The “Real Words” of our National Anthem

On this July Fourth I’d like to say a few words about the US national anthem. Many of you are no doubt aware that this year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the lyrics, written by Francis Scott Key as “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Few people know that the song has four verses, because we seldom hear any but the first these days. Far fewer people are aware of the origin of the melody, a popular English drinking song from the 1700′s.

Yet another little-known fact is the controversy that surrounded the adoption of the song in 1931 as the nation’s official anthem. An article that appeared in the Daily Beast on last July 4th tells some of this fascinating story. The song has been the target of criticism for a melody that is difficult to sing (with a range of an octave and a fifth) and for its lyrics that celebrate militarism.

By the way, today’s history-challenged young people may not know the story behind the war that inspired Key’s poem. The War of 1812 was the nation’s first major war after the American colonies secession from the British Empire. In grade school I learned that this second war was Britain’s fault for restricting our trade with France and conscription of American sailors into the Royal Navy.

In junior high school I was fortunate to have a teacher named Frank Lewis, an offbeat-looking man (he wore coke-bottle glasses and a 50′s style pompadour) who helped inspire my own passion for history. In his class, we learned that another over-riding reason for the war was the desire of certain American politicians to violently annex British holdings in Canada (the southeast portion of the current country) and Florida. They were known as War Hawks, birds of prey with the distinctive cry, “Canada! Florida!” They got their war, which ended in a stalemate. At least 5000 American and British soldiers and sailors died and untold numbers of civilians, all for naught. It’s not a glorious episode in our history, which is why I prefer the original lyrics of the song.

Speaking of the original song, its creators were members of a London men’s club called the “Anacreon Society.” Anacreon was a poet from classical Greece whose works extolled the virtues of “wine, women and song.” As such these words are at least as appropriate for us Americans. Back in 1835, French writer Alexis de Toqueville observed that “the drinking population constitutes the majority in your country, and that temperance is somewhat unpopular.” Here without further adieu is the first verse of the famous “Anacreon in Heaven” (which you can listen to here):

 

THE ANACREONTIC SONG

as Sung at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand

Words by Ralph Tomlinson, music by John Stafford Smith

 

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,

A few sons of harmony sent a petition,

That he their Inspirer and patron wou’d be;

When this answer arriv’d from the jolly old Grecian

“Voice, fiddle, and flute,

“No longer be mute,

“I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,

“And, besides, I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine

“The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.

 

Remember these words on this Fourth when you hear the line about the “land of the (formerly) free and the home of the (occasionally) brave.” And if you haven’t seen it, watch this clip of Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat singing the words of the fictional Kazakhstan national anthem to this tune for unsuspecting rodeo patrons. He was lucky he didn’t get himself lynched!

 

Domestic Terrorism May Not Be A Joke, But It Sure Is Funny

In his recent “Security Weekly” column of the “intelligence” web-site Stratfor, former State Department investigator Scott Stewart entitled his column “Domestic Terrorism Is No Joke.” In it, he wrote about Las Vegas cop-killers Jerad and Amanda Miller, describing them as drug-addled anarchistic libertarians. In his opinion, the attack was proof that “domestic terrorism remains a persistent threat” in America, albeit a “low-level” one.

I’d guess that what the writer meant not that terrorism is not funny, but rather, it is something we ought to take seriously. This is an assertion I dispute, despite the occasional murder spree by nutjobs such as the Millers. How can we take “terrorism” seriously, when all the information we get from the government and mainstream media is distorted or even fabricated? Nearly every terrorist incident seems to be a law enforcement trap for disgruntled losers (for example, the Akron bridge bombers), a sting that gets out of hand (the Oklahoma City bombing) or a full-blown false flag event such as 9/11 (see Kevin Fenton’s Disconnecting the Dots for evidence of the government’s prior knowledge.) Among the few incidents that might possibly be genuine, such as the attempted Times Square bombing, the perpetrators are unanimous when speaking of their motivation – US interference in the Islamic world, that very same interventionism that is supposed to “keep us safe.”

In short, the propaganda about terrorism is so ridiculous that it sometimes ventures out of the range of “funny queer” into funny ha-ha. It’s not that there’s anything light-hearted about killing and injuring innocent people. However, humor often serves a “stress relief” function that helps us keep our sanity in the face of tragedy. In fact, there’s a lot of comic mileage to be made here. We all know the TV networks are desperately seeking edgy and relevant shows to reclaim market share from the cable and Internet companies. I humbly submit the following suggestions for shows that might capitalize on this:

Hussein’s Heroes – Lovable rascal Mohammad Hussein constantly outwits his bumbling captors at Guantanamo, sneaking into Cuba to lead Quran study groups. Hilarity ensues as the handsome Hussein struggles to resist the advances of promiscuous atheistic Cuban women.

The Real McVeys – Endearing family of racist anti-semites from deep in the Appalachians relocate to the Colorado River valley, where they encounter meddling bureaucrats, lily-livered environmentalists, and shiftless welfare-dependent Mexicans.

The Big Bomb Theory – a group of four nerdy white supremacists (including one suspiciously dark self-described “Aryan”) teach classes in bomb-making and Holocaust Denial on a right-wing commune in Oklahoma. Their romantic interest is a pretty blonde who claims to be a “former” FBI agent – or is she?

Two and a Half Mujaheddin – Wealthy Jamal takes in brother Ahmed and nephew Jabbar after Ahmed’s wife is stoned for adultery. In the pilot episode, Jamal teaches Jabbar the proper role of women by allowing him to beat their housekeeper for “talking back” to her male masters.

Salaams – At a Chechen tea house in Boston, a group of lovable losers tell stories of their exploits and exchange pressure cooker recipes.

The Davidians – folksy show about a simple group of religious people living together in a huge house in Waco, Texas. The communal marriage arrangements provide constant comedic fodder, as well as encounters with the incompetent ATF agents who are always nosing about. In a running gag, everyone in the “family” tries to say “good night” to everyone else every night. “Good night, Mary Sue. Good night, Father David.”

911-Jump Street – a squad of Italian and Latino FBI agents pose as Arab Muslims to infiltrate terrorist madrasas throughout North America. There’s lots of “fish out of water” humor as the protagonists struggle to remember the correct direction for prayers to Mecca.

“F” Team – The adventures of a US Provincial Reconstruction Team at the height of the Afghan War. Well-meaning but bumbling American GI’s trade barbs with corrupt, conniving locals.

Remember, I offer these suggestions not to make light of anyone’s tragedy but to hopefully give readers a chuckle or two of relief in this insane world. Networks, feel free to use any and all of these suggestions; all I ask is a 1% royalty.

 

Remember Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago today, hundreds of civilians were murdered as pro-democracy protests in Beijing were brutally suppressed by the Chinese government. Every year, the Chinese police state stages a crackdown around this time of year, lest anyone remember this uprising. I would like to honor those who died or were beaten and/or imprisoned as part of this struggle. Here in America, we are accustomed to thinking of soldiers as “defenders of freedom.” In Tiananmen Square, we saw the true nature of government, and the real reason that nations have military forces – to destroy freedom, and defend the ruling elites against the people. Though the repression appears to have succeeded for a time, here’s wishing the Chinese people will eventually know liberty.

 

It’s also a good lesson to us in America, that we should not tolerate ANY restrictions on our freedom of expression, even the phony excuses that peaceful demonstrations might somehow jeopardized the “safety” of the Emperor (a.k.a. President) or other high officials. Shame on you, US Supreme Court! Your recent failure to eliminate so-called “free speech zones” shall go down in infamy with your predecessors’ failure to strike down the unconstitutional Espionage Act nearly a century ago.

 

Man Up, Mr. Obama

Mr President, everybody is talking about your address to West Point graduates. Republicans and other neoconservatives are upset because you showed an insufficient degree of blood lust. Anti-interventionists like myself are upset because you persist in keeping America in its role of global policeman. I’m aware that you Democrats seem to have a psychological need to prove you’re as “tough” or more so than the Republicans. But why? Let me humbly offer a suggestion. You can be much tougher by doing a 180 degree turn and, in the manner of statesmen from George Washington to Robert Taft to Ron Paul, renounce foreign entanglements completely.

This is, after all, one of the main reasons the American people elected you in 2008, because we were already weary of George W Bush’s constant war-making and intrusions on our civil liberties. Not only that, but you promised us “one of the most transparent administrations ever.”

Here are my top 10 suggestions:

1. End all US military operations in the Islamic world, including support of rebels in Syria and the deployment of “advisers” in Afghanistan, thus removing a major motivation for terrorism.

2. Announce an end to the use of weaponized drones, with a pledge to never again to deploy them absent a Congressional declaration of war.

3. Issue sweeping restrictions on NSA spying, as required by the Bill of Rights.

4. Close Guantanamo – not just the prison, but the entire naval base, and hand it back to Cuba, as part of an unconditional normalization of relations with that country. Release all prisoners against whom the US has no evidence, which, according to terrorism experts, would be all but a handful.

5. Announce your intention to veto any extension of the USA PATRIOT Act or the NDAA.

6. Normalize relations with Iran, and end sanctions immediately in return for thorough and frequent inspections of nuclear facilities.

7. Issue executive pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and James Risen. Terminate any ongoing prosecutions of government whistle blowers.

8. End all US aid to and special bilateral agreements with the apartheid regime in Israel. Prohibit all US arms sales until illegal settlers are removed from Palestinian land. Alternatively, all Arabs, including those in the occupied territories and refugees living abroad, should be granted full rights and equal status with Jewish citizens.

9. Abandon the “Pivot to Asia.” Support negotiations between China and its neighbors to fairly divide claims to the Senkaku Islands and mineral rights in the South China sea.

10. End all sanctions against Russia and invite them to talks between the Kiev government and rebels in Donetsk and other Russian speaking areas. Support the notion of Ukraine as a neutral, decentralized buffer state with good relations with both Russia and the EU. Recognize the annexation of Crimea as consistent with Russia’s historic claims to the region.

Contrary to the assertions of the corporate-owned media, all of these actions would have substantial public support, some of them overwhelming majorities. I assure you that if you take even one of these actions, everyone, including Republicans, will have to admit you have the cojones. Furthermore, the United States would no longer be seen as the bully of the world, but would once again be “the shining light on the hill.”

Should We Thank The Veterans?

It’s Memorial Day in America, and once again the media bombards us with endless sermons, saying we should “thank a veteran” for “fighting for our freedom.” It’s one of those reflexive statement that becomes almost meaningless by repetition. Personally, I find it offensive. To “thank a veteran for their service” is an implicit endorsement of the US military interventions in which they participated. With the possible exception of World War II (which ended nearly 70 years ago), none of those wars, conflicts, or police actions had anything to do with our freedom.

Consider this country’s many undeclared, unconstitutional conflicts since VJ Day: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others. These have either been stalemated (Korea), lost (Vietnam), or have ushered in regimes worse than their predecessors. For example, our Afghan “allies,” just like the evil Taliban, oppress women and execute their citizens for non-crimes such as homosexuality, adultery and apostasy. Unlike the Taliban, they take bribes from opium growers and tolerate child sex trafficking. Despite all these dismal failures, we Americans have not lost our freedoms, except for those we foolishly surrendered to our own government in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Thus the rationale for our indebtedness, that we somehow owe our liberties to our former service-members, is based on a falsehood.

I don’t say this to condemn our military men and women, whether they are veterans or active duty. In the days of Korea and Vietnam, most were drafted, “serving” under duress. Nowadays all are volunteers, yet I believe that the vast majority join with good intentions. They’ve been indoctrinated with our culture’s unquestioning adulation of the military, and misinformed by the corporate media’s one-sided support for every overseas adventure. They do not join to kill foreigners who have done us no harm, nor to overthrow those inconvenient regimes that obstruct the will of avaricious American corporations. Neither are they at fault for the serial failures of US foreign policy. It is this country’s leadership, both civilian and military, that chooses these pointless conflicts with their poorly defined goals. Our military brass, with a few honorable exceptions such as Admiral William Fallon*, seem to have one overriding strategy: to advance their careers and increase funding for their branches. The well-being of our nation is an afterthought.

For the men and women of the military, we can appreciate their good intentions without condoning their actions in support of US foreign policy. Certainly we should help those who have been damaged and abandoned for by heartless government they served. Definitely we should wish those on active duty a safe return from wherever they’ve been deployed. The best way to “support the troops” would be to immediately end all US interventions and bring every last one of them home. As for our veterans, there is one thing I would like to thank them for – the fact that they are no longer a part of the military machine.

* In 2007, in defiance of pressure from neoconservatives in the Bush Administration, Fallon declared that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” In 2008, he was forced into resigning. He’s another veteran I’d like to thank.

 

“Fun” with Phones

Being an engineer, you might expect me to be an early adopter of technology. No thanks; I get plenty of that at work. I’ve had a cell phone for quite some time, but it was only last year that I finally got a smart phone. I chose Samsung, because it runs Android, which is Linux-based. Since it’s built on open-source software (unlike Apple’s over-priced proprietary gadgets) I expected an Android phone to be easy to upgrade. I was wrong.

Though I love the idea of DIY projects, I’m normally too lazy to be a do-it-yourselfer. Except for adding contacts, I left my Samsung pretty much unchanged. Then I bought a Bluetooth keyboard. My goal was to use the phone for social media, and since I’m a touch typist who hates on-screen keyboards, it seemed like a good idea. Then I discovered that Bluetooth keyboard support was broken on my Exhibit II model phone – and Samsung had no plans to provide software upgrades for that model, ever. If I wanted a newer OS, I was on my own.

If you think that upgrading a phone is a daunting process with a serious risk of damage, you’re right. I was undeterred. Android software is open-source, and there’s an army of volunteers who rebuild the new versions for older hardware. In the time since I got my Samsung, the current OS version (all of which are named for desserts, alphabetically) had gone from Gingerbread all the way to Kitkat. In the end, Kitkat refused to install, and I had to be content with the previous version, Jellybean. Finally, the Bluetooth keyboard worked! It only cost me about 10 hours of experimentation and frustration.

Finding and downloading the updated OS files was the easy part. The website xdadevelopers.com was an invaluable resource. The site’s forums have instructions for unlocking and updating Android phones of all types. Unfortunately, many of the online “how to” guides suffer from what I call the “hometown cookbook” syndrome. Having cooked all their lives, contributors sometimes omit crucial details from their recipes, such as measurements, cooking times, and definitions of terms. The same applies to phone hobbyists. The instructions might say, “First install the Clockworkmod Recovery utility,” but not say how to do this, or which of the many versions to use. Not only did I have to track down the missing details, but I was led down the wrong path several times by obsolete or irrelevant explanations.

Eventually I got it all figured out. It was late and I was very tired, but my phone was finally ready, and I was eager to proceed. I booted it into recovery mode and started the Kitkat installation without first backing up my old system. Big mistake – it aborted with a mysterious error, and the phone no longer functioned. Now it was do or die. I have no land line, so I had to get it fixed, or shell out $300 for a new one. When I finally got a Jellybean version of the “Cyanogenmod” software installed and working, I promptly installed the wrong version of Google’s phone apps. This broke my on-screen keyboard, and once again I hadn’t backed it up. Contrary to on-line wisdom, that critical feature stayed broken even after I reinstalled the correct version of Google Apps. Good thing I had that Bluetooth keyboard; I used it to download a new screen keyboard app off the Play Store. Mission accomplished!

If you, too, are crazy enough to attempt upgrading your own phone, I strongly recommend the following (a) before doing anything, read several versions of the instructions, enough to get all the details, and (b) though it may be time-consuming, backup, backup, backup.

 

Freedoms and Phobias

Freedom and Phobias

The Arizona legislature has once again thrust our state into the midst of a nationwide controversy. The have passed SB 1062, which would protect businesses from being sued for refusing services to individuals if that action is based on religious beliefs. Critics call it a license to discriminate against gays. In reality it’s more complicated than that, which is why I have mixed feelings about the law.

On one hand, I have many gay and lesbian friends and I personally find anti-gay bigotry to be stupid and offensive. In my opinion, the idea that homosexuality is a sin rather than a biological condition is 100% wrong. There are other rules in the holy books that modern people choose to ignore (how many people shun clothing made from multiple fabrics?) It’s about time this one becomes one of those.

On the other hand, as a libertarian I am opposed to anti-discrimination laws of any kind. Why?

  1. They’re unnecessary. The quest for profit gives businesses an incentive NOT to discriminate, which is why southern states passed Jim Crow laws to force them to do so.
  2. They’re unenforceable. Nobody can look into the heart of a business owner or employer. They can choose not to hire a person, drag their feet on a rental contract, or make certain customers feel unwelcome, all of which achieve the same discriminatory effect.
  3. They have unintended consequences. These laws allow members of protected minority groups to file frivolous lawsuits based on real or imagined offenses. Doubtless this is only done by a few bad apples, but one malcontent with an agenda can cause a business lots of trouble. Thus businesses are discouraged from dealing with the very people the law is supposed to protect.
  4. They could promote a violent backlash. Why antagonize a tiny minority of bigots, who might be inclined to see themselves as victims?

Despite these facts, I feel that enacting SB 1062 would be a mistake. It would be largely symbolic, given that gays and lesbians aren’t currently protected in Arizona at present. Some people might see it as an endorsement of discrimination by the state, rather than a more appropriate stance of complete neutrality.It would antagonize national public opinion needlessly, possibly giving rise to boycotts of the state. Furthermore, it fails to address the real issue, which is judicial activism, in which judges whose proper role is to interpret the law take it upon themselves to write the law. Despite the fact that activist judges sometimes further causes I support, such as marriage equality, they can just as easily do things I find odious, such as forcing governments to spend money on favored groups.

C’mon, Jan, let’s have a veto.

 

Presenting “Out Loud”

After a three month hiatus, it’s high time I return to my blog, though this entry will be a relatively short one. In early November I became quite busy with my writing projects, which turned out to be much more demanding then I expected. All my marketing activities ground to a halt, though I now have something important to promote, which I’ll get to shortly.

 

First of all, I was attempting to meet my personal goal of finishing my second novel, Fidelio’s Automata, by the end of 2013. Although I made a valiant effort at editing and cleaning up the draft manuscript, I was forced to set it aside. I’m recently resumed that project and hope to be done by the end of this month. I’ll keep you posted.

 

My second, more urgent project is a theatrical production, which is called OUT LOUD! Stories from the Gayborhood. The show boasts five contributors of different short works, including three scenes by myself and my girlfriend/collaborator, Arlys Holloway. The latter are excerpts from our work in progress, a musical comedy about on-line dating called One Good Man. When I took up writing a few years ago, I never expected it to go in that direction. Frankly, if I’d have realized how challenging writing a musical would be, I probably would not have attempted it. (By the way, many thanks to JR McAlexander with his invaluable assistance with the music.) Despite several weeks of chronic sleep deprivation, it’s been an enjoyable and educational experience.

 

Now, after two years of preparation, OUT LOUD! is finally coming to the stage, with seven talented local actors playing over twenty roles. Besides our own musical numbers, the show features works of fantasy, young romance, and drama, by playwrights Ben Gill, B.D. Heywood and Lori Hicks. Like us, they’re newcomers to writing for the theater, and we owe a debt of gratitude to our facilitator, mentor and director, Richard Schultz. (Shameless plug: Gill, Heywood, Hicks and I all have novels published on Amazon.)

 

The title makes obvious the show’s lesbian/gay theme, and in fact, it is a benefit for the One Voice LGBT Community Center in Phoenix. All the works have gay/lesbian characters and/or writers. Though Arlys and I have a more conventional orientation, we are proud to support the cause of equality for the LGBT community. Though gays and lesbians have achieved much in recent years, there has recently been a resurgence in bigotry around the world, especially in the Middle East and in Putin’s Russia. Vladimir would no doubt consider our show “homosexual propaganda,” which is his standard smear on anyone who opposes his agenda of making gays into scapegoats for his country’s problems. (Though I do appreciate his opposition to the neocons’ Syria war plans – but that’s another topic.)

 

For those who would rather support Truth, Justice and the American Way, showings of OUT LOUD! will be February 6, 7, and 8th at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, 1202 North 3rd Street at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $10 and $25; to buy in advance, call 602-254-3100, and for more information, www.1vcc.org. Warning: these works have mature subject matter, so it’s not for children or for the easily offended. We invite those of a more eclectic bent to join us for an enjoyable evening of original theater by local Arizona writers.

 

Remember, Remember

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November and the gunpowder treason and plot.”

- English nursery rhyme

Today is Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom, which commemorates the 1605 discovery of a plot by Roman Catholic rebels to blow up the British Parliament building. It is traditionally celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and the burning of effigies of the infamous traitor. In the modern world, Guy Fawkes and his day have taken on a new significance as symbols of the rejection of authority.

face

One of the staples of the November 5th celebration is the Guy Fawkes mask, which is now recognized around the world, ever since it figured prominently in the 2006 film V for Vendetta. Based on a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, the movie featured a mysterious rebel who fights the fascist government of a post-nuclear-war Britain. The character “V” wears the Fawkes mask to hide his identity, and possibly also to hide the effects of horrific government experimentation he had suffered previously.

The movie was tremendously popular in America, where fans drew parallels between its fictional neo-Nazi government and the war-obsessed surveillance state of George W. Bush. Guy Fawkes was quickly adopted by both libertarians and left-wing radicals as a symbol for anti-government protests. The Internet hacker group Anonymous wore the mask in protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008. The mask also appeared in the Occupy Wall Street protests and in Egyptian protests during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Guy Fawkes Day was also the occasion of the first “money bomb,” a new kind of unofficial political fundraiser, invented by grassroots libertarians to aid the 2008 Ron Paul Presidential campaign. It was a call for as many people as possible to donate money on that day, as a special show of support. The day was an appropriate metaphor for the word, since Fawkes and his cohorts meant to literally bomb the House of Lords. But it also drew fire from neo-conservative detractors of Dr. Paul, who claimed that the choice of day was an endorsement of terrorism. I would argue that Fawkes was not a terrorist, but a would-be assassin, since his plot targeted not civilians but enemy politicians. Still, the connotation of violence was problematic for those lacking a sense of humor.

It’s easy to see why the Fawkes mask became associated with rebellion after its use in V for Vendetta. The reasoning behind Moore’s choice of the Guy Fawkes theme is not so straightforward. He meant the character V to be morally ambiguous, possibly a hero, or maybe a madman. The historical Fawkes was a suitably complex character, and was no angel, though not quite a demon either. He plotted the violent deaths of hundreds, though at least he targeted his enemies in government rather than innocent civilians. He fought the tyrannical rule of King James I, whose discriminatory laws made life hellish for English Catholics. If the plot had succeeded, however, the rebels would have imposed a Catholic monarch who likely would have been just as oppressive to Protestants.

Upon his arrest, Fawkes was initially defiant, gaining the admiration of King James, though not his mercy. He resisted hours of brutal torture but finally broke, implicating and dooming his co-conspirators. All were tried and given the particularly sadistic sentence of death by drawing and quartering. On the day of his execution, Fawkes cheated the authorities of their brutal revenge by jumping off the gallows platform, thus breaking his own neck.

Though the movie version of Vendetta made the face of Guy Fawkes into a world-wide meme, Alan Moore was highly critical of the adaptation. He felt the script had simplified the V character to made him more of an unambiguous hero, and also softened the graphic novel’s anarchistic message. Personally, as much as I enjoyed the movie and rooted for V, I still felt conflicted about him. I found his imprisonment and psychological torture of his protege Evey (supposedly to break her fear of death and assure her love of liberty) to be quite disturbing.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the historical Fawkes, November 5th has become an important day for those who love liberty around the world. It is no longer just for the English to remember.

 

Attack on Titan

At the 2013 Saboten Con, which was held here in the Phoenix area, we all heard a lot of buzz about a new anime called Attack on Titan. The show’s popularity was obvious from the full conference room for the panel discussion on the upcoming season. There were also showings of the actual episodes, which were restricted to 18+, supposedly due to graphic violence, so I was unable to attend with my son. Intrigued by all the fuss, I vowed to check it out.

The first thing I realized was that the title is a mistranslation. There’s no place called Titan (certainly not the famous moon of Saturn) being attacked. Instead, there are beings called titans which attack humans, and are attacked in return. So it should either be Attack of the Titans or Attack on the Titans. Like a lot of anime, this show was based on a manga, which was also released as a light novel.

Secondly, the claim of graphic violence was a gross exaggeration; I would rate it a PG-13. True, people get eaten by titans, but this is typically shown from a distance. As such, it’s no more violent than Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in which people were eaten by giants and monsters all the time. The one possible exception was a flashback scene in which the main protagonist, at the age of 9, uses deadly force to rescue a friend from murderous human traffickers. Yet surely this episode, bloody as it is, provides valuable lessons in “stranger danger” and the importance of self-defense.

My third observation is that the show’s immense popularity is at least partially deserved. The action is gripping, the characters engaging, and the art style is interesting, especially when portraying the titans. The opening and closing themes are much better than average, and surprisingly relevant to the show – though not all the lyrics are subtitled. Having said that, I’ve seen many science fiction animations that were better done and less hyped.

One of the strangest things about Attack is its backstory – though admittedly, many anime have strange premises; if you’ve even seen Speed Grapher you know what I’m talking about. In an unspecified future, humans fall prey to a race of giant humanoids called Titans, who seemingly come out of nowhere. Perpetually hungry, they devour almost the entire human race, except for the inhabitants of one city, which judging by the character names, seems to be somewhere in German-speaking Europe. The surviving city has three concentric 50-meter-high walls to protect its inhabitants against the predators. This enclosed area has just enough agricultural land to feed its people, and there the human race survives for a hundred years.

As the series begins, a “colossal titan,” larger than any ever seen, arrives to kick a hole in the outer wall. Dozens of hungry titans pour in to devour the population of the outer ring. Our unfortunate protagonist, a teenage boy named Eren Jaeger, escapes with his two best friends, but not before witnessing his mother being gobbled up by one of the marauding giants. He then swears to exterminate the entire titan race.

The weird thing about the Titans, which makes the whole plot line a bit difficult to swallow, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that they’re both slow and stupid. They don’t speak or wear clothing. They vary in size from 3 to 15 meters in height, and mostly look like giant naked men without genitalia (probably omitted more for reasons of censorship than plot.) Yet they are surprisingly difficult to kill, and never lose their appetites for human flesh. They are perfect “eating machines,” like two-legged land sharks.

What’s more, human technology has at this point devolved to something like a steampunk level. The only way a person can kill a a titan is to don a special jet pack which allows him or her (it’s an equal opportunity army) to fly close enough to stab the Titan in its only vulnerable spot, the base of its neck. Often as not, this maneuver results in the demise of the soldier rather than the Titan.

Though I won’t give any spoilers in this column, I will say that my guess about the Titans’ origin, which I made about 4 episodes in, was substantially correct. Another aspect of the show I greatly appreciated was its stealth libertarian message: the city government is portrayed as being incompetent to defend the people and callously indifferent to their fate.

On a scale of 1-5, I would give the show a 4. I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction action and doesn’t mind a little blood. You also need to have the capacity for a Harry Potter-esque suspension of disbelief. Be advised that the tragic events of the first 2 or 3 shows are really disheartening. Keep watching; it gets better.

Episodes of Attack on Titan are available for streaming on crunchyroll.com and funimation.com.