Note 27: To the Moon!

And why it would be hard to ACTUALLY cancel Dr. Seuss.

I’m currently into that phase of the week where my mind stopped working and I’m limping through to the next episode of WandaVision. I was certain that I wrote about rocket stocks before, but I’m not finding what I thought I wrote. Maybe I need to pay better attention to my own Notes!

(Quick disclosure before I get anyone into trouble: none of the stuff below is intended to be any kind of investment advice. I’ve gotten lucky on some key trades, but I’m now venturing away from traditional stock. I might get lucky again, or - more likely - there’ll be a future Note about the expensive tuition I paid to learn a hard lesson. Do your own research and seek your own counsel instead of relying on me as a source for recommendations. I may end up being a cautionary tale at best.)

The silver lining to the cloud of my premature senility is we’re going to talk about rocket stocks a bit this week. As previously detailed, I’ve started building out a space-based retirement portfolio to add a little spice to an account that’s heavily into low-load market-based index funds. (I worship at the altar of the Vanguard S&P 500 index funds.) I started out with an investment in Virgin Galactic (SPCE) and re-invested in Nokia (NOK) on the news that they had been picked by NASA to build out a 4G communications network on the Moon. NOK’s been treading water since then (-6%), and I’m still significantly up on SPCE (+85%). While these are interesting companies to hold, the #1 stock that I’ve been aiming to own is SpaceX, but that avenue’s closed to me, not being an accredited investor.

However, in the rocket news that I do follow, it came to my attention that a small-launch start-up called Astra was going public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). I did a bit of due diligence on the company and its principals and figured that I’d jump in on the early side, recognizing that it’s probably the riskiest investment I’ve made since Tesla (TSLA) a decade ago (and profit from those trades - along with Netflix [NFLX] - are funding my space portfolio).

While researching Astra (HOLUU), I discovered that it has a competitor that’s ahead of it in the small launch market called Rocket Lab. While Astra is still in its early platform development and hasn’t actually placed anything into orbit yet, Rocket Lab has. Given the opportunity, I felt that it would also be swell to invest in another player that was a bit higher up their technology tree. Rocket Labs has 17 successful launches under its belt, to Astra’s 0.

And guess what happened this week? Rocket Lab announced that they were also going public this year via a SPAC. (Let’s postpone a discussion on the pros and cons of SPACs for a future Note.) And having some funds in cash after selling my shares of Activision-Blizzard (ATVI) last week, I funneled them into Rocket Lab’s SPAC (VACQ). If everything goes according to plan and the SPAC process completes successfully, I’ll have added a bit of rocket fuel to my portfolio. These are long-term investments for me, and I’m looking forward to holding these for a decade or more.

This investment approach is volatile and may likely explode on me, but as the Reddit kids would say, it’s the only way TO THE MOON.

And speaking of explosions, how glorious was the fate of SpaceX’s SN10 today? It’s amazing how it flew and landed, even if it exploded several minutes after landing and sitting on its pad:

This is precisely why we build prototypes and test.

“Cancelling” Dr. Seuss?

This week, I’m very proud to report that I received my first reader request to cover a topic. The reader inquired what my thoughts were on the recent news that Dr. Seuss had been “cancelled”. I figured that this is as good of an opportunity to address the cancel culture that’s been in the news lately.

To recap The Case of the Missing Children’s Books, a number schools and community organizations held an event called Read Across America Day, which coincides with the birthday of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Now before I get into this too much, a couple of disclaimers:

  • I’ve read a handful of Dr. Seuss books, and as a child, his overall aesthetic and mode of storytelling didn’t appeal to me that much. Shel Silverstein was more my speed.

  • Thanks to a local Dr. Seuss art gallery in Chicago, the fact that there existed elements of his work that modern audiences could find objectionable was not news to me. At this point in my life, I assume that if you look hard enough into any storyteller born before a certain date (sometime in the 1960s, maybe?), you can find something to complain about in the storyteller’s catalog.

So, why did Dr. Seuss blow up this week? Two reasons:

So, what are my thoughts on this?

First of all, people calling this a “banning” are doing a disservice to the English language. If you read more about the six books pulled from publication, you’ll discover that it’s the company managing the Seuss literary estate that pulled the plug, not a publisher or bookseller. The company - Dr. Seuss Enterprises, in consultation with educators and other advisors - came to the conclusion that continuing to publish these books may not be in their ongoing interest, and ceased doing so. This fact alone is sufficient for me to conclude that this is a Whole Lot About Nothing.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s visit the alternate universe where both the publishers and booksellers - bending to pressure from a progressive crowd - decided that they were no longer going to publish Dr. Seuss. A Real Cancellation, if you will. What then?

My first thought is that this wouldn’t be as bad of news for Dr. Seuss Enterprises as it might have been 40 or more years ago. We live in an age where it’s never been easier to publish content directly to an audience, and by raising a fuss about Seuss, progressives just kicked off the advertising campaign for the new Dr. Seuss Universe online service where subscribers can read all of Seuss’s books, watch all of the cartoons made of his work, and purchase merchandise inspired by his works. They can replay the same process that DC Comics did a few years ago when they bundled comics with video (TV, films, and animation) in a single online service. And the louder progressives complain about Seuss, the more conservatives will sign up, because all that’s left of any sort of animating force on the Mainstream Right is pissing off progressives.

My second thought is that cancellation doesn’t really matter when the author is dead. Dr. Seuss won’t be publishing any new books, and the benefit that the cancelling services provide (publishers, booksellers) isn’t in creating the content, but building a sufficient reputational profile that will inspire reader purchases. Dr. Seuss did that hard work decades ago.

My final thought is that the public domain eventually makes cancellation entirely moot. A little more than a decade ago, I spent an enormous amount of time inspecting the intersection of the public domain and H.P. Lovecraft. Say what you will about Dr. Seuss, Lovecraft’s going to win the contest for being more racist, more colonialist, more misogynist, etc. than most of the other authors in the 20th century. If you buy into the idea that reading the Wrong Kinds of Works from the Wrong Kinds of Authors creates Actual Harm, Lovecraft would be on the top of your list of authors to Cancel.

So, why is Lovecraft more popular now then ever before? It’s pretty simple - his works are de facto (if not de jure), in the public domain. There’s nothing stopping me from pulling the text of my favorite Lovecraft story (which would be Through the Gates of the Silver Key), printing out copies and selling those editions online or through the mail. This is the exact reason that Hitler’s Mein Kampf will likely remain readily available to readers in free societies for the indefinite future.

In addition to allowing folks to read original works from shunned authors, the public domain also permits a wider degree of commentary and adaptation than would be possible with a copyrighted work. This is what lets Matt Ruff write a novel that casts Blacks in the mid-20th century as protagonists in the universe that Lovecraft created, and adapts cosmic horror tropes to highlight the evil of racism in the ‘50s (and inspires HBO to adapt).

The public domain allowed Victor LaValle to take Lovecraft’s most racist story (The Horror at Red Hook), and to turn it into an even more compelling story with a Black POV character in the 1920s (The Ballad of Black Tom). It allowed Ruthanna Emrys to flip HPL’s xenophobia on its head to tell a story about immigrants living in a hostile country. Inverting Lovecraft’s retrograde attitudes to tell new stories is now its own sub-genre in modern cosmic horror. This would drive the Old Gentleman from Providence crazy (thus subjecting him to a fate he so frequently gives his characters), but he’s dead and wrote for his time, and these new authors are alive and writing for theirs.

As for Seuss, he died in 1991, so by modern copyright law (assuming that he renewed his copyrights when required, we don’t extend the protection period for longer than 70 years after the death of the author), Seuss’s works will become legally available to everyone in 2061. This means that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, should they continue to withhold publication of those six books, can legally prevent any new copies of the books from being made until then. That doesn’t empower them to retroactively wipe those six books from private and library shelves, and any attempt to do so will only make the books more notorious and more desirable to collectors. In the next few decades, it may be trickier to get your hands on a fresh new version of any of those six books, but before the Internet became the a tool for cancelling works in the hands of the Woke Mob, it was extremely effective at resisting censorship. (Ask Metallica.) And from what I can see already, Dr. Seuss is already backed up on the Internet in ways that the Anti-Seuss’ers will have an impossible time completely cancelling.

While looking at this week’s Dr. Seuss news has some interesting elements, overall I’m coming to the conclusion that Cancel Culture, Wokeness, etc. is probably just a moral panic that we’re stuck in the middle of right now, and will burn itself out as it starts to eat its own proponents. I think that to what extent that most of us have to worry about it is to what extent we feed it fear and credibility. If you take those tenants seriously - to the point of attempting to ban “problematic” works and creators - I hope your house is made of thick glass. Because if we know anything about mobs and revolutionaries, it’s that they often end up going after their own.

As for me, I just plan on staying as chill as Dee Snider was back when it was his turn to be cancelled by a mob caught up in their own moral panic:

Book reports

I have a several books that I read this week that deserve longer reviews than I have space remaining in this Note.

In lieu of a report, please enjoy this Star Wars short film that was released with Star Wars: Squadrons late last year. I promise that it’ll be relevant to next week’s reviews.

I’m currently at 18 books out of 100 for the year, 2 ahead of pace.

Interesting reads

The truth about Gandalf (Polygon)

Now That WandaVision's Said the Scarlet Witch's Name, Here's What It Means (io9)

I’ll see you next week, CMDRs.