The Long View 2009-09-26: Jung in the 21st Century

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

It isn't at all clear that Carl Gustav Jung's reputation survived the publication of his most famous work, Liber Novus, known as the Red Book. Both John Reilly and Tim Powers have made use of his ideas, but the sheer strangeness of the work makes it uninteresting to the prosaic and political twenty-first century.

Jung in the 21st Century


When I was in college, I read my way through most of Carl Gustav Jung's Collected Works, in the elaborately illustrated and suitably dark hardcover volumes issued by the Bollingen Foundation. I by no means regard the time spent as wasted; you can get a good education just acquiring the resources to understand a system like Jung's. Neither do I condescend to Jungians with the attitude that Jung's philosophy is just something you outgrow; there are many unfootnoted Jungian notions floating around in my published work. Still, I don't think there was ever a time when I confused Jungianism with enlightenment, much less with salvation (people who knew me 35 years ago may remember otherwise, but if so, their memories are defective).

In any case, the Bollingen Foundation no longer exists. They decided in the 1960s that their work of making Jung's principal works available was complete and they turned the Bollingen Series over to Princeton University Press. Smaller entities have continued to promote Jung's works and ideas, however. Among them is the Philemon Foundation, which is about to strike a publishing coup:

During WWI, Jung commenced an extended self-exploration that he called his "confrontation with the unconscious." During this period, he developed his principal theories of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, psychological types and the process of individuation, and transformed psychotherapy from a practice concerned with the treatment of pathology into a means for reconnection with the soul and the recovery of meaning in life. At the heart of this endeavor was his legendary Red Book, a large, leather bound, illuminated volume that he created between 1914 and 1930, and which contained the nucleus of his later works. While Jung considered the Red Book, or Liber Novus (New Book) to be the central work in his oeuvre, it has remained unpublished...

Unpublished until October of this year, when a carefully produced facsimile edition with a critical (as in "annotated") English translation from the German will appear.

In some ways, the Red Book, as it will be called, sounds a bit like the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which is also a heavily illustrated expression of the “active imagination”:

([I]n English Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream, from Greek hypnos, "sleep", eros, "love", and mache, "fight") is a romance by Francesco Colonna and a famous example of early printing. First published in Venice, 1499, in an elegant page layout, with refined woodcut illustrations in an Early Renaissance style, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili presents a mysterious arcane allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus.

(We know that Aldus Manutius published the work, by the way, but there is more than one view about authorship. Samples of the work are available at that link, too.)

Despite the parallels, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili seems to be different in kind from the Red Book. For one thing, the former is a carefully constructed work designed in part to show off the author's Classical erudition. By all accounts, the Red Book is dense with obscure references, too, but only incidentally. The author was deliberately trying not to construct the book, but to let his imagination function without editing. There is also this: the book is fascinating, in the special sense of mesmerizing or bewitching, to Jungians and to people interested in related subjects. That is certainly the impression created by Sara Corbett's long article in the September 20 issue of the New York Times Magazine on the upcoming publication of the Red BookThe Holy Grail of the Unconscious. To some extent, the fascination adheres to the physical book itself, for so many years just an illuminated rumor in a bank vault. The book does have text, however:

The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. ("I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.") At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful... ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the Red Book — after he has traversed a desert, scrambled up mountains, carried God on his back, committed murder, visited hell; and after he has had long and inconclusive talks with his guru, Philemon, a man with bullhorns and a long beard who flaps around on kingfisher wings — Jung is feeling understandably tired and insane. This is when his soul, a female figure who surfaces periodically throughout the book, shows up again. She tells him not to fear madness but to accept it, even to tap into it as a source of creativity. "If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature."... In the Red Book, after Jung's soul urges him to embrace the madness, Jung is still doubtful. Then suddenly, as happens in dreams, his soul turns into "a fat, little professor," who expresses a kind of paternal concern for Jung.

Jung says: "I too believe that I've completely lost myself. Am I really crazy? It"s all terribly confusing."

The professor responds: "Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well."

Two items in Jung's box of tricks seem particularly responsible for keeping spiritual seekers interested in the system, for the excellent reason that these items resonate in the seekers' experience. One is that, if you pay attention to your dreams, they really will put on a show for you, though one may question whether the performance reliably follows the depth-psychological script or means quite what the depth-psychologists say. The other attraction is "synchronicity," the phenomenon of the "significant coincidence." Again, if you look for synchronous events, you will surely find them. If you are at all philosophically minded, you will spend many happy hours trying to figure out whether the coincidences are real or just a product of selective attention, or whether that distinction can have any meaning. And look, here is a synchronous event right here, since the very day the New York Times piece appeared (though before I read it or heard rumor of it, I solemnly swear) I posted to my website a long review of Frank McLynn's biography of Marcus Aurelius, which contains this passage:

The author brings some interests to this study that are peculiarly relevant to the period, but that some early 21st-century readers may find as exotic as the gladiatorial games that Marcus found so tedious. The author is keenly interested in depth psychology, particularly of the Jungian variety, which really was prefigured in the medicine of the second century. The famous second-century oneirologist Artemidorus gets several mentions (he is not very obscure, since he influenced both Jung and Freud). For that matter, so does the deified Asclepius, who offered advice in dreams to both physicians and patients; this was a culture in which valetudinarianism seems almost to have been a spiritual discipline.

Robertson Davies, himself a Jungian of the strict observance, attempted in The Cunning Man to describe an internist's medical practice that employed such a model. Regarding the second century, Peter Brown has noted that the Antonine Age enjoyed, or at least experienced, a low-key but personally important spiritual life that involved access to the numinous through dreams; and one might add, through the affect associated with holy places. However, we should remember that, even centuries earlier when pure theory preoccupied the finest minds of the Classical world, the ancients meant by the term "philosophy" something very like what Jungians mean by Jungianism: not just a system of propositions, but a therapeutic regimen with a comprehensive intellectual component.

On the whole, it seems to me that there are two things to remember about Jungianism. The first, which the Jungians themselves urge, is that their system may be good for you but it is not really “medicine.” The second is that Jungianism is not a religion, though it functions as one for many of its adherents. It some respects, it seems to have been designed to make possible a spiritual life without a transcendent dimension. This would be as much a mistake in the twenty-first century as it was in the second.

* * *

Speaking of Jung, Hermann Hesse was a fan, but he seems to have come to the conclusion that Jungianism was a self-referential exercise, a sort of game of symbols. Am I the first person to whom it has occurred that the annual Eranos Conferences in Switzerland, with their gatherings of "psychologists, philosophers, theologians, orientalists, historians of religions, ethnologists, Indologists, Islamists, Egyptologists, mythologists and scientists" (and senior CIA officials, but don't get me started) was the model for the annual Glass Bead Game in Hesse's book of the same title?

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Marcus Aurelius: A Life

Bust of Marcus Aurelius By Pierre-Selim - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Bust of Marcus Aurelius

By Pierre-Selim - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Another Roman history lesson, courtesy of Frank McLynn's biography of Marcus Aurelius. 

I have been slowly re-reading [for probably the twentieth time] G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, and I also find Chesterton's description of Classical Rome strikingly allusive. For Eastern Christians, the Roman Empire was a living presence until 1453, but for Western Christians, with the outsize influence of St. Augustine, the Fall of Rome is far more distant. 

For Catholics especially, Rome is both the model of all future states, and the tyranny that executed Christ and a memorably large number of his followers. No one has ever captured that tension as well as Chesterton.

Another thing that strikes me about The Everlasting Man is how well Chesterton's anthropology and archaeology aged. The sections at the beginning about the Lascaux cave paintings sound like the comment section of Greg Cochran's West Hunter. For a guy whose education was in art and literature, his views on science were very robust.

Marcus Aurelius
A Life

By Frank McLynn
Da Capo Press, 2009
684 Pages, US$30.00
ISBN: 978-0-306-81830-1


No less an eminence than Edward Gibbon laid it down that the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius from A.D. 161 to 180 (Marcus was born in 121) was the happiest era in the history of mankind. The author of this long, rambling, thoroughly entertaining biography, Frank McLynn (a noted historical biographer and sometime visiting lecturer at Strathclyde University), will have none of it. Though he plainly admires his subject, calling him conscientious, careworn, and courageous, he judges that the reign of Marcus was the ragged end of a long period of ideological fossilization in a society being gradually undermined by demographic decay and a deteriorating strategic situation. Marcus continued the run of competent good government that the empire had enjoyed since the accession of Nerva, the first of the Five Good Emperors, in A.D. 96. However, in Marcus's time the structural unsustainability of the empire began to become manifest. When Marcus died in 180, the empire under his son and successor, the variously degenerate Commodus, broke out in a toga-party from which it never really recovered. Rather than being the happiest time in human history, the reign of Marcus was simply the last period in Roman history when the greedy and complacent upper class, stultified by their educations, and the degraded and brutal urban proletariat, mollified by deliberately erratic imperial subsidies and blood-drenched public spectacles, could pretend that their world was working normally and would continue to do so forever.

The notion that Marcus Aurelius marks the halftime of the Roman Empire is not a new idea. The author is well aware of the revisionist wars that have riven the study of Roman history since the 1970s. He addresses many of the issues that have become controversial, but he does not try his readers' patience by fighting with his sources or by trying to argue away the glaringly obvious. On demographic issues, he sides with “the upper range of the minimizers,” so that the population of the empire during the Antonine Dynasty (the time of Marcus and his predecessor, Antoninus Pius, who reigned from A.D. 138 to 161) was probably around 70 million and not the fantastically larger figures suggested by some of the revisionists. About depopulation, he holds that it was certainly happening in Italy and that the process had important consequences.

He also lays great stress on the Antonine Plague that afflicted Marcus's later years and which he says may have killed at least 10% of the imperial population. It certainly exacerbated the manpower shortages of those years, as well as probably killing Marcus himself while on campaign in the Danube region. Galen himself was Marcus's physician (though he prudently avoided going on campaign with the emperor), and from Galen's studies of the disease the author surmises that the plague was a form of small pox. Except maybe it was small pox plus something else. Or maybe it was something else entirely. Revisionism occurs in part because we have just enough information to raise a question but not enough to answer it.

The author brings some interests to this study that are peculiarly relevant to the period, but that some early 21st-century readers may find as exotic as the gladiatorial games that Marcus found so tedious. The author is keenly interested in depth psychology, particularly of the Jungian variety, which really was prefigured in the medicine of the second century. The famous second-century oneirologist Artemidorus gets several mentions (he is not very obscure, since he influenced both Jung and Freud). For that matter, so does the deified Asclepius, who offered advice in dreams to both physicians and patients; this was a culture in which valetudinarianism seems almost to have been a spiritual discipline.

Just as important as psychology, the author is also keenly interested in the traditional questions of philosophy. In modern times, Marcus Aurelius became the most widely read Stoic philosopher of the ancient world, this because of the compilation of his reflections (probably written on that last campaign in the Balkans) called the Meditations. The perennial popularity of the Meditations stems in part from their quotably aphoristic style, in part (at least during eras when such things are popular) from their pantheistic element, and in part from their appeal to the agnostically inclined as a source of ethical principles without an overtly religious basis. This biography makes clear how profound a mistake it is to view the emperor as a polite deist; he shared in no small degree the growing embrace of the numinous that characterized his century. It also makes clear the extent to which Marcus shared his time's philosophical eclecticism. Of the Four Schools that received public support, Epicureanism and Stoicism were losing their popular audience for being too theoretical and remote from real life; Platonism and, to some extent Aristotelianism were gaining support in no small part because they were friendlier to religious experience. Marcus's Stoicism incorporated quite a lot of Platonism, but not in a way to fill the inherent gaps or resolve the original tension in Stoicism; the author explains these points in remarkable detail. He also explains how Stoicism formed the emperor's attitude toward government.

Marcus got to be emperor because he was chosen when a small child by his distant relative, the emperor Hadrian. The book recites the dense web of family relationships that characterizes all genuine Roman history. The web grows even denser, perhaps, in the second century, since the senatorial class did not reproduce itself and made up the lack of living heirs through adoption; the practice of frequent divorce and remarriage exacerbated the complexity. Readers of this book will soon appreciate that the institution of “co-emperors” was not an innovation of Diocletian. Hadrian had two, one of whom did not live long, the other being the future emperor Antoninus Pius (all these people underwent complicated name changes when the emperor adopted them and again when they assumed the throne, and then sometimes again when they died; we may dispense with these matters here).

“Vespine” is one of the kinder adjectives that the author applies to Hadrian, who reigned from A. D. 117 to 138. That emperor is known in every high-school history text as the one who withdrew from those “empire at its greatest extent” borders created by his predecessor Trajan to more defensible lines. In graduate school, he is known as the emperor who was so upset that his catamite drowned himself in the Nile that he had the fellow deified. The author takes every opportunity to remind us that, although there was quite a lot of same-sex activity during this period of the empire, nonetheless early 21st-century ideas about homosexuality, much less “gayness,” simply cannot be mapped onto that era, and the emperor's behavior was considered scandalous. The emperor was vindictive and bore grudges, though he maintained a carapace of amiability until his personality decayed in his last two years. He humiliated the Senate in various ways, including the execution of its more unsatisfactory members. He humiliated Rome by spending as much time as possible traveling about the empire. Worst of all, he was a know-it-all polymath who was often wrong but whom it was not at all safe to correct. On the upside, though, a sympathetic historian might say that he was one of those unhappy people who are better than their nature. He at least took his role seriously, and he is not counted among the “Good Emperors” for no reason. He was a good judge of character, if we may judge by his selection of Antoninus and Marcus to succeed him.

Antoninus Pius was a dutiful senator who, by middle age, had never done anything very interesting and who ascended to the imperial throne apparently determined to maintain that record. Like his predecessor and his successor, he was a “Spanish” emperor, a man descended from Roman colonists in Iberia. As the author points out, he seems to have been the only Roman emperor who never waged a war. He was also the last emperor who was able to spend practically his whole reign in the neighborhood of Rome. He swore never to execute a senator; his greatest conflict with the Senate arose in connection with the deification of Hadrian. Antoninus did not like him either, but he felt the honor had to be bestowed for the sake of the imperial office. Beyond that, he rationalized the legal system at the margins and provided sound fiscal management, though the author claims that disaster relief and army bonuses left the treasury largely empty by the time Marcus succeeded him.

Marcus's biological father died when Marcus was young. “Verus” was the family name. Hadrian called the boy “Verissimus,” a play on his name that meant “most true” or “most trustworthy”; or perhaps in this case, as the author seems to suggest, it meant “For God's sake, Marcus, do you have to be right about everything all day long?” We know quite a lot about Marcus-the-student because his correspondence with his tutor Fronto has survived. Marcus never had much of a sense of humor, but the author suggests the letters show that he was by far the more intelligent of the correspondents, and sometimes he makes a witticism that goes over the old man's head. Fronto's notion of style seems to have gone against every precept of good usage that teachers of English composition have been trying to drill into their slacking students for sixty years. He encouraged euphuism, verbosity, archaism, and an arch use of literary references. He also, by the way, encouraged the use of Latin.

Latin was Marcus's working language all his life, but it was not the language he favored for philosophical discourse. The Meditations are written in Greek, a language in which the emperor was proficient but not, the author tells us, a master of style. This had some implications for his philosophical development. Seneca, who had lived about a century earlier, is generally thought of as the other important early imperial Stoic, but he wrote in Latin and seems to have made little impression on Marcus. For Marcus, the great exponent of Stoicism was Epictetus (A.D. 55 to 135), a former slave to one of Nero's freedman. He wrote no books, but he taught in Greek, and his lectures are preserved in that language.

Epictetus had suffered in the persecution of philosophers by the emperor Domitian, who reigned from A.D. 81 to 96, and who sometimes is regarded as a type of Antichrist. The philosopher was keener on duty than on the cosmological points that often engaged the Stoics, and one of the duties he discerned was a special one for emperors not to be tyrants. He also assigned the Roman Empire a higher ontological status than it had ever had before. The empire for Epictetus was cosmopolis, a universal polity that was part of the natural order of things, like the existence of the human race itself. Being part of the universal order had political implications, which Marcus was not slow to draw. The whole universe was a single unit in which each part affected every other. (The author makes much of the relationship between the Stoic version of holism and Whitehead's notion of prehensions; some readers may be reminded of quantum entanglement.) It was eternal but limited in time, since it moved in a great cycle that repeats itself absolutely. Nothing, then, could ever really change. The social order of the empire was natural and irreformable.

The part of the wise man in an essentially pre-determined and unalterable world, therefore, was to attend to the one thing in the universe that he could alter, which was his own internal states of mind. He must do his duty, but suffer neither joy nor despair at the outcome. This variety of fatalism conduced to an even temper and a certain measured asceticism in one's personal life. It also made thoroughgoing reform literally unimaginable. It made progress unimaginable. The author almost frantically draws our attention to the fact that Marcus's Stoicism, most of it derived from earlier thinkers but some original with him, eclipsed hope and deadened curiosity. And Marcus was the best the empire had to offer.

Marcus stayed with the Emperor Antoninus in central Italy as his deputy and aide for more than two decades before becoming emperor himself. He was given responsible work to do. Early on, he displayed a predilection for turning appointments that another man might have treated as an empty honor or a sinecure into real jobs. This part of his career made him thoroughly familiar with the technical aspects of administration, as well as with a big-picture view of the empire. It had the drawback of ensuring that Marcus would know the empire only from his paperwork. He had never been abroad, in the sense of outside Italy, and he had no military experience at any level. Nonetheless, when repeated crises afflicted the empire during his reign, he would perform better than any other imperial hot-house flower in world history.

The Emperor Marcus did have a private life. Unfortunately for historians, it was one of those private lives to which the term “exemplary” might apply and not leave much more to be said. He had 15 children by his only wife, Faustina, the daughter of Antoninus. That number was as extraordinary then as now; a typical Roman matron might have three. The survival rate of the imperial children was not unusual, unfortunately: of those 15, only six lived to adulthood. The author detects a genuine nihilism in the Roman upper class brought on in part by numbers like these. The upper class really did not care much about the future because they could not reasonably expect their direct descendants to be living in it. This assessment by the author is a little counterintuitive. Why should the Romans have been peculiarly depressed by what until the 19th century been the human condition? Still, when we judge Marcus's embrace of the Buddhist view that “he who has no love has no woe,” we should remember how many children he buried.

Marcus in office continued Antoninus's policy of constitutional punctilio, particularly toward the Senate. The author observes that Marcus's treatment of that body had less in common with how an American president might treat Congress than like how a scrupulous British prime minister might treat the monarch: the queen is kept carefully informed on every issue and deferentially asked for permission she has no power to refuse. Nonetheless, the author also notes that the trend toward absolute monarchy that had been apparent even under the Good Emperors continued in Marcus's time. Though it had been a long time since the emperor could not have his own way and his own way of having it, still the more tactful emperors had been in the habit of seeking a “senatus consultum” from the Senate regarding any important initiative. Essentially, that was a resolution from the Senate advising the emperor to do what he intended to do anyway. The senatus consultum would be the citable law. Under Marcus, however, his “oratio” to the Senate, an address in which he explained his acts and intentions, increasingly was treated as law. Under another emperor the expansion of this practice might have caused some unease, even in the second century. However, this was Marcus Aurelius, Mr. Constitution himself, so there was no reason to complain.

Roman emperors were a font of advisory legal opinions to pretty much anyone who cared to ask for one. They also conducted trials themselves. If they were as hardworking as Marcus, they would hold long proceedings and not just summary hearings. Marcus favored widows and orphans, in that he took care to amend the law to ensure that the beneficiaries of wills were not defrauded by their administrators or disinherited by technical error. Unlike his master Epictetus, he had no philosophical objection to slavery, but he did strengthen the presumption in the law (to use a later Common Law term) in favor of manumission. He also lent his own money to encourage landholding in Italy, quite likely in order to try to break the trend toward huge slave-worked latifundia that disturbed even the Roman sensibility.

Marcus suffered fools gladly, a duty enjoined on him by his Stoic convictions. This applied both to his work as a magistrate and as a scholar. Yes, it was safe to tell this emperor to his face that he was in error about something, or that he had done wrong. The satirist Lucian flourished during his reign because Marcus refused to take offense, even if he generally could not take a joke. A duty even grimmer than enduring stand-up comedy was the funding of and attendance at the spectacles that the people demanded; to refuse either was to risk insurrection. Marcus was not a sentimental fellow, but he had no interest in seeing animals slaughtered or criminals executed, and he seemed to think that if you've seen one chariot race you've seen them all. He learned, as Caesar had before him, that to do paperwork at the circus was to enrage the crowd. He hit on the trick of holding cabinet meetings in the imperial box during games. The people thought he was being one of the guys, and he managed to get some work done.

However, the author repeatedly reminds us that Marcus was on the side of the “big battalions,” of the class of large landholders for whose benefit the empire more or less openly operated. Even the kind of land reform that had occurred at earlier stages of the empire seemed beyond the range of possibility, or maybe beyond the range of imagination. Citizenship became increasingly devalued as the empire aged. In the first half of the first century, the author reminds us, the Roman citizenship even of the provincial tent-maker St. Paul was enough to activate an elaborate system of due process that kept him alive for many months until he could be tried at Rome. In Marcus's day, such a man would have been given a short hearing locally and probably executed on the spot. A few decades after Marcus, and citizenship would be bestowed on all freemen in the empire alike, not as a matter of civil equality but to spread the liability for direct imperial taxes. Under Marcus, the law increasingly recognized wealth and birth as dispositive of the rights individuals enjoyed and the duties to which they were obligated. A process of 500 years of legal evolution toward universal citizenship reached its logical limit at about the time it became irrelevant. This was just the kind of phenomenon that Marcus's anti-historicist education disabled him from seeing.

Keeping as always his attention on the things he could actually control, Marcus adopted one Lucius Verus as his junior colleague. He thereby honored Antoninus's wish to honor the plan of Hadrian to include Lucius in the succession plan, though Hadrian seems to have been the only person in antiquity who saw much merit in Lucius. Lucius was not a vicious man, but he was a party animal (“pansexual debauchee” in the author's delicate phrase). The emperors maintained separate courts at Rome, which from their descriptions must have been a bit like meetings of the Sensible Party and the Silly Party respectively. At Marcus's court philosophers of various sorts, usually as bearded as Marcus himself, could be found holding seminars on the perennial questions. Some shaved their heads as an added sign of seriousness. Lucius's court, in contrast, was Animal House with real togas. Nonetheless, when the test came, Lucius did not do too badly.

Marcus had barely settled into office when the first foreign shock struck the empire: the Parthians had invaded the eastern provinces. Rome had been at war with Parthia on and off since the late Republic, but this was the first war the Parthians had started. Hadrian's withdrawal from Mesopotamia had perhaps created an illusion of weakness, while the responsible Romans in the east had made a hash of the control of the succession in the client kingdom of Armenia. In any case, something had to be done fast, and Marcus made the surprising decision to send Lucius to do it.

Lucius took his time getting to the east, stopping at every city where a good time was to be had, especially if it involved the theater; he was a patron of thespians, to put it politely. Eventually, he made his base at Antioch. He had brought as good a staff as the empire had ever produced, however. He had the wit to endorse sound strategy when he saw it, and he made sure the Roman drive to the east had adequate logistics. The Parthians were creamed. As the author points out, Trajan and Hadrian had had comparable success; the empire had worked out the tactics to defeat Parthia long ago. Parthia remained an irritant because its feudal society was not of a kind that the empire could assimilate. The real problem would come in the next century, when Parthia collapsed and was replaced by the lethal menace of Persia. Meanwhile, though, Lucius was able to collect the credit for the successful campaign and return to Rome. Marcus indulged his request for Senatorial thanks for conquering territories he had not actually much bothered. Lucius's flacking was done by old Fronto as the campaign's historian, so perhaps Marcus felt the need to be even more than usually patient.

So far, so good, but the peace of the empire by that point was being hollowed out in certain areas. Several regions, particularly in the Balkans, southwest Anatolia, and part of western Africa were chronically infested by bandits by the late second century. As for Italy, the author characterizes the situation there as a great deal like that in 18th-century England: an exquisite aristocracy living in a landscape in which they did not dare to travel the roads, even during the day, without a formidable armed escort. That state of things, too, was probably a declension from the days of St. Paul, but the change did not constitute an urgent emergency. That was provided by the first of the German invasions.

The author provides us with a brief history of Roman relations with Germania, the loosely defined region north and east of the empire where the leading elements in the various tribes and kingdoms spoke a Germanic language. The empire had abandoned the attempt to expand east across the Rhine for much the same reason that Hadrian had abandoned Trajan's project of directly annexing Mesopotamia: the economy was too poor and the population too sparse to pay for the region's occupation or civil government. By Marcus's time the Rhine had long been a quiet frontier, however, and most of the empire's frontier troops were stationed on or near the Danube. The polities to the north of that line were not so primitive as they had been or so disorganized. They wanted the benefit of economic contact with the empire without political control. Since negotiation had not served particularly well with Antoninus's rather isolationist government, they decided to try organized plunder under the new emperor.

The extent of the coordinated raids from what is now southern Germany was serious enough: the invaders reached the neighborhood of Aquileia, from which they could have threatened the major cities of northern Italy if they had had a strategic plan. More alarming still, however, was the fact that the empire once again had a major war on its borders that it did not start. This time, the emperor went to organize the defense himself, bringing Lucius in tow to keep him out of trouble. (When Lucius died a few years later, Marcus chose not to complicate his succession plans for his own son Commodus by picking another adult colleague.) It was a difficult campaign, made more so by the fact there were no objectives whose capture might defray the cost of the war, or for that matter whose capture might decide the issue politically. In such a case there is no workable objective but extermination, or at least reaching a degree of superiority where extermination can be plausibly threatened. Marcus eventually was on the verge of complete victory along these lines, but then had to reach a compromise peace.

In another portent of things to come, the governor of Syria, Avidius Cassius, had declared himself emperor. He was under the impression that Marcus had died, an impression that may have resulted from a miscommunication from Marcus's wife Faustina, who seems in any case to have been provisionally ready to marry him. Trying to look as unruffled as possible, Marcus sauntered from the Danube to Rome and then to the east, with the avowed intention of clearing up the misunderstanding. In the event, Governor Cassius was killed by one of his own men, and Faustina died on route with her husband to the Levant, not altogether impossibly of natural causes. Marcus exacted no terrible revenge on Avidius's family or his few supporters, though a few executions were inevitable.

There were a few years of peace, and then the settlement that Marcus had created on the Danube began to fall apart. He initiated another campaign, this time a bit further east in Dacia. This went more smoothly than the first war, but was hampered by the outbreak of the plague. To that disease Marcus himself succumbed. He went through with the project of having his son Commodus succeed him, despite the fact it was apparent to everyone that the young man had not turned out well. Perhaps the emperor's Stoic fatalism at last persuaded him that the fate of cosmopolis was among the things he could not control, no matter what he did.

In some ways, the most interesting evidence of the great change that occurred to the empire in the second century is the mutation in imperial iconography. The earlier Good Emperors had favored the use of the heroes of Roman history on their coinage. Under Marcus, the figures tended to be religious or mythological. And then there is the Tale of the Two Columns. Trajan's Column (which this book does not discuss in detail) is an essentially political document extolling the emperor's numerous if ephemeral conquests. Marcus Aurelius's Column (which the author does discuss) also deals in large part with military matters, but depicts these events with significant supernatural intervention. The depiction of the first German war recounts the Lightening Miracle, in which Marcus is reported to have called down a thunderbolt on an enemy siege machine, and the Rain Miracle, in which a Roman contingent is depicted as being saved by a providential deluge. The water god shown creating the deluge does not look like any iconography before or since, or perhaps not until the 20th-century comic book.

The second century was a time of the stirring of the spirit. The author reminds us on several occasions that there was a general drift throughout the period toward monotheism among the educated, so that men like Epictetus often spoke of God in the singular. (Marcus rarely did, though. When he alluded to a Supreme Being, he normally used some pantheistic locution.) On a popular level, the era was full of wonder workers, preachers, and prophets of all sorts. Some of these last bore apocalyptic messages that another emperor might have taken in bad part: to predict the end of the world could reasonably imply a threat to the world's ruler. When such people were brought to Marcus's attention, however, he dealt with them indulgently. The exception to his attitude of toleration involved Christianity, of which Marcus is remembered as one of the most vicious persecutors.

This is more than a little odd. The author recites for us the history of the Roman attitude toward Christianity, of which the most striking feature is the general trend toward toleration under the Good Emperors. Trajan endorsed the policy of one of his governors of requiring reputed Christians to sacrifice to the Olympians to prove their loyalty, but forbade that the governor (Pliny the Younger, to be precise) to hunt down Christians to question. Hadrian and Antoninus had required strict standards of proof for the fantastic crimes of which Christians were routinely accused; local persecution of the sect was clearly disfavored by the imperial government, even if not quite forbidden. Then Marcus the humane philosopher came to power, a man who believed that logos governed the world, and persecution broke out everywhere. In some places, notably Lyon in Gaul, there were horror-shows in which hundreds of people were sent to the arena without a shred of due process. In other places, little Pilates tried to weasel their way around the law by offering the accused technicalities to snatch at, which even more disconcertingly the accused often refused to do.

No decree or rescript from Marcus survives ordering a general persecution of Christians, but it is certain that he knew what was happening. Some of the victims were locally prominent Roman citizens, and in any case, Marcus would have received many queries about these proceedings as an ordinary part of his legal work. Furthermore, there was a flurry of sophisticated “apologies” for Christianity, some of them addressed to the emperor himself. Even some of the Christians seemed to believe that the emperor would relent if only someone told him the tenets of their religion and that they prayed for him daily. We know for a fact that at least one person did tell him: Athenogoras delivered his apology to Marcus in person at Athens in A.D. 176. It did no good. The persecution eased under Commodus partly because he had a Christian mistress and partly as an aspect of the general paralysis of government during those years.

The author argues, persuasively, that the persecution of Christianity was the correct thing to do in the context of Marcus's world view. There were second-century Romans who opposed metaphysical monotheism; Tacitus comes to mind. However, the empire was willing to tolerate the monotheism of the Jews, even though the Jews had launched two catastrophic revolts against the empire, since it was the monotheism of a self-limiting sect. The Church, in contrast, claimed to be a cosmopolis in just the way that Epictetus's empire was cosmopolis: an eternal community that rightfully laid claim to the final loyalty of all mankind. In the light of such claims, it was irrelevant that Christians prayed for the emperor. To promise to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's is to imply that there are things that are not Caesar's. That is the sort of claim against the state that the Classical world, from first to last, was never able to accommodate.

Something more was at work in the second century than can be explained by political theory, however. Something new was trying to enter the world, and conscientious, careworn, and courageous Marcus Aurelius was moved to stop it. I recommend this book to all students of the period, but one of its effects has been to increase my appreciation for the treatment of its period in G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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Marcus Aurelius: A Life
By Frank McLynn

The Comtemplative Life

I'm going to break from my chronological reposting of John J. Reilly's The Long View for a bit, because I read a fascinating book review on SlateStarCodex, BOOK REVIEW: MASTERING THE CORE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA

I noticed that Scott Alexander's review was oddly unsympathetic, insofar as the core of what the author of the book described as mystical experiences were mostly categorized as forms of mental illness. This is an interesting idea worth pursuing further. In order to do so, I wanted to repost John's review of St. Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle. I thought I would just link to the Internet Archive, but today I found out that the robots.txt on wouldn't let me.

Which is odd, since John has been dead for five years. I looked, and I found someone has bought the domain and setup a fake site, with some of John's content, and some random gibberish. Whoever bought the domain is using an WHOIS anonymizer, so it is a bit harder to see who it is.


Weird, but it gives me an excuse to post some really interesting stuff. More fun than rehashing old politics, other than I was just getting to Valerie Plame circa 2005, who just became internet famous again.

The Long View: Augustine: A Biography

St. Augustine By Unknown -, Public Domain,

St. Augustine

By Unknown -, Public Domain,

I don't have much to add to this fine book review of a biography of St. Augustine, other than to highlight this:

At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

A Biography
By Peter Brown
University of California Press, 2000
Originally Published 1967
548 Pages, Various Prices
ISBN 0-520-22757-3

A Review By John J. Reilly


Aurelius Augustinus, known to history as Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, lived from 354 to 430. When he was born in Thagaste (a town in the Province of Numidia: perhaps the Roman equivalent of the American Midwest), a provincial like himself might hope to pursue a career as a public intellectual in Italy and the great cities of the east. At the time of his death, Rome had already been sacked 20 years before. Roman Africa, long the most secure region of the empire, had collapsed in the space of two years. The Vandals were besieging Hippo Regius, the port city where he had been bishop for 35 years. There are many reasons for studying the life of Augustine, but among them is surely the fact that he was a highly articulate man who lived at the end of the world.

This biography by Peter Brown is now almost 40 years old. Since he finished it, Brown became one of the leading authorities on late antiquity. This edition includes an epilogue with some second thoughts and a survey of writings by Augustine that came to light in the last quarter of the 20th century. It is hard to imagine what more one could want in a book this size, but as Brown himself points out, it has certain blind spots. He follows Augustine's theology only to the extent it seems to have some psychological significance for Augustine or the culture of his period. Brown also notes that, while our growing understanding of Augustine's society makes him appear no less original, it also highlights the fact that the Bishop of Hippo did not loom as large as earlier historians had assumed. I have often felt there to be a problem with Shakespeare studies: they forget that, when Shakespeare was alive, being Shakespeare was not such a big deal. Something similar may also have been true of Augustine.

The future saint was born about 400 miles west of Carthage, a Roman city on the site of the Roman Republic's ancient enemy, and about 150 miles southeast of Hippo. The region was traditionally a granary of the Roman Empire. Augustine's hometown, Thagaste (Souk Ahras in modern Algeria) was a conventional Roman grid-city, but going to seed. Major building had stopped for almost a century, and the neat layout of streets was supplemented by warrens of shantytowns.

There are continuing questions about Augustine's ethnicity and knowledge of languages that this book does nothing to clear up. Some secondary sources say baldly that “Augustine spoke Punic,” which they identify with the Semitic language of ancient Carthage. Brown says no; he even says that the “Punic” to which Augustine and his contemporaries referred was actually a form of Berber. In any case, Augustine in later life did seem to need an interpreter to deal with the country people from the non-Latin-speaking parts of his diocese.

Augustine's education, in Thagaste and Carthage, was based on scraps and tatters of Roman authors. It involved the minute analysis of great chunks of Cicero, but as Brown points out, Augustine as a student seems not to have encountered any philosophy as a coherent system, not even in translation. He studied Greek, and he could make translations at need, but he could not write or speak it. His family was Christian, or at least Monica his mother was (his father would be baptized on his deathbed). However, part of his difficulty as a young man with Christianity was that the Latin translations of the Bible then in use were subliterary. Only much later would Augustine's friend, Saint Jerome, produce the Latin Vulgate version that would remain standard throughout the West even after Latin ceased to be spoken. Like the King James Version, Jerome's Vulgate may have been too pretty for its own good.

Augustine's first conversion, if we may use that term, was to Manicheanism, a form of gnosticism created in the 3rd century by Mani, a prophet from Mesopotamia. This doctrine held that the evil in the world was the result of there being two principles, dark and light, evil and good. The disgust with the mere physicality of human beings that people of all religious persuasions felt in late antiquity made this doctrine intuitively attractive. The late empire was nominally Christian and Manicheanism was proscribed, but it created little cells everywhere, in a manner reminiscent of Masonry, or for that matter, of 20th-century Communism. Augustine was a fellow traveler.

He quickly found problems with it, however. The sacred texts of Manicheanism were not subject to philosophical inquiry. Doctrines about the movement of the moon were central to the system, but Augustine knew enough astronomy to know that they were nonsense. There was also the deeper problem that the Manichean Light was helpless. The Elect might hope to purify themselves of darkness, but there was nothing to be done about the state of things in this life. If the Light could do nothing, then why bother about it?

According to some historians, notably Toynbee, the real date for the fall of the Roman Empire is 378, when the Visigoths killed the emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople and the empire lost control of the frontier in the Balkans. Contemporaries recognized the gravity of that event. Still, it was not so serious that Augustine could not sail for Rome in 383 to teach rhetoric at an advanced level. As a teacher in Rome, he famously discovered that Roman students were deadbeats about paying their school fees. A little later, influential contacts and natural ability secured him an appointment as a professor of rhetoric in Milan in northern Italy. In effect, he was an imperial flack, work that he did not appear to find satisfying.

We should remember that Milan was then the capital of the empire in the West. In the empire's last two centuries there were normally two emperors, nominally colleagues, with the senior emperor resident in Constantinople and the junior somewhere in Italy. The effective seat of government had actually shifted to Milan as early as the 2nd century: under the empire at its height, its rulers discovered that, strategically, Rome was in the middle of nowhere. Later in Augustine's life, the government would move permanently to Ravenna. There it was no more effective, but it was at least protected by marshes.

In Milan, Augustine completed the transition to Platonism that he had begun long before. By “Platonism,” he meant what is now called “neoplatonism,” the mystical, even ecstatic doctrine of Plotinus and Porphyry, but which people of Augustine's day saw as perfectly continuous with the school of Plato. In any case, the doctrine was a revelation to him on several levels.

To begin with, this was his first acquaintance with the idea that there could be real entities that are not material. The Light and Dark of the Manicheans were thought to be different kinds of stuff. Even the grossest superstitions of late antiquity were “materialist” in this sense, as indeed were most forms of late Classical philosophy. Augustine saw that the notion of the non-material Idea was far more useful.

More important, Augustine saw that the Good need not be helpless. Quite the opposite: it was overwhelming. In the neoplatonic view, the world we see is simply a pale image of the Good, which exists at the summit of the chain of Being, each link of which is more perfect than the one below. Neoplatonism promised direct experience of the Good, which was also the Beautiful and the True, through contemplation and asceticism. This was a rather more satisfactory goal than the ritual purity of the Manichean Elect.

Many sophisticated pagans made their peace with Christianity through Platonism, which they believed allowed the common people an image of the Good. Platonists of this sort might attend church in good conscience, without being baptized, as a social convention. Augustine was a member of this class for a time, perhaps. However, in Milan he met not just sophisticated Platonists, but also sophisticated Christians, the most important of whom was the city's famous bishop, Ambrose, later to be acclaimed a saint.

Ambrose successfully faced down emperors when the need arose. He also succeeded in overcoming Augustine's largely literary prejudice against the Christian scriptures. In any case, Augustine's experiences in Milan led up to the day in 386 when, in an Italian garden, he heard a child's voice say, “take up; read.” His encounter with scripture in response to this injunction completed his conversion to Christianity. His baptism soon followed. He then set about reforming his own life; a little later, he turned his attention to reforming other people's lives. We remember Saint Augustine because of the record he left us of his discovery of the extent to which these things were and were not possible.

During the next two years, Augustine briefly lived in a group home, a sort of proto-monastery, with similarly minded philosophical Christians. Like most people of his day, he assumed that deep conversion would require a renunciation of married life, if not quite of family life: Monica, his mother, had followed him to Italy and apparently managed his household. In any case, he canceled plans for marriage to an heiress. He also sent away his concubine, by whom he had had a son, who died as a young man. (“Concubine” sounds rather racy in modern English. In the Greco-Roman world it was a prosaic arrangement in the nature of a “civil union,” though not generally a union of equals.) Monica's Catholic orthodoxy was not the least of the influences in her son's conversion. She died just before they were all about to return home to Thagaste. She became a saint, too.

Brown notes that Augustine left Italy at just the time when it began to cease to be true that all roads led to Rome. He would do business all the remainder of his life with the government in northern Italy and with the pope in Rome, but he belonged to the last generation of provincials who went to Rome to make their reputations. Through invasion, and even more through irresponsible uprisings by local commanders, the wheels were starting to fall off the political system. Increasingly, the empire was unable to guarantee the security of its citizens, even at the cost of oppression.

Back in sheltered Africa, though, Augustine now had a reputation as a man of learning and good character, so much so that he was essentially drafted as a priest by the congregation of the basilica of Hippo in 391. Four or five years later, he became bishop. His transformation began into Saint Augustine, the great Doctor of the Latin West.

Augustine wrote quite literally a library of books. When he spoke of his library at Hippo, in fact, he seems to have been referring to a small research and publishing enterprise, dedicated in no small part to disseminating the wide range of texts he produced. Still, when people talk about Augustine, they are normally talking about two books: the Confessions, which began to appear about 400 and which deals with his conversion; and The City of God, parts of which began to circulate in 413, and which tried to make sense of the sack of Rome three years before.

Two points are particularly interesting about the Confessions, in light of what we know about Augustine's background. The first is that, despite Augustine's Platonic readiness to conceive of God as an intellectual object, Augustine seems him as the prime mover in his conversion. The book, in fact, is largely a second-person address to God, to Whom Augustine recounts how God led him through reason, through joy, and through happy accident to that garden where Augustine heard the child's voice. For someone who had recently been a Manichean, this was a very favorable assessment of world of the senses. Human nature itself was full of handles for God to grab onto.

The other point is that the story does not end with Augustine's conversion. That was unusual: conversion narratives, then and since, often assumed that the protagonist would be effortlessly holy ever after. Neither was it usual for high paganism: neoplatonic philosophers and Stoic sages were supposed to “get it,” to achieve enlightenment, and then to live an untroubled life in semi-retirement, where they would try to explain the ineffable to eager students. As we have seen, Augustine actually tried to do something like that, but discovered he was not good enough. Even after his conversion, he was still Augustine. He needed God's help at least as much after his baptism as he needed it before. Perfection in this life was not an option.

This was, perhaps, why Augustine had little patience with sects and theological opinions that promised perfection, or that even said it was possible.

One such sect was the Donatist Church, a schismatic group that was actually the dominant church in Africa when Augustine returned from Italy. It grew out of the last pagan persecutions. In those days, many Christians, clergy included, apostatized to save their lives, but later repented and were received back into the church. The Donatists were the institutional descendants of some of those who had not apostatized, and who refused to recognize the repentance of those who had. They also did not recognize the power of former apostates to baptize, or ordain their successors.

The Catholic Church did exist in Africa, in the sense of bishops who were in communion with the bishops of the patriarchal sees, and especially with Rome, whose bishop enjoyed a unique primacy even then. It was the Catholic bishops that were recognized by the imperial government. The Donatist Church differed from this universal establishment in no point of doctrine or liturgy. The Donatists differed only in claiming that they were a church of saints: they were the true Church in Africa, and maybe the only true church in the world.

Augustine attempted to heal this schism through persuasion and polemics, not wholly without success. In the final analysis, though, it was the willingness of the imperial government to seize Donatist property and place the Donatist faithful under civil disabilities that destroyed Donatism, or at least drove it out of the cities. Augustine justified persecution, at least at this relatively moderate level, for much the same reason that he had recognized the necessity of the world for his own conversion. The social environment can lead us to God, but this implies that the environment must be cleared of delusions and distractions. Augustine was prepared to use the state toward that end.

This is not to imply that when Augustine said “jump!” the Proconsul in Carthage asked “how high?” Particularly in the letters that came to light in the late 20th century, we see Augustine working as an ombudsman between his flock and a government that was becoming simultaneously less competent and more brutal. He tried to get pardons for tax protesters. He tried to get death sentences commuted. He tried to stop a new and appalling recrudescence of the slave trade. Taking advantage of the eclipse of imperial order, private entrepreneurs had taken to capturing free peasants in Africa and selling them to buyers in Gaul and Italy. They embarked their captives through Hippo, under the nose of the port authorities, who had been bribed. When members of Augustine's cathedral chapter sought legal redress for some of the captives, the slavers sued for interference with their business.

Augustine was not an uncritical admirer of the Roman Empire, which, again, was somewhat unusual for a man in his position. The tendency of his time was to increasingly regard the empire as a providential historical development, created by God to foster and protect the Church. The ideology of the medieval Holy Roman Empire was not so different; Dante's theory of universal monarchy made the Church and the Empire equivalent divine institutions.

Brown emphasizes that Augustine was skeptical of these ideas long before the sack of Rome in 410. After that event, he canonized his measured dismay of those years in his greatest work, The City of God. Brown notes that the immediate audience for the book consisted in significant part of literary refugees from Italy. In fact, the book started life in part as a series of sermons.

Augustine explains that the Church, City of God, was a pilgrim in this world. (“Pilgrim” did not suggest to Augustine that to travel hopefully was better than to arrive; he always hated traveling.) It could cooperate with the City of Man, with which it was inextricably connected. Indeed, as citizens, Christians had some duty to work for that City's good. However, the City of Man was ultimately transitory. It could not command our final loyalty.

Augustine was a patriot. He knew the empire was in trouble, but he said it might recover, as it had done so many times before. And in fact it did recover for a few years; Alaric the Visigoth turned out to be more an unsuccessful extortioner than a world conqueror. Augustine, clearly, was wise not to link the troubles of his contemporary world with the prophecies of revelation (one of the great faults of Brown's book is that we get almost no discussion of Augustine's views on eschatology). What Augustine did do was create the historical framework for a livable world. Augustine has even been called “the father of progress,” since he held open the prospect that the betterment of the secular world was at least possible.

Interesting as all this is, the issue that made Augustine's reputation was the controversy with Pelagius about free will, predestination, and original sin. Pelagius, a man of British extraction, argued against the doctrine that we are born tainted by original sin. He also argued that the human will, informed by teaching, was capable of rejecting sin and choosing the good. In many accounts of this debate, Pelagius is portrayed as the champion of reason and human autonomy, while Augustine is seen as the proponent of infant damnation and of a God who arbitrarily predestines some fraction of the human race to Hell.

Brown's thesis is that, at every point, Augustine's concern was actually to make the Christian life livable. Pelagius's account of the autonomy of the will meant that people bore a terrible burden for their own choices. In Pelagius's system, the least infraction of divine law merited damnation. Pelagians laid great stress on the value of threats of hellfire to encourage the faithful to greater efforts. To that Augustine responded, oddly like a philosopher of the Enlightenment 1,300 years later, that a man who fears hell does not fear sinning, but burning.

And in fact, the Pelagian party was not a would-be Broad Church of moral uplift, but yet another example of Late Antique spiritual athletes trying to form a tiny minority of the elect. When Augustine defended original sin, he was defending the power of the rite of baptism to offer some surety of salvation, even to infants. Augustine's version of predestination rejected the notion that one could say that conversion and continuance in grace were either personal choices or divine intervention; he did insist that the unaided human will was insufficient. He cited scripture, but this insight is really what the Confessions had been all about.

In his debates with Pelagius, Augustine articulated a concept of freedom that has fascinated and repelled the West ever since. In this view, the mere perception of a choice is evidence of the corruption of the will. True freedom, in contrast, means transcending choice. A truly free man is one whose will has been so cleared of error and bias, particularly the biases created by desire, that he can see there is only one real possibility.

This has a fine Hegelian ring to it: freedom is the conformance of the will to necessity. And like the politics that descends from Hegel, it can be breathtakingly oppressive. At its worst, it means than a government can ignore popular opposition to its policies as the product of false consciousness, or that an established church could assume that there is no such thing as an honest heretic. On the other hand, the procedural notion of freedom, as a choice that is externally unrestricted, is subtly self-contradictory. The existence of objective value in the things we are choosing among, that is, the possibility that a choice might be right or wrong, is the kind of external constraint that a procedural system has to ignore or suppress. Freedom then means the right to choose between things that there is nothing to choose between.

The philosophical question remains with us, but Augustine did succeed in settling the matter for a long time as far as dogma went. A council of eastern bishops found nothing wrong with Pelagianism (the Greek church has never very interested in psychological questions), but Augustine had enough influence to light a fire under several popes to get Pelagianism condemned. Even then it did not lack for brilliant defenders. At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

There are ironies in the aftermath to Augustine's life. The world that he was trying to make tolerable for Christians did not survive him. The Catholic Church in Africa was soon being oppressed by the Arian Church of the new Vandal kingdom. A little later, and the Vandal kingdom was conquered by the Byzantine Empire, whose Greek orthodoxy Augustine would have recognized as Catholic, but which was imposed by force over sullen populations with their own ideas. Three centuries later the Arabs came, and Latin-speaking, Christian North Africa evaporated as quickly and thoroughly as had Roman Britain.

Almost all that is left of that world is the writings of Saint Augustine. As it happened, his was the last voice from the Latin West of antiquity.

These books scarcely mention Augustine, but they essentially restate in modern terms the story of Augustine's conversion:

Star Wars Super Graphic Book Review

by Tim Leong
Chronicle Books, 2017
176 pages
ISBN 978-1452161204

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

This is a great book. And I'm a huge Star Wars nerd, which is why I think it's a great book. Hear me out, this one is really well done. First, it is simply well made. Nicely laid out, heavy paper with a satin finish, and a fine attention to detail that warms my OCD heart. 

Of course, it is also full of Star Wars trivia. Like what is the speed of various ships in MGLT (megalights per hour).

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

Or all the times someone said "I have a bad feeling about this...." 

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

Perhaps the single best graphic in the book is this, a chart of all the books, movies, TV shows, videogames, and comic books that are considered part of Disney's new canon. Everything else got swept into the Legends category by Disney, although some fan favorites have been brought back.

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd 2017

This book is a great buy for any Star Wars fan, or even just a lover of nicely done graphics. I even learned a few things about the characters who have been introduced into the new storyline. Well worth your time and money.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2005-11-05: Happy Guy Fawkes Day

I've always found the co-option of Guy Fawkes, Catholic terrorist, by anarchists to be a bit funny. If there is any religion that is absolutely incompatible with that philosophy, it Catholic Christianity.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day


Readers of The Screwtape Letters will recall that infernal bureaucrat Screwtape once advised the tempter Wormwood that humans should never think about mere Christianity. Rather, they should be taught to think of it as a means to promote some social good. Any social good would do: Christianity and peace, or Christianity and socialism, or even Christianity and spelling reform. Wormwood, of course, would have been thinking of Christian proponents of spelling reform, but now we read this from Europe:

It must be getting a little too close for Christmas for the chi-chi crystal palace of the pretentious European Union. Pooh-bahs in Brussels have come up with a new grammar rule for themselves and the Netherlands--making it official that the name "Christ" will soon be written with a lower-case "c". That was the stipulation in an orthography reform published earlier this month in Brussels.

According to the agency, the new spelling legislation will also stipulate that the Dutch word for "jews" (joden) be spelled with a capital "J" when referring to nationality and with a lower-case "j" when referring to the religion.

I suspect the change is part of a general program to regularize the use of capitalization, rather than because of any special animus against Christianity and Jews. And why did I just capitalize "Christianity," whereas I would not capitalize, say, "biology," and would hesitate over a word like "masonic"? I can distinguish these cases, but we should not have to.

* * *

The work of demons is manifest in this headline: U.S. Patent Office Publishes the First Patent Application to Claim a Fictional Storyline; Inventor Asserts Provisional Rights Against Hollywood:

The fictitious story, which [Andrew] Knight dubs “The Zombie Stare,” tells of an ambitious high school senior, consumed by anticipation of college admission, who prays one night to remain unconscious until receiving his MIT admissions letter. He consciously awakes 30 years later when he finally receives the letter, lost in the mail for so many years, and discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived an apparently normal life. He desperately seeks to regain 30 years’ worth of memories lost as an unconscious philosophical zombie.

You may read more about the outrage of Storyline Patents at Knight & Associates.

As we know, there are really only a few basic plots, just as there are only a few animal anatomies (eight of each, come to think of it). Certainly the screenplays for most major films are, in effect, assembled out of a kit. It is hard to imagine that intrusion of patent law into fiction writing would promote innovation.

* * *

More evidence that Roe v. Wade is toast continues to roll in:

Former President Jimmy Carter yesterday condemned all abortions and chastised his party for its intolerance of candidates and nominees who oppose abortion... Mr. Carter said his party's congressional leadership only hurts Democrats by making a rigid pro-abortion rights stand the criterion for assessing judicial nominees.

"I have always thought it was not in the mainstream of the American public to be extremely liberal on many issues," Mr. Carter said. "I think our party's leaders -- some of them -- are overemphasizing the abortion issue."...Mr. Carter said his party lost the 2004 presidential elections and lost House and Senate seats because Democratic leaders failed "to demonstrate a compatibility with the deeply religious people in this country. I think that absence hurt a lot."

It is by no means the case that the whole Democratic leadership has gotten the memo on this, and of course institutional opposition to the change will continue because a a whole nonprofit industry has grown up to defend Roe. However, the success of prolife Democratic candidates at the state level will speak for itself.

* * *

The Two Fundamentalisms: that is James W. Ceasar's term for the thesis that al-Qaeda and Theocratic America are mirror images of each other. Writing in The Weekly Standard of November 7, Ceasar says in an article entitled "Faith in Democracy" that the Two Fundamentalisms model is quite common in Europe, and can be found in academic circles in the United States. He finds the notion stultifying:

The thesis of the two fundamentalims has laid an intellectual trap. By inveighing against American "fundamentalism," and falsely labeling it illiberal and undemocratic, Western nations would practically consign themselves to denying the possibility of liberal democracy in the Middle East. If intellectuals here cannot bring themselves to admit that the Christian right in America is democratic (even if they do not like many of its policies), how then can they begin to accommodate themselves to the prospect of "democratic" regimes and parties in the Middle East that are influenced by Islamic beliefs?

This is a wise point, but I would make this categorical distinction: it is the Kantian Universal Peace that is equivalent to the Universal Caliphate. The relation of religion in America to the Terror War is far more oblique.

* * *

This brings us to France, where disorder continues. Having lived through riot-prone years in the US, I am sure that most people in France are no more directly affected by the current troubles than I am. I would like to raise just two points"

(*) The US media are not ignoring the news from France, but the networks that pride themselves on their coverage of foreign news seem to be saying as little as possible. NPR takes care to put accounts of the riots after coverage of the now rather familiar anti-globalist demonstrations that are occurring at the Pan American summit in Argentina. The BBC does likewise. One gets the impression that these news media are annoyed that reality is straying off message.

(*) Mark Steyn has declared that the Eurabian Civil War has begun.

Steyn has long been excessively pessimistic about Europe, but one has to ask: are the riots part of the Terror War?

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The Long View 2005-11-03: Taxes, Techno-Libs, Intifada


The same basic plan for fixing the US Federal tax system keeps coming up: get rid of deductions, and make the rates lower so the change is revenue neutral. And, it will always never happen, because far too many voters and donors have lots of long-term economic decisions made with the tax advantages baked in. I am in that group myself. I think it would probably be better if we didn't make economic decisions with taxes in mind, but I don't know how to get there from here. 

Taxes, Techno-Libs, Intifada


Alas for tax reform. The presidential commission has made the correct recommendation:

President Bush's advisory commission on taxes unanimously recommended a vastly simplified tax system on Tuesday that would limit the deduction of interest payments on large mortgages and erase other tax breaks that many Americans enjoy.

Under the perfect tax system, no important decision, personal or financial, would be made because of its tax consequences. That was the idea behind the tax reform of 1986. The plan was to knock out the deductions so that the rates could be lowered. Actually, an astonishing number of deductions were eliminated, but not enough to justify lowering the rates as low as they were lowered. So, Congress created the Alternative Minimum, essentially a patch to a defectively designed system.

There are mysteries here. Individuals will insist on keeping their deductions, even when they are shown that their taxes will be lower without them. Businesses have created a lobbying industry to procure tax breaks, the chief effect of which is to maintain a tax environment in which capital cannot be allocated optimally.

It would be possible for a determined Administration to do the 1986 reform right. However, the New York Times also tells us:

The response throughout the government was less than enthusiastic.

The disenthusiasm extended to the White House. The Administration created the study commission, but the Administration was really interested in pursuing a goofy Social Security restructuring and in tax cuts; the later were enacted without regard to their effect on the tatters of the 1986 reform.

Again, for most purposes I'm a Republican, but the party cares nothing at all for systemic integrity.

* * *

Glenn Reynolds has replied to Peggy Noonan's gathering-storm column of October 27. I discuss her column here. Reynolds' comment is at TechCentralStation:

Peggy Noonan recently wrote that America is in trouble, and its elites are too resigned to the troubles to do anything, concentrating on making a separate peace...[She quotes Ted Kennedy as saying to a group of young friends and relatives]: "when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart."

Yes, but what whole thing, exactly? Noonan seems to think it's the whole society, but that's not so clear. Certainly the extensive depression that Noonan attributes to coastal elites doesn't seem to show much in my circles. Nor in the circles of blogger Phil Bowermaster, who writes: "What is so all-fired important about the disposition of journalists and politicians?"

Bowermaster notes that the whole coastal-elites-and-media establishment is not just going to fall apart -- it has to a substantial degree already done so. But while this is bad news for the Dan Rathers of the world (and perhaps for the dateless columnists at some big metropolitan dailies) it's not so clear that it's bad news for the rest of us. In fact, I suspect that the elites' discontent comes in no small part from the fact that ordinary people are becoming more powerful all the time, making the elites just a bit less elite with each passing year.

Oh, what do they teach in the law schools these days? I suppose it is possible to say individuals are being empowered. Enough of those people are building bombs in their basements to put civil life at real risk. As for the rest of us, we can now overcome many of the frictions that the physical world imposed on previous periods of history, particularly with regard to communication, but that does not mean we are becoming more independent. Quite the opposite, as I have argued before. Technological progress is profoundly conservative. It lets us reach back through the ages of mass civilization and bureaucracy to the primordial world of fairy tales. In that world, you can create physical effects just by saying the magic word. However, that world is not without institutions.

So yes, it is perfectly true that many institutions that seemed unassailable a few decades ago now seem to be evaporating. That does not mean that society is going to volatilize into a techno-libertarian mist. It means that there will be a rough patch as the old institutions either disappear, or recrystalize in new, more stable forms.

* * *

I saw Star Wars Episode III over the weekend. I was able to rent the DVD before it went on sale, or was openly displayed for rental. All I had to do was ask.

I have never had much emotional investment in this series, though I have fond memories of the first film, which was actually the IVth film, wasn't it? Anyway, this most recent episode was visually mesmerizing. I could not help but reflect how much more interesting it would be if all the scenes in which the actors spoke were deleted.

* * *

Speaking of bring back old memories, here are some subheads from The Guardian about the ongoing disturbances in the Muslim suburbs of Paris:

· Youths clash with police for seventh night running · Immigrant ghettos erupt at poverty and despair

This was exactly what American liberals said during the urban riots of the 1960s. Matters may be quite different in France, but I might note that riots occurred in many black neighborhoods in American cities during a time of economic expansion, much higher social-welfare spending, and the new political situation created by the recent civil-rights laws. Part of the explanation for the riots was, no doubt, pent up frustration, but immiseration had nothing to do with the explosion; rather the opposite, in fact.

Be that as it may, these disturbances don't sound much like an American riot:

An interior ministry official described it as "more like sporadic harassment, lightweight hit-and-run urban guerrilla fighting, than head-to-head confrontation". Small, highly mobile groups of up to a dozen youths emerge, hurl stones or petrol bombs, and disperse, the official said: "It's hard to contain."

What it does sound like is an Intifada. If it spreads through Europe, we will have a new situation. Could Tony Blankley's plan become relevant sooner than we might have supposed?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Menace of Multiculturalism in America

Seeing this book had a foreword by Dinesh D'Souza, who has descended into hackery in the twenty years since this review was written, made me think of the fantastic Twitter exchange above.

The book John reviews here isn't very good, but his discussion of the issues is much better than the book itself. For instance, Schmidt makes the argument that the supremacy of English in the US probably helped preserve national cohesion during the two world wars, since the US had [and has] a large minority of German ethnics, who might have otherwise identified with the states we fought against. There is probably something to this, but linguistic policy is too blunt an instrument to really speed along assimilation.

Some of my great-grandparents in Indiana spoke German at home, but forced their children to speak English in the years between the two world wars, probably to make sure that they were thoroughly Americanized. This was a topic of some controversy at the time, as Teddy Roosevelt's hyphenated American speech to Knights of Columbus indicates. In the US, a social and political compromise emerged over time, that seems to have worked well. Explicit prohibitions on the speaking of German, or the use of German for public business weren't common, or needed. Woodrow Wilson's administration was less-forgiving on this subject than Teddy's was, and you can see the kind of resentment Wilson's policies created in contrast to TR's.

Contra Schmidt, there is a kind of multi-lingual multi-cultural society that works well. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire that preceded it are notable examples. Precisely insofar as these were imperial enterprises, peoples of different nations and ethnicities were united under one banner. Wilsonian nationalism was the doom of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the current fad for fracturing identity to a million warring camps is a degenerate form of Wilsonian national self-determination.

I also appreciate John's critique of multicultural histories, which so often simply swap the good guys and bad guys in a potted history, without bothering to be interesting or really engage the times and cultures they are purportedly about.

Also, in a warning that was not heeded, John said that the cultural and political Right in America should be wary of adopting the tactics of the Left, insofar as many of the Left's winning tactics work by fragmenting people into smaller and smaller groups and identities. Any durable politial consensus will need to reintegrate the American polity. At the moment, nothing is on offer.

The Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America
by Alvin J. Schmidt
(Foreword by Dinesh D'Souza)
Praeger Publishers, 1997
211 Pages, $39.95
ISBN: 0-275-95598-2
(Order 1-800-225-5800)


The Road to Bosnia


In the summer of 1997, The New York Times ran an article on the topic of "Who Won the Culture War?" The gist of the piece was that the cultural controversies of the past 30 years had ended more or less in a draw, resulting in a society that had mixed many new elements with traditional ones. (Think-pieces don't have to be very original.) The most interesting thing about the article, however, was the unquestioned assumption that the culture war is in fact over. After all, hadn't President Clinton just achieved reelection? Wasn't the Republican Party becoming a culturally "moderate" big-tent presided over by the likes of Ring Mistress Christie Todd Whitman? I suppose if you are a staff writer for the Times, it seems reasonable to conclude that the 1960s Counterculture has completed the "Long March through the institutions" and is now so firmly in control that it can afford to make cosmetic concessions to the nation's reactionaries without undermining its own position.

The problem with this view from the Times is that it assumes the society the Counterculture is in control of can continue to exist for any length of time after the Counterculture's views have been implemented. According to Alvin J. Schmidt, Professor of Sociology at Illinois College, the ideology of multiculturalism (which is the form the Counterculture took in its glacial phase) is so intrinsically corrosive that it will eventually destroy any society that adopts it.

The Menace of Multiculturalism is not a terribly original book. It collects an appalling number of horror stories about the oppressive enforcement of political correctness, most of which you have probably seen before (and some of which are cited from the oeuvre of Rush Limbaugh). Nevertheless, Schmidt has a background that makes him peculiarly worth listening to on the subject of "celebrating diversity." He is Canadian born (a former Mounty, no less) who has watched the Anglo-French linguistic antagonism in his native land grow worse and worse since the 1960s, to the point where now he has little hope for the survival of the confederation. He is also the son of Silesian German immigrants who came to Canada in large part to escape the Polish-German interethnic strife of the years following World War I. Schmidt's first language was German, but he went through a public school system that coerced German-speaking children to speak only English while on school property. In other words, he has personally suffered a fair amount of ethnic and linguistic discrimination himself, but he also has some precise knowledge of what happens to a society that encourages its members to cling to their ethnic and linguistic identities. He concludes that there is no alternative to a national policy of thoroughgoing cultural assimilation.

This, of course, assumes that policy is being made with an eye to keeping the nation together. With multiculturalists, this is not always the case. Schmidt has a lively sense that multiculturalism is Marxist in style and sometimes in content. (Cultural policies very like it were also the reigning orthodoxy in most Communist states that are now usually referred to with the prefix "former.") Certainly committed multiculturalists tend to be people who think that the wrong side won the Cold War and that the United States is mostly what's wrong with the world. This comes out quite explicitly in the sentiment among some "language rights" activists for the creation of the "State of Aztlan," an entity that would essentially reverse the outcome of the Mexican-American War. The establishment of Aztlan would require a certain demographic critical mass of unassimilated persons of Mexican extraction in the Southwest, and so the supporters of the idea fight tooth and nail for things like bilingual education (or monolingual education in Spanish, where they can get it). The wealth of data showing that bilingual education does not educate very well is thus irrelevant to many of its proponents. The point really is not to educate. It is to create a revolutionary class.

Quite aside from the motives of the multiculturalists, multiculturalism is also objectionable because it isn't really multicultural. (The Foreword by Dinesh D'Souza is particularly good on this.) Schmidt makes the interesting observation that schools started talking about learning other "cultures" at about the same time they stopped making their students learn other languages, which is often a necessary predicate for the serious study of genuinely foreign societies, past or present. The treatment of other cultures in school curricula is awfully thin at best. For the most part, though, the accounts are so tendentious as to be little more than fairy stories. A particularly egregious example of this is the treatment given the societies of the pre-Columbian Americas, who through no fault of their own tend to be portrayed as paragons of matriarchal eco-sensitivity. In such a context, the fact that a large chunk of the Great Plains in the 18th century was an Indian artifact, and that North America has been gradually reforested since the coming of Europeans, becomes unmentionable in every sense of the word.

It seems to me that the problem with instruction like this is not just that it's propaganda, it's boring propaganda. It kills whatever interest students may have in history or anthropology. The major societies of human history are all of them both wonderful and monstrous, because virtues and vices are always linked. The heartless social rectitude of Neo-Confucian China, the damned nobility of Aztec Mexico, the ruthless piety of early (and late) Islam, these are the sort of thing that first grip the imagination. They can entice students to a detailed and sympathetic understanding of other societies. Unfortunately, as Schmidt notes, they are precisely the sort of thing that multicultural education gives no hint of.

In short, "multiculturalism" simply does not tell you much about other cultures. It does tell you a great deal about the prejudices of textbook-writers and the negligence of the public officials who buy their work. It is common enough (and Schmidt does it himself) to characterize multiculturalism as "anti-Western," but that epithet presupposes an informed perspective on the West and its place in the world that is frankly beyond the capacities of the proponents of multiculturalism. As D'Souza notes, multiculturalism is an event within Western culture. One way to look at it is as a didactic puppet-show in which the puppets wear crude representations of folk costumes. Whatever the puppeteers think they are doing, their performance is in fact inciting the members of the audience to quarrel with each other and start fist fights. If the performance goes on long enough, there is a good chance the audience will burn down the theater.

Well, so much for the problem. What do you do about it? Schmidt has no original ideas, though he is categorical about some things. As far as he is concerned, there is no way to fudge the language issue: multilingual societies just don't work very well, so there is no alternative to English as the single national language of government and public affairs. (He says this despite his Germanic impatience with the "chaos" of English, referring no doubt to its orthography.) He does not advocate that the use of other languages by private persons and groups should be in any way hindered (as, for instance, the commercial use of English is restricted in Quebec and Mexico). What he does want is for voting ballots to be exclusively in English, for public ceremonies to be conducted exclusively in English, for English to be the sole language of instruction in the schools. He knows from his own experience how harsh this can be, since it was the regime under which he grew up. He also knows that this regime saved him from living in a linguistic ghetto for the rest of his life. He further suspects it saved the United States and Canada, with their huge German immigrant populations from the nineteenth century, from disintegrating during the twentieth-century world wars.

For myself, I am inclined to think that Schmidt is too pessimistic. Extreme situations are self-correcting, and multiculturalism is close to the aphelion of historical possibility. Politically correct history is interesting only to people who know the traditional history it is supposed to refute: young people who encounter only sanitized history don't know what it's about, so they study as little history as possible. The linguistic assimilation of new immigrant groups is in fact ticking along at about its historical pace, if not faster. In any case, all those Red Diaper Babies from the 1960s are starting to get a little gray around the gills. (You can tell, since their memoirs have been multiplying in recent years.) They are indeed of the age when you get to run things, and they are far from retirement, but they are not being replaced. The generation that remembers Ronald Reagan as president during its adolescent years is not going to act the same way as the one that remembers Lyndon Johnson.

I think now about the American Counterculture what I thought about the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s: once it starts to crack, it will collapse very quickly. Frankly, it might not be out of order for cultural restorationists to start giving some thought to self-restraint in the years ahead. Schmidt cites (on page 94) what I think would be a very bad precedent, a case in which politically correct university administrators who had been prevented from suppressing a fraternity were forced to undergo several hours of "sensitivity training" on freedom of speech issues. There is undeniably a certain rough justice in this. Sessions of this sort are directly descended from what old-line Communists used to call "struggle sessions," and they have become the grossest instrument of liberal oppression in industry and the academy. That is why conservatives in power should resist the temptation to use them. They are a Maoist technique and they stink up the place.

More conventional conservative proposals are also due for reconsideration. For instance, are charter schools and school vouchers really such a good idea in a society whose chief task in the near future will be to reverse a generation of deliberately engineered fragmentation? Are term limits for legislators such a dandy notion when you are likely to be in the majority for some time to come? Do you really want to create precedents for the censorship of the Internet while it is the only means of communication that cannot be controlled by the liberal establishment? The great danger is that we will simply turn the instruments of the Counterculture against itself. We don't need to pass legislation that treats dissenting conservatives as a legally protected minority: we need to eliminate the whole mythology of minorities and minority rights, period. A lot less sensitivity all around would do us a world of good.

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly. This article originally appeared in the February 1998 issue of Culture Wars magazine

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The Long View 2005-10-30: Libby, Noonan, & Scalia

John was broadly on the same side as Antonin Scalia on most subjects, but he didn't think textualism was accurate in the American legal system.

Libby, Noonan, & Scalia


The interesting point about the indictment of Lewis Libby is the political nature of the process. This is not to say that the special prosecutor who sought the indictment, Patrick Fitzgerald, is corrupt or partisan. Far from it: done honestly and correctly, this sort of investigation almost invariably generates an indictable offense on the part of the parties being investigated. The offense almost never has anything to do with the ostensible reason for the investigation. It’s not supposed to. The process is a mechanism for staging show-trials. That seems to be what will happen in this instance.

Two irrelevancies can be expected to dominate public discussion of the affair.

The First Irrelevancy is favored by the mainstream media and editorial opinion. This will attempt to use the show trial as an occasion to argue that, just as Lewis Libby perjured himself when he spoke to Fitzgerald’s grand jury, so George Bush perjured himself when he made the argument for the Iraq War. The Irrelevancy is not very coherent, but it has been made repeatedly in all the media since the Libby indictment was handed up. The second irrelevancy is rather more interesting: the credibility of Joseph Wilson. I understand the matter thus, having received the Party Line from The Weekly Standard:

In early 2002, Wilson was sent to investigate rumors that Niger had agreed to sell uranium to the Baathist government of Iraq. Such a sale would have been an important violation of the disarmament strictures imposed on Iraq by the UN at the end of the Kuwait War. After the invasion, Wilson had claimed, among other things, that he was sent to Niger on the direction of the Office of the Vice President, and that he had found no evidence of a sale of uranium. However, Wilson’s actual report said a former Nigerien prime minister told him that Iraqi trade representatives had in fact been in Niger in the late 1990s, and that it was the former prime minister’s belief that the Iraqi’s were interested in buying uranium.

No sale was agreed to and no documents were signed. That trade mission would probably not have constituted a breach of the UN resolutions. On the other hand, such information would only enhance the belief in the world’s intelligence services that Iraq planned to resume a vigorous nuclear weapons program as soon as the UN sanctions were lifted. The report of the weapons inspectors in the wake of the Iraq War actually supported that surmise. However, the Coalition that invaded Iraq had believed that the invasion would reveal an active, covert WMD program. That would have clinched the argument that the Baathist regime could not be allowed to survive the removal of sanctions. That was the evidence the Administration had promised, and it was not forthcoming.

As soon as the absence of physical evidence became clear, Wilson began speaking to journalists, at first covertly. He originally conflated the findings of his report with the discrediting of a set of documents that surfaced in October of 2002, long after his mission, which purported to memorialize a uranium sale between Niger and Iraq. They were obvious forgeries, and soon recognized as such. Wilson took credit for refuting them in detail, though in fact he had never seen them. When he went public with an account of his mission to Iraq, which he did in an Op Ed in the New York Times in the summer of 2003, he no longer mentioned the forged documents directly, but he did claim that his visit to Niger had been a matter of great interest and urgency to the Administration.

The White House, for its part, especially wanted to emphasize that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the CIA, which was known to be hostile to the argument for war. Additionally, his wife worked for the agency in some classified capacity; it was she who recommended him for the Niger assignment, a point that Wilson at one point strenuously denied. It was, perhaps, the Administration’s attempts to surreptitiously publicize these points that occasioned the current unpleasantness.

During the Watergate Scandal, there would have been no way for a story like the Second Irrelevancy to shape the public consensus on the matter. In those days, freedom of the press was enjoyed only by those who owned a press. Today, of course, we know from the defenestration of Dan Rather what the engaged Internet can do, even when the major papers refuse to print a word of the online version. Will the president be left to a fate worse than Spiro Agnew's, or will the blogosphere arise as a single geek to smite his enemies?

* * *

Peggy Noonan, in her column of October 27, provides this perspective on the troubles of the Republic:

It is not so hard and can be a pleasure to tell people what you see. It's harder to speak of what you think you see, what you think is going on and can't prove or defend with data or numbers. That can get tricky. It involves hunches. But here goes...I'm not talking about "Plamegate." As I write no indictments have come up. I'm not talking about "Miers." I mean . . the whole ball of wax...I mean I believe there's a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming.

Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us....they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

On the other hand, one could argue that any political system that could devote so much energy to something as fatuous as the Libby prosecution must feel invulnerable, as if its members believed it made no difference what they did with their time.

* * *

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has a long review in First Things (November 2005) of Law’s Quandary, by Steven D. Smith. The book attempts to explain the philosophical issues that attend contemporary jurisprudence, particularly the question of just what “law” is. The review is remarkable for setting out Scalia’s theory of textualism.

Scalia’s argument is that, in a democracy, the people are the source of the law, but the substance of the law is the text. We cannot look to the intent of the law makers; legislators generally intend several things, not all of them consistent. Scalia argues that texts can be meaningful without looking to the intent of an author. He does not allude to chatterbots, unfortunately.

Neither should judges try to make law. That, of course, was exactly what they did during the great age of the common law, when most law consisted of a floating consensus. However, that is completely unjustified in an era in which almost all law is codified. It is most emphatically not justified in a constitutional regime in which there is a written constitution.

One point in particular struck me: under a textualist regime, stare decisis would count for very little. Prior decisions would be recorded simply as a convenience, so that people will have some idea how the courts will react when asked to apply a law again in the future.

For myself, I take an optimistic view of the ascertainability of textual meaning; some of my best friends are chatterbots. However, Scalia’s model just does not describe how courts in the Anglo-American system deal with statutory texts. Even the most conservative judge, interpreting the clearest text, looks first to the opinions of other judges to find what the text means. That is how the common law system works. The suggestion that the common law system ceased to exist when the old common law rules were codified is mere nonsense.

There is an ancient legal system in which stare decisis counts for very little. It’s called the civil law, based ultimately on Roman law, and represented in the world today chiefly in the form of the Napoleonic Code. That system has its merits, but it’s not the one we have.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-10-27: Nominations & Indictments

We are up and running again. Back to our regularly scheduled program of revisiting the mistakes of the past!

Even as I write this, I learn that Miers Withdraws Supreme Court Nomination. No one said that Miers was stupid. Maybe next time the boss has a bright idea she will tell him what she really thinks about it.

The withdrawal was so inevitable that even I called it right. Now that it's happened, though, we have to wonder what will become of the movement that formed to oppose her nomination. Monkeys can make respectable websites on short notice (I have actually been paid for webwork in bananas), but the anti-Miers sites are quite elaborate and effective. The one created for Americans for Better Justice (an organization whipped up for the purpose) has a useful archive of commentary opposing the nomination, even a video commercial. The site called Withdraw Miers is less substantial, but seems to have a more durable sponsor, Americans for a Just Society.

Ann Coulter's column today was written before the withdrawal, so it is as much a threat to the White House as an analysis of the politics of the nomination. Still, the analysis is acute:

The Bush White House has turned into the Nixon White House...As president, Nixon imposed wage and price controls, created the Environmental Protection Agency, initiated race-based hiring schemes, signed SALT I with the Soviets and instituted rapprochement with the Red Chinese. All of this resulted in liberals ... despising him even more!...After five years of Nixon's ignoring conservatives — where else would they go? — when liberals came after him for Watergate, conservatives ignored Nixon...For five years, Bush has initiated massive spending programs, obstinately refused to protect the borders and signed restrictions on political speech into law...And now, although Bush has been bold and strong against the terrorists, it is beyond question that he has betrayed conservative hopes for the Supreme Court.

Here is the most important point, perhaps:

Then we discovered the White House actually believes everything liberals say about conservative Christians — that we are "uneducated" and "easily led." After administration officials snookered a few evangelical leaders into supporting Miers, they sat back and congratulated themselves on a job well done. But evangelicals are, at best, split down the middle on Miers. Apparently, Christians aren't so easily led.

No, but they do have a lively sense of when they are being manipulated.

The irony is that the president was in fact trying to fulfill his promises to evangelicals and conservative Catholics, whose goals he shares. The problem is that his strategy was to fly low, under the enemy's radar. You fly low enough, you crash into the trees.

Cultural conservatives don't just want another vote on the Court; they want a public fight about the nomination in which their side wins. Now they will probably get both.

By the way, the simple withdrawal of an unpopular policy can do quite as much to boost public approval as the proposal of a popular one. For instance, Mayor Bloomberg seems likely to win reelection in New York in large part because he abandoned a wildly unpopular plan to build a sports stadium on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

* * *

That the Miers withdrawal is linked to the threat of indictments in connection with the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA career is a good bet. No doubt we will know about the indictments in a few hours, but here is what the Washington Post was saying this morning

Remember folks, these are only exit polls, we don't know anything yet, relax, it's all speculation. . . . Oh wait, that was last year's teleprompter script.

Forget the part about the exit polls. Otherwise the script is still good. No story with so few facts has so thoroughly distracted Washington like the CIA leak story has this week. Yesterday was especially excruciating as we waited to hear if there would be indictments of people in the White House.

We may surmise that the White House thought another raft of bad news about the nomination would be too much excitement on a day when indictments might issue against the president's and vice president's principal advisors.

Let me squander whatever credit I may have gained for correctly predicting the outcome of the Miers affair by further predicting that no indictments will issue. The facts just are not there to support charges under the anti-disclosure law. A case can be made for perjury, but not a very good one. Of course, few perjury cases are very good, but sometimes they succeed nonetheless.

* * *

Speaking of an excess of bad news, the National Hurricane Center has issued a Tropical Storm BETA Public Advisory:


The Hurricane Center is now using the Greek alphabet to name storms because there have been so many tropical storms and hurricanes that it has run out of letters of the Latin alphabet, which were the initials of the personal names it normally uses. There are still several weeks left in the hurricane season. If we get to Hurricane Omega, we will be in trouble.

* * *

There was some disappointment in Latin Mass circles when the recent Synod of Bishops did not take up the issue of encouraging the use of the old liturgy. However, the Synod did not ignore Latin entirely:

One of the synod’s 50 “propositions” to the Pope is that the language should feature prominently in Masses at major international events, where Catholics speaking many different languages are present.

Again, I am not a thoroughgoing Tridentine Mass guy, but it is irksome to me that Latin is heard more in horror movies than in Catholic churches these days.

* * *

Speaking of gothic properties, I am sure we have all heard by now that Anne Rice has returned to the Catholic Church, and has a novel coming out, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, in which the child Jesus speaks in the first person:

Rice already has much of the next volume written. ("Of course I've been advised not to talk about it.") But what's she going to do with herself once her hero ascends to Heaven? "If I really complete the life of Christ the way I want to do it," she says, "then I might go on and write a new type of fiction. It won't be like the other. It'll be in a world that includes redemption." Still, you can bet the Devil's going to get the best lines.

It's been a long time since I read an Anne Rice novel, but I recall that she did her homework regarding social history. She also seems knowledgeable about theology, though I gather she is in the liberal wing. Could she write the sort of novel that Charles Williams did, but for a wide readership? Maybe. Whatever she writes, it's bound to be better than the Left Behind series.

* * *

Here is a European misconception for you: Some Europeans Denounce Halloween As 'Bad American Habit'. It is, of course, an Irish habit, and much improved by its re-export to the other side of the Atlantic.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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AI Winter

Logistic regression run amuck

Logistic regression run amuck

Scott Locklin shares my general dubiousness about artificial intelligence in general, and trendy analysis techniques in particular. He suggests that the surfeit of gassy marketing claims about machine learning techniques will eventually kill any actual technological progress in the field by making everything disreputable. Lest you think Locklin and I are alone in this, Locklin provides additional examples:

Repost: The Long View: An End to Evil

On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, it is worth reflecting on what happened, and what we did in response.

This is Exhibit A in the story of what went wrong during George W. Bush's response to 9/11. In retrospect, I see both how it seemed emotionally appealing, and how not everything Frum and Perle advocated is stupid. It is just the whole package that is stupid, but you need to know a lot to really get there.

Hindsight is 20/20, although in theory this is what experts are supposed to do: give us advice when we need it most and want it least. Frum and Perle clearly failed by that standard. For example, here is the definition of the problem of terrorism from this book:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.

No. No, it isn't. There is no possible way al-Qaeda then, or ISIS now, could possibly destroy America or the West. Their objective strength is 10,000 times less than the last mortal adversary the United States faced, the USSR. Bad things will happen, and have happened, but the time and money we have spent on this is vastly disproportionate to the problem.

Thanks, Frum and Perle.

I don't have any idea how to truly 'fix' the problem, by which I mean eliminate the ability of terrorists to do things like fly planes into the World Trade Center or shoot and bomb people in Paris on a November evening. But I do know that the usual way of putting it is exactly backwards: it doesn't matter how many of us they kill, our civilization cannot be killed by the likes of them.

9/11 was almost a decade in the works. The actual field strength of ISIS is less than 30,000 men. That isn't what a life or death struggle looks like. Almost 50,000 men died in the battle of Gettysburg alone. No one is all in here. Get a grip.

An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House, 2003
284 Pages, US$29.95
ISBN 1-4000-6194-6


“But what did Mrs. Karswell say?”

“She was so excited I scarcely understood her. She kept repeating, 'All evil must end.' But how could it?”

---Curse of the Demon (1957)


By its own account, this book is a “manual for victory” in the War on Terror. It's probably just as well that the book delivers somewhat less than its title promises. Nonetheless, the strategy it does set out is more hopeful than George Kennan's “containment” policy must have seemed at the beginning of the Cold War. Certainly it is more proactive.

The authors are David Frum, who was George W. Bush's presidential assistant, and Richard Perle, who recently was chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Department of Defense. (He is also remembered in policy circles as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his hard anti-Soviet line during the Reagan Administration, but that is another story.) Both authors are Resident Fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. They would be members of the Neoconservative Politburo, if the neoconservatives had a politburo, which the authors insist they don't. They assure us that the cabal you keep hearing about is really just four independent analysts who hardly anyone at the State or Defense Departments ever talks to.

In terms of literary form, “An End to Evil” falls under the category of “memorandum.” Much of the text employs the special White House mood that might be called the Presidential Declarative. It's quite without index or bibliography; the rare footnotes are chiefly to websites and a few magazines. For that matter, the lines of text are widely spaced, to make them easily readable by people too busy to read an ordinary book format. The effect is not like an ordinary political polemic. It's like being briefed.

But enough form criticism. The memorandum defines The Problem thus:

“For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”

The problem within the Problem is that, sometime in the Spring of 2002, the elites of the West began to tire of the War on Terror. This includes the US State Department, which the authors sometimes seem to suggest is just marginally less of a menace to American security than is Al Qaeda. Certainly the foreign-affairs establishment opposed the war in Iraq, by means overt and covert.

The authors defend that war in detail. They note that, despite the lack of stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Baathist regime had numerous weapons programs, and that the mere existence of the regime was an ongoing human-rights violation. The authors' main point, however, is that pursuing the War on Terror requires a strategy broader than the pursuit of the actual perpetrators of terror.

The reasons for the jihad against the West are largely autochthonous, though it is funded with oil dollars and facilitated by Finnish cellphones. The authors ascribe the root cause to the conceptual inability of Muslim societies to cope with their relative decline in the world, aggravated by the season of fantasy made possible by the sudden infusion of oil money. A terse characterization of the current situation (though not one that the authors give) is that the jihad is an Islamic civil war being fought in part on Western soil.

The strategy of the terrorists is not at all irrational. By spectacular acts of carnage, they hope to cow Western publics into deference to their goals, and to promote the prestige and credibility of Islamists in Muslim countries. By the same token, however, if the Islamists are seen to be losing, if their terror attacks are thwarted and their sponsors are being overrun, then the terrorist networks will disintegrate. “Nobody wants to die on a fool's errand,” the author's note. The War on Terror is difficult, but it is winnable.

The perpetrators are just the final product of a system of financial support, logistical assistance and, ultimately, of physical protection that only states can provide. It is nonsense to assert, as some opponents of military action apparently do, that the 911 attacks were accomplished using fewer than two-dozen men at a cost of a few thousand dollars. In fact, the system that recruited and trained the hijackers extended over several countries. It took more than a decade to build, at great expense. Most important of all: Al Qaeda is just a special case. Despite differences in ideology and theology, the Baathists and Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are in fact in continuous contact, and sometimes hold general conferences in friendly countries. In the final analysis, nothing will serve but to change the nature of those regimes that actively support these groups, or are too weak to resist them.

That said, we are still left with the question: “Why start with Iraq?” Iraq does have a history of supporting terrorists, notably Abu Nidal. However, the Baathist regime has clearly been far less active in this regard since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Though the authors never quite say so, one gathers that Iraq was simply the best choice in legal and logistical terms. I find that justification persuasive. It is also scarcely a secret: preemption was the chief theoretical reason the Bush Administration gave for pursuing the Iraq War. However, the Administration did not trouble to keep this theory before the public.

Emphasizing preemption would have been difficult for the Administration, since the logic of the theory makes Saudi Arabia the real target. That may not be what the Administration intends. Nonetheless, the authors make a good case that something even beyond regime change is necessary in the Arabian peninsula: the elimination of the Saudi state. The authors repeat certain embarrassing facts. Saudi-funded religious schools have radicalized a generation of young Muslims, from the Gulf to Indonesia to American prisons, with an ideology of jihad and a worldwide caliphate. Saudi money supports front groups in Western countries that deflect the authorities from investigating the terrorist connections of many mosques and academics. Saudi money has corrupted an appreciable fraction of the diplomatic corps in the United States, where the easy transformation from career diplomat to splendidly compensated lobbyist for Saudi causes is a scandal that dwarfs private-sector influence buying. And let us not forget: the suicide bombers on 911 were mostly Saudis.

The Saudi monarchy is not particularly malicious. It is dangerous because it is weak. The monarchy can maintain itself only by buying off radical Islamists, who then use the money for purposes that are very malicious indeed. The Saudi state is so grossly corrupt and incompetent that its survival is problematic at best. While the authors do not exclude the possibility that the monarchy might be reformed, they say that US should be focusing on the fact that the kingdom's Eastern Province, where most of the oil is located, is also largely Shiite and notably restive. Presently, the authors imply, the opportunity may come to redraw the map.

Breaking up Saudi Arabia is the single most dramatic suggestion in the book. Regime change should also be the goal in Iran, they say, but that can be accomplished by economic pressure, the support of dissidents, and the promotion of Western media. The one thing to avoid is to treat the Islamic Republic as a democracy, or even as legitimate. Regarding the other great intractable, North Korea, the authors note that there are no attractive options, but insist that some are better than others. We should disabuse ourselves of the idea that North Korea can be trusted to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. The US should take steps to make a war on the Korean peninsula less catastrophic, by redeploying its own troops and installing artillery suppression and antimissile systems. The key to Korea, however, is China, which can close down the North Korean regime almost at will. At least in the middle term, the US goal should be a North Korea that is more subservient to China.

“An End to Evil” sometimes waxes surprisingly irenic. Although Pakistan is in some ways even more frightening than Baathist Iraq was, the authors are inclined to attribute the radicalization of the Pakistani public square to Saudi subventions. The Pakistani government was unable to fund a comprehensive public-education system, so the Saudis stepped in with what in effect were missionary centers for Wahhabism. Moreover, the Saudis provided about three quarters of the funds for the Pakistani atomic bomb. There is no hope in the immediate future of persuading Pakistan to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The same is true of India. It is, however, possible to make the situation much less dangerous by rescuing the Pakistani state and economy. Normalizing economic relations between India and Pakistan can do that. The policy can be promoted by three-sided agreements with the US: India and Pakistan get to trade with America, if they agree to trade with each other. Again, the predicate for such a policy is cutting off the flow of poison money from the Arabian peninsula.

After the tools of War and Trade comes the Calculated Slight. Russia, for instance, should lose its courtesy seat in the Group of Eight if it continues to act as it did in the buildup to the Iraq War. France should be shut out of military and intelligence structures in which the US has a decisive say. More generally, the US should contemplate the possibility that increased European integration might not be in America's interest. Certainly it is not in US interests for Great Britain, with its deployable military forces, to become inextricably bound up with a confederacy dedicated to “counterbalancing” the US. This is not to say that the US should promote the dissolution of the EU, much less of NATO. The US should encourage as many new members as possible to join both organizations. The newbies can be counted on to be friendly to the US, and will soon put the French in their place.

The authors know that all these other steps will work only if the US wins the war of ideas. Richard Perle (like Caesar, he is often referred to in his own book in the third person) relates his experiences on talkshows and radio forums that suggest the US is doing a dismal job at this. There should be an all-media infrastructure by now that broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi, like that which served Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (The book does not have a clue about networks, incidentally: the authors regard the Internet as just another kind of cable television.) The US should turn away from supporting stability to supporting democracy in the Islamic world. A large part of this strategy would be the improvement of the position of women, both educationally and economically. All in all, the US should not be shy about creating a Middle East that looks like America:

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. If a foreign people lack liberty, it is not because of some misguided act of cultural choice. It is because they have been seized and oppressed and tyrannized. To say that we are engaged in 'imposing American values' when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

This is more right than wrong, but the authors are blind to the fact that some of the supposedly universal values being promoted by international bodies these days are quite as intolerant and oppressive as anything the Wahhabis endorse. Particularly in the area of women's rights, institutions that were originally created to ensure the civil equality of women and to promote women's health have been taken over, in large part, by ideologues. Their chief interests are population control and the normalization of homosexuality. Humanitarian organizations founded to promote the well-being of children are now often more interested in ensuring that fewer children come into existence.

The authors applaud the fact that, soon after 911, the president rejected a proposal that he issue an apology for aspects of American culture, along the lines of “America is not always proud of its media.” That was a wise move: the last thing the US needed after attack by an ambitious and self-confident enemy was more introspection. Be that as it may, if the West wants to export its political culture to the Middle East, the West must recognize that there are aspects of Western modernity that really are repulsive. Not only would-be suicide bombers think that much Western popular culture is sadistic and leering, and that much Western high culture is not neutrally secular, but willfully blasphemous. A war of ideas that overlooks these issues could be lost.

The authors do recognize one truth uncongenial to the liberal West: the essential irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the War on Terror. The US might receive some plaudits, even from Islamists, if it actually dismantled Israel and evacuated its people from the region. In reality, though, any Palestinian state that is likely to emerge in the Middle East would be an embarrassment: over-policed, corruptly governed, with a political culture based on evasive grievances. As far as the War on Terror is concerned, the US would achieve nothing by pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the establishment of such a state.

A democratic Palestinian state with a liberal economy would be a good idea: both for its own sake, and as a demonstration project for the rest of the region. However, the authors believe that the best place for such a demonstration is Iraq. If that works, then maybe Palestinian civil society will be emboldened to demand better governance.

The authors recommend some very specific steps at home to support the war. They have pretty much given up in the CIA: it should be stripped of all functions but collecting and analyzing intelligence. Similarly, the FBI should go back to crime fighting, while domestic security is put in the hands of a new agency. The authors seem to have trouble taking on board the fact that all persons located in the United States, even those here illegally, must have some rights under the Constitution; that's what “jurisdiction” means.

The book seems to take special delight in redesigning the State Department. All those pesky regional bureaus must go, for a start. To add outrage to injury, the authors recommend more political appointments, especially at the policymaking level. Foreign Service officers are patriotic public servants, the authors concede. However, unlike the patriotic public servants in the military, they have no compunctions about sabotaging policies that are not to their liking.

Quite aside from the motives of the Islamists, the authors detect a deeper explanation for why the US was attacked on 911.

“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror – and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as the world's superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply misdirected them – often against the United States.”

At the end of the book, the authors make many criticisms of the UN. Most important is the accusation that it is anachronistic. The UN was designed to prevent a Blitzkrieg. Today, however, the UN's concepts of aggression and defense actually prevent rational action against international terrorism and its state sponsors. Maybe the definitions of the UN system could be expanded to accommodate the new reality. If not, however, the authors are quite willing to dispense with the system, even if many well-meaning people do regard the United Nations as the parliament of man.

This is not enough. No doubt the UN is due to be scrapped. However, the authors leave nothing to replace it, except for the unfettered discretion of the United States. That's not even an American Empire, which the authors agree would be a bad idea in any case. The authors are probably right that that War on Terror can be won at reasonable cost and in a reasonable amount of time. But what happens then? They may create a vacuum and call it peace. That would not be the end to evil, however. Evil is the absence of good. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum, Richard Perle

Linkfest 2017-09-09

Posting has been light of late, my home PC needs a new power supply. The replacement should be here by Tuesday.

When Correlation Is Not Causation, But Something Much More Screwy

UCLA sociologist Gabriel Rossman explains how easy it is to fool yourself with the way you collect your data.

Toyota’s Research Institute head says full autonomous driving is “not even close”

I'm a bit of a skeptic about how easy it really is to completely automate driving.

The Tater Tot Is American Ingenuity at Its Finest

The Tater Tot was made out of french fry waste products.

Moving the Finish Line: The Goal Gradient Hypothesis

This is a fancy term for the idea that the closeness of a goal can influence our motivation. This is the idea Uber uses to get drivers to work longer, and how video games are made more addictive to play. Something that doesn't get discussed here is risk. For example, a big difference between the cited example of getting $12,000 at the end of the year as a bonus, or $1,000 at the end of the month, is that bonuses are dependent on financial performance. In the real world, you might get more money from the monthly option, which chops up the risk of the company not making enough money into smaller bits.

A Simple Design Flaw Makes It Astoundingly Easy To Hack Siri And Alexa

I imagine it was easier not to take frequency into account when designing these apps. This seems easy to fix, in principle.

Voynich manuscript: the solution

This turned to a be a thick problem. You needed a lot of the right knowledge in the right head to solve it.

My shelf [and a half] of Jerry Pournelle books

My shelf [and a half] of Jerry Pournelle books


Jerry Pournelle, one of my all-time favorite authors, died yesterday. I followed Jerry's website and writings for 16 or 17 years. Jerry was an early adopter of the Patreon method of earning a living, as he was an early adopter of so many things. I supported him for the last eight years or so. Jerry outlasted a stroke and brain cancer, and while those slowed him down a lot, he was actively writing and blogging until the end. 

Jerry led a long and interesting life. I would have loved to read his memoirs, which he never got around to writing. Hopefully someone else will fill the gap.


The Long View 2005-10-21: Imagine World Peace

I've got a lot of mileage over the years from A Perfect Circle's cover of Imagine. I still think it is the perfect ballad of late republican America. I find Lennon's original unbearably dippy, but Keenan's version [especially as a music video] pays homage to America's overwhelming military might, and the genuinely grassroots radical resistance to that.

Imagine World Peace


Why should we use Google Earth? (A hat tip to Penkill for bringing it to my attention.) For one thing, you can use it to spot the black helicopters. On a philosophical level, there is something very Faustian about a tool (and a free one at that) that lets you view any spot on the surface of the Earth, even if it does not yet allow you to do this real time, and even if the software is not quite as useful as Streets & Trips. Spengler remarks somewhere that the Faustian style of politics achieved its natural scope in the 18th century, when the whole globe became the object of statecraft. From most of the time since then, however, genuinely global consciousness was actually pretty rare. A few hours playing with Google Earth will go a long way toward generating it in just about anybody.

* * *

Adam Bellow has an explanation of modern dynastic politics in this Comment at National ReviewCronyism, nepotism, and the current President Bush:

You cannot understand George W. Bush without an understanding of his family, and dynastic families in general. Indeed, it might be said that Bush’s familial approach to politics has been his greatest strength and greatest weakness — his Achilles heel. Like Bonaparte, the same dynastic habits that brought him to power may bring him down again. They don't teach a course in patronage and nepotism at Harvard Business School — but they should. Instead they pretend that it doesn't exist. That does us all a disservice.

Dynastic families are not like yours and mine (unless your name is Bush or Kennedy). They are self-conscious, multigenerational enterprises displaying strong collective discipline and an innate, untutored grasp of certain perennial modes and orders that advance the family’s interest....Which brings us to the Bushes. People have been trying to figure out what kind of bubble the Bushes live in for a long time. But it is not the cocoon of wealth that insulates them from reality and explains their frequent missteps and tone-deaf remarks, but that of family itself. The problem for W is that the ethic of friendship and loyalty that the Bushes cultivate and that brought him to power is threatening now to bring him down. He has made the common dynastic mistake of confusing loyalty and merit.

If you will forgive me for citing Spengler twice in the same blog entry, here is what he had to say about the return of the dynastic principle after the evaporation of ideological politics (though he speaks here of a time that would still be over a century in our future):

But the world was now the theater of tragic family-histories into which state-histories were dissolved ; the Julian-Claudian house destroyed Roman history, and the house of Shi-wng-ti (even from 206 BC) destroyed Chinese, and we darkly discern something of the same in the destinies of the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut and her brothers (1501--1447). It is the last step to the definitive. With world-peace -- the peace of high policies -- the "sword side" of being retreats and the "spindle side" rules again; henceforth there are only private histories, private destinies, private ambitions, from top to bottom, from the miserable troubles of the fellaheen to the dreary feuds of Caesars for the private possession of the world. The wars of the age of world-peace or private wars, more fearful that any State wars because they are formless. 
(The Decline of the West, Volume II, Page 434 (Atkinson translation))

There have always been American political families. However, America as a whole has never been particularly friendly to dynasties, chiefly because there are so many opportunities (and distractions) that young dynasts often pursue a career outside their family's web of connections and patronage. Even if the family maintains its cohesion, the people will tire of hearing about it. Still, we can be certain that the people will never tire of at least one venerable old family.

* * *

Anyone with the need to refresh their anti-religious paranoia should certainly take a look at Theocracy Watch. The sort answer to the site is that, yes, there is such a thing as Reconstructionism, but that it is like Libertarianism in that it almost never occurs in pure form, but unlike Libertarianism in that you rarely encounter it at all unless you look for it.

Besides, people should be more concerned about a far graver threat.

* * *

Astrobiology Magazine has a useful piece by Steven Soter on SETI and the Cosmic Quarantine Hypothesis. Some of his points rather resemble the ones that Isaac Asimov made in "The Gentle Vultures," but I was particularly struck by this clarification of one of the terms of the Drake Equation:

The proper value of L is not the average duration of a single episode of civilization on a planet, which for Earth is about 400 years. Rather, L is much larger, being the sum of recurrent episodes of civilization, and constitutes a substantial fraction of the biological lifetime of the intelligent species.

What he is talking about here is "unlosables," a concept developed in the middle of the 20th century by William Ernest Hocking.

* * *

Fr. Neuhaus at First Things has made bold to question the legal basis for the current trial of Saddam Hussein and his confederates:

John Keegan, the eminent historian of warfare, writes that the trial of Saddam Hussein poses difficult questions of law and morality. Saddam may be responsible, as seems to be the case, for as many as a million deaths. He ordered mass killings of Iraqis, and hundreds of thousands were killed in the war with Iran under his direction. But, Keegan asks, cannot such actions be legally covered as undertaken for “reasons of state”? ...The problems of prosecuting a legitimate head of state, no matter how odious his deeds, goes way back. Among a few Anglo-Catholics, Charles I of England is revered as a saint. Charles put the matter nicely a few days before he was deprived of his head: “I would know by what power I am called hither..."

I may misunderstand the posture of the trial, but I think there are short answers to all these points:

(1) In this trial, at least, Hussein is being tried under Iraqi law for illegally killing Iraqis in Iraq. Thus, the matter does not present the difficulties of trials under international law.

(2)Hussein constructively resigned his office when he abandoned the capital and, in effect, ordered the dissolution of the Iraqi state.

(3) Charles I enjoyed full sovereign immunity; so, for that matter, does Elizabeth II. However, George Bush does not; neither do other heads of state in modern governments with respect to domestic law, though they enjoy sovereign immunity with respect to the law of other countries.

So that's that.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-10-16: Rather, Miers, Benedict, O'Brien

Pope Benedict didn't get enough credit for the alarming things he said that went over everyone's heads.

Rather, Miers, Benedict, O'Brien


Regarding the Dan Rather scandal involving the fake Air National Guard memos, readers will recall that it was not so much the discovery of the forgery that discredited Rather as his repeated and easily refuted attempts to rebut the criticisms. A similar pattern is emerging in connection with Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. This week, we will be treated to this:

Stunned by conservative opposition to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, President Bush next week will bring in former justices from her home state of Texas to trumpet her qualifications for the nation's highest court.

Many persons will not be comforted by such endorsements. Certainly there was little comfort to be drawn from this week's sample of pro-nomination propaganda, which seemed to consist mostly of high praise for the sort of collegial thoughtfulness that might earn a summer intern an extra-special letter of commendation from the boss.

The White House seems to be intent on actually going through with this. It's a shame, really: everything else seems to be going so well at the moment.

* * *

Doomsday: The Latest Word if Not the Last: So says the headline of a Sunday New York Times piece (and not behind a registration interface, for a mercy) about last week's little boomlet in disaster eschatology. The Times rounded up some of the usual suspects, who recited the received wisdom about dispensationalism and the evangelicals. If you were looking for signs of endtime thinking, however, you might have been better advised to pursue this story on Lifesite: Vatican Correspondent John Allen Notes Pope Using "Apocalyptic" Language The headline is an interesting exaggeration. The actual report by John Allen deals with the Synod of bishops that opened in Rome at the beginning of this month. Most of the report deals with the discussion about proposals for a married clergy. However, the story does mention some remarks in Pope Benedict's homily that really do become more alarming the longer you look at them. I excerpt from the Vatican's text:

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah and today's Gospel set before our eyes one of the great images of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vine...Thus, the reading from the Prophet that we have just heard begins like a canticle of love: God created a vineyard for himself - this is an image of the history of love for humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose...Will he find a response? Or will what happened to the vine of which God says in Isaiah: "He waited for it to produce grapes but it yielded wild grapes", also happen to us?...In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw is brought about in the great wars and exiles for which the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible. The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: "If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (2: 5). Light can also be taken away from us...

Had Benedict said simply "the Church" instead of "the Church in Europe," we would have something very close to a threat of supersession. In other words, just as the Church superseded Judaism (we can quibble about to what degree), so the Church herself might be superceded. This is essentially what the Joachimites (though not Joachim of Fiore himself) said in the 13th and 14th centuries, when they claimed that age of the Son had passed and the age of the Holy Spirit had begun. Again, Benedict meant no such thing, but he took that curve awfully narrowly.

* * *

And then there's Michael O'Brien, the author of several endtime novels from a Catholic perspective. A few weeks ago, he publicly asked the question: Are We Living in Apocalyptic Times?. To that he answered "Yes," but with the traditional gloss that the Endtime began in the time of Jesus. We all meet Judgment Day personally. In historical terms, the endtime drama is staged in every age, in different forms. Again, this is not a new thought, even for a Catholic novelist. Regarding Doomsday Today, O'Brien cites the Catechism:

Section 676 the Antichrist deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope that can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially in the “intrinsically perverse” political form of secular messianism.

In O'Brien's estimation, there is quite a lot of this about these days, though he does not make bold to say whether these are the ultimate endtimes, of which he says: "The major apocalypse will be that period of history when *everything* is tested..." I would suggest, though, that his fears about governmental intolerance are perhaps just too 20th century. The reign of Antichrist is not a tyranny, but a fashion.


Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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How to turn a Vintage Zenith Radio Cabinet into a Lighted Bar Part 5: Door and Electronics

Hanging the Door

The original plan for hanging the door was to use a piano hinge. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I had a heck of a time getting the swing of the door right. I think I ended up getting a couple of holes out of true, and then the door wouldn't close all the way. 

I looked for solutions for a long time, and I finally settled on a wrap hinge. A wrap hinge would allow me to put the screws into the strongest part of the frame I built around the door opening, but it did require me to chisel out some hinge pockets.

Hinge pocket on the door, along with the holes from the piano hinge

Hinge pocket on the door, along with the holes from the piano hinge

Wrap hinge on the frame

Wrap hinge on the frame

I liked how the wrap hinges came out. The door still didn't quite close, but it was better, and I was planning on using a magnetic catch, so that is how I "fixed" it.  Bre filled and re-painted my wood-butchery, and we were ready for the final stage!

Door on. You can see the door still doesn't quite close.

Door on. You can see the door still doesn't quite close.

The door with the back installed

The door with the back installed

Magnetic catch

Magnetic catch

The installed wrap hinges

The installed wrap hinges


I had pretty grand plans at the beginning. I originally wanted to make all the buttons on the front, like Bass and Treble and whatnot do things. I also wanted to light the interior, and integrate the main dial somehow. As I got into it, that turned out to be outside of my ability at present. I have a fair bit of experience with circuits and electronics, but I discovered my skills are pretty out of date.

I settled on using RGBW LED strips to light the interior. I bought my LEDs from Adafruit, since they had a nice tutorial on their site for building the circuit and programming an Arduino to run the LEDs.

I had some trouble with the microcontroller, which was entirely my fault. I was fooling around with the circuit while it was connected to my PC for easy code changes, but I had the LED strips powered off a separate power supply, since I didn't want to draw too much current from the USB port. That was a problem since the grounds weren't directly connected. I ended up burning up the first Arduino I bought, along with a couple of my power transistors.

Oh yeah, and I fried the 10K potentiometer I was using to test the dial function. I had the silly thing directly connected to the power supply, instead of the 5V output of my Arduino. I also discovered a short in my prototyping breadboard. The contacts inside were bent, causing the power and ground on the sides of the board to touch. This all came pretty close to being the final straw. We were over two years into the project at this point, with a lot of time and effort and false starts, and I couldn't build a circuit!

I ordered more parts, and started over.  I scaled my plans back to something I could achieve, with the options to add more features later if I get ambitious. The feature I chose to focus on was to use the tuning dial to control the intensity of the LEDs. That wasn't quite what the Adafruit tutorial was about, but I found another tutorial with code I could copy. Here is where I am now:

int ledPin1 = 3;// LED connected to digital pin 3
int ledPin2 = 6;// LED connected to digital pin 6
int ledPin3 = 9;// LED connected to digital pin 9
int ledPin4 = 11; // LED connected to digital pin 11
int potentiometerPin = A2; 

void setup()
// initialize digital pins as outputs.
pinMode(ledPin1, OUTPUT);
pinMode(ledPin2, OUTPUT);
pinMode(ledPin3, OUTPUT);
pinMode(ledPin4, OUTPUT);
pinMode(potentiometerPin, INPUT);
void loop() 
int potValue = potentiometerValue();
int fadeValue = map(potValue, 0, 1023, 0, 123); // sets the value (range from 0 to 123):

analogWrite(ledPin1, fadeValue);
analogWrite(ledPin2, fadeValue);
analogWrite(ledPin3, fadeValue);
analogWrite(ledPin4, fadeValue); 
// wait for 30 milliseconds to see the dimming effect

//function to calculate potentiometer value
int potentiometerValue()
int val = analogRead(potentiometerPin);
return val;

All of the LEDs are modulated together. I have some features in this code what will allow me to separate out the color channels later if I feel like getting fancy with colors. I have also limited the power draw of the LEDs to only half of their scale with the fadeValue variable. In principle, it would go up to 255. But I was gun-shy after destroying my power transistors.

The case lid, along with the hole for the dial wires and the LED power leads

The case lid, along with the hole for the dial wires and the LED power leads

My circuit is based heavily on the Adafuit schematics. I bought some cases and screwed them to the bottom of the cabinet, and I put the Arduino and the breadboard in the cases. I used a 2.5mm barrel jack for the power supply, and crimped ring connectors to join the power transistors to the LED power leads.

A test of the circuit with only one power LED connected

A test of the circuit with only one power LED connected

I bought a long-shaft potentiometer for the dial. At this late date, I realized the potentiometer for the dial needed to interface with the complicated three-part dial of the original radio, which combined a number of functions coaxially. I bought brass bushings which fit over the potentiometer shaft to preserve the ability of all three dials to spin.

The long-shaft potentiometer, along with the panel I would mount it to

The long-shaft potentiometer, along with the panel I would mount it to

The brass bushing on the long-shaft potentiometer, which is mounted on the panel

The brass bushing on the long-shaft potentiometer, which is mounted on the panel

I cut a panel out of 7/32" underlayment to mount the poteniometer. This will also be a place to mount buttons if I ever decide to use the radio buttons in the future. Bre painted that for me.

Another test circuit for the potentiometer

Another test circuit for the potentiometer

I ran 28 AWG leads from the potentiometer to the Arduino, on the theory I wanted room for the twelve buttons on the front later to run lead through the same holes in the cabinet. In retrospect, I regret my life choices. That wire was wayyy too fine for this work, and I redid it at least twice when it broke.

The final location of the Arduino

The final location of the Arduino

The power circuit, with four color channels. These are *almost* color-coded.

The power circuit, with four color channels. These are *almost* color-coded.

Everything all put together. Can you tell I'm not a cable-layout purist?

Everything all put together. Can you tell I'm not a cable-layout purist?

Once the circuit was assembled and tested, I drilled a hole in the potentiometer shaft for the last knob. That knob was cracked, so I epoxyed the shaft of an allen key into the knob and placed it into the drilled hole. We also replaced the broken glass with a new dome. I especially like how the glassware behind it looks with the LEDs on.

Almost done, just one last knob to put on!

Almost done, just one last knob to put on!

The finished bar!

The finished bar!

As I finish this, the bar cabinet sits behind me, softly glowing. I think it might need a pull for opening the door, but that is a project for another day.

The Long View 2005-10-11: The Times and the Endtimes

Rumors of the demise of the New York Times are greatly exaggerated. Much like Harvard, they are on top, and will do whatever it takes to stay on top.

The Times and the Endtimes


Even the worst projects can be defended. I suppose, for instance, that the decision by the New York Times to require registration to view the articles on its online site probably had some perfectly defensible rationale, though it means that the Times can no longer be usefully linked to, thereby accelerating the paper's loss of revenues and increasing its irrelevance to the online conversation. This is a shame, because the Times still runs some interesting stories. For instance, there was the one that appeared on Sunday (09Oct05 Page N34) that finally explained about that $223 million bridge across the Tongass Narrows that is supposed to link Ketchikan, Alaska, with a neighboring uninhabited island:

The town is seven blocks wide and eight miles long, backing up to forest and mountains. There is no place left to go but across the channel to Gravina Island, population 50, where the airport is located. It is relatively flat and is prime real estate for development.

That sounds like a reasonable use of public money. It might even be a reasonable use of federal money. The problem is that the cost of construction seems awfully high, even for Alaska.

* * *

And while we are making fun of the Times, here's an example from the Styles Section (09Oct05 Page S2) of a good story marred by incompetent editors. It seems that, once again, Latin and ancient Greek are undergoing a revival as school subjects. Latin especially now has a following among the young. And why is this?

For some students figuring out ancient languages itself is fun. Although many English words can trace their roots back to Latin (most estimates hover around 65 percent), the language's grammatical structure is very different from that of English. Nouns are grouped into four main families, called declensions, and each can take at least five endings, depending in their part of speech.

There are, of course, five declensions (and four verb conjugations). The endings that a noun takes does not depend on its "part of speech" (a noun is a noun), but on its case. Each declension has five cases, each of which has a singular and plural form, yielding ten endings for each declension.

The point here is not that the reporter garbled these complicated facts slightly, but that fact checkers at the Times did not notice the mistakes, and neither did any of the senior editors. If the Times can't get something as accessible as Latin grammar right, then what else are they getting wrong?

* * *

Is doomsday about to flower? Comparative eschatologists worldwide were disappointed with the level of apocalyptic expectation that attended the year 2000; though as several commentators (including me) pointed out at the time, most of the interesting millenarianism associated with the year 1000 actually happened in the two or three decades that followed. With that in mind, we note with interest stories like this:

This weekend's catastrophic earthquake in South Asia in the wake of recent U.S. hurricanes and December's tsunami is catching the eye of televangelist Pat Robertson, who says we "might be" in the End Times described in the Bible

Of course, we should also note that Pat Robertson is a media artifact. Any odd thing he says will be quoted, but that does not mean he has much real influence. Far more common is the wailing and gnashing of teeth that we see at Rapture Ready, whose editors correctly note that the string of recent catastrophes has not sparked a mass revival:

Instead of seeing people turning to God, I've observed several examples of open defiance to the Creator. After Katrina struck New Orleans, John Steward of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" made a series of blasphemous remarks. In the first program to follow the storm, Steward challenged God with an, "Okay tough guy" remark. In reaction to President Bush's call for a day of prayer, Steward said, "Shouldn't we have a day of shunning the Almighty?"

A great deal has been written about the effect of eschatology on American foreign policy. (I intend to do a review of Michael Northcott's An Angel Directs the Storm, if I can shake down a review copy.) However, we should remember that all this "Crusader Nation" analysis actually cuts across the grain of the pretribulation millenarianism that is typical of modern evangelicalism. I noticed this promotional article the other day for a new book on the subject:

"Are We Living in the Last Days?": Greg Laurie takes clear, refreshing look at biblical End-Times prophecy

* Important signs of the last days
* The difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming
* Israel's significance in end-times events
* America's mysterious absence in Bible prophecy
* What will happen during the Tribulation period

I have not read this book, but the points it raises seem to be the same as those that have appeared in popular apocalyptic for the past 30 years, including the eclipse of the United States. American nationalism needs pretribulation millenarianism like a fish needs a bicycle.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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How to turn a Vintage Zenith Radio Cabinet into a Lighted Bar Part 4: Refinishing


This is a guest post written by my wife. She is far better than me at detail work, so here is her account.

Painting the Inside

I started the refinishing work by painting the inside of the cabinet.  Because the wood on the interior of the cabinet was never meant to be seen, it was not the highest quality, it was sealed with something that made it blue, and we used MDF for the shelves we made.  All of this just meant that painting was our best option.  

I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Graphite, and sealed it with the clear wax.  There are more thorough tutorials on Pinterest if you are interested in the details of that process. I also used Mod Podge to glue the repair card we found in the cabinet onto one of the shelves, and to seal the the Zenith part number label.

First coat on the shelf

First coat on the shelf

First coat on the back

First coat on the back

Painting the door

Painting the door

Finishing the bottom

Finishing the bottom

The original feet of the cabinet

The original feet of the cabinet


After finishing the inside, I turned my attentions to the outside.  I looked up various tutorials via Pinterest to get ideas for ways to possibly/hopefully repair the cabinet without refinishing.  I decided to try the Howards Resto-a-finish and Feed-n-wax combo.  The products were easy to use, and did improve the appearance of the cabinet, but the finish, especially on the top, was just to far gone.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to strip and refinish the cabinet.  I had never refinished anything before, so I bought some vintage desks and did those first so that I would have some experience with the process.  It also took some time to find replacements for the labels by the knob, as well as a replacement for the faux finish on the front of the cabinet where the speaker fabric used to be. Also, I was pregnant and everything just takes longer and is more emotional then it needs to be, so if you're wondering why it took us so long to finish...there you go!

I decided to strip the cabinet with our orbital sander instead of using a chemical stripper, mostly because I was pregnant and wanted to minimize my exposure to chemicals (the area was always well ventilated and I always wore PPE!).  I was taking a risk by sanding because the cabinet is a veneer and there was a good chance I would sand through the nice wood veneer and end up with the ugly wood underneath.  Thankfully, that didn't happen, and the process of stripping the cabinet portion was fairly quick and easy.

The sanded cabinet

The sanded cabinet

The top looks better!

The top looks better!

I used Minwax English Chestnut stain and Minwax Polycrylic to refinish the cabinet per the instructions on the can.  Nothing unique or fancy about the process.  

I then took another really long break before starting the door.  The cabinet was mostly flat, so I could use the orbital sander.  The door had all the detail work, and so most of the sanding had to be done by hand.  It took forever.  Ben also had to do some chemical stripping in some of the nooks and crannies that the sand paper just couldn't reach.

Where chemical stripping was needed

Where chemical stripping was needed

I put the decal labels on after staining, but before the acrylic.  It turns out I should've done at least one coat of acrylic before placing the labels.  It looks okay, but there is a little bit of cloudiness around the letters that no one but me would ever notice.

The original faux finish

The original faux finish

The new faux finish

The new faux finish

After I finished sealing the door with acrylic, it was time to add the faux finish to the door and cabinet.  The faux finish had been one of the things that first drew me to the radio, and I was hopeful.  I found a guy that made replacement faux finishes for radios, but mostly for the front of the smaller tabletop style radios.  He made me some custom decals for this radio.  I followed the instructions included in the package and in his Youtube videos, but I was not thrilled with the results.  The decals had a hard time going around the curves of the radio, and so it ended up being a more time and labor intensive process then I had anticipated.  Once they were applied and sealed, I didn't like them.  It's difficult to tell they are even on there.  If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't bother with the faux-finish decals.  Out of the entire process, this is what I was most disappointed about, because the original faux finish was so interesting!

The finished cabinet

The finished cabinet

And now, at long last, the entire thing was refinished.  I will turn it back over to Ben for the hanging of the door and light installation.

The cabinet in the final room for better lighting

The cabinet in the final room for better lighting


Up next is the door and the circuitry

Previous installments

Radio bar


Cabinet work

A Man Called Ove Book Review

A man called Ove, I mean Carl

A man called Ove, I mean Carl

by Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press, 2015
337 pages
ISBN 978-1476738024

This is a funny, funny book. I cannot remember laughing out loud quite so much, quite so often, with any other book I've read recently. Ove's responses to the ordinary annoyances of life are purely reactive, with no self-reflection at all.  I'm blunt and outspoken, by any standard, but even I would pause before saying and doing the things that Ove does when the world wrongs him. But I want to do them.

This book is also deeply sad, because it accurately reflects the injustices of this vale of tears. Ove is a man who finds himself thwarted at every turn, by forces outside of his control. Ove is a man who doesn't fit the world in which he finds himself. He would be OK with that, if only the world would stop pestering him about it. 

Ove is the kind of guy I want to grow old to be. He is gruff and particular, and most of all wants to be left alone. His mastery of invective and dogged determination in the face of opposition are a force to be reckoned with. His sense of justice is implacable. I imagine other people find him, difficult.

That whole package sounds pretty unappealing, or least I think it does to normal people. It sounds like fun to me. The experience of this book is discovering why Ove's sweet and free-spirited wife, the opposite of him in so many ways, and intrinsically more likable, loved him so dearly.

She loved him not despite his personality, but because of it. In Aristotle's Categories, chapter 10, Aristotle talked about all of the different ways in which things could be opposites. The four different ways are called correlatives, contraries, privatives to positives, and affirmatives to negatives. The one of interest here is correlatives, opposites that only make sense in relation to each other. The example Aristotle used is the terms "double" and "half". Each of those only describe a thing in relation to something else. Ove and his wife Sonja only make sense in relation to each other.

They are pure types of masculinity and femininity. Ove loves order and efficiency. He has a great knack with machinery, but finds other people strange and incomprehensible. He could probably go days without speaking. Sonja is spontaneous and out-going. She is gentle and encouraging, and loves to take in strays of all kinds. These tendencies in isolation can easily become destructive. In combination, they become something beautiful and perfect.

In addition to being a paean to sexual complementarity, A Man Called Ove is a book about the value of life, especially lives that seem valueless. In combination, Sonja's gift of seeing worth where others see none, and Ove's dogged determination to see justice done, produces miracles.

I cried at the end. I want to be like Ove. 

My other book reviews


A Man Called Ove: A Novel
By Fredrik Backman