The Long View 2004-09-01: The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

John prediction record on this post is almost zero. The only thing in here I can find that didn't get disproved by subsequent events is the statement that the Islamic terror attacks on the US and European nations was another theatre of an Arabian civil war. 


The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion

 

If you are running for president, and the only real reason to vote for you is your promise to successfully prosecute a war in progress, you don't want to see headlines like this one in The New York Times today:

In Retreat, Bush Says U.S. Will Win War on Terrorism

It is not hard to see what President Bush meant last Monday when he said that the United States would never defeat "terrorism": terror is a tactic, not an enemy, but we might hope to defeat the current crop of enemies who favor it. The president's spin doctors have been occupied in explaining some version of this distinction since the president failed to make it, and in fact, the statement probably did negligible harm. However, this will not be the last time we go through a drill like this, and the reason is not George Bush's relaxed attitude toward semantics.

One can only repeat that "The War on Terror" is not just a misnomer; it's an evasion. The real war is an Islamist offensive launched against the West, with the collapse of the morale of the United States as its main strategic objective. Anonymous calls this war a Jihad, which is what its current principal proponents call it, but in many ways it is also an Arabian civil war being fought in part on Western territory. "Jihad" will do. "Islamist Offensive" will do. What will not do is "War on Terror," which turns the conflict into a long, twilight struggle, in which victory is not just impossible, but unimaginable.

* * *

Reports about the WMD question in Iraq continue to appear. Consider this one from The Washington Times of August 16:

Saddam Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries, U.S. investigators have discovered.

The recent discovery by the Bush administration's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is fueling speculation, but is not proof, that the Iraqi dictator moved prohibited weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria before the March 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition.

Sooner or later, it will no doubt be proven that the Baathist government exported substantial weapons stocks, and the industrial plant to produce them, as soon as it was certain that the invasion would occur. That, however, will only begin the debate we would have begun to have in the summer of 2003, if the stocks had been left in place: was the United States really threatened by some tons of obsolete chemical and biological munitions, much less by a mothballed nuclear program?

Answering that question would require quite as much subtlety as the Bush Administration has had to deploy in the current situation, in which only traces of the WMD programs have been found. The fact is that those stocks, whether in Syria or Iraq, were never more than a token of the Baathist government's refusal to forgo weapons of that class, even after half-a-generation of UN sanctions. That persistence showed that the regime itself was the problem, not the regime's policies.

We have by no means heard the last of this argument.

* * *

Speaking of things we have not heard the last of, I had an epiphany after reading this recent critique of John Kerry's Neo-Vietnam Strategy (forgive the lack of a link):

"Kerry may be judged naive to have thought that Vietnam would be a golden credential . . . and not an inevitable source of controversy," [David] Broder [of the Washington Post] writes. "In a 2002 conversation, Kerry told me he thought it would be doubly advantageous that 'I fought in Vietnam and I also fought against the Vietnam War,' apparently not recognizing that some would see far too much political calculation in such a bifurcated record."

Whether or not the strategy was naive, I could not shake the feeling that it was familiar. Finally I remembered: this was the premise of Billy Jack (1971). That was, of course, just about the time that John Kerry was beginning to craft his political personna. The synopsis for the film goes like this:

Plot Outline: Ex-Green Beret karate expert saves wild horses from being slaughtered for dog food and helps protect a desert "freedom school" for runaways.

The theme song for the film was actually a successful single, with lyrics whose aggressive moral smugness characterized the era:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven;
You'll be justified in the end.

Billy Jack and its sequels occasioned a memorable parody by Saturday Night Live, in which Billy Jack, played by the singer Paul Simon, beats up everyone in an ice-cream parlor who insults his runaway students. Then one of the students makes an ice-cream cone with scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and cherry. Glaring into the camera, she says: "See: white, black, and red. If the whole world could be like this ice-cream cone, Billy Jack would not have to kill so many people!"

But I reminisce.

* * *

On a happier note, it's not impossible that we could soon be pleasantly surprised on the energy front:

Later this month, the U.S. Department of Energy will receive a report from a panel of experts on the prospects for cold fusion--the supposed generation of thermonuclear energy using tabletop apparatus. It's an extraordinary reversal of fortune: more than a few heads turned earlier this year when James Decker, the deputy director of the DOE's Office of Science, announced that he was initiating the review of cold fusion science. Back in November 1989, it had been the department's own investigation that determined the evidence behind cold fusion was unconvincing. Clearly, something important has changed to grab the department's attention now.

An interesting point is that, like the Internet, Cold Fusion seems to have been one of those low-priority government projects that have created so much of the modern world:

THE FIRST HINT that the tide may be changing came in February 2002, when the U.S. Navy revealed that its researchers had been studying cold fusion on the quiet more or less continuously since the debacle began. Much of this work was carried out at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, where the idea of generating energy from sea water -- a good source of heavy water -- may have seemed more captivating than at other laboratories.

One lives in hope.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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The Red King Book Review

It's the end of the world as we know it

It's the end of the world as we know it

The Red King
by Nick Cole
Amazon Digital 2005
$0.00; 285 pages
ASIN B019S9WEHA

I don't usually read ebooks. I have an irrational love of physical books, with their scent of slowly oxidizing paper. I find that I will do almost anything to avoid reading ebooks. Thus despite having over 700 physical books in my house, I only have a dozen or so ebooks.

I picked this up because it was free. And because I liked Soda Pop Soldier. In a free moment, I pulled the book up on my phone to pass the time. I found that I could not put it down. That was a pleasant surprise. No other ebook has yet done that to me, although I don't make a habit of buying electronic versions of the books of my favorite authors. Nick Cole may just break me of that habit.

I like The Red King because it is a pastiche. I hope Cole won't hold that against me. I like pastiche. Especially when it is done well. And this is done very, very well. I feel like Cole and I probably read and watched the same things growing up, because I really enjoyed all those sly references to other books, movies, and videogames.

However, just because your book is a pastiche, doesn't mean you lack imagination or skill as a writer. I usually judge authors by their characters, and the ultimate test is whether I feel like a character isn't a character at all, but a person. Holiday, the hard-drinking screw-up who finds that he has survived the end of the world because he was sleeping off a bender, seems like a person to me. I am inclined to cut him some slack, because I kind of like him, even though he knows his way around a bottle.

Much of the supporting cast meets my other criterion for good characters: they seem like someone I've met. A character created to fill a role, or a slot, or a stereotype just doesn't seem like a real person. However, most real people really are pretty stereotypical, and you have to observe them to be able to represent that faithfully. Reading about people who seem like I could run into them on the street makes a book a pleasure to read, and this book was indeed a pleasure to read.

Finally, I just like the end of the world. I've been reading both fiction and non-fiction on this subject for 15 years, and it is perennially interesting. The apocalypse is about us: who we are, and who we'd like to be. Every end of the world has it's own story to tell, and I'd like to see where Cole is going with this. Oh, and look, I can got get the other books right now....

My other book reviews

Linkfest 2017-02-17

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility

A fine analysis of how utopian ideals fail.

John Horton Slaughter

John Horton Slaughter, Lawman

Last August, I read It Happened in Arizona, a series of short chapters on Arizona history. After reading that book, I realized that a lot of early settlers in Arizona were likely Southerners, specifically Scotch-Irish border reivers and hillbillies. The early feuds and gunfights were pretty typical of what went on in the Appalachians 25-50 years before. John Horton Slaughter is true to type.

Donald Henderson, destroyer of smallpox

Donald Henderson deserves to be better known.

Meditations on Monsters

With the spectre of political violence looming, this blog post captures a lot of the same things I have been thinking. I do think David Hines' is a good counterpoint, because at this point any political violence would be the work of small cadres, so the rightward lean of the combat arms or the gun ownership Left-Right disproportion probably wouldn't matter. Yet.

Remembering Frank Rizzo

Frank Rizzo reminds me a lot of Joe Arpaio. Both were law and order populists who ultimately became drunk on their own power.

No Thug Left Behind

The baleful consequences of insisting that human equality means everyone, everywhere, acts the same.

Trump's Theofascist

Damon Linker writes an interesting piece on the thought of Steve Bannon. As I said to Linker on Twitter, I think the title is ridiculous, but the content is very good. Linker used to edit First Things, and so knows many of the theological and political conservatives that have common ground with Bannon. Rumors of a grander Catholic conspiracy involving Bannon and Cardinal Burke are ridiculous, but there is actually something of interest here.

Cycles of War and Empire

Robin Hanson offers a friendly critique of Peter Turchin's work.

The Submission of Ross Douthat

Much like Steve Sailer and Greg Cochran, Douthat needs better enemies. There is a lot of truth in this piece, but I think the big picture it paints is entirely wrong. Douthat probably picks his words very carefully, because of where he works and who his primary audience is, but he is also smart enough to sneak in the truth. This is an undeappreciated art.

Secondhand Smoke Isn't as Bad as We Thought

I thought the original study was crap in 2003. I'm glad to see that medical journals have finally caught up.

Considerations on Cost Disease

Probably worthy of a blog-post length response of my own. Don't miss the best of comments followup post.

The Long View: Imperial Hubris

Imperial President

Imperial President

My favorite paragraph from this review:

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

John correctly foresaw that the successor to George W. Bush would be incapable of really doing anything different regarding foreign policy in the Middle East and Islamist terror. This is because to do so would require rejecting the bi-partisan consensus in the American ruling class about how things are done.

Now that we have the successor to the successor, I haven't got any clue what he might do. The Trump administration very much rejects the conventional wisdom here, but that is a pure negation. I haven't tried to discern what they might try to do.

Hopefully, they won't listen to Michael F. Scheuer, who gives me a really odd impression. After reading this review, I looked his Wikipedia article, and then his website, Scheuer strikes me as a nut. In 2004, I could see making the argument that allowing Islamists to take power in the Middle East might be better than the dictators we had been supporting.

We tried that, albeit in a way that attempted to make the Middle East more democratic, and we got chaos and war. And Lo, in 2017 Scheuer is still making the same arguments he made in 2004 without reference to intervening events. No thanks.


Imperial Hubris


Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
By Anonymous (Michael F. Scheuer)
Brassey's, Inc., 2004
307 Pages, $27.50
ISBN 1-57488-849-8

A Review
By
John J. Reilly

 

What do we mean by hubris?

In this book, and apparently also in the author's previous one, “Through Our Enemies' Eyes” (2001), we are told that it means the tendency of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Americanize the data,” so that anything alien about alien societies is disregarded, combined with the assumption that the U.S. is so powerful that it must also be invulnerable. The anonymous author is Michael F. Scheuer, a CIA analyst specializing in South Asia and Afghanistan. (I should mention that he made his identity public in a letter to the 911 Commission.) If he says this is how American intelligence works, there is little in its history to contradict him. Having read Anonymous's latest delightful rant, however, I cannot shake the conviction that what he really means by “hubris” is that the American government dared to reject his advice:

“And the thing that these American experts on Afghanistan knew best and above all others was that there was no possibility of installing a broad-based, Western-style, democratic, power-sharing central government in Kabul.”

Nothing, in this world or the next, is more certain to Anonymous than that the ministers of the American-backed government must someday choose between escape by helicopter or impalement on meat hooks in the streets of Kabul. In the author's estimation, this is very bad news, because it is hard to exaggerate the importance of Afghanistan to the worldwide Muslim insurgency that has arisen against the West. We are told that Osama bin Laden regards Afghanistan as the only true Muslim state, and the model for a revitalized Islamic civilization. He will not rest until that country is once again secure under Mullah Omar, though of course that is only a part of the larger program that bin Laden has been pursuing since at least the early 1990s.

And what exactly does Osama bin Laden want? Anonymous tells us more than once:

“These attacks [of 911] are meant to advance bin Laden's clear, focused, limited, and widely popular foreign policy goals: the end of U.S. aide to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state; the removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian Peninsula; the removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands; the end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India; the end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera, and the conservation of the Muslim world's energy resources and their sale at higher prices.”

“Clear, focused, limited”? Those are not the first adjectives that even analysts who generally agree with Anonymous might have chosen to describe the Islamist agenda, but he uses these terms to combat two alleged misapprehensions that are common at both the popular and the policymaking levels.

The first is that al Qaeda represents the mere impulsive backlash of a failed civilization. He is willing to concede the thesis, propounded by such stout fellows as Bernard Lewis, that, in some sense, Islamic civilization has failed. He insists correctly, however, that this in no way implies anything irrational about bin Laden or his goals.

The second misapprehension is more debatable, which is that al Qaeda's aims are “apocalyptic.” Anonymous says they aren't, and if by that he means that the Islamists are not seeking indiscriminate destruction, he has a point. On the other hand, as he also notes, al Qaeda does not expect to be able to defeat the West itself, but rather to spark a pan-Islamic revival under Allah's guidance. Historical goals of that scale are eschatological, in the sense of relating to the structure and goal of history. That would be true even in an ideological context that attempted to be rigorously secular. Islamism, of course, is self-consciously anti-secular. It seems likely to me, at least, that the Islamist agenda is informed by Islamic eschatology, orthodox and otherwise.

Readers will note that the list of al Qaeda's grievances seems a bit self-generating. The U.S. is in Afghanistan, for instance, because of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11. (That's also true of Iraq: irrespective of the Baathist regime's role in 911, there was no way a comprehensive response could have been made without resolving the Iraq question, though Anonymous will have none of this line of argument.) We find the same damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don't quality in Anonymous's extended list of things that the U.S. does to annoy Muslims. For instance, we are told:

“America has declared that waging jihad against Islam's attackers is a criminal act and seized and incarcerated—often without trial—hundreds of suspected mujaheddin around the world. For a Muslim to refrain from joining a defensive jihad to protect Islam means disobeying God's law and earning damnation.”

This is a head-scratcher. Apparently, arresting an aspirant martyr as he tries to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border is not just a disappointment, but a grievance. In fact, it's a legitimate grievance, since Anonymous accepts the characterization of al Qaeda's project as a “defensive jihad.” When Osama bin Laden says that Muslim lands are under assault all over the world at the behest of the U.S., he is describing reality. That is why the United States was struck on 911.

Other observers may find bin Laden's list of “attacks” against Islam to be, at best, unevenly persuasive. It includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which differences of opinion sometimes occur, but at least Anonymous is clear that no solution that includes the existence of Israel would be acceptable to al Qaeda or other Islamist groups. It includes the independence of East Timor, which I had thought of as a Catholic country that Islamic Indonesia had tried and failed to assimilate, but I can see how other people might think differently. As far as I am concerned, however, there is only one sane opinion about this complaint from bin Laden:

“What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash the Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people of the region under U.N. cover?”

Perhaps an isolated villager in the Hindu Kush could be forgiven for believing that the United States tried to use Serbia to de-Islamize all or part of the Balkans. However, as Anonymous never ceases to remind us, Osama bin Laden is a well-informed man, with a sophisticated understanding of the world. In the case of this grievance, at least, we are not dealing with a culturally different perception. We are dealing with what Joseph Goebbels used to call “The Big Lie.”

Does that mean that bin Laden has no gravamen against the U.S.? By no means: until the recent Iraq War, American policy the since end of the Second World War has been to preserve the regimes of the Middle East. This was done chiefly with an eye to maintaining the oil supply, and the effect was indeed to prop up regimes that were, in varying degrees, corrupt and tyrannical, though whether any of them was ever entirely apostate is a matter of opinion. What the Islamists want the U.S. to do is stop propping up those regimes. Then, the Islamists can establish regimes more to their liking. In due course, they will re-establish the caliphate.

There is a term for this sort of project. It is not “jihad”; it is “civil war.” Moved by some mixture of piety and adventure, Osama bin Laden is trying to overthrow the government of his homeland and those of the neighboring states. Anonymous recognizes that the attack on the United States was only incidental to this endeavor. Indeed, he praises bin Laden for the strategic brilliance of this strategy. Feeble though they are, the states of the Middle East are still too substantial for groups like al Qaeda to conquer, at least as long as those states are supported by the West. By making the United States the unique enemy, al Qaeda accomplishes two things. First, it gains credit in Muslim countries for defending Islam, while avoiding the opprobrium that might result from waging jihad locally. Second, by signaling to Europe that its quarrel is only with the United States, it makes it more likely that the U.S. will receive no substantial assistance in waging an increasingly burdensome string of small wars. Eventually, when the U.S. goes away, the region will fall into the lap of bin Laden or his successors.

Anonymous is correct that this strategy is not irrational, but that does not mean it will or could work. Al Qaeda's “policies” confuse overturning the existing state of things with achieving power. Where Islamism flourishes, it turns civilization to rubble. Still, even if the enterprise of the caliphate is doomed to miscarry, that does not mean that the United States will not be subject to devastating attacks meant to drive the West out of the Middle East. How, then, goes the war to date, and what strategy should the U.S. follow?

Regarding the war so far, Anonymous says that the American position is steadily deteriorating, outside of a corridor that runs from Amman to Islamabad. Indeed, in the author's estimation, pretty much anything that the United States does in response to the jihad counts as a loss: “Steps we take to protect ourselves and save the lives of others—immigration and precision bombing—are seen by our Muslim foes as evidence of racism, hypocrisy, and a lack of courage to save U.S. lives. The measures we take in self-defense or to protect others unfailingly empower our Muslim enemies to hate us all the more, and to attack us with greater impunity.”

This assessment is of a piece with his relentlessly positive account of the prowess of Islamist organizations and personalities. He compares al Qaeda to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia: high praise from a history-minded American. He finds in both the same qualities of determination, resilience, and ingenuity. Indeed, not only does he see the spirit of the Old Cause among the Islamists; he even catches a glimpse of Robert E. Lee: “Viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man, one who smashed the expected unfolding of universal post-Cold War peace.” Bin Laden is compared to an “Errol Flynn” character, or to Robin Hood, because of the way that bin Laden's persona fits the Arab archetype of the pious bandit.

How did Anonymous formulate these conclusions? In large part by reading what Islamic groups have to say about themselves on the Internet, notably in such cyber journals as Al Ansar. It is, of course, valuable to know what one's opponents say about themselves, and even to know what they want you to think about them. Nonetheless, this material is presented in this book in a way that often does not distinguish Anonymous's sober assessment of the Islamist threat from the Islamists' own spin-doctoring, wishful thinking, and general mendacity.

As for what the U.S. can do, there are just two options. First, we can elect to pursue the war in the way we have begun, without changing our attitude toward the Muslim world. In that case: “A policy of status quo, in essence, leaves America no choice but a war of annihilation.” The other option, which Anonymous endorses, is that we give al Qaeda what it wants. Maybe that is why these books were written on Anonymous's own time, since there is a statutory prohibition (Title 50 United States Code Section 407) against spending federal money to figure out how the United States could surrender.

Let us first take a look at how to conduct what the Germans call a Vernichtungskrieg.

Anonymous seems to have no patience at all with “the revolution in military affairs,” or at least with the tactics that have developed to take advantage of the new technology: “[W]hat has the U.S. military produced since 1990? Victories that are asserted, subjective, arguable, and unrecognized by the enemy—none of which had even a second-rate military—as anything more than the loss of one round in a multi-round war.” Oddly for a man who cites Clausewitz, Anonymous seems to think that the only real war is a “pure war,” one that aims solely at destroying the enemy, without regard to political considerations, or even to one's own casualties.

Given the state of things on September 11, 2001, there was no choice but for the United States to strike at al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan. In fact, Anonymous insists that the only measure that might have mitigated the disaster of the attacks was a same-day decapitation strike, aimed at everyone and everything in Afghanistan that even might have been connected to al Qaeda. If I understand him correctly, massive numbers of U.S. troops should have been introduced immediately. Rather than try to work with local allies, the U.S. should have sealed the borders and hunted down the enemy leadership. Then the U.S. should have left, leaving behind admonitory piles of corpses.

The British had a name for this strategy: “butcher and bolt.” Anonymous, predictably, is an admirer of Kipling, so I wonder that he does not use the term.

Even worse than America's social-worker military leadership, we are told, is the international community. Among the bad habits America will have to break is the impulse to immediately seek partners and coalitions whenever anything goes wrong. After 911, that meant delay in proceeding against Afghanistan, which he believes lost the United States its only chance to win the war. He dismisses the idea of “sharing the burden” with the U.N. or N.A.T.O.: “The lesson is not only that others will not do our dirty work, but that others will stop us from doing our dirty work as completely as possible.”

In some ways, the most interesting part of the book is the author's critique of “the intelligence community.” This is particularly so now, when a proposal to consolidate all the intelligence services under a Grand Spook is all the rage in Washington. Anonymous says that “intelligence community cooperation” is an ideology; like any other form of political correctness, it gums up the works when put into operation. The FBI is particularly clueless at handling national-security information, and its expansion overseas is a waste of money. More generally, he can barely maintain his composure about the disregard by the intelligence chiefs for any information that is not secret. The sort of information that warned against 911 was in the public domain, or in the academy. An intelligent newspaper-reader would have been better informed about the Islamist threat than someone who depended on the high-level intelligence assessments.

As for “counterterrorism,” Anonymous says that it was invented in the mid-1970s precisely to avoid the necessity of attacking terrorist states: “As practiced by the U.S., counterterrorism is appeasement.” He finds the whole “counterterrorism community” to be “bloated, risk-averse, and lawyer-palsied.” It would be better to scrap the whole thing.

And speaking of appeasement, we come to the surrender option.

There is no way to end the jihad immediately. Perhaps, after the next massive attack on the homeland, we can get started on the butcher-and-bolt raids. However, if we do not want to continue that strategy for the foreseeable future, Anonymous advises, we can make some long-term policy changes.

The simplest is the abandonment of Israel. One may quarrel with how much more favor that would curry for the U.S. in Muslim lands, or even whether Osama bin Laden himself really cares much about it, but it's on every Islamist's wish list.

Then there is the achievement of oil independence from the Arabian Peninsula, and a complete Western withdrawal from the area. Regarding oil independence, that sounds like an obvious good, but the matter is more problematical. The fact is that the world has a petroleum economy, not because of American machinations, but because petroleum was an economically optimum fuel source, at least until recently. Also, no matter what the posters to Al Ansar may say, it just isn't true that petroleum suppliers are being undercompensated: you can ask the Russians. As for the successor states after an American withdrawal from the Middle East, Anonymous is almost surely wrong to claim that an al-Qaeda regime in Saudi Arabia, or even a new caliphate, would be no more hostile to the United States than the current governments are. Again, as I have remarked, a caliphate is not likely to materialize. Still, even the bare possibility is not something any sane Western government would encourage; neither is the regional chaos that is far more probable.

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

Anonymous likes this not at all. He quotes Patrick J. Buchanan about the cause of 911: “They are over here because we are over there.” Anonymous quotes John Quincy Adams's famous statement in 1821, when he was Secretary of State: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” As with Washington's Farewell Address (which seems to be Patrick Buchanan's favorite thing ever said by an American president who was not actually Ronald Reagan), this was sound advice when it was given. The U.S. could have done little in the second decade of the 19th century to aid the cause of democracy in the world. Even today, the United States would not be justified in pursuing democratic regime change abroad, even in hostile countries, simply because Americans believe that liberal democracy is the best form of government.

The fact is, though, that the Bush Administration's policy of transforming the Middle East is not based on mere friskiness. Kant was onto something: liberal republics really are much less likely to threaten each other than are other sorts of regimes. To this, of course, one could argue that democracy is a rare, fragile flower. Anonymous repeats the familiar argument that democracy is not transferable, because it was created by a peculiar history. That's true, but it's true of a lot of other things that turned out to be universally exportable, from mechanical engineering to double-entry bookkeeping. For that matter, electoral democracy was in fact successfully exported to India and much of East Asia, regions whose hierarchical civilizations might be thought less amenable to it than is Islam, with its traditions of egalitarianism and consensus. The United States is, I think, obligated to attempt democratization first, before we start talking about surrender or Annihilation War.

And finally, there is this: John Quincy Adams could be sanguine about the monsters abroad, because none ranged globally, and there were many regional champions around the world to handle the local ones. Neither is true today. The dragons can fly around the world in a day for the cost of a passenger fare, and all the local champions retired during the 20th century. It is not hubris to recognize that the United States is uniquely vulnerable because it is uniquely responsible.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2004-08-30: Victory, Law-and-Order, Peace

The rosy picture of human conflict John reported in this post from 2004, called Pinkerization after Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, no longer looks so good. As late as 2008, the data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program looked much the same as it did in 2004, but in 2017 things are looking considerably worse.

Number of Conflicts 

Number of Conflicts 

Number of Deaths

Number of Deaths

Neither of the graphs above would be discernable if the axis extended back to WWII. Compared to that, everything else is just noise. Hopefully, that trend will continue.


Victory, Law-and-Order, Peace

 

Over the weekend, PBS broadcast the classic political film, The Candidate. Though it premiered in 1972, it has aged remarkably well. The scary thing, in fact, is that one or two of the journalists who are mentioned in the film are still in business.

The movie is about a young, liberal Californian public interest lawyer named Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford), who is prevailed upon by a political consultant to run for the U.S. Senate. His Republican opponent is a pompous old incumbent named Crocker Jarmon (played by Don Porter). McKay, though the son of a former governor, has no political ambitions. However, he is energized to run when he goes to a Jarmon rally and hears his reactionary program: welfare reform; the accommodation of environmental regulation to the needs of economic growth; pro-life; reflexive patriotism.

I saw The Candidate when it first came out, and like everyone else, I liked it then. Like most people at the time, I also hummed along with McKay's politics. What is shocking after all these years is how completely Jarmon's ideas have become the dynamic ones. Today, a candidate as young as McKay, and sporting the same kind of golden-helmet haircut, would almost certainly be delivering Jarmon's stump speech.

* * *

Speaking of dynamic ideas, The New York Times Magazine yesterday tried to offer the Republican Party a few, in an article entitled How to Reinvent the G.O.P. The piece was by David Brooks, a Republican but a social liberal, whom the Times keeps as a columnist so the paper can pretend it has an ideologically inclusive editorial page.

The article deals with the same problem that Ralph Reed grappled with in his 1996 memoir, Active Faith: the Republican Party came to power as an opposition coalition that had few concrete ideas about governing. Even in the mid-1990s, it was absurd to for Congress to be run by a party with only negative ideas about domestic governance and no ideas at all about foreign affairs. Today, of course, it's lunacy. Fortunately, Brooks tells us:

[Some Republicans are] at least trying to come up with a governing philosophy that applies to the times. [They understand] the paradox that if you don't have a positive vision of government, you won't be able to limit the growth of government.

Chief among these is George Bush himself, whose platform in 2000 did in fact contain proposals in addition to tax cuts. Brooks, and the folks at the Weekly Standard, want to push the Republican agenda in the direction of what, before 911, they called "National Greatness," but which now they call Hamiltonian Progressive Conservatism. The argument for this is backed up by a retelling of American history that highlights the economic and social policies of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

This is good enough, as far as it goes, but there is a solid nugget of dissimulation in Brooks's outline for an entitlements policy that could ensure that the Republicans never become a real majority party:

The solution is clear: push back the retirement age, reduce benefits for upper-income people, redesign the welfare state so that individuals have control over their own benefits packages. That means designing programs that allow people to have their own health insurance, which they can carry from job to job; to control their own unemployment insurance and tailor their retraining efforts to suit their own talents; to invest part of their own pension money and benefit from higher returns, so they have greater incentives to save on their own. It means reforming the health care system so competition works as it does in every other sphere -- to improve value, spur innovation and reduce costs.

People don't want more choices about health insurance and Social Security. I suspect that most of us have gathered by now that foundations that promote "reproductive choice" are less interested in expanding the sphere of choice than in limiting reproduction. In the context of support for the old and the sick, this verbal gimmickry will quickly become both obvious and intolerable.

There are two points to keep in mind about entitlement reform:

--If the US economy is not producing enough tax revenue to pay Social Security benefits, it will not be producing enough interest or dividends to do so, either.

--Health care is a question of basic public order, like police and fire services. Elements of the system can be private, but "choice" can never be a fundamental consideration.

* * *

Evidence is trickling in that the Millennium really did begin when the millennium began:

In fact, the number killed in battle has fallen to its lowest point in the post-World War II period, dipping below 20,000 a year by one measure. Peacemaking missions, meantime, are growing in number...A collaboration with Sweden's Uppsala University, [the 2004 Human Security Report] will conservatively estimate battle-related deaths worldwide at 15,000 in 2002 and, because of the Iraq war, rising to 20,000 in 2003. Those estimates are sharply down from annual tolls ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 in the 1990s, a time of major costly conflicts in such places as the former Zaire and southern Sudan, and from a post-World War II peak of 700,000 in 1951.

That's encouraging, but then we have the chicken-or-egg question: does the UN create peace, or do peace agreements make work for the UN?

The recent record shows "conflicts don't end without some form of intervention from outside," said Renata Dwan, who heads the [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] program on armed conflict and conflict management... The idea of U.N. primacy in world peace and security took a "bruising" at U.S. hands in 2003, when Washington circumvented the U.N. Security Council to invade Iraq, Dwan noted. But meanwhile, elsewhere, the world body was deploying a monthly average of 38,500 military peacekeepers in 2003 -- triple the level of 1999...By year's end, the institute yearbook will conclude, "the U.N. was arguably in a stronger position than at any time in recent years

Whatever else is going on, it is still the case that we live in a demilitarizing world:

According to the study, the value of all weapons transfer agreements worldwide was more than $25.6 billion in 2003, the third consecutive year that the dollar total for global arms deals declined. When measured in dollars adjusted for inflation to give an accurate comparison to the $25.6 billion figure, the value of global arms agreements has steadily fallen, from $41 billion in 2000.

One can only repeat that the activities of the United States are not an anomaly to this trend, but its predicate:

Fewer large-scale arms purchases were being made by the wealthier oil nations in the Middle East, whose earlier buying sprees contributed to a bull market in weapons when Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a regional threat. The report said it remained uncertain whether the Persian Gulf states would now perceive a potentially hostile Iran as a new motivation to improve their arsenals.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-08-27: Authenticity; Lesser Evils; Death Worms

Berkeley Antifa Protest

Berkeley Antifa Protest

This paragraph was written to describe the 2004 Republican convention, but I think the planned spectacle of modern protests hasn't changed much since:

Then there is this consideration: where are the rabbles of yesteryear?
Until quite recently, all major cities had a floating population of pickup workers and petty thieves, always ready for anything. They could easily be launched against public institutions by demagogues with a sense of timing. You still have this situation in third-world countries and in some shabbier American neighborhoods. For the most part, however, the only place we see a traditional urban mob is on The Simpsons. If Dr. Frankenstein worked in Manhattan, you might be able to get an injunction to close down his monster-factory, but the only people likely to lay siege to it would be a dozen LaRouchies, and no way could they get a permit to carry torches.
What do we have now? We have performance artists, and an equal number of videographers to take their pictures. Then we have the anarchists, who seem less like traditional revolutionaries than like people who have turned political protest into an extreme sport. Then there is the fact the action will be in Midtown Manhattan, where nobody lives. How do you stage a proper urban riot without cavalry hacking at the rioters through the streets of their own hovels?

Almost all protests require transportation of people from somewhere else to fill the crowd. For the Dakota Access Pipeline, the protest became something of a tourist attraction. It was also in the middle of nowhere. Yet even in cities, there just aren't enough people interested in this stuff in the US for this kind of a mob to form spontaneously. Yet.


Authenticity; Lesser Evils; Death Worms

 

Like most people who live in the New York area, I regard the upcoming Republican Convention with unalloyed dread. It's not so much the Convention itself, of course, as the attempt to restage The Battle in Seattle, this time in Manhattan. This isn't going to work, not with the NYPD, but there will be quite a show, even if nothing really bad happens.

Then there is this consideration: where are the rabbles of yesteryear?

Until quite recently, all major cities had a floating population of pickup workers and petty thieves, always ready for anything. They could easily be launched against public institutions by demagogues with a sense of timing. You still have this situation in third-world countries and in some shabbier American neighborhoods. For the most part, however, the only place we see a traditional urban mob is on The Simpsons. If Dr. Frankenstein worked in Manhattan, you might be able to get an injunction to close down his monster-factory, but the only people likely to lay siege to it would be a dozen LaRouchies, and no way could they get a permit to carry torches.

What do we have now? We have performance artists, and an equal number of videographers to take their pictures. Then we have the anarchists, who seem less like traditional revolutionaries than like people who have turned political protest into an extreme sport. Then there is the fact the action will be in Midtown Manhattan, where nobody lives. How do you stage a proper urban riot without cavalry hacking at the rioters through the streets of their own hovels?

It's all very inauthentic, if you ask me.

* * *

Speaking of inauthenticity, I recently got this solicitation from the Bush Campaign:

You can play an important role in the nomination of the President. Several parties around the country will be selected to appear live, via satellite, broadcast on television and on the convention floor. The Convention could broadcast live from your party. Your party, and your guests, could help nominate the President and appear as part of the Republican National Convention program.

Will you join us? Will you host or attend a Convention Watch Party on September 2nd?

Even if I were so inclined, I don't think many other local Republicans would be interested in watching the Convention on my 12-inch portable television. More generally, the campaign's attempt to use the Internet to organize spontaneous house parties reminds me of these lines from Genesis's Supper's Ready:

The order
for rejoicing
and dancing
has come from our warlord.

* * *

Nobody writes better polemics than Mark Steyn, for the excellent reason that what he says is usually correct. I have nothing to ad to this assessment of the sinking of John Kerry's Swift Boat Campaign:

But the party that likes to sneer that Bush never had a plan to deal with Iraq's inevitable insurgents doesn't seem to mind that Kerry never had a plan to deal with the Swiftees’ equally inevitable insurgents. A guy awash in gazillions from Barbra Streisand and co. who can’t see off a couple of hundred middle-aged "liars" and their minimal ad-buy? Is that really the fellow you want to put up against al-Qa’eda, the ayatollahs and Kim Jong-Il?

And while I am handing out plaudits, let me congratulate The Weekly Standard for demonstrating in its August 30 issue that it is possible to be both partisan and fair. I was particularly taken with this passage by Andrew Ferguson, in the essay Marching to November:

Yet in 2004, Republicans find themselves supporting a candidate, George W. Bush, with a slender and ambiguous military record against a man whose combat heroism has never (until now) been disputed. Further--and here we'll let slip a thinly disguised secret--Republicans are supporting a candidate that relatively few of them find personally or politically appealing. This is not a choice Republicans are supposed to be faced with.

Obviously, we have to keep John Kerry out of the White House, lest greater evils follow. Still, I can't help thinking what a different world it would be if John McCain were the incumbent.

* * *

One of the irritating things about this year is that there is so much real news this summer that the traditional Silly Season has been cancelled. Here is my attempt to make up the deficit:

Killer Bees Have Reach Oklahoma. In the '70s, I knew a student from Brazil slightly who said that the entymologist responsible for unleashing the African bees in the western hemisphere owned the farm next to her family's in the south of the country. Since then, they have been making their way north. When killer bees were new, we were told that climate would prevent them from spreading north of the Rio Grande. Ha.

Dune Alert: There May be Real Sandworms:

A giant poisonous worm that lives beneath the sands of the Gobi and can kill with the power of electricity can surely only be the stuff of legend. Or can it? Adam Davies sets off into the desert wastes in the quest for the Mongolian Death Worm.

So You Want to Sell Your Haunted House. Admirers of Chuck Palahniuk's novel, Lullaby, will recall that it describes a real estate business that specializes in generating fees from the sale and resale of houses that are so haunted that their new owners can't bear to live in them. It's an ingenious business model. However, I learn that it is bad practice, as we see from this story about the marketing of a haunted house in Oregon:

[The seller's daughter] wonders if it's smart of her mother to include the ghost among the house's features as she tries to sell it, but longtime real estate broker Jean Tate says it's a good idea..."Oh, yes, you always disclose that kind of stuff," Tate said. "You don't want someone coming back later and saying, `You knew about that - you should have told me.' "

Finally, here's a story that one would not dare to make up for April Fool's Day:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - R&B singer Ashanti and director Quentin Tarantino are set to star in ABC's original movie tentatively titled "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."....The group's quest to get the Wicked Witch (Miss Piggy) culminates with a fight scene between Dorothy and the witch...As the action is about to begin, the film cuts to Tarantino pitching to Kermit how the scene should be done -- a cameo written specifically for the "Kill Bill" director.

It's true. Really.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Link Fest 2017-02-03

What Better Way for the Marines to Prepare for Future Wars Than With Sci-Fi?

Max Brooks, the author of World War Z, helps the Marines.

Pantheon: Mapping Historical Cultural Production

I love this kind of data.

Nine questions those protesting against Donald Trump’s immigration ban must answer

An entirely reasonable set of questions.

The Islamic State is right about some things

Razib Khan talks more sense about Middle Eastern refugees than almost anyone else.

On Pinkglossianism

BD Sixsmith coins a new term. I also appreciate Pinker's argument, but I think Sixsmith is on to something.

Poor U.S. Scores in Health Care Don’t Measure Nobels and Innovation

This is over ten years old now, but I think it still holds up. There is something just *different* about the American economy yet. It produces more per capita, per worker, per anything, than anyone else. That could of course change. This dovetails with Random C. Analysis' argument that the US consumes about as much healthcare as you should expect, when you take into account how rich we really are.

The Non-Racism of American Evil

Spotted Toad makes the argument that the US does wrong at home and abroad without regard to whether racists are currently in charge.

Decius Unmasked

The author of the Flight 93 theory of the 2016 US Presidential election now works for the Trump administration. I suspect this kind of thing engenders loyalty.

Today’s Progressive Christians are the Best Christians in History. Just Ask Them!

John Zmirak explains so much.

Hypnotists Flips Pro-Choicers to Pro-Life in Seconds (I explain how)

Scott Adams has made himself even more famous by analyzing the 2016 US Presidential election in terms of hypnotism. Adams claims that we are mostly [or entirely] non-rational, and that persuasion techniques prove it. Here, he shows how a pro-life activist uses...the Socratic method to make people doubt their pro-choice convictions. Adams proudly says that he only read current scientific non-fiction, which might be trolling, but I actually believe him. I think he plain doesn't know. This is also proof that almost anything worth thinking was first thought by Ionian Greeks.

Performance Trends in AI

I doubt the possibility of strong AI for philosophical reasons, but I am glad to see people with other reasons think the same.

What a Century of Research Reveals About Gifted Kids

Sometimes you come across a perfect storm of information. This article was one of those. There is a great summary of the last 100 years of research on unusual intelligence. Then, by chance, I happened to see three different postings online that dissented from this, that varied from positions I can respect, to those those that are laughably ignorant

Bad sugar or bad journalism? An expert review of “The Case Against Sugar”.

Gary Taubes has gone too far.

The Long View 2004-08-20: The Sick Man of Mesopotamia

The funniest [and most horrible] thing about this blog post is how very, very wrong John was about the relative stability of Iran and Saudi Arabia. I've been hearing rumors of collapse about Saudi Arabia for a long time, even Greg Cochran has gotten in the act recently. So far, the Saudis continue to do what they do, although running out of oil money, as Greg suggests is nearing, will be a real problem.

The Iranians seem to be relatively strong, and have managed to do quite well for themselves with many years of embargo by the US. I suspect they could outlast their regional rivals, but we shall see.


The Sick Man of Mesopotamia

 

When people talk about the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century, Lovecrafty adjectives like "moribund" and "necrotic" are brought into play. The empire had the unenviable distinction, until it actually did collapse in the chaos that followed the First World War, of being called "the Sick Man of Europe." The only thing that prevented the empire from being carved up was the inability of the European powers to agree on who would get what piece of it. The remarkable thing was how long the empire was able to loiter on the border between life and death. In effect, it turned the immensity of its weakness into an asset, like a failing business that is so huge that its creditors don't dare to push it into bankruptcy.

That is, pretty much, the strategy that Edward Luttwak advocated on August 18 for the United States, in a New York Times Op Ed entitled Time to Quit Iraq (Sort Of):

But if the Shiites were persuaded that America might truly abandon them to face Saddam Hussein's loyalists alone, it seems certain that they would quickly revert to the attitude of collaboration with the occupation forces they showed in the aftermath of invasion....

For now, with the United States viewed as determined to stay the course, the hard-liners in Iran can pursue their anti-American vendetta by encouraging the Shiite opposition, supplying Mr. Sadr's militia and encouraging Syria to help Islamist terrorists sneak into Iraq. But an American withdrawal would mean the end of any hopes for a unified, Shiite-led Iraq, which is Iran's long-term goal, and likely a restored Sunni supremacy, which is Iran's greatest fear....Again, the threat of American withdrawal would be apt to concentrate minds wonderfully. The goal would be to get Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to replace the American taxpayer in aiding Iraq; the two could also jointly sponsor peacekeeping troops, in earnest this time, financially rewarding poorer Muslim countries with troops to spare.

This is tactically impossible: there is no way the US could show just enough disinterest in the region while not signaling a complete loss of nerve. Even a conditional threat to withdraw would mean a complete collapse of the intermin government. If the Coalition threatened to withdraw, sort of, then what the US wants or fears in Iraq would become irrelevant. More important, though, is that this approach is strategically wrong-headed on two counts.

The first is that the regimes that Luttwak hopes to use to create a balance of power in Iraq, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia, need to be changed. If that sounds like neoconservative hubris for you, we cannot avoid the fact that both are unstable and probably will change at no distant date. Indeed, one of the seldom-acknowledged reasons for the Iraq War is that the nature of the new regimes will turn in part on the nature of the regime that governs Iraq at the time.

The second point is more subtle, and has been missed both by Realpolitiker and tranzies: the international system is not going to work if the United States is discredited. This is one of the morals we should draw from another New York Times Op Ed, this one in today's paper, entitled An Idea Lost in the Rubble. It was written by Gil Loescher, who lost both legs in the terrorist bombing last year of the UN headquarters in Baghdad:

In fact, the Baghdad bombing and the retreat of Doctors Without Borders make clear that humanitarian workers have increasingly become the targets of violence in war-torn countries. For these workers, there is no middle ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are identified by militants in both countries as taking sides and collaborating with the United States.

The piece goes on to recommend that military forces in areas suffering humanitarian crises confine themselves to providing security and let the NGOs get on with their own work. That sounds like an unworkable solution, and in any case, it misses the point. The United States is a utility of the international system. The failure of one implies the failure of the other.

* * *

Speaking of failing tactics, one notes that The New York Times ran a frontpage, above the fold story today attempting to debunk the critics of Senator John Kerry's war record. The major media had tried to avoid mentioning the accusations at all. However, because talkshows and the Internet disseminated them anyway, Kerry himself said this week that he would meet the charges head on, just as he drove his swiftboat into hostile fire in Vietnam. "Bring it on!" he said.

This strategy will prove unfortunate. The Kerry campaign's rejoinders make plausible points when they argue that the circumstances under which Kerry won his medals were more or less as reported. His defenders make less good points when they go on at length about the funding sources of the swiftboat veterans who oppose Kerry. What could lose the election for Kerry is that his claims to have been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve in 1968 are demonstrably false; the fact that he has spoken of the incident as "seared in my memory" means he cannot pass the claims off as poor recollection. It sounds as if one of Kerry's favorite war stories is a personalized retelling of Apocalypse Now.

The Times can print all the charts it likes of Texan campaign donors. The senator's critics are simply correct on an accusation that is both damning and easy to understand.

* * *

I see that The Washington Post is conducting a poll for Best Political Blog. Anyone who wants to vote for The Long Viewis welcome, though it seems to me that this blog is not political enough, or even blog-like enough, to merit inclusion. I personally will vote for the Belmont Club.

* * *

Speaking of Internet behavior, here is a story that expands one's sense of the possible: Mass Hysteria Strikes Small Rural U.S. High School:

(Reuters Health) - Ten healthy female students at a rural, co-ed North Carolina high school had repeated bouts of seizures, swooning and hyperventilation over a four-month period in 2002 -- an outbreak that experts are calling an example of mass hysteria...The first girl began experiencing seizures in August. Over the next few weeks, more girls began to show the same symptoms. The attacks escalated throughout the fall months, then appeared to taper off by the winter holiday break....

Writing in the Archives of Neurology, [Dr. E. Steve Roach of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Dr. Ricky L. Langley of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services ] conclude that the evidence "strongly suggested" that the girls were experiencing an episode of mass hysteria, defined as "the simultaneous occurrence of related signs or symptoms with a psychogenic basis in multiple individuals in a group."

Many episodes of mass hysteria are triggered by harmless odors or when a "prominent" person begins showing symptoms, they add. No environmental trigger was found, and since the first girl to experience seizures was a cheerleader and four others were as well, Roach and Langley suggest that seeing the symptoms in these girls "could have encouraged additional students to develop similar episodes."

This sounds like the behavior of the witnesses at the Salem Witch Trials. It sounds even more like the "dancing epidemics," which were supposed to have been a feature of late medieval Europe. One wonders why, with today's unmediated net of communication, things like this don't happen regionally, or even worldwide.

Something to look forward to, maybe.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-08-16: New Jersey; Antichrist; Prison; Kill Bill 2

John's occasional comments on New Jersey politics were always fascinating to me. New Jersey is very much another world to this native of the American West. Even our scandals seems different.

A recurring theme of John's was that the increasing harshness of criminal sentencing was an inevitable consequence of the development of American law after Miranda v. Arizona, along with other civil rights cases of the 1960s, made it very difficult to continue to police effectively. The ensuing increase in the crime rate left only one legal option: longer sentences for the convicted. This worked to decrease the crime rate to a bearable level, but I don't think John ever thought that the combination of robust constitutional rights for defendants plus long mandatory sentences and large prison populations was really an optimal solution for the United States. He did seem to think it was the only possible one, given our politics.


New Jersey; Antichrist; Prison; Kill Bill 2

 

My recollection of Governor McGreevey's resignation announcement on August 12 is a false memory. I saw the press conference live. That afternoon I had gone down the Shore (Jersey-speak for "gone to the beach"), but on arriving I happened to turn on CNN. I know perfectly well that CNN did not play the theme from the old Twilight Zone series as the Governor rushed to explain that he was gay in order to cover up some jaw-dropping malefaction yet to be fully revealed. Nonetheless, that is exactly how I remember the broadcast. I fully expected the camera to cut away to commentary by Rod Serling.

At the philosophical level, the apocalyptic dysfunction of New Jersey's political culture was well addressed by Peggy Noonan's column of May 13, Bada Bing? Bada Boom. The revelation of the reasons for McGreevey's choice of aides adds nothing to our understanding of a state government that runs on credit-card debt and that believes turning the state into a center of fetal stem-cell research is forward thinking. Rather, the gay element sheds light on a national distortion: even in New Jersey, the sort of gross abuse of patronage involved in the McGreevey affair would have created a scandal long ago, were it not for the immunity that a homosexual connection now confers. Something similar is true across a range of issues, and even the elites are getting as sick of it, as they did of militant feminism by the mid-1990s. However, this is not the story that will pop the bubble. Not yet.

Anyone in need of an updated list of recent political scandals in New Jersey should see John Fund's column, Louisiana North: Why New Jersey is a pit of corruption. I have a question about this this historical aside, however:

New Jersey's political corruption has been legendary since the days of the late Mayor Frank Hague, who ran Jersey City for 30 years with such an iron fist that he told federal officials "I am the law."

The version I heard of that story, and I live in Jersey City, is that Mayor Hague said "I am the law" to a judge in Juvenile Court, where the mayor was appearing as a character witness. The defendant, the son of a Hague supporter, had committed enough minor offences that the judge said the law required the boy to go to state juvenile prison, called "the Farm." The mayor thought otherwise.

Let me point out that New Jersey corruption does not mean that you have to bribe bureaucrats to perform ordinary official functions, or that businesses must routinely pay extortion to stay in business. The typical New Jersey political scandal involves getting permission for new real estate development, or the awarding of contracts from the government to private enterprises. Ordinary citizens can get through life without encountering any of this unpleasantness. That is why it has continued for so long.

* * *

As a student of eschatology, you must imagine my delight in discovering last week that Catholics for Kerry had picked up a suggestion that President Bush is Antichrist. At any rate, they had linked to a story from a Canadian site, Catholic New Times, which claims that John Paul II suspects that the president may be Antichrist, and the pope regrets that he is too old to deal with the challenge adequately. The Catholics for Kerry link was current as of last week, by the way, but the report in question dates from May 18, 2003.

Meanwhile, Catholics for Kerry pointed out that Jerome R. Corsi, co-author with John E. O'Neill of the leading anti-Kerry broadside, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, had some very harsh things to say about the Catholic Church in the wake of the recent priest scandals.

Entertaining as all this is, may I point out that President Bush looks much less like Antichrist than like the Emperor of the Last Days? You will be hearing more about this characterization if Bush presides over a peace settlement that includes Jerusalem.

* * *

Something else you might be hearing more about is the movement to reduce the size of America's prison population. Crime rates in the US have fallen dramatically in the past 15 years, and 25% of all the prisoners in the world are in the US. These statistics are not unrelated. However, as Jim Holt reported in The New York Times Magazine ("Decarcerate?" August 15):

Yet there is a movement afoot today, albeit a tiny one, that aspires to get rid of prisons altogether. The members of this movement call themselves ''abolitionists,'' borrowing the term applied to steadfast opponents of slavery before the Civil War. Since the 80's, an international group of abolitionists -- lawyers, judges, criminologists -- has been holding conferences every few years.

Was the expansion of the prison population really responsible for the drop in crime over the last decade? Then why did states that neglected to adopt tougher sentencing rules enjoy the same improvement as those that did? Do harsher sentences deter people from committing crimes? Then why did the recidivism rate -- that is, the rate at which released prisoners commit new crimes -- actually go up during the prison-building boom?

The sense in this is that the political ploy of enacting ever hasher criminal sentences is despicable. Often, this practice involves passing new criminal laws to address the same offense. This is a particularly bad idea when Congress passes federal criminal laws for matters that are handled perfectly well at the state level. This is the sort of thing you do insteadof serious law enforcement, which involves hiring more police and deploying them in a way that makes them part of the communities they patrol. The certainty of punishment is far more important than its severity.

In New York City, by the end of the 1980s, the laws on the books could not be made any harsher. As a novelty, the authorities adopted new strategies, notably "community policing" and the "Broken Window Theory." The results were spectacularly successful. Then, of course, prison populations grew. What else could happen?

The problem with the Decarceration Movement is that it seems aimed at the concept of punishment itself:

The idea of making an offender suffer for his crime can be traced to...''blood vengeance''...But is this justice? There is increasing evidence that the most violent criminals are often driven by forces beyond their control. Because of damage to the frontal lobes of their brains caused by birth complications, accidents or brutal childhood beatings, they simply can't contain their aggressive impulses; compared with the rest of us, they live life on a neurological hair trigger. Clearly, society needs to protect itself from these people. But does it need to punish them?

One can only repeat that you hang one man for the same reason you give another a medal: both are based on the moral intuition of desert. If you abandon that, then there is no reason why the innocent should not be made to suffer, if that is convenient. A particularly foolish notion is to try to replace justice with applied neurology. That leads to a world in which people with unsatisfactory diagnoses are incarcerated automatically, whether they have done anything criminal or not.

* * *

Over the weekend, I viewed the film Kill Bill, Volume 2. Anyone can make a Kung Fu Western, but perhaps only Quentin Tarantino can make a Kung Fu Western that sounds like My Dinner with Andre. My only caveat is that all this wit might better be used to make movies that don't suggest the human race deserves to be extinct.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-08-10: Stability; Jesus the Kid; Heinlein

John Reilly mentions Robert Heinlein's nuclear survivalism in passing here. Since I am a child of the sunny 80s, the dark days of the Cold War often seem remote to me. However, I do know that a great many things in mid-twentieth century America were done in part because they could be tied to Cold War aims, including the Interstate Highway system, modern art, and the Civil Rights movement. John here claims suburbia was a matter of surreptitious civil defense, in the mode Heinlein suggested.

I haven't seen the laws in question, although as a legal editor John plausibly could have. I'll consider this possible but unproven until and unless I see the text, but it fits with other things I know.

This is a topic I've seen often, because of my love of Jerry Pournelle's There Will be War series. Survivalism is a recurring topic in those works, and in several of Jerry's novels. I've never seen Jerry say so much in print, but he knew Heinlein, and I could believe that Heinlein was an influence here.


Stability; Jesus the Kid; Heinlein

 

Danielle Pletka (of the American Enterprise Institute) had some illuminating things to say in yesterday's New York Timesabout the premises of John Kerry's foreign policy. In an optimistically entitled Op Ed, Arabs on the Verge of Democracy, she remarked:

Mr. Kerry has not been specific about many of his goals, but one thing he's gone out of his way to advertise is his distaste for pushing reform at the expense of "stability" in the Middle East. Sure, he's in favor of democracy in principle, but not as the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda. "Realism," in the fashion of Metternich and Kissinger, is his guiding light, Mr. Kerry told The New Yorker.

In this respect, Mr. Kerry echoes President George H. W. Bush and even his own father, Richard Kerry, a diplomat who once criticized the Reagan administration's "fatal error of seeing U.S. security as dependent on illusions of propagating democracy" in the Soviet bloc.

Used in this way, "stability" plays a role similar to Washington's Farewell Address in Patrick J. Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire. Both are cases of foreign policy prescriptions assuming the status of myth. I don't mean "myth" in the sense of an untruth, but of a way to organize experience. "Stability" has come to mean an unconditional policy of preserving international organizations, and even hostile states, whatever actual effect those organizations or states may have on the well-being of the United States. We should note that, though Henry Kissinger generally favored stability during the Cold War, this was largely because change was for the worse during that period, at least as far as the West was concerned. Writing about the the last quarter of the 19th century in his book Diplomacy (published in 1994), he showed a lively sense that the world does not always work that way:

Realpolitik -- foreign policy based on calculations of power and the national interest -- brought about the unification of Germany. And the unification of Germany caused Realpolitik to turn on itself, accomplishing the opposite of what it was meant to achieve. For the practice of Realpolitik avoids armaments races and war only if the major players of an international system are free to adjust their relations in accordance with changing circumstances or are restrained by a system of shared values, or both.

This flexibility is precisely what the Security Council system, and NATO, and the kudzu-like growth of "customary international law" prevents. Obviously the US needs a realistic structure of alliances. That is what John Kerry has promised to prevent, at quite literally all costs.

* * *

This summer, I have been re-reading short books rather than embarking on long new ones. One of these is Robertson Davies' Fifth Business (published in 1970), which deals with a curmudgeonly Scots-Canadian school teacher's search for the nature of sainthood. Anyone in immediate need of a new heresy might start with this complaint from one of the characters in the book, the detrimental old Jesuit, Fr. Ignacio Blazon:

My own idea is that when [Jesus] comes again it will be to continue His ministry as an old man. I am an old man and my life has been spent as a soldier of Christ, and I tell you that the older I grow the less Christ's teaching says to me. I am sometimes very conscious that I am following the path of a leader who died when He was less than half as old as I am now. I see and feel things He never saw or felt. I know things He seems never to have known....All Christ's teaching is put forward with the dogmatism, the certainty, and the strength of youth: I need something that takes account of the accretion of experience, the sense of paradox and ambiguity that comes with years! I think after forty we should recognize Christ politely but turn for comfort and guidance to God the Father, who knows the good and evil of life, and to the Holy Ghost, who possesses a wisdom beyond that of the incarnated Christ.

I find this interesting because I frankly don't know what Davies means. Jesus delivered more paradoxes than Domino delivers pizzas. Novels about young men are usually about coming-of-age; the extreme case is the Bildungsroman. That is exactly what the Gospels are not. Whatever you may think of the historical Jesus, the Gospel Jesus is mature and fully formed from the first, like Athena from the brow of Zeus.

Imaginary older Jesuses are not unique to Davies, of course. However, the notion that these constructs might articulate new doctrine seems fairly rare. Here is another instance that comes to mind, from C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (published in 1946). The speaker is the spirit of an Anglican bishop, describing intellectual life in Hell:

But you've never asked what my paper is about! I'm taking the text about growing up to the full measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you'll be interested in. I'm going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he'd lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience what his mature views might have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste...so much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going?

Let this be a warning to you.

* * *

One prophet who did live long enough to know better was Robert Heinlein. I was recently moved to re-read some of his stuff, because the Heinlein Society was kind enough to ask to mirror my review of Tramp Royale. (I corrected a glaring error about Heinlein's political activity when I went over it again.)

I have been reading an anthology, Expanded Universe (published in 1980). It's triply interesting: many old Heinlein items not otherwise available, especially from the early Cold War; extended commentary on them by Heinlein himself; and we finally, finally, get to see how Heinlein's predictions in 1956 for the year 2000 came out. Actually, his score went up since his assessment in 1980. In 1956, he not only predicted the end of Communism; he predicted cellphones. The bastard.

The point I take away is not that Heinlein was often wrong about the future (still no flying cars, and more's the pity), but that he routinely grasped some important principle and then made hash of the application. This is easy to forgive in his story from 1940, "Blow-Ups Happen," which dealt with a commercial nuclear reactor that was also potentially a bomb. He misunderstood how chain reactions worked, but there were few people in the world at the time who could have corrected him. Much more interesting are his nuclear-hysteria essays from immediately after the end of World War II. One of them, "The Last Days of the United States," the earliest essay advocating "survivalism" I have encountered.

Heinlein there discusses a proposal common in those days, that the nation's urban population should be "dispersed" to make it less vulnerable to atomic attack. He describes a scene in which a local Civil Defense warden knocks on a neighbor's door and tells him that he has until Tuesday to get ready to be relocated to a new settlement. Since that obviously was not going to work, Heinlein urged people to create rural retreats on their own initiative. In the event, though, government policy did disperse the population. That's what all those federally-backed mortgages for suburban housing developments were about, as well as the highway system to get to them. There were other reasons for suburbanization, of course, but we forget that a lot of the appropriation bills said "national defense" somewhere in the titles.

On the other hand, everything Heinlein had to say in his stories and essays about government decapitation is still relevant. The underground bases he recommended in case Washington is attacked were built, but there is still no easy way to replace Congress in a hurry if the membership is killed or incapacitated. This could yet prove awkward.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Tramp Royale

A fascinating look at a lesser-known Heinlein work of non-fiction.


Tramp Royale
by Robert A. Heinlein
The Berkley Publishing Group, 1992
$18.95, 370 pages
ISBN: 0-441-82184-7

 

 

So Where Did You Get Your Ideas, Mr. Heinlein?

 

This book is a travelogue of a tour that Heinlein and his wife Virginia (who provides a short preface) made of the southern hemisphere in 1953-54. It never made it into print during Heinlein’s lifetime because it had no obvious market. After Heinlein died in 1988, his publishers resurrected the unpublished manuscript from a university collection, in the hope that his name on the cover would ensure sales. Still no luck: I found my copy in a remainder bin and I have never seen it reviewed. This is a shame, since the book is as idiosyncratic and entertaining as anything Heinlein ever wrote. Moreover, fans of Heinlein’s fiction will find in his description of southern hemisphere countries many bits and pieces of the detail that went into later stories.

When the Heinleins decided to make this trip, Robert was already a moderately successful writer, though far from the big name that "Stranger in a Strange Land" would make him. (In those years, Heinlein was making the ideological transition from his unsuccessful political career as a Depression Era liberal Democrat to his later incarnation as a libertarian conservative: another book rescued from his trunk is the scrupulously non-partisan manual, "Take Back Your Government," written in 1946 but first published in 1992.) In any case, he traveled as a minor public figure. He had letters of introduction to prominent persons in many places, which meant he usually had a little help navigating viscous local bureaucracies. Newspapers occasionally took the trouble to interview him. This prominence helped. Sometimes.

Heinlein being Heinlein, some of the most interesting parts of the book are those that deal with legalities and red tape. There was the unsuccessful struggle to convince the British consul in Denver, for instance, that you could travel anywhere in the Commonwealth on a visa issued by his office. There was the Australian requirement that tourists file income tax forms before they leave the country. There was the South African requirement that train reservations be made a month in advance, in person, and preferably in Afrikaans. In his description of the perfect malice of the world’s currency regulations, we can perhaps catch a presentiment of the troubles that the protagonist of “An Answer to Job” would have in converting currency between parallel universes.

Andy Warhol once remarked that the point of Pop Art was liking things, and for most of the trip that seems to have been Heinlein’s attitude toward world travel. The description of South America is a prose poem to Latin courtesy and civilization. (Because of Virginia Heinlein’s aversion to flying, they took a tidy passenger cargo ship from New Orleans and through the Panama Canal to Chile, and then went east across the southern cone by train). Heinlein even admired the Argentine dictator Juan Peron’s ability to speak at length with no semantic content. Heinlein declared Uruguay a welfare state that worked. He admired the free-market dynamism of Brazil, which he later transferred to the Portuguese-speaking colony on Venus that would figure in his later stories. By the time the Heinleins left the continent, the book threatened to become tedious for lack of something to criticize.

Fortunately, the next major stop was South Africa. Heinlein was suitably appalled by apartheid. He had the extra incentive that being a monoglot English-speaker already put him on the wrong side of a lot of minor officials. Then there was the fact that Afrikaners had conceived the conviction that the United States was conspiring to depress the price of gold and tended to hold him personally responsible. In any case, the country gave him the opportunity to muse about race relations in the United States. (All of this, one suspects, was part of the inspiration for “Farnham’s Freehold.”) On the plus side, he did meet many people who were friendly and helpful, and he did get to see a lot of the country.

Indonesia was the only country where the Heinleins ever felt threatened, though nothing bad happened to them there. They visited Singapore before it became spic-and-span and high-tech, but liked it anyway for much the same reasons they had liked Brazil. (The lunar colonies in “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” seems to owe a lot to Singapore, Chinese merchant class and all.) Though the whole book keeps up a running commentary on the current state of the Cold War, it is only in connection with Southeast Asia that Heinlein waxes eloquent about the Red Menace. On the passenger cargo ship to Australia (not the same one that took them to Chile, of course), the Heinleins meet the sort of shady people who usually get introduced at the beginning of an adventure story: mercenaries and businessfolk whose business does not bear close examination. Still, none of them does anything adventurous where Heinlein can see them. Annapolis graduate and former Navy officer that he is, he confines himself to tisking over the squalid maintenance of the ship.

Heinlein liked what he saw of Australia, but scheduling problems made it impossible for them to see much outside Sydney. He devoted a great deal of space describing the unusual liquor laws, which required, in effect, that if you wanted to run a bar, you had to run a hotel to attach it to. This resulted in a large number of small, bad hotels, for which even the locals were apologetic. He provides a rare piece of architectural psychology. Walking through an Australian residential neighborhood gave him an odd sense of deja vu, which it took him a while to explain. Finally he realized what it was: the buildings looked like those in the American Midwest around 1910, when he was a boy.

This trip and later visits obviously contributed to Heinlein’s novels, notably the idea of space colonies originally settled by transported prisoners. It was not so much that people were anxious to discuss things like this when Heinlein met them. If they did, he does not record the encounters. One gathers that one of the attractions of the trip for him was that it provided the occasion to do relevant reading. Additionally, the Heinleins bought books wherever they went, sending them back to Colorado in a steady stream of brown paper parcels.

So much for liking things. This brings us to the last place on the Heinleins’ itinerary.

Apparently, the pit of misery, the region without hope, the most god-awful place in the whole southern hemisphere circa 1954, was New Zealand. The chapter dealing with this unhappy visit is called “The Dreary Utopia,” and its dreariness was of varied kinds. This is the only piece of travel literature I can recall in which the writer truly, deeply hated a Post Office system. The problem was not that Heinlein was a free-market ideologue hostile to New Zealand’s welfare state and tightly-controlled economy. Uruguay had a lot in common with New Zealand politically and economically in those days, but Uruguay also had restaurants that served non-poisonous food, and not everybody there shortchanged visitors all the time. Such were the petty vexations of the country that Heinlein spluttered even at the famous narrow-gauge railways, which in a better mood he would have liked. No doubt part of this antipathy was due simply to the fact the tourist industry was not yet well-developed, but for once the Heinleins forbore to seek private hospitality. They did have a letter of introduction, to a former prime minister no less. Heinlein would not use it, however, because it would have been so difficult to stop himself from telling his host how much he hated his country and everything in it.

Heinlein does record one good thing about the visit: a nice young woman at a zoo showed him and Virginia a kiwi. This was just before the Heinleins left for the airport. Virginia had dropped her objection to air travel in order to leave the country with the greatest expedition. They flew to Hawaii and then home, leaving the rest of the northern hemisphere for another day.

This could be a valuable book for social historians. Heinlein loves to give the prices for things. He tells about products that have just been invented, such as permanent press clothes, and mentions the everyday things they replace. His apocalyptic understanding of the Cold War has become sufficiently alien half-a-century later that it takes a certain anthropological sympathy to grasp it. Still, the chief reason for reading the book is that you get to hear Robert Heinlein speaking in his own person. He makes the world he lived in almost as interesting as the ones he later made up.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Tramp Royale
By Robert A. Heinlein

LinkFest 2017-01-27

Who the hell is Jeff?

A damn good question. [With a damn good answer]

Days of Rage

A great book review/historical retrospective on 60s radicalism. I think this is an interesting companion to my post on Right-Wing Terrorism in America. I am a bit more sanguine about the possibility of political violence in America on a mass scale, but see Peter Turchin's contribution next.

A Quantitative Prediction for Political Violence in the 2020s

Peter Turchin makes an attempt to model political instability using history as a guide.

Fearless Forecasts for 2017

Michael Flynn got a laugh out of me with these.

Freudianism as a Jewish Delusion

 

John Reilly used to say that the guiding spirits of the twentieth century were Freud and Marx and Darwin and Einstein. Steve Sailer only looked at 3 of the 4, so I made another chart with all of them. Darwin worked earliest, and so peaked earliest, but has maintained a steady presence ever since.

Judas in Japan

Silence is a strange and powerful book, and I think this is a close match to my take on it. Compare and contrast with Paul Miki, whose feast day comes up in just under two weeks.

Gender and the Business of Innovation

I don't find it surprising that more women hold patents in drugs, biotechology, and cosmetics, than in automotive and aerospace. But I am a crimethinker. The real mystery here is what is going on in Korea?

The Long View 2004-08-05: More Corrections

I mostly find the current trans fad a bit misguided, and part of the reason why can be found in the LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE COLLABORATION OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD, written by then Cardinal Ratzinger. The whole idea that [biological] sex and gender aren't the same thing is already a part of Christian tradition. C. S. Lewis talked about this in his science fiction novel That Hideous Strength. The direction that idea has been developed of late bears no relation to anything Pope Emeritus Benedict would be likely to recognize, however.

At root, this is because current gender theory seeks to completely differentiate sex and gender, whereas the tradition that binds Benedict and Lewis sees these things as distinct, but related by analogy. What a world of difference that makes.


More Corrections

Since the Department of Homeland Security issued the heightened alert on Sunday, coverage of the story by The New York Times has been erratic, to put it mildly. First they just reported the news. Then they disparaged the alert as based on old information. Then they checked their notes and reported that new information showed the old information would be relevant right about now. The frontpage of today's Times finally reflected the real seriousness of the situation. On the editorial page, though, the Times dealt with its own irresponsibility and incompetence like this:

The administration was obviously right to warn the country that Al Qaeda had apparently studied financial institutions in three cities with the idea of a possible attack. But the delivery of the message was confusing. The color-coded threat chart doesn't serve the purpose for which it was invented, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is hopeless as a public spokesman on this issue. The Bush administration needs to come up with a method of communication that informs the public in a calm, clear way. Perhaps most important, people need to be made totally confident that this critical matter is not being tangled up in the presidential campaign.

The message was not confusing; the reporting by the Times was confusing. The editors were right, of course: "people need to be made totally confident that this critical matter is not being tangled up in the presidential campaign." The Timesshould begin with its own editorial policy.

* * *

Readers will recall that in my August 2 entry I had harsh words for Larry Johnson, the terrorism expert who said just before 911 that Islamic terrorism was a declining issue, and who lately has been arguing that any anti-terrorist steps the authorities take should be "behind the scenes." It is easy to wax merry over Mr. Johnson, but I must report that I cited his analysis with approbation in my column in the September, 2001 issue of Business Travel Executive. I wrote the item in July. Here is what I wrote:

Memo from the Department of Fear. The bad news is that the number of international terrorist incidents rose last year to 423, up from 392 in 1999. The good news, according to Larry C. Johnson in an editorial in the New York Times of July 10, is that over half of last year's incidents occurred because of regional conflicts that are unlikely to affect most business travelers. Of these incidents, 186 were connected to the civil war in Columbia, and 63 because of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Mr. Johnson does not note that the Columbian civil war has the potential to affect the whole hemisphere, but certainly it has not done so yet. In any case, the CIA judged that, in 2000, only 153 terrorist incidents worldwide were "significant." Only 17 involved American citizens or businesses. The most at-risk category for Americans is the petroleum industry and related businesses, mostly in Columbia. McDonald's is also sometimes attacked as an American icon. The ten-year trend for terrorist incidents is clearly down.

And while I was digging through old issues of the magazine, I found this from the July 2001 issue, written in May:

Something odd caught my attention in May: for a week or two, everyone in Washington was talking about "homeland defense." This expression seems to have been coined to refer to antimissile defense. However, it has been extended to refer to counter-terrorism, meaning both the prevention of terrorist acts and dealing with the effects of any that do occur. ...For the business traveler, the immediate issue is not the threats themselves, but the steps taken to deal with them. After the Flight 800 disaster, remember, the government made the prudent assumption that the explosion might have been part of a larger terrorist campaign. The nation's airports were soon gummed up by vexatious regulations... I have checked with various sources, and nothing like that is planned now. Maybe all that will happen is that FEMA will get more planning powers. We will know more when Vice President Cheney issues a report in October.

My recollection is that I used the Johnson material because my commentary had been getting too ominous; it seemed time to devote my two pages to just Good News for one month. I continue to try to look on the bright side, but now I know better than to time-stamp my attacks of optimism.

* * *

Several kind people have sent me the URL to the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the World. Indeed, despite my own pitiful inability to find a copy of the document to comment on in my last blog update, there is actually an embarrassment of sources. The Vatican has Cardinal Ratzinger's letter here, while Zenit has it here.

One of these correspondents also points out that the letter does not mention "feminism." The term "feminist" occurs just once:

Although a certain type of feminist rhetoric makes demands "for ourselves", women preserve the deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.

So what is the letter about? I would say that it is about this:

Male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form. In this way, they characterize the "love that never ends" (1Cor13:8), although the temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient and ordered to a phase of life marked by procreation and death. Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom seeks to be the prophecy of this form of future existence of male and female. For those who live it, it is an anticipation of the reality of a life which, while remaining that of a man and a woman, will no longer be subject to the present limitations of the marriage relationship (cf. Mt22:30). For those in married life, celibacy becomes the reminder and prophecy of the completion which their own relationship will find in the face-to-face encounter with God.

Unpack that paragraph, and you can build a whole world.

* * *

Moving from the sublime back to the New York Times editorial page, we see that Nicholas D. Kristof had a column yesterday, entitled Martyrs, Virgins and Grapes, about what he imagines to be the opening phase of an Islamic Reformation:

Still, there are encouraging signs. Islamic feminists are emerging to argue for religious interpretations leading to greater gender equality. An Iranian theologian has called for more study of the Koran's Syriac roots. Tunisian and German scholars are collaborating on a new critical edition of the Koran based on the earliest manuscripts. And just last week, Iran freed Hashem Aghajari, who had been sentenced to death for questioning harsh interpretations of Islam.

The piece is worth reading, but it evinces a major confusion. Kristof is not talking about the spirit of the actual Reformation, but of the Higher Criticism of the 19th century. The Reformation, at its best, was driven by a ruthless piety. The Higher Criticism, at its best, was marked by intellectual honor, but its presuppositions were skeptical. We see the tail end of the Higher Criticism in such enterprises as the Jesus Seminar and the Gnosticizing propaganda of Elaine Pagels. Honor has departed from it; so has the power to persuade, if you ask me. Are we sure we want people like this to deconstruct the Koran?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-01-22

Happy New Year! I've taken two weeks off for the birth of my third child, but now I am back at it!

Peak conception time by daylight hours

I saw the following chart on Twitter, and found it intriguing.

Roy Wright was interested enough to write a blog post going into further detail.

A Lot of What Is Known about Pirates Is Not True, and a Lot of What Is True Is Not Known.

A great piece about the gradual transformation of piracy in the American colonies from just another job to an act of rebellion.

The first ever vending machine stopped people from stealing holy water

Hero of Alexandria is a remarkable figure, known for his almost modern seeming machines

San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone?

Philosophies that frown on reproduction usually don't survive.

Peanut Allergy Prevention Advice Does a 180

A nice summary of how the conventional wisdom on peanut allergies was upended by one good study.

Should social science be more solution-oriented?

Duncan Watts argues in Nature: Human Behavior that my cocktail party theory of science is correct.

Housing supply is catching up to demand

Unfortunately, supply grows very slowly in this area. But this is good news.

Origin of computing terms "patch", "bug", "loop", "library"

Great history.

The Long View 2004-08-02: Hellboy & Friends

I greatly enjoy Hellboy as well, and I second John's endorsement.


Hellboy & Friends

 

Over the weekend, the Department of Fear and Trembling raised the threat level for certain finance-related buildings in New York, Washington D.C. and Newark (New Jersey). This was the most specific warning the Department (otherwise known as the Department of Homeland Security) has given since it was organized. As The New York Times noted this morning, the measure has met with surprisingly little skepticism among the political class, including all but a few partisan Democrats. Under other circumstances, it might have been possible to argue that the Administration was seeking to counteract the bounce in popularity that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry would normally expect after last week's Convention in Boston. However, it has been apparent since Thursday that there was no bounce. Maybe, like the Watergate Break In, the Administration is giving hostages to fortune by taking superfluous but dangerous steps to ensure reelection. I would not bet on it.

The one voice of unalloyed skepticism I have heard in the mainstream media is that of Larry Johnson, an anti-terrorism consultant, formerly of the CIA and the State Department. On National Public Radio's Morning Edition today, he accused Homeland Security of "irresponsibility" and "grandstanding." To the extent that terrorist activity may have occurred at all, he suggests that the terrorists were just testing our security systems, to see how they would react. The Administration is crying "wolf," he says, and will have to pay for it in lost credibility when a real threat arrives.

There are lots of things one could say about this analysis; starting, perhaps, with the observation that it sounds like the FBI's pre-911 philosophy of allowing terrorist conspiracies to proceed almost to the point of consummation, so as to make a better legal case. However, it may be enough to cite this excerpt on Slate from a piece by a Larry C. Johnson (apparently the same person) that appeared in the The New York Times of July 10, 2001, entitled "The Declining Terrorist Threat":

Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertainment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

None of these beliefs are based in fact. ... While terrorism is not vanquished, in a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are still aimed across the continents, terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way.

Incidentally, shortly after Homeland Security raised the alert level for those three sites, the State of New Jersey did the same for several counties, including my own Hudson County. Jersey City in particular has some conspicuous financial-service industry buildings on the Hudson River. However, I have not noted dramatic increases in security measures, except for the black helicopters, which we are used to by now.

* * *

Moving on to pleasanter topics, I highly recommend the film, Hellboy (Two-Disc Special Edition), based on the Mike Mignola character from Dark Horse. It's got everything: bits of Satanic eschatology, such as the notion of starting a new eon by opening a connection to another world; references to the Occult Reich mythology, which probably shouldn't be encouraged (see here for a sober view) but which makes a great backstory; and there is even a New Jersey location, since the secret headquarters of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is in, or under, Newark. Like The Addams Family series and films, Hellboy uses all those gothic trappings to tell a fundamentally edifying story. Ron Perlman's Hellboy is a big, sulky adolescent whose heart is in the right place, ethically if not necessarily anatomically. What's not to like?

Still, there is a bit of mismatch in the story's premises. Rosaries and relics "from the Vatican" work in this film to ward off evil, as has the Holy Hardware in horror stories since Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, the evils that BPRAD confronts are Lovecraftian. You might almost call them Kantian monsters; they do not come from the Id, but from the Noumenon, the unknowable region that is much more fearsome than Dante's neatly charted Hell. We have been given eschatological assurances about the defeat of Satan, but against Cthulu what hope have we?

* * *

Speaking of the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a document entitled "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World," which I gather condemns feminist ideology. From the reports, the document seems scarcely controversial: feminist ideology substitutes gender conflict for class conflict; it inhibits traditional family formation; and the denial of gender differences has served to normalize homosexuality. There are feminists and homosexual activists who would not quarrel with these characterizations.

Something I quarrel with is that the official document is not on the Vatican's site yet. Critiques and condemnation of the new document littered the Internet within a day of the document's announcement. What has not been available is a systematic defense, or even the text itself.

The Vatican has existed in something like its present form since the Roman Senate took a long lunch about AD 600 and never came back. You would think that the Curia would have learned something about newscycles by now.

* * *

Finally, Hell and the presidential campaign met most wonderfully in a short item that appeared in yesterday's New York Times:

IF you think that today's staged political conventions aren't what they used to be, you're not looking back far enough. Pitt Harding [a Democrat and Milton scholar at Jacksonville State University in Alabama] argues that the gathering in Boston was quite similar to the first and greatest convention of them all: the assembly of the fallen angels in "Paradise Lost."...When the devils convene in Pandemonium, a hall even more chaotic than the FleetCenter, their base is energized with rage against the militarist they blame for unfairly defeating them and ruling dictatorially. There are deep divisions in the party - some want all-out war with God, others are doves - but Satan unites them with two classic techniques [: soaring rhetoric and] a scripted convention. Satan doesn't want any surprise votes or divisive debates on the party platform.

Then there is Satan's closing pledge to the delegates, before he leaves for Earth to solicit the votes of Adam and Eve:

"I abroad
Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek
Deliverance for us all."

Would that Hellboy had been selected to blog from the floor.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2004-07-30: Some of the Damnedest Things

John missed out on Obama-mania in 2004:

I actually missed the keynote address by Barack Obama, though it was the most discussed presentation of the whole event. The text is here. He is now running for US Senate from Illinois, where he is largely unopposed. I have seen clips of the man, and he has many gifts, but the Democratic leadership may be making a mistake in touting him as the party's new star. I think what we have here is a political analogue to the making of The Incredible Hulk; wonderfully high-concept, but the product will leave the audience cold.

 


Some of the Damnedest Things

 

One can only admire the thoroughness with which the Democratic Party converted itself into the Barracks State Party in the finale to the National Convention in Boston last night. Not in my lifetime has there been such a profusion at one of these events of flags, veterans, and promises of a military buildup. And John Kerry's delivery of his acceptance speech was positively rousing. He was animated, cheerful, and clear. Only once or twice did the ratio of noise to signal rise to a dangerous level; similes are his enemy. Informed opinion said that he had to deliver a good speech last night, and that's what he did.

Nonetheless, this morning I began to wonder whether his campaign may not have made a catastrophic miscalculation. The convention, and the speech, are not going down well among the anti-war movement.

There are people who would vote for anyone other than George Bush. Senator Kerry could not have alienated those people last night, even if he had bitten off the head of a chicken onstage. However, that group is only about 20% of the electorate. The bulk of Kerry's support comes from people who oppose the war in Iraq, or even the War on Terror. Was it David Brooks who said that some large fraction of the electorate is just tired of history? Many people who supported the Iraq War initially now feel free to oppose it, because the they believe it was optional. Now comes Kerry, saluting the convention and reporting for duty, and promising to accept nothing less than victory.

The Senator may win a fourth Purple Heart for shooting himself in the foot.

* * *

A few other points about the Convention:

I actually missed the keynote address by Barack Obama, though it was the most discussed presentation of the whole event. The text is here. He is now running for US Senate from Illinois, where he is largely unopposed. I have seen clips of the man, and he has many gifts, but the Democratic leadership may be making a mistake in touting him as the party's new star. I think what we have here is a political analogue to the making of The Incredible Hulk; wonderfully high-concept, but the product will leave the audience cold.

My favorite address was the one given quite early on, by former Vice President Al Gore. He was witty and relaxed. He did not speak in a honking roar. His hair was not slicked back in a deranged fashion. When he finished, his many friends and well-wishers came to lead him gently, gently away from the podium. We have by no means seen the last of Al Gore.

My favorite commentary remains a piece that was spiked, the now famous column by Ann Coulter that begins, "Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston..." USA Today had commissioned her to do a week's worth of reporting from the Convention, but thought better of the matter. I find USA Today's decision mysterious. Ann Coulter writes humorous invective. That's why they hired her. If she was on deadline and on topic, what cause had the newspaper to complain?

In any case, I commend the Convention organizers for using the the oddly disturbing U2 song, Beautiful Day, for the fanfare as Kerry finished his speech. You will recall that was what Bono sang at the half-time show at the Super Bowl just after 911, though it has been haunting me since it came out, long before 911. That piece of music really is the theme song for these years. One trusts it will be taken up in the future by motion pictures about this time.

* * *

While Thomas Friedman of The New York Times is away recovering from cognitive dissonance, his column space is being filled by various guest columnists, among whom is the Transnational Establishment Feminist, Barbara Ehrenreich. Her contribution yesterday, The New Macho: Feminism, illustrates how the militarization of Democratic Party rhetoric is driving its base to distraction. Here she suggests how Kerry should really combat terror:

If Kerry were to embrace a feminist strategy against the insurgency, he'd have to start by addressing our own dismal record on women's rights. He'd be pushing for the immediate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which has been ratified by 169 countries but remains stalled in the Senate. He'd be threatening to break off relations with Saudi Arabia until it acknowledges the humanity of women. And he'd be thundering about the shortage of women in the U.S. Senate and the House, an internationally embarrassing 14 percent. We should be aiming for at least 25 percent representation, the same target the Transitional Administrative Law of Iraq has set for the federal assembly there.

This column sets out the whole desire of the transnational colony in the United States. The strategy depends on the invocation of newly minted "international standards" to implement policies that have been rejected by electoral politics, and even by the courts. A principal feature of this project is an implacable, almost metaphysical anti-natalism, but that's another story. In any case, these few sentences hint at the return of a line of progressive thought that surfaced briefly during the early Clinton Administration, but then went underground in response to popular outrage: the use of affirmative-action rules to modify the composition of Congress and the state legislatures. That was, of course, how the rubber-stamp legislatures of the old Communist Block were chosen, and it is the condition that the EU is approaching today.

As John Fonte recently noted in The National Interest ("Democracy's Trojan Horse," Summer 2004), once you let these people into power, there is no way to vote them out. They will create institutional and treaty structures in which elections continue, but are largely irrelevant, because the real decisions are made by unelected experts.

* * *

Meanwhile, over at Foreign Policy, Niall Ferguson is up to his old tricks, explaining in an essay called "A World Without Power" why an American defeat in Iraq would not create a multipolar world, but an "apolar" one, like the ninth and tenth centuries. Here's an apolar world for you:

The worst effects of the new Dark Age would be felt on the edges of the waning great powers. The wealthiest ports of the global economy -- from New York to Rotterdam to Shanghai -- would become the targets of plunderers and pirates. With ease, terrorists could disrupt the freedom of the seas, targeting oil tankers, aircraft carriers, and cruise liners, while Western nations frantically concentrated on making their airports secure. Meanwhile, limited nuclear wars could devastate numerous regions, beginning in the Korean peninsula and Kashmir, perhaps ending catastrophically in the Middle East. In Latin America, wretchedly poor citizens would seek solace in Evangelical Christianity imported by U.S. religious orders. In Africa, the great plagues of AIDS and malaria would continue their deadly work. The few remaining solvent airlines would simply suspend services to many cities in these continents; who would wish to leave their privately guarded safe havens to go there?

As always from Ferguson, this is all very interesting, even if we quarrel with his take on general history. As for the possibility of a Dark Age, I have explained, at tedious length why that will not happen for centuries.

* * *

A reader with a wicked sense of humor writes:

According to this calculator,

http://homokaasu.org/gematriculator/

your site is 87% good and 13% evil.

This is slightly better than the Green Nazis (Libertarians)
http://www.nazi.org
which is 86% good and 14% evil

Using that site, which has a gematria-engine to determine the metaphysical value of texts, I find that:

Fox News is 83% good, 17% evil.

PBS is 40% good, 60% evil.

I simply report the news.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View 2004-07-26: Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

Ordinarily, I would trust John's judgment on a matter of legal interpretation, but I do wonder whether his opinion on the Valerie Plame affair was unbiased. We don't have a legal decision to look back on, since the courts declined to take up the charge, although in this case it doesn't truly seem that Plame was much harmed, in retrospect.

John expresses an idea here that I brought up in a comment at Steve Sailer's blog: the present political environment in the United States is ripe for personal politics, in part because American lack of corruption makes politics relatively cheap, and also because the political parties are losing power as institutions.

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

The amount of money Hillary spent is arguably not a small multiple of $100 million, but Trump's spending falls in that range.


Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

 

Anyone can write about the Wilson-Plame Affair, so I can do it, too. The question is whether a felony was committed when someone in the Bush Administration leaked the news to a columnist that Plame, Wilson's wife, was a CIA agent. For what it's worth, I would say "no."

The key provision is 50 USC 421 [Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources]. There are separate subsections creating liability for leakers and leakees in that section, but they both do so only for an offender "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States." The term "affirmative measure" suggests some step in addition to the original designation of someone as working undercover. More specifically, 50 USC 426(4)(A)(ii) defines "covert agent" as someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States."

There are factual issues here, of course, but also more questions of statutory interpretation. Suppose an agent simply traveled abroad on intelligence business: would that reset the five-year secrecy period? The CIA might not be well advised to pursue the widest possible interpretation of the statute in this case. If a court decides the ambiguity against the Agency, then the broad interpretation can no longer be used as a threat.

These are not new points. However, while looking up the statutes in the United States Code, I did make some startling discoveries. For instance, there was once a Chapter 7 of Title 50 of that Code that Jorge Luis Borges would have loved: Interference with Homing Pigeons Owned by United States. The provisions have long since been repealed. Casual readers of the US Code who are too lazy to hunt for the original legislation in the US Statutes, which is the uncompiled and unclassified output of Congress, must make do with these enigmatic repealer notes:

Section 111, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 1, 40 Stat. 533, related to prohibited acts affecting homing pigeons owned by United States. See section 45 of Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure.

Section 112, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 2, 40 Stat. 533, related to possession of pigeons as evidence of violation of law. See section 45 of Title 18.

Section 113, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 3, 40 Stat. 533, related to punishment. See section 45 of Title 18

I used to write repealer notes, when I worked for West Publishing many years ago, so I know what extraordinary details may lurk behind the studied blandness of these memorial summaries. In particular, we must wonder what terrible punishment Congress deemed fitting for those who would molest the Pigeons of the Great Republic.

* * *

Even before I read Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, I had reached the stage where I saw Traditionalists lurking in every footnote of every critique of modernity. I got this way because, in many cases, they do lurk in such places, but don't get me started. In any case, a more fruitful way to study Tradition is to read what people who identify themselves as Traditionalists have to say. I have become particularly interested in the overlap between Tradition in the Guenonian sense (which is what Sedgwick chiefly studied) and Catholic Traditionalism. The best-thought-out synthesis is the work of Rama Coomaraswamy, a retired thoracic surgeon and a priest in a group with its own bishops that continues to use the old Latin liturgies.

In his essay on Philosophia Perennis and the Sensus Catholicus, the Reverend Doctor Coomaraswamy does an interpretation of salvation history that is new to me, but which makes perfect sense in a Guenonian context:

It is also necessary to consider history, not as a progressive advance from primitive times to the present "enlightened" era but more realistically as a continuous degeneration from a former golden age. Adam’s fall from paradise is a paradigm for understanding the present situation. God did not abandon His creation and Adam found regeneration, and is indeed considered by the Church to be a saint. In ancient days, saving revelation, in accordance with man’s more direct apprehension of truth, was appropriately more simple. With each succeeding "fall," God provided more stringent requirements for man to follow if he sought to reverse the process of degeneration, until the time of Moses when the rules required encompassed every aspect of life. This is well reflected in the Sacrifice of Abel, followed by that of Abraham, and finally by that established through the medium of Moses. Yet throughout all this we have the Sacrifice of Melchisedech, renewed once again in Christ.

The author is a "sedevacantist." Such people believe that, quite literally, they are more Catholic than the pope. Because the pope supports the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, the author holds that the See of Peter is vacant. (Other sedevacantists say there is a pope, but someone other than John Paul II: an opinion that need not detain us.) It is interesting to note how sedevacantism recapitulates the original Guenonian critique of Catholicism. Rene Guenon said 70 years ago that the "initiatory" element in Catholicism had been lost for centuries, so that the chain of primordial Tradition was no longer intact in the Catholic Church. Sedevacantists say that everything was fine until the Second Vatican Council cut the cord.

It's not just that the decrees of the Council are heretical, they say, but that the new rites of ordination for priests and bishops that were among the new liturgies promulgated after the Council are not valid, for much the same reason that Anglican ordinations are not valid. Thus any Mass, even a Mass in Latin, said by a priest who was ordained by a bishop consecrated using the new rite is not a valid Mass. Thus, bishops consecrated after 1982 are not real bishops, and the Catholic hierarchy is gradually being replaced with imposters.

The really interesting point here is that "traditional" Catholics are usually keen on the exclusive truth of Catholicism and the almost inevitable damnation of everyone who is not a member of the visible Church (or, sometimes, of one's own schismatic sect). How does this square with the Guenonian principle of the "perennial wisdom," which all the great Traditions of the world supposedly share? In Dr. Coomaraswamy's version, the two meanings of Tradition can be reconciled by emphasizing scriptural rather than hermetic proofs for this wisdom, and also by leaning very heavily on the notions of "the baptism of desire" and the "invincible ignorance" of some unbelievers, including intelligent ones. Those points, at least, are not off the reservation of respectable Catholic opinion, but they are not the sort of thing usually embraced by conservatives.

The moral, I think, is that we have yet another instance in which we see that Tradition should never be confused with conservatism. Perhaps it would be too much to state this categorically, but we can clearly see this trajectory in every form of Tradition: for a Traditionalist, no public institution in his own society is legitimate.

* * *

Global Policy Exchange has been holding discussions on whether what Islam really needs is a Reformation. In the August/September issue of First Things, one contributor to the discussion, Paul Marshall of Freedom House, has an essay whose title, "Islamic Counter-Reformation," sums up a contrary position:

My view is that many of the problems of contemporary Islam are more like Protestant problems than like Catholic problems, and therefore more akin to a dilution of Protestantism is required.

You can make your own list of Islamic "Protestant problems": a principle of "sola scriptura" based on the Koran that makes flexibility impossible; a neglect of natural law; the lack of hierarchical oversight of charismatic leaders. Randall suggests that what Islam needs is a renewal of the ancient science of interpretation, along with the creation of a more centralized system of authority to issue such interpretations.

I might point out that Spengler, in The Decline of the West, identified Islam as a Reformation of Eastern Christianity within what he called "Magian Culture," or at least as the Puritan phase of a Reformation. The problem is that Islam may not only have had its Reformation, but also its Counter Reformation: that is arguably what Shia Islam was all about. Particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is a strong hierarchy and a sophisticated magisterium. There are also the makings of nukes, in the hands of people who should not be trusted with sharp objects.

* * *

As part of the New York Times coverage of this week's Democratic National Convention, the newspaper's Sunday Magazine section of July 25 had a long article by Matt Bai, entitled Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. The story is about the efforts of leftist-progressive-democratic rich people to fund a network of new foundations and activist groups to counter the depredations of the American Enterprise Institute and the National Rifle Association and suchlike rabble.

There is something terribly delusional about all this. The organizers of the lefty network claim that they were blindsided by the fearsome new foundations and news outlets that the Right has assembled. Does the Hoover Institution really hold a candle to the Kennedy School of Government? Is FOX of much account compared to all three broadcast networks? About Hollywood we need not speak.

Be that as it may, the article is interesting because it emphasizes that the system of political financing is disengaging from the two major political parties:

The second potential outcome to which Dean alludes -- that the Democratic Party, per se, might not always exist in America -- might sound, coming from Dean, characteristically overwrought. But it does raise a significant question about the political venture capitalists: what if, in the future, they decided not to support Democrats at all? ... When I suggested this to Stern, the service employees' union president, he thought about it for a moment before answering. ''There is an incredible opportunity to have the infrastructure for a third party,''

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

LinkFest 2016-12-31

Last link roundup of 2016. Happy New Year!

Stun guns and male crew: Korean Air to get tough on unruly passengers

This article is interesting for all kinds of reasons. The proffered explanation that "Asian carriers including us [Korean Air] have not imposed tough standards because of Asian culture", the claim that the offending passenger had two and a half shots of whiskey and then claimed to be blackout drunk [possible for a Korean, but not plausible in my mind], and the recent increase in violent incidents on Korean airlines.

Nine charts that show how white women are drinking themselves to death

Part of my sad, continuing series on how American women are having increasing problems with alcohol.

What Made 2016's Doom Great

I'm less and less comfortable with graphic violence in videogames, but I appreciate this review of the new Doom.

Farewell

Thomas Sowell was a formative influence on me. I read a number of his books in high school, and while I haven't read his column in a very long time, I think of him very fondly. Enjoy your retirement, Dr. Sowell.

Varieties of Religious Experience

Ross Douthat explores the mysteries of human life.

The volatile history of Star Wars videogames

A bit of history on LucasArts, Lucasfilm's in-house videogame studio.

The desert that revealed the ultimate ice age

A short piece about the Snowball Earth hypothesis.

A Call for a New Strenuous Age

Brett McKay at the Art of Manliness argues that we need to rediscover healthy challenges to restore our masculinity to balance.

Accounting for Thanksgiving’s Ghosts

Jacobin Mag entertains a counter-factual about what the United States would be like if disease hadn't killed most of the inhabitants of the Americas post-Columbus.

The Long View 2004-07-22: Usage & Breaking News

The management and mis-management of classified information is a perennial topic. Sandy Berger's conviction is  probably typical of the genre.

However, these days, the joke would be Hail Hydra.

Here is a really bad prediction from John, since it is quantified:

Debacle? Custer's Last Stand was a debacle. The Battle of Corregidor was a debacle. In Iraq, the Coalition defeated and occupied a country about the size of California for what will probably turn out to be about a thousand military fatalities. That is, frankly, what one would expect for a campaign of this size. One can argue about the viability of the new political system in Iraq, or the long-term effect on diplomacy in the region. However, now it is clear to hostile regimes and organizations that open support for the Jihad can have lethal consequences. This state of things is not the end of the story, but it is a reasonably successful end of the beginning.

Dammit, John.


Usage & Breaking News

 

Everything you might reasonably want to know about the current state of the Joseph Wilson and Sandy Berger scandals can be found in Martin Peretz's updates, posted yesterday. His accounts are pointed, but easily verified from other sources. What a shame: about Peretz's New Republic, I mean. It still does good reporting sometimes, as it did in the 1980s. However, after its endorsement of the Goldhagen Libel, one can no longer trust the magazine.

As for the scandals themselves, the Berger case would be the more important of the two, if there is anything in it. Berger says that he removed documents from the National Security Archive by accident. Reports now say that there was nothing random about the documents he took; he walked off with documents that had handwritten comments by Clinton Administration officials on them. Some of these items now seem to be permanently lost.

A more partisan person than I might imagine all sorts of remarks scribbled in the margins, such as:

The only way to achieve border security is to turn the Customs Service over to the UN
Hail Satan! 
CC: Hillary, Clarke

I would not bet on it, though.

As for former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, I was always aware that his investigation in Niger had little to do with President Bush's claim that Baathist Iraq had been making inquiries about buying yellowcake. Since I always thought him too fishy to take seriously, I did not pay attention to everything he said. Only now do I realize just how deep a hole he had dug for himself. As has so often been the case during the Bush years, this affair is interesting not as a political scandal, but as a media scandal.

And in that connection, there is one point that has too often been overlooked:

Television and radio newsreaders must learn to distinguish the pronunciation of Nigerian from Nigerien. The first has to with Nigeria (Nigh-JEER-ee-ah), which exports oil and financial scams. The second has to do with Niger (Nee-ZHAIR), the country immediately to the north, which exports yellowcake (plus some other stuff that Iraq would not have been interested in). It is understandable that people mix these countries up, since the spellings are malicious.

* * *

A more substantive mistake in usage can be found in Andrew J. Bacevich's piece, A Time for Reckoning: Ten lessons to take away from Iraq, which appears in the current issue of American Conservative. Much of what the author has to say is unexceptionable. Point number two, for instance, wars leave loose ends, is true both in general and about Iraq in particular, though he does not address the thesis that the Iraq campaign is really part of a wider war. Also, few people would argue with point number six, the margin of U.S. military supremacy is thinner than advertised, though he might have noted that some of the people who said the United States is ominipotent did so to argue against the war, on the grounds that the US was so powerful that it could afford to lose a skyscraper every few years. However, the article is really interesting as an example of the "declare defeat and get out" school.

Consider the seventh item: the myth of American casualty aversion is just that. He tells us that the reputation the US developed in the 1990s for refusing to risk casualties did not reflect popular sentiment:

The onus for the pseudo-campaigns of the decade leading up to 9/11 -- the zenith coming in 1998 when U.S. Navy cruise missiles demolished an empty pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum -- lay not with the commander-in-chief but with foot-dragging generals and fainthearted citizens who lacked the stomach for serious military action.

That's interesting, and it's quite likely true. He concludes the point by saying this:

But as the Iraq debacle has made plain, competence remains, as it was in the 1990s, in precariously short supply.

Debacle? Custer's Last Stand was a debacle. The Battle of Corregidor was a debacle. In Iraq, the Coalition defeated and occupied a country about the size of California for what will probably turn out to be about a thousand military fatalities. That is, frankly, what one would expect for a campaign of this size. One can argue about the viability of the new political system in Iraq, or the long-term effect on diplomacy in the region. However, now it is clear to hostile regimes and organizations that open support for the Jihad can have lethal consequences. This state of things is not the end of the story, but it is a reasonably successful end of the beginning.

For Bacevich, however, as he tells us at the beginning of his article, "the war cannot be won." This is not an assessment of the situation on the ground: it's an axiom of the the orthodox wing of the national security establishment. (About this, Walter Russell Mead is on the right track.) Any outcome of the war would have been declared a debacle by these people. Their objection is not that the Bush Doctrine has made no progress; it's that the Doctrine progresses in what they believe to be an undesirable direction.

This is not the first time this has happened. There have always been people, not all of them cranks, who claim that the United States really lost the Second World War, because the advance of the Soviet Union into central Europe left America less secure than it was in 1939.

And of course, if Henry Wallace had been on the ticket with FDR in 1944, they would have been right.

* * *

On the subject of the use of words, bookmark Paul McFedries' Word Spy site. It collects and defines new terms as they appear on the Internet, and not all of them tec words, either. Now I know what "bling" means. I didn't before.

* * *

Yesterday, proper bloggers noted the rise and fall of the story from the Iraqi newspaper, Al-Sabaah, about the discovery of three nuclear missiles in the neighborhood of Tikrit. The story was just credible, if you took "missiles" to mean tactical missiles, and maybe "nuclear capable" rather than nuclear-armed. However, within two hours, the Iraqi Interior Ministry dismissed the report as "stupid." US sources soon confirmed this assessment more tactfully.

Today, Al-Sabaah was still reluctant to let the story go. They had, however, reached the point of saying that "officials who asked not to be identified had no comment." The New York Times could not have put it better.

* * *

Meanwhile, there was a more credible report from Holland:

Roberto the 2-year-old Continental Giant is almost 4 feet long and sleeps on a dog's bed because he can't fit into a normal-sized hutch. Roberto is larger than most 3-year-old children, according to the report.

Roberto is a rabbit. By happy symmetry, there was another report today of this sort, this time from America:

He lives in central Illinois, is two years old, weighs about three pounds and is the world's smallest cat. He's Mr. Peebles...The cat's small stature has been verified by the Guinness Book of World Records. It officially lists him as the smallest living domestic cat.

That last sentence is significant, because of something we learn from the rabbit story:

Guinness World Records said it has stopped listing "biggest animal" titles out of fear that it may lead to people deliberately overfeeding their pets to win the coveted title.

And isn't Guinness worried that people might starve their pets to stunt their growth, or maybe teach them to smoke?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View: Power, Terror, Peace, and War

I occasionally read Walter Russell Mead, because I find his writing interesting. I don't regularly read him, because sometimes I wonder about his conclusions. For example, the idea in Power, Terror, Peace, and War that American foreign policy under George W. Bush was an attempt to refound diplomacy in a characteristically American way seems plausible, especially since much of this foreign policy continued under Barack Obama, just under the control, and with the priorities, of the other wing of the American establishment. On the other hand, much of Mead's analysis seems to be centered in the now anachronistic Kennedy Enlightenment, which makes me wonder if he is responding the world as it is, or as it was.

I suspect that a marriage of Mead's classically liberal division of American schools of foreign policy into Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, with the biological determinism of Albion's Seed would be illuminating.


Power, Terror, Peace, and War:
America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk
By Walter Russell Mead
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
226 Pages, US$19.95
ISBN 1-4000-4237-2

A Review
By
John J. Reilly

 

Few Establishment figures are so established as Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations. So, we can probably rely on his characterization of the international system's reaction to the Bush Administration:

“A mix of incredulity, outrage, shock, anger, and despair is running through the foreign policy establishment as many of its cherished ideas and institutions are brushed aside...In the vision of the diplomatic establishment in the United States and abroad, the Neanderthals have escaped from their cages and the abomination of desolation has been set up in the Holy of Holies.”

Maybe we knew that already. The novel part is Mead's argument that the international system was becoming dangerously dysfunctional long before George Bush the Younger entered the White House. He says the Administration can be faulted for the way it executed its major policies, but he gives it credit for at least reacting to the world as it actually exists. That is more than he says for the Administration's immediate predecessors, or for the major international institutions. No one will mistake this book for a partisan defense of the Bush Administration. It is far more important: the first persuasive attempt to describe the post-Cold War world and America's place in it.

According to Mead, the world is being destabilized because the US is getting stronger. The world order is both a system of equal states and an American empire. After September 11, the US lost the balance between the two. Imperial rhetoric created justifiable fears in other countries, but with the result that a perfectly justifiable war in Iraq was attacked as an assault on the foundations of world order.

Mead calls the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 “the Lost Decade” in American foreign policy. The American political class chattered about global warming and the distant prospect of a Chinese threat. Washington scarcely questioned the assumption that the world was not just unipolar, but “monothelete.” That's a Christological heresy, whose precise meaning need not detain us, except to note that it means “having a single will.” US policy makers tended to assume the world's only will was the policy of the government of the United States.

These delusions waxed at just the time America's traditional alliances were fraying and disintegrating, a process that the Iraq War revealed but did not cause. Around the world, in fact, there had been a quiet “secession of the elites” from support for the American system. Especially in the Middle East, fashionable American ideas about gender roles and homosexuality became simultaneously ubiquitous and unendurable. A fringe slice of the Muslim world acquired the will and the means to make war on the United States.

There were reasons for democracies as well as dictatorships to oppose American hegemony: more American power is, in effect, less democracy for populations that cannot vote for American officials. Since the end of the Second World War, the US has dealt with this tension by fostering consultative international institutions, but by century's end this policy had created a new arena for conflict. On one hand, there is the Party of Heaven, composed of countries like Germany and Canada, which want to proceed immediately to the universal rule of law under world government. They seek to make the US act within the narrow confines of diminished sovereignty. On the other hand, there is the Party of Hell, composed of countries like France and Russia, which seek to return to a world of multipolar power politics. Tactically, therefore, they insist on the prerogatives of international institutions, at least to the extent those prerogatives hamper the United States. Thus, when crises occur that require rapid action, Heaven and Hell unite to ensure that international institutions take no action, but also to ensure that the US does nothing.

Mead surmises that there is no angel in the storm of American foreign policy, in the sense of a Clausewitzian will. The political system is too shortsighted and diverse for grand strategy in the classical sense. In any case, the way that the US affects the world has less to do with what the American government does or wants than it does with what the US and the world are each becoming.

In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, the US promoted a model that Mead calls “Fordism.” (That's apparently a Marxist term, but readers will be reminded of the ideology of the world government in “Brave New World.”) It was the world of big institutions and intrusive government regulation. Keynesianism made peace between oligopolies and big labor, while the educated classes were transformed from disgruntled intellectuals to non-political experts. It was secular and secularizing, if not quite anti-religious. Fordism brought a measure of mass comfort. It also brought international peace among the countries that adopted it.

Mead does not dwell on the economic reasons why Fordism could not last forever, though anyone who remembers the 1970s understands what Mancur Olsen meant by “blocked society.” Fordism in the United States has not reproduced itself, we are told. It depended on a model of organizations in which power lies in the hands of middle managers. The key to today's world is “disintermediation”: clerisies of all types are shrinking, as information and economic decision-making become more decentralized.

Fordism gave way to what Mead calls Millennial Capitalism, or sometimes “Millennialism” for short. The basis of Millennial Capitalism, perhaps, is the principle that there is no such thing as a natural monopoly. It's not a return to Victorian non-regulation. Quite the opposite: it has called into being a whole new class of regulation, much of it global. However, Millennial regulation is intended to keep markets transparent and efficient, not to mitigate their instabilities.

Domestically, Fordism never fit all that well with the American national character, or at least with the Jacksonian side of it. Mead never defines Jacksonianism more precisely than as “populist nationalism,” though the concept is important to his argument. It has elsewhere been defined as Scotch-Irish suspicion of government. In international affairs, it means a disposition to limit government-to-government obligations, though not necessarily person-to-person contact. Its chief peculiarity is that it does not recognize war as diplomacy by other means: it favors overwhelming force and total victories.

Millennialism chimes with Anglo-Saxon individualism. In America, at least, Fordism is giving way to the American Revival, which is essentially a new form of Hamiltonianism. Revival Hamiltonianism is self-confident in a way that Fordism was not. Worldwide, however, Millennialism is unpopular in a way that Fordism was not. Around the world, state elites hate it, since it diminishes their control of local economies. Below the elite level, many people dread it, because it is a threat to the subsidies on which so much of the world depends.

The Revival has altered the traditional categories of foreign policy. Revival Wilsonianism, like its predecessor, seeks security through the dissemination of American values, but it has an Evangelical's distrust of universal institutions. There has been a shift in the content of foreign policy, too: Realpolitik is now often deployed for Christian ends. This gives Revival Hamiltonianism the hope of someday achieving real popular depth, something that Fordist multilateralism never had.

Whatever else the US is becoming now, the author has little time for the argument that the US is like an overleveraged company on the verge of collapse. Regarding specifically the question of the ever-growing US debt, public and private, Mead notes that the founding of the Bank of England at the end of the 17th century turned England's debt into national strength. The Bank, and the novel possibility of a government honoring its obligations, gave the nation's creditors a stake in the system. Alexander Hamilton did the same a century later, when he insisted the federal government assume the debts of the states. The US government did it again in the second half of the 20th century, but globally.

Readers are no doubt familiar with the distinction between “hard power” (military capability) and “soft power” (culture and institutions). In Mead's account, this distinction is refined to baroque complexity:

“Sharp military power serves as the solid foundation of the American system. Sticky power -- the set of economic institutions and policies – attracts others into our system and makes it hard for them to leave. Sweet power – the values, ideas, and politics inherent in the system we have built – keeps them happy, and hegemonic power makes something as artificial and arbitrary, historically speaking, as the American world since World War II look natural, desirable, inevitable, and permanent. So, at least, we hope.”

Mead defines hegemonic power as “the perception of inevitability.” It is the “harmonic convergence” of all other forms of power. Even the use of military force has sticky and sweet components: the US acts as a sort of military public utility, which means that other states do not trouble to create capable militaries of their own. Mead says this about the harmonic convergence in its Fordist incarnation:

“Descended from and claiming to fulfill the hopes of the European Enlightenment, recognizably related to Marxist ideas of progress, and resonating with traditional American optimism, the concept of harmonic convergence was the spearhead of capitalism in its ideological war with communism and also a key element in willing consent to the American system.”

Americans generally saw this project as successful and laudable, and saw no reason why it should not continue after the Cold War. However, history did not end after 1989. The US is not just a hegemonic power, but also the leader of a worldwide liberal capitalist revolution. The American Project cannot be finished, because in each generation it creates a new world.

President Bush's problem is that he is making the first systematic attempt to refound the nation's diplomacy on the American Revival. Bush's geostrategic model is not new: the US is still defending the sea-lanes and both ends of Eurasia. The doctrine of preemption is not new, either. The novelty is that US policy is no longer Eurocentric. The Administration used deliberately dramatic language to deter the state harborers of terrorism, and to reassure the Jacksonians at home. That effect was more important to Bush policymakers than publicly reassuring the European allies.

The Bush Administration was right to abandon a foreign policy based on Fordist harmonic convergence, Mead tells us. It was also right to abandon Eurocentrism: Earth is simply no longer Eurocentric. Furthermore, foreign policy must follow Americans' intuitive beliefs about how the world works, and those intuitions are Jacksonian. Europe must accept the US for what it is, and a European veto on matters of the first order is not acceptable. Mead faults President Clinton for failing to make clear to Europe how unreasonable it was to demand US adherence to the Kyoto Treaty and to the International Criminal Court.

Conflicting perceptions were at work in creating the strains with Europe. Europe felt itself a rising power; the US found Europe economically uninteresting and strategically irrelevant. Europeans saw the threat from Al-Qaeda as not different in kind from that posed by Basque separatists or the IRA. This was a serious misapprehension, Mead judges. The scale of the violence that the new enemy could enact, and the total nature of their demands, presented the sort of challenge that historically could be mounted only by a hostile power.

The US underestimated the degree to which the French were willing to embarrass the US. The French may have underestimated the ability of the US to remove the French from the roster of great powers: fewer important decisions will be made in forums in which a Frenchman is present. Bush's single greatest mistake in alliance relations, however, was to think of the decline and division of Europe as an opportunity, and not as a problem.

Mead lists three reasons for the Iraq War. The first was that Iraq was cheating on its commitments not to develop weapons of mass destruction. That was a plausible argument, but it was only tenuously verified, and the Administration paid dearly for making this its chief public argument. The second reason, added by the neoconservatives, was the humanitarian argument that the Baathist regime was itself an ongoing human-rights violation, the removal of which would begin the liberation of the Middle East. Mead finds most persuasive the third reason, which is that the “containment” of Iraq was poisoning the region.

Because Iraq never fully complied with the ceasefire terms of 1991, US troops were trapped in the region. Moreover, they had to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. That outraged religious Muslim opinion. Meanwhile, the US and Britain were fighting a low-level air campaign against suspect Iraqi military installations, while UN sanctions were preventing Iraq from recovering from the war. After September 11, the US could not simply retreat from the area, and it could not continue as it had been. There was no other course than regime change.

Ragged as the execution of the occupation of Iraq has been, the war has produced tangible good results in the policies of Libya, Iran, Syria, and even Palestine. Mead faults the Bush Administration for carrying out its policies in a choppy manner, and most of all for being singularly inarticulate. Its biggest single mistake was to fail to prepare the public for a difficult occupation. The better course would have been to promise blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Mead tells us that he has often successfully defended the Administration's policies while abroad. What he finds exasperating is that, so often, the groups he addresses have never heard the case before. The infrastructure of propaganda that had existed during the Cold War has atrophied.

What should America do now? The US must simultaneously fight apocalyptic terrorism while creating a social and political order the world finds attractive. One cannot be done without the other: poverty does not cause terrorism, but chaos does. The US will sometimes find itself in the odd position of pressing unilaterally for basic principles that make universal international law possible. The chief principle is that one state may not promote the murder of the citizens of other states. Eventually, multilateral institutions will adopt this principle, too.

“Forward Containment” is the name that Mead suggests for the strategy to eliminate terrorism. Terrorist organizations must be attacked and harassed at every level, wherever they exist. The immediate goal is to cut links between terrorist groups and states, by persuasion if possible, but by force if necessary. As he puts it: “Governments cannot have links to terror movements; terror movements, unless they change their ways, cannot have governments.” The distinction between “civil” and “military” wings of terrorist organizations can no longer be made; for a state to allow even a representative office of a proscribed group on its territory will not be tolerable. To pay subsidies to the families of suicide bombers must count as an act of war.

Actually, Mead is clearly less interested in the war part of the War on Terror than in outreach and evangelization. For one thing, he says, we need a better word than “Islamicism” for the enemy. He echoes a suggestion that “Arabian Fascism” might be better. (If you want to be very precise, religion-motivated groups like Al-Qaeda might be called “White Fascists,” and secular groups like the Baathists might be “Black Fascists.) In any case, we must clearly learn to distinguish religious conservatives from the former and legitimate nationalists from the latter. Conservatives and nationalists can sometimes be our opponents, but they need not be our enemies. Carl Schmitt lives, it seems.

For a book on foreign policy, Mead's work is unique in my experience in its insistence on accommodating the religious sensibilities, not just of exotic foreigners, but even of Americans. For instance, Mead says that Americans must put the lie to the White Fascists' allegation that America is an agnostic and libertine country. The American Revival is also, at least in part, a religious revival. Certainly conservative ecumenism is part of it, as we see in the rapprochement among conservative Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews. The American system, or at least the author's take on it, is much friendlier to religion than the laicism that the Middle East thinks is an essential feature of the modern West. In America, people are encouraged to use their religious beliefs as the basis for action in the public square; anyone who proposes otherwise is, no doubt, undermining the Republic. Muslims have no experience of government action to protect religious expression rather than to suppress or control it; America has the power to pleasantly surprise them.

Not only Carl Schmitt lives, but so does Oswald Spengler: at any rate, “The Decline of the West” is the only other place I have seen the idea that Islam is a kind of Reformation or Puritan movement. Mead says:

“The difference between contemporary American Christianity and the Christianity of the era of Muhammad developed because American Christians and their forebears came to agree with substantial elements of the Islamic critique of Byzantine Christianity as it existed at the time of the prophet.”

The Ecumenical Jihad just isn't going to work, I can tell you, but it is significant that the idea reappears in this context.

This book has some suggestions for the Palestinian-Israel conflict that are so weary that they might actually work. Mead points out that any plausible settlement would leave minorities on either side shooting mad. If a settlement were imposed, the peacekeepers would just be shot at. The US should be focusing on a compensation mechanism for the Palestinians that would help individuals. If I understand him correctly, he suggests direct payments to persons who can certify a claim for lost family property, for an aggregate sum of upwards of $50 billion. No money changes hands until a treaty is signed, however.

It's easy to make fun of the UN, and Mead perhaps exerts himself not to be cruel. To paraphrase, he says that, in the General Assembly, coral reefs have as much representation as major civilizations, while the Security Council is a retirement home for former world powers. He does say that there would be some sense in almost tripling the number of states on the Council with permanent seats and the veto. That way, on the rare occasions when the Council agrees, the agreement would mean something. In general, though, Mead makes few specific recommendations for changes to the institutional structure of the world system. He says that Bush's preference for ad hoc coalitions is probably here to stay. There should probably be more organizations for specific regions, which would have the focus that the UN lacks.

Part of the world's problem with George Bush is that he appeared to the world in an authoritarian guise after September 11. It was precisely the spread of Millennialism that made that appearance no longer acceptable. Local elites that might have been willing to tolerate Bush and his ways were overwhelmed by populist pressure; the pressure could be applied only because of the new decentralization that began in America. At every point, Mead is at pains to emphasize that it is America's businesses, religious groups, and private foundations that have the most power to develop a Millennialist world that is as attractive as the Fordist one.

The most striking aspect of US history, Mead tell us, is that American governments always thought globally, with an eye on the far side of both oceans. American foreign policy seeks to implement the American Project, which is the goal of securing America domestically within a network of states that share common democratic values and a common prosperity. Latterly, the American Project added to the traditional assumption of the superiority of American ways the nuclear-age conviction that the mere existence of nondemocratic governments is an intolerable security risk. The upshot is that the United States has committed itself to creating an international system in which great power conflict cannot occur. The author is reasonably sure that the interests of humanity coincide with this project. He is nearly certain that the failure of the American Project would be a catastrophe for the human race.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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