The Domino Pattern Book Review

 Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

The Domino Pattern: Quadrail Book 4
by Timothy Zahn
385 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POORW

Since every entry in the Quadrail series follows the same basic pattern, we need a new plot device in each book to keep things fresh. Zahn has arranged these so that the series is building to a crescendo, each victory more desparate, every moment more fraught.

In The Domino Pattern, the escalation is someone has figured out how to smuggle weapons onto the Quadrail. Which is supposed to be impossible. The Spiders who run the interstellar train service employ a screening system that would make the Israelis jealous. It looks not only for weapons that can cut or shoot, but chemical and biological agents effective against the various species that are their clientele, and also anything that can be combined with another mechanism or substance to become something dangerous.

However, since Frank used to work for Western Alliance Intelligence, we know that Earth governments were quietly pursuing projects to find weapons that could slip past the Spiders' sensors. We also know that some of Frank's alien allies in the shadow war against the Modhri have already managed to figure out ways to create bludgeoning weapons that can be carried aboard. Frank himself has an in with the Spiders, and has access to a non-lethal weapon, the kwi, that normally would also be forbidden. We see things much more effective this time.

My favorite part of this book is the feeling that all the players are playing the game to the hilt, all the time, even when you can't see what they are doing. And the willingness to look for an edge even if the price of losing is peace and tranquility. The quiet arms race to develop weapons you can sneak on to a Quadrail train is exactly the kind of thing you would expect real governments to do, even when they benefit from the stability such a policy creates. The greater good is clearly served by the status quo, but no one can pass up the opportunity for a winner-takes-all technological breakthrough. Or can ignore the threat of their neighbors doing so first. This is an unstable equilibrium, just asking for something to come along and break the system. That thing has come. And that isn't even Frank's biggest problem on this train. 

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

Odd Girl Out Book Review

 Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Odd Girl Out: Quadrail Book 3
by Timothy Zahn
366 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POPPS

I picked this book up in the library earlier this year, read the first chapter, and realized that a lot of things were being discussed instead of revealed. Then I looked at the inside cover and realized I had selected book three of a series. Weirdly, lots of reviews of Odd Girl Out have the same story as mine. I don't know what you did Tim, but this one stands out on a shelf for some reason.

As is now the pattern, Frank starts out the book being associated with a murder. Unfortunately for him, this time the cops arrest him and throw him in jail to await arraignment. Fortunately, Frank has friends in high places who can bail him out.

What his friends can't do is explain why the woman who broke into his apartment, and then asked for help before he sent her packing, now lies dead next to a man with a suspiciously similar head wound. This is a classic noir setup, and Frank probably should have seen it coming, given his love of classic cinema. Even Homer nods.

While this escalation is par for the course, what is not is the way we get hints that friend may be foe, and foe friend. The Modhri, Frank's nemesis in the great game for control of the Quadrail and the galaxy, asks him for help. While understandably suspicious, Frank, the keen student of behavior, is intrigued enough to look into it. And the Modhri isn't the only one acting strange. Bayta, his partner, is still cool towards him after Frank kissed a cute girl in the last book, no matter that mind viruses were involved. His employers are keeping a closer than usual eye on him. And of course, he is out on bail for a double homicide.

Which is all just another day in the office for the galaxy's wiliest railroad detective. Fortunately, Frank is far too stubborn to let trivialities like the coldness and distrust of his only friends stand in his way. If things like that mattered to him, he wouldn't have blown the whistle on the United Nations' hopeless scheme to colonize the worthless planet of Yandro. And he won't let it stop him from finding the little girl the dead woman asked him to protect.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

LinkFest 2018-07-16

 On the left, what everyone thinks machine learning is. On the right, what is actually is.

On the left, what everyone thinks machine learning is.
On the right, what is actually is.

Ways to think about machine learning

I've been a skeptic about artificial intelligence in general, and a critic of the ways the actual technology has been hyped. This is a pretty reasonable take from someone who is willing to invest a lot of money in machine learning. Machine learning is another kind of automation. We've been seeing big things come out of automation for 100 years, it makes modern life possible, but it is easy to lose perspective.

 

Why the Future of Machine Learning is Tiny

An example of what machine learning can mean in practice.

 

Snapping Spaghetti

Applied mechanics of fracture with slo-mo video! Why does a piece of spaghetti break into three or more pieces when bent? Now you can find out!

 
 Manufacturing output per capita, colored by what percent of the economy manufacturing is

Manufacturing output per capita, colored by what percent of the economy manufacturing is

 Manufacturing output divided by employment in manufacturing, Canada and Taiwan were missing the employment estimate

Manufacturing output divided by employment in manufacturing, Canada and Taiwan were missing the employment estimate

Global manufacturing scorecard: How the US compares to 18 other nations

Manufacturing stats are a subject of interest to me. I don't find much of interest in the Brookings manufacturing scorecard, which is just their subjective rating of various things. Rather, I plotted the manufacturing output for each country per capita, and per person employed in manufacturing, a kind of crude productivity number.

I think the *really* interesting thing here is how much Switzerland sticks out. The parts of the economy in Switzerland I am most familiar with are chemical precursors for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, which are both high value sectors.

 

When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes

This is a great article on how hard it is to find clear evidence that common therapies work, and how hard it is to disseminate that knowledge once we have it.

 

Israeli space probe to land on Moon in 2019

I was going to say this isn't surprising from a country that also made their own nuclear weapons, and then I saw the money for it came from a South African businessman. Israel and South Africa *probably* cooperated on nuclear weapons too.

 
 

Thou Shalt Not Wirehead: Religion vs Gratification

This is pretty good. I think I mostly agree, except I am also very interested in whether religion is *true*. Religion can be pretty helpful in encouraging behaviors that help you in this world, for example, the prosperity Gospel is pretty popular because it actually works out that way. If you give up drinking, gambling, and whoring, usually your life materially improves. But sometimes religion can make you do things that are the opposite of helpful in this world. For example, the Xhosa.

 

Welcome to the Party, Pal

A reflection on how the political coalitions in the United States came to be.

 

Does Free Trade Bring Lower Prices?

Dani Rodrik reminds us that we have to describe the world as it is when we make economic projections, not a model of it.

 

Donald Trump tells us truths we don’t want to hear

Matthew Paris argues that Donald Trump acts like an Emperor, and you shouldn't be surprised by that.

 

The Fear of White Power

What is the value of political correctness to a minority in society? And is its cost?

 

Shortwave Trading | Part III | Fourth Chicago Site, East Coast, Patent, Regulation, and Farmer Kevin Mystery

High volume traders are rolling their own radio networks to get a leg up on the competition.

 

Traditional Euro-bloc: what it is, how it was built, why it can't be built anymore

The perfect counter-point to my post on modern urban development. We can't just build things because we like how they look, we have to care about money, and how neighborhoods evolve, and what will actually work for the people who live there.

The Long View 2006-09-18: The Benedictine Jihad II

Pope_Benedict_XVI_on_Aug_28_2010_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNA_2.jpg

A long post on the intricacies of the argument after Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg lecture. After all this time, the thing that strikes me really is that Benedict meant what he said, and said it deliberately, but that his point was a bit softer and more subtle than everyone assumed.


The Benedictine Jihad II

 

Spengler has never been happier, as we see in his latest column at Asia Times (Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life) regarding Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture:

The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.

Spengler's view that Islam is a form of monotheistic idolatry comes from the theologian Franz Rosenzweig. Spengler's view that "[n]ow the same ban has been preached from St Peter's chair" is something of an exaggeration: Benedict was not speaking ex cathedra. Actually, as I now see, it would have defeated his point if he had done so, since one of his goals was see whether the power centers in Islam today can debate a debatable point. Spengler also says the Regensburg Lecture "is a defining moment comparable to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946." I am not that Spengler is not wrong.

And what shall we say of this rare expression of hope from the mystery-man of Asia Times.

No more can one assume now that Europe will slide meekly into dhimmitude.

We will see,

* * *

The history-editing machinery that has sprung up in recent years precisely to keep ideas like Benedict's out of circulation is freezing up in response to this incident. One notes particularly this response to Benedict from the Islamist apologist Juan Cole (hat-tip to Danny Yee):

[Benedict] notes that the text he discusses, a polemic against Islam by a Byzantine emperor, cites Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." Benedict maintains that this is an early verse, when Muhammad was without power. His allegation is incorrect. Surah 2 is a Medinan surah revealed when Muhammad was already established as the leader of the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina or "the city" of the Prophet).... The idea of holy war or jihad (which is about defending the community or at most about establishing rule by Muslims, not about imposing the faith on individuals by force) is also not a Quranic doctrine. The doctrine was elaborated much later, on the Umayyad-Byzantine frontier, long after the Prophet's death. ... The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations.

If reputable Islamic sources had given Benedict the sort of answer that Cole did, then the pope's thesis would have been undermined. Instead, the characteristic reaction from Muslim sources has been like this one from an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda:

"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya," said a Web statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen," said the statement, posted on Sunday on an Internet site often used by al Qaeda and other militant groups.

That does not quite prove the pope's historical or theological arguments, but it does support the proposition that there is an institutionalized streak of violence in modern Islam that at the very least needs to be repudiated.

* * *

But what about the merits of Benedict's use of Islamic sources? Cole says that the irenic verses from Sura 2 are actually late rather than early. I suspect that is a debatable point. In any case, it is certainly true that the verses used to justify holy war come later in the Quran, like these from Sura 9:

9.4: Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up any one against you, so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term; surely Allah loves those who are careful (of their duty).

9.5: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

As I understand the matter, apparently contradictory verses in the Quran are reconciled by the principle that later ones abrogate earlier ones that cannot be harmonized in any other way. In this context, earlier and later mean earlier and later in the text, not in time of composition. [Correction: a kindly Arabist pointed out that chronology is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogration. However, I am also informed that Cole's interpretation is problematical, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.]

One should note that there may not be any contradiction between the verses that Cole mentions from Sura 2 and the ones cited above from Sura 9. A reasonable reconciliation would be (and often has been) that no compulsion should be used against infidels who have accepted Muslim rule and pay the tax on dhimmis. For that matter, Cole himself mentions that Muslim conquests often had the goal simply of expanding the base of dhimmi taxpayers, not of converting the dhimmis to Islam, which would have freed them from the tax.

This is not comforting.

* * *

Meanwhile, the oddest thing about the press coverage so far is the appearance of headlines that declare the pope apologized at Mass on Sunday for his remarks at Regensburg. In fact, he actually said this:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he said, adding that the quote from Emperor Manuel II did not reflect his own opinion.

That is very close to saying, "I regret that some people have been too stupid to understand what I said." National Public Radio this morning actually characterized its report on the controversy as a report on the pope's "apology," but the report itself, by Sylvia Poggioli, said that informed analysts understood that Benedict had not apologized. She sounded surprised, for good reason: so far, at least, Benedict is off script for this kind of incident. Almost as interesting, she points out the support that Benedict is getting from the leftist European press.

The Guardian's leading article seemed to me confused, as we see from this remark:

[T]here are plenty in the Muslim world with a desire to fan the flames, while the Pope is a known conservative with a maladroit touch...

Actually, as I think we should be gathering by now, "maladroit" is the last adjective we should be applying to Joseph Ratzinger. In any event, the leader goes on to say:

Doctrinal tensions, too, can be exaggerated. It is hardly surprising that Benedict believes Christianity is superior to other faiths - he would not be Pope if he did not. But that does not make him militantly anti-Muslim. After all, the offending papal speech aimed to highlight the wrongness of conversion by the sword - whether by Muslims, or whether, as in the Crusades, by the Christians. On the Muslim side, the need to distinguish the minority of Islamist extremists from the far more numerous mainstream believers cannot be underlined heavily enough. Muhammad urged his followers to co-exist peacefully with those of other faiths, and Muslims can and do point to concepts in their faith relating to consultation and the rule of law that are not only compatible with, but supportive of liberal democracy.

Again, that is pretty much the challenge to Islam that Benedict made.

And from Le Monde we have this:

In reality, the full and demanding text of Benedict XVI...has become a convenient pretext for demonstrations against the values of the West and its cult of reason. The significance is what the pope said or wanted to say. The matter is political; theology is forgotten, and with it, the joy of intellectual dispute, or critique and self-criticism

* * *

By adopting Reason as the child of both Christian tradition and of the Enlightenment properly understood, the pope is trying to establish a sane alternative to Europe's (and America's) agnostic secularism, a cultural mood doomed by demographics and its own incoherence. The real alternative might not be either Mecca or Brussels, but these guys.

* * *

This just in from the First Things blog: the poster is Robert T. Miller:

[A] decent respect for the intelligence of the man on the Throne of St. Peter demands that we conclude that he quoted the text intentionally, knowing what the consequences would be, and did so for a reason.

And I have a suggestion as to what that reason might be. The rumor has long been that Benedict intends to take a new diplomatic approach toward the Muslim states, an approach based on reciprocity, i.e., a demand that the religious freedom accorded by European states to their Muslim minorities be accorded by Muslim states to their Christian minorities. He intends, in other words, to hold Muslim states to the same standard that the Western states hold themselves. This would be a significant break with the diplomacy of John Paul II and former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which avoided criticism of Muslim states in the hopes of obtaining good treatment for Christians living within their borders. Under Benedict XVI, it seems, there will be no more appeasement. ... Still, Benedict went about this noble business in a very imprudent way. ... I would not have made the point quite as Benedict did, but in opening a frank conversation about the historical use of force by Muslims in spreading their faith, Benedict has done the world a service.

The significant points about this entry are that:

(1) It appeared so late;
(2) It is not by Father Neuhaus;
(3) It does not discuss the possibility that prudence may be inapposite.

This can get only more interesting.

* * *

UPDATE 2:06 PM Indeed it just did get more interesting. Fr. Neuhaus has made a long posting wholly in support of not just Benedict's position, but also his choice of words. Fr. Neuhaus says:

It can be argued that the Regensburg lecture will turn out to be the most important statement by a world leader in the post–September 11 period.

That assessment may or may not be true. It is now certain, however, that the Vatican's course is deliberate.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Third Lynx Book Review

 Mark Zug's cover for Timothy Zahn's  The Third Lynx

Mark Zug's cover for Timothy Zahn's The Third Lynx

The Third Lynx: Quadrail Book 2
by Timothy Zahn
352 pages
Published by Tor Books (October 30th, 2007)
ISBN 9780765317322

This cover is my favorite of the whole series. The first volume I bought was a reprint in ebook form; it has a stylized cover with a man carrying an MP5K, or something much like it. It could easily be the cover for a Tom Clancy-style espionage action book. It isn't bad, but I don't love it as much as I do Mark Zug's cover art for The Third Lynx.

Frank Compton looks wily and self-assured here. I feel like Zug nailed his personality. Bayta, his assistant and liaison with the Spiders who run the interstellar Quadrail service, looks pensive, but nonetheless determined. Rarely do I see a book's characters captured so well in a single image. The Quadrail station itself even gets a nod, at once otherworldly and familiar.

Mark Zug has a website you should check out, he does a lot of art in this style.

Back to Zahn's work, The Third Lynx follows closely on the heels of Night Train to Rigel. Even down to how Frank immediately finds himself in the company of recently murdered man who wanted to send him on a quest. The way in which Zahn departs from the pattern is that he subtly ratchets up the stakes, and the tension. 

The first time Frank found a dead man, he rifled through his pockets, found a ticket with his own face on it, and scooted off without getting identified. This time, a former colleague with an axe to grind spots Frank and raises the kind of fuss that isn't helpful to a railroad detective attempting to be low-key. 

Frank of course uses his Poirot-like investigative skills to unravel the mystery of the dead man and his connection to the eponymous statue, which is not really a Maltese Falcon reference since it turns out to not be a MacGuffin. What I like most about Frank Compton is that his real superpower in the Quadrail dominated galaxy is that he is a barracks lawyer, always using the many bureaucratic regulations of a post-modern galaxy as his true weapons. Every one of the cultures Zahn created to populate his fictional universe has both its own typical personality, and a need to implement mechanisms of social and legal regulation. Frank is a master of arbitrage between the legal systems of different cultures, and he'll use any leverage he can get.

Anonymity was a useful tool for Frank, but that is the first thing he loses in The Third Lynx. This makes the games he plays more interesting, because he needs to attempt misdirection in plain sight. And his opponent is doing the same thing, at the same time, which you sometimes can only see in retrospect. It isn't just Frank that figures it all out at the end.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

The Long View 2006-09-15: The Benedictine Jihad

 Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Emeritus Benedict later gave a speech in Jordan that is sometimes described as an anti-Regensburg speech, but I honestly think he really believed what he said both times.


The Benedictine Jihad

 

Guy Fawkes Day came early in the Muslim world, to judge by these scenes of effigies of Benedict XVI being burned. The cause of the commotion is the address that Benedict gave at the University of Regensburg earlier this week, Glaube, Vernunft und Universität: Erinnerungen und Reflexionen.(Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections). An English version is available here. This assessment may be premature, but it looks as if this could turn into a worldwide campaign comparable to the Cartoon Jihad. Unlike that earlier episode, the reaction to Benedict's remarks does not seem to have been planned in advance. However, the earlier incident created a network for disseminating disaffection of this sort. The Benedictine Jihad will provide an instructive test case, not least because, this time, the criticism of Islam was real.

I discussed the pope's remarks earlier here. In this entry, I would just like to summarize more precisely what he said. As the title of the lecture suggests, Benedict's subject was the intellectual climate of the universities. He was making the same kind of argument that John Cardinal Newman (and Allan Bloom, for that matter) made for "liberal education." Benedict's understanding of the matter is that the concept of "reason" has to be expanded beyond the physical sciences to include the liberal arts and theology: each discipline with its own methods, but each a necessary part of the life of the mind. The interesting aspect of the lecture was the historical dimension.

Benedict argues that Greek philosophy and Hebrew thought as expressed in the Old Testament converged on the same high evaluation of reason. The culmination of this convergence is the first sentence of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word." The term for "Word" here is "logos," the rational aspect of the world in Greek philosophy and term that John applies to Jesus. Thus, Christianity is, in its essence, both Greek and Hebrew; the place where these traditions meet is reason. It is this "reason" that Christinaity proclaims as the human face of God. It is also, the pope reminds us, the metaphysical principle that created Europe.

As Benedict points out, this position has become controversial. The late Scholastics moved away from the the sort of confidence in reason that we find in the theology of Thomas Aquinas. Rather, the late Scholastics argued that God was wholly transcendent and cannot be apprehended even in part by reason, even by analogy. The extreme view of the sovereignty of God that we find especially in some forms of Calvinism continued that trajectory. Pascal put this view pithily: "the God of the philosophers is an idol." In any case, what began as a preference for philosophical austerity turned into skepticism of reason as such. The result today is that reason in the academy shrank to nothing more than logical method, tolerated in the physical sciences but carefully isolated in a philosophical vacuum. As more than one commentator has pointed out during the past two centuries, this makes impossible "the university" as it was historically understood.

What put His Holiness in hot water was his observation that this rejection of reason, expressed as an understanding of God as wholly arbitrary, was an early feature of orthodox Islam. (This is true, though as Aquinas was aware, there have been Muslim theologians as keen to appropriate the Greek philosophical tradition as were the High Scholastics.) The philosophical criticism in itself is no harsher than what Benedict said of some Protestants, or even implied about some of his own academic colleagues. However, Benedict chose to make the point through statements made in 1391 by the Byzantine Emperor Maunel II Palaeologus, to the effect that Islam was inherently destructive and coercive because it conceived of God as irrational.

The Emperor Manuel was not quite the last Byzantine Emperor, but by his day the Turks had whittled the empire down to little more than Greater Constantinople. That city would fall in its turn in 1453. Manuel had little inclination to wax irenic on matters Islamic. Benedict XVI's case is by no means as desperate as the emperor's, but he seems to share the view that this is not a time when the first priority is to find common ground.

We have reached an age in which the chief defenders of reason in the classical sense are found in the Vatican. That may tell us something about the future.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Night Train to Rigel Book Review

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail Book 1
by Timothy Zahn
Kindle Edition, 394 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POQDO

Night Train to Rigel is a murder mystery set on an interstellar train, mixed with something very much like Cold War wilderness of mirrors spy intrigue. I have to assume the model Zahn used for the former is Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. This turns out better than I might have expected. Zahn gives us some color about the Quadrailed trains that traverse the galaxy, but this is the kind of science fiction that is about the ultimate effects of technology on society, rather than science fiction about technology itself. 

 Cars of the Orient Express  By WLDiffusion - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35086531

Cars of the Orient Express

By WLDiffusion - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35086531

Frank Compton, his protagonist, is certainly an investigative genius along the lines of Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, observant and clever, able to see his opponents both metaphorical and literal from the inside out. Also eccentric and a bit of a loner. I might also add that he is something of a Bayesian, or a superforecaster, continually updating his predictions as new information comes in.

The other influence apparent in Night Train to Rigel is Film Noir, and Hitchcock in particular. Compton loves making allusions to classic movies, regardless of whether his alien interlocutors are likely to have any idea what he is talking about. Which is OK, since these jokes are clearly intended for his amusement [and ours].

And since those are the models Zahn is using, it unsurprisingly turns out that Frank Compton has gotten himself into something far deeper than he really wanted to when he agrees to investigate the mysterious threat to the Quadrail system that links the galaxy together. Of course, no one is really who they seem, and everyone has an agenda and ulterior motives, which largely remain hidden from view until the denouement. This is all part of the fun. And it was really fun.

Of course Frank Compton saves the day. However, there is always more going on underneath the surface than first appears. There are four more volumes in the Quadrail series, and since this one hooked me, I then had to run out and find the rest before I went on vacation, because I really wanted to see what happened. This is a fun series, and well worth your time.

My other book reviews

 

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

Linkfest 2018-07-09

 The Good, the Pulp, and the Superversive

The Good, the Pulp, and the Superversive

The Good, the Pulp, and the Superversive – Introduction

Superversive is a neologism intended to be the contrary of subversive. H. P. at Every Day Should Be Tuesday tries to figure out what the term is really getting at. While there is a small group of authors that like to describe themselves using the term, broadly construed, lots of authors could plausibly fall into this mode of writing. H. P. describes it as books set in a moral universe, that can engender hope and wonder in the reader.  I think Will Wight, Timothy Zahn, and the duo of Jason Anspach and Nick Cole write books like this, but I have no idea whether any of them would want to be associated with the term, since its most vocal proponents like to make trouble.

A CEO who based his $700 million company in Pittsburgh says he's getting employees who want to work in tech but avoid the Bay Area

Luis von Ahn founded the language learning internet company Duolingo in Pittsburgh because it is cheaper to own a home. In theory, the internet is supposed to enable you to work from anywhere in the world, but the tech world has become insanely focused on Silicon Valley, to the detriment of living standards in the area. I would have thought this kind of move was a no-brainer, but all these rich guys keep acting otherwise.

Marine experiment finds women get injured more frequently, shoot less accurately than men

This article is almost three years old now, but I doubt the general landscape has changed much since.

Benefits of the American Revolution: An Exploration of Positive Externalities

An exercise in alternative history, that looks at what might have been without the American Revolution in order to assess whether it was worth it. Spurred by a question from Bryan Caplan, who is a hella smart guy, even if I wonder about him sometimes. This could be described as Whig history, but that doesn't mean it is all wrong.

British antiques expert ‘ran tomb-raiding gang’

The title is alarmist, apparently most of the thefts were as simple as stashing ancient coins in coin purse full of modern money.

The Opium War and the Humiliation of China

The Opium War still makes red-blooded Chinese mad, and I'm not sure I can blame them.

The coming 'labor shortage' in America is great news for workers

A shortage is a technical term in economics that does a lot of work. Strictly speaking, it just means a market condition were wages are going up. Most of the articles you see imply that business is idled and crops are rotting in the fields, which isn't yet the case.

MAKING A NEODYMIUM MAGNET - ELEVEN (NOT SO) EASY STEPS

Everything you ever wanted to know about making magnets.

The Long View 2006-09-13: Animal Rights; Surveys; Der Waldzellspieler

As a Thomist, I am also an essentialist. Essences or forms, εἶδος, distinguish different kinds of things from one another. This idea is so rooted in Western thought that even people who oppose it often act as if they presuppose it to be true. When someone genuinely acts otherwise, it can be kind of weird.

Your dog does not want recognition of its doggieness; it wants tasty treats and to go for a walk. In fact, projecting human-rights categories onto animals is a greater assault on their natures than the outrages in which the leering Singer and Mason so shockingly acquiesced.
 Gallup poll data on American religious affiliation

Gallup poll data on American religious affiliation

There is an interesting bit on the rise of the Nones. Survey data is always tricky. The error bars are big, and how you ask the questions matter. In this case, many Nones still attend worship services at a particular place, on a semi-regular basis. The Gallup poll data for the image above didn't drill down as far as the address or name of the place people worship, which probably means this data overstates the case a bit.

"We find that just asking about religious preference, 33 percent of respondents said, 'I don't know about my religion,' " Dougherty said. "But five questions later, they gave us the name of their congregation."

I don't doubt that religious disaffiliation is occurring, but it might be happening more slowly, and represent a smaller shift in behavior, than it might seem.


Animal Rights; Surveys; 
Der Waldzellspieler

 

What is the philosophical engine for animal rights? The question occurred to me after reading this contribution from Wesley J. Smith at First Things:

I don’t agree at all with Gary Francione, the Rutgers University law professor who seeks to abolish all human use of animals, no matter how humane and beneficial to us—

Smith notes some sensible things Francione has said, but then continues:

[Francione] makes no distinction at all between that which is done to a human and what is done to an animal. In the Abolitionist essay, for example, Francione castigates Singer for having participated in the artificial insemination of turkeys, which the writer literally equates with the rape of women:...[Francione says] "I suggest that there is no non-speciesist way to justify what Singer and Mason claims [sic] to have done without also justifying the rape of a woman, or the molestation of a child, in order to see what those acts of violence ‘really involved."

The loathsome Kojève argued that there was an irreversible erasure of distinctions between classes of people over time because of Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic. Slaves want their humanity to be recognized; masters want the recognition of their peers. So, over time, the social and geographical range of "peers" tends to grow. This is a fishy notion on historical and anthropological grounds, but it's part of the reason why the principle of civil equality, which makes perfect sense in a racial context, has been deployed to attack the category of childhood and the gender component of the institution of marriage. What seems to have happened with animal rights is that the dialectic-machine has been left running even after it has used up all plausible material. Your dog does not want recognition of its doggieness; it wants tasty treats and to go for a walk. In fact, projecting human-rights categories onto animals is a greater assault on their natures than the outrages in which the leering Singer and Mason so shockingly acquiesced.

* * *

Yes, there is a Muslim take on Spengler (pbuh). Well, a Turkish take.

* * *

Baylor study finds religion thriving in the U.S., says a recent headline. Since Baylor University is in the religion business, this is another situation where we should not be surprised that a survey commissioned by the National Ice Cream Council finds that ice cream is America's favorite dessert. That, of course, does not mean that ice cream is not America's favorite dessert. In any case, we read:

In what researchers described as one of the most comprehensive studies of the U.S. religious landscape, the survey found that 89 percent of Americans attend a local congregation or affiliate with a denomination. The finding rebuts other national surveys showing that 14 percent or more of Americans were "religious nones"

Baylor researchers went beyond asking people to identify their faith or denomination and asked for names and addresses of any worship centers they attend, he said.

"We find that just asking about religious preference, 33 percent of respondents said, 'I don't know about my religion,' " Dougherty said. "But five questions later, they gave us the name of their congregation."

The confusion stems from the rise of nondenominational churches, he said.

This assessment does sound reasonable. There have been reports that secularism is the fastest growing religious orientation in America, but they do not chime with anecdotal evidence.

* * *

Some surveys are beyond question, like this one from the The Malthusian Institute:

"Our survey of households in seven U. S. regions demonstrated that few citizens have bothered to equip themselves with fireproof suits and extinguishers to deal with volcanic upheaval, solar flares, or the Lord's purifying flame," Malthusian Institute director James Olheiser said. "Almost no one is prepared for a sudden shift in the Earth's polarity or the eating of the Sun and moon by evil wolves Skol and Hati during Ragnarok."

Solar flares would not start fires, but they might bring down the electrical-power grid. Dealing with the eschatological wolves is a toughie, though.

* * *

Meanwhile, back in Bavaria, Benedict XVI continues to say very smart things, about which the press persistently miss the point. Consider this:

REGENSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Pope Benedict invited Muslims on Tuesday to join a dialogue of cultures based on the premise that the concept of an Islamic "holy war" is unreasonable and against God's nature....Benedict several times quoted Emperor Manuel's argument that spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable and that acting without reason -- "logos" in the original Greek -- was against God's nature.

At the end of his lecture, the Pope again quoted Manuel and said: "It is to this great 'logos', to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures."...

Benedict, a leading theologian who has always drawn clear lines between Roman Catholicism and other faiths, also appeared to criticize Protestant churches and contemporary Third World theologians for not stressing the link between faith and reason clearly enough. ...Benedict stressed that his criticism of modern empirical reasoning "has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age."

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application"...

The bit about the Muslims is no doubt interesting from the perspective of the troubles of the current generation, but Benedict's attitude toward reason is important for the long term. What we should be thinking about here is not the dreary puppet-show conflict between science and religion, but the final assimilation of the Enlightenment to the Western tradition. The following excerpt from Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game (quoted in The Second Religiousness in the 21st century) describes the era that Hesse imagined would follow modernity:

The world had changed. The life of the mind in the Age of the Feuilleton might be compared to a degenerate plant which was squandering its strength in excessive vegetative growth, and the subsequent corrections to the pruning back of the plant to its roots...[It had] become common knowledge, or at least a universal sense, that the continuance of civilization depends on this strict schooling. People know, or dimly feel, that if thinking is not kept pure and keen, and if respect for the world of the mind is no longer operative, ships and automobiles will soon cease to run right, the engineer's slide rule and the computations of banks and stock exchanges will forfeit validity and authority, and chaos will ensue. It took long enough in all conscience for realization to come that the externals of civilization -- technology, industry, commerce, and so on -- also require a common basis of intellectual honesty and morality.

(Here is a full review of The Glass Bead Game).

For two centuries now, there have been Catholics, and sometimes even popes, who thought that the Enlightenment was what was wrong with the world. The better view, I have long held, is that we should extend to the Enlightenment, and to modernity as a whole, the sort of sympathetic understanding that we would extend to any historical era. As Hocking put it, historical progress consists in large part of the accumulation of "unlosables," of advances that survive the excesses of the ages in which they are made. Benedict XVI is suggesting that the unlosables of Western modernity, the music and the physics and the institutions of political liberty, can be preserved through the understanding of reason as the perception of the logos: reason is not naked logic, but faith in the fundamental comprehensibility of the world.

* * *

Incidentally, Benedict XVI likes at least one Hesse novel, according to this bit of text that has spread to a dozen Hesse sites:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, once said that Steppenwolf is among his favorite books because it "exposes the problem of modernity's isolated and self-isolating man". The protagonist, Harry Haller, goes through his mid-life crisis and must chose between life of action and contemplation.

As I have said before, it is easy to imagine Joseph Ratzinger as a Player at Waldzell.

There is a Waldzell Institute, by the way, whose name is taken from the Game Center in the Hesse novel, but I don't know whether Cardinal Ratzinger ever attended one of their conferences.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-11: Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

 Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

I'm back after a nice vacation. Let's jump back into the Long View re-posting project!

This is a reprise of Pope Emeritus Benedict's tour of Bavaria in 2006. 

The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."
"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."
"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

 

Regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001, I have no remarkable recollections, though I live maybe a mile and a half from the WTC site, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. In retrospect, I recall just three useful points:

(1) The National Guard and the state either had plans on-file or improvised very effectively: emergency medical facilities appeared out of nowhere. What seemed like every fire-truck pumper in creation was heading through the Holland Tunnel within two hours.

(2) The local police were clueless. They managed to panic the quiet crowd that had gathered on the river at Exchange Place. They are still no good at this kind of thing, to judge from the way I saw them handle a bomb scare in the same neighborhood a few months ago. If you want t move a crowd out of harm's way, you must promise information even if you don't have it; simply yelling at the crowd to move produces obduracy and actually slows the evacuation down.

(3) The Internet, which was designed to maintain communications even in the event of an atomic attack, stopped working completely for most of the day. It was unreliable for several days thereafter. Similarly, cellphones seem to be the one form of communication you can be sure will not work in a civil emergency.

My area is crowded with commemorations today; I'm going to one myself this evening. These memorial events are all well and good; certainly they are better than the permanent architectural memorials that have blighted the landscape since 2001. It's uncanny: all the ones I have seen are dreadful. They are maudlin and awkward; many of them incorporate rusting bits of metal from the World Trade Towers, which seemed like a good idea at the time but which now makes them look like trash. (The one successful use of WTC material is in the memorial at St. Francis of Assissi Church in Manhattan, in a little memorial to Fr. Judd, the Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center: the Franciscans had the sense to burnish the metal and laminate it.) The memorial to be built at the World Trade Center itself looks as if it will be the worst of all.

The one saving grace about these mistakes is that, for the most part, they are strangely fragile and will be easy to throw away when they quickly deteriorate. But why are they so unsatisfactory?

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the shabby heart of Islam:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca [the Grand Mosque]....one of the few places where Muslim male and female worshippers can pray ... Some say women are already being kept away....Osama al-Barr, head of the hajj institute...He said the restrictions apply only to the five daily Muslim prayers and that women would be free to roam the premises at will after the prayers and to circle it during the main annual hajj pilgrimage.

One would think that the chief city of a world religion would be a splendid showcase of architectural treasures and a seat of learning. There are in fact such places in the Islamic world: Qom and Najaf, and even bloated Qairo, for instance. By most accounts, however, people who make the Hajj find that Mecca is outwardly as inspiring as Kennedy Airport, and the structures associated with the holy sites are as banal as a post-Vatican II Catholic Church. The interesting point about the story I quote above is that the authorities who have so poorly served the physical needs of the holy places seem also to be making arbitrary changes to the rituals at the physical heart of the religion. The Saudi regime has neither the authority nor the theologically credibility to do this kind of thing. For that matter, their propaganda of Wahhabism seems, at last, to be causing a backlash.

As I have remarked before, it is a mistake to look a Reformation in Islam: Islam is a Reformation. The instability in the religion comes from Islamism, which is archaistic but not really traditional, and for that reason not stable. It's the negative image of the liberal Christianity of the first half of the 20th century. Hard as it may be to imagine now, it could share the fate of liberal Christianity.

* * *

Evangelical Christianity at least has a future, according to the ever-dyspeptic Spengler at Asia Times, but yet he finds it wanting:

Evangelical Christianity is the source of America's strength and the long-term key to its global influence, as denominations of US origin gain converts faster than any other faith. Faith has kept the angel of demographic death away from America's shores while the first-born Christian cultures in Europe wither and die. Yet evangelical leaders display episodes of appalling silliness, betraying a bucolic backwardness that bans the enormous evangelical movement from America's governing classes....That is the misery of the West. The evangelicals have no fear of offending Muslims and say what they think; the crafty old men of the Vatican understand the issues far better, but are afraid to speak them above a whisper.

However, the craftiest of the crafty old men in the Vatican is Benedict XVI; who, on his current tour his native Bavaria, observed that the problem with the West is not Islam, but the West's own loss of the transcendent. Though he would never put it so tactlessly, he seems to agree with Mark Steyn that the jihad against the West is in the nature of an opportunistic infection. More interesting, Benedict also seems to be taking up Hocking's project of securing the "unlosables" of modernity by anchoring them in a transcendental framework:

"The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."

On a more immediate level, Benedict continues to wax evangelical:

"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."

"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Readers may be surprised at how shocking this sounds to many Christian theologians today, even in the Catholic Church.

* * *

Writing a thriller, are you? You will need at least one secret society. The World Federation of Nocturnal Adoration Societies isn't really a secret, but they do have the advantage over the Illuminati of actually existing:

History: The federation was established at a meeting of representatives of National Nocturnal Adoration Societies, organized in Rome by the Venerable Archconfraternity of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, of which they are all members, enjoying the privileges and benefits granted to the archconfraternity by Pius X in 1906...The federation is governed by the general assembly which convenes every four years, coinciding with the international Eucharistic congresses, with the participation of the delegates of the member associations; the executive board, comprising the president, the vice president, three directors including a canon lawyer, a secretary-treasurer, a deputy secretary and the ecclesiastical assistant.

There is nothing sinister about all-night prayer vigils. So, if you must use the federation as a plot device, let them number among the good guys.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Another Thrawn: Alliances Excerpt

 Thrawn: Alliances alternate cover  I hope they blend the eyes on that actor a little better for the final version

Thrawn: Alliances alternate cover

I hope they blend the eyes on that actor a little better for the final version

Another excerpt from Timothy Zahn's new novel Thrawn: Alliances has been released.

Taking a final look at the nav display, Anakin pointed the Actis toward the horizon and poured power to the drive—
Abruptly, R2-D2 trilled a warning. “What is it?” Anakin said, frowning as he checked his rear display.
And felt the back of his neck tingle. There was a ship back there, the size of a medium freighter but of unknown configuration.
Settling into orbit right beside his hyperdrive ring.
“Unknown ship, this is General Anakin Skywalker of the Galactic Republic,” he called. “Identify yourself and state your purpose.”
Nothing. Maybe they didn’t communicate on any of the Repub­lic’s standard frequencies.
Or, more likely this far out, didn’t speak Galactic Basic.

I enjoyed Zahn's reboot of the Grand Admiral last year, so I have fond hopes for this one as well.

Linkfest 2018-06-25

Confessions of a former immigration hawk

Matthew Walter calls himself a former immigration hawk, but what he says here is fairly close to what John Reilly used to say about this.

Classless Utopia versus Class Compromise

This was quite good. Class is something that Americans are not good at thinking about, but it matters a lot nonetheless.

British special forces soldier killed six Taliban in pitch-black, Viet Cong-style tunnel fight

Lest you think action movies are completely counterfactual.

Could “mid-tech” jobs elevate more people and non-coastal places?

Mid-tech here seems to mean the act of actually implementing technology. Server farms, help desks, running cables.

US could sanction Chinese officials over Xinjiang abuses

China has a Muslim terrorist problem too, and their method of handling it is not remotely squeamish. When challenged, they could plausibly claim we used to do the same thing in the past.

 Alphonse Mucha F. CHAMPENOIS, 1898

Alphonse Mucha F. CHAMPENOIS, 1898

Habsburg culture is back in vogue

From my point of view, the Habsburgs have never gone out of style.

New Study Concludes That Rewarding Good Teachers and Firing Bad Ones Accomplishes Nothing

This was a huge educational fad. Good on Bill Gates and his foundation for admitting it didn't work, even though he poured lots of money into it.

Seattle renters score big as landlords dangle freebies to fill empty apartments

It is possible to slow down the growth in rent. I wish we were better about doing this sort of thing before rents get really high though, it is hard to get enough political capital to build enough to make rents go down, absent urban decay.

Juniper Hollow: Fox and Raccoon Book Review

 Tom Nook wants his money, I mean, Fox and Raccoon are really cute!

Tom Nook wants his money, I mean, Fox and Raccoon are really cute!

Fox and Raccoon: Juniper Hollow
by Lesley-Anne Green
Published by Tundra Books (June 19, 2018)
ISBN 978-1101917961

I received this book for free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

This is a book about giving and friendship, done in a rather fetching felt diorama style. Fox and Raccoon are best friends, and on a day when Fox is too busy to spend time with Raccoon, he chooses to help her be a little less busy.

This book's style reminds me a bit of the Animal Crossing franchise from Nintendo, except the animals are cute instead of annoying. This is because in Animal Crossing they are always asking you to do things they could clearly do themselves, unlike Raccoon, who offers up to help when he sees something needs to be done.

Everyone in Juniper Hollow is similarly generous. The sense of community in Juniper Hollow is so real that I wish I lived there. However, this particular book didn't grab my kids quite as strongly as some other children's books I've reviewed recently, so despite it's cuteness, I'll have to dock one star for being more interesting to adults than children.

My other book reviews

Fox and Raccoon (Juniper Hollow)
By Lesley-Anne Green

Linkfest 2018-06-18

Perhaps Monday is the new Friday around here.


Conan the Barbarian: A Review, an Analysis, and a Little Bit of a Misunderstood and Improperly Played - While Talking About the Pulps

I found this reading the Conan roundup from Monday. I also rate the 1982 Milius Conan higher than Rick Stump. I love that movie, and I am astounded by how well it holds up. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic reflection on Robert E. Howard and his influence on the storytelling of the twentieth century.

THERANOS DIDN'T NUKE THE DIAGNOSTICS BUSINESS

There are reputable companies working in the same space as Theranos, but since there is either no hype or no scandal, we don't hear much about them.

There’s a Place for Us: Revoice and Gay Christian Futures

There’s a Place for Us Part II: More on Revoice & Gay Christian Homemaking

I really enjoyed Eve Tushnet's two-parter on being a gay Catholic, and I think she's completely right that an obsession on avoiding even the possibility of sexual feelings has cramped the friendships of too many people. As Eve rightly notes, this is not limited to those who identify as gay or lesbian, but affects all of us to some degree. This reminds of things the Art of Manliness has written about friendship, from a completely different direction. Anytime I find two people with completely different perspectives and agendas talking about the same thing, I take notice. 

The Murder That Changed Germany

I read John Schindler extensively for a while, then I started to be concerned that he had lost his mind. I'm glad to see he can still write a cogent column. The murders of so many young women in Germany by migrants of various sorts was the kind of thing predicted after Angela Merkel so unwisely threw open the borders. This prediction was then dismissed as racist trash, and inconveniently, happened anyway.

Violent crime rises in Germany and is attributed to refugees

This Reuters report states the facts succinctly.

Why Working on the Railroad Comes With a $25,000 Signing Bonus

Railroad work is irregular, hard, and dangerous. Consequently, it also pays well. Of course, this kind of thing can be highly cyclical, and under railroad union rules, the guys who get laid off will be the ones with the least seniority. Nonetheless, this is really good work.

The Lesser Cruelty on Immigration

Ross Douthat pens the kind of column on the fuckup at the southern US border that I wish I had written. I am resolutely against mindless cruelty, but there has to be some level of cruelty in a rich nation's border enforcement, or that nation will end.

McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised

The more classified stuff comes out that we did during the Cold War, the more sympathetic I am to the idea that innovation in the US has slowed down.

018-021_CAPA_Arqueologia_267.jpg

Time has been kind to Francisco de Orellana.

The Long View 2006-09-07: The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

    Mohammad Khatami  By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

 

Mohammad Khatami

By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

In retrospect, I think I agree with Mohammad Khatami that American policy in Iraq in the first half of the 2000s led to increased terrorism and instability. John Reilly was often harsh on Iran and Iranian politicians in his blog, and this post is no exception. To be fair to John, Iran was and is a patron of Hezbollah, a player in the bloody factional politics of the Middle East that is considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU. And of course there was the 1979 Tehran Embassy thing, and Iran really was working hard on a nuclear program.

On the other hand, important men in the Iranian version of Shia Islam tend to have philosophical educations heavy on Plato and Aristotle, much like Catholic priests. The first female Fields medalist, Maryam Mirzakhani, was from Iran. Before the embassy takeover and Iran sponsoring attacks on Israel via proxy after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, Iran was the traditional American ally in the region. Hell, pursuing a nuclear program in the hopes of either getting real military independence, like Israel, Pakistan, and India, or major concessions, like North Korea, seems like a winning geopolitical strategy to me.

Khatami, in particular, probably didn't deserve John's ire, but I also don't think we should pretend that the Twelver branch of Shia Islam that is predominant in Iran would be popular with the US public if they knew what it was or what it meant, or that Iran wants things that the US foreign policy establishment wants.

I do suspect that we could reach some kind of reasonable compromise with Iran, but to be honest I don't think much of the opinions of most US middle east foreign policy experts either. I want things my own countrymen [at least the ones who talk about it all the time] don't appear to want, like staying out of land wars in West Asia.


The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

 

Personnel Selections for the McCain Administration are perhaps premature. Nonetheless, correspondent DD sends this advisory from ABC News that Niall Ferguson has entered the circle of the senator's advisers. This is newsworthy, we are told, because Ferguson Compares America to British Empire:

Sept. 4, 2006 — - A recent New York Times article about John McCain's growing "kitchen cabinet," contained a piece of information that might have been meaningless to many American readers, but resonated strongly with most British ones.

According to a McCain aide, the article said, one of the senator's unofficial advisors as he ponders a possible run for the White House is the British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. ... London-based columnist Johann Hari... wrote that Ferguson had been positioning himself to become "court historian to the imperial American hard right."

The New York Times article, by the way is from August 21: McCain Mines Elite of G.O.P. For 2008 Team.

Ferguson is most notable, at least to my mind, for his methodological use of alternative history, which he explains in Virtual History. His views on the relevance of the British imperial precedent are explained in his book, Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. As I remarked in that review, his chief analytical blindspot is that he does not distinguish between a national empire and a universal state.

Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is touring the United States and speaking at venues from the National Cathedral to the Kennedy School of Government. He is regaling the natives to this effect:

But the former president, a moderate who was succeeded last year by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already made news since his Aug. 30 arrival, attacking the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism while hinting there was room for agreement with Tehran on recognizing Israel and stabilizing Iraq. "As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Mr. Khatami, an Islamic cleric, said in a speech to a North American Muslim convention in Chicago over the weekend.

I have thought about this kind of apologetics for years, and I finally have a suitable reply. It's based on the game-theory notion that you can force your opponent to take an action you want by convincing him that you cannot control your own actions. Thus, in a game of highway chicken, for instance, you can make your opponent swerve by ostentatiously tossing your own steering wheel out your driver's side window. Another way to do it is convince your opponent that you cannot be swayed by rational argument. Thus, a reply to President Khatami might go:

"Yes, we are very unreasonable. What will you do to mollify us?"

The Persian's principal stop, by the way, will be at a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN-sponsored body of which he is a founding member. In fact, he seems to be speaking before every creepy-crawly Islamist front-organization in America. Should the pro-Islamist network expand, will its progressive nodes have second thoughts when they realize just how implacable the Islamists are on culture-war issues? That has not happened in Europe.

This just in: it should make the next few weeks even more interesting:

Diplomats at the United Nations were sent into disarray yesterday when President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he intended to attend the General Assembly of the world body on September 19 and to debate his country's nuclear program with President Bush, who is due to address the Assembly that day.

* * *

Those readers hoping for civilizational collapse (and I know some of you are) should take a look at these images of an abandoned city in Russia. This sort of thing happens in the American Midwest, too, but rarely with so much waste of concrete. Note that there are none of the elements that routinely turn up in fictional treatments of this kind of thing. There is no "back to the land" efflorescence of neo-peasantry; neither is there any tendency to local control. The people just packed up and moved to other cities.

* * *

Yes, the Democrats are making overtures to the religious vote, as we see from the Faithful Democrats site. It's not a bad effort, though one must wonder who the audience is. In any case, the problem with asking "what would Jesus do" in a political context is that Jesus routinely responded to peace-and-justice questions with wisecracks.

* * *

You already knew I would link to this item:

NORWICH (Reuters) - Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Sheldrake seems to produce nice, testable claims, but does anybody ever test them?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Ghostwater Book Review

Ghostwater: Cradle Book 5
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (May 31, 2018)
ASIN B07DFWZP9C

I bought this book the day it came out, but I ended up circling back around and re-reading the other four books in the series, then reading this one again, before I felt ready to review it. The first time I got to the end of Ghostwater, I felt like a lot of things that had been set up back in Unsouled had been at least partially fulfilled, so I decided to go back and check.

Upon completing the cycle again, I have now verified that initial vague impression to be correct. I won't spoil the fun, but I appreciate a few lines in the early books better now. As a coming-of-age type story, it was quite satisfying to look back and see how far Lindon had truly come.

Orthos nodded as though he'd expected nothing different. “Once, you were weak. That boy is long dead, but his Remnant still haunts you.” He turned to drink from the Life Well. “Your weakness, Lindon, is thinking you are weaker than you are.”

I will also steal a line I saw in one of the first day Amazon reviews: this book is like an RPG dungeon crawl. I have to think this was entirely intentional. Any kid who grew up playing Final Fantasy or Dungeon Warrior will immediately grok what is going on here. With the help of luck, a powerful patron or two, and a hell of a lot of grinding, Lindon has leveled up far beyond his wildest dreams. But there is still a long way to go. 

In Ghostwater, we finally get to see some details of the vision Suriel showed Lindon in Unsouled when she saved his life and set him on his quest. In a technique that I greatly admire, Wight can answer questions raised in earlier volumes, and simultaneously manage to create even deeper questions by means of the same revelation. We still don't know what Eithan truly wants, or what he is truly capable of, but my estimation of his power and knowledge only grows with each volume. Lindon, unschooled and green as he is, repeatedly defeats sacred artists several levels higher than him. I shudder to think what Eithan could do if he truly pulled out all the stops. 

I am also glad to see that Eithan knows how to properly launch a secret technique:

lipstick.gif

The Long View 2006-09-05: Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

I had recently been thinking thoughts much like John Reilly's here: if labor unions in the US had real political power again, one of the first things they would do is demand decreased immigration, and effective enforcement of labor laws. Since at the moment neither major US party really supports unions, it would take a party realignment for anything to really happen.


Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

 

Most stories about the labor unions these days touch on the support of their activists for illegal immigrants. There had been so many such stories that one might be forgiven for supposing that unconditional amnesty for illegals was settled policy. Then, yesterday, which was Labor Day, stories like this one from Marketplace began to appear:

Many rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO question why their union is pushing for legalization for undocumented day laborers. But proponents say the move is a sign of things to come. Rachel Dornhelm reports.

And here's an example from the local level:

Local 75 of the Plumbers and Gas Fitters will break from tradition and not march in Milwaukee's Labor Day parade today because the union considers the inclusion of immigrant advocates a distraction from Labor Day. ... "This is strictly a Labor Day celebration. Any other purpose of this parade would not do Labor Day any justice, in my opinion. It's designed to celebrate labor. Labor only," said Harry Kreuser, Local 75 business manager.

In fact, despite all the talk about the next great initiative for organized labor being the campaign to organize illegal service-industry workers, you can mine the AFL-CIO website in vain for evidence of special support for illegals (for whom the polite term is "undocumented workers"). The national leadership is cautious about what they will say to the public, apparently.

This refusal among the rank-and-file to go along with what, in effect, is an open-borders labor policy is the first real sign of life that the labor movement has displayed in a long time. The first sign of revival is often the awakening of the need for self-preservation. As regular visitors to my site will know, I actually do support something close to amnesty (including a godfathered guest-worker program) for illegals currently in the US, provided it goes into effect after the borders are secure and a new regime of low-immigration is in place. What the pro-immigration wing of the unions is trying to do is incoherent, however. They want to coerce the state into ignoring its immigration laws while simultaneously insisting that the state enforce more rigorously its workplace health-and-safety and overtime laws. A government that can't control its borders certainly won't be able to control what happens in the workplace.

At least the plumbers seem to grasp the point.

* * *

Bob Roberts is a film by Tim Robbins that was released in 1992. Ever eager to keep up with popular culture, I got around to seeing it last Saturday. It's about a right-wing country-music singer who runs for the US Senate, dogged all the while by a freelance reporter who has the goods on his CIA connections, particularly the program to support the Nicaraguan Contras by selling crack cocaine in black neighborhoods in the United States. That may sound a little complicated, but it was a feature of the left-wing conspiracy litany at the time the film appeared.

In this and other ways, the film has aged oddly. "Yuppie" is a term of reproach. Part of the soundtrack consists of news reports about the buildup in 1990 for the first Iraq War. One of those reports featured an assessment that the Baathist government could be a few months away from having an atomic bomb. That assessment turned out to be true, but you would not know that from the film. Bob Roberts seems to represent the Left just as it realized that it might really be in trouble. The title character's appearance on TV is sabotaged by one of the cast who says, "You can't let that yuppie go on the air and say whatever he likes!" The strangest element is the reporter with the subversive story too big for mainstream media to handle. There have been many such stories since the film appeared, but they have almost all cut the other way: the Right breaking through the mainstream media monopoly to report on the malefactions of the Left.

Fans of political invective will particularly enjoy the appearance of Gore Vidal as Senator Brickley Paiste, Bob Roberts' prim and liberal Democratic opponent. His appearances are all the more interesting because sometimes he is clearly out-of-character, just cranky old Gore Vidal complaining about the omnipotence of the National Security Council.

Bob Roberts takes place in the world of ANSWER and MoveOn.org. All their themes were in place long before anyone outside of Texas had heard of George W. Bush.

* * *

Walter Russell Mead is among the most illuminating denizens of the murky depths of the nation's foreign policy think tanks. His piece in the current issue of Foreign AffairsGod's Country is a useful corrective to current polemical literature about the alleged rise of American theocracy. In particular, he explains how the different strands of Protestantism actually function in American politics to affect US foreign policy:

The three contemporary streams of American Protestantism (fundamentalist, liberal, and evangelical) lead to very different ideas about what the country's role in the world should be. In this context, the most important differences have to do with the degree to which each promotes optimism about the possibilities for a stable, peaceful, and enlightened international order and the importance each places on the difference between believers and nonbelievers. In a nutshell, fundamentalists are deeply pessimistic about the prospects for world order and see an unbridgeable divide between believers and nonbelievers. Liberals are optimistic about the prospects for world order and see little difference between Christians and nonbelievers. And evangelicals stand somewhere in between these extremes.

Evangelicals are more optimistic than fundamentalists about the prospects for moral progress. The postmillennial minority among them (which holds that Christ will return after a thousand years of world peace, not before) believes that this process can continue until human society reaches a state of holiness:...Although the premillennial majority is less optimistic about the ultimate success of such efforts, American evangelicals are often optimistic about the short-term prospects for human betterment....

One might take issue with many of his points. For instance, Southern Baptists are not as ready to be wholly identified with evangelicalism as Mead seems to think. And Mead revives this old suggestion:

[E]vangelicals managed more than a century of close and generally cooperative relations with Muslims throughout the Arab world. Muslims and evangelicals are both concerned about global poverty and Africa. Both groups oppose the domination of public and international discourse by secular ideas. ... fostering Muslim-evangelical dialogue may be one of the best ways to forestall the threat of civilizational warfare.

That sounds as if it should be true; Peter Kreeft gave the idea systematic form in Ecumenical Jihad. The problem is that it just doesn't work. Sorry.

Despite these quibbles, Mead is almost certainly right about this:

As more evangelical leaders acquire firsthand experience in foreign policy, they are likely to provide something now sadly lacking in the world of U.S. foreign policy: a trusted group of experts, well versed in the nuances and dilemmas of the international situation, who are able to persuade large numbers of Americans to support the complex and counterintuitive policies that are sometimes necessary in this wicked and frustrating -- or, dare one say it, fallen -- world.

Conversely, to the extent that the anti-theocracy lobby succeeds in driving the evangelicals out of the public square, to that degree any American foreign policy will lack public support.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2018-06-11

I meant to get this one out last Friday. Ah well.


How we can learn from the history of protectionism

It is easy to find lots of economists who are down on protectionism, but the evidence turns out to be rather mixed on exactly what its effects are. There are countries that have done poorly with this policy, and countries that have done very well indeed.

It’s Time to Think for Yourself on Free Trade

Dani Rodrik is an interesting and thoughtful economist. This example from his article is illuminating:

In some sense we all know this. Consider another thought experiment: Suppose Harry and John own two companies that compete with each other. How do you feel about each of the following four cases?
  1. Harry works really hard, saves and invests a lot, comes up with new techniques, and outcompetes John, resulting in John and his employees losing their jobs.
  2. Harry gets a competitive edge over John by finding a cheaper supplier in Germany.
  3. Harry drives John out of business by outsourcing to a supplier in Bangladesh, which employs workers in 12-hour shifts and under extremely hazardous conditions.
  4. Harry “imports” Bangladeshi workers under temporary contracts and puts them to work under conditions that violate domestic labor, environmental, and safety laws.
From a purely economic standpoint, these scenarios are what economists call “isomorphic” — they are formally indistinguishable because each creates losers as well as winners in the process of expanding the economic pie in the national economy. (That is, Harry’s gains are larger than John’s losses.)

For economists to call these four situations in some sense identical is probably important for analysis, but it probably also warps the mind to do that too regularly.

JASP

 JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

I haven't used JASP myself, but I saw people talking about it on Twitter. I will give it a try, and perhaps report back. I am entirely in favor of easy to use stats tools.

Burying Your Father and “Return of the Jedi” (1983)

This was a fascinating reflection on fatherhood, spurred by the climax of Return of the Jedi.

Is Global Equality the Enemy of National Equality?

I like Dani Rodrik's work, but sometimes I also think he's nuts. This is a good example of why. I think really bad things would happen if we tried to implement this suggestion of globally free labor movement.

Tolkien 101: The Animated Tolkien Movies

A roundup of the animated Tolkien adaptions over the years. The author has a whole series on this subject. Ooh, and one on Conan!

Even Dead, The Expanded Universe Is Better Than Disney Star Wars. And That's A Good Thing

I have said my piece on Disney's decision to reboot the Star Wars universe, but in the time since, I have found the new novels pretty lackluster. There was some crap in the old EU, but the crap to good stuff ratio seems poor in the new canon. Thankfully, the animated series are making up for the deficit.

The Lifespan of a Lie

A retrospective of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, that is a case study of the failures of social science that led to the replication crisis. The first person, and the last person, Philip Zimbardo lied to was himself.

Normalizing Trade Relations With China Was a Mistake

A perennial theme here at the blog: are we sure we really knew what we were doing?

The Long View 2006-09-01: The Overthrow of Islam

The politicization of religion is a nuisance. Unfortunately, it is often less than clear what counts as politicization when you get started.


The Overthrow of Islam

 

"Taking the turban" was the term that American and European mariners called the practice of formally embracing Islam when captured by Muslim pirates. One took the turban to lengthen one's life and to avoid slavery. As we all know, two journalists working for the Fox network recently revived the custom (though not, alas, the term) when they were captured by a previously unknown Palestinian group. The incident occasioned these thoughts from Mark Steyn:

The bad news is that Islam will soon be able to enforce submission-conversion at the point of a nuke. The good news is that any religion that needs to do that is, by definition, a weak one. More than that, the fierce faith of the 8th century Muslim warrior has been mostly replaced by a lot of hastily cobbled-together flimflam bought wholesale from clapped out European totalitarian pathologies. It would have struck almost any other ruler of Persia as absurd and unworthy to be as pitifully obsessed with Holocaust denial as President Ahmadinejad is: talk about a bad case of Europhile cultural cringe. But in today's mosques and madrassahs there is almost as little contemplation of the divine as there is in the typical Anglican sermon. The great Canadian columnist David Warren argues that Islam is desperately weak, that it has been "idiotized" by these obsolescent imports of mid-20th century Fascism. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but, if Washington had half the psy-ops spooks the movies like to think we have, the spiritual neglect in latter-day Islam is a big Achilles' heel just ripe for exploiting.

To this one might ask, "weak in what sense?" We know from many decades' experience that the Stockholm Syndrome can turn submission based on fear into submission based on conviction. The answer Steyn's piece implies is that Islamist Islam has been drained of the content that might form the basis of conviction. Violent Islamists go to mosques, according to this view, in order to have their political and social views reaffirmed, in rather the way that some people go to liberal churches in order to hear their progressive politics preached to them. Maybe this is true, but we should recall that the liberal denominations in the West have been losing members for two generations. As one wag put it, why go to hear a in sermon on Sunday what one has read over breakfast on the editorial page of The New York Times? Conservative denominations have been gaining adherents, but their conservatism is theological rather than political; to the extent these denominations support a political view, that support is a side effect.

Perhaps Steyn is suggesting that Islamism collapses when submission can no longer be enforced at gunpoint. The problem with that hypothesis is that it fits badly with the fact that the idiotized Islam to which Warren refers works best in its Western colonies, where the state, as yet, gives no coercive support to Islam. The more interesting possibility is that Islamism might awaken spiritual needs that it cannot satisfy. In that case, Islamism might be like the Hindenburg: a huge and impressive vehicle that could explode in a shower of apostasy (presumably through conversion to Christianity) given a little encouragement.

* * *

If you look into the void intelligently, the void will look back at you intelligently. Web searches have a similar quality. If you insist on finding a statistic online, even a statistic that could not possibly be compiled, the Web will give you a number, such as this assertion that 660-plus Muslims an hour are leaving Islam. That link is, actually, more interesting as a gateway to sources for the evangelization of Muslims. The subject is scarcely new: the Time Magazine cover story for June 30, 2003 was Should Christians Convert Muslims? My own answer to that question is "Yes, obviously!" I am particularly ashamed of the reluctance of Catholic institutions to become involved in evangelization efforts. However, I am also aware that pursuing such a policy for reasons of geopolitics is to do so for the wrong reason. Evangelization conducted for any purpose other than the good of the prospective convert is likely to have ironic results. One such result, for instance, might be the creation an idiotized, synthetic parody of religion; a Christian version of Islamism might be just as much of a nuisance as Islamism.

We hear now of Christian undergrounds of recent converts in Muslim countries. This is unprecedented. It was notoriously the case for centuries that Muslims almost never converted. If this trend continues, it is likely to do so because it is nobody's policy.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Traveler's Gate Chronicles Book Review

The Traveler's Gate Chronicles
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (June 8, 2015)
394 pages
ASIN: B00Z92K3PG

I love short story collections. I love them because you can really get to the meat of a story without the overhead of a novel. I like novels, I read a lot of them, but I find many of my favorite authors by means of short stories. Take Tim Powers for example. Jimmy Akin published Powers' short story "Through and Through" in 2006, and I was immediately hooked. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the late Jerry Pournelle's There Will Be War! series too, I own all ten volumes of it. I've explored the works of many of the authors who contributed to those collections, and I am better read for it.

Where the short story format shines is in letting us traverse the depth and breath of Simon's world, without needing to build characters, construct narratives, or even introduce the grand concept. While I think this book could serve as an excellent introduction to Simon's world, the Unnamed World, it served even better as a digestif.

For example, we get to see the Territories outside of the point of view of Simon's grand tale of vengeance and awakening. I didn't really appreciate that people lived and worked in the Territories! Even for people who were not themselves Travelers, the Territories could be mundane [you can get used to anything]. 

On the other hand, we also get the backstory of several important characters, including Valin himself. Seeing Valin as a mere man, before Valinhall existed, explained so much. Valinhall was aptly named.

In this case, I didn't read The Traveler's Gate Chronicles until after I had finished the rest of the Traveler's Gate trilogy, but this themed collection set in each of the nine Territories was written so beautifully, and answered so many questions I didn't know I had, that I almost wish I had read it first. Wight deftly wove in little bits that I hardly remembered from the novels into an exploration of the world he created for Simon, son of Kalman.

Something I hadn't appreciated about Simon's world until I read Chronicles is the way color tells you hidden details about characters. I was reminded of an article I read years ago, sent by my friend Tom, about the visual storytelling of Pacific Rim. Visual storytelling in movies is simply how things are done. del Toro, in particular, is obsessed with color. But to do this in a book.

Mako1.PNG
Mak02.PNG

In Wight's world, each Territory, and its corresponding virtue, is color-coded. Violet is the color of honesty and openness. Orange is the color of loyalty, red the color of dominance and rule, blue of mercy. What truly surprised me, and this colors my review of City of Light, is that those virtues are often not precisely what you, or even the Travelers of a Territory, might think. The color that matches the prime virtue of a Territory is often different than the dominant hue you see there, or in its Travelers' habitual dress and presentation. 

However, this is not simply a matter of balancing yin and yang, counteracting dominance with self-sacrifice, but the more active discernment of the golden mean. A self-consciously self-sacrificing leader is often the most oppressive one of all.

My other book reviews