Friday, December 30, 2011

Popular Culture as Art as Culture as Art as Culture

There has to be a beginning for things. The first parody was of something known. Parody and Satire exist to spoof, mock or make points by understanding the subject well. If you don't know where something comes from, or don't know what is being parodied, the parody has failed.

American Gothic by Grant Wood is an American icon. We see it for how staid and solid and boring life can be, at the same time wondering why people devote a lifetime to the work... And it is because it is a life, not a job.

Here are a number of uses of American Gothic:

In each case something was being said by posing the characters in such a way. To mock the civility of the original, to parody the setting using popular stars, to pose characters in such a way as to say, here is our version of American Gothic.

(The bottom piece is mine, and I was tempted to make it a political comment, but preferred to just show the juxtapositions of modernity and the past with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of the Year, People gone, New paths begin

Thank you for reading this blog, for this year and past years. Even if you have only stopped in once or twice, I appreciate the time you've taken to read the content of this blog. There have been a number of people who have posted here and are no longer posting, we've friends here even die, R.I.P. Alan Coil, so with it being the end of the year I am just going to remark briefly about life, and passings.

Many people die every single year, and 2011 was of course no different. Some people dying are celebrities, famous, talented, creative, smart, others lived their lives in obscurity and a lack of fame, but lived every bit as good lives as the wealthy or famous, the talented or elite. We are all given a life, whatever else that comes with, and some of us are lucky, blessed, able, and others are not.

The two people who I mourned the most in passing were Amy Winehouse and Elizabeth Taylor. In the case of Amy Winehouse, some people believe that she dug her own grave, with various disorders and addictions. But most people I know who said that haven't an ounce of the vast ocean of talent Amy Winehouse had. I can't judge her for his mistakes, for her addictions... I can only listen to her music, and be amazed by the lush of her voice. I think creative forces in people sometimes work their way out in addictions, and self abuse. Amy Winehouse had great talent, but great sorrow. I miss what she'd have done if she'd lived.

Elizabeth Taylor lived an incredibly full life, she was famous, wealthy, beautiful, bright, and she took an effort, when seeing her male friends dying of mysterious disease to go forward and make A.I.D.S. research and awareness her top priority. Yeah, she was rich and famous and it didn't hurt her and she didn't give up a life of leisure, but she took the lives she loved and made them into a memory bracelet and took that to the US Congress and spoke there. I loved her, both as an actress, and passionate human being.

Obviously there are tragedies that mark this page, many die by their own deeds, addictions, foolishness, and for that we should be angry. We should mourn them for our loss, and wish they'd made better decisions, so that they'd still be here.

Along with the cherished and mourned, there are people who earned the scorn of humanity by their terrorist agendas, their cruel ways, and their choices to harm others. The world has a name for these people...


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dune: Part 9: Nexus

Okay, we're in the home stretch, gang! Four more chapters to go! Paul has cemented his leadership of the Fremen tribes and has publicly declared himself as rightful ruler of Arrakis. He's been re-united with his friend and one of his father's most trusted advisers. Off-stage, the situation in the Harkonnen-held cities are reaching a crisis as the Baron puts more pressure on his nephew Rabban and Rabban responds by further oppressing the people. Now the Emperor himself has decided to take a personal interest in Arrakis. And everything is about to collide with the great-great grandmother of all sandstorms.

Chani has been summoned from the camps in the south to the northern camp where Paul and his fighters have made their base. But Paul does not meet her; instead his mother, Jessica engages her in annoying chit-chat. It takes a bit of social pleasantries and exposition for Jessica to admit that Paul wasn't the one who summoned her. Paul has been in a coma for the past three weeks.

Jessica can sense that he is still alive, but the signs are so slight that only her Bene Gesserit training, (and perhaps her rapport with her son) can detect them. She fears that he has been poisoned by enemies, but despite her own heightened awareness, she cannot detect any trace of poison within him. She needs Chani's help.

Chani guesses the truth: that Paul has taken some of the raw, unconverted Water of Life; the concentrated essence of the spice-drug produced by a drowned sandworm used to give Reverend Mothers their enhanced perceptions. Why didn't Jessica realize this herself? Perhaps as his lover and companion, Chani was closer to Paul than his mother could be. I think Paul probably shared more about his concerns and apprehensions regarding his prescience with Chani than he did with his mother.

Paul awakens from his trance a transformed man. He is most definitely the Kwisatz Haderach, the one who can be many places at once which the B.G. has spent so many generations trying to produce. He enters a mental rapport with his mother and has her take him to that place within which the Reverend Mother Mohiam spoke of back when he underwent the Gom Jabbar, the place in human memory where women cannot go. And here, once again, we get a little of Herbert's ideas on the nature of and differences between Men and Women.

"There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place with himself where the taking force dwells, but it's almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed."

"And you, my son," Jessica asked, "are you one who gives or one who takes?"

"I'm at the fulcrum," he said. "I cannot give without taking and I cannot take without [taking]."

Paul has seen many things in his psychic journeys; not just the future, but the present. All of his enemies have converged on Arrakis: the Baron Harkonnen; the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV; the Emperor's Truthsayer, Reverend Mother Mohiam; Feyd-Rautha, the Baron's nephew and heir; and representatives of the Spacing Guild, which uses the spice to calculate courses through hyperspace. The Guild's spice use gives them enough prescience to know that something big is coming up and it scares the heck out of them.

There are two different ways of looking at the idea of Changing the Future. One is the idea that You Can't Fight Fate; that no matter how you try to alter a pre-destined future, events will force you to keep your Appointment in Samara. The other is the Butterfly Effect idea; that small changes will multiply as they propagate through time and the butterfly flapping it's wings in the Amazon indirectly causes a hurricane off the Carolinas, or the time travelling hunter treading on another butterfly in the Mesozoic Era results in a future where Sarah Palin is president.

For much of Dune, Herbert seems to lean towards the former theory, as we see Paul struggling to avoid the jihad his visions show him. But he also describes nexus points where lines of probability converge and anything might happen. One of these is coming up, and it's a big one. Paul has decided that there is a tide in the affairs of men -- even on planets with no oceans -- and that the time has come to seize it.

Paul gathers his forces to plan an attack on Arrakeen, where the Emperor has landed with several legions of Sardaukar. A humongous sandstorm is approaching, and Paul plans to use atomic weapons to blast a hole in the Shield Wall, a large geological feature that shelters Arrakeen and the other communities of the northern basin from the storms. Use of atomics is prohibited by the Great Convention that all the noble families adhere to, but Paul takes this step because (A) he is technically using them against a geological feature and not people, and (B) nobody is going to want to destroy Arrakis (the normal punishment for violating the Great Convention) because it is the source of spice. And so Paul nukes the Shield Wall and leads his army into the city, riding on giant worms! How's that for epic?

But even as Paul's forces strike, he receives a message from Sietch Tabr, where the women and children are being kept. An Imperial raiding party has attacked the sanctuary, carrying off Paul's sister Alia, and killing his infant son.

The Emperor has set up a huge pavilion to house himself, his five legions of Sardaukar, and his smaller legion of courtiers and hangers-on. He has come to Arrakis to see first-hand what a mess the Harkonnens have made of the planet, and to rub the Baron's nose in it. The Baron is here, cringing and grovelling for a change. He pleads that he knows nothing of any intrigue going on here, and that as far as he knows the Fremen are an insignificant rabble. The Emperor knows better; and as Exhibit A brings forth Alia.

"Unfortunately," the Emperor said, "I only sent in five troop carriers with a light attack force to pick up prisoners for questioning. We barely got away with three prisoners and one carrier. Mind you, Baron, my Sardaukar were almost overwhelmed by a force composed mostly of women, children, and old men. This child here was in command of one of the attacking groups... Mark that, my dear Baron: Sardaukar forced to retreat in confusion from women and children and old men!"

For once, the Baron has absolutely no control over the situation he's in. "Make him afraid some more, Shaddam," Alia giggles. It's kind of cute, in a twisted way, to see the Emperor browbeating the cowering Baron while dandling the precocious toddler Alia on his knee.

The Reverend Mother does not find Alia cute. "That child is an abomination! ...She's in my mind, She's like the ones before me, the ones who gave me my memories. She stands in my mind! She cannot be there, but she is!"

It is now that the attack occurs. Paul's forces quickly overwhelm the Emperor's defenses and the Imperial ships disabled. In the confusion, Alia runs to the Baron and stabs him with a poisoned needle. "I'm sorry, Grandfather," she says; "You've met the Atreides gom jabbar." The Emperor and his entourage retreat into the safety of his ship.

Once again, Paul occupies the palace in Arrakeen where his father had once taken residence. "This place is a symbol. Rabban lived here. By occupying this place I seal my victory for all to understand." But his victory is a bitter one. He has lost his son, and as he looks around him he see that he has lost more: Stilgar, who he once regarded as an ally and a friend, now looks on him with awe and reverence; and Paul feels even more keenly his isolation from the rest of his world.

The Emperor and his court are brought before him. Paul wishes to negotiate with his enemies. Among the entourage, Paul sees a familiar face: his old tutor Thufir Hawat. He has had a vision of the Emperor commanding Hawat to "kill this upstart duke." Paul acts boldly, with the bravura his father once spoke of, and offers the old mentat a choice that has nothing to do with logic and data. " payment for your years of service to my family you may now ask anything you wish of me. Anything at all. Do you need my life now, Thufir? It is yours." He offers himself to the old assassin.

This is Thufir's crowning moment of awesome. He is near death anyway, dying of the Baron's residual poison. He turns to face the Emperor in defiance: "See, Majesty? ... Did you think that I who've given my life to service of the Atreides woud give them less now?"

Paul next turns his attention to the Guildsmen who are present and informs them that they are to take orders from him. The Spacing Guild has long been used to being the ones who give orders, due to their monopoly on space travel; but to navigate through space, they need the spice, and Paul informs them that unless they submit to his authority, he will destroy all the spice on the planet. He can do it too; the Fremen knowledge of the Arrakis ecology has given him a method that will set off a chain reaction through the planet's ecosystem. "He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it." This is the possible future that terrifies the Guild. They submit.

The Reverend Mother Mohiam now sees that Paul is indeed the Kwisatz Haderach, and he rubs her nose in it too. All their labor to produce him and they will get no benefit for he will never serve their purposes. Even Jessica has turned her back on her old order.

Then comes the actual negotiation. "Majesty, we both now the way out of our difficulty," Paul says. The Emperor has no male heirs, but several marriageable daughters. This was how the Bene Gesserit intended it, but they didn't foresee this possibility. The Emperor does not like the idea of passing on his throne to desert upstart.

Chani also feels uncomfortable about the situation. After all, Paul has never actually married her. This sort of arranged political marriage is exactly what Jessica had been hoping for him. Paul reassures her. "Leave? You'll never again leave my side... That which binds us cannot be loosed. Now watch these matters closely for I wish to seen this room later through your wisdom." Paul regards her not only as a lover and a soul-mate, but also for her perception and her understanding.

But there's one last loose end to be accounted for before the marriage business: the matter of the Vendetta. Feyd is among the Emperor's group and he demands a duel. Paul has never seen Feyd in any of his prophetic visions; once again, he is entering a blind spot. He could easily leave Feyd for Gurney or one of his lieutenants to kill, but honor -- both Atreides and Fremen -- demands that he does it himself. He has ceased trying to fight his destiny; he throws himself into his fate with grim abandon.

The duel has echos of Feyd's earlier fight on his birthday; once again, there is a poisoned blade and dirty tricks; once again one of the combatants has been primed with a trigger phrase that can end the fight, although Paul refuses this advantage. Paul kills Feyd and ends the feud between their houses.

The Emperor tries one last gambit. He signals his friend, Count Fenring, to finish Paul off as he is tired from the fight. Paul recognizes Fenring as another of the B.G.'s genetic experiments, one who also might have been the Kwisatz Haderach. A moment of silent understanding at their strange, shared brotherhood passes between the two men. Fenring refuses his emperor's command.

By this time, the Emperor's daughter, Princess Irulan, (yes, that Princess Irulan), is getting antsy. She keeps tugging at his sleeve and saying Pleeeeze Daddy, won't you let me be a bargaining chip? In exchange for the Imperial throne, Paul will allow Shaddam to keep his throne on Salusus Secundus, promising to make the prison planet "a garden world, full of gentle things." The Emperor gets the point.

Jessica has come to regret her molding and shaping of her son and has overcome her hostility towards Chani. A bit earlier, (and now I can't find the spot), she told Paul to forget about marriageability to another noble house and to wed his desert girl if it made him happy. Now she once again warns him not to make the same mistake she and Leto made. Paul understands. He has decided his course and what must be done to accomplish it; but he also assures Chani again that she is the only one he will love:

"I swear to you now... that you'll need no title. That woman over there will be my wife and you but a concubine because this is a political thing and we must weld peace out of this moment, enlist the Great Houses of the Landsraad. We must obey the forms. Yet that princess shall have no more of me than my name. No child of mine nor touch nor softness of glance, nor instant of desire."

Jessica underscores the truth of this: "...that princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine... While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine -- history will call us wives."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Presenting: The Widow

A mixture of darkness and hope, The Widow has created a sound that is unique, moving, and disturbing. I recommend their music, for the sound, the lyrics, and the emotional power of the truths they present.

“Through Lust and Tragedy We Become” by the Widow

From: IA, United States
Rock, Ambient , Screamo

The Widow formed in the spring of 2009 and quickly began writing. After over a year of writing the band began recording their debut album "Through Lust And Tragedy We Become" in May of 2010. They recorded from May of '10 to April of 2011 in Dan Bartlett's basement. Their record was mixed at Radiostar Studio's in Weed, CA by Rich Veltrop. The record was released June 4th of 2011.

"Through Lust And Tragedy We Become" is a mixture of synth driven chorus' and melodic screamo.

Check out The Widow on Myspace

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The Widow
Photo by Dave Poyzer

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dune: Part 8: Wormrider

In our last Machievellian episode, we got to enjoy some of the intrigues going on among Those Wacky Harkonnens; and Jessica underwent the ritual transforming her into a Reverend Mother. Now we are hurtling towards the end game, the Nexus where possible futures come together. Will Paul be able to prevent the Jihad?

In the past two years, Paul Atreides has undergone many rites of passage: formal tests, like the Gom Jabbar; life thresholds, like the death of his father; deadly challenges, like his duel with Jamis.

Now, he crouches among the sand dunes waiting for another rite of passage. Although he has been accepted into the Fremen tribe, and is respected as a skilled fighter and war leader, and revered by many as the Lisan Al-Gib, the "Voice from Beyond" of prophecy; he cannot be considered a full Fremen until he has Ridden a Worm.

(And no, the gay implications of that line did not occur to me until I typed it just now.)

As he waits, he thinks back on some of his experiences among the Fremen of Stilgar's tribe. He is joined now to Liet's daughter Chani, and have had a son together, Leto II. Jessica still balks at the idea of Chani being her son's wife though; she worries that his being married to a "desert girl" might hurt any future political ambitons. Paul has a sister now too: Alia, concieved shortly before his father's death, and altered into something not quite normal by the Waters of Life ritual their mother partook of while Alia was in her womb. Sometimes Paul has difficulty keeping track which of his memories have actually happened and which are future events. Prescience can be a pain sometimes. Especially when there are things it doesn't show you. Like how this day is going to go.

Meanwhile, back at the stiech, Jessica awaits word of her son's test and deals with more immediate concerns. The women of the Fremen communtiy are becoming more and more freaked out by the unearthly child, Alia. Thanks to her pre-natal exposure to the Waters of Life and her involuntary participation in the mental joining of that ritual, Alia was born with not just the memories of an adult, but the memories of every Reverend Mother of the tribe going back to who-knows-when. Preccocious does not begin to describe her. And some of the Fremen whisper that she is a demon.

Jessica has a talk about this with Alia and Harah, the wife of Jamis who Paul kept as a servant and who has become somthing of a nanny to the infant Alia. They agree that Harah will speak for Alia and explain her to the others. "I will tell them the truth... I will tell them that Alia only pretends to be a little girl, that she has never been a little girl." Alia shares with her mother and with Harah how the experience of her awakening seemed from her point of view.

But Harah and Jessica anticipate another problem as well. As Paul has gained status in the tribe, some of the younger warriors have been wondering when he was going to challenge Stilgar for the tribe's leadership. The traditional way to do this, of course, is with a duel to the death. The leadership question has been postponed so far because until today Paul wasn't a sandrider and a full-fledged Fremen. If Paul survives this test, he won't be able to put off the question any longer.

Paul does pass the test; he successfully calls, catches and mounts a sandworm. The description of how one actually does this to a creature large enough to swallow the Sydney Opera House is neatly and plausibly described. By Fremen tradition, the first time Sandrider always gets to choose where the gang goes that day. Paul wants to go to the southern settlements where the Fremen's secret ecological experiments have been taking place and where the women and children have been moved for safety. Stilgar wants Paul to lead the men on another raid against the Harkonnens. This disagreement threatens to flare into an argument, when a smuggler's aircraft appears on the horizon.

For years, smugglers have been doing illegal hit-and-run mining operations behind the backs of the ruling authorities. With the Harkonnens increasing their patrols, the smugglers have been forced to move into Fremen territory. Paul has the Fremen set up a trap to ambush the smugglers and discovers that they are being led by his old friend Gurney Halleck. The reunion is a happy one, but not without some tensions. For one thing, the Fremen managed to kill half of the smuggler's crew before Paul and Gurney put a stop to the fighting; for another, there are Sadaukar infiltrators in the crew hoping to find and kill Muad'Dib, (they don't); and more imporantly, Stilgar needs convincing that Gurney is reliable.

Paul decides to have things out with Stilgar over the leadership question. "Do you think I wish to cut off my right arm?" he asks; "Do you think I want to deprive myself or the tribe of your wisdom and strength?" The traditional way of transitioning power within the tribe needs to bow to the necessity of the moment. Stilgar accepts the wisdom of this, but now the tribe needs to be convinced as well.

Paul, Stilgar and Jessica arrange for a little political theater to persuade the rest of the tribe. Paul makes his case and formally claims himself the rightful ruler of Arrakis. He accepts Stilgar's fealty, meaning that Stilgar remains leader of the tribe without anybody losing face, and Paul becomes Duke, (something he technically was already; but no one was recognizing it).

It's just when he thinks he has everything taken care of when he comes in on Gurney trying to kill his mother.

Gurney still thinks that Jessica was the one who betrayed Duke Leto and the desire for revenge has been the one thing keeping him going these past couple years among the smugglers. Paul is able to talk him down and persuade him of his mother's innocence; but it is a tense moment. "You speak of pride in my father's friendship! Didn't you learn the difference between Harkonnen and Atreides so that you could smell a Harkonnen trick by the stink they left on it? Didn't you learn that Atreides loyalty is bought with love while the Harkonnen coin is hate? Couldn't you see through to the very nature of this betrayal?"

Overwhlemed by what he has almost done, Gurney begs Paul to kill him. "Must I go through this with every man I need?" Paul grumbles. Jessica makes peace. "You thought you were doing a thing for Leto... and for this I honor you... Let us think of this as a misunderstanding among old friends. It's over and we can be thankful we'll never again have that sort of misunderstanding between us." Later on in the series, we find that Jessica and Gurney have become lovers. Reading this scene, we are not surprised.

Paul has one more rite of passage to undergo. He has forseen none of the crises that have occurred today. He needs a clearer vision of the future. He decides to take the Waters of Life; the Truthsayer's drug that the Reverend Mother spoke of way back in the first chapter, that no male has taken and survived.

NEXT: At Death's Door; the Emperor comes to Arrakis; the Atreides Gom Jabbar; and the title fight we've all been waiting for, Paul vs. Feyd! The Nexus is coming!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dune: Part 7: Meanwhile on Giedi Prime/The Waters of Life

As last we saw, Paul and Jessica have been accepted into Stilgar's Fremen tribe. Now let's check in on what's going on with those wacky Harkonnens!

It's the birthday of young Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the Baron's nephew and heir presumptive, and he is celebrating in the traditional Harkonnen fashion: by killing something. One of Feyd's hobbies is participating in gladiatorial combat -- all carefully arranged, of course, to eliminate any actual risk to himself. But this time the slave he is to fight has not been drugged as is usual, and comes very close to killing Feyd by seizing the na-Baron's poisoned dagger and stabbing him with it. Good thing Feyd took the precaution of poisoning the other blade, the one traditionally left untainted, instead. And the mental conditioning which caused the slave to go limp when Feyd uttered a trigger word helped too.

The whole thing was set up by Hawat, who is now the Baron's mentat, but who is also advising Feyd for his own purposes. By vanquishing a deadly opponent despite apparent treachery, and by his magnanimous treatment of his dead foe, Feyd has won a good deal of popularity. He also has given future enemies whom he might want to intimidate something to think about. And, most immediately, he has discredited the Harkonnen slavemaster who will take the blame, giving Feyd the opportunity to place his own candidate in the position.

Here we see Feyd at his best. He does have some good qualities. Besides being handsome and athletic, he has courage and skill. He is capable of cultivating the brauvara Duke Leto spoke of in an earlier chapter. Count Fenring and his wife, observing the combat, note his potential and lament how he could have turned out if raised, say, under the Atreides code rather the Harkonnens. In many ways, Feyd is an analogue to Paul; his story runs parallel to Paul's and in fact the Bene Gesserit. originally intended that Lady Jessica bear a daughter so that she could be married to the young Harkonnen. It didn't work out that way.

Count and Lady Fenring are I think the most interesting minor characters in Dune. The Count is a close friend of the Emperor, and serves as the Emperor's eyes and ears as well as being his hatchet man. A killer with the manners of a rabbit, is how the Baron describes him, and the Count's foppish, insinuating manners mask a stiletto-keen mind. But what I find most interesting about him is the relationship he has with his wife, Lady Margot Fenring. We had mention of her in an earlier chapter where Jessica recieved a letter from her. The Count and his Lady were formerly the Emperor's unofficial representatives on Arrakis during the Harkonnen's rule and they resided in the palace Duke Leto chose for his own. Like Jessica, Lady Fenring is a Bene Gesserit.

But although the Count and his Lady are essentially agents working for different patrons, (the Emperor and the B.G., respectively), they work together as partners; respecting each other's work and even comparing notes.

The Count is visiting the Baron to tie up some of the loose ends of the Arrakis situation. The Emperor is not at all happy with the way some of the things ended up. As the two exchange pleasantly veiled threats, the Baron off-handedly mentions that he is considering using Arrakis as a prison planet, similar to what the Emperor has done on the planet Salsus Secondus. The Baron is puzzled as to why the Count seems so interested in this. The reader, however, will recall Duke Leto's theory that the Emperor used the harsh conditions on his prison planet to train his elite Sardaukar troops and that the conditions on Arrakis might have done the same to the Fremen. And we have seen that the Fremen are as good or better than the Sardaukar in battle. The Sardaukar really hate the Fremen.

Lady Fenring's mission is to investigate Feyd and to ensure that the B.G. doesn't lose his genetic material. She won't find it difficult to seduce him; Feyd is a horny adolescent, after all. He shares the Harkonnen self-centered hedonism, and has already expressed an unseemly interest in Lady Fenring. While she's at it, she'll perform a little discreet Bene Gesserit mental programming on him while he's having his fun with her. After all, you never can tell when something like this might come in handy. No wonder the Baron is so paranoid about the B.G.'s.

We return then to Stilgar's tribe in Sietch Tabr. The Sardaukar patrols have been coming too close to the sietch, and so preparations are being made to relocate. Paul is introduced to something else he has inherited from Jamis: the man's wife, Harah. Although Paul does not wish to marry her, the woman -- and her two sons -- are his responsibility. Through Harah we get to see a few glimpses of the Fremen's home life.

The Fremen's impending move has precipitated matters for Jessica as well. The tribe's priestess, their Reverend Mother, is too old to make a long journey, and so Jessica has been asked to take over as Reverend Mother right away. She is apprehensive about this, but she sees it an a necessary step to cement her place in the Fremen community.

From here, the chapter gets psychedelic. The ritual involves partaking of the "Waters of Life", secretions of a small sandworm that has been drowned, that takes the consciousness-expanding qualities of the spice and cranks it up to Eleven. It is one of the awareness drugs the Bene Gesserit uses to produce its own Reverned Mothers. It is also, Jessica realizes too late, a deadly poison; but by ingesting it she also gains the ability to psychically alter the drugs chemical structure to make it harmless.

She also makes mental contact with the tribe's old Reverend Mother, who chides her for the risk she has taken. Jessica is pregnant; something only she and Paul know; and the drug will have an unknown effect on the unborn child. That's too late to be helped now; the Reverend Mother is dying and in her death transfers all her memories into Jessica's mind; including the memories of all the Reverend Mothers of the tribe before her for who knows how many generations. Jessica is now the living repository of the tribe's experiences.

And so is her still-embryonic daughter. Jessica must reach out to her as well and try to cushion the unbelievably brutal shock of all those lives downloaded into that yet unformed mind. This will have consequences.

Fast forward.

Two years have passed. Feyd is no longer the bratty adolescent showing off in the arena; he's now a bratty adult who's getting tired of waiting for his uncle to kick the bucket. And so he's taken matters into his own hand.

The Baron has just avoided an assassination attempt by Feyd. The impetuous youth arranged to have a poisoned needle hidden on the body of the latest boy-toy sent to his uncle's bedroom. It might have worked too if Hawat hadn't warned the Baron of the plot. The Baron has some stern words for his nephew. He has big plans for Feyd -- bigger even than his plan to have Feyd replace his brother Rabban as governor of Arrakis -- and he certainly doesn't want Feyd to muck things up. Through a skillful blend of promises and threats, he brings Feyd around to a sullen acceptance of the situation... for now.

Feyd realizes that Hawat has been playing him and his uncle against each other. He warns his uncle of the mentat's danger, but the Baron believes he has Hawat under control. He thinks that by focusing Hawat's energies against the Emperor, the mentat won't be plotting against him. And he believes that the residual poison makes Hawat dependent on him, rendering him harmless.

"In a way, it's like the arena," Feyd muses. "Feints within feints within feints." That theme of plans within plans is repeated often in the series.

In the next chapter, Hawat has a meeting with the Baron to discuss the Arrakis situation, which the Baron thinks is under control. The Baron has always dismissed the Fremen as being merely a handful of desert scum, not worthy even of contempt. Hawat knows better. He patiently lays out the evidence in front of the Baron of the Fremen's numbers, of their deadly fighting ability as evidenced by statistics of battle casualties, and of his conclusion that the Fremen are equal to or better than the Emperor's elite Sadaurkar.

Here is where the Baron sheepishly admits mentioning to Count Fenring something about making Arrakis a second Salusa Secundus. Hawat loses his temper. As a mentat, he lives by information, and this small piece of information changes everything. The Emperor would have assumed, from the Baron's remark, that Harkonnen was trying to build an elite fighting force against him and has had two years now to take counter-measures. Hawat immediately takes command of the situation and begins devising counter-counter-measures.

Here, in these Harkonnen chapters, we finally see Hawat in his element. In the earlier chapters, he seemed impotent; out-maneuvered by the Harkonnen plots and blinded by his mistaken suspicions of Jessica; but here we get a glimpse of the old plot-meister at work. In the past two years under the Baron's service he has been making himself indispensable. If he is dependent upon the Baron for the antidote to the residual poison, the Baron has become dependent upon him as well. Hawat and the Baron each knows that he is being used by the other; but the Baron's grasp on the situation is not nearly as good as he thinks it is.

NEXT TIME: Paul catches a worm; we meet his creepy baby sister; and we're re-united with an old friend, whom Paul might have to kill.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


In the ongoing attempt here to link media with real life events, and apply that, December 7, 2011 is a 70th anniversary of an event, Pearl Harbor, that forever changed America. Changed not for the lives lost or ships sunk, but for the future of how the USA would act upon the world stage.

Watch a movie, read a book, I've linked a poem, but remember the event, and then apply how many ways the world as a whole change by the US becoming involved in world affairs, instead of sheltering itself in isolation.