also the part of the left from which people most readily cross over to the populist right. Their natural home is the Democratic Party, but an increasing number of them have become ripe pickings for Trump-style populism—some of us may argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but again, we speak the same language to some extent. For example, I can read this essay by Camille Paglia and nod in agreement much of the time, with only the occasional eye roll at which candidate she supports.
Then finally there is what I call the “irrationalist left” or “postmodern left”. While even the most cynical members of the first two waves will pay at least lip service to the concept of objective truth, the postmodern left explicitly parts with the very concept, even as a platonic ideal — everything becomes a struggle of competing narratives, and of asserting the primacy of one narrative over the others. (Devout Christians might think of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus as the first postmodernist?) Logical consistency is wholly irrelevant to the irrationalist left, which leaves them free to seek alliances that even the most jaded old-school leftie gags on. “Feminists for Sharia” (seriously, an article in the PuffHo the other day sold that line #singularityOfStupid) , “Qu**rs for Palestine” (seriously, when actual homosexuals there seek refuge in Israel?), … you name it.
If a policy to “help” a marginalized group, in fact, ends up hurting said group, that might give an empirical leftist pause, while a gnostic leftist may try to gainsay your evidence, cherry-pick data, or twist himself into rhetorical knots to prove black is really white. The irrational left simply does not care. “Peacock issues” that are great for grandstanding while benefiting very few people (preferably checking as many “oppressed group” boxes as possible) also have great propagandistic value for them—the more disruptive on others, the better.
Peel away the postmodern verbiage, the Gramscian tactics, and the virtue signaling — and at the dark heart of the irrationalist left, you will find but one thing — a raw, mutant-Nietzschean “Will To Power”. With this wing of the left, dialogue resembles the proverbial chess game with a pigeon — except that pigeons are content with strutting on the chessboard and defecating on it, rather than engaging in vicious tactics (professional blackballing, character assassination, no-platforming speakers, outright violence) not just against adversaries, but even against people who see themselves as their allies.
Anyone who wants to successfully fights a war for any length of time cannot help adopting some of his enemy’s successful tactics. It was therefore inevitable, for good or bad, that some activists on the right would end up adopting mirror-image SJW/SJZ tactics, such as we have seen with the latest “D. Julius Trumpcaesar” kerfuffle. However, it behooves us to heed Nietzsche’s warning (in “Beyond good and evil”):
“He who fights monsters must watch out that he does become a monster himself. And when you stare into an abyss for [too] long, the abyss also stares back at you.”
(Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.)
As for the “will-to-power left”:
wages of overreach are Trump 2
Posted by: New Class Traitor | June 20, 2017

Jam-packed June Booknado!

Lots of good stuff in the June CLFA booknado

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance

Get ready to peruse a Category 5 Booknado of literary delights! Let refreshing winds of free thought and freedom blow away tiresome leftist reads and bring in exciting New Releases and Special Discounts! Read on for this month’s selections; just click on any book image to read more and shop. Enjoy!


Rocket’s Red Glare (Anthology)
Space opera anthology featuring new stories by Brad R. Torgerson, Sarah A. Hoyt, and more!

For Steam and Country by Jon Del Arroz
Putting the adventure fantasy back into Steampunk for a revival of the genre.

Man Behind the Wheel by Steve Rzasa
50 years in the future, you do not have the right to drive. Pursuit Specialist Roman Jasko hunts those who break the law until he’s accused of aiding mobile thieves.

Red Scare (The Postmodern Adventures of Kill Team One, Book 3) by Mike Leon
They murdered the woman he casually…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | June 20, 2017

PERFORMANCE: Elites Exploit Shakespeare with an Orwellian Distortion

via Sarah Hoyt. Lots to chew on here—kudos to Richard Bledsoe


Great Caesar’s Ghost!


“…I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have, by the very cunning of the scene,
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions.
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ…

The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
-William Shakespeare
Part of the miraculous achievement of playwright William Shakespeare is his depiction of universal principles through the actions of his particular characters. These enduring insights make it possible to set his plays in practically any time, and any place, despite the specifics of their plots.
We’ve seen the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet performed as song and dance in a New York City ghetto. King Lear enacted as a feudal Japanese epic. Young Orson Welles was hailed as a genius for re-imagining  The Scottish Play as…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | June 10, 2017

Fair Use: what does it mean for writers and scholars?

Academics, writers, musicians, video producers, publishers, and other creative professionals have all heard of the “fair use doctrine”, that under certain circumstances allows us to quote copyrighted text, images, or sounds. But what is it, in plain English?

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a legal professional — I have merely acquired a working knowledge of the concept through my day job — and nothing I write here should be taken as legal advise.

Second, while the concept existed in common law for a long time before that, “fair use” was officially enshrined as statutory law in 1976 as 17 U.S.C. § 107 

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

[Emphasis mine in the above.]

This four-part test was actually first formulated by US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845; “what’s in a name?”) in the ruling on Folsom v. Marsh: this case concerned somebody who had published his own two-volume condensation of a 12-volume biography of George Washington. SCOTUS decided that yes, such derivative works were within the rights of the original copyright owners (the plaintiff), and that Marsh, the defendant, had violated their copyright.

In plain English: Justice Story argued that by publishing an “all the good bits” abridgment, Marsh had greatly reduced the sales potential of the long original.

Let me illustrate the four-part test with a few concrete examples:

(1) Quoting another scholarly author’s argument in a scholarly work, with proper source attribution, and clearly marking it as a quotation rather than one’s own words: fair use, and common established practice.

  • typically, the works being quoted are noncommercial to begin with
  • typically, the quote is a very small percentage of the full paper or book
  • the “market value” of a scholarly paper is measured in citations, and your action will generally only increase those

(2) Quoting a phrase, quip, aphorism,… of another author in one’s novel, clearly marking it as a quote? Accepted practice. Typically, the quote is 0.00x % of the whole book, and this is actually a way of bringing tribute to the writer being name-checked.

(3) Quoting a few lines from a poem or song lyric in your fiction book? Aha, now this is another matter — because even a few lines constitute a nontrivial percentage of the original work, so this would fail the amount and substantiality test.

My editor taught me a serviceable workaround: paraphrasing the lyrics in my own words. It is the words that are subject to copyright, not the ideas conveyed in them. [Cf. the idea-expression divide in intellectual property law.]

And if the poem in question is in the public domain (e.g., Shakespeare, Tennyson,… or generally anything published before 1923) then of course no issue arises.

(3b) Quoting a picture or graph from one work in a scholarly work of yours? Well… as “masgramondou” put it, “one picture is worth a thousand words — assume the same holds for copyright purposes”. The way I think of it: the image is a complete unit unto itself, and it would be more akin to quoting an entire chapter or section of a written work (or an entire verse or chorus of a song lyric).

And so, where for a textual quotation source referencing would be adequate, one would have to apply for copyright permission to the original copyright holder. In practice this is less of an imposition than it seems: most scholarly publishers have a (semi)automated mechanism in place where one can apply online with full personal details, details of the work being quoted, details of the work it’s being quoted in (review articles are actually the most common scenario), and commercial or noncommercial character of the derived work. (The last time I needed such permission for a paper in my day job, it cost me $0 and all of two minutes.) The licensed picture is then almost invariably accompanied by a statement along the lines of “From H. Slowcoach and L. Tortuga, Journal of Chelonian Reproduction 12, 345 (1967). Copyright American Association for Herpetology. Reprinted with permission.”

(3c) Recycling somebody else’s artwork in your own commercial fiction book? Unless it’s in the public domain or you licensed it form the copyright holder, you are setting yourself up for litigation or at the very least “cease and desist” letters.

Stock photos are another matter. They are “works made for hire” from a copyright point of view: once you bought them, they are yours to use. Their use in book covers can entail other issues — such as when two authors use the same stock photo — that one may wish to avoid, but they are in a different realm than copyright infringement.

Coming back to scholarly nonfiction for a moment: The scientific world in recent years has seen the emergence of licensable image libraries (e.g., Springer Images). Particularly in the life sciences, where diagrams and elaborate artistic renderings are more common than straight plots or data visualization, such image libraries have their places, and can save money compared to hiring a skilled visual artist with the appropriate background.

(4) What about music?

• In a music-centric novel, describing musical compositions in great detail — short of actually including transcribed scores — is apparently fine.

• Using audio of a well-known popular song for an audio book or a book trailer in practice means licensing. It can get tiresome enough that people might instead hire a musician to compose something “in the style of [insert popular song]” and use that instead

• most classical compositions are in the public domain, but specific audio recordings (e.g. for use in an audiobook or book trailer) need to be licensed. As part of the “open culture movement”, there are artists that make their own recordings of classical pieces available under Creative Commons licenses: these may be a good alternative. Otherwise, you know what? Go to your local conservatory and offer to pay somebody to record the track for you.

(5) Reproductions of visual works of art

• What if I, say, wanted to use a digital image of a Renoir painting as a book cover? (Assume it’s a “literary fiction” book, since that’s what cover designers tell me such use would signal.) The copyright here applies to the photograph, strange as this might seem. Museums that allow downloading of digital images of their collection typically stipulate that such images are “for personal use only”. In some cases, if photography in the museum is permitted, one can legally visit the museum in person, take a picture (usually without a flash) and use that.

Speaking of book covers: who “owns” the copyright to a book cover? They are generally produced as “works for hire” by a cover designer, and whoever commissioned the work and paid for it owns the rights to the cover (typically: the publishing house, or the author if it is an indie publication). Recycling by somebody else as artwork for commercial publication projects without licensing or permission constitutes copyright infringement.

Very recently and importantly: Concerning the special case of “thumbnails” showing up in searches or use in product links, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in Perfect 10 v. Amazon  that these are a highly “transformative” use and that they are to be considered fair use. The ruling gave much weight to “the public interest” [in search engines etc.]. It also  held that hyperlinking to such images does not constitute “secondary copyright violation”.

(6) What about parody?

Parody (if clearly recognizable as such) is an affirmative defense: a landmark court case on the matter is Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music, a.k.a., the “Pretty Woman” case. It involved the rappers 2 Live Crew, fronted by Luther Campbell (stage name “Luke Skywalker”), who had recorded their own “version” of Roy Orbison’s classic song: they had kept only the iconic bass riff (which I presume they  programmed into a Roland TB-303) and chanted (I would not dignify their performance with the term ‘singing’) their own lyrics over it (which focused on such features of the woman as her derrière, hair in certain places, promiscuity—you get the drift). They had in fact approached the copyright owners (Acuff-Rose) for licensing the song for a parody but been told to take a hike, then recorded their own version anyway. The court found in their favor, ruling that parody was a “transformative” use [in the legal sense of the word] rather than a merely “derivative” one.


Marcel Duchamp’s parody of the Mona Lisa is often cited as a classic example of a transformative work

So for example, if I were to release an album and issue an ad with a picture of my own album cover, plus one of “St. Anger” by Metallica as “this is not what you will get”, I would be over the line — a picture is a complete unit, and promotional material is clearly not scholarship or commentary. If instead I drew a parody cover of a fictional album “St. Anal” by “Banalica”, I would probably be safe — but even then I might get legal advise first to be on the safe side.




  • there is a simple 4-factor test for “fair use”
  • in general, scholarly use is much more permissive than commercial use
  • anything quoted should be a trivially small percentage of the whole work, and in particular should not be a self-contained unit of the whole work
  • use should not detract from the commercial revenue potential of the original
  • there are commonly accepted usages; there are abusages that are manifestly illegal; and there is a gray zone in between when one might wish to get legal counsel, or at the very least err on the safe side.

Media companies tend to be very aggressive (often to the point of seeming absurdity) in asserting their rights: for noncommercial use, a recent development has been Lenz v. Universal Music. (a.k.a. the “dancing baby case”). The plaintiff, Stephanie Lenz, had posted a YouTube video (less than 30 seconds) of her baby dancing to the Prince tune “Let’s Go Crazy”. Universal Music sent a takedown notice under the DMCA: in response, Ms. Lenz sued Universal, and the case eventually reached the Ninth Circuit Court, which held for that

[copyright holders have a] “duty to consider — in good faith and prior to sending a takedown notification—whether allegedly infringing material constitutes fair use”.

This almost creates the legal situation that exists in Israel — where “shimush hogen” (fair use) is legally a right rather than an affirmative defense, and one can actually sue a company for not permitting fair use. However, to be clear: this does not mean that use that is obviously not fair in the legal sense of the word now magically has become so.


By way of dessert, here is a musical example of a “transformative work” I rather like. The original was a Rob Dougan track called “Clubbed to death” used in The Matrix soundtrack. It ironically itself starts off with a sample from an orchestral performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I remember thinking “boring, but could be a good track to jam over” when I first heard it — then a guitarist named Tom Shapira recorded this amazing improvisation over it. Enjoy!



Posted by: New Class Traitor | June 9, 2017

UK Elections: Emperor Mong strikes [UPDATED]

I remember thinking when Theresa May called early elections, “Don’t get cocky, kid” and “Leave well enough alone”. But the lure of polls predicting a supermajority must have been irresistible as the dread Emperor Mong (or his civilian avatar, the Good Idea At The Time Fairy) whispered in her ear. The apparent complete descent into lunacy of Labour under [expletives deleted] Jeremy Corbyn must have made a Tory victory seem inevitable.


“Of course you’ll win a supermajority if you call early elections now. Bwuhaahaa!”

So she couldn’t leave well enough alone, and plunged ahead. Now the results are essentially complete, and she has… a hung parliament. [Full data here]

Counterintuitive as this seems: despite gaining 5.6% of the votes, her party saw a net loss of 13 seats (19 gained, 32 lost). (Sounds familiar?)

Labour gained a whopping 9.6%, though much a quarter of its actual gain of 31 seats came at the expense of the equally-looney left SNP (which lost 19 seats).

The UK Independence Party (formerly the 3rd largest party) was nearly wiped off the electoral map, dropping from 12.7 to 1.9%. Its number of seats in Parliament stayed unchanged: zero. (Such are the vagaries of first-past-the-post constituency voting: the Scottish National Party commanded a mere 4.8% of the vote in the previous election but returned 54 seats — as it is regionally dominant.) Presumably, many of the UKIP voters defected to the Tories or staid home, but in the age of chaos, nothing is impossible, not even defection to Labour 😉

The current 3rd largest party Liberal Democrats lost 0.4% of the vote and increased their parliamentary representation from 8 to 12.

Northern Ireland/Ulster returned 10 Democratic Unionists (=Protestants) and 7 Sinn Fein (=Irish Republicans), while Plaid Cymru (Welsh separatists) have 4 seats. The Greens have one seat, plus there is one seat listed as “Other”.

Masgramondou” just drew my attention to this:…/scotland-bright-spot…/

“Amongst the many sentences I never thought I would type, I can add this: Scotland is the only bright spot for the Tories. The great Scottish Conservative comeback is underway.”

We are living in the year of Kek, the Age of Chaos, or [my preferred term] Heinlein’s “Crazy Years”.

UPDATE: now with just 4 seats left (Kensington +3 in Cornwall, all previously Tory) we are at:
315 Conservative
261 Labour
35 Scottish National Party
12 Liberal Democrats
23 “Others”, of which 18 in Northern Ireland (10 Protestant Unionists, 7 Irish Republicans, and 1 Independent), 4 Welsh separatists in Wales, and 1 Green in Brighton. The Unionists might be a viable partner for the Tories.

UPDATE 2: only 1 constituency left, Kensington: just 35 votes separate the Tory and the Labourite. A secondthird recount is to take place, probably on Saturday. Full results of 649 out of 650 constituencies via BBC:

318 Conservative (-12)
261 Labour (+29)
35 Scottish National Party (-21)
12 Liberal Democrats (+4)

10 Democratic Unionists (+2) [=Northern Irish Protestants]
7 Sinn Fein (+3) [=Northern Irish Catholics/Republicans]
4 Plaid Cymru (+1) [=Welsh separatists]
1 Green [in Brighton]
1 Independent [in the North Down constituency in Northern Ireland]

Parties exiting Parliament: In England, UKIP [-1]; in Northern Ireland, SDLP [-3] and Ulster Unionist Party [-2].

UPDATE 3: it is quite revealing to break down gains and losses by the constituent countries of the United Kingdom:

England: Tories -21; Labour +20; LibDem +2; UKIP -1

Scotland: SNP -21; Tories +12; Labour +6; LibDem +3

Wales: Tories -3; Labour +3;  LibDem -1; Plaid Cymru [=Welsh separatists] +1;

N. Ireland: Democratic Unionist Party +2 and Ulster Unionist Party -2 — these are two rival Protestant parties which now effectively continue as one; SDLP’s remaining 3 seats went to Sinn Fein (=Irish Republicans); Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon (ex-UUP) retains her North Down seat.

UPDATE 4: Labour got the Kensington seat on 3rd recount, with a margin of 20 (twenty) votes. 

And if “Theresa Mayday”s troubles weren’t big enough: Ruth Davidson, the head of the Scottish Tories and flush from her resounding victory in Scotland, is now threatening to separate the Scottish party from the English one if the mulled coalition with the DUP goes through. The latter are socially conservative and specifically opposed to “same-sex marriage”, while Ruth Davidson is openly lesbian and engaged to another woman. Then again, if the DUP and Sinn Fein (once literally mortal enemies) can have have a good working relationship, agreeing to disagree on traditional marriage seems quite small potatoes in comparison…


Posted by: New Class Traitor | May 28, 2017

Memorial Day: “Myrmidon Tears” by Jonathan LaForce

Fellow Dinerzen, writer, and former Marine Jonathan LaForce posted this poem some time ago, then reposted it on his FB wall in honor of Memorial Day.


“Parade rest!”

At once, 600 pairs of boots stamp into the grass,
Palms crossing in the small of our backs.
7 months and 2 weeks after it started,
This is how we end the deployment.

“Murderous muscle-bound myrmidons!”

Two hours under the sun,
Performing a final act to honor a good man.
And though we’d rather leave
Discipline demands we stand,
As if performing the Birkenhead Drill.

“Jack-booted gun-toting thugs!”

The man’s name is stated,
His deeds recounted, and of him,
No foul word nor claim can be said.
A genuine truth this, for he was
In all regards a Christian gentleman.

“War criminals! Baby killers! Rapists!”

He was twenty-one that day
Old enough to drink, to vote, to shave
Old enough to pick up a rifle
Old enough to start a family
Old enough to wear the symbols
Of an American Marine.

But Death cares not for such things
And a roadside bomb laid him low.
It’s why we’re here today,
Listening to his mother plea for her baby.

El D-io, Mijo, Padre Celestial.

“First Sergeants, call the roll!”
We brace ourselves, knowing what’s on the way,
Sure as G-d, sure as death.
“PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra!”
Not once, not twice, but thrice his name’s repeated,
A white hot brand searing into our minds.

The boots come out, placed with care,
Then a rifle, held in place by the bayonet
Stabbed deep into the soil.
Finally a helmet to cap it all off.
This is the marker of a man who fell in battle.
It dates back to earlier days,
Tarawa, Belleau Wood, Chapultepec.

They escort his mother up first
We watch as she faints,
Falling over unable to contain the grief.
And all of it makes us angry.

Rage and grief combine as we approach that marker.
Paying our respects to the fallen.
Wishing for one awful moment to trade him places
Before we send him on to the eternities.

Our society hates us…
The ruling elite despise our symbols
Celebrities mock us at every turn,
Fearing and hating our capacity for violence.

They fervently believe that all we are
Is unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring beasts of war.
They’ll never know what it means
To “stand to” by dawn’s early light;
To run up the colors each day,
Wondering if you’ll live to see them lowered,
In the southern Afghan desert;
To plug a slashed jugular
And save a young marine’s life as bullets crack over head.
To load and fire and load again
Cannons roaring like dragons.

They’ll never see the myrmidon’s tears,
Etching scars not just in our faces
But our minds, our hearts, the fabric of our souls
They never see the drinking, the grief,
The ways we harden ourselves outwardly;
They never see the guilt of surviving
Of living and wishing to die,
If only so that at one better than you could live.
Angels never cry,
We give hope to those we protect.

No one sees the myrmidon’s tears

Cpl. Jonathan LaForce, USM, 2014

Posted by: New Class Traitor | May 28, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend

Nicki has some worthwhile reflections on Memorial Day weekend

Source: Memorial Day Weekend

I’ve been struggling for a while with how to present this in an accessible way. Stumbling upon this video below made me want to try: let’s have a go at this.

“Circle of fifths” or “spiral of fifths”?

It’s been well-known since the days of the ancient Greeks that the musical intervals we perceive as “purest” are the ones where the frequencies are simple fractions.
• octave: 2:1
• perfect fifth: 3:2   (and its inversion the perfect fourth, 4:3)
• pure major third: 5:4 (and its inversion the minor sixth, 8:5)
Less consonant are smaller ratios such as:
• pure minor third: 6:5 (and its inversion the major sixth, 5:3)
• greater whole tone, 9:8 (and its inversion the minor seventh, 16:9)
Now if you have a continuous-pitch instrument such as the violin or the human voice, you can just sing/play the intervals perfect (in “just intonation“) and be done with it. But what about fixed-pitch instruments such as guitars/lutes or pianos/harpsichords?
Big deal, you say: just stack up pure fifths, thus build the circle of fifths, and we can span a whole scale. Twelve fifths up and seven octaves down, and you should be where you started.
Sounds good in theory, except: the circle of pure fifths isn’t — it’s really a spiral of fifths. (3/2)^12 divided by 2^7 works out to 1.013643265…, almost a quarter of a semitone too wide. This small interval 531,441/524,288 is known as the Pythagorean comma.
Big deal, you say, if it doesn’t close: at least our fifths are pure. But what about the thirds?
Okay, let’s stack up four fifths, C-G-D-A-E, and drop two octaves down. We get… ((3/2)^4)/4=81/64, a Pythagorean third which is considerably wider than the pure major third. The ratio between them, (81:64)/(5:4)=81:80, which is known as the syntonic comma (or just plain “comma”). It’s just slightly (2% of a semitone) flat of the Pythagorean comma.
Even to an untrained listener, Pythagorean thirds sound unpleasantly sour. There is no way to fix this without either detuning the fifths or adding microtones to the scale.
So what if instead we start stacking up major thirds? Well, let’s see: C-E-G#-B#=C. That’s (5:4)x(5:4)x(5:4)=125:64, or 3:64 short of an octave!
In short: pure octaves, fifths, thirds: pick two.
The octave is the one interval nobody wants to mess with. (Well, there are “xenharmonic” scales, but nobody outside academia has even heard of them.)

Pythagorean intonation: pure fifths at all cost

You may effectively say: I must have the fifths (and hence fourths) pure, and if that means the thirds are sour, I’ll treat them as dissonant.
This is exactly what happened in Western music until the Renaissance.
Since all intervals in Pythagorean tuning are rational fractions that have no prime factors larger than 3, Pythagorean is also known as “3-limit rational tuning”.  [According to the same classification, “just intonation” as practiced by a cappella vocal ensembles is also known as “5-limit rational tuning”, since the largest prime involved is five (e.g., in the major third 5:4, the minor third 6:5).]
String instruments naturally lend themselves to Pythagorean tuning: anybody with musical hearing can tune pure fifths (or their inverses, fourths) by ear, just by tweaking until the “beats” stop. Violins are tuned in fifths; bass guitars, and the lowest four strings of a guitar in standard tuning, are tuned in fourths.

Quarter-comma meantone: pure major thirds at all cost

Alternatively, we can sacrifice the pure fifth in such a way as to restore the pure major third. The simplest way to do this is to narrow all fifths down by one-quarter of a Pythagorean comma, such that four narrowed fifths minus two octaves come out exactly a pure major third, 5:4. Such a fifth would be 5^(1/4)=1.495348781… (This quarter-comma meantone temperament was first proposed by a Spanish monk of Jewish origin named Pietro Aaron.)
Fifths in 1/4CM do “beat” (they are flat by about 1/20th of a semitone), but one can get used to them. The trouble: twelve fifths now stack up to three perfect major thirds (5:4)^3,  which we’ve seen above work out to 125:64, or 3:64 short of an octave. If you like: where Pythagorean tuning creates an expanding spiral of fifths, quarter-comma meantone gives rise to a contracting spiral of fifths.
Thus, you end up somewhere with one last fifth that is really bad, a so-called “wolf fifth” wide by two-fifths of a semitone. Since there are twelve possible places to start tuning, you can pick one such that the wolf fifth does not appear in the most frequently used keys. (Typically, it is put on G#—D#.) There are also several “wolf thirds” in the most remote keys.
Quarter-comma meantone was the prevalent tuning for much of the Renaissance. If one stays in the “safe” keys (with no more than two sharps or flats, say) and does not modulate to the more “remote” ones, it is quite tolerable. But don’t even think of playing in F# or Db on a keyboard tuned in quarter-comma meantone.

A first compromise: sixth-comma meantone

Musicians soon started experimenting with different meantone tunings.
In sixth-comma meantone, the wolf fifth can be reduced to about one-sixth of a semitone, at the expense of making the thirds just a little bit wide. This tuning still enjoys some popularity among “authentic Baroque practice” performers. Twelve fifths are now 1/5 semitone short of seven octaves.
Eleventh-comma or twelfth-comma meantone are nearly impossible to tune by ear, but are actually as close as makes no difference to equal temperament (see below).

Well-temperaments: closing the circle

As the Renaissance morphed into the Baroque era, composers started becoming ever more adventurous with modulations, and solutions that retained playability (to a greater or lesser extent) for all twelve major and all twelve minor keys were sought.
This led to the family of so-called “well-temperaments”, in which the Pythagorean comma is spread out over all twelve fifths, (at least) initially in an unequal fashion. Such temperaments are also called “circular”, in that twelve fifths now stack up to exactly seven octaves.
The term “well-tempered” (wohltemperiert) was originally coined in 1691 by the German organist and music theorist Andreas Werckmeister. He himself proposed several well-temperaments, one of which (Werckmeister III) is still in some use today among the HIP (historically informed performance) community.
In Werckmeister III, six of the fifths are tuned a quarter-comma flat (F-C, D-A-E, F#-C#-G#) while the remote G#–D#, to compensate, is made sharp by a quarter-comma and the remainder are tuned pure.
Another example is Vallotti temperament, in which the six diatonic fifths F-C-G-D-A-E-B are all tuned 1/6 of a comma flat and the rest are tuned pure. Young temperament, developed by the physicist and polymath Thomas Young, is based on the same pattern except cycled by one fifth to C-G-D-A-E-B-F#. There are many others: Kirnberger (advocated by a pupil of J. S. Bach), “tempérament ordinaire”,…
Common characteristics of all these well-temperaments include the following:
• all keys are at worst tolerable
• “nearer” keys approach just intonation
• “remote” keys approach Pythagorean intonation with its sharp thirds
Some of these are easier to realize by ear (i.e., without a digital tuner or other assistive device) than others.

Equal temperament: nothing perfect, everything equally imperfect

Mathematicians like Simon Stevin and Marin Mersenne in the West (and independently, Zhu Zaiyu in China) had proposed a more radical solution: to simply divide the octave into twelve equal parts, 2^(1/12)=1.059463094…, which is equivalent to narrowing all twelve fifths by one-twelfth of a Pythagorean comma to 2^(7/2)=1.498307077…
This is known as “equal temperament”, specifically “12-tone equal temperament” (12-TET). It is a special case of well-temperaments, and arguably the only “unbiased” or “universal” one. It is actually equivalent to tempering all fifths by 1/12th of a Pythagorean comma, and as close as makes no effective difference to tempering all fifths by 1/12 of the (slightly smaller) syntonic comma. So 1/11 comma meantone is functionally equivalent, and 1/12 Pythagorean comma meantone exactly so.
The luthier Vincenzo Galilei (father of Galileo) was perhaps the first to actually apply an approximate ET12 in instrument building, when he calculated fret spacings based on the ratio 18/17=1.058823529…, a fairly decent rational approximation to 2^(1/12)=1.059463094.
Ears used to the clean major thirds of quarter-comma meantone balked at first: also, 12-TET is not so easy to tune correctly with the naked ear. Despite the common misconception that everybody since Bach used equal temperament, other forms of well-temperament did not leave common practice until well into the 19th Century, but eventually 12-TET did become the Western standard for fixed-pitch instruments. Other well-temperaments have seen a modest revival in the HIP (“historically informed performance”) movement, particularly for harpsichord and organ tunings.
People with relative pitch may claim that in 12-TET, keys lose their “character”. To people with absolute pitch, they still have distinct sounds — though I have often asked myself a “cicken or egg” question here. For example, do I think of D minor as a “pensive, cerebral key” because it sounds like that (to someone with absolute pitch), or because I’ll forever associate it with Bach’s Art of Fugue BWV1080?

How ‘Well-Tempered’ was Bach’s Clavier?

Many people mistakenly assume J. S. Bach invented 12-TET. Of course he did not, nor was he even the first to write a composition exploiting it — that would have been Johann Caspar Fischer . Bach was however the first to write a major cyclical work, of transcendent musical value no less, that absolutely requires some form of well-temperament — and in doing so certainly hastened its adoption.
There is a scholarly consensus nowadays that Bach used not 12-TET but one or more well-temperaments, though it is not clear which. Bradley Lehman, in an article in Early Music, claimed that the ornament of the title page of the Well-Tempered Clavier actually encoded Bach’s own favored well-temperament [ and ], while a harpsichordist has recently argued [] that the temperament was in fact just the tempérament ordinaire described in Diderot’s Encyclopédie.

Equal temperament: blessing or curse?

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill about democracy: 12-TET is the worst possible solution for tuning fixed-pitch instruments…. except for all the others that have been tried.
On modern electronic instruments, when performing tonal music that also goes easy on modulation, one could in principle play in bespoke temperaments for each key. However, 12-TET is at this point so ingrained that people with fine musical hearing may actually consider just intonation or a favorably located well-temperament as ‘off’, even though it is objectively more in tune! Yet, unequal temperaments pop up in the strangest places — such as some guitarists slightly tuning down their B string in order to get just-intoned major thirds.
Allow me to end this post with one of my favorite Bach preludes played in two different temperaments on the same piano: the first time in Young temperament, the second time in modern 12-TET. Enjoy!
Posted by: New Class Traitor | May 3, 2017

Lost and Found – by Sarah A. Hoyt

A prequel story for “Darkship Revenge” which it was my privilege to read an advance copy of. If you’re into sci-fi, buy it, you won’t regret it. If you already own Darkship Thieves and/or further installments of the series, then this book is a must-buy.

According To Hoyt

*This story is a prequel of sorts to Darkship Revenge (and Hacking the Storm.)
It is not proofread.  Yeah, I know.  The free ice cream doesn’t have ALL the toppings.  Sorry.  I meant to do this earlier, but it turns out Advair ALSO turns off the writing.  Which means I’m going to have to find another asthma solution, or see if I can do with the small emergency inhaler.  So it’s last minute, and this is unproof-read.  I’ll put up a proofread version in ebook format for download later, if ya’ll want it.  And if it’s not cabbage. – SAH*

Lost and Found

Sarah A. Hoyt

I had a minute.  Maybe less.  He lay on the bed, his eyes closed, various tubes entering and exiting his body.  Machines surrounded him, beeping, burping and making all sorts of noises.

I knew what each of those noises meant.  If I looked closely…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 30, 2017

Of scales and tetrachords

Yesterday I discussed the Byzantine scales and their construction from two equal tetrachords. This actually inspired another post.

What happens if we

  • do construct tetrachords that span a perfect fourth, but
  • only allow whole tones and semitones, and
  • we allow two different tetrachords in the scale?

Well, if we only allow whole tones and semitones, and the beginning and ending notes are fixed at a perfect fourth, leaving only the two middle notes movable, then you basically only have the following choices. I will notate their interval sequences in semitones (half-steps):

  • major: 2-2-1 (i.e., whole-whole-half — major second, major third, perfect fourth)
  • minor: 2-1-2 (whole-half-whole — major second, minor third, perfect fourth)
  • upper minor: 1-2-2 (half-whole-whole — minor second, minor third, perfect fourth)
  • harmonic: 1-3-1 (half-third-half—minor second, major third, perfect fourth)
  • [an odd-duck fifth member is the augmented tetrachord 2-2-2, which ends on an augmented rather than a perfect fourth]

From mixing and matching pairs of those four tetrachords (plus one odd duck), we can assemble the following:

  • major+major: Ionian mode or classical major scale. In medieval church music, this was actually called the “lascivious mode” for its association with sprightly dances.
  • major+minor: mixolydian mode (major with a flattened seventh). Very common in Anglo folk tunes and in rock and pop music derived from it. Example: “Get Back” by The Beatles. (BTW, it also contains all five notes of the major pentatonic.) [On the piano, playing a scale on the white keys but starting from G rather than C gives you G mixolydian  — G major would have had F# rather than F natural.]
  • minor+minor: dorian mode (minor with a raised sixth). Very common in Anglo folk tunes and in rock and pop music derived from it. Has a more ‘minor’ feel than the mixolydian. Examples: “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”,  “Scarborough fair”,… (BTW, it also contains all five notes of the minor pentatonic, which is the backbone of the blues “scale” — which is really more like an Indian raga rather than a scale.) [On the piano, playing a scale on the white keys, but starting from D rather than C, gives you D dorian — D minor would have had Bb rather than B natural.]
  • minor+upper minor: aeolian mode, or natural minor scale.
  • minor+augmented: harmonic minor scale. In Western classical music that follows common-practice harmony, the need for major chords on the dominant (fifth) step automatically requires accidentals to temporarily raise the seventh. Hence a classical piece “in X minor” actually will pop in and out of harmonic (and melodic) minor rather than stay in natural minor. Using minor chords on the dominant instead automatically will give the piece a “modal” (“churchy” or “folky”) feel.
  • minor+major: melodic minor scale (ascending). Unlike the harmonic minor scale, the “un-flattened” sixth eliminates the minor third. Generally, classical melodies in a minor scale follow melodic minor when ascending, and natural minor when descending, although the locally prevailing harmony may dictate variances from this.
  • upper minor+upper minor: Phrygian mode. This “more minor than minor” or “martial” scale has occasionally been used in Western classical music (e.g., “Mars” from Holst’s The Planets), and is fairly common in darker heavy metal tunes. (E.g., “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica, the opening of “Sails of Charon” by The Scorpions, the fast middle section of “Seventh Son” by Iron Maiden) Among film composers, Phrygian for battle scenes is something of a cliché.
  • harmonic+upper minor: Phrygian major, a.k.a. Flamenco scale, a.k.a. “Jewish scale”. This Phrygian mode with a raised third is indeed a staple of Flamenco music, but can also be heard in the synagogue (the ahava rabba mode), in klezmer music, and indeed in some heavy metal tunes — for example: “Forty-six and two” by Tool, or the opening of “Killing in the name of…” by Rage Against The Machine.
  • harmonic+harmonic: double-harmonic or “Byzantine” or “Arabic” scale. It can be derived from the previous mode by flattening the sixth. Used for an exotic feel by classical composers (Debussy was rather fond of it), and sometimes in hard rock and metal. Dick Dale‘s instrumental “surf music” classic “Misirlou” is a very nice illustration.

An odd duck in the above list is the Lydian mode, which is built from augmented+major tetrachords. In a sense “more major than major”, it’s rarely used for a whole piece (the theme from The Simpsons is one example of a popular tune in the Lydian mode), but episodically can be used to set a mood of hope or anticipation. An example is the verse of “Freewill” by Rush.

OK, I guess this is an excuse for posting two of my favorite tunes:


Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 29, 2017

Making sense of Byzantine scales

A friend who had just returned from a trip to Greece played back some clips of Byzantine church music on her cell phone. I became intrigued by the peculiar scales I heard, so I did some digging. A lot became clearer from this academic paper in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, where a trio of Greek researchers discuss their findings recording and analyzing the singing of a number of well-known Greek Orthodox psaltes (cantors).
They note that in actual practice, cantors deviate from the prescriptive standards laid out by the Patriarchal Music Committee (1883), depending on musical context. (One can see similar phenomena in unaccompanied singing or solo violin playing.) But let me give you the “Cliff Notes” version on Byzantine church singing.
All Byzantine scales are based on four “genera” (plural of genus):
  • Diatonic
  • Chromatic mild
  • Chromatic strong
  • Enharmonic
[Note that, in context, these terms do not have the same meanings as in Western music theory.]
All four genera have the following in common:
  • scales span an octave (2/1)
  • scales are heptatonic, i.e., they have seven notes, the “eighth” note being the first note raised by one octave (just like the Western major and minor scales)
  • scales are made up of two identical tetrachords [rows of four notes] a perfect fifth (3/2) apart
  • each tetrachord spans a perfect fourth (4/3)
  • this leaves the two middle notes in each tetrachord movable
Unlike Arabic music (which is monophonic or heterophonic, and hence has no harmonic exigencies), Eastern Orthodox Church music has two or sometimes three voices. Hence harmony does enter the picture: Greek music theorists going back to Pythagoras, Didymos, Ptolemaeus,… have used rational fractions to define/describe musical intervals. (There is actually deep physics behind this idea: frequency ratios between overtones of a common fundamental.) In the case of Byzantine music, said ratios get, well… Byzantine.
So in 1883, the Patriarchal Music Committee (PMC) decided to create some order in the chaos by looking for an equal-temperament approximation to the clutter of micro-intervals. The closest fit they could find was 72-tone equal temperament (ET72): that is, dividing the octave into seventy-two equal steps called moria  (plural of “morio”, Greek for mote, trifle, molecule). One morio equals 2^(1/72)=1.009673533.
Note that ET72 contains as subsets both
  • ET12 (twelve-tone equal temperament, the Western standard for keyboard and fretted instruments): each semitone on the keyboard is six moria
  • ET24 (quarter-tone equal temperament, often used to describe Arabic maqamat [scales]): each quarter-tone is three moria
The PMC took the intervals of Byzantine vocal music and rounded them to the nearest integer number of moria. A perfect fifth then becomes 42 moria (seven ET12 semitones), a perfect fourth 30 moria (five ET12 semitones). The four Byzantine genera were then standardized to the following tetrachords (number of moria for each step given):
  • diatonic genus: 12-10-8
  • chromatic mild genus: 8-14-8
  • chromatic strong genus: 6-20-4
  • enharmonic genus: 12-12-6
Note that — unlike in ancient Greek music — the enharmonic genus is (after rounding) equivalent to the major scale in ET12! For comparison, let’s put up the tetrachords of some Western scales and modes that feature repeated tetrachords:
  • the major scale (a.k.a. Ionian mode):  in ET12 corresponds to 12-12-6, in just intonation: 12-11-7. So the Byzantine diatonic genus is like the major scale in [5-limit Ptolemaic] just intonation — except that the major third has been flattened one morio.
  • Dorian mode: 12-6-12 in ET12, approx. 11-7-12 in just intonation[For non-musicians: this mode is commonly heard in “minor”-sounding Anglo folk tunes and in rock/pop music deriving from it, as well as in modal jazz.]
  • Phrygian mode: 6-12-12 in ET12,7-12-11 in just intonation[For non-musicians: this very dark mode is fairly commonly heard in heavy metal, and its use in battle scenes in film music is something of a cliché.]
  • Double-harmonic (“Byzantine”) scale: 6-18-6 in ET12, approximately 7-16-7 in just intonation. Note how this looks a but similar to the “chromatic sharp” 6-20-4 genus of Byzantine music.
The “minor scale” (technically, the Aeolian or natural-minor mode) is absent here, as it has two different tetrachords — so does the mixolydian mode.  In my next post, I will explore how two different tetrachords can be used to construct many different musical scales and modes in the Western tradition, and how their “bright” or “dark” character can be rationalized through the tetrachords.
Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 18, 2017

Target apparently hires lazy, apathetic incompetents

Nicky Kenyon’s elderly parents fell prey to what is apparently known among fraud investigators as “the grandfather scam”. Target, Inc. is not exactly covering themselves in glory here. None of her usual NC-17 rated invective in this post. Read, weep, and BE WARNED.

The Liberty Zone

So my parents got scammed out of $6,000 today. They’re elderly, and they can’t really afford to lose that much. They’re a bit naive, because having been born abroad, they’re not really well versed in the plethora of scams perpetrated by fetid pieces of detritus all over the world. And worst part is that they love their family so much, that they completely lose any semblance of common sense when they think their children or grandchildren are in trouble.

This particular scam is not uncommon. It’s a well known ruse, and when I sent my dad to the police station to report it, the officer who took his report said he was the third complainant about that scam that day.

The scam is what’s known as the grandparent scam. It’s a variation on one that had been going around Germany a few years ago, in which a parent was…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 9, 2017

Dering v. Uris, QB VII, and Pyrrhic courtroom victories

Like many, I devoured Leon Uris’s Exodus as a teenager. By modern standards, it is a severe romantification of a story that hardly requires it (the great Jewish historian Howard Sachar described the book as “a shallow swashbuckler”), but there is no denying Exodus is an immensely entertaining read. Published in 1958, it not only became the greatest bestseller in US history since “Gone with the wind”, but became a samizdat (underground publishing) classic among Soviet Jews.

A single line in the book gave rise to one of the most remarkable libel trials of the 20th Century, Dering v. Uris and others. (See also Jack Winocour’s long 1964 article here.) The trial is thinly fictionalized in Uris’s later bestseller courtroom novel, QB VII (“Queen’s Bench Court Seven”).

The backstory of one of the main Exodus characters, Holocaust survivor Dov Landau, contains this line about Auschwitz:

Here in Block X, Dr Wirths used women as guinea pigs and Dr Schumann sterilised by castration and X-ray and Clauberg removed ovaries and Dr Dehring [sic] performed 17,000 `experiments’ in surgery without anaesthetics.

Auschwitz chief physician Eduard Wirths had committed suicide after his arrest, while Carl Clauberg had died of a stroke in pretrial detention and Horst Schumann had fled to Africa after the war. (At the time he was living in Sudan.)

Clauberg, a prewar gynecology professor of some renown, and Schumann, an undistinguished physician who had earlier been  a “veteran” of the mass euthanasia program Aktion T4, were carrying out experiments on human subjects trying to find an inexpensive method of mass sterilization, to be applied on the Reich’s slave labor population of so-called Untermenschen (subhumans). Clauberg favored injection of caustic chemicals into the womb — which were to cause blockage of the ovarian ducts through scarring —  Schumann irradiation. The ovaries and testicles of the irradiated prisoners were removed for pathological examination by Schumann himself and by two prisoner doctors, the German Jew Maximilian Samuel and the Pole Wladyslaw Dering (see Robert Jay Lifton, “The Nazi Doctors”, pp. 246-249 for more about him).

Dering was a surgeon who had been imprisoned at the Auschwitz main camp for resistance activities. As Lifton tells the story (much of which came out during the libel trial), Dering at first enjoyed a good reputation among the prisoners, then became embroiled with the medical experimentation, and eventually was taken away by Clauberg to come work at his private clinic in Silesia. (In order to enable his release from the camp, Dering is said to have been administratively declared a Volksdeutsche — an ethnic German.)

After the war, Dering  had made it to England with the help of fellow Poles in the British army. He actually spent a year and a half in prison there following an extradition request by (now Communist) Poland. After a witness, who had been castrated at Auschwitz, was unable to recognize During (he had in fact been ‘operated’ upon by another prisoner doctor), the request was denied on grounds of mistaken identity. Following his release, Dering worked as a physician for the British Colonial Service in Somalia (then a British protectorate) for about a decade, before eventually being knighted (OBE) and returning to London to work as a physician for the NHS.

Following publication of Exodus, Dering was confronted with his past when his wife Maria and her daughter from a previous marriage came across the offending passage while reading Exodus. Dering took legal counsel and eventually sued  printer, publisher, and author for libel.  The printers quickly issued a note of apology;  Uris and his publisher (William Kimber, Ltd.), on the other hand, decided to fight the libel case on grounds of substantial truth.

Dering’s complaint was that, while he had completed operations, it was nowhere near 17,000 and he never did so without anaesthetic. He also said that he obeyed Nazi physicians’ orders under threat of death. The printer issued an apology and settled with Dering. The other two went to court and ran truth as a defence. It was the Holocaust on trial again.

While Uris and his publisher admitted that they could not prove 17,000 operations, they did proffer a list of 130 individuals on whom shocking operations were performed.

Uris’ solicitor took 2 years to compile evidence and find witnesses.

The trial was held before a jury of 12 (10 men, 2 women) in Queen’s Bench Court VII. It lasted 18 days, having started on 1 April 1964. It was conducted in Greek, Polish, Hebrew, English, German, French and Ladino. The judge was Justice Horace Lawton. Lord Gerald Gardiner, later Lord Chancellor of England, appeared for Uris and the publisher.


The plaintiff called 7 witnesses, some of whom were fellow Polish prisoners. The defendants called 22 witnesses from Auschwitz.


Some of the evidence on behalf of the defendants included this:

  • In October 1943, 10-12 Greek girls aged 15-19 had ovariectomies conducted on them without any medical, physical, psychological or legitimate reason;
  • In 1943 Dr Dering removed 1 or both testicles from 12 young males for no legitimate reason; See British Medical Journal Vol 1, 5393 16 May 1964.
  • 8 witnesses gave evidence of having received ovariectomies;
  • 6 gave evidence whose testicles had been removed;
  • A list was obtained from the Auschwitz Prison Hospital Register. It included the names of 130 people who received surgical operations, where Dering was either the surgeon or assistant. The list was at least partly in Dering’s handwriting.
  • While the defendants could not show that Dering operated without anaesthetic, there was evidence that operations were conducted under painful spinal anaesthetic that left the patient conscious;
  • 3 prisoner doctors gave evidence for the defendants: Dr Kleinova, Dr Breuda and the defendants’ star witness, Dr Adelaide Hautval.

Dr. Adelaide Hautval (who appears as “Susanne Parmentier” in QB VII) was a French psychiatrist (the youngest daughter of a Protestant minister) who had been arrested for aiding Jews and sent to the Auschwitz main camp. (“If you love the Jews, you will share their fate,” she was told.) After the war, she was made an Knight in the French Legion of Honor for her resistance and humanitarian activities in the camp, and Yad Vashem bestowed the title of “Righteous Gentile” on her. Recently a geriatric hospital in the Paris suburb of Villiers-Le-Bel was renamed in her honor.

Dr. Hautval quickly discovered that the project entailed inhuman experiments, performed without anesthesia, on Jewish women prisoners. She told Dr. Wirth that she would not participate in his experiments and added that no person was entitled to claim the life or determine the fate of another. When forced to assist in the surgical sterilization of a young woman from Greece, Dr. Hautval told Dr. Wirth that she would never again attend such a procedure. When Wirth asked Dr. Hautval: “Don’t you see that these people are different from you?” she replied, “In this camp, many people are different from me. You, for example.”

Notably, Dr. Hautval was not even punished for her refusal. This demolished Dering’s argument that whatever he had done, he had done under pains of death. (Admittedly, Hautval was somewhat safer as she was racially considered an Aryan, while Dering was still considered a Slav.)

Technically, Dering “won” the trial, but was awarded “the smallest coin of the realm”, one-half penny, in damages. Dering was also assessed the hefty costs of the trial (about 30,000 pounds, or 3/4 of a million dollars in today’s money). He died one year later.

As mentioned above, Leon Uris turned the experience, and the massive amount of documentation he had gathered, into the bestselling QB VII. While including some dramatic license as well as some romantic subplots, the novel in general sticks so close to the actual trial as to qualify as a roman à clef. The fictional concentration camp “Jadwiga” and its satellite extermination camp “Jadwiga West” are clearly stand-ins for Auschwitz I and Birkenau (Auschwitz II), respectively. “Adam Kelno” was a colonial physician in Sumatra rather than Africa, but otherwise appears to substantially be based on Dering. “Abraham Cady”, the womanizing fighter pilot turned writer, was of course the fictionalization of Uris. “Thomas Bannister”, a “future Prime Minister” (rather than Lord Chancellor) is of course based on  Gerald Gardiner, and so on. The Jewish prisoner doctor Boris Dimshits was elderly, suffered from eczema, and was sent to the gas chamber when no longer able to operate well enough — just like the real-life Maximilian Samuel. (According to Lifton, the cooperation of the latter — a decorated WW I veteran — had been secured by false promises his 19-year old daughter would be spared. )

One lurid detail about the medical “examinations” — too obscene to be repeated on a somewhat family-friendly blog — that I was convinced had been added by Uris for dramatic effect,  turns out to be based on an actual “invention” of Horst Schumann. In general, despite some minor glitches (such as the cringe-worthy nonsense IDF rank of “Sergent (Captain)” when “Seren” is clearly meant), the book was as thoroughly researched and fact-checked as one could hope to see before the Internet and Google era. Possibly in order to forestall another libel suit, Uris did, however, make sure to use fictional names wherever he could, and some character names are linguistically so improbable that they appear to have been chosen deliberately to ensure nobody with that background would bear said name.

Some suspense is created in the novel with the hunt for Egon Sobotnik and his medical log book: in fact, the log book was obtained from the Auschwitz memorial site, although its role was as central to the real as to the fictional trial. While the fictional Sobotnik is the key witness in QB VII, the testimony of Dr. Adelaide Hautval’s fictional stand-in “Suzanne Parmentier”s is given pride of place, and contains extensive word-for-word quotes from Hautval’s at the real-life trial.

King Pyrrhus, after winning a battle at enormous cost in lives, is supposed to have said “One more such ‘victory’ and I am undone”. If there ever was a case of a Pyrrhic victory at a libel trial, it would be this.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 3, 2017

Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 3

In the final installment of this series, a few more expressions that didn’t make it into Part 1 and Part 2, most of them inspired by the animal kingdom.

Waiting for roast chickens to fall into your mouth. (wachten tot de gebraden kippen in je mond vallen.) Awaiting success and prosperity without making adequate effort toward them.

Which the dogs won’t eat bread of. (Waar de honden geen brood van lusten.) Said of an acrimoniously worded letter or speech, etc.

Having as much understanding of [something] as a cow of eating saffron/of painting. (Evenveel verstand van [iets] hebben als een koe van saffraan eten/van schilderkunst.) Knowing jack all about [something], being clueless about [something].

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

Two guys and a horse’s head. (Twee man en een paardekop.) A[n audience/turnout of a] handful of people; ten people and a dog. Also “one and a half guys and a horse’s head” (anderhalve man en een paardekop).

[That fits/matches] like pliers and a pig. (Dat past als een tang op een varken.) Spectacularly, garishly mismatched.

Like a dog [walking though] a bowling game. (Als een hond in een kegelspel.) Unwelcome or unwanted; like a fifth wheel; spare organ at a wedding.

To send one’s cat. (Zijn kat sturen.) Not showing up.

Sparing the cabbage and the goat. (De kool en de geit sparen.) Having one’s cake and eating it too.

Forward the goat! (Vooruit met de geit!) Get on with it!

You can’t pluck a bald chicken/You can’t skin a pebble. (Je kan een kale kip niet pluimen/Je kan niet van men key het vel afstropen.) You can’t skin a stone/extract money from somebody who has none.

We’re lodged at the Monkey Inn. (We zijn in den aap gelogeerd.) We’ve been had/we’re hosed.

A donkey that poops money. (Een ezeltje dat geld schijt.) (1) a source of “rent”/easy money; (2) Ironically, the nonexistent finance of a fiscally unsustainable plan: “What’s going to pay for this, a donkey that poops money?”

That’s goat’s b-llocks. (Dat is kloten van de bok.) This sucks big time. [Dutch can get pretty graphic. “Kloten”/”b-llocks” plays a similar ‘all-purpose expletive’ role in Dutch as the f-word in English.]

Calling a cat a cat. (Een kat een kat noemen.) Saying it like it is, calling things by their name without sugarcoating.

When they want to beat a dog, a stick is readily found. (Als men een hond wil slaan vindt men licht een stok.) If they’re out to “get” somebody, they’ll find some pretext or another.

Little Barber must hang. (Barbertje moet hangen.) His fate’s already been decided: the trial is just for show, and even if he’s found innocent they’ll trump up another charge. From a parable in the classic 19th Century novel Max Havelaar by Multatuli (more in Dutch); said parable was itself inspired by a scene in Act IV of the German Enlightenment play “Nathan The Wise” by Lessing.

A more Pythonesque version:



He knows where Abraham found the mustard. (Hij went waar Abraham de mosterd gevonden heeft.) (1) He has the straight dope; (2) he knows what it’s all about. The “mosterd” is a corruption of the archaic Dutch word “mutsaard” for a pile of firewood (or shrub wood collected for the same purpose)—both of which appear in the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Gen.22:1-19).


Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 2, 2017

Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 2

The slightly more serious sequel to yesterday’s post.

Choosing eggs for your money. (Eieren voor je geld kiezen.) Choosing the best of a bad bunch; choosing the least unpalatable alternative. Compare French: choisir entre le mal et le pire.

Fitting a sleeve to something. (Een mouw aan iets passen.) Make something work; come up with a workaround for something.

Rowing with the oars you’ve got. (Roeien met de riemen die je hebt.) Making do with available resources; making the best of the situation.

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

That’s still standing in children’s shoes. (Dat staat nog in de kinderschoenen.) This is still in its infancy; that’s not yet ready for prime time; that [technology] is “for early adopters only”.

Childhood diseases. (Kinderziekten.) Metaphorically, “teething troubles” of a new technology or device.

Hanging something off the big bell. (Iets aan de grote klok hangen.) Shouting something from the rooftops, publicizing something all over. From the days when church bells were rung to announce great tidings or calamities.

Turning over every dime. (Elk dubbeltje omdraaien, kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being very frugal.

Biting quarters in two. (Kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being excessively frugal (even by alleged Dutch standards).

Hopping out of the dance. (De dans ontspringen.) Escaping in the nick of time.

He’s been hit by the mill. (Hij heeft een slag van de molen gehad.) He’s a few sandwiches short of a picknick/a few bytes short of a valid checksum; he’s addle-brained.

[Tastes] like a little angel peeing on my tongue. (Alsof een engeltje over mijn tong piest.) Tastes awesome (usually said of beverages).

Living like G-d in France. (Leven als G-d in Frankrijk.) Living carefree and in the lap of luxury.

Living on a big foot. (Leven op grote voet.) Living high on the hog.

Putting the flowers out. (De bloemetjes buitenzetten.) Go out celebrating.

Holding a hand over someone’s head. (De hand boven iemand’s hoofd houden.) Covering for somebody, keeping somebody as a protégé.

Breaking a lance for somebody. (Een lans voor iemand breken.) Going to bat for somebody, standing up for somebody. From medieval jousting tournaments, presumably.

Putting somebody in the little sun. (Iemand in het zonnetje zetten.) Singling someone out for public praise.

Can be glued with a wet finger (is met een natte vinger te lijmen). Is very gullible. “Lijmen” (to glue) is also used metaphorically for “to butter up”.

When the shepherd is astray, his sheep will wander. (Als de herder verdwaalt dolen de schapen.) When leadership is weak or indecisive…

We’ve been kosher-slaughtered. (We zijn gesjochten.) Our goose is cooked; we’re done; we’re f—ed. From Yiddish shoichet or shechter [Jewish ritual slaughterer]. I will dedicate a separate post to the many Yiddish-derived idioms in Dutch.

Getting a fresh nose. (Een frisse neus halen.) Going out for some fresh air.

Always mourning and marrying. (Altijd rouwen en trouwen.) Life always has good and bad times; we have to take the good with the bad.

Sucking something out of his thumb. (Iets uit zijn duim zuigen.) Making something up out of whole cloth; pulling something out of his behind.

Cat in the box. (Kat in ‘t bakkie.) Easy-peasy.

Like a penny whistle. (Als een fluitje van een cent.) (1) Easy-peasy; (2) “like a walk in the park” [compared to something more serious].

It runs like off a slate roof. (Het gaat van een leien dakje.) Everything is going smoothly. Conversely: Het gaat niet van een leien dakje: this ain’t easy.

What do I have hanging off my bike? (Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen.) What am I dealing with this time?

Needed like bread. (Broodnodig.) Highly necessary, crucial, essential. I remember a joke about some losing soccer team supposedly having hired two new Danish coaches: Høgnødig and Brødnødig.

Working oneself into nests. (Zich in nesten werken.) Getting oneself into trouble; getting caught up in (needless) complications. From what bird’s nests can do to the mechanics of a windmill.

Being well-beaked. (Goed gebekt zijn.) Being eloquent; having the gift of gab.

Too many notes in his tune (Teveel noten op zijn zang.) Making too many demands, too big for his britches.

When Easter falls on a Friday/When Easter and Pentecost fall on the same day/On St.-Juttemis [nonexistent].) (Als Pasen op een vrijdag valt/Als Pasen en Pinksteren samenvallen/Op Sint-Juttemis.) When Hell freezes over; never.

Getting Spanishly anxious. (Het Spaans benauwd krijgen.) From the Spanish occupation of the Lowlands in the 16th Century, culminating in the Eighty-Year War and the split between (Catholic) Flanders and the newly independent (Protestant) Netherlands.

The wages of the world are ingratitude. (Ondank is ‘s wereld’s loon.) Also: gratitude is a little flower that grows in few gardens. (Dankbaarheid is een bloemetje dat in weinig hoven bloeit.) Compare:

Posted by: New Class Traitor | April 1, 2017

Colorful Dutch idioms and metaphors, Part 1

In honor of April Fools Day, here is a post on some colorful and/or humorous idioms in the Dutch language. The Dutch sense of humor is very earthy — often venturing into the unprintable, but not always so. Being historically a nation of seafarers and merchants, as well as of farmers reclaiming land from the sea, nautical, agricultural, and trade metaphors often recur in idioms.

Note I am not making any of these up, despite the day: Rest assured even the drollest idioms below were still in common use as I was growing up, and most of them still are.


Animals and agriculture

Talking about little cows and calves. (Over koetjes en kalfjes praten): engaging in smalltalk.

The odd duck in the raft (De vreemde eend in de bijt.) The odd man out.

Now the monkey pops out of the sleeve. (Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.): now we find out what’s really going on; now they show their true colors.

We’ll wash that little pig. (We wassen dat varkentje wel.): We’ll take care of that.

Watching for the cat to come down from the tree. (De kat uit de boom kijken.) Waiting for the other party to make a move. From the behavior of a dog who’s chased a cat into a tree.

Pleasing somebody with a dead sparrow. (Iemand blij maken met een dode mus.) Placating somebody with a concession or benefit of no real value.

You can get rid of your egg here. (Hier kan je je ei kwijt.) Here you can speak freely, say what’s on your mind.

That one won’t lay him any wind eggs. (Dat zal hem geen windeieren leggen.) This will be a lucrative investment. “Wind eggs”, i.e. eggs with missing or defective shells, obviously cannot be gathered and sold.

Now my clog is breaking. (Nou breekt mijn klomp.) Now I’m completely stumped, now I really don’t get it.

Why are bananas bent? (Waarom zijn de bananen krom?) Metaphor for a pointless question nobody needs to know the answer to. Also: Why does a donkey have two long ears? (Waarom heeft een ezel twee lange oren?)


The best helmsmen are always ashore. (De beste stuurlui staan altijd aan wal.) Those who don’t do always know better than you; those who can’t, teach.

Fishing behind the dragnet. (Achter het net vissen.) Being on a wild goose chase; wasting futile efforts. Like trying to fish behind a trawled dragnet, where there would be no fish left.

This adds no sods to the levée/dike. (Dit zet geen zoden aan de dijk.) This doesn’t help any/doesn’t add anything/isn’t helpful. A large portion of Dutch landmass has been patiently reclaimed from the sea since the Middle Ages, and dikes as well as windmills were a central part of that.


Handing out the sheets. (De lakens uitdelen.) Being in charge. From medieval days, when textile manufacturing was a cottage industry.

He didn’t eat any of that cheese. (Daar heeft hij geen kaas van gegeten.) He doesn’t know jack about the subject.

Wanting ringside seats for a dime/to sit in the front row for a dime. (Voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rij willen zitten.) Demanding or expecting an unrealistically good deal.

Getting a cookie of your own dough. (Een koekje van eigen deeg krijgen.) Getting a dose of your own medicine.

It’s for the baker. (‘t Is voor de bakker.) That’s essentially done/taken care of. (When the kneaded dough is handed to the baker, most of the work has been done.)

Every little cheese has its little holes. (Elk kaasje heeft zijn gaatje.) Nobody/nothing is perfect.


Struggling like a devil in a holy water basin. (Zich weren als een duivel in een wijwatervat.) Resisting like mad.

The bullet went through the church. (De kogel is door de kerk.): the decision has been made, the parties are committed. Historically, there was a tacit agreement that churches were not fired upon in battle: when this did happen, it meant the belligerent was going for broke.


Disappearing like snow under the sun. (Verdwijnen als sneeuw voor de zon.) Metaphor for supplies, resources, or cash reserves being depleted rapidly.

Tall trees catch a lot of wind. (Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.) (1) Successful people generate a lot of envy. (2) Tall poppies stick out and catch flak.

For free, you get the sunrise. (Voor niets gaat de zon op.) TANSTAAFL — There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.




Posted by: New Class Traitor | March 20, 2017

RIP Chuck Berry, and a musicological note

If there is any one figure who truly deserves the title “father of rock’n roll”, it’s Chuck Berry — and even those who would give the title to Little Richard would have to concede Chuck is the musical patriarch of all rock’n roll guitar players. Which does not mean he is the only influence — progressive and hard rock players, especially, drew inspiration from Western classical music and jazz — but Chuck Berry licks can be heard in guitar players from AC/DC’s Angus Young to, yes, the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones.

Chuck joined the Great Gig In The Sky, but his legacy endures. In an article linked in Instapundit’s obituary, a musical point came up that made me go ‘aha’ and deserves some elaboration:

One of the brilliant things Keith did was that he found Johnnie Johnson. He was the incredible piano player on those Chuck Berry records, and he was driving a bus. He came in and he was the heart of the band, infused it with authenticity, brilliance and generosity. Chuck was there as he had inspired us all but, through the process, Chuck was thorny at best, and a nightmare at worst, while Johnnie was a saint. Keith had come to the realisation that, unlike most guitar rock’n’rollers, Chuck Berry’s music was different; it was in piano keys, not in guitar keys. When Keith saw how Johnnie worked, he realised that, probably, Johnnie had been part of most of the songwriting that Chuck Berry did. Like a musicologist, a lifelong aficionado and student of Chuck Berry’s, Keith was just talking about what he had heard. He made a discovery which was in the film.

What does he mean, “guitar keys” and “piano keys”?

Guitarists who write songs on their own  tend to gravitate to keys that have one or more open strings in the guitar tuning they are in, preferably on the tonic (“ground note”), and if the dominant is also an open string, better still. This isn’t just for ease of playing, by the way — but also for the extra resonance/”ringing” that open strings add.

In standard guitar tuning (EADGBE), that causes lots of rock songs to be written in E, A, or D, less so in G or B. A similar argument applies to bass players who write songs, BTW: Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris (bassist, band leader, and primary composer) definitely favors E, A, and D (both major and minor each), with a fondness for modulations (key changes) to keys like F# minor.

Guitarists are well aware of this, and some deliberately use alternate tunings (scordaturas, in classical-speak) as a compositional device. (This is the reason, BTW, why you see e.g. John Petrucci change guitars so many times during a Dream Theater concert: retuning live would just take up too much time.) Some guitarists use just a single alternate tuning mainly or exclusively: e.g. Keith Richards uses open-G tuning most of the time (xGDGBD, where the x indicates he doesn’t use the lowest string). Many metal bands tune one or more half-steps down for a darker sound: I don’t quite know who started the trend, but I do know Jimi Hendrix tuned a half-step flat on “Voodoo Chile”, and surely inspired others to do the same (such as his onetime roadie “Lemmy”, later frontman of Motorhead). A very common alternate tuning in alternative rock and metal is “drop D”, in which the bottom string of standard tuning is lowered a whole step — this allows for playing power chords (=root-fifth-octave) with a single finger, permitting rapid power chord motions that would be nearly impossible in standard tuning. Guess what: most classic songs of a band like Tool are in… D.

Okay, what does all that have to do with Chuck Berry and his pianist? Look at the keys of just two of Berry’s best-known classics: B flat (Johnny B. Goode, a tribute to his pianist Johnnie Johnson) and E flat (Roll Over Beethoven). These are (somewhat) awkward keys on a guitar in standard tuning, and most guitarists who play in standard won’t use them if they can help it, let alone start writing songs in them. But they do  work just fine for boogie-woogieing on a piano 🙂 Actually, most guitarists I know will play Johnny B. Goode in A (as Ted Nugent did in his tribute to Berry), although the most famous Roll Over Beethoven cover (that by The Beatles) of course preserves the original key.

Keith Richards actually went as far as to suggest Berry co-wrote his songs with pianist Johnnie Johnson, which led to a notorious fistfight between the two. However, one need not reach that far or “pitch” that strongly (no pun intended) — there is a much more benign possible explanation. Berry’s first steady gig had started as a last-minute replacement for the soloist in Johnnie Johnson’s jazz trio (after saxophonist Alvin Bennett had suffered a stroke) — and presumably Berry had learned to “fit in” with Johnnie’s pre-existing piano arrangements. Not coincidentally perhaps, Eb and Bb happen to be the “home keys” for alto and tenor saxophones, respectively….

As a final note, allow me to include this letter by Carl Sagan to Chuck Berry:


Enjoy the Great Gig, Chuck.


Posted by: New Class Traitor | March 13, 2017

It’s a Booknado!

And… it’s the new CLFA Booknado, with several new releases from my fellow CLFA authors.

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance


The March 2017 CLFA Booknado blasts into town on the wings of an epic nation-wide tempest! Howling winds of freedom sweep away the dull, the didactic, and the formulaic offerings from Big Publishing. Read freely! Click on any book cover image below to learn about new releases and special low-price and free promotions*:


Lost Children (The Minivandians Book 3) by Tom Rogneby
Ruarin and DaddyBear continue their journey home after surviving the dark of winter in the North. Old friends are there to help them, but tragedy and mystery await them in an ancient city.

Recon: A War to the Knife by Rick Partlow
Tyler Callas is the pampered heir of a high-level Corporate Council executive, groomed from birth to take a seat beside her as a member of the ruling class of the Commonwealth society. But the bloody war with the alien Tahni has hit close to home and Tyler wants to join…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | March 4, 2017

First or third person? To I or not to I?

One of the questions a beginning writer struggles with is: which person to write?

It’s also a subject that some writers are very passionate about. My Beautiful But Evil Space Mistress™, for instance, describes how she was taught one can only write “real literature” in the third person — and in response embraced first-person with a vengeance. (She does, however, state pros and cons in her article.)

You will have people arguing that first-person is only for beginners, because it looks easy. (“Play bass, because it’s the easiest instrument” comes to mind — not so, if you want to play like Geddy Lee, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Jack Bruce, or any other bass virtuoso.) On the other hand, others argue third person is easier for a beginning writer, as you’re not tied to a single character’s POV (point of view, perspective) and there’s the largest variety of classic examples to ‘learn from by osmosis’.

Personally, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The choice between third person and first person reminds me a bit of learning English vs. learning a “strong grammar” language like German, Russian, or Hebrew. English is much easier to learn than those, but paradoxically more difficult to master. As a beginning writer, I wrote my debut novel, On Different Strings, in third person omniscient because I basically couldn’t imagine how to tell this tale otherwise.

First, a couple more definitions:

  • grammatical person (which I prefer over the ambiguous ‘viewpoint’) refers to whether one writes as “I”, “He”/”She”, or (quite rare) “You”.
  • POV (point of view) is exactly that, POV. True, in first person you substantially have just one POV, except by stratagems such as included letters, reports, … or a telepathic protagonist. But in third person, the ‘camera’ can switch angles many times in a book. Doing so too abruptly may be disorienting, hence the oft-quoted rule: ‘no more than one POV per scene’.
  • as ‘voice‘ I would define the idiolect — the specific way of speaking — of each character, as well as (in third person) of the narrator. If one does not give them distinct voices, everything will merge into one ‘glop’.

First-person definitely complicates plotting and character description — I see it almost as a form of constrained writing. On the other hand, you do not have to worry about the mechanics of “proper” viewpoint switching as there is none. Also, it simplifies character “voicing”  — the narrator and the viewpoint character are one and the same. Also, it becomes more natural to hold back information from the reader and not give the plot away.

The first time I wrote anything in first person — which was The Tenth Righteous Man for the CLFA Anthology “Freedom’s Light” (the story appears in full in the “Free Preview” of the book on Amazon) — the people I sent it to all remarked on how “immediate” the writing was. (That it was based on truly mind-boggling actual events did not hurt.) Note that I did not write in a chatty contemporary American idiom: the character spoke in my head in his mother tongue, with the formality befitting his social status, and I tried to capture the cadence of that speech in the English prose I wrote.

Encouraged by the response, I wrote the psychological romance Winter Into Spring likewise in first person, but now in the American idiom of its Midwestern viewpoint character. Unlike in The Tenth Righteous Man, where substantially only a single ‘voice’ is heard, the second protagonist and their antagonist needed distinct speaking voices—the limited parts of the supporting characters less so.

In third person, as already mentioned, you can “switch camera angles”, you can get in multiple character’s heads (which is only possible in first person if the protagonist is a telepath), and you must have a distinctive narrator voice aside from the character voices. The narrator voice seems like a natural outlet for those who like to write more formal, literary language — this is a bug to some who want to read/write a whole book  ‘written the way people talk’, and a feature to the rest of us. In the case of On Different Strings, since one of the two protagonists is an academic of upper-class British background with a neo-Victorian outlook on life, his voice is the most formal and literary in the book, while the narration is more informal, though less so than the plain speech of his best friend and eventual soulmate, a rural Texan woman with limited education but immense musical talent.

Little did I know there’s more than one kind of ‘third person’. Pat Wrede distinguishes between three subtypes, for which I will quote her figurative descriptions (highlights mine):

  1. Tight third person (also known as intimate third-person, third-person-personal, limited third person, third person subjective, etc.) This is the viewpoint where the writer sticks with a single viewpoint character, providing his/her thoughts and emotions directly. The only way for the reader to find out the other characters’ emotions is for the viewpoint character to guess or infer them from what those characters say and do.
    [Wikipedia uses the term “third person subjective” for alternating single viewpoint characters.]

  2. Camera-eye third person (also known as third-person objective, observer-in-the-corner, third-person-impersonal, fly-on-the-wall, third person indirect, camera-on-the-shoulder, [third person dramatic], etc.). In camera-eye third person, the narrator does not give the reader anyone’s thoughts or emotions. The writer just describes expressions and actions, provides dialog and tone of voice – the stuff that a camera or observer could see, and nothing more. Sometimes the writer’s “camera” sits on one particular viewpoint character’s shoulder; sometimes it’s further away, or changes focus; but it always shows only what is happening from the outside.

  3. Third person omniscient [a.k.a. “all-knowing narrator”, a.k.a. just “omniscient” — what one might irreverently call “G-d perspective”, Ed.], in which the narrator is an invisible character who knows everything that has ever happened or will ever happen and everything that anyone is thinking or feeling, and who can report as much or as little of this as seems appropriate.

In case this wasn’t obvious, most classic works of literature were historically written in third person omniscient. And in fact it is still widely used to great effect. But yes, there is intrinsically a bit more ‘distance’ from the characters — which may be a bug or a feature, depending.

And then there’s alternating persons. One variant, alternating first person, is fairly common in genre romances: the narrator voice switches back and forth between the two sides of the relationship, usually at chapter breaks or at most at scene breaks. Some indication is needed to see which character’s side of the tale we are told: simply putting their name in italics atop the chapter/scene seems to work reasonably well.

Rarer, and to many readers disorienting, is alternation between first persons and a third-person narrator. I have seen this used to great effect, but it strikes me as the literary equivalent of a Jack Russell Terrier (or its American cousin, the Rat Terrier): I couldn’t imagine a better dog than mine, but they are not for first-time dog owners.

There are additional modes of telling a story. A fairly old one is the epistolary novel, which first became popular in the 18th century — Dangerous Liaisons and The Sorrows of Young Werther come to mind. The tale is told through a sequence of letters, documents, newspaper articles… sometimes interspersed with small connecting passages. In a contemporary or futuristic novel, Email messages, blog posts, instant messaging chats,… can be used in a similar fashion. In fact, limited inclusion of epistolary material can greatly enrich a first-person or third-person tale: consider, for instance, the quotes from the fictional Encyclopedia Galactica in Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, or the ‘book within a book’ The Theory And Practice Of Oligarchic Collectivism  inside Orwell’s immortal Nineteen Eighty-Four.

At the end of the day, of course, there is no single answer: whatever gets the tale told most compellingly works.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | March 1, 2017

The Great Realignment by Nitay Arbel

[Another guest post at Sarah Hoyt’s place]

According To Hoyt

*Nitay had sent me this post before I did yesterday’s, and he thought it had been rendered obsolete by yesterday’s post.  I think rather, it is a good complementary post, showing I’m not air-dreaming. The symptoms are there.*

The Great Realignment  by Nitay Arbel

“Masgramondou” shared a most interesting article: about Theresa May in the UK, about whom he is about to post on his blog


In its very opening sentence, the article strikes a chord that resonates much more broadly than the UK:

Forget left and right — the new divide in politics is between nationalists and globalists. Donald Trump’s[..] nationalist rhetoric on everything from trade to global security enabled him to flip traditionally Democratic, blue-collar states and so to defeat that personification of the post-war global order, Hillary Clinton.

The presidential election in France is being fought on these lines, too. Marine Le…

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