Archive | December, 2016

Immigration and Liberty Symposium

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The Molinari Society will be holding its annual Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, in Baltimore, January 4-7, 2017. Here’s the current schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium: Libertarianism and Refugees
GFC. Thursday, 5 January 2017, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.

James P. Sterba (University of Notre Dame), “Libertarianism and the Rights of Refugees
Jan Narveson (University of Waterloo, Ontario), “Accommodating Refugees and Respecting Liberty

Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate in person, but my comments will be read out in absentia.

Éminence Grise

In We the Living, Rand describes a song that was popular in Russia during the early years of the Soviet era:

Historians will write of the “Internationale” as the great anthem of the revolution. But the cities of the revolution had their own hymn. In days to come, the men of Petrograd will remember those years of hunger and struggle and hope – to the convulsive rhythm of “John Gray.” … It was called a fox-trot. It had a tune and a rhythm such as those of the new dances far across the border, abroad. It had very foreign lyrics about a very foreign John Gray …. Its gaiety was sad; its abrupt rhythm was hysterical; its frivolity was a plea, a moan for that which existed somewhere, forever out of reach.

Rand translates the first stanza as follows:

John Gray
Was brave and daring,
Was very pretty.
John fell in love with
Hard to restrain –
He made
His feelings plain,
But Kat
Said ‘No’ to that!

I’ve long suspected that We the Living’s “John Gray” inspired Atlas Shrugged’s “John Galt” (and likewise that We the Living’s “Café Diggy-Daggy” inspired Atlas’s “Dagny”).

Michael Berliner, in his invaluable article “The Music of We the Living” (in Robert Mayhew’s Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living), tracks down most of the real-life music that Rand refers to in the book. But “John Gray” seems to have eluded him.

In contrast to other cases, he does not identify its composer; he also says that there are “no standard lyrics to this song,” and in evidence he offers some lyrics completely different from those Rand cites:

In a faraway southern land
Where blizzards do not blow
There once was a handsome man
John Gray, the cowboy,
John Gray, strong and rakish
As tall as Hercules
As brave as Don Quixote

But I’ve managed to track down some more info, thanks to the internet and a hazy memory of college Russian, and in fact the song Rand referred to has a known composer, and seems to have canonical lyrics as well; the “cowboy” lyrics, as we’ll see, are a red herring.

The composer is Matvei Blanter (1903-1990), one of the Soviet Union’s most popular composers, who wrote “John Gray” (“Dzhon Grei”) in 1923. And the lyrics, by Vladimir Mass (1896-1979), are the ones Rand cites. Here’s a link to a page with the song’s Russian lyrics, naming Blanter and Mass, followed by a copy of the original sheet music likewise featuring Blanter’s name.

And here’s the song itself:

This is clearly the version Rand discusses. The tune matches her description, and as for the words, one doesn’t need much familiarity with Russian to identify “Kat skazala nyet!

Here are a couple of instrumental versions; the first one does a particularly good job of capturing the “sad gaiety” of which Rand speaks:

(It’s funny how Rand thinks the “John Gray” song sounds so foreign and un-Russian, since to me it sounds utterly Russian, or possibly Russian-Jewish.)

What about the “cowboy” lyrics that Berliner cites? It turns out that they come from a completely different song, with not only different words but different music. The song’s lyrics may mention a “John Gray,” but its title is “In a Far-off Southern Land” (“V Stranye Dalëkoi Yuga”). I haven’t been able to track down any author for the song. But here it is:

As you can see (well, hear), while the two songs have some musical similarity – enough to suggest the possibility of influence (though the direction of influence can’t be determined without knowing the date of “In a Far-off Southern Land”) – the tunes aren’t the same (and to my ear, that of “John Gray” is the more complex and sophisticated of the two).

Well, that’s all.

Soap Opera

Things I notice when I’m in the kitchen waiting for something to finish cooking on the stove, and there’s nothing to do but watch the water in the dishpan:

1. Soap bubbles act as though they’re gravitationally attracted to each other. When there’s a large cluster of bubbles over here, and a lone bubble (or smaller cluster of bubbles) about an inch or so away over there, the lone bubble will move toward the large cluster, very slowly at first, and then gradually accelerating until it merges with the cluster. I know nothing about the physics and chemistry behind this phenomenon. (Something to do with surface tension?)

2. My eggbeater seems to have an air pocket in the handle. When I put it in the dishpan, it emits a slow and steady stream of bubbles. Most of the time, dishpan suds contain bubbles of various sizes all mixed together; but the bubbles coming out of the eggbeater handle are of uniform size, which presumably explains what happens, next, namely, that as the bubbles rise to the surface they spontaneously organise themselves into regular hexagonal grids. Order from chaos, man.

The Road to Westworld

Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman – a rope over an abyss ….
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end:
what can be loved in man is that he is an
overture and a going under.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

He said: Dolores, I live in fear;
my love for you’s so overpowering I’m afraid that I will disappear.

— Paul Simon

It’s generally known that the hit HBO series Westworld is based on a 1973 movie. Perhaps less well known is that there were actually two movies, plus an earlier tv show.

We seem to be living in an era in which often-cheesy 1970s sci-fi franchises like Planet of the Apes, Battlestar Galactica, and Westworld are being rebooted in darker and more sophisticated versions. (Here’s hoping that Logan’s Run will be next.)

While the new Westworld series is an enormous advance on its various predecessors, it definitely owes a lot to those earlier incarnations, and is filled with references and homages not only to the first movie but to the second movie and the first tv show as well. For those who are familiar with the new series but may be less familiar with its predecessors, I want to talk about some of the ways in which the earlier entries laid the ground for the new series; or to put it another way, the ways in which the new series includes (just as the new Galactica did) nods to what came before.

WARNING: In what follows there are SPOILERS for all four iterations of Westworld. In particular, if you haven’t seen the HBO series but plan to, don’t read on, as some of the major twists in the new series are discussed below.

1. Westworld (1973)

The original Westworld is a good movie – much better than its two sequels – but it has no aspirations to the narrative complexity and thematic ambition of the HBO series. Director-screenwriter Michael Crichton has said: “Westworld was not intended to be profound …. our clear goal was entertainment.”

In the movie, Westworld (sometimes confusingly called “West World” or “Western World”) is merely one of three sections of the park, the other two being Roman World and Medieval World. The obvious inspiration here is Disneyland, with its sections called Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and so on. The entertainment in the park is obviously a bit less kid-friendly than in Disneyland, but if we combine the idea of Disneyland with the idea of sex-and-violence-filled video games like Grand Theft Auto, we can see that Westworld is anticipating something that will probably exist before long in the real world (perhaps in Japan?). In the HBO series, Westworld is the only part of the park that gets mentioned; but the scene in which Maeve glimpses some samurai robots (about which more below) suggests that there may be other parts, as does the location that Felix gives her: “Park 1, Sector 15, Zone 3.” If Park 1 is Westworld, what’s Park 2? The orgy scene in the HBO series also looks like it’s drawing inspiration from the (rather tamer) orgy scenes in the original film’s Roman World.

One element that is common to all four iterations of Westworld is “Delos,” the name both of the entire park and of the corporation that runs it. As a kid I assumed that “Delos” must mean something like “pleasure” (perhaps cognate with “delight”) but of course it doesn’t; instead it’s the name of a Greek island sacred to Apollo and reputed to be his birthplace. The connection to the Westworld franchise is elusive; but the real Delos was a destination for pilgrims from all over the Greek world, and there were quinquennial games held there, so maybe that’s the link. Given the Apollo connection, I guess one could run a Nietzschean reading too, with Delos representing Apollonian order and control that’s destined to be shattered by the Dionysian upheaval of the robots. I suspect “Delos” is also supposed to be a faint echo of “Disney.”

Westworld begins with the arrival in the park of two friends, the biblically named Peter and John – one a naive, likable newbie and the other a cynical hedonist, with the former being the viewpoint character. This precisely anticipates the roles of William and Logan in the HBO series and their introduction in episode 2 – though without the dark twists that develop later in the new series. That’s been widely noted; but what I haven’t seen noted is that the Delos techs Felix and Sylvester also seem to be another incarnation of the same pairing. While Peter and John are somewhat opposite in personality, they never turn against each other; things go rather differently for both the William/Logan and Felix/Sylvester pairings.

Apart from occasional side glances at chaos in the other two sections of the park, and panic in the control room, the movie follows Peter’s story in a very simple and straightforward way; we never even find out why the robots have malfunctioned. The recreational activities in which Peter and John engage – shooting down gunslingers, visiting brothels, participating in a jail break – are essentially the same as those featured in the new series. Along the way, they keep running into, and easily defeating, an aggressive Gunslinger (in a riveting performance – the best thing in the movie – by Yul Brynner in his Magnificent Seven outfit). Their first discovery (though not the audience’s) that something’s going catastrophically wrong is when the Gunslinger confronts them once again, and this time kills John. The rest of the movie is simply the Gunslinger relentlessly chasing Peter first through the wilderness of Westworld, and then through the wreckage of the other two worlds as well as the subterranean hallways of Delos. While there are lots of other robots out there menacing lots of other guests, the movie’s focus is on just these two, and the landscapes through which they move are either deserted, or filled with dead guests and run-down robots, giving the chase a kind of mythic, end-of-the-world feeling. The tourist fled across the desert, and the gunslinger in black followed.

For much of the movie, then, Peter and the Gunslinger are the only two characters. The new series’ decision to have their analogues (William and the Man in Black) turn out to be the same person in different eras is a brilliant twist, just as Victor Hugo’s decision in Les Misérables to borrow the main character from Dumas and Maquet’s Count of Monte-Cristo and split him into Valjean (the unjustly imprisoned convict who later rises to prominence under a false name) and Javert (the implacable spirit of retribution) and have the latter hunt down the former was likewise a brilliant twist. Hugo split one character into two and made one relentlessly chase the other; the HBO series finds one character relentlessly chasing another and combines the two into one.

At one point Peter hides by lying on a table in the lower levels, a human pretending to be a deactivated robot; this scene is a likely inspiration for several scenes in the new series in which Maeve lies on a table in the lower levels, an activated robot pretending to be a deactivated robot.

In the end, Peter, the “final boy,” defeats the Gunslinger and then collapses in exhaustion, relieved but traumatised. Presumably he makes it out safely, but none of the sequels ever revisits him.

The scene in which John is astonished to find himself actually shot by the Gunslinger is recreated in the first episode of the new series, when Teddy is astonished at being shot by the Man in Black. The scene is even set up in such a way that we’re initially led to believe that Teddy is a guest like John or Peter, and that the Man in Black is a robot villain like the similarly black-clad Gunslinger; but then we get the reversal-reveal that Teddy, who’s been our sympathetic viewpoint character for the entire episode thus far, is a robot, and that the black-clad antagonist is a paying human customer. This is the moment when it becomes clear that the entire premise of the original movie is being flipped: that robots will be our sympathetic protagonists, while humans will be the monsters menacing them.

In the original film, robots can also be told apart from humans by differences in their hands; that idea gets taken up in the HBO series when we’re told that, in the case of the earlier models, “a simple handshake would give them away.”

In the movie, there’s also a distinctive sound effect whenever we see things from the Gunslinger’s perspective. In the new series, when Bernard goes down to the lower level we briefly glimpse a robot that is clearly supposed to be the Yul Brynner Gunslinger – and that same sound effect, albeit more muted, plays throughout the scene, a clue that Bernard is himself a robot. Thus the sound effect recurs later when Bernard discovers Ford’s secret robot family; later again after Ford makes Bernard kill Theresa; still again just before Bernard has a flashback to strangling Elsie; and likewise again when he breaks into Ford’s office with Clementine. These are all scenes in which Bernard is behaving as an apparent threat to human interests. We also hear the sound just after Ford talks to Dolores about Michelangelo – the only time (to my recollection) that the sound is associated with a character other than Bernard. Here my guess is that the sound indicates that Dolores is to be the new Gunslinger.

A central theme of the HBO series is a sympathetic portrayal of the robots’ perspective (perhaps an inevitable change in the wake of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica). This sympathetic perspective is far less prominent in the original movie (as well as in its sequels). The Gunslinger is in a certain sense admirable in an Übermensch kind of way (mainly because of Yul Brynner’s incredibly cool performance) but he doesn’t especially engage the viewer’s sympathy, since he’s always the first to provoke conflict, and the guy he’s chasing is so nice.

But there are two incidents in the movie that do point in the direction of potential sympathy for the robots. The first robot to defy a human order is Daphne, a serving-girl who rejects a rather creepy guest’s seduction attempt; here the viewer’s sympathies are entirely engaged on her behalf rather than the guest’s. This scene is the germ from which grew the theme of the new series’ robots’ resentment against being used as objects later – a theme entirely (and in retrospect, incredibly) absent from the second movie and first tv series.

Later, in the lower levels of Medieval World, while Peter is fleeing from the Gunslinger he finds a woman chained up in a dungeon, and releases her. He assumes that she’s a fellow guest imprisoned by robots, but when he (rather paternalistically) gives her water over her protests, she short-circuits. Given the amount of drinking that goes on in the park’s various bars and banquets, it can’t be the case that ingesting liquid ordinarily makes robots short-circuit, so she must already have been damaged in some way, perhaps as a result of torture. We never find out why she was chained up, or whether it was humans or fellow robots who did so. But she never makes any move to threaten Peter, and so stands out, along with Daphne, as a sympathetic robot.

The fact that, in the HBO series, two robot women, Dolores and Maeve, are the first to transcend their programming and achieve consciousness may be a callback to the original movie’s two sympathetic robot women. In addition, the scene where Teddy and the Man in Black think the tied-up woman they’re rescuing is one of Wyatt’s victims, when she’s actually one of Wyatt’s disciples, may also be a nod to the dungeon scene.

In addition to laying the groundwork for the new series, Westworld is also a forerunner of other movies. The chase by an implacable robot anticipates, and is a likely inspiration for, 1984’s The Terminator; and the scene at the end when the Gunslinger is damaged and can now see only in the infrared, and so has trouble seeing Peter when he is standing next to a heat source, anticipates the ending of 1987’s Predator. (Both movies starred Arnold Schwarzenegger; did that fact influence the HBO series’ choice of the name “Arnold” for the robots’ co-creator?)

Westworld also anticipates the slasher-movie trope in which the killer jumps out one last time just when you think he’s finally dead (I assume that had been done before, but it certainly wasn’t yet the well-worn trope that the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Alien franchises would soon make it). Of course the later series that Westworld most closely anticipates is the Jurassic Park franchise – a high-tech theme park where the attractions run amuck – but that’s no surprise, given that Crichton wrote both. (Though I think Jurassic Park is more sophisticated and ambitious than Westworld, even if that means lacking the latter’s stark simplicity.)

2. Futureworld (1976)

The second movie, which had no involvement from Crichton, is decidedly inferior to the first. I appreciate the fact that the filmmakers tried to go in a new direction for the sequel rather than just rehashing the original; unfortunately, the execution is a bit lackluster.

Futureworld picks up several years after the events of Westworld, when Delos has reopened and is now declared safe for visitors. (The recent Jurassic World movie presumably takes inspiration from this, as even its title may signify; and the scene in which the brothers discover the now-defunct Jurassic Park section mirrors Futureworld’s protagonists exploring the now-defunct Westworld section.)

The Delos park still features Roman World and Medieval World, but in light of the recent unpleasantness, Westworld has been retired in favour of two new sections, Futureworld (set on a simulated space station) and Spa World (which seems to be just a … spa). Unfortunately, Futureworld is not a terribly well-realised attraction (even if it’s not quite as boring-looking as Spa World). By contrast with Westworld, there are no adventure narratives, and no bad guys to fight. The guests just sit around drinking in bars, playing video games (including a pre-Star Wars holographic chess game), and having sex with robots – none of which seems to require being on a space station. (There’s a brief scene of simulated skiing on Mars, which looks a lot like, well, skiing. Except on red snow. Which Mars doesn’t have.) The dullness of Futureworld may be due to budgetary limitations, but it may also stem in part from a failure of imagination; I reckon if the film had been made just after Star Wars, rather than just before, the space adventures would have looked more interesting.

About that holographic chess game: the filmmakers here don’t seem to understand how chess works. When one chess piece moves onto a square held by another, and the two pieces subsequently fight, the players watch in suspense as if they don’t know which will win, even though the outcome of the fight is straightforwardly dictated by the rules of chess: the attacker always wins.

In real life six years later, despite this movie, Disney World added a section called “Future World.” Half of it is even called “Future World West.”

There’s a slight continuity problem in Futureworld; we’re told that it was in Westworld that the robots first began to run amuck, which explains why for publicity reasons that section of the park has been shut down; apparently the general public is even under the impression that Westworld was the only part of the park to experience malfunctions. But in the original movie, the first observed glitch (the serving-girl refusing sex to a guest) and the first fatal glitch (the Black Knight stabbing a guest) both occur in Medieval World, not Westworld – although the first dangerous glitch (the malfunctioning rattlesnake) does happen, between the other two events, in Westworld. Extradiegetically, perhaps the retcon here is to prevent viewers from wondering why the first movie was called Westworld if the most important events occurred in Medieval World.

Anyway, the plot: the two protagonists, Chuck and Tracy, are investigative journalists who are invited to cover the reopening of Delos. (Look, a word to the wise: if you’re villains in a movie, and you’re planning something nefarious, don’t invite investigative journalists. They will investigate.) There’s initially a fair bit of tension between Chuck and Tracy, partly because of failed past relationships (both sexual and business), and partly because Tracy’s inclined to trust Delos while Chuck, who covered the original Westworld debacle (a cameo from Peter is really needed here) is inclined to distrust it. In this respect they can be seen as yet another incarnation of the Peter/John pairing, though which is Peter and which is John might be debatable. (Chuck, being more cynical than his partner, resembles John; yet on the other hand Chuck, being less inclined than his partner to take Delos at face value, resembles Peter.) Of course they fall in love by the end of the movie. Typically for the era, Tracy, supposedly a tough, experienced reporter, ends up spending a lot of time either expressing skepticism toward Chuck’s distrust of Delos, or else shrieking in terror when the distrust proves well-founded. But at least the script makes her a better shot than Chuck.

It soon turns out that Delos is luring world leaders and other important figures to the park in order to replace them with robot duplicates created by the film’s main villain, Dr. Schneider. The goal of this project is sometimes described narrowly, in terms of advancing the Delos corporation’s financial interests, and sometimes more broadly, as creating a robot-controlled utopia that will protect the human race from its self-destructive tendencies (war, environmental degradation, etc.), though the two descriptions are compatible if we assume that war and environmental degradation are bad for business. They also make robot duplicates of Chuck and Tracy, and order them to kill their originals; but the human protagonists manage to defeat their duplicates and escape, to tell the world the truth about what’s happening in the park. (Another word to the wise: if you want two people dead, and you’ve got lots of killer robots on hand, why not send more than one robot per target?) Tracy manages to defeat her duplicate rather quickly (remember that part about her being a better shot?); in Chuck’s case there’s a long sequence of fake-Chuck relentlessly pursuing real-Chuck through the lower levels of Delos, an obvious callback to the first movie. (The endlessly gabby fake-Chuck is, sadly, just not as scary as the dead-silent Gunslinger; however, fake-Chuck’s chatty affability is at least pleasantly creepy.) The “lower levels” scenes in both Westworld and Futureworld obviously served as inspiration for the many “lower levels” scenes in the HBO series.

Tracy’s last name is Ballard, possibly a reference to the dystopian writer J. G. Ballard. Chuck’s last name is Browning; if that’s a reference to Robert Browning, the poem most relevant might be “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” in which a piper who can control both rats and people (the way Schneider controls his robots) kidnaps the town’s children as revenge for not being paid (as Schneider kidnaps people to advance Delos’s financial interests).

Early publicity for the film made much of Yul Brynner’s return, but it’s a bit of a cheat. Early on, we see Tracy fascinated by footage of the Gunslinger’s rampage (which is just footage from the first movie; perhaps her interest is piqued by the realisation that she’s watching a better film than the one she’s in). Later on, when she allows herself to be put into a dream state so her dream can be projected on a screen for everyone to see (because who wouldn’t immediately agree to that?), we see her having a rather silly (and brief) sexual fantasy about the Gunslinger – and that’s all we get of Brynner. It’s probably a nod to this scene when, in the new series, Maeve sees her own dreams projected on a screen.

In contrast to Westworld, where none of the malfunctions are planned, Futureworld is the first entry in the franchise to trace robot misconduct to deliberate human perfidy – something that will be central to both tv shows. (At least we assume the perfidy in Futureworld is human – though the revelation that Duffy, the initially sympathetic Delos exec, is a robot, makes us wonder whether Dr. Schneider, the apparent mastermind behind the scheme, is himself human or robot; but we never find out.) The human perfidy isn’t invoked to explain the original malfunctions, however; those are never explained, and they aren’t repeated.

Futureworld is also the first entry in the franchise to introduce the idea of secret robot duplicates of particular humans, another idea that will be central to both tv shows. Moreover,
while most of the robots in Futureworld, like those in Westworld before it, contain circuits and gears under their skin, the duplicates created by Dr. Schneider appear fully organic throughout their entire bodies (which is why they seem to take much longer to build). This contrast gets picked up in the new series, where in flashbacks to the early days of the park we see that the robots’ bodies contain machinery (as when Logan cuts open Dolores), but in the present day they likewise appear organic all the way through.

The HBO series features further homages to Futureworld. The scene in the new series where Elsie, the Delos operative, is poking around in a disused area of Westworld looking for a hidden relay, only to be attacked by a robot, is probably a callback to the scene in Futureworld where Tracy is likewise poking around in a disused area of Westworld only to be attacked by a robot. The various Delos workers bumped off in Futureworld to prevent them from talking prefigures the fates of Elsie, Theresa, and to a certain degree Bernard. A guest in Futureworld is disappointed that the hostess who greets him for orientation, while a robot, is “not programmed for sex”; this is reversed in the HBO series, when Talulah Riley’s character assures William that although she is likewise there for guest orientation, she is indeed programed for sex as well.

In one scene in Futureworld, while exploring the lower levels of Delos the protagonists are menaced by robotic versions of samurai warriors. (At least I guess they’re robotic, though the way they just seem to materialise raises the possibility that they’re meant to be some sort of solid holograms.) We also hear passing reference to a planned “Eastworld.” Apparently, then, the Delos execs are preparing to add another section to the park, this one based on medieval Japan. Likewise, in the new series Maeve comes across a collection of samurai robots in a section of the lower levels labeled “SW.” (Samurai World? Shogun World? Sushi World?)

Like its predecessor, and unlike the new series, Futureworld offers little scope for sympathy for the robots, who mostly seem to be the passive tools of their human masters, but it does offer some. In particular, the Delos worker Harry’s faceless robot companion, a repurposed Romanworld sexbot named Clark (after Clark Kent, “Man of Steel” – a reference either to his physical construction, or else to his sexual stamina in his previous role), shows signs of transcending his programming – first when he cheats in a card game by sneaking a look at Harry’s cards against Harry’s orders, and second when he shows signs of grief upon realising he won’t see Harry again. Clark is thus the closest thing to Maeve and Dolores that we see in the franchises’s earlier entries.

At the movie’s end, our protagonists take a tension-laden walk down a a long staircase to the main lobby and get away on a train, with Schneider discovering too late that it is the real journalists and not their robot duplicates who have just left. This is echoed in the scene in the new series’ first-season finale when Maeve descends, with similar tension, a long escalator to the main lobby and prepares to get away on a train, this time being a robot mistaken for human and not vice versa. (Though of course the scene ends differently, with her deciding not to leave until she has located her “daughter” – which is implied to be her first fully free and conscious decision, since she’s supposed to be fulfilling an escape narrative. It’s ironic that the canny, survival-oriented, hard-as-nails Maeve’s first genuine choice is to rescue someone, while the sweet, gentle, perpetual pushover Dolores’s first genuine choice is to massacre a bunch of people.)

Incidentally, I remember coming across this poster somewhere as a kid and thinking that there must be a third Westworld movie I didn’t know about; but no, it’s apparently just an unused alternative title for Futureworld:

3. Beyond Westworld (1980)

Unlike Futureworld, which takes place several years after the events of the first film, Beyond Westworld takes place immediately after those events. Essentially ignoring Futureworld, the tv series takes off into its own continuity. Once again human perfidy is involved, this time as an explanation of the original malfunctions; the creator of the robots, disgruntled former Delos engineer Simon Quaid, resents their being used as mere theme-park amusements, so he first uses them to trash the park, and then sends them out on missions to enable him to conquer the world. This time the Delos execs are the good guys, and so they send out a team of agents – our protagonists – to thwart Quaid’s plans. Typically for the era, the episodes are very formulaic: Quaid introduces a robotic agent into some sensitive situation; our heroes have to identify and neutralise the robot before it fulfils its evil mission; they do so.

Only five episodes of this tv series were shot before it was cancelled, and of those only three were actually broadcast (though all five are available on the DVD). In contrast to my childhood memories of Westworld and Futureworld (extremely vivid and moderately vivid, respectively), my teenage recollection of Beyond Westworld is hazy. The only episode I actually remember watching at the time is the first one, though I assume I must have watched the other two; and from that first episode, the only scene I really remember is the opening one of the helicopter landing on the Delos building’s rooftop in the rain. I remember thinking at the time how seldom I saw rain on tv shows, and how nicely grounded the rain made the scene feel; today, by contrast, I’m struck by how obviously fake the rain is in most of the scene:

A number of features from Beyond Westworld may be found revived in the HBO series; most of these, however, were already elements in Futureworld (human perfidy, robot duplicates). But Beyond Westworld’s chief contribution to the new series is Quaid, who is much more a forerunner of Anthony Hopkins’ character, Robert Ford, than Dr. Schneider is. All three men may be megalomaniacal robot creators, but Quaid is charming and gracious, like Ford, where Schneider is not. Quaid is also at odds with the Delos brass, like Ford and unlike Schneider. And Quaid is behind the Westworld roots’ originally running amuck, again like Ford and unlike Schneider.

In Beyond Westworld, Quaid is resentful of Delos’s narrow vision for the robots; the execs see the robots merely as toys, whereas he sees them as a tool to take over the world and free humanity from its own weaknesses. In Futureworld, it’s the Delos execs themselves who are planning to use robots in that way. In the HBO series, matters are predictably more complicated. Ford, like Quaid, sees the robots as more than theme-park amusements, and resents interference from Delos. But Delos sees them as more than theme-park amusements too; we’re told several times that Delos has bigger plans for the robot technology than just theme parks, though we’ll presumably have to wait till next season to find out what those plans are. In effect, the HBO series combines Futureworld’s version of Delos with Beyond Westworld’s version of Quaid (except that Ford’s motivations are a lot more complex than Quaid’s).

4. Nomen Omen

Okay, this last section has nothing to do with the earlier versions of Westworld, but I want to make some observations about the characters’ names in the new series. I’ve already speculated about “Arnold” above; here are some notes about other names:

The name “Maeve” derives originally from the Gaelic Medb or Meadhbh, the ambitious warrior queen of Irish legend, which fits her character.

The outlaw Hector Escaton has a first name that refers to a mighty Trojan warrior, and a last name that means the divinely planned end of the world, or that thing you’re not supposed to immanentise. This likewise fits, as Escaton is part of the apocalyptic rebellion in the season finale.

“Clementine” recalls the heroine of the comedic ballad “My Darling Clementine” who is “lost and gone forever” – a description that likewise applies to the series’ Clementine once she’s decommissioned. (Yes, we see a revived version of her again later, but she seems zombie-like and so presumably has not recovered her erased memories and personality.)

“El Lazo” can mean tie, lariat, noose, or loop – appropriately for a character who spends much of his time in the series with a literal rope around his neck, and who in the figurative sense is also a robot repeating a loop.

“Bernard” could be a reference to “St. Bernard” – not the medieval Catholic saint and major S.O.B., but the loyal and helpful dog.

In a western context, the name “Robert Ford” suggests the “dirty little coward” who betrayed his partner Jesse James, just as Ford betrays his partner Bernard.

[2019 Addendum: I can’t believe it took me so long to think of this, but the last name “Ford” is obviously also a nod to the automated mass production associated with Henry Ford.]

Likewise in a western context, the name “Wyatt” suggests Wyatt Earp, famous for his gunning down outlaws in the O.K. Corral. In the HBO series, Wyatt is variously suggested to be a general who became a crazed killer in Teddy’s backstory; a future robotic messiah prophesied by Dolores and others; or Dolores herself – but in any case it’s someone who’s going to be shooting a lot of people.

The name “Dolores” is Spanish for “sufferings” or “sorrows,” which certainly describes the character’s life; the name is also short for “La Virgen María de los Dolores,” which fits with her messianic prophecies.

Dolores’s name also contrasts with that of the Delos tech, Felix. As one online commentator notes:

Dolores woke up through her suffering and became the first confirmed conscious Host (Ford specifically says she’d kill him by choice).

Felix also woke up in a certain sense, to the fact that the Hosts deserved a better life and a chance to live in the real world. He realises this first when he revives the bird and finds joy in its artificial life.

Here’s what makes it really poetic: Felix is latin for happiness, Dolores is latin for sadness. Both were named after the things that woke them up.

In addition, Felix and his partner Sylvester are both named after cartoon cats; the name “Felix,” while meaning “happy,” “lucky,” or “fortunate,” is also reminiscent of a different Latin word, felis, meaning “cat.” As befits their Westworld namesakes, the cartoon Felix is usually a protagonist while the cartoon Sylvester is usually an antagonist. Moreover, the cartoon Sylvester spends most of his time trying to catch a bird only to be perpetually foiled by it; on Westworld, Felix lovingly revives a bird while Sylvester angrily tries to catch it only to get bitten by it.

Felix is felix, fortunate, in another sense. I mentioned above that the William/Logan and Felix/Sylvester pairings are both incarnations of the original movie’s Peter/John pairing. But William is a failed version of Peter, in that he falls to the dark side. Felix is the successful version of Peter, one that retains his humanity (or, from Maeve’s viewpoint, one that to his credit fails at being “human”).

Finally, on a tangentially related subject, here’s a fascinating analysis of Anthony Hopkins’ terrific acting in just one scene of Westworld:

Overheard at the Grocery Store

Conversation at the checkout counter, as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” plays on the store’s sound system:

CHECKER: Why aren’t they playing Christmas music?

BAGGER: This is from “The Nutcracker.”

CHECKER: Is that a scary movie?


CHECKER: Oh, it’s a Christmas movie?

BAGGER: Yes! I think it starred Barbie.

This is like one of those stories where the person rescuing you from the vampire, turns out also to be a vampire.

Against Greatness

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about making America “great again” – from a man who seems not to care how many people’s liberty he violates in order to pursue his conception of national greatness.

In this context, I’m happy to announce the Molinari Institute’s latest t-shirt, which features a quotation from Jeffersonian political activist Abraham Bishop, one of the most radical of the American founders:

“A nation which makes greatness its polestar can never be free.”

Thanks to Sheldon Richman for introducing me to this line, which comes from an 1800 antiwar speech titled Oration on the Extent and Power of Political Delusion; here’s a bit of context:

A nation which makes greatness its polestar can never be free; beneath national greatness sink individual greatness, honor, wealth and freedom. But though history, experience and reasoning confirm these ideas; yet all-powerful delusion has been able to make the people of every nation lend a helping hand in putting on their own fetters and rivetting their own chains, and in this service delusion always employs men too great to speak the truth, and yet too powerful to be doubted. Their statements are believed – their projects adopted – their ends answered and the deluded subjects of all this artifice are left to passive obedience through life, and to entail a condition of unqualified non-resistance to a ruined posterity.

Bishop’s other works include an attack on church-state unions and a defense of the insurgent slaves in the Haitian revolution (showing himself, in that connection, a better Jeffersonian than Jefferson himself, who sided with the slaveowners). Bishop also championed women’s education and was an early critic of the Constitution. So he wasn’t an anarchist? Well, nobody’s perfect.

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