The Long View 2006-03-03: Proscriptions and Shields

Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius

Political proscription is a feature of the late Roman Republic I hope we don't see, but we might, if history rhymes. I do worry a bit that you tend to hear this more and more. I had forgotten this bit from Jody Bottum, who had taken over the editorship of First Things after the death of Fr. Neuhaus.

Like John, I find the coalitions that comprise the major political parties in the United States a bit strange. It is easy to imagine alternatives, but it seems it would take a lot of activation energy to move us out of the state we find ourselves in. I'm not sure any of us would enjoy what it would take to blow up the current party system.


Proscriptions and Shields

 

Here is a bit of news from the penultimate phase of the Roman Republic:

Marius was possibly suffering from mental defects as he came to power: he ordered the the massacre of even the slightest of his political enemies. Many of those who had their severed heads staked around the Forum's Rostra were largely political bystanders; many had made the proscription lists simply in Marian attempts to settle old scores; and some because a Marian supporter wanted their possessions. Marius created a precedent for organized factional murder that would improved upon by his old subordinate, Sulla, after Sulla returned from the East and resumed political power in the capital. A pattern for the turbulent decades to follow of using tribunes as stalking horses, of using mob tactics to pass his policies into law, and of murdering political opponents had been established.

Marius, now 71, and Cinna forced through their elections as joint consuls. They entered the consulship in 86 B.C. It was Marius' seventh consulship. Marius, however, only "enjoyed" holding his last office for a few days: he died on 13 January.

And now, simply in the interests of causing trouble, here is a bit of what that Spenglerphobe, Joseph Bottum, had to say on March 2 at First Things:

So, a friend and I get talking yesterday. He’s a lefty, kind of....[t]he facts, he said, are these...the Democrats are circling for the kill, and they are entirely serious about impeachment if they gain the House and Senate—and jail time for everybody in the Bush administration if they win the presidential election in 2008. The Patriot Act and other assertions of executive power have put power in the hands of the White House, and there will be no hesitation to use it against political enemies when the Democrats regain the presidency and a thug like—perhaps I shouldn’t name him, but it doesn’t matter: imagine any of a dozen well-known Democratic party operatives here—is made chief of staff to a Democratic president...[t]he Republicans are going down. In fact, they’re going down for a generation, and their opponents will be moving brutally against everybody who has had anything to do with them...Start making Democratic friends as fast as you can, he advised. Give money, intellectual analysis, and political commitment to a couple that seem plausible, and boom them as hard as you can—for things could break so hard against you that your only chance to have influence for years, and maybe to stay out of jail, is to have some elected Democrats on your side.

There are several bizarre notions in the lefty friend's prophecies, notably the notion that there is anything in the Patriot Act that might be useful domestically to a government of vindictive liberal reactionaries. I don't doubt that the Left hopes for another 1974, the year of President Nixon's resignation, except that this time they want to actually convict the president and vice president in the Senate and then try them in the ordinary criminal courts. (All the impeachment process could do is remove them from office; putting them in jail would take a real judge.) I am not altogether certain that the congressional Democratic leadership wants to push that button.

Actually, the particular context in which Bottum entertains these florid hypotheses is the question of what the prolife movement should do if the Republican Party turns into the eponymous pet in the Dead Parrot Sketch. Even if the Republican Party declines below the level needed to function as an opposition, there are unlikely to be lynchings of prominent Republicans, except perhaps in Texas. However, it is true that the prolife movement would be the object of Democratic activists' particular ire.

As I have been saying for some time, the electoral linkage of social conservatives with libertarian and pro-business forces is not necessary, nor even particularly natural. The lefty friend's advice to prolifers to find congenial Democrats to support is well taken. That is not a solution, though, either for prolifers or for the country as a whole. Neither party makes much sense, in that both are composed of unnatural coalitions.

A replay of 1974 is unlikely. The Bush Administration, even now, could call on an ideological network that Richard Nixon never could. In 1974, I don't think that he could have filled the Mall in Washington with his supporters. George Bush probably could do that today, not that the crowd would have much to do with the useless Republican leadership. Conversely, as we saw during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the Democratic leadership has turned into a freakshow. The day it has enough votes in Congress to impeach the president, or even to take control of the ordinary legislative agenda, is the day it discredits itself. It could not enjoy a long tenure in power, as the New Deal Democratic Party did. It will not last that long.

The solution is clear enough. Both parties are moribund enterprises. The salvageable components of each should be unplugged and reconfigured into something viable. The sequence of events by which that would happen is by no means clear.

By the way, I think it's more than a generation too early for Marius & Sulla, but I could be wrong. 

But look up! Our salvation is at hand: A Rochester, N.Y., company has developed paint that can switch between blocking cell phone signals and allowing them through!

Using nanotechnology, particles of copper are inserted into nanotubes, which are ultra-tiny tubes that occur naturally in halloysite clay mined in Utah. Combined with a radio-filtering device that collects phone signals from outside a shielded space...

"We oppose any kind of blocking technology," said Joe Farren, spokesman for The Wireless Association, the leading cell phone trade group. "What about the young parents whose baby-sitter is trying to call them, or the brain surgeon who needs notification of emergency surgery? These calls need to get through."

No, they don't. People had kids and aneurisms long before cell phones were invented and they got along just fine. I want every flat surface in the civilized world covered straightaway with this shielding paint. I want it done right now.

The thought also occurs to me that this stuff might be a defense against electromagnetic-pulse weapons, but that's another story.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-01: Disaster Hype to Darwin Awards

I didn't start following Greg Cochran's blog seriously until after John had died. As such, I can only guess what he might have thought of Greg. Too gauche, probably. Nonetheless, much like John and Steve Sailer, John and Greg Cochran have some interesting overlaps. Like the way higher education is making us dumber, in the long run.


Disaster Hype to Darwin Awards

 

It is superfluous to quote The Onion, but keep this story in mind the next time the news media report an approaching weather front as if it were an approaching asteroid:

Rotation Of The Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness...

Businesses have shut their doors, banks are closed across the nation, all major stock exchanges have suspended trading, and manufacturing in many sectors has ceased.

Some television stations have halted broadcasting altogether, for reasons not immediately understood.

After a while, you stop paying attention. That could be a bad thing, especially if the next time the story is about an asteroid.

* * *

Television is nontoxic, or so we must judge from this report:

Does television rot children's brains? A new study by two economists from the University of Chicago taps into a trove of data from the 1960's to argue that when it comes to academic test scores, parents can let children watch TV without fear of future harm.

...The result showed "very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage" in test scores for children who grew up watching TV early on, compared to those who did not, said [co-author] Mr. Shapiro. In nonwhite households and those where English was a second language or the mother had less than a high school education, TV's positive effect was more marked.

...[Co-author] Mr. Gentzkow...noted that he was not predisposed to a "television is good" argument; he even conducted an earlier study that found that television lowered voter turnout. ..[Co-author] Shapiro noted: "If you look at the top five children's programs in the 1950's and the equivalent list from 2003, the content is not as different as you might have thought."

I still have doubts about anime, though.

* * *

Also looking on the sunny side, we have Spengler at Asia Times making The case for complacency in Iraq

Tehran's policy all along has been to support US efforts on behalf of constitutional government in Iraq to bring that country's Shi'ite majority into power by peaceful means ...In fact, the worst outcome from the vantage point of Washington's interest would be a stable constitutional government in Iraq...America's military already has repositioned to the periphery of cities; there will not be another siege of Fallujah...The result will be a low-intensity civil war that can persist more or less indefinitely...But there is not a speck of evidence that Washington has done anything but stumble into a position that is as advantageous for US interests as it is miserable for the Iraqis.

As the emperor said, "Too many notes."

I am beginning to suspect that the attack on the Golden Mosque will be remembered as the Bomb that Won the War: the responsible Shia leadership refused to be provoked, while the insurgency and the Jihad became politically radioactive. The only remaining question is how much influence the pro-Iranian Shia factions will have. Not much, I suspect, but we will see.

* * *

Mark Steyn notes the internal contradictions of multiculturalism:

Sir Iqbal Sacranie [is] a Muslim of such exemplary "moderation" [that] he's been knighted by the Queen. Sir Iqbal, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, was on the BBC the other day and expressed the view that homosexuality was "immoral," "not acceptable," "spreads disease" and "damaged the very foundations of society." A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard's "community safety unit" which deals with "hate crimes" and "homophobia."

[I]ndependently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a "barmy doctrine" growing "like a canker" and deeply "homophobic." In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for "Islamophobia."

Steyn argues that this is not a case of two irresistible forces in deadlock. Rather, the cultural left will lose the struggle in fairly short order because it does not reproduce itself. Meanwhile, writing in Foreign Affairs, Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation makes much the same argument in a piece called The Return of Patriarchy:

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.

There is something to be said for the thesis that the cultural left will simply win a Darwin Award, but demographic historical determinism is no better than any other kind of determinism (which is not to say that deterministic models of history never have their uses). We should be suspicious of the idea that people have a lot of kids because God tells them to. Children sometimes appear simply because a couple married young and the father happened to have a job with good medical benefits. Conversely, I suspect that no institution has had a stronger sterilizing effect on the professional classes, at least in the US, than the student loan. Ideology is almost irrelevant.

Be this as it may, we should note that arguments like those of Steyn and Longman are close to becoming the consensus.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 Book Review

Someone about to have a really bad day

Someone about to have a really bad day

by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published August 13th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B073WQN9KM

Kill Team brings us back to where we started in the Galaxy's Edge series: highly trained military professionals who get to kill people and break stuff, hopefully in the service of the greater good. We also return the viewpoint of Lieutenant Chhun, survivor of Kublar and general bad-ass.

Galactic Outlaws had a pretty different feel than Legionnaire. In part, that was due to the alternation of viewpoints between Aeson Keel and Tyrus Rechs. This made the book a little bit hard to follow, but I am willing to endure such things, because some of my favorite books have been hard to follow the first [few] times I've read them. There were a lot of questions left hanging at the end of Galactic Outlaws, and at least a few of them get wrapped up by Kill Team. My patience was rewarded.

We also get a good hard look at the dark underbelly of counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work. False flag operations and double agents are an expected part of the wilderness of mirrors that characterizes the human side of intelligence gathering, but simply acknowledging that doesn't really count the human cost on the agents who infiltrate terrorist organizations to expose and subvert them.

The moral tradition of which I am a part insists that it is never permissible to do evil in order to achieve good. "Tom," ex-navy undercover operative, has an uneasy conscience about the horrible things he does in order to prevent yet more horrible things. His moral intuition matches up with the moral maxim, but he does those things because they are his mission. In the end, "Tom" receives a kind of rough justice. I'm not sure that what happened to him is just. I'm also not sure is exactly unjust. 

As I mentioned in my review of Galactic Outlaws, I appreciate the moral realism of the Galaxy's Edge series. There are very real dangers lurking for the rough men who guard us in our sleep, the temptation to become the monsters they fight, spurred by their often justified contempt for the polished and comfortable who blithely send them to die. "Tom" is a man of integrity, as are most of the Legionnaires we meet. Unfortunately for them, the harshness you need to survive can slowly sap away your humanity. Which is why the real heroes are very often dead.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

My other book reviews

Kill Team (Galaxy's Edge Book 3)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

The Long View 2006-02-24: Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities

Lind in 2016

Lind in 2016

John Reilly mentions William S. Lind in this post, because Lind repeatedly predicted defeat for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. John predicted victory, and some kind of friendly democratic government in both countries. What actually happened is somewhere in-between. Lind's predictions of defeat were too dire, but what we got wasn't exactly victory either.


Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities

 

This science story got a remarkable amount of attention:

By making a few changes to the expression of certain molecules in the pathway, the researchers were able to induce tooth growth in normal developing chickens. These teeth also looked like reptilian teeth and shared many of the same genetic traits, supporting the scientists' hypothesis. None of these chickens were allowed to hatch.

The moral of the story is that the genes to guide the formation of the features of an organism remain in the genome even after the features are no longer expressed in the organism's lineage. Thus, for instance, snakes could be made to sprout legs like those of their ancestors, if we felt sufficiently strongly about it. Ah, but you ask: what about genes for future evolution? Are they there too, waiting to be switched on?

Some readers will no doubt recall the episode from the Outer Limits series of the 1960s, entitled The Sixth Finger. The sixth finger, of course, was what grew from the hand of the experimental subject after he was put in the Infernal Machine that advanced his evolution. His head also became photogenically distended as his brain expanded.

That was a very good episode. Actually, the whole series was so much better than the recent revival that the principle of historical progress is put in doubt, at least with regard to television. Nonetheless, the idea that later-evolving features are implicit in earlier features is one of the tenets of the model of evolution in Simon Conway Morris's Life's Solution.

* * *

Most of Congress and every elected official on the East Coast have denounced the plan by a company owned by the government of Dubai to acquire the British company that, among other things, manages much of the Port of New York. At this writing, the deal looks as if it will be delayed, and then probably scrapped. Still, I noted this item yesterday:

The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

I have no information about this deal. Still, I might note, simply as food for speculation, that the Middle East is where Western governments base activities that they would not dare do at home. A government-owned company would make a better front than a private one, but there is also a long history of using nominally private enterprises for these purposes. Does no one remember Air America?

* * *

Here is a culture clash where the clash is between European church-state relations and those of the United States:

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word "Koran" on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

The 61-year-old man, identified only as Manfred van H., was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service, a district court in the western German town of Luedinghausen ruled.

I would prefer to think that the court was just pandering to Muslim sentiment, but I have the disturbing feeling that this is how the legal system always works there. Look, religion is like the American flag: if you can't burn it, it is not worth saluting. Faith, like patriotism, thrives on invective.

* * *

Is the bombing of the Golden Mosque actually good news? That would seem to be the implication of Syed Saleem Shahzad's analysis at Asia Times:

Spring is only a month away, and preparations for Nauroz (the Persian new year) are well under way. In Iran this year, however, Nauroz was due to come with a deadly dimension: the start of a new phase of a broad-based anti-US resistance movement stretching from Afghanistan to Jerusalem.

Wednesday's attack on a revered shrine in Iraq could change all this.

There has been quite a lot of contact between Iran and al-Qaeda in recent years. Indeed, important al-Qaeda organizers are in Iran today:

The aim of these people in Iran is to establish a chain of anti-US resistance groups that will take the offensive before the West makes its expected move against Tehran.

Their mission, however, has now become nearly hopeless:

The anti-US resistance movement had wanted to use Shi'ite Iran as the final base to link the resistance groups of this whole region. If the current volatile situation results in Shi'ites sitting on one side, and Sunnis and al-Qaeda-linked groups on the other, this is unlikely to happen.

Instead, Iraq could become a new battlefield, not only against US-led forces, but between different factions. Iran, meanwhile, would be left to deal with the West on its own...

Some Sunnis are saying that it was the Iranians themselves who blew up the mosque, to unite all Shia factions behind Moqtada al-Sadr, or possibly al-Sadr himself ordered the explosion. Or it might have been the Americans, to put pressure on the Sunnis to reach a deal about forming the new government. Or maybe it was the Israelis in order to...well, just because. The most economical explanation is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates realize that if a workable government forms, they will have essentially lost the war, and not just in Iraq. The mosque was blown up to delay that awful day.

Sometimes I think that these people learned the art of government in New Orleans.

* * *

Defeat is editorial policy for American Conservative. Consider this piece, War of the Worlds, by William S. Lind, who argues that there are two great evils today, the Jihad of Fourth Generation warfare and the Brave New World of the West:

The Fourth Generation of Modern War, warfare since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is the greatest change in armed conflict since the modern era began. It is marked by the state’s loss of the monopoly on war it established with Westphalia and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win...Fourth Generation war is giving rise to new forms of social organization. It should not surprise us that al-Qaeda’s goal is not taking power within states but abolishing the state altogether and replacing it with an ummah...

The march toward Brave New World is led by the United States. The main characteristics of Huxley’s dystopia are all too evident in post-1960s America (and Europe). They include a culture where the summary of the law is “you must be happy,” happiness coming from a combination of materialism, consumerism, electronic entertainment, and sexual pleasure; globalism, the elites’ “one ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them” under de facto if not de jure world government; and endless psychological conditioning, especially through the government schools and the video-screen media. Religion is already relegated to the eccentric margins, at least among the elites, if not yet quite forbidden

Readers may amuse themselves by searching through Lind's writings to see how many times he has predicted, indeed reported, the defeat of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years.

When Brave New World’s walls come a tumblin’ down—and they will—men of the West may have their opportunity. Bewildered, shocked, sometimes panicked societies will seek alternatives but not know where to turn.

They will, of course, turn to American Conservative's brand of tradition. It worked for Marshal Petain, didn't it?

There are confusions here. Yes, there is a Brave New World faction in the West, whose chief representatives are, perhaps, the transnationalists of the Davos type. It has little or nothing to do with the neocons. The Brave New Worlders have not prospered in recent years. Part of the story is the foundering of the European Union project; part of it is the defenestration of cultural and media elites in the US. The Brave New World is not fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Brave New World not only could not fight a war; it could not survive in a world where war were possible.

Someone should write an AH story in which the the Draka invade Brave New World. That will teach them.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Staring into Chaos

You can't get a much better summary of the strengths of the early metahistorians than this:

They suggest that basic science will be exhausted, though applied science will still have possibilities. They all expect that the vital elements in society will be increasingly religious, though a fossil secular cultural establishment may continue to exist. They anticipate some sort of universal government. As Spengler and Toynbee (though not Sorokin) might have put it, the decline-and-fall has already happened. All that remains is to work out the implications.

Staring into Chaos: Explorations in the Decline of Western Civilization
by B.G. Brander
Spence Publishing Company, 1998
418 pages, $29.95
ISBN: 0-965-3208-5-5

 

One of the ways this fin-de-siecle differs from the last time around is that you hear much less about "decline" and "degeneration." The idea of "organic" cultural decline, so common in the last few decades of the 19th century and widely discussed into the second half of the 20th, is simply alien to the postmodern worldview. B.G. Brander, a former writer for National Geographic and sometime reporter for the World Vision Global relief agency, has performed a useful service of recollection by providing this handy summary of the major "pessimist" philosophies of history of the last century or so. Besides, some of the metahistorians he discusses got just enough right about the 20th century to suggest they may be worth listening to regarding the 21st.

Brander gives accounts of the philosophies of the lesser metahistorians, such as Ernst von Lasaulx, Henry and Brooks Adams, Nikolai Danilevsky, Nikolai Berdyaev and Walter Schubart, as well as highlighting the prophetic utterances of people like Albert Schweitzer and Jakob Burckhardt, who are not normally remembered for their dark forebodings about the future. Most of these people shared the intuition, not at all uncommon in the late 19th century, that the Western world had entered a new "Hellenistic" age, and that the twentieth century was going to see a recurrence of the less pleasant aspects of Hellenism. These would include such things as demagogic tyrannies, ferocious warfare and a relaxation of traditional restraints in art and personal life. Nietzsche had said as much, of course, and anyone who entered the 20th century with this modest insight would not have been greatly surprised. Brander's primary concern, however, is the metahistorians who turned this notion into works of historical speculation as elaborate as grand operas: Oswald Spengler in "The Decline of the West," Arnold Toynbee in "A Study of History" and Pitirim Sorokin in "Social and Cultural Dynamics."

Though the mention of "The Decline of the West" still gives some people fits, no one can deny that the book has legs. Only two volumes long, it is the shortest of the three great metahistories, and it has been continually in print since the first volume appeared in 1918. Bombastic, deterministic, in some ways pig-ignorant of the civilizations it purports to cover (Spengler seems to have known nearly nothing about Chinese history after the third century AD), the fact remains that Spengler sometimes hit the nail on the head. The parallels he drew between the political history of the later West and that of Greco-Roman civilization are really quite acute. So is the book's analysis of the culture-specific aspects of modern and Greek mathematics. If Brander does Spengler a disservice, it is in repeating just what Spengler says, rather than trying to update it.

In its heyday (roughly 1948 to 1960), "A Study of History" was a much bigger phenomenon than "The Decline of the West" ever was. Weighing in at 12 volumes, the "Study" was certainly physically larger. It was published over three decades, and Brander asserts that it was the largest book of the 20th century. Toynbee drew many of the parallels that Spengler did, but with more qualifications and far more information. Toynbee's study was friendly to the role of religion in history and (especially in condensed versions) more fun to read than Fernand Braudel. Its notoriety, though, was largely the work of Henry Luce of Time magazine, who saw to it that his publishing empire touted the "Study" as the court philosophy of the American Century. Perhaps for that reason, we may have to await the recurrence of a cultural climate like that of the 1950s for Toynbee to make a comeback.

"Social and Cultural Dynamics" is the odd one in this group. Four volumes long, it was widely discussed when it began to appear in the late 1950s, but it never had the hold on the public imagination that the other metahistories had. Partly this was because Sorokin cheated: the book is based on an ocean of quantitative research, and its appendices are formidable. Sorokin eschewed the use of the familiar term "civilization." He spoke of "cultural supersystems," and he modestly concentrated his attention on those that had arisen in the West. Sorokin's system of three recurrent kinds of cultural epochs, "ideational," "integral" and "sensate," don't fit in any obvious way into conventional periodizations of history. The work describes historical "transitions" rather than melodramatic decline-and-falls. Still, the level of detachment and the attempt at empiricism that characterize Sorokin's great work may be an advantage some day, should metahistories come back into fashion.

Brander concludes with a section which tries to assess the continuing relevance of the grand metahistorians for the future, as seen from the end of the 20th century. This is harder than it sounds. Although Toynbee liked to refer to the year 2000 as the date by which this or that was bound to happen, the fact is that the turn of the millennium played no special role in any of their systems. (Spengler, who wrote long before the Cold War, may be the least dated now that it is over.) Still, there do seem to be some common themes in the expectations of these voices from the first half of the 20th century for the 21st:

They suggest that basic science will be exhausted, though applied science will still have possibilities. They all expect that the vital elements in society will be increasingly religious, though a fossil secular cultural establishment may continue to exist. They anticipate some sort of universal government. As Spengler and Toynbee (though not Sorokin) might have put it, the decline-and-fall has already happened. All that remains is to work out the implications.

 

A much shorter version of this review appeared in the December 1998 issue of First Things magazine.

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-02-21: Media White Noise; Democracy the Panacea; The Ultimate Question

Twelve years later, it is hard to believe how many people really believed that toppling Middle Eastern dictators and introducing democracy would bring peace. It is a little easier since I was among them. 


Media White Noise; Democracy the Panacea; The Ultimate Question

 

Quoting Glenn Reynolds probably just encourages him, but he is onto something with regard to the deranged press treatment of the Cheney Hunting Incident:

Part of the reason is because the story combined themes the news media love: the dangers of firearms and the untrustworthiness of Dick Cheney. It seemed a golden opportunity to indulge in a lengthy exposition of both but, at the end of the week, it seemed as if Dick Cheney was the winner...the tendency of the press and opposition to seize on stories that reflect their own prejudices, rather than their newsworthiness, means stories that might actually harm the Grand Old Party get ignored in the rush to pick up on those that symbolise why they dislike the administration.

Nonetheless, as we noted last week, the sentiment that Vice President Cheney should retire to spend more time with his family is, if not quite bipartisan, at least not confined to Democrats.

The peculiarity of Cheney's position is that he functions as the White House Chief of Staff. In most administrations, it is the Chief of Staff who actually runs the government, which in operational terms means that the Chief of Staff deals with the undersecretaries in the federal departments. In the Bush White House, Cheney does that.

I think we now see that this use of the vice president was a mistake. In a way, it was like the mistake that President Bill Clinton made when he appointed his wife Hillary to manage his Administrations health-insurance reform initiative. When the effort miscarried, there was no seemly way for the president to disembarrass himself of a failed colleague. That is the problem that President Bush has with Vice President Cheney. It would be simple enough to fire an ordinary White House Chief of staff. A vice president, in contrast, is an elected official. He might be relieved of his duties, but he can remain part of the government as long as he pleases. More important: the resignation of a vice president would suggest to ill-disposed persons that the president may not be far behind.

On the other hand, Daniel Henninger, who is quoted in the Reynolds piece, has put his finger on why mainstream-media criticism of President Bush has become so irrelevant:

Have you ever noticed how on a scale of one to 10, every untoward event in the life of the Bush presidency goes straight to a 10?

The Abu Ghraib photos? A 10 forever. Dick Cheney catching a hunting buddy with some birdshot? An instant 10. The Bush National Guard story? Total 10. How can it be that each downside event in this presidency greets the public at this one, screeching level of outrage and denunciation by the out-of-power party and a perpetually outraged media?

It's perfectly true. At this point, The New York Times and ABC News and CNN could run photos of Bush presiding over an auto-da-fe on the White House lawn and no one would pay much attention. They run screaming headlines about everything Bush does.

* * *

Reuel Marc Gerecht understands the difference between promoting democracy and trying to be popular. The latter effort is confused, if not necessarily misguided:

American foreign policy has long been in the odd position of trying to assuage Muslim anger at Israel by advancing the peace process even though a sober analysis should have told Washington's diplomats that the fundamentalist set--the young men who are most susceptible to making the leap to suicidal holy war--did not see this process as progress....And Washington has consistently advanced, especially in the Bush administration after 9/11, the women's agenda throughout the region, another sure-fire way of angering the young men who are most likely to transmute into jihadists.

Gerecht argues that of course more democracy in the Middle East will occasion an increase in the number of anti-American political parties, and even of anti-American governments. Nonetheless, democracy really does promote the interests of the United States:

With dictatorship giving way to democracy, Muslims of various stripes will make their best case to their brethren on why they should be given a chance to govern. The religious radicalization of the Muslim body politic, which has gained ground under autocracy, will likely lose speed, if not rapidly reverse itself.

Islamism prospered because it was the only sort of opposition that could survive under the wonderfully stable autocracies that the West had been supporting for so long. Under less harsh conditions, other sorts of politics will be possible. The problem, of course, is preventing the Islamists from closing down the public square as soon as the autocrats are gone.

* * *

Spengler says dubious things at Asia Times. One may question, for instance, whether a Catholic is really a Jew without a sense of humor. Nonetheless, I think his meditation on Goethe's Faust illuminates the purpose of Western modernity in the maturing of the world:

Faust begins with a quotation from the Book of Job in a Prologue in Heaven, where Satan asks God's permission to tempt his servant, Faust. But the whole of Faust, in my somewhat idiosyncratic view, recasts the subject matter of Job in terms appropriate to the modern world. Goethe inverts perfectly the premise of the Book of Job. To tempt the righteous man of Uz, the biblical Satan takes from him all that ancient man might want. Goethe's Mephistopheles tempts Faust by offering him everything that modern man might desire. ...Contrary to my namesake Oswald Spengler, Western society is not "Faustian" because Western man seeks power, but rather because Western man still plays dice with the Devil for his soul according to the rules of the game established by Faust and Mephisto. Technology and freedom offer modern man the temptations of Faust more than those of Job.

These wars and jihads and technological revolutions are all very entertaining, but they are penultimate concerns. The real issue is what the human race is going to do when it is in the position of the dog that caught the car.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 Book Review

A Knight Errant; very errant

A Knight Errant; very errant

by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Published July 13th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B072SHG4TG

Anspach and Cole surprised me a bit. After Legionnaire, I thought I knew what to expect out of this series. It turns out I was wrong.

What I expected was more of the same; more military adventures in a universe that was more Star Wars than Star Wars. While I did get that, I also got something quite unexpected; moral dilemmas that actually felt fraught and uncertain. Heroes that weren't quite heroic. Villains that weren't quite villainous. And I'm still not quite sure which ones were which.

We pick up the action seven years after the events of Legionnaire, in medias res. The corrupt and incompetent Republic is using its overwhelming military might to extract more tax revenue from some nameless shithole in the middle of nowhere. That shithole just happens to be where the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter, Tyrus Rechs, is. Which matters to us because a little girl who lost her father is looking for revenge in all the wrong places.

That hook is good enough to set in train a series of events that will change the galaxy. After Legionnaire, it was pretty clear that the galaxy needed changing. What isn't so clear is that anyone in a position to change it, will change it for the better. The men I desperately wanted to be heroes had a disconcerting tendency to shoot repentant sinners and former comrades. The men who were clearly set up to be villains usually had a point about who needed to be shot. In at least one case, those were the same guy.

In a manner reminiscent of Cole's books The Red King and Soda Pop Soldier, I keep finding references in the text to sci fi classics. For example, John Carter of Mars. I'm sure I missed some along the way, but I also appreciate the subtlety with which the story is enriched with references to other works. All authors are indebted to those who came before them, some are just better than others about acknowledging it.

The Galaxy's Edge series continues to be a page-turner for me. While this is clearly space opera, it has enough of a hard sci fi feel about it that I don't have to stop every so often to re-assert my suspension of disbelief. It feels like it could be real, which is the essence of any good story, in any genre. The characters also feel real. When they struggle, it is because the choices they face are genuinely difficult. Cole and Anspach's characters respond to what they see and feel. When they do something stupid, I generally think to myself, I suppose I might have done the same. I still hope they might choose otherwise, I'm just not surprised when the inevitable happens.

Given the twists here, I look forward to seeing what else is in store.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-02-17: Behaviorism; VP Picks; Mohammed: Messenger of God

It is a little silly to claim that mathematics is a product of brain structure. You might get further saying the reverse, but even that probably isn't quite right in isolation.


Behaviorism; VP Picks; Mohammed: Messenger of God

 

The next time you hear someone try to explain that mathematics is a product of brain structure or evolution, remember this observation from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus at First Things:

As Pope Benedict and many others have pointed out, one of the great achievements of western thought, the clear distinction between the physical and metaphysical, is now under attack. Evolutionary dogmatists insist that all explanations of reality must be subsumed under the physical. As a biologist friend puts it, most of his colleagues don’t even know how to spell metaphysical. I thought that was going too far.

Granted that there is more to human behavior than mechanism, this report that Britain has new [a] weapon against loitering youths -- Sonic Teenager Deterrent nonetheless seems sadly plausible:

Shopkeepers in central England have been trying out a new device that emits an uncomfortable high-pitched noise designed to disperse young loiterers outside their stores without bothering adults...according to Inspector Amanda Davies..."The noise can normally only be heard by those between 12 and 22 and it makes the listener feel uncomfortable," she added.

Once in their early 20s, people lose their capacity to hear sounds at such a high pitch.

Perhaps I should await confirmation of this report before commenting further. Still, let me say that it chimes with my own experience. I remember when I was young I could hear a whine given off from some types of electrical equipment that adults evidently couldn't. I can no longer hear that sound, course, but sometimes I hear the beating of a hideous heart.

* * *

Speaking of spooky sounds, one could easily imagine hearing the theme from The Twilight Zone when reading this piece of unsolicited speculation from Peggy Noonan about the implications of Vice President Cheney's hunting accident:

The Dick Cheney shooting incident will, in a way, go away. And, in a way, not--ever...Right now in the White House they're discussing how to help the vice president get through his problem...But what are they thinking that they're not saying? Here's a hunch, based not on any inside knowledge but only on what I know of people who practice politics, and those who practice it within the Bush White House. I suspect what they're thinking and not saying is, If Dick Cheney weren't vice president, who'd be a good vice president?...Dick Cheney has been the administration's hate magnet for five years now...George Bush, and so the men and women around him, will want the next Republican presidential nominee to continue the U.S. effort in, and commitment to, Iraq...a guy who's been vice president for, say, a year and a half, is a guy who already knows the top job...This new vice president would, however, have to be very popular in the party, or the party wouldn't buy it...The new veep would have to get through the Senate, which has at this point at least three likely contenders for the nomination, at least two of whom who would not, presumably, be amused.

Pigs will fly before this happens. And just what is this column? A trial balloon for John McCain? For Rudolph Giuliani? McCain might win a presidential election, but the Senate leadership will do nothing to help him toward that end. Giuliani might easily be confirmed by the Senate as Vice President, but I can only repeat, the man is a New York City exotic. He could not win an election west of the Hudson River.

* * *

I had been beginning to think I had imagined the film Mohammed: Messenger of God. Now Mark Steyn not only reassures me that the film does exist, but also reveals the uncanny fate of its producer, Moustapha Akkad:

On November 10th, a team of suicide bombers dispatched by Abu Musad al-Zarqawi across the Jordanian border self-detonated at the Radisson, the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn. Akkad was in the country for a high-society wedding and greeting his daughter Rima in the Radisson when Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari and his wife reached within the folds of their clothing for the explosives belts....Moustapha Akkad made Muslim movies and violent movies and ne’er the twain did meet... [When John Carpenter sold the idea for Halloween to Moustapha Akkad, he pitched it to him in one line: "Babysitter to be killed by the bogeyman."]...[His Arab movies include Lion of the Desert]...The “duality” of Mustapha Akkad finally came together in one freakish finale at the Amman Radisson. But he’d encountered terrorism once before, nearly 30 years earlier. Many Muslim scholars were outraged by The Message – or, as it was then called, Mohammed, Messenger Of God. Though Akkad had observed the prohibition against representations of the Prophet, even a rumored glimpse of his shadow (which the director had at one time considered) provoked objections. [In March of 1977] Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, formerly a Seventh Day Adventist called Ernest McGhee, decided to do something about the abomination. A dozen Muslims seized three buildings, and took 120 hostages, including (in an early example of the many internal contradictions of the Rainbow Coalition) the future mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry. He was one of a couple of dozen injured. Jewish hostages were abused. A reporter was killed.

As I may have mentioned previously, this incident sticks in my mind, since I was attending the Georgetown Law Center in Washington DC at the time. The law school is downtown, not far from the municipal building that was captured. Did I walk home that day because bus service past the Islamic Center on Embassy Row had also been seized? I cannot say for sure now.

In any case, here is the movie that caused all the commotion:

The Message (30th Anniversary Edition)
Starring Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Michael Ansara, Johnny Sekka, Michael Forest

I have not seen the film, but famously it does not show Mohammed or use his voice. His companions enter and leave his tent to report what the prophet has said. Part of the reason for the siege in Washington was the misapprehension that Anthony Quinn, who stars in the film, played Mohammed. (If Quinn was Abu Bakr, that was pretty good casting.) I gather that the film is broadcast in Muslim countries on the major holy days in much the way that films about the life of Christ are broadcast in the US during Easter Week.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-02-14: Hoax, War, Anger, Appeasement, Separation

The Other Spengler [David P. Goldman]

The Other Spengler [David P. Goldman]

In late 2005 and early 2006, John Reilly often referenced or quoted the pseudonymous Spengler ["that Spengler"] who wrote for the Asia Times. John dropped hints that he knew his real identity, including that he was a former Lyndon LaRouche disciple. In retrospect, I feel like Goldman had the better argument many times that John cited him to argue against him, but this is one time that Goldman seems off. I'm glad we avoided war with Iran in the years since 9/11, because that would have been stupid. The Iranian government isn't our friend at present, for reasons that may be partly our fault, but at least they never did any of the stupid things columnists were always saying they would do.


Hoax, War, Anger, Appeasement, Separation

 

The Great Hoax of 2006? Yes, we did in fact have lots of snow over the weekend here in the New York area. Most of it is still on the ground, and shows no immediate inclination to go away. Here is the Party Line on the event:

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- New Yorkers faced longer commutes, flight cancellations and train delays this morning after record weekend snowstorm that buried the East Coast from Virginia to Maine.

Yesterday's blizzard blanketed New York City with the heaviest snowfall in its history, following one of the warmest Januaries on record. About 26.9 inches (68.3 centimeters) of snow fell in New York Central Park, beating a December 1947 single-storm record of 26.4 inches, the National Weather Service said.

But how are we to reconcile that report with this account of the Blizzard of 1888?

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (March 11 – March 14, 1888) was one of the fiercest blizzards in United States recorded history, with snow drifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m). All across the eastern seaboard there were snow walls up to 50 inches (1.3 m) high.

The "Great White Hurricane," as it was called, paralyzed the East Coast of the United States from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Telegraph infrastructure was disabled, isolating New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. for days. Two hundred ships were grounded, and at least one hundred seamen died. Fire stations were immobilized, and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million. One hundred people were killed in New York City alone and it is estimated 400 people died from the storm in all....The National Weather Service estimated that 50 inches (1.3 m) of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts and 40 inches (1 m) covered New York and New Jersey.

That storm stayed in popular memory. I remember in the 1960s that it was still used as a benchmark for bad weather. In any case, how could a 26.9-inch storm be greater than a 40-inch storm? The Weather Service had been up and running for almost 20 years when the earlier storm occurred, so an official measurement was taken. For New York City, perhaps it was just taken in an unrepresentative place? Central Park already existed, though I don't know whether the measurements would have been taken there, as they are today.

The weather is all hype, if you ask me.

* * *

Spengler has been declaring war on Iran again, as we see from his latest at Asia Times:

If Washington were to deliver a military ultimatum to Iran tomorrow, the results would be a painful jump in oil prices, civil violence in Iraq, low-intensity war on Israel's northern border, and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Arab world - not an inviting picture.

But if Washington waits another year to deliver an ultimatum to Iran, the results will be civil war to the death in Iraq, the direct engagement of Israel in a regional war through Hezbollah and Hamas, and extensive terrorist action throughout the West, with extensive loss of American life. There are no good outcomes, only less terrible ones. The West will attack Iran, but only when such an attack will do the least good and the most harm.

This is pretty much the argument that the German General Staff was making after 1910: if they did not begin the long-anticipated general European War soon then they would lose it when it did happen. The argument for the war in Iraq was actually a bit different: there was no way to prosecute the War on Terror if all Iraq's neighbors knew that eventually the UN sanctions would be lifted and they would have to deal with a vengeful Baathist regime again. Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq was at least colorable under international law, since the regime had long been in violation of the ceasefire of 1991.

In the likely absence of UN authorization, the US really would need a whole new theory of legitimacy, which is precisely what has failed to gel since the Iraq invasion of 2003.

* * *

The European Union has no present intention of paying a tax of children to the Sublime Porte. At least we have assurances along those lines from Vice President Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security:

Finally, I have never suggested imposing a code of conduct on the press, it is up to the media themselves to self-regulate or not, and it is up to the media to formulate such a voluntary code of conduct if it is found necessary, appropriate and useful by them. There have never been, nor will there be any plans by the European Commission to have some sort of EU regulation, nor is there any legal basis for doing so.

The immediate occasion for these remarks was a report that the vice president had proposed creating a code of conduct for journalists to prevent anything like the Danish cartoon controversy from happening again. These issues are not unrelated, however.

* * *

Victor Davis Hanson is now bullish on Europe, or so one may gather from his latest at Real Clear Politics. He suggests that, in the immediate future, we may expect...

the same old public utopian rhetoric, but in the shadows a newfound desire to galvanize against the threat of Islamic fascism...First will come a radical departure from past immigration practices. Islam will be praised; the Middle East assured that Europe is tolerant—but very few newcomers from across the Mediterranean let in.

There will be continued public furor over the American efforts in Iraq, but far greater secret efforts to coordinate with the United States—in everything from isolating the Assad regime in Syria to rethinking missile defense...it may well be that many in private will now wish us to succeed, if only in the hopes that such Middle East democracies will be less likely in the future to turn loose their mobs to burn European embassies and threaten their citizens.

If nothing else, this suggests that the Cartoon Jihad has given NATO a new lease on life. That organization could provide the legitimacy needed to take out the Iranian nuke program, but perhaps at the cost of disengaging from the UN system.

* * *

Daniel Pipes is of similar mind at Frontpagemag. Like Tony Blankley in The West's Last Chance (read that book immediately, by the way), he now speaks not of a clash of civilizations, but of their disengagement:

What are the long-term consequences of the Muhammad cartoon furor? I predict it is helping bring on not a clash of civilizations but their mutual pulling apart. This separation, which has been building for years, has dreadful implications.

The areas of disengagement are these:

Trade (As in boycotts, mutual and proliferating)
Consumer items (I note that a bit of import substitution might do the Middle East good.)
Financial investments (Pipes sees oil money going to East Asia, but where, I wonder? India is less risky than China, but has its own issues with the Islamic world.)
Emigration (The Danes had already begun restricting immigration from the East before the current unpleasantness; we may expect the trend to spread.)
Tourism 
(I suppose anyone who visits the pyramids these days must really want to see them.
Embassies(Fewer of them)
Westerners providing services(Aid workers could become few and far between, if the treatment in the past few weeks of Western workers is any guide to the future.)

One may question whether real disengagement is possible, however.

* * *

Let me thank again all of you who have been buying things through this site and occasionally sending me money. This site now supports itself (though it does little in the way of supporting me). It's not so much the money as the feedback I appreciate.

Well, no, that's not true, but I like the feedback, too. Thanks!

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Art of Coco Book Review

All images Copyright ©Disney Enterprises Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios 2017

All images Copyright ©Disney Enterprises Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios 2017

Foreword by John Lasseter, Introduction by Lee Unkrich, Introduction by Adrian Molina, Acknowledgements by Darla K. Anderson
160 pages
ISBN 978-1452156439

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

Getting art books in the mail is fun. Getting beautiful books designed by Pixar about a gorgeous movie is even more fun. Coco is a very sweet movie, and I enjoyed watching it with my family. This book is about the creative process at Pixar, and we get to see concept art, clay models, sketches, and reference photos used to create the movie, along with some fun tidbits about the artists and their inspirations.

20180102_205258.jpg

As with most such books, it will likely appeal to fans of the movie, but this was a cute movie, so why not? Beauty is good for your soul.

My other book reviews

The Art of Coco
Chronicle Books

The Long View 2006-02-10: A Culture Worth Dying For

My philosophical disagreement with libertarians is that government, as such, is good. My aesthetic disagreement with libertarians is that they so often end up embracing perversity because it shocks the rubes.


A Culture Worth Dying For

 

On February 8, the New York Times ran a front-page story that recounted how the recent worldwide outbreak of violence occasioned by the Danish cartoons of Mohammed was orchestrated by Muslim imams in the West and by the governments of some Muslim countries. The story quotes Sari Hanafi, an associate professor at American University, as saying the demonstrations:

started as a visceral reaction – and of course they were offended – and then you had regimes taking advantage saying, “Look, this is the democracy they’re talking about.”

The message was that, if blasphemy is democracy, then democracy is not worth having.

Regarding this Islamist attack on the West, the necessary efforts are being made to unravel the falsehoods and misdirections that have gone into the campaign. For instance, the images that caused the most outrage were not those published by the Jyllen-Posten, but were crude works, some of which had been in circulation on the Internet for a long time. We must uncover the details of how this assault on the West was organized. Something else we must consider, however, if why the lies had force.

The fact is that if democracy meant nothing else than that blasphemy could be freely circulated, or that pornography was always available at the touch of a button, or that Michael Moore got to make as many tendentious films as he wanted, then democracy would not be worth having; certainly it would not be worth dying for. The fact is that we put up with these annoyances because they are necessary frictions. We have freedom of the press and contested elections because, on the whole and over the long run, they produce good government and the improvement of the human estate. They produce virtue. The lethal danger that postmodernism and libertarianism pose for the West is their embrace of the transgressive. Their mixture makes Western society repulsive abroad and, in the long run, causes the freedoms on which they depend to become a matter of indifference at home.

While the poster-attack was going on, a similarly artificial (if less grievous) campaign was underway in connection with the Ang Lee’s film, Broke Back Mountain. This is another case where everything you know is not exactly true. I gather from the better reviews that the film is not really a gay-commercial; it’s not even about cowboys (well, the protagonists are not cowboys when they meet). In the normal course of events, the film would have had limited and uneventful life in art houses; the DVD sales might even have allowed the film to break even. The hoax consists of the immediate, rapturous critical acclaim the film received; not because of it merits, but because influential critics decided to adopt the film as an icon for their own cultural agenda. There came a point when the number of award nominations that this film received became ridiculous. The only element that lacked in this “controversy” was the steady refusal of the cultural right to be provoked.

If you listen to National Public Radio, you can hear these two locomotives whistling toward a collision. At the top of the hour, there might be a paid commercial (a fixture of non-commercial radio these days) for Broke Back Mountain. Then there will be a report from the Middle East about a riot opposing freedom of artistic of expression. The implicit bet that the cultural left has made is that the latter will so enrage the people that they will embrace the former. (Again, I’m not speaking of the movie itself, but of its legend.) On the global level, this hope is delusional. Domestically, it is very ill-advised. It is a variation on a tactic that progressives have used for over a century, the threat “It’s us or them.” Whenever that threat is issued, the people always, always choose them.

Hard cases are necessary to the defense of civil liberties. Yes, we do have to defend the tenure rights of Stalinist political-science professors who say that it’s too bad Osama bin Laden did not have more planes at his disposal on 911. Yes, we do have to defend the right of Nazis to assemble in public parks, even if we know the police department will have to pay its officers overtime to prevent a mob from stoning the demonstrators. However, we are very close to forgetting that cultures do not live on the hard cases. Societies flourish on the ideas and works that are available at the nourishing center. If we must defend the right of the Jyllen-Posten to publish those cartoons, and we must, we are not defending the cartoons themselves, or the book and film versions of The Da Vinci Code, or The Last Temptation of Christ. We are defending Inherit the Wind (it falsified the history of the Scopes trial, but a fine picture nonetheless) and A Man for All Seasons. And here is the point: only if the norm of the culture consists of works like the latter will the liminal cases be defended. A society whose only ideal is transgression will be unable to defend its borders, either metaphorically or physically.

There is a long review on my website of a novel called The Domination. It’s about a world that was once like ours, but where history went terribly wrong. By the end of the book, evil is completely and permanently triumphant. Some people escape to another solar system, however, where they establish a republic with a motto in bad Latin (“Ad Astra et Libertas”) and these ideals:

Here on Samothrace we have developed an exaggerated idea of what one person can do, perhaps. An entire solar system with less than a quarter-million in habitants will do that. We are on our own, on a frontier whose homeland has been eaten by time and history. And our heritage is one of belief in individual responsibility, the sacredness of choice, the human being as the embodiment of humanity.

“The sacredness of choice; the human being as the embodiment of humanity”: such inanity is worthy of Justice O’Connor. No wonder these people lost the whole world to the empire of darkness. Choice is necessary to viture, and if you kill a single man, you kill the whole world. However, choice is not the final good, and the value even of the whole of humanity is not self-generated. A society with no higher ideals than these cannot have a future.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-02-08: Airships, Clowns, Cartoons, Water

By Pamela Coleman Smith - a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot (see note on that page regarding source of images)., PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31022204

By Pamela Coleman Smith - a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot (see note on that page regarding source of images)., PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31022204

I never really understood why people could be afraid of clowns until I read Tim Powers' Last Call. I am not afraid of them now, but I am a bit cautious.


Airships, Clowns, Cartoons, Water

 

More on the thinly patrolled airship front: Correspondent HH informs me that Lockheed has won a $149.2M contract for a High Altitude Airship:

Dave Kier, Lockheed Martin's vice president and managing director for missile defense, told C4SI Journal that an operational version of the airship would have a volume of about 5.3 million cubic feet, about 25 times the volume of the Goodyear blimps. It would stay aloft at up to 70,000 feet in excess of three months at a time. Preliminary specifications call for the operational payload to consist of a forward/upward-looking radar for ballistic missile tracking and discrimination problem, plus a look-down radar for ocean/land surveillance capability.

We like to think of airships in order to give us hope for some end to the sardine-can era of passenger aviation, but in fact we are likely to see them first in connection with strategic defense. Note that they would also be the logical place to mount some defensive weapons systems, in addition to carrying the sensors for them.

* * *

Villainy on-stage invites overacting. Indeed, there is not much difference between a devil and a clown. Conversely, of course, clowns can be scary:

The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is no laughing matter. Although there are no official statistics, some experts believe that as many as one in seven people suffer from some level of the phobia, symptoms of which can include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and overall feelings of dread.

In October, a plan to erect dozens of clown statues in Sarasota, Fla., a fabled circus town, was almost scrapped after an outcry from coulrophobes and clown-haters.

Clowns always terrified me when I was a kid. The only clown I ever liked was Krusty on The Simpsons.

* * *

Those Damn Cartoons: It would be pretentious to point out that the Danish cartoons that are causing the current fuss are not as fine as Hogarth's or as pointed as Thomas Nast's. They were published for no other reason than to be "provocative," a term that had come to mean little more than "edgey." Well, we don't always get to choose our battles, so obviously the publication of these slight works must be defended. Newspapers of record that have declined to run them should be pressured to do so, though I acknowledge that there is a certain "made you look" element in all this.

Western art, starting in the late 19th century, increasingly defined itself as a project of shock and provocation. Not coincidentally, this happened during an era when such a project became costless. Real shock became almost impossible to generate. Art became slack, fatuous, and sordid; its lionized practitioners were, with sadly few exceptions, contemptible poseurs, maintained in their imposture by a crooked art industry.

Now it looks as if we have an entered an time when real provocation is possible. By all means, let the provocations continue, where they seem warranted. In the future, however, they cannot be as lazy and thoughtless, as bad as they were in the 20th century.

Who will make a film, or a documentary, that portrays the origins of Islam using the ordinary standards of scholarship and dramatic representation?

* * *

Meanwhile, at Asia Times, we find that Spengler nods in his latest column, Why can't Muslims take a joke?:

More than any people on Earth, the Danes should know the terrible price of religious humor, for the first great Christian humorist arose from their dour midst as if by immaculate conception....

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, never bore the taint of Original Sin. The dogma of the Virgin Birth, to which Spengler appears to allude, is another matter.

When Rome defiled their temple at Jerusalem in AD 66, the Jews rebelled. Rome crushed them, but they rose again in AD 132, fighting more Roman legions under Tiberius than had conquered Britain. After most Jews were dead or exiled, the remnant invented self-deprecating humor.

The rebellion in 120s and 130s under President bar Kochbar (he really did use a title that meant "president") was against the Emperor Hadrian, not Tiberius. Tiberius was an emperor of the first century who did not conquer Britain; the Emperor Claudius did.

As always, of course, Spengler's case-in-chief is worth reading:

Muslim belief is not dialogue, but submission. It is as defenseless before the bacillus of skepticism as the American aboriginals were before the smallpox virus.

That is why Muslims cannot respond to Western jibes at the person of their Prophet except as they did to the Jyllens-Posten cartoons. I do not sympathize with scoffers but, like [Pope ] Benedict [XVI], I see doubt as an adversary to be won over, rather than as an enemy to be extirpated. I would not have drawn nor published these cartoons, but when the lines are drawn, I stand with Western freedom against traditional authority. I write these lines over a Carlsberg and shall drink no other lager until the boycott of Danish product ends.

Carlsberg is good, but I still can't find Tuborg.

* * *

If we are to have serious art again, then we should have a serious president, too. Here is Senator McCain's website. Please, God, do not let us have to choose between Senator Frist and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

* * *

I feel vindicated by this headline: Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?

To which the answer is: "Yes! Obviously!"

I've been saying this since the fraud started 25 years ago. The water comes out of a tap in Hoboken. It always did. If you must carry water around with you, fill a thermos from your kitchen sink.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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There Will Be War Volume X Book Review

There Will Be War Volume X
Created by Jerry Pournelle, Edited by John F. Carr
ASIN: B019KYLOKQ

This is the last volume in the late Jerry Pournelle's long running series, There Will be War. Volume IX was published in 1990. Jerry said that the series had originally ended when the Cold War did, but the return of great power politics with Russia and China made it relevant again. It has sold well over the years, if Jerry had lived longer, I imagine more volumes would have been forthcoming. 

This volume is just as good as any of the previous installments. One major change is that China is featured as the bête noire instead of Russia, but otherwise the basic structure remains the same: short science fiction with a military focus is interspersed with non-fiction essays on military topics, all of it woven together with short introductions by Jerry.

There were some great stories in this volume. Standouts for me were "Flashpoint: Titan" by Cheah Kai Wai, "The Fourth Fleet" by Russell Newquist, "Among Thieves" by Poul Anderson, and '"Fly-by-Night"' by Larry Niven. All the stories in this volume were good, which makes it hard to pick my favorites, so I go by the ones that stick in my memory the best.

In particular, Larry Niven's contribution astonished me with how dense it was. Larry managed to pack so much detail into every sentence that I had a little trouble keeping up. I found myself scanning back every so often to make sure I hadn't missed something interesting. I often had. I hadn't previously considered getting into Known Space or the Man-Kzin Wars, but now I want to.

I've found a number of great authors via their contributions to this series, for example Gordon Dickson. In this case, I was already familiar with Larry's books with Jerry Pournelle, but I only kind of liked The Magic Goes Away, the only solo Niven book I've read. Looking back at my review, I wrote it up better than I remember it. Thanks to this collection, I'm willing to give Niven's other books a chance. Which is after all the point of short stories; they give you a chance to try authors out rapidly, and see who you might like to read more. 

I think this volume continues a great tradition, and it has some great stories in it. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes any of the authors who contributed, fans of military science fiction, and anyone who likes a cracking good yarn. You should be able to find something you like.

My other book reviews

There Will Be War Volume X
By Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Gregory Benford, David VanDyke, Martin van Creveld, Phillip E. Pournelle, Doug Beason

The Long View 2006-02-02: Happy Groundhog Day!

I've been a fan of Dr. Ed Peters' canon law page for a long time. I no longer remember whether I first came across it through John Reilly, but I follow it to this day.


Happy Groundhog Day!

 

Evil-Minded People persist in sending me great blasphemies against Kant's transcendentally ideal doctrine of Perpetual Peace, otherwise known as the Democratic Peace. One of these misbelievers, a person with imperial pretensions, made bold to send a link to this page, which lists the alleged exceptions to the hypothesis that democracies do not go to war against each other. There are even infidel statistics.

As we know, this argument comes down to "what's a democracy?" and "what's a war?" It is possible to define democracy in such a refined sense that no two democracies could ever go to war because no such ineffable regime could ever exit. Conversely, every state in which a new god-emperor is traditionally hailed by a "laus" from the rabble in the palace square might be called a democracy in some sense.

I think, though, that there are only two really plausible exceptions to the Democratic Peace. The first is categorical. It applies to the whole of antiquity, whose small city states were as democratic as pirate ships and of a similar mind about acquiring the goods of their neighbors. (The same principle, of course, applies to the medieval and Renaissance Italian republics.). The other big exception is the American Civil War. One might argue that the conflict was a civil disorder, and not a war in the proper sense. The problem is that the logic of the Democratic Peace, that transparent and responsible government will use violence only in self-defense, ought also to apply to disorders that occur between hostile centers of domestic power.

Aside from that, though, the theory is fine. Just fine.

* * *

Peggy Noon was disenthused, meanwhile, by the State of the Union Speech delivered on Tuesday evening by Kant's Vicar on Earth. Look:

The president's State of the Union Address will be little noted and not long remembered. There was a sense that he was talking at, not to, the country. He asserted more than he persuaded, and he chose to redeclare his beliefs rather than argue for them in any depth. If you believe, as he does, that the No. 1 priority for the American government at this point in history is to lead an international movement for political democracy, and if you believe, as he truly seems to, that political democracy is in and of itself a certain bringer of world-wide peace, than this speech was for you. If not, not. It went through a reported 30 drafts, was touched by many hands, and seemed it. Not precisely a pudding without a theme, but a thin porridge.

Fair enough, though it was by no means a bad speech. The most anticipated element of the speech was supposed to be a new approach to the health-insurance crisis. The president proposed augmenting the health-savings account mechanism, whereby tax-deductible savings accounts are married to portable, high-deductible insurance policies. Unlike the president's Social Security proposal last year, this one would at least not aggravate the problem it is supposed to address. However, yet another tax-favored-savings program is irrelevant to a population that does not save, even at gunpoint.

* * *

No, I have never received a telegram. Family legend has it that my father while in Europe during World II received a telegram announcing the birth of my oldest sister: that makes him the only person I ever knew who probably did receive a telegram. Well, at least in the US, the option of sending and receiving telegrams has lapsed:

After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams ...."Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative." ...The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.

The interesting point is that telegrams figure importantly in the literature and history of the last half of the 19th century and the first three-quarters of the 20th. Now, when students hear about Kennan's "Long Telegram," the term will take a little explanation. There is also this: the word "telegram," long-distance writing, is now free to be appropriated by some other technology. Might SETI communications be called "telegrams," for instance?

* * *

Trouble with Holy Mother Church? Consult Edward Peters' Canon Law site to get a grip on the issues, or at least see where to look them up.

Yes, there is a Canon Law Annotated.

I find it surprisingly difficult to type "canon" with one "n."

* * *

Continuing with divine science, two types of story that always attract my attention are reports about the return of the airship and the revival of the Latin Mass. I have nothing on airships today, but the Washington Times assures us that Latin is back in the better suburbs of Washington, DC:

Some say it's all part of the general trend back to the classics of Western civilization. All the Rev. Franklyn McAfee knows is that when he announced earlier this month he was starting up free Latin classes on Saturday mornings at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, more than 70 parishioners packed the first session. ... One parishioner, former federal Judge Robert Bork, a recent convert to Catholicism, got there early to ensure himself a seat in front of Marion Smedberg, a Latin instructor from Reston.

Note that this particular revival does not involve the old Tridentine Mass:

A newer Latin liturgy, the "Novus Ordo," also came out of the Vatican. That is the Mass St. John's parishioners are learning.

Actually, the Novus Ordo is also the current English Mass; the Latin Novus Ordo is the original from which the English Novus Ordo was translated. Parts of the Latin original are all you need if you want to revive the corpus of sacred music. It is worth the effort.

* * *

Pol Pot had the right idea, but his ideas need to be applied globally. So, at least. we may surmise from this Guardian piece by Robert Newman, It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both:

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.

What strange misconceptions.

Capitalism is the principle that prices are information. That is part of the reason why Communist Eastern Europe suffered far greater ecological damange the the capitalist West did during the same period.

If you accept the "peak oil" hypothesis, the effect of the "invisible hand" will be to end the use of petroleum as fuel as it becomes scarcer. The question, in fact, is whether the general welfare might requires cushioning the thoroughness and speed with which market mechanisms would effect the transition.

The author's confusion is bottomless:

All hail Wal-Mart for imposing a 20% reduction in its own carbon emissions. But the point is that supermarkets are over. We cannot have such long supply lines between us and our food. Not any more. The very model of the supermarket is unsustainable, what with the packaging, food miles and destruction of British farming. Small, independent suppliers, processors and retailers or community-owned shops selling locally produced food provide a social glue and reduce carbon emissions.

We have long supply lines between producers and consumers because that is the cheapest way to do it. Since prices reflect labor and the cost materials, that means that long supply lines use less energy than would producing food locally.

I can only repeat: the United States had more forest cover in 2000 than it did in 1900, despite a tripling of the population in that time, precisely because almost all the small farms on less desirable land around the major cities were abandoned.

Solutions need to come from people themselves. But once set up, local autonomous groups need to be supported by technology transfers from state to community level.

We know from a century of sad experience that "autonomous groups" means guys who come to heckle at every public meeting bit can't seem to win any actual elections.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-31: Save the Dinosaurs; Unfriendly Democracy; News Medley

I think John Reilly also mentioned this in other places, but here he advances the suggestion that law school is a scam, and could be folded into an undergraduate curriculum. I lack subject matter expertise to comment on law school in particular, but it seems at least plausible to me.

Bryan Caplan argues that education is less about skills and facts, and more about signaling that you have valuable qualities. In general, I find Caplan's case persuasive, although I think it would be easy to take this idea too far. Some data points in favor: I turned out to be a decent engineer, despite not studying that field in school. The English university system currently uses a much shorter timeframe for degrees, but has equivalent results.

It is always risky to generalize from a n of 1, even more so when it is your own experience. An example of what I am talking about can be seen in this twitter exchange with Greg Cochran about the evolutionary fitness cost of schizophrenia:

It isn't really a good argument to assert "I turned out fine." With that in mind, not everyone with my education background makes a good engineer. There are other personal qualities that matter. Conditional on those things, educational background loses importance as a predictor of success. If you know what to look for.


Save the Dinosaurs; Unfriendly Democracy; News Medley

 

Hugh Hewitt has buried the dinosaurs of the Main Stream Media (or at least so he seems to imagine) in an article in The Weekly Standard of January 30 entitled "The Media's Ancien Regime." There he describes his visit to the Columbia School of Journalism. He was well received by all concerned, particularly the dean, Nicholas Lemann. He found a relatively small graduate institution that has become very keen on teaching its students serious analytical skills, including a fair amount of number-crunching. Hewitt thinks it all for naught:

Lippman's world, Pulitzer's world, even Nicholas Lemann's world of the Harvard Crimson from 1972 to 1976--they are all gone. Every conversation with one of the old guard quoting the old proof texts comes down to this point: There is too much expertise, all of it almost instantly available now, for the traditional idea of journalism to last much longer. In the past, almost every bit of information was difficult and expensive to acquire and was therefore mediated by journalists whom readers and viewers were usually in no position to second-guess. Authority has drained from journalism for a reason. Too many of its practitioners have been easily exposed as poseurs.

It is certainly the case that journalists often seem to be woefully underinformed about what should be common knowledge. (Fr. Neuhaus remarked last week on the reporter who responded to his allusions to the pope as "the bishop of Rome" with a query about whether it was unusual that the current pope was also the bishop of Rome.) However, anyone is gravely mistaken who thinks that New Media and the blogosphere make good the deficit.

Blogs are engines of critique. They are not particularly good sources for primary news. For that, we will continue to need journalists to assemble the first-draft narratives for critique and elaboration in the noosphere (a term i use advisedly, since more than blogs are at work here). It's true that journalism used to be primarily a sort of arbitrage between information-poor and information-rich domains. It still does that, particularly at the local level, where public events enter the information stream only if a shoe-leather reporter puts them there. The effect of communications technology, which simplifies reporting for many classes of stories, is not to abolish journalism, but to allow it to focus on generating value through synthesis.

The preceding paragraph may be the geekiest thing I have ever written. Anyway:

The problem is that the type of person best suited to this is the sort of widely educated liberal-arts graduate that the universities seem determined not to produce any longer. There is something wrong with the very idea of journalism as an academic major, much less as a graduate-school subject. (Law school, in contrast, could easily be folded into an undergraduate curriculum; it's law school that the hoax.) At the end of four years of college, you should know enough languages, and accounting, and history, and sociology, to make yourself useful in a newsroom, assuming you can write acceptable expository prose. There is a craft to reporting, of course. It is ably described in any number of memoirs. Reading them may be more helpful than journalism school.

* * *

Walter Russell Meade's proposal to abolish college, which appears in The Weekly Standard Online is ingenious:

There is no reason the government should try to prevent American families who value the traditional college experience from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, but perhaps it could offer an alternative: a federally recognized national baccalaureate (or 'national bac') degree that students could earn by demonstrating competence and knowledge.

This would leave us with, what? A think-tank industry to replace the research university and a Chinese-style civil-service test to replace the undergraduate college?

* * *

That Spengler takes no prisoners, if we may so judge by his latest at Asia Times:

Fight a dictatorship, and you must kill the regime; fight a democracy, and you must kill the people. Two years ago I called George W Bush a “tragic character” (George W Bush, tragic character, November 25, 2003) who “wants universal good, but will end up doing some terrible things”. Now we have begun the third act of his tragedy, which shatters the delusions that led him to the edge of disaster. President Bush met Nemesis in the form of Hamas, whose election victory in Palestine last week makes clear that democracy can empower the war party as well as the peace party.

Look, maybe this will help. The purpose of promoting democracy is not to create pro-American regimes. It is to create regimes that have relatively transparent and responsive political systems. They can be as anti-American as they please, but provided they nurse their grudges in public and have to convince the rest of the world that they are stable enough to do business with, then there are far preferable, far safer, than even the friendliest tyranny.

* * *

If all these recent elections are starting to run together in your mind, this piece of January 28 by David Warren will surely make it worse:

After the first TV reports that their party would win the Canadian election, Conservative campaign workers began smashing windows in the Parliament Buildings, and in government offices around Ottawa. They roved through the corridors, beating up clerks and civil servants suspected of having Liberal Party connexions. From St John’s to Victoria, both winning and losing Conservative candidates took to the streets, leading heavily armed supporters in ski-masks, followed by millions of happy, cheering, banner-waving CPC voters, dressed in toques and scarves. Merchants and homeowners raced to get Liberal and NDP signs out of view, as the Tory hordes marched through towns, firing their guns in the air, vandalizing post offices, and looting shops belonging to their opponents.

Perhaps a good test for a perspective journalist would be to examine a pile of putative newsstories and pick out the ones that, like this one, are jokes.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-28: Punctuated Equilibrium; The March of Democracy; Holy Copyright

I had forgotten this particular story of the Vatican Publishing House asserting copyright on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's writings. A quick search didn't reveal much of interest coming up afterwards.


Punctuated Equilibrium; The March of Democracy; Holy Copyright

 

Fans of punctuated equilibrium will no doubt be please by this result:

An article by University of Pittsburgh Professor of Anthropology Jeffrey H. Schwartz, and University of Salerno Professor of Biochemistry Bruno Maresca, published Jan. 30 in the New Anatomist journal, shows that the emerging understanding of cell structure lends strong support to Schwartz's theory of evolution, originally explained in his seminal work, Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species (John Wiley & Sons, 2000)...evolution is not necessarily gradual but often sudden, dramatic expressions of change that began on the cellular level because of radical environmental stressors--like extreme heat, cold, or crowding--years earlier...those altered genes remain in a recessive state, spreading silently through the population until offspring appear with two copies of the new mutation and change suddenly, seemingly appearing out of thin air.

The next question, of course, is whether fans of Lamarck should be pleased, too. Are these stress-induced adaptations simply random, or does the kind of stress influence the kind of change?

* * *

Speaking of stress, Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in The Weekly Standard, argues that however much anxiety the Iranian regime generates in the West, it is making just as much trouble for itself at home:

The regime in Tehran constantly tells us what it fears most: clerical dissent. Why can't American officials give speeches defending religious freedom in Iran? Ali Khamenei's Achilles' heel is that he is a politicized, pathetic religious "scholar" ruling over a theocratic state where accomplished clerics, who don't believe at all in the political rule of religious jurisconsults, are silenced. This is the issue between Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq, and the school of Najaf behind him, and the clerical regime in Iran.

If this is true, it bodes well for the evolution of the new government in Iraq: whatever else happens, it does not seem likely to turn into an Iranian client.

Of course, lots more can go wrong, and maybe it already is. Somewhat delayed, the same process is being played out in Iraq as happened in Yugoslavia: the Ottoman millets are trying to become nations. (One could even characterize Israel that way, to the degree that the country is composed of in-gathered Jewish communities from the Muslim world.) This is not to say that the Iraqi state is inevitably going to break up. It does suggest that the Baathist version of Iraq was extraordinarily artificial.

Regarding the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, the calculation of the electorate seems to have been like that of Homer Simpson in the episode in which Sideshow Bob is elected mayor of Springfield. "I don't agree with his Bart-killing policy," Homer says to himself in the voting booth, "but I do approve of his Selma-killing policy." In the case of Palestine, Hamas's platform continued to call for the destruction of Israel, but it also promised plain-vanilla good government.

I do not regard the election result as in any way contrary to the democratic-peace thesis. Neither do I think that of the election that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, or at least to prominence, in Iran. In both cases, the victorious parties have put themselves in a position where they can be held responsible for their performance in office. That is actually quite an advance. The worldview of a revolutionary fighting in the hinterlands can never be falsified. A radical in office, however, is easily discredited.

Hamas may well deliver on its promise of good government. To do that, however, it will need a measure of peace, both domestic and with the Zionist entity.

* * *

"Peter, shear my sheep!" So said the pastor in one of Garrison Keillor's monologues to a parishioner who had volunteered to manage a fundraising drive. Do we see the same imperative reflected in stories like this?

Spirit World: Vatican criticized for putting price tag on quotes from pope Are words of a man of God priceless? Not if they come from the pope. The Vatican has come under heavy criticism for its decision to charge publishers to reprint excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's public statements and written works dating back to his professorial days as the Rev. Joseph Ratzinger. According to La Stampa, a Turin newspaper, the Vatican publishing division Libreria Editrice Vaticana recently billed a Milan-based publisher 15,000 euros (about $18,000) for printing a total of 30 lines from speeches Benedict delivered as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The decree in question is reported in this announcement from secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano:

We make known that the Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI, has entrusted to the Vatican Publishing House the exercise and custody of all the copyright royalties and all the exclusive rights to the income from deeds, works and writings written prior to the Pontiff's election to the Chair of Peter.

In other words, Benedict turned over to Vatican State the rights to his writings. The Vatican now holds no more control over them than Joseph Ratzinger did, which means the ordinary rules about fair use would still apply, presumably. Thirty lines is on the long side for a quotation, but I wonder what the Vatican's publisher could be thinking of.

Whatever the Vatican may be up to, a great deal of religious material on the Internet is definitely public domain, which is how I can do cool stuff like this:

mvespers.jpg

If you have your own event or organization, I would be willing to adapt these images for you If it is simple enough for me to do, however, then anyone can do it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-26: Paranormal Ed; Persian Apocalypse; PA Demographics; Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est


Paranormal Ed; Persian Apocalypse; PA Demographics; Deus Caritas Est

 

Education promotes belief in the paranormal, if you believe this study:

Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study...The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents...

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma...

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students...

"As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.

I marvel that anyone should be surprised. Skepticism is by no means the same as materialism. Ideological materialism is grist for the postmodern mill. So was science, unfortunately, at least in the 1990s.

* * *

Is President Ahmadinejad trying to end the world? I rather doubt it. At any rate, I don't see how Twelver eschatology fits with his foreign policy. Still, Kenneth R. Timmerman has favored us with another warning that the millenarians are coming. The interesting point about this piece is the argument that the Shia religious establishment may be striking back:

On Dec. 16, gunmen opened fire on the motorcade of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he toured the southeastern province of Sistan, along Iran's border with Pakistan...

[T}he attack may have been part of a plot to remove the Iranian president by a faction within the ruling clergy. At least, so believes a Western source who has just returned from talks with top officials in Tehran.

They believe that his frankness dangerously exposes them to attack from the United States, Israel or both...

"This guy is not a politician," the source quoted one top Iranian official as saying. "He is certifiably insane. And he is obsessed with the Imam Zaman," the legendary 12th imam, or Imam Mahdi, whom many Shiite Muslims believe will return in the "end times" after a period of horrific battles, famine and pestilence...

Reports in government media outlets in Tehran have quoted Ahmadinejad as having told regime officials that the 12th imam will reappear in two years. That was too much for Iranian legislator Akbar Alami, who publicly questioned Ahmadinejad's judgment, saying that even Islam's holiest figures have never made such claims.

But hints of "regime change from within," carried by emissaries to Washington, may not be enough to deter the United States and Israel from using military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons...

So, here we have anonymous sources suggesting that a hostile regime could implode any minute. A suspicious man might think that the regime is planting those rumors itself, the better to create wishful thinking among its opponents and consequently to discourage action.

* * *

Speaking of wishful thinking, Caroline Glick at the Jewish World Review notes that:

ISRAEL'S REFUSAL to contend politically with the fact that both Fatah and Hamas are dedicated to its destruction stems mainly from domestic considerations. The most remarked of these is the Israeli fear that in just a matter of years there will be an equal number of Arabs and Jews living in Judea and Samaria and sovereign Israel.

The piece then says that no accommodation is necessary because, according to a new study, the accepted demographic projections are more than usually unreliable:

[T]he team found that Israel had been basing its policies regarding the Palestinians on faked numbers concocted in 1997 by the PA Bureau of Statistics. The Palestinians had managed, by double-counting Arab residents of Jerusalem, counting Palestinians who moved out of the areas, inflating immigration statistics and birth rates and deflating death rates, to artificially add more than one million people to their count...the ICBS ignored the fact that over the past several years, fertility rates among Israeli Jews have been rising and that fertility rates among Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria have been decreasing. That is, the ICSB's data do not reflect current population trends. The team reconfigured the projections for growth among Israeli Jews and Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria, based on current rates, and found that most likely, in 2025, inside Israel, Jews will comprise 77 percent of the population (as opposed to 81 percent today); and taken together with Judea and Samaria, Jews will comprise 63 percent of the population as opposed to 67 percent today.

I am perfectly willing to believe that the projections for the next generation don't mean much. I am slow to belive, though, that the Palestinians have been as grossly overcounted as this study appears to say.

* * *

Deus Caritas Est. "God is Love," is the title of Benedict XVI's first encyclical. The text is here. It bears reading.

The encyclical has the neoplatonic flavor that has been characteristic of Joseph Ratzinger. The argument flows a from a transcendent reality and down through the chain of being to current concerns. What is interesting about Benedict, though, is that he never gives the impression that metaphysics is just a prolegomenon to a practical topic that was all he really wanted to talk about. Quite the opposite: the mystical theology is the point. Only in retrospect does the reader see quite how many practical questions the high theory has decided.

As the title of the encyclical suggests, it starts with the nature of God and then moves on to an account of the divine interaction with mankind. This the pope sees as a dialectic in which agage and eros converge. Thus:

"In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them."

Having established that the love of God has an inherently social dimension, we might perhaps be reminded that His Holiness is a German of the old school:

"As a community, the Church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community."

At any rate, we might perhaps be so reminded if that idea is indeed Benedict's. The second part of the encyclical, the part dealing with social questions, was drafted by John Paul II: we don't know who is responsible for what.

In any case, the discussion finishes with a quite interesting explanation of the distinction between social work and the charitable work that the Church is required to do by the Church's own nature. The pope notes that if you think you are going to change the world by doing this work you are kidding yourself. Social justice is an important issue, but in the final analysis it is beside the point:

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). This hymn must be the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service; it sums up all the reflections on love which I have offered throughout this Encyclical Letter. Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ.

Some of the more foolish theological liberals have already begun to praise this encyclical on the grounds that it shows the pope is so interested in mysticism and good will that he will not much bother about enforcing dogmas and rules. I have no way of knowing what disciplinary measures Benedict XVI may plan, but it would be a grave misreading of Deus Caritas Est to see it as a sign that the pope has moved beyond dogma. In fact, the encyclical's exegesis of scriptural bridal imagery settles, on an ontological level, pretty much all the questions of sexual ethics and church discipline that religion editors like to write about.

Neoplatonic argument is gentle, but the logic is as implacable as entropy, which in some ways it resembles. The truth radiates from a changeless, perfect world. We can attend to that radiation more or less, as circumstances suggest, but but you can no more argue with it than you can argue with the sun.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 Book Review

Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire concept art via Jason Anspach's blog

Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire concept art via Jason Anspach's blog

by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Published June 12th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B071GN8Y4G

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole's Galaxy's Edge series has been described as "more Star Wars than Star Wars". After reading the first volume, Legionnaire, I wholly agree. Anspach and Cole nailed the feel of being a stormtrooper, if stormtroopers were actually the elite shock troops described by Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, instead of the comically inept mooks who were slaughtered by Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

The Republic Legionnaires, leejes for short, have the technological resources of the whole galaxy to call upon, and it feels like it. Their gear is both effective [their armor actually works!], and fantastically expensive [because it is both sophisticated and an exercise in pork barrel politics], which makes the Legionnaires fierce and effective fighters, but limits their numbers.

As to the purposes to which all that warfighting capability is turned...that's over their pay grade. Legionnaires are usually happy to do what they are told, which for the most part is kill people and break stuff. However, like many elite units, a Legionnaire's primary loyalty is to the Legion, which in practice is your fellow Legionnaires. Politics are pretty abstract, except and unless it affects the chances of you and your buddies getting dead.

There is a tradition of military sci-fi books from the grunt's point of view going back at least to Heinlein's Starship Troopers, but the books that Legionnaire most closely resembles are Pournelle and Stirling's Falkenberg's Legion series, as well as David Drake's Hammer's Slammers. The hallmarks of these books are realism about the ugly face of war, a love of technological detail about the tools and gear of conflict, and an imitation of the military tactics of a particular era.

For Pournelle and Stirling, that era was 80s and 90s maneuver warfare as practiced by Western militaries. For Anspach and Cole, the model feels like Afghanistan blended with Star Wars and Imperial Rome. And I think they nailed it. I am a fan of this style of fiction in general, but I love how Anspach and Cole were able to riff off of the Star Wars universe, and end up with something that is both familiar and different.

I really, really enjoyed reading Legionnaire, and I'm excited that there is a whole series full of books to follow.

My other book reviews

 

Legionnaire (Galaxy's Edge Book 1)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

The Long View 2006-01-23: From Iraq to Iran; Girlie Ed; Metahistory & IQ; Serious Abolition; Anne Rise Panned

In this post, John Reilly suggested a compromise solution on abortion that might have worked, once upon a time. Alas, it might be too late.

No, abortion should be ended. We ought to have gathered by now the the attempts to criminalize it have the perverse effect of preserving it, since the political system recoils against the use of criminal sanctions in this context. Certainly the Supreme Court is least likely to overturn Roe if the test case asks the court to approve precisely the kind of law that the court has spent 30 years striking down.
The matter should be folded into medical ethics. Last week, the Supreme Court preserved the discretion of the states to define medical practice; that was the case about the right of Oregon to allow physician-assisted suicide. The states should use that discretion to define abortion, outside a few exceptions, to be the sort of malpractice that would require a physician's licence to be suspended until he completes a medical refresher course.
Such a statute would be popular. It would be enforcible. Upholding it would require the court to reject the protean "liberty interest" or "autonomy right" that is the root of the problem

From Iraq to Iran; Girlie Ed; Metahistory & IQ; Serious Abolition; Anne Rise Panned

 

Osama bin Laden's message that was released last week is perhaps old news by now, so forgive me for refreshing your memory:

"In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.

"We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war.

"There is no problem in this solution, but it will prevent hundreds of billions from going to influential people and warlords in America - those who supported Bush's electoral campaign - and from this, we can understand Bush and his gang's insistence on continuing the war."

My immediate assessment of this is that, particularly in Iraq, al-Qaeda is in a position where it has to declare victory and get out. Whatever else happens there, Osama's brand of Islamism has lost any chance it might have had of influencing the future state of that country. If al-Qaeda stops massacring Shia and the US begins withdrawing some months later as the new Iraqi government becomes more confident, that could be characterized as a "truce." A failure to launch a major terror action in the US might also be characterized as a component of such a truce.

Does that mean that we should discount the possibility of another terror attack on the US? By no means. I am sure that al-Qaeda's attempt to strike the US continue without reference to Osama's public statements, or indeed without much regard to what the US does. Another attack could occur in the US even after the war in Iraq is over. The US is always doing something that could be called as a violation of a "truce."

On the basis of no particular evidence, except for scattered reports about the proliferation of improved shoulder-fired missiles, I suspect that the easiest kind of attack at this point would be simultaneous rocket attacks against civilian aircraft. The economic effects would be substantial, even if all the attacks fail: the airtravel system would be closed for days, or longer

* * *

That Spengler has declared war against Iran, as we see from his column at Asia Times:

It is remarkable how quickly an international consensus has emerged for the eventual use of force against Iran. Chirac's indirect reference to the French nuclear capability was a warning to Tehran. Mohamed El Baradei, whose Nobel Peace Prize last year was awarded to rap the knuckles of the United States, told Newsweek that in the extreme case, force might be required to stop Iran's acquiring a nuclear capability. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that the military option could not be abandoned, although diplomatic efforts should be tried first. Bild, Germany's largest-circulation daily, ran Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad's picture next to Adolf Hitler's, with the headline, "Will Iran plunge the world into the abyss?"

The current menu of options is not good, but the situation would be absolutely hopeless if there were not Coalition forces in Iraq. Suppose Iraq were still under the corrupting sanctions regime, or that the sanctions had been lifted, and Iraq was now arguing that it needed a nuclear program to counter the Persian threat?

* * *

Higher education is getting girlier, according to The New Republic:

What's most worrisome are not long-standing gender differences but recent plunges in boys' relative performance. Between 1992 and 2002, the gap by which high school girls outperformed boys on tests in both reading and writing--especially writing--widened significantly. Given the reading and writing demands of today's college curriculum, that means a lot of boys out there are falling well short of being considered "college material." Which is why women now significantly outnumber men on college campuses, a phenomenon familiar enough to any sorority sister seeking a date to the next formal. This June, nearly six out of ten bachelor's degrees awarded will go to women. If the Department of Education's report is any indication, in coming years, this gender gap will grow even larger.

Might I suggest that this trend has something to do with the content of the curricula at all levels?

* * *

Lectures and interviews on metahistorical questions are now available at any time of the day or night on Slate's Meaning of Life site. If you need to hear Robert Wright cross-examine the head of Georgetown's theology department for 46 minutes on evolutionary teleology today, you need look no further. You do need DSL or better.

* * *

Schopenhauer is to blame for the notion that intelligence in living things is epiphenomenal. He called the brain "a useless fruit," or something of the sort. A naive form of this principle survives in the arguments of neodarwinists that the evolution of intelligent life on Earth was a fluke, one not likely to be repeated elsewhere in the universe. Other people argue that there are many kinds of intelligence, and we should not privilege one over the over. Now, however, a study shows that ordinary testable IQ helps:

The average IQ score nationwide is estimated to be 100, with children scoring in the range of 130 or higher generally considered "gifted." According to the current study, a child with an IQ score of 150 experiences a 44% lower risk of premature death than a child with an IQ of 135. The health benefits of a high IQ appear to work independently of other factors, including socioeconomic status. Researchers found that high-IQ children from lower-income families tend to experience greater longevity, and generally fewer health problems, than children with low IQ scores from higher-income families. However, the study also found a limit to the effects of IQ: Children who scored above 163 on IQ tests were not found to suffer fewer health risks than those scoring 150.

Is there a Maximum Useful Intelligence that senscient life, wherever it exists, could be expected to approach?

* * *

South Dakota could attempt to recriminalize abortion in the near future:

In the next six weeks, South Dakota lawmakers will decide whether to make abortion a crime.

A bill that would ban abortion in the state will be introduced within the next two days.

The bill will be called the Woman's Health and Life Protection Act. It will ban abortion, but won't prosecute a doctor who performs one to save a woman's life.

And the lawmaker who's introducing the bill says he thinks now is the right time to try and over-turn Roe vs Wade.

Rep. Roger Hunt says, "Abortion should be banned."

No, abortion should be ended. We ought to have gathered by now the the attempts to criminalize it have the perverse effect of preserving it, since the political system recoils against the use of criminal sanctions in this context. Certainly the Supreme Court is least likely to overturn Roe if the test case asks the court to approve precisely the kind of law that the court has spent 30 years striking down.

The matter should be folded into medical ethics. Last week, the Supreme Court preserved the discretion of the states to define medical practice; that was the case about the right of Oregon to allow physician-assisted suicide. The states should use that discretion to define abortion, outside a few exceptions, to be the sort of malpractice that would require a physician's licence to be suspended until he completes a medical refresher course.

Such a statute would be popular. It would be enforcible. Upholding it would require the court to reject the protean "liberty interest" or "autonomy right" that is the root of the problem.

* * *

The first really bad review of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord to come to my attention appears in the February issue of First Things, where Cynthia Grenier says:

Appalling. That's the word that kept echoing through my mind as I turned the pages of Anne Rice channeling the seven-year-old Jesus Christ in her 27th novel, the first since her recent return to the Christianity of her childhood.

No, no: the concept is appalling. The novel itself is not that bad. Count your blessings.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox

Greg Cochran has written one entry in what he threatened would be a new series, Speaking Ill of the Dead. The subject of that essay was Lynn Margulis, who came up by coincidence here recently. Stephen Jay Gould would probably be a feature in Greg's series also, if he hadn't so frequently excoriated him already. Even the gentle Henry Harpending [RIP] wasn't above mocking Gould.

Since I know that Gould wasn't above lying in the name of what he thought was a good cause, I have to consider all of his work suspect until proven innocent. I find my opinion of Gould ameliorated some by the fact that he knew the Renaissance humanists where an intellectual black hole: knowledge when in, but it never came back out.

Nonetheless, despite Gould's immense popularity, I have to question whether his net contributions to science were positive, largely because he used his popularity to taint well-supported ideas he found politically distasteful.


The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox:
Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities
By Stephen Jay Gould
Harmony Books, 2003
274 Pages, US$25.95
ISBN 0-609-60140-7

 

This is Stephen Jay Gould's last book on natural history. The book began as the author's presidential address to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, but most of the text is new, and not a compilation of previously published articles. Unfortunately, the author did not live long enough to proof the manuscript, with the result that some of the prose is a bit mysterious. This is true even of the title. The “hedgehog” and the “fox” need no introduction, perhaps (one of them knows one big thing, and the other a thousand small things), but the “magister” is merely identified as an Inquisitor of the Diocese of Pisa who failed to excise Erasmus's name from a book of natural history. Readers will puzzle why the magister is there. Despite these defects, however, this is a gripping book for anyone concerned with the place of the natural sciences in intellectual history. What we have is a moderate postmodernist's concept of a Theory of Everything.

Gould is trying to do three things in this book. The first is to trace “the battle between the ancients and the moderns,” which began with the beginning of modern science in the 17th century, and which has erupted episodically ever since. The second is set out a model of knowledge that can reconcile the scientific and humanistic portions of the modern mind. The third is to refute a competing model devised by Gould's Harvard colleague, the sociobiologist E. O. Wilson. In 1998, Wilson published a book on this subject entitled “Consilience,” a term coined by the Victorian divine and Oxford naturalist, William Whewell. Gould reminds us that he had rescued Whewell's term from almost complete obscurity some years ago. In this book, Gould plainly wanted it back.

Echoing a theme he has made in previous works, Gould points out that the Whiggish historical model of the development of science as a long battle with religion is simply false. The early scientists were all at least conventionally pious, some were fervently devout, and not a few looked on their research as a form of apologetics. Their real opposition was the humanistic tradition of the Renaissance. That type of scholarship, even when it dealt with natural history, was wholly literary. It was concerned with recovering and ornamenting the Classical past. Therefore it was suspicious of novelty, including new results from scientific research. To overcome that cast of mind, early modern science developed some bad habits, such as a studied indifference to literary style, and an implausible insistence that science is free, not just from biases, but also from preferences.

Gould recognizes that he is walking across a historiographical minefield here. The very idea of a “Scientific Revolution” has been called into question: early modern science was in fact pretty continuous with late medieval science. He also recognizes that “the Battle of the Books” or “The Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns” was not essentially a struggle between natural scientists and humanists. Many of the new science's greatest supporters were notable humanist scholars. Still, a point that he does not make is that humanist studies changed quite as much in the 17th century as science did. The whole of European intellectual life was moving away from the mere amassing of facts and discernment of correspondences, and toward synthesis of ideas and an appreciation of fresh observation. Science, really, was just one instance of a larger trend.

One may question whether the later episodes of intellectual conflict that Gould discusses are really rematches of the Battle of the Books, but they do have their own interest. Regarding the 19th-century conflict over evolution, Gould notes that, again, it was not a matter of science versus religion. Many scientists did not accept Darwin's conclusions, while many sophisticated religious people did. Actually, of those proponents of evolution who were inclined to pick a theological quarrel, it was not so much religion they opposed as Catholicism: Protestantism was supposed to be compatible with science.

The next supposed battle of the books, the controversy sparked by C.P. Snow's famous book, “The Two Cultures,” happened just at the beginning of Gould's academic career. He is now inclined to dismiss it as a tempest in an Oxbridge teapot. Maybe there were common rooms, in the colleges familiar to Snow, where all the dons were literary types who knew no science, and maybe there were other common rooms where the dons were scientific philistines whose minds were untainted by humane learning. If so, these creatures rarely ventured into the public eye.

Gould is no doubt right when he says that the “Two Cultures” debate was a battle of strawmen, but the matter is more problematical when we come to the “Science Wars” of the 1990s. At that time, some social theorists began applying the sort of deconstructive techniques to the methods and results of the physical sciences that had long been familiar to the humanities. At the extreme, this project could be taken to imply a denial of the impossibility of an objective account of physical reality: the scientific view of the world becomes just another construct. Gould denies that any considerable number of scholars ever went to that extreme.

Frankly, my own impression is that a large percentage of the participants in these polemics conformed to stereotype, but maybe they were not representative of their disciplines. (In any case, as Gould points out, few working scientists even heard about the debate.) Gould himself was a member of the moderate social-constructivist wing. Though not denying the final validity of confirmed scientific results, he has always been keen on the relationship between science and cultural history. He is, moreover, a notable essayist: like Freud, he might retain some status as a literary figure, even if all his science were later dismissed. In fact, when Gould talks about the reconciliation of the sciences with the humanities, one cannot escape the impression that he means that more people should do what he does.

And how might science and the humanities learn to live together? Through the recognition of NOMA: “non-overlapping magisteria.” The physical sciences have their own methods and manner of growth. They deal with the objective material world. Their results, however, tell us nothing about art or beauty or ethics or theology (theology properly understood, no doubt). Gould quotes Hume to the effect that you can't get to “ought” from “is,” but insists that “ought” is vitally important. Ethical issues may be addressed through systems of organized knowledge, and the results of scientific research may settle the factual context of ethical questions. However, questions of ethics and value, though quite legitimate, just are not scientific questions.

One might say that what we have here is another example of the model of the “Two Swords.” “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's”: this grasping for a dichotomy that is not a dualism appears in couplets from the distinction between noumenon and phenomenon to the separation of Church and State. However, this model did not prevent the Investiture Controversy, and its performance has been spotty ever since. For one thing, it is never clear which side has a right to what. Gould sometimes seems to suggest that science is the rightful possessor of quantity, whereas theology and the humanities are the proud possessors of qualia, but he never quite makes the leap. One could see why: that would be an admission that science is the realm of gray theory, while the humanities deal with real life. Of course, there are other reasons to hesitate: the humanities don't really seem to be up to shouldering the responsibility.

Gould's model of knowledge, then, is not a monolith, but a “coat of many colors.” It fact, it bears more than a little resemblance to his model of the biosphere. It is governed by contingency. Its future evolution is fundamentally unpredictable. However, even though it is non-hierarchical, it is yet by no means an anarchy. Furthermore, it is progressive. As we noted above, Gould revived the notion of “consilience,” or “jumping together,” from the 19th-century historian of science, William Whewell, who coined the term to refer to the act of induction that creates a new synthesis. The most famous example is Newton's realization that the fall of an apple and the orbit of the moon are expressions of the same principle. Gould proposes Darwin's formulation of biological evolution as the most important example of consilience in history. In any case, while Whewell noted that consilience operates within each physical science and even between them, he cautioned against attempting to synthesize the sciences and the humanities by this method. If I understand Gould's précis correctly, Whewell's position was that the humanities just did not function like the sciences. Consilience was the way that Whewell had observed science to proceed. No similar pattern appeared in art or politics or theology. Though Gould suggests that the sciences and the humanities might unite in a consilient fashion to address important issues, he agrees with Whewell that they cannot be incorporated into a single structure, especially not one that assigns places of higher and lower.

It was precisely such a hierarchical structure that Gould's Harvard colleague, E. O. Wilson, proposed in his book, “Consilience.” Wilson's hierarchy actually appeals to Gould. Scientific hierarchies tend to take physics as the summit and the model, granting a progressively lower status to each discipline as its subject matter becomes more complex and murky. In such systems, Gould's own subject of evolutionary biology is pretty far down the scale (Wilson is an expert on ants, by the way). The social sciences are submerged in the nether muck.

Wilson flips this structure. Physics is only the beginning, the least of the sciences. The hard questions are the ones that deal with life, with community, and finally with mind. So, if Gould accepted Wilson's model, Gould's area of study would be raised up high, though not so high as, say, musicology. The price would be that the phenomena of every discipline must be assumed to be reducible to a mechanical physical substrate.

Gould tries to distinguish the practice of materialist reduction, which Wilson advocates, from Whewell's consilience. It's harder than you might think. In any case, what Gould really advocates is the different, but essentially complementary, attitudes toward knowledge that are represented by the animals of the title of Gould's book. The hedgehog addresses a problem by taking it apart into ever-smaller problems, and always finding more to discover. The fox takes bits and pieces of information from every direction of the compass, and puts them together to make something new. Gould's objection to Wilson's version of consilience is that it would require all foxes to become as monomaniacal as hedgehogs.

Wilson is aware that his materialism is a metaphysical proposition. Still, he feels confident that his metaphysics will be born out. The only reason that Logical Positivism failed in the first half of the 20th century, Gould presents Wilson as saying, was that we did not know how our brains work. Now, according to Wilson, we are starting to learn just that, and eventually we will have a neurological explanation of qualia. (Curiously, though Wilson addresses this question in his book, the term “qualia” does not appear in the index.) Then we will have not only a mechanical account of subjective experience; we will understand ethical and even esthetic issues through neuroscience, informed by evolutionary biology. In Wilson's sociobiology, the moral sense is simply an embedded version of evolutionary experience. Conformance to that experience is the only meaning that “right” can ever have.

There are some obvious things to say about this model, and Gould says them. He points out that Logical Positivism was not abandoned because of a lack of information, but because of internal incoherence. As a general matter, in fact, it is hard to see how questions of pure logic could ever be usefully reduced to neurological events. More important from Gould's point of view, it is difficult to see how a subject like evolutionary biology could be incorporated into a reductionist system, since so much of life seems to be a collection of frozen accidents. And if you take a strong view of emergent behavior, which is to say, that those features which a system displays that its parts do not, then reduction becomes impossible in principle: you can't reduce some phenomena down to a lower level because they just do not appear on a lower level.

Yet for all this, I thought that Gould refuted Wilson less thoroughly than might have been the case, simply because they are working from the same metaphysical premises. Putting aside the awkward question of the ontological status of mathematics, we see Gould objecting that Wilson's system would provide no method for critiquing such venerable practices as cannibalism or infanticide, if they turned out to be part of the evolutionary heritage of the moral sense. Actually, Gould does concede that tendencies to such behavior may well be part of our evolutionary heritage, but he assures us that we are not bound by those tendencies. We can critique and control them through other ways of knowing. To that, Wilson could respond that higher morality is also part of the inherited moral sense, and that it is precisely the goal of consilient science to show why these manifestations of the moral sense are arranged hierarchically.

So what can we say about Gould's scheme of reconciliation? Certainly his instinct toward tact is to be applauded, as is his honest curiosity about opposing points of view. Every intellectual era has its characteristic virtue, and the gift of postmodernism was the technique of “teaching the conflict.” If some great question cannot be resolved, or cannot be resolved now, still there is great merit in the ability to set out all the major arguments and make them talk to each other. The characteristic flaw of postmodernism was to make the postponement of finality a permanent principle. This is why Gould's attempt to mend the gap between the sciences and the humanities had to fail. A Theory of Everything is a sort of eschaton. That is where all the questions have to be answered.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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