The Long View 2006-08-21: Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

 By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9256692

By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9256692

I keep meaning to read Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars. I've also got his one-volume history of the papacy, but I haven't got around to that one yet either.


Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

 

Something snapped when I was listening to a National Public Radio report from Tyre on Sunday morning. The report was about the return to their grieving relatives of the bodies of civilian victims of the recent Israeli attacks. The authorities were too few to hold them back, so the keening mourners soon swamped the vehicles on which the bodies were carried. A man collapsed over the coffin of his father. A clerk read off the names of dead children and asked, "Were these guerilla fighters?" Beneath this symphony of grief, the sound of wailing and lamentation flowed unceasingly, like a Wagnerian theme.

I am not a particularly hard-hearted fellow. However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there comes a time when a man would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.

* * *

The Commanding Heights is a phrase coined by Lenin to refer to the key features of the economy, things like the banking system and heavy industry, which even a reformist socialist government would need to keep control of. The Public Broadcasting Service used it as the title for their series about the evolution of the world economy. The organizing conceit of the series is that the 20th century was the time of a struggle for the souls of men between Keynes and Hayek. The notion is not self-evidently correct, but it did lend the series more dramatic interest than most economic history can boast.

And look, it's available as a webcast: here's the index page. A helpful feature of the webcast is that it breaks the episodes down into segments of four or five minutes, easily viewable at odd moments during the day. Also, if your boss catches you watching it, you can claim to be doing research.

* * *

The revisionist view of the English Reformation is perhaps best known from Eamon Duffy's study, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, Second Edition His thesis, I gather, was that the Reformation in England was deeply and persistently unpopular; it was implemented by force from above. That's a plausible idea, and to some extent it is no doubt true, but it is the kind of point that is easy to exaggerate. I was recently given, as a gift, a book that looked like it should have been an answer to the revisionists: The Anti-Christ`s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England. The principal author is Peter Lake of Princeton, with contributions from Michael Questier of Oxford. One gleans from the book that there was such a thing as popular protestantism, but that it should not be conflated with puritanism. The title comes from Ben Jonson's play, The Alchemist, in which a puritan deacon rebukes a dandy with the words "Thou look'st like Antichrist in that lewd hat!" The joke is on the puritan, but that does not make Jonson a catholic, Roman or otherwise. The book attempts to trace popular protestantism through the "true crime" chapbooks about notorious murders, the relationship of these stories to the stage, the apologetic literature (Roman Catholic and Protestant), with the heaviest emphasis on the theatre. The book points again and again to instances in which the theater, and even the prisons, were not so much channels through which the state imposed its will as places of contestation.

All this should have been fascinating, but in fact The Antichrist's Lewd Hat is unreadable. It's uncanny: I actually got through a great deal of text, much of it quite interesting text, but I never seemed to be making any progress. Lake is not a bad writer (Questier's contribution is hard to single out). Certainly he does not suffer from Lit-Crit Speak: he rather dislikes theory, except for Bakhtin. Nonetheless, this objectively long book (upwards of 700 pages) seemed to get longer with the reading. The problem is that Lake is one of those scholars who likes to explain the history of his research, rather than what he discovered. Such a historical narrative tends to develop a receding eschaton. The reader loses hope of ever reaching the end, or indeed the point of the section he is reading. I finally just dipped into it here and there, but with a miserably short index and a cryptic Table of Contents the book does not lend itself to browsing, either.

The unreadability of The Antichrist's Lewd Hat book is a shame, since there is so much useful material locked inaccessibly inside it. A different format might have produced a happier result. If an author likes to explain the progress of his work, then let him publish his researches in journal form, in which he explains what he read each day and recounts the illuminating conversations he had. Maybe he should try casting the book as a dialogue, perhaps with a dense undergrowth of footnotes.

Editors are supposed to look out for their authors, but that is precisely what Yale University Press did not do for Lake. Here we have a fine idea for a book ruined by a degree of editorial neglect that sinks to the level of malice.

* * *

On a happier note, students of esoteric fascism will be pleased to learn that this dark subject now has its own blog: The Black Sun (Hat tip to HH.) By its own account, the blog highlights:

Researches in the history of the occult, the esoteric and theosophical movements, the Volkische and Ariosophical sects and cults, secret societies, magical orders, rune magicians, the cosmic, free energy, techno-occult and avantgarde technology undergounds and the occult roots of Nazism in Germany, 1900 - 1945

What exactly does free energy have to do with all this?

* * *

Meanwhile, the cruel Spengler at Asia Times has this to say about the abdication of France, and indeed the European Union in general, from taking any actual steps to implement the cease fire in Lebanon that Europe pressed the United Nations to declare:

Like W S Gilbert's cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe's prospective peacekeepers have decided that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one". Europe's serious exercise in peacekeeping led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, when Dutch soldiers turned over Muslims in their charge to Serb death squads.

France offers no more than 200 engineers to join the peacekeeping force that the United Nations Security Council has mandated as a buffer on the Israeli-Lebanese border. ...A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. ...From this we should conclude that the so-called "international community" is an empty construct.

Again with the progeny.

In any case, it's not strictly true that the "international community" is a Potemkin Global Village, even in the sense of being able to deliver peacekeeping troops. There are lots of men under arms around the world. The problem is that UN armies of late have had a tendency to pillage the regions to which they are deployed, and to run away when shot at.

Earth is a shabby planet.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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House of Blades Book Review

House of Blades
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (June 1, 2013)
294 pages
ASIN: B00D52X58Y

Another gem from Will Wight, whose book Unsouled I was pointed toward by a friend earlier this year. House of Blades is another juvenile novel, by which I mean a story about a boy learning to be a man that is mildly didactic, and not unduly graphic about either violence or sex. Realism about either violence or sex that imparts caution and understanding without sparking prurient interest earns bonus points.

If I had to liken this book to another, purely on a Gestalt insight, it would be like The Name of Wind, if it were less rambling and self-indulgent. However, there really is a lot that is rather unlike Patrick Rothfuss' well-known book, so let's get into that.

One of the things I love most about Wight's work is his pacing. Mysteries abound in his works, layered deeply from the very first. Yet, you are always learning something new. I am happy that Wight was able to keep the same basic kind of story in the two series I have now read, yet they are different enough in setting and characters to be worth reading in sequence. The Traveler's Gate series has a pan-European, almost D&D type setting, although it kind of feels like the Japanese take you get on European fantasy in Berserk.

 Definitely not Simon, son of Kalman

Definitely not Simon, son of Kalman

 Also not Simon, but he has a bigass sword too

Also not Simon, but he has a bigass sword too

While Simon is the character of greatest interest to me, this book does actually benefit from having multiple point-of-view characters. Simon's frenemies, Alin and Leah, are different enough from him that seeing things through their eyes on occasion gives the story more depth. While Simon is destined for great things, he obviously also knows nothing about the wider world, or exactly why the world he lives in is in the mess it is in. I look forward to discovering those things myself.

Simon's journey of self-discovery is also part of my enjoyment of the book, because this is the kind of book I would like to point my children towards as they gain the ability to read for themselves. Struggle and doubt, followed by accomplishment [shepherded by well-meaning hardasses] is the kind of thing they should be prepared for.

My other book reviews

Other books by Will Wight

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

Linkfest 2018-05-19: Revenge of the Stats

It has been a long since I did one of these, but they were always popular, so I'm bringing it back.

In particular, it was an article by Megan McArdle in the Washington Post, "Democrats are about to have to pay up", that sent me down a rabbit hole of tax policy and fiscal capacity

 Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

I've thought about this subject before, because of a local flood control project which is ruinously expensive for a small town like mine, but it is also required for economic growth and risk mitigation. We have to go, hat in hand, to Congress to ask for $100M to complete this project, because it exceeds the fiscal capacity of the city to pay for that unassisted.

How we subsidize suburbia

I hadn't know some of the mortgage underwriting bits of this.

The Other "Subsidized Housing": Federal Aid to Suburbanization

A more detailed look at the specific Federal laws in question.

The Long View 2006-08-18: The Endings of Various Epochs

 Iron Dome system in use  By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

Iron Dome system in use

By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

I learned a lot reading Matti Friedman's Pumpkinflowers, once I finally got around to it [it sat in my to-read pile for two years]. The suicide bombings started shortly after the Lebanese occupation was over, and then the security checkpoints installed to stop the bombers led to missile attacks. Currently, the Iron Dome system helps to mitigate the damage done by such things. This is in fact the bullet-hitting-a-bullet thing that SDI naysayers always insisted couldn't be done, and probably benefited from that particular R&D expense by the US. Also, the Israelis are assholes to their neighbors.

John also talks here about the impact of gas prices on suburban and exurban America. Even at $3/gallon and more the result has been, not much. I think we could gain some benefits from denser development, but the truth is cars are freedom and convenience, and Americans are still among the richest people in the world, and we can afford the gasoline. But I should talk, I work 5 minutes from my house.


The Endings of Various Epochs

 

The missile barrages on Israel began in earnest after the West Bank Wall made frequent suicide-bombings impossible. But suppose this story means what it implies?

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, ... The system at issue, called Skyguard, is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. and based on a tactical high-energy laser the company co-developed with the Israeli army in the 1990s. ... Company officials told reporters July 12 they were awaiting a show of interest from Israel to kick off an export-license request for the updated system.

Deprived of the ballistic option, the jihad against Israel would have to find some other tactic. If Israel proper is largely invulnerable, then perhaps Israel's commercial and academic contacts in the West would be targeted. Heretofore, this has been attempted with boycotts organized by fellow travelers, but the jihad requires photogenic rubble.

In any case, even the partially successful public use of these defensive weapons would mark a change of epoch. There are psychological and professional explanations for opposition to missile defense. One reason for the opposition is that the increasingly gray eminences of the Cold War cling to strategic deterrence as the one aspect of the Cold War world that never went away. Very soon, though, it will be hard to assert that MAD is part of the permanent structure of the universe.

* * *

Speaking of the end of an epoch, could it really be that rising gas prices will kill the suburbs?

There's even talk of crude hitting $100 per barrel -- or 10 times what it sold for in the summer of 2005.

Once the realization soaks into the American consciousness that high-cost gas is here to stay, Gabriel predicts, those high commute prices will pull more homeowners -- even young families -- to live in central cities and create a push for more public transportation. ... But with the cost of gas hovering around $3 per gallon on average in the U.S., it's worth considering whether a shorter commute would pay for the incremental cost of a more expensive in-city home.... Assuming a full-time job, $3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs $646.15 a month, or $7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator.... Moving closer to work boosts your house-buying power. Everything else being equal, a 10-mile, roundtrip commute costs just $1,550.76 yearly -- saving about $6,200 per year, or $517 monthly. That can add about $80,000 to the total amount of a mortgage loan, says one Chicago lender. The rule of thumb: Each $250 a month you can free up for mortgage payments equals roughly $40,000 more you can borrow at current rates (using the recent national average of 6.5%), says David Kasprisin, district sales manager for National City Mortgage Co. in Chicago.

Might I remark that, before there were suburbs, there were many small towns? These were relatively densely built places where people both lived and worked and did not commute to. I don't doubt that the older core cities will benefit from higher fuel costs, but other things will be happening in addition to the abandonment of the more ridiculous suburban housing tracts.

* * *

Every Wednesday morning the first thing I look at online (after checking for credible death threats in my email) is The Onion. I can't say that i have ever had trouble telling an Onion headline from the headline of a real news story. Still, reading The Onion and then reading the real news does create a certain amount of disorientation. Look at this list of Onion headlines and headlines from non-satirical sources:

Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

Blues Musician To U.N.: 'Yemen Done Me Wrong'

Casino Has Great Night

Exit Interview Goes Well

Comedian Confesses To Killing Them Out There

Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand's DVD Collection

JonBenet suspect was 'threat', ex-wife said

Judge orders halt to NSA wiretap program

Lebanese troops deploy in Hezbollah heartland

No compromise on sovereignty: PM

I don't know about you, but I can't stop looking for the joke even when I know there isn't one.

* * *

Mark Twain once observed that wherever the early French explorers of North America went, they always brought a Jesuit to explain Hell to the savages. In rather the same spirit, Mark Steyn has been traveling through Australia, on what he says "I like to think of as my 'Head for the hills! It’s the end of the world!' tour.” The Australian recently published he text of one of his harangues under the title Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate, in which he shared with his audience his familiar concerns about the jihad and Western demography. He makes all good points, but again, I would suggest that he is extrapolating trends whose very direness ensure that they will reverse. Towards the end, he adds this useful point:

....But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are:

i) Demographic decline;
ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state;
iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

I would not lengthen that list, but the factors he mentions are facets of larger phenomena. The US immigration crisis (which might be defined as the transformation of the whole country into a border town) is in some ways the same crisis as Europe's; certainly both have a demographic foundation. The anti-natalist project of the past 50 years is just one manifestation of a deep cultural dysfunction that shows up in the oddest places: future histories may categorize the whole gay episode (1850-2050?) as just another reflection of it. Actually, among the pathological symptoms I would also include libertarianism, survivalism, and every account of the state as an evil that must be overcome rather than a precious and fragile tradition that must be cultivated, like classical music.

Finally, let me note that "exhaustion" is not something that civilizations do, at least according to the sunlit and tranquil philosophy of Oswald Spengler. The future is not Mad Max, but the Glass Bead Game. These present troubles are sent to us to get us moving in that direction.

* * *

Spelling Reform Note: The Soundspel edition of Philip Dru: Administraetor is available through Lulu.com. I get no money from its sale, and neither does the American Literacy Council. Buy the book only if you are really interested in spelling reform.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-08-15: Spelling, Genealogy, Lebanon, Tradition, Ham

In the mid 2000s, John Reilly often defended President George W. Bush, for partisan reasons. I have to hold him to account for this. However, I do try to balance it out with things like his assessment of the capacity of Islamic transnational movements to found a state:

Transnationalism has a stratosphere, a troposphere, a sea level, and even an ocean floor. Islamist transnationalism flows through those murky depths, to which it is specially adapted. In part for that reason, it is not so much incompetent as incapable. The things it can do, such as blowing up airplanes and running neighborhood medical clinics, it can do very well. What it can't do, no more than a shark can tap dance, is provide decent civil administration for a territory, or even a legal environment predictable enough for a market economy to operate above the level of small shops. The acme of its political role is to refrain from destroying the state structures of societies that serve as its hosts. Even then, it's a debilitating parasite.
Thus, simply by nature of what it is, Islamism cannot "win," in the sense of destroying and replacing an adversary, or forcing a defeated opponent to do its will. It has no organ with which to receive a surrender. Deprived of the pressure of an external enemy, it bursts into factional fighting.

As an assessment of ISIS, this is spot on, ten years before it even existed. The ability to predict what will happen is the only yardstick that should matter in things like this.


Spelling, Genealogy, Lebanon, Tradition, Ham

 

Why did spelling reform miscarry in the early 20th century? If we may believe these videos. it was because the movement was supported by prominent persons such as Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie. Roosevelt politicized the issue with his order to the Government Printing Office, and Carnegie was suspected of plotting to make a fortune in textbook publishing once a reform was underway. If the Gates Foundation offered us at the American Literacy Council a large grant, I might argue to turn it down. Unless the money could be delivered in brown paper-bags, of course.

Incidentally, I am working on reprints of various public-domain texts using Soundspel, the teaching orthography that the ALC software uses. Here is the cover art for the first experiment. More details soon.

pdafront.jpg

* * *

Genealogy is bunk, at least for purposes of disclosing the secret noble bloodlines so beloved by conspiracy theorists. The Washington Post explains the obvious:

Even without a documented connection to a notable forebear, experts say, the odds are virtually 100 percent that every person on Earth is descended from one royal personage or another...It works the other way, too. Anybody who had children more than a few hundred years ago is likely to have millions of descendants today, quite a few of them famous.

Everyone of Western European extraction is about equally related to Charlemagne. Maybe everyone, everywhere, is somehow related to Mohammed and Gengis Khan.

At the eschaton, of course, we will all be famous or infamous.

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn waxes apocalyptic about the eclipse of the sovereign state:

Lebanon is a sovereign state. It has an executive and a military. But its military has less sophisticated weaponry than Hezbollah and its executive wields less authority over its jurisdiction than Hezbollah. In the old days, the Lebanese government would have fallen and Hezbollah would have formally supplanted the state. But non-state actors like the Hezbollah crowd and al-Qaida have no interest in graduating to statehood. They've got bigger fish to fry. If you're interested in establishing a global caliphate, getting a U.N. seat and an Olympic team only gets in the way. ...And that indifference to the state can be contagious. ...What if entire populations are being transformed into "non-state actors"? Not terrorists, by any means, but at the very minimum entirely indifferent to the state of which they're nominally citizens....Hence that statistic: Seven percent of British Muslims consider their primary identity to be British, 81 percent consider it to be Muslim....Modern multicultural man disdains to be bound by the nation state, too; he prides himself on being un citoyen du monde. The difference is that, for Western do-gooders, it's mostly a pose:...Absent a determination to throttle the ideology, we're about to witness the unraveling of the world.

I take his point, but I question whether the de-nationalization of the world's transnationalists is just a mere pose. I am echoing Patrick Kennon in this regard. Certainly it is the case that the Davos People don't want to live under a universal caliphate, or even to stay at the sort of hotels that cater to people who might have inclinations along those lines.

Transnationalism has a stratosphere, a troposphere, a sea level, and even an ocean floor. Islamist transnationalism flows through those murky depths, to which it is specially adapted. In part for that reason, it is not so much incompetent as incapable. The things it can do, such as blowing up airplanes and running neighborhood medical clinics, it can do very well. What it can't do, no more than a shark can tap dance, is provide decent civil administration for a territory, or even a legal environment predictable enough for a market economy to operate above the level of small shops. The acme of its political role is to refrain from destroying the state structures of societies that serve as its hosts. Even then, it's a debilitating parasite.

Thus, simply by nature of what it is, Islamism cannot "win," in the sense of destroying and replacing an adversary, or forcing a defeated opponent to do its will. It has no organ with which to receive a surrender. Deprived of the pressure of an external enemy, it bursts into factional fighting.

* * *

Was President Bush correct yesterday when he characterized the cease fire in Lebanon as a victory for Israel, or possibly in the war against terror? Perhaps he was right in the sense that Hezbollah's Lebanese hosts will no longer willingly acquiesce in actions by Hezbollah that threaten to bring Israeli retaliation. On the other hand, tactically, the war turned out to be a fair fight. The prospect of another fair fight makes the threat of retaliation less credible.

* * *

What does Tradition have to say about Israel? Very little good, to judge from Voxnr a French-language site where Yockey and Evola make merry with Islamists and Eurasianists. Actually, one of the more moderate pieces, in that it does not advocate the immediate extermination of Israel and everyone in it, comes from Alexander Dugin (aka Alexandre Dougine). In the brief essay Palestine et Tradition, notre solution, Dugin praises President Putin for reasserting Russia's historical interest in the Levant (remember the Russian proposal for an immediate cease fire?). He also characterizes Israel as laicist and fundamentally illegitimate. Nonetheless, he also notes that, under the Traditional divine monarchy of the Ottoman Empire, the three confessional millets of Christian, Jew, and Muslim were able to live in Palestine without too much friction. He notes with approval the growing theological dimension among the Muslim enemies of Israel, but also remarks with hope on the increasingly Orthodox nature of Israel. Surely peace would come if Palestine were reconstituted as a Traditional land.

Is it over-extrapolating to say that Dugin is implying that what Palestine really needs is to become a Russian protectorate?

* * *

Not everything traditional is creepy (well, not lethally creepy) as we see from this description (hat tip to First Things) of that continuing institution, The Dunmow Flitch:

A common claim of the origin of the Dunmow Flitch dates back to 1104 and the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow, founded by Lady Juga Baynard. Lord of the Manor, Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and begged blessing of the Prior a year and a day after marriage. The Prior, impressed by their devotion bestowed upon them a Flitch of Bacon. Upon revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.

The priory that once conducted the Flitch trials has long since lapsed, and so has the interest of the local aristocrats who conducted the trials thereafter. The trials are still held, however, with volunteer married couples trying to prove to a jury their faithfulness; opposing counsel represents the owner of the flitch.

This Flitch business immediately reminded me of the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, about a policeman who investigates a Scottish island where human sacrifice is a beloved local custom. It's an odd film, essentially a horror story with no gore, and indeed little direct depiction of the supernatural. A remake starring Nicholas Cage will soon be playing in a theatre near you.

The story has been relocated to the coast of Maine. My blood runs cold already.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-08-09: Qinshihuangdi; Republican versus Conservative; Bernard Lewis; Mark Steyn

 Qin Shi Huang  By Unknown - Yuan, Zhongyi. China's terracotta army and the First Emperor's mausoleum: the art and culture of Qin Shihuang's underground palace. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931907-68-2 (p.140), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364539

Qin Shi Huang

By Unknown - Yuan, Zhongyi. China's terracotta army and the First Emperor's mausoleum: the art and culture of Qin Shihuang's underground palace. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931907-68-2 (p.140), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364539

When I was younger, I was much taken with the wild, Indiana Jones-style tales of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Alas, they are likely fables, but a young man can dream.

Also, the zingers just keep coming. Anyone who has ever had a run-in with an overzealous HOA can probably understand what John is getting at here. HOAs are extremely powerful within their small domain.

Readers will note that Steyn is really complaining about unresponsive, bureaucratic government. If by "big" you mean "affecting a large portion of everyday life," then no form of government is quite so large as the sort of busybody town-meeting government that the Puritans introduced to New England. This kind of government, and not the bureaucratic state, is government at its most powerful.

Qinshihuangdi; Republican versus Conservative; Bernard Lewis; Mark Steyn

 

Even for ancient Chinese history, this is not really news:

According to a news report from China, DNA analysis indicates that at least one of the workers who constructed the tomb of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, was in fact of west Eurasian ancestry.

What I find far more interesting is the preface to this question:

People are familiar with Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (260-210 B.C., r. 247-221 B.C.), in large part because of his army of terra-cotta warriors. Chinese archaeologists have refrained from excavating the emperor's tomb, so where was the "worker" found?

The delay in opening the tomb has now extended over decades. Historical accounts say that the tomb is ingeniously booby-trapped, so it would be difficult to reach the chamber where the emperor's sarcophagous floats on a pool of mercury. However, it is impossible to believe that these difficulties could not be overcome with modern tools and techniques. I want that tomb opened. I want it opened right now.

* * *

The gap between conservatism and the Republican Party widens, for reasons we may infer from this comment by Stephen Webb in yesterday's First Things:

Why do so many people these days sound like conservatives but still insist they are liberals? I recently had a conversation with a female lawyer who spoke as if she had just finished reading Oswald Spengler. When she learned that I was a college professor, she unleashed a torrent of vitriol against leftist academics. She knew more about the high-handed politics, the corrupting conformism, and the stifling relativism of humanities professors than any dean in America would be willing to admit to knowing. When the subject of the media came up, she understood instinctively that most journalists are out of touch with Middle America, and she had nothing positive to say about Hillary Clinton’s blatantly ingratiating turn toward a softer, more moderate rhetoric...OK, I said, I’ve told you why I think you are a conservative. Now you tell me why you think you are a liberal. At that point, a string of vehement blathering about how horrible Bush is came out of her like a broken doll whose string had been pulled one too many times.

The piece goes on about what being cool meant in the 1970s, but the explanation could stop with the irresponsibility of the Republican Party. One cannot take seriously a party that lowers taxes during a world war, and at a time when the economy is growing fast enough that the Fed raises interest rates quarter after quarter to prevent inflation. (I know the Fed did not raise rates yesterday; what will fiscal policy be if the economy slows and inflation increases?) And then, frankly, there are the limitations of George Bush. He is by no means a stupid man. If his foreign policy has a flaw, it is not excessive simplicity but over subtlety. The problem is that he is not the man to explain it. He was nominated because his party did not expect a complicated future and everyone appreciated his ability to campaign on a small number of easily comprehensible domestic issues. The choice over John McCain was a costly mistake.

* * *

Bernard Lewis predicts doomsday for August 22. At any rate, The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an opinion piece by him in which he drew attention to the possible role of Shia eschatology in the Middle East. The full piece is now available here. I excerpt for your convenience:

During the Cold War, both sides possessed weapons of mass destruction, but neither side used them, deterred by what was known as MAD...[these]... constraints, the same fear of mutual assured destruction [would not] restrain a nuclear-armed Iran from using such weapons against the U.S. or against Israel...[because]...[t]here is a radical difference ...[in]...the apocalyptic worldview of Iran's present rulers. ...Even in the past it was clear that terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam had no compunction in slaughtering large numbers of fellow Muslims. ...The phrase "Allah will know his own" is usually used to explain such apparently callous unconcern...A direct attack on the U.S., though possible, is less likely in the immediate future. Israel is a nearer ...an attack that wipes out Israel would almost certainly wipe out the Palestinians too...an attack would evoke a devastating reprisal from Israel against Iran...The first of these possible deterrents might well be of concern to the Palestinians--but not apparently to their fanatical champions in the Iranian government. The second deterrent--the threat of direct retaliation on Iran--is...weakened by the suicide or martyrdom complex ...Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that [the endtime] is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. ...Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). ...[there is no direct evidence that the Iranians plan any such thing, but]...[f]or people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.

Very well, but could the assurance "we will tell you by the 27th of Rajab" be the equivalent of "we will tell you by Labor Day"? There may be no more to this than the accusations that the Bush Administration is try to provoke the Rapture.

* * *

Mark Steyn is now annoying the Australians in person, as we see from this transcript of the talkshow Counterpoint:

[Mark Steyn] I mean, basically in Europe, once the state takes care of every issue of life, from childcare to healthcare to looking after your elderly parents to giving you six weeks paid vacation a year, 30-hour work weeks...what have you got to worry about? You are basically the world's wrinkliest teenagers, you are left to go down to the record store and pick out your record collection, everything else is taken care of by the state. That's not a healthy principle on which to build society.

Michael Duffy: Is that one of the reasons you're a conservative or why you support smaller government?

Mark Steyn: Yes, I think big government is a national security issue. I live in the great state of New Hampshire in the United States which has...basically money is raised and spent at town level, so if you've got a budgetary overspend, it's generally your neighbour that's overspending, he's listed in the phone book so you can call him up at home and shout at him. And I think there's a lot to be said for small government precisely for that reason; it's accountable. And the minute you get this big, bloated government...

Readers will note that Steyn is really complaining about unresponsive, bureaucratic government. If by "big" you mean "affecting a large portion of everyday life," then no form of government is quite so large as the sort of busybody town-meeting government that the Puritans introduced to New England. This kind of government, and not the bureaucratic state, is government at its most powerful.

Note too that this power can be for good or ill. The oppressiveness of totalitarian societies is effected chiefly through the work unit and the block committee; the secret police are just a carapace.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-08-07: From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

 Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836  By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836

By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Two great lines today:

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.
Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

 

Francis Fukuyama does still agree with himself, recent evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, or so we may judge from his piece in yesterday's Washington Post:

Early on in Hugo Chávez's political career, the Venezuelan president attacked my notion that liberal democracy together with a market economy represents the ultimate evolutionary direction for modern societies -- the "end of history." When asked what lay beyond the end of history, he offered a one-word reply: "Chavismo '...a new future for Latin America that by preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections [constitutes] what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro's Cuba or in the Soviet Union...Latin America has indeed witnessed a turn to this postmodern left in some countries, including in Bolivia, where Evo Morales, Chávez's kindred spirit, won the presidency last year. Nonetheless, the dominant trends in the hemisphere are largely positive: Democracy is strengthening and the political and economic reforms now being undertaken augur well for the future. Venezuela is not a model for the region; rather, its path is unique, the product of a natural resource curse that makes it more comparable to Iran or Russia than any of its Latin American neighbors. Chavismo is not Latin America's future -- if anything, it is its past.

I can only repeat (and repeat again, until my readers' eyes glaze over) that Fukuyama's end-of-history thesis is perfectly valid as a statement about intellectual history: political theory is complete, in the way that Euclidian geometry and the canon of classical music are complete. Liberal democracy is the crowning achievement of that history, but the achievement is an ideal, not a prediction. Petrolism is one of the non-liberal-democratic forms of governance that can materialize in certain circumstances.

Note, by the way, that petrolism is only a special case of what happens when the state finds that it can support itself from revenues other than tax receipts generated by the incomes of its citizens. Municipal governments that squeeze major industries that cannot move elsewhere tend to become pretty thuggish, too.

* * *

The rationale for opposition to gay marriage finally makes sense to Ellen Goodman, she informs us with lugubrious irony:

BOSTON - Now I got it. After hours spent poring over Washington state's Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on same-sex marriage, I've finally figured it out. The court wasn't just ruling against same-sex marriage. It was ruling in favor of "procreationist marriage."...This is where the courts' reasoning leads us, and I use the word "reasoning" loosely. If anything, [the recent decisions by the New York and Washington State courts] are proof that the courts and the country are running out of reasons for treating straight and gay citizens differently.

Readers may amuse themselves answering her arguments point by point, but I don't think I need to. . To strike down a traditional marriage law now, a court has to say that its sees no essential connection between marriage and child-rearing. You can make your mouth say that and you can even make other people listen, but it's pretty clear you're telling a whopper. This Whopper Effect has repeatedly had unfortunate results for proponents of gay marriage whenever the matter has been on the ballot.

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.

* * *

What exactly did Mel Gibson do? I heard about the DUI arrest and the antisemitic tirade, but I wasn't really paying much attention. Now I find the incident was become enough of a running gag to be mentioned in all ten of the items on the Zeitgeist Checklist. For instance:

(7) Cars. Ford Motor Co. is outsold by Toyota for the first time, announces a $250 million loss, and recalls a million vehicles to prevent their engines from catching fire. Analysts say CEO Bill Ford Jr. needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of consistent excellence, just as he has done with the Detroit Lions. Mel Gibson says the company needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of anti-Semitism.

I mention this not because I think the media have some special animus against drunken, abusive Irishmen, but I really have yet to hear an actual human being mention the incident.

* * *

Interested in Apocalyptic novels this summer of untoward events in the Holy Land? The best survey I have yet seen of the genre comes from Tom Doyle (whom I know slightly). He argues that, as a form, the apocalyptic novel closely resembles the techno-thriller. The one apocalyptic novel that he repeatedly cites simply for literary merit is Brian Caldwell's We All Fall Down. I will try to read that this summer, before something even worse happens.

* * *

The problem with conservatism is the lack of a serious cultural alternative, according to R.R. Reno at First Things:

But the failure of the modern aesthetic and its assault upon the sacred does not translate into a victory for tradition. I think it is also fair to say that the emergent conservative populism that has put conservatives in power is primarily a “no” to the transgressive elite culture. But populism rarely provides alternatives. The silver standard proclaimed by William Jennings Bryan was patent medicine, just as family values are a two-dimensional solution to an all-too three-dimensional problem of social degradation. It will take a deep transformation of our collective artistic, moral, and spiritual imagination to change the direction of culture.

Shelley once wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. On this point he was right. What is needed is an aesthetic of love and life to replace the anti-sacral aesthetic of contempt and death.

Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

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

Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children Book Review

 Tollins

Tollins

Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children
by Conn Iggulden and illustrated by Lizzy Duncan
HarperCollins (2009)
175 pages
ISBN 987-0-06-173098-6

I previously knew Conn Iggulden from his work, The Dangerous Book for Boys, soon to be an Amazon Original series. Since I rather enjoyed that book, I picked this one up on sight. I wasn't disappointed.

In collaboration with illustrator Lizzy Duncan, Iggulden has created a rather charming children's book that is a not-so-secretly a paean to science and the industrial revolution, in a very English way. I enjoy the dry, subtly sarcastic humor Iggulden uses to describe the Tollins, and their home of Chorleywood.

I opened up the book in the store and I read the opening paragraph:

Tollins, you see, are not fairies. Though they both have wings, fairies are delicate creatures and much smaller. When he was young, Sparkler accidentally broke one and had to shove it behind a bush before his friends noticed.

And I immediately started snickering. Paging through the first chapter, I quickly found more bon mots like this. My kids wanted to know what was so funny, so I had to sit down and start reading it to my 6-year-old and 3-year-old. My 6-year-old especially loves this book. The mixture of humor, adventure, and romance is just right for him.

Lizzy Duncan's illustrations really make this book work. Her work is expressive and in perfect counterpoint to the text. I enjoyed Sparkler and Wing's joy, consternation, and determination written on their faces. And of course, the super pathetic Tollins in jars.

 Link is apparently making fireworks

Link is apparently making fireworks

This is a fine work that I look forward to reading many, many times to my children. I'll probably pick up the sequels as well.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-08-03: Fahrenheit Hype; World Can't Wait; Empire Past Due Date

 Ed Asner

Ed Asner

 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal

 Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal

 Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

I've always found the idea of putting Ed Asner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Gore Vidal, and Howard Zinn in a room together and seeing what happens funny. Four men with strong opinions, and probably not used to taking no for an answer. 3 of the 4 have now passed on, but this is an image that has stuck with me for more than a decade.


Fahrenheit Hype; World Can't Wait; Empire Past Due Date

 

Yes, it's been about 100-degrees Fahrenheit (37.77 Celsius) in the New York area for the last few days. I am more uncomfortable than most people, since my air conditioner needs recharging, but I am losing patience with the media treating the warm spell as if the sun were going nova.

Look, here's some strange weather that could engage my enthusiasm about now: major snowfall in the principal cities of South Africa. Even that is unusual rather than unheard of. There is a skiing area in South Africa, where people are pleased with the anomaly:

"Tiffindell usually gets about five snowfalls a year," [said a local man], "but rarely 25 centimetres in one day, as on Tuesday."

Now if it rained fish, I would really be impressed.

* * *

Speaking of degrees Fahrenheit, have you ever wondered what the zero on the scale is supposed to represent? No? Well, it's complicated, but this is the best explanation:

Another story holds that [Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736)] established the zero of his scale (0 °F) as the temperature at which an equal mixture of ice and salt melts (some say he took that fixed mixture of ice and salt that produced the lowest temperature); and ninety-six degrees as the temperature of blood (he initially used horse blood to calibrate his scale). Initially, his scale only contained 12 equal subdivisions, but later he subdivided each division into 8 equal degrees ending up with 96.

The ice-and-salt story is the one in most of the books. Certainly it makes the most sense, given that Fahrenheit wanted a measurement that could be produced in any laboratory. Just because the story makes the most sense, of course, does not mean it is necessarily true.

* * *

Speaking of overheating, readers of the New York Times were treated to a full-page ad by an organization called World Can't Wait that denounces War! Torture! Katrina! Theocracy! (italics and all) and seeks to organize a series of rallies for October 15 to overthrow the government:

World Can't Wait is organizing people living in the United States to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the Bush administration. We seek to create a political situation where the Bush administration's program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking U.S. society is reversed.

All the usual suspects, absolutely all of them, signed the ad, but I noted this quartet in particular: Edward Asner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn. Does anyone suppose that if all these people met in the same room they would find each other congenial?

Perhaps my research skills are deficient, but it seems to me the Times is oddly coy about publicizing its rates for a full-page ad, or at least publicizing them online. Some asides I have come across suggest that current rates are about $50K for a nonprofit and $150K for a commercial advertiser. Can anyone confirm?

There are lots of reasons why Richard Nixon was reelected in an unprecedented landslide in 1972, but surely one of them was that the anti-war movement succeed in persuading the electorate that the movement really was the alternative. With the publication of today's ad in the Times, I think the Republicans' prospects in the Congressional races this fall have measurably improved. Yes, the ad probably was paid for by some rich idiot, but the sort of idiot who does not understand when his cause is better served by his silence.

* * *

Vietnam analogies are much on the mind of Jonathan Schell, if we may judge from his essay It's Too Late for Empire. Though of course holding the Bush Administration in light esteem for reasons that need not detain us, Mr. Schell has advanced from blaming the Rove-neocon-theocrat smoke-and-mirrors machine to blaming the people itself:

Any oppositionist who is honest will keep in mind that a majority, however narrow, of Americans voted that one party into power in a series of elections. Especially important was the presidential election of 2004, when many, though not all, of the abuses were already known. (And then the election itself was subject to grave abuses, especially in Ohio.) The weight and meaning of that majority do not disappear because it was demonstrably misinformed about key matters of war and peace. It's one thing to oppose an illegitimate concentration of power in the name of a repressed majority, another to oppose power backed and legitimized by a majority. In the first case, it will be enough to speak truth to power; in the second, the main need is to speak truth to one's fellow citizens.

And what is the delusion for which the people must be rebuked?

[A] kind of anxiety-ridden triumphalism...[In the view of the Right] Like the genie in Aladdin's bottle, the United States seemed to be a kind of magical being, first filling the sky, able to grant any wish, but a second later stoppered and helpless in its container. It was to be depended not on any enemy, all of whom could easily be laid low if only America so chose, but on Americans at home, who prevented this unleashing of might. If Americans cowered, it supposedly was mainly before other Americans. Get them out of the way, and the United States could rule the globe.

His thesis is that constitutional crises occur when military failures cause American governments to persecute dissidents as the real cause of the failure, as when the fall of China to the Communists caused the Senate to get all in a snit about those notes that Alger Hiss used to pass to Soviet intelligence, or that several people were rude to Jane Fonda after she posed on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. These are not quite the examples he uses, but even the ones he does use, such as Richard Nixon's "enemies list," are chiefly notable as mythology. The actual "enemies list" was a White House "do not invite" list. There was a real constitutional crisis during the Nixon Administration, but only because the Democrats wanted one. And the same was true during the 1990s, when the Republicans set a standard for presidential impeachment that George Bush may yet have cause to regret, but I digress.

The surreal thing about Schell's thesis is it has long been the Left that sought to "bring the war home" for domestic political reasons. One could argue that the Liberal Party in Britain was doing this as early as the Boer War. As for the later and more radical Left, it's Agitator 101 that a lost war helps create a revolutionary situation. Part of the bad temper of the American Left derives from the fact that they finally got an unambiguous American defeat in Vietnam and were unable to capitalize on it, beyond sending people like Gary Hart to Congress.

Too Late For Empire is more generally in aid of the central argument that of Schell's book, Unconquerable World, which is that conventional war is obsolete and unconventional wars are unwinnable:

Though it's hard to shed a tear, you might say that there was a certain unfairness in America's timing. All the ingredients of past empires were there - the wealth, the weapons, the power, hard and soft. Only the century was wrong. The United States was not, could not be, and cannot now be a new Rome, much less greater than Rome, because it cannot do what Rome did.

No doubt thinking of the thesis of Hardt & Negri's Empire, he notes:

Perhaps it will still be possible to shoehorn the United States into a stretched definition of "empire", but it would look nothing like Britain or Rome.

That would be an important point if the United States were trying to do what Rome and Britain did, or for that matter if Rome and Britain had done the same thing. It is certainly too late for a colonial empire like Britain's, and for that matter it is unimaginable that the United States would or could mimic Rome. That is quite a different thing from saying that the international system might not evolve in such a way that the US might wind up with a monopoly of certain kinds of force. Such a monopoly held by some entity in the world would in any case be necessary to make most conventional wars impossible, which is the chief precondition for the nonviolent politics that Schell favors.

Finally, to read Schell is to encounter by yet another mind in which it will always be 1970. He projects the paradigm of the national liberation movement onto transnational millenarian networks, and he repeats again and again that nuclear weapons are unusable; meanwhile, lesser powers acquire them im contexts, such as Iran versus Israel, or India versus Pakistan, in which they would be eminently usable. It's like the never-ending tours by the Rolling Stones, except the Stones know they are a nostalgia act.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-07-27: Transitional Parties; Political Despair; Gnostic Novels

There was an entry listed in the 2006 archives page for July 26th, but I seem to have lost it. Thus, we move on to the 27th.


Transitional Parties; Political Despair; Gnostic Novels

 

A Third Party is almost impossible in America, according to the Prometheus Institute, and in any case ill-advised. Here are five reasons:

1. Any electoral system with winner-take-all voting by district will tend to form two major parties;

2. The alternative voting system, proportional representation, promotes the creation of irresponsible single-issue parties;

3. Third parties tend to be extremist, polarizing and/or pointless;

4. The two parties pander to the new movements, making third parties superfluous;

5. Independent organizations can promote political agendas better than Third Parties can.

This exposition of the matter seems to be directed to Libertarians, who are advised to bide their time until the Democrats come pandering to them. Rather than a Third Party, Libertarians need a few good little magazines, or perhaps websites. National Review, we are reminded, made the Republican Party the Conservative Party; earlier in the 20th century, journals like The New Republic made the Democratic Party the institutional home of crypto-socialism.

To this strategy one might answer that Reason has its audience, but maybe not its electorate.

Be that as it may, though, I note this aside in the discussion under Item 1:

Certainly, resurgent parties can become so large that they push out one of the two existing major parties, as the Republicans did in the 19th century. But such a situation is highly unlikely today, and they will never last in third-party opposition.

The Republican Party was not created from scratch, but assembled from components of the old Whig Party and various anti-slavery and pro-tariff groups, some of which seceded from the Democrats. Such a reassembly or party units could happen today. The result might still be two parties, but they would not be the parties we have now, even if they carry the same names. Before that outcome, however, a party as formidable as the Progressives could be part of the transition.

* * *

Regarding the prospect of political despair, Joseph Bottom at First Things draws our attention to a note that one Professor Geoffrey Stone posted at the faculty website of the University of Chicago Law School:

In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? … What the president describes neutrally as “ethics” is simply his own, sectarian religious belief. … [I]n what sense is it “ethical” for Mr. Bush—acting as president of the United States—to place his own sectarian, religious belief above the convictions of a majority of the American people and a substantial majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate? In my judgment, this is no different from the president vetoing a law providing a subsidy to pork producers because eating pork offends his religious faith. Such a veto is an unethical and illegitimate usurpation of state authority designed to impose on all of society a particular religious faith.

After noting the oddity of making religious or natural law arguments the one class of reasoning that cannot be used in political debate (essentially by defining this class as "irrational"), Bottum goes on to make this point:

I wonder if the people who push this line have ever actually considered how dangerous it would be to win it? Do they really want to convince the large majority of Americans who are religious believers that their faith is incompatible with democratic politics? Do they think that people will, as a result, give up on their faith, or give up on their democracy?

What Bottum is talking about here is the danger of what Stephen Carter calls "disallegiance," which I discuss in a review of Eclipse of the Sun. Carter argues that what caused the American Revolution was not so much that the British government rejected the colonists' arguments as that the government declared argument itself illicit.

While thinking about the First Things post, I first believed there to be an asymmetry in the two sides of the Culture War: when the Cultural Left loses, it does not despair; it just counts the loss as another setback on the Long March to the Universal and Homogeneous Republic (to use Kojeve's expression for the secular eschaton). After a little reflection, however, it occurred to me that the Cultural Left has long since despaired of democracy: hence its reliance on protean constitutional theory and on transnational organizations. The effect of the complete laicization of the democratic public square would therefore be irrelevant: neither side would believe in democracy at that point.

* * *

The Gnostic Novel is getting out of hand. Vexed to nightmare by the success of The Da Vinci Code, publishers have sent shuffling into the bookstores a rough parade of thrillers based on the premise that...well, you know the premise. Here are the websites given by two ads in this morning's New York Times that appear within two pages of each other.

From Kathleen McGowan, The Expected One (The Greatest Story Never Told, we are assured):

Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene hid a set of scrolls in the rocky wilds of the French Pyrenees, scrolls that contained her own version of the events and characters of the New Testament. Protected by supernatural forces, these sacred scrolls could only be uncovered by a special seeker, one who fulfills the ancient prophecy of the Expected One.

And there is Resurrection by Tucker Malarkey:

Resurrection draws on actual events surrounding the discovery of the Lost Gospels of Nag Hammadi. Suppressed by officials of the early Church, these sacred texts disappeared nearly two thousand years ago and were rediscovered unexpectedly in the 1940’s in the desert south of Cairo. Around these remarkable events, Tucker Malarkey has crafted a suspenseful and eye-opening tale of love and war, religion and murder.

The surname of the latter author gives me hope that the book may be a parody, but not much.

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

Message for the Dead Book Review

 Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published April 25th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07C33BB7D

In a tweet storm last month, I threatened to write an essay about the millennialism of the lighthuggers portrayed in Imperator when I had a chance. As it turns out, the end of the world came and found me before I was ready. Let my unreadiness serve as a warning to the others. Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

 Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

In many ways, this is a book of endings. An end to scheming. An end to corruption. An end to freedom. An end to life. The progression from the first to the last is the essence of the Faustian bargain. We trust more in our own power than in the power of God. We insist that our will be done.

 Isildur's moment of doom

Isildur's moment of doom

 Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

For Goth Sullus, the vice that makes his fall possible is justice. Yes, justice. I am not fool enough to call good evil just to make a point. However, it is precisely by means of a thirst for justice, for vengeance!, that evil enters the soul of the man known as Goth Sullus. [I admit that I suspect envy played a part as well, but we shall see] Yes, the galaxy is a dumpster fire. And Sullus insists that justice be done, though the heavens fall. His justice is swollen to madness in isolation from all else that is good and holy.

Yet, there is still hope. That hope is a slim hope, desperate even. Yet for all our weakness and foolishness, we have not been left to face the monsters alone. Although, it damn well feels like it. What it feels like, is the end of the world.

As I said, this is a book of endings. Yet, this is a specific type of ending. Not every apocalypse is created alike you see. This is only an introductory apocalypse. In an introductory apocalypse, the wicked system of the world is swept away. The world will then be united under the rule of the saints. During that time, things will be as they should be. However, the great enemy has merely been bound, not destroyed. At the end of the eponymous millennium, a revolt will occur, in which the cosmos will be consumed. That is a terminal apocalypse. Simply the end.

Now, clearly, something is amiss in the schema I have just described. While Goth Sullus certainly sees himself as worthy, I have my doubts. We also don't really know what role Aeson Keel, or Ravi, or Prisma Maydoon will serve in the end. We don't even really know what happened to Reina, although I have some dark suspicions. 

Without the ability to see into the hearts of men [or whatever Ravi is], we cannot really know what is to come. It is only by their fruits that we shall know them. Yet despite the bitter fruits that have fallen from Goth Sullus, I have hope for him too.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

I have a beautiful dream

My first article published somewhere other than my own website is now up at Ordinary Times:

P4211248.JPG

I Have a Beautiful Dream

I have a beautiful dream. My dream is that Flagstaff, my hometown, could become more beautiful as it grows. This is likely to seem a little strange to most Americans, who associate population growth with traffic congestion and sprawl. It probably also seems strange to my fellow citizens of Flagstaff, who have complained and protested about much of the recent growth, especially the large student housing projects that have accompanied the growth in enrollment at the local university.

Go read it and leave comments at Ordinary Times.

The Long View 2006-07-24: Defeat the People; Eurasianism = Bandung

 Bandung Conference By Ron4 - NL Wikipedia [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1073129

Bandung Conference
By Ron4 - NL Wikipedia [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1073129

I will note that pretty much nothing came out of any of the 2006 political movements mentioned in this post.


Defeat the People; Eurasianism = Bandung

 

The Wicked Spengler at Asia Times reminds us today that the people, united, have often been defeated:

Conventional armies can defeat guerrilla forces with broad popular support, for it is perfectly feasible to dismantle a people, destroy its morale, and if need be expel them. It has happened in history on occasions beyond count. ...It seems to be happening again, as half or more of Lebanon's 1.2 million Shi'ites flee their homes. To de-fang Hezbollah implies the effective dissolution of the Shi'ite community, a third of whom live within Katyusha range of Israel. To the extent Israel's campaign succeeds, it will have knock-on effects throughout the region, starting with another accident-prone multi-ethnic patchwork, namely Syria, with grave implications for Iraq... Without the skim from Lebanon's black market and the remittances from Syrian workers in Lebanon, the regime's purse will shrivel and its hold on the reins will slacken.

Again, it's a mistake to equate Shiism with Persianism. There are elements in Shia Iraq that would be delighted to see Teheran defeated by proxy, the better to assert their own independence. And I question whether the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon was quite the American Idol fatuity that Spengler makes out. Would a campaign to dissolve Hezbollah in Lebanon been conceivable without a legitimate Lebanese government to which to remand the south of the country, possibly after a brief NATO occupation?

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn at The Sun notes the several ways in which this Middle East War is different from its predecessors. This time, everyone sees that the stakes have changed:

I used to say that the trouble was the Palestinians saw a two-state solution as an interim stage en route to a one-state solution. I underestimated Islamist depravity. As we now see in Gaza and southern Lebanon, any two-state solution would be an interim stage en route to a no-state solution. ...Suppose every last Jew in Israel were dead or fled, what would rise in place of the Zionist Entity? It would be something like the Hamas-Hezbollah terror squats in Gaza and Lebanon writ large...they're not Mussolini: they have no interest in making the trains run on time. And to be honest who can blame them? If you're a big-time terrorist mastermind it's frankly a bit of a bore to find yourself Deputy Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions, particularly when you're no good at it and no matter how lavishly the European Union throws money at you there never seems to be any in the kitty when it comes to making payroll....

I used to be very keen for a Palestinian state at the earliest opportunity, since I assumed that a government with schools to manage and potholes to fill would be distracted by these petty necessities from the goal of exterminating its neighbor. That was never the way that the Palestinian Authority operated, however; to the extent that the subsidies that kept it in business were not just stolen, they were spent on bloated, competing, police and security forces. Hamas and Hezbollah gained popular support by providing health services and subsistence, that helped prevent extremes of destitution but which did not constitute government as it is conventionally understood.

This pattern has been uncannily consistent in Chechnia (briefly), Taliban Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, the Palestinian areas, and parts of Pakistan. Though the state dissolves, sometimes foreign subsidies allow for the maintenance of a religiously sanctioned protection-racket linked to a welfare network. It is sometimes said of Lenin that his version of communism was just "War Socialism": the indefinite prolongation into peace-time of the emergency measures of economic command that the British and the Germans improvised for the First World War. Similarly: real, existing Islamism is simply the reduction of civil society to a badly managed refugee camp.

The one exception to this pattern so far has been Iran. The Islamic Republic never did well, but at least it never threatened to become a failed state. No doubt this is in part because Iran never had the legitimacy deficit from which all post-Ottoman Arab states suffer. Be that as it may, Steyn goes on to note that the current war is also different in that, this time, European and elite Arab opinion want the Israeli project to succeed:

In Causeries du lundi, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve recalls a Parisian dramatist watching the revolutionary mob rampaging through the street below and beaming: "See my pageant passing!" ...the more the thin skein of Palestinian grievance was stretched to justify atrocities half way around the world the more the Arab League bigshot emirs and European Union foreign ministers looked down from their windows and cooed, "See my parade passing!"...They've now belatedly realized they're at that stage in the creature feature where the monster has mutated into something bigger and crazier.

If you believe Steyn, the states of the region are now focusing on the prevention of this scenario:

[A] Middle East dominated by an apocalyptic Iran and its local enforcers, in which Arab self-rule turns out to have been a mere interlude between the Ottoman sultans and the eternal eclipse of a Persian nuclear umbrella.

* * *

We must be ready for new world order, advised David Crane yesterday in The Toronto Star:

Canada's intense preoccupation with the United States...means we are in great danger of missing the major shifts underway in the world...What was notable about the G-8 leaders' summit in St. Petersburg was that it could only deal with its key issues when it met, through its so-called Outreach, with the New World leaders of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. It was here, for example, that agreement was reached for a serious effort to complete global trade talks this year... Earlier this year, the leaders of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization — China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — met in Shanghai to discuss co-operation on measures to fight crime and terrorism, but they also dealt with economic development and energy. India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan sent observers.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organization is and will remain a nothing-burger, but I find it interesting that Eurasianism is repeatedly touted from various quarters. The question is whether this is because of the intrinsic importance of anything the Eurasians are up to, or because transnationalists need to point to some, to any, focus of the international system other than the United States. The transnationalists who most need this are Americans, since the unsatisfactory electoral behavior of their countrymen leave them no recourse but to claim to represent the views of some vaster contituency.

On the whole, the Eurasianism we find in the better journals these days is an echo of the Non-Aligned Movement of the middle 20th century, whose apogee was the Bandung Conference of 1955. Regarding the notable Third World leaders who attended that gathering, American writer Richard Wright observed: "This is the human race speaking."

Not really.

* * *

Need an alternative Spenglerian scenario? By that I mean: alternative to mine. If so, consult the heterodox notions at Matthew White's site. No doubt he will be offering us his views on spelling reform next.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-21: Theocracy & Elephants

 Fithp

Fithp

Footfall is a great book. Not the crowning achievement of The Mote in God's Eye or Inferno, but a hell of a good read.


Theocracy & Elephants

 

Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy is the title of the keynote piece in the current (August/September) issue of First Things, by the invaluable Ross Douthat. It is actually a review-essay covering four books, two of which I have reviewed myself: Kevin Phillips American Theocracy; James Rudin's The Baptizing of America; Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming; and Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come. All these books have points in common. They all, for instance, weirdly overestimate the place of the theology of R.J. Rushdoony in the scheme of things. They also argue that the prominence of religion in public life over the last generation has been anomalous and un-American. Douthat answers all these points very well. These snippets, I think, sum up the truth of the matter:

[According to these authors, all you need to characterize a state as a theocracy] are politicians who invoke religion and apply Christian principles to public policy...If that's all it takes to make a theocracy, then these writers are correct: Contemporary America is run by theocrats. Of course, by that measure, so was the America of every previous era. The United States has always been at once a secular republic and a religious nation, reflexively libertarian and fiercely pious, and this tension has been working itself out in our politics for more than two hundred years...[T]his is a history that the anti-theocrats seem determined to reject. The Christian Right isn't just bad for America because any application of faith to politics is inevitably poisonous, intolerant, and illiberal.

Though there is no discontinuity with earlier American practice in the role of religion in the Republican Party, Douthat suggests that there might be such a discontinuity in the attitude of the Democrats. As Douthat observes, the Democratic leadership consciously decided in 1972 to disassociate itself from its New Deal base of socially conservative blue-collar workers. (1972 was the year, of course, when George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee, and the floor of the convention was full of men sporting long hair and persons of all genders wearing sandals.) Though religion was not first in the party's calculations, their strategy implicitly bet on the secularization hypothesis. They are betting on it still: hence these four books of polemics.

* * *

Granted that there is no discontinuity on the side of the Republicans, however, I must note that we are within a few decades of the end of the Modern Era, and that we are seeing preliminary manifestations of the Second Religiousness. In the Spenglerian model, the Second Religiousness does not imply a theocracy, either, but it does imply a cultural climate in which informed opinion no longer finds religious tradition problematical. This does not occur because the religious impulse grows stronger, but because the skeptical alternative becomes corrupt and loses credibility. I incline to agree that Intelligent Design is a scam, but it is the cultural Left that will win the Darwin Award. In contrast, as I have remarked before, the economic Left has a future.

* * *

The Republican Party deserves credit for having the wit to catch the opportunity that the Democrats threw to them in the 1970s, and the man chiefly responsible for doing that is Ralph Reed. (Actually, Dr. Ralph Reed: he has a perfectly good doctorate in history from Emory.) The book he published in 1996 about how he did it, Active Faith, can still be read with interest and profit. His own career has recently taken a turn for the worse, however, as Peggy Noonan noted yesterday:

Ralph Reed lost this week in his race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia. This strikes me as significant in several ways...

I always thought the question about Mr. Reed is: Is he a Christian who went into politics, or a politician who went into Christianity? Was he sincere and driven by a desire to have a positive impact on public policy, or a mover driven by a desire to get a piece of the action as American Christians, disaffected from a Democratic Party that had grown wildly insensitive to, and in fact disdainful of, their values, started to become a force in the Republican Party? Maybe one or the other, maybe both, maybe both but to different degrees.

I once overheard him say to a friend, a year ago, that if "they" didn't stop him as he ran for his first public office, he would be "unstoppable." "They" was the political left. He expected a rough race, but he seemed optimistic. What struck me though was the word "unstoppable." I realized: He means if he wins, he'll run for governor and then president. He sounded like a mover. And he didn't seem sincere, not in any sweet, "this is what I believe" way.

I think he'd grown enamored of being an insider, a top and big-time operative in Republican politics and within the White House. When he spoke of the White House, he said "we."

Reed did not stumble simply because of personal arrogance, of course. After working for Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, he became a professional lobbyist. In that connection, his name became linked with some of the most outlandish schemes of Jack Abramoff. He is, perhaps, one of those people who are better suited to the study of political science than to its practice.

* * *

The House passed The Pledge Protection Act of 2005 yesterday, a bill designed to prevent the Supreme Court from excising the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. It's a short statute; here are the important lines:

Sec. 1632. Limitation on jurisdiction

`(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), no court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance, as defined in section 4 of title 4, or its recitation.

`(b) The limitation in subsection (a) does not apply to--

`(1) any court established by Congress under its power to make needful rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States; or

`(2) the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or the District of Columbia Court of Appeals;'.

I scratched my head about paragraph (b)(2) until I recalled that the intent of Congress was to let the states decide whether their own constitutions forbid the inclusion of "under God"; Congress was just treating the District of Columbia as a state.

If you held a gun to my head and asked me whether Congress has the power to remove this question from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, I would say: "Yes, Congress does, by the plain words of Article III. And please don't shoot me; I'll buy all the magazines you want me to buy." That is, however, one of the questions we really don't want answered. The argument on the other side is that the text must be interpreted within the overall structure of the Constitution. The Court does that all the time when parts of the text are in conflict. I think that this kind of limitation of jurisdiction is exactly what the framers had in mind, but it would not be irrational if the Court found otherwise. The interesting question is whether Congress and the President could ignore a Supreme Court ruling that was not just wrong, but obviously beyond the power of the Supreme Court to make. If you actually cocked the gun, I would say, "Yes!"

With any luck at all the Senate will let the legislation die.

* * *

Is SETI Barking up the Wrong Tree? So asks SETI spokesman Seth Shostak, in a useful short piece that describes to the most common objections he receives in his mail to SETI. As a general matter, he reminds us:

The number of star systems we've carefully examined is only about a thousand.... It's comparable to initiating a quest for Americans who play the oboe, but considering the search meaningful after interrogating only two people...

As for that dratted Fermi Paradox, he says:

This is, of course, an appeal to the Fermi Paradox, which assumes that if sophisticated societies are common, they should also be ubiquitous. Well, I just checked the parking lot outside the Institute, and I see no large animals with long, prehensile noses. The conclusion a la Fermi is that elephants don't exist on this Earth, right? After all, any putative pachyderms have had plenty of time to get to my office, even if only a few of them are so inclined.

Elephants and extraterrestrials? Be careful what you wish for.

* * *

Interested in overthrowing the government of Iran? Get your information here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Kingdom Coming

If you need a reminder that political swings are not the end of the world, in any figurative or literal sense, then this book, and the less histrionic American Theocracy should help vaccinate you against future outbreaks.

Only twelve years ago, otherwise sane and responsible people were warning that theocracy was imminent in the United States. This wasn't plausible then, as subsequent events have shown. Whatever dramatic theory you are entertaining now isn't actually likely either.


This review appeared originally in the March 15, 2006 issue of Kirkus Reviews.

Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism
By Goldberg, Michelle
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (224 pp.)
$23.95
May 15, 2006
ISBN 0-393-06094-2

 

American democracy and the Enlightenment itself are menaced by would-be theocrats and their Republican operatives.

Salon.com reporter Michelle Goldberg sometimes noted how reasonable were the politically engaged churchgoers she met as she traveled the country to research this book. Nonetheless, the book usually rises above its better nature to brand conservative Christian influence in public life as proto-fascist and a Western version of Islamism. The subversives are everywhere, passing anti-gay-marriage initiatives and lobbying for anti-abortion judges; more subversives are on the way, because homeschooling is simply an incubator for revolution. The menace is “Christian nationalism,” a movement whose elements she seeks to refer to the Reconstructionist theology of the late R. J. Rushdoony. Rushdoony was a genuine theocrat, a postmillennialist who held that Christ would return after believers had thoroughly Christianized the world. In contrast, the premillennialism of American evangelicals holds that Christ would return to a collapsing world. This implied that political reform by believers would be ultimately futile. One of the great stories in the political history of the past generation has been the search of newly vibrant American evangelicalism for a political theory. The author infers that Reconstructionism is the new master philosophy, in part because conventional politicians and religious leaders sometimes appear at the same public events as Reconstructionists. (There is no mention of the systematic efforts by some evangelicals to engage Catholic social theory). We do get some good reporting, however. We learn that the fiscal controls on the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiatives are loose. Also, the author slows down enough during her investigation of abstinence-only sex education to let its proponents make a case she finds unpersuasive but plausible. Nonetheless, the author says that now is the time to fight the Christian nationalists, not to placate them. She ends by exhorting her readers to retake the country from the grassroots up.

If you think that Christianity is the new Communism, then this is the book for you.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-19: The Road to Perdition

 Model of the temple district of Tenochtitlan at the  National Museum of Anthropology   By Thelmadatter - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3744781

Model of the temple district of Tenochtitlan at the National Museum of Anthropology

By Thelmadatter - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3744781

I recently read that Tenochtitlán, unlike almost all other pre-modern cities, was a population source instead of a population sink. This was due to a combination of the productivitiy of the floating farms, and a lack of the nasty diseases typical in cultures that have been farming for longer periods of time.


The Road to Perdition

 

Is this news, or just tabloid mischief? We read in today's New York Post:

July 19, 2006 -- JERUSALEM - Hezbollah yesterday warned the United States: You're next on our hit list. The threat against U.S. interests came as the FBI revealed it is searching for Hezbollah terrorist agents operating on American soil.

I have no doubt the facts are true: Hezbollah is making threats and the FBI is looking for sleepers. On the other hand, there are no signs of an imminent terrorist attack in the US, unless you count President Achmadinejad's remarks yesterday that Muslims will rejoice soon. Should an attack in the US occur, of course, it would remove the political and legal obstacles to US strikes against Iran and Syria. Iraq's connections with Al Qaeda were tenuous, elliptical, and contingent. Hezbollah, in contrast, is publicly subsidized and facilitated by Syria and Iran.

I am still inclined to think that all this unpleasantness will blow over: Hezbollah started it, not because it felt confident, but because it had to do something to stay relevant. Still, one can at least see a way now in which the situation could become awkward.

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the Western Front: California: SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a powerful new centralized authority under his direct control that would be charged with implementing one of the nation's most far-reaching initiatives to curb global warming.

And we let ourselves be convinced that California would be his last territorial demand in North America.

* * *

Here's a disease I can relate to: prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Without the tireless efforts of the disability industry, I would not now have a term for the fact I am slightly worse than usual at remembering faces. It's certainly true that I tend to identify people by their hair. There was a time in the 1980s when I could not tell one English rock singer from another.

* * *

In a piece about the reintroduction of primitive violence to modern societies, Mark Steyn notes just how ghastly primitive life really is:

Lawrence Keeley calculates that 87 per cent of primitive societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65 per cent of them were fighting continuously. "Had the same casualty rate been suffered by the population of the twentieth century," writes Wade, "its war deaths would have totaled two billion people." Two billion! In other words, we're the aberration: after 50,000 years of continuous human slaughter, you, me, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Harper, Rummy, Condi, we're the nancy-boy peacenik crowd. "The common impression that primitive peoples, by comparison, were peaceful and their occasional fighting of no serious consequence is incorrect. Warfare between pre-state societies was incessant, merciless, and conducted with the general purpose, often achieved, of annihilating the opponent."

We sometimes hear that Late Neolithic man was healthier and better fed than early civilized man, so much so that a question has arisen about how civilization could have started at all. The answer seems to be that civilization is lots safer.

* * *

But is civilization demographically sustainable? Demographers of the early 20th century used to express surprise that pre-modern cities did not, for the most part, sustain themselves by local births, but relied on immigration to maintain their populations. Now those worryworts at Brussels Journal remind us yet again that the same seems to be true of modern urban societies:

“Europe and Japan are now facing a population problem that is unprecedented in human history,” said Bill Butz, president of the Population Reference Bureau. Countries have lost people because of wars, disease and natural disasters but never because women stopped having enough children. Japan announced that its population had shrunk in 2005 for the first time, and that it was now the world’s most elderly nation.

The current situation is not absolutely unprecedented. The population of France fluctuated between 12 and 20 million in the late medieval and early modern eras. The same, or worse, was happening in the rest of Europe. The Ottoman Empire seems to have coincided with a period of population stagnation in its territories. War and disease sometimes depressed populations violently, but sometimes, for economic reasons, people did decline to have the large number of children it took to overcome the high infant mortality. The novelty, perhaps, is fertility levels that are inadequate even when infant mortality is close to zero.

Readers who need to worry about demographic collapse will enjoy the site of The Population Reference Bureau, and especially the PRB's country-by-country demographic profiles

* * *

And yes Virginia, there are spelling reform blogs.. Here is an example from My Space. My own preferences for an upgraded orthography, though fluid, are otherwise

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-16: Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer

The bulletin board that John Reilly set up in 2006 did end up being a major feature of his website. It featured lively discussion for a number of years. It was on that board that I first conceived of archiving and restoring John's writings after his death, since the bulletin board coasted on autopilot for some time after John mysteriously stopped posting.

 Robert Wright  By The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41034329

Robert Wright

By The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41034329

I am also quite interested to read Robert Wright's foreign policy suggestions from 2006 in the New York Times. I find some things I really like about his suggestions, and a few ideas that have turned out not to be so. For example:

Yes, the Chinese government could probably reverse the growth in popular expression of the past two decades, but only by severely restricting information technologies that are prerequisites for prosperity. Meanwhile, notwithstanding dogged efforts at repression, political pluralism in China is growing.

China has clamped down quite effectively on both the Internet and political pluralism, with no obvious effect on economic growth. At least yet.

Wright also makes a point that John Reilly often made: political systems expand to cover the range of the economy. The same dynamic that produced federalization via the Commerce clause is likely to push for some kind of universal state in the next century or so, covering the developed bits of the world.


Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer

 

Bulletin Board: Please note this new feature of the website. The link is above, to the right. I am not now requiring registration, but you might want to register anyway, in case I have to tighten access in the future.

This is my third attempt at greater interactivity. No doubt it is the charm. Yes.

* * *

Regarding the current unpleasantness in the Middle East, we have no reason to doubt that they will just bury the archduke and everything will be back to normal by September. That's what happens, 99 times out of 100. On that 100th occasion, of course, something worse than the worst imaginable happens. Could the war between Israel and Hizbollah be one of those occasions?

That seems to be the opinion of former Speaker of the House (and current presidential aspirant) Newt Gingrich, of whom we read this in The Seattle Times:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so. In an interview in Bellevue this morning Gingrich said Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.

...He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America's interests.

War all over the world is not the same as a world war. The difference between the Middle East now and during the 1970s and '80s is that, today, it is hard to tease a world war out of the Middle East. The major local power is Iran, and though it has international supporters, or at least defenders, no major power is willing to fight for it. In fact, despite all the talk about realignment against the United States, the interesting thing is that Russia, and China, and the EU have been willing, indeed eager, to punt these issues to Washington. Only if the major powers of the world lined up on different sides could we have a proper world war.

* * *

Robert Wright has a new model, or what he imagines is a new model, for foreign policy. It chimes well enough with his well-thought model of history. He applied it today's New York Times:

It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists. And adopting this paradigm could make the chaos of the last week less common in the future.

Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?)

I like "progressive," too, but one might point out that the term was hijacked by Stalinists in the 1930s and never lost the undertone of duplicity it gained from the connection. In any case, Wright suggests that we restore and reinforce the authority of the multilateral structures that come to us from the post-World War II era. He particularly laments the loss of authority of the UN:

The administration’s misjudgment in Iraq highlights the distinction — sometimes glossed over by neoconservatives — between transparency and regime change. Had we held off on invasion, demanding in return that United Nations inspections be expanded and extended, we could have rendered Iraq transparent, confirming that it posed no near-term threat. Regime change wasn’t essential.

Let us put aside the fact that everyone in the UN who had anything to do with the sanctions regime on Iraq seems to have been on the take. I can only express astonishment that Wright has not taken on board the fact that the same post-invasion inspections that found no weapons of mass destruction also found that Iraq planned to go back into the WMD business as soon as the sanctions were lifted. That would have happened as soon as UN weapons inspectors satisfied themselves that there were no WMDs in Baathist Iraq. One might argue that such an outcome would be better than the current situation. Be that as it may, one of the features of that alternative outcome would have been the total discrediting of the UN system: UN involvement would have been see to neutralize the result of the Coalition victory of 1991. In other words, there was no way the UN could have come through the Iraq crisis with credit.

Still hoping to goad the dead horse into action, Wright makes this recommendation:

We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

I know this must sound like American chauvinism, but the fact is that any recipe for world order that involves treating the US like any other country is just not going to work.

What has been happening since the turn of the century is that the post-World War II international system is falling apart. Anti-Americanism is just a reflection of that. Actually, the situation that Speaker Gingrich calls a world war is even worse than he describes. Among the other things that are now acutely different from 1950 is the demographic situation: the Voelkerwanderungen from the South into the US and EU are also part of the emergency.

And those who say, "What a shame that we do not have better leadership in this crisis," misunderstand what kind of thing it is. Many grinding tectonic plates are producing volcanoes in this historical transition, but one of the greatest faultlines runs straight through the center of American politics.

* * *

I continue to track the commentary regarding the Spelling Reform Summer of 2006 (in part, perhaps, so I don't have to project what happens if it it turns into the Nuking of Mecca Summer of 2006). Over at The Lexicographer's Rules, we find this old chestnut:

Any advocate of drastic spelling reform must have an insufficient understanding of just how differently English is spoken in the various groups that contribute to our various American English dialects.

I answered the point there (which I otherwise find a congenial site). I can deal with misunderstandings of that order, but I have no patience for the sort of willful ignorance we find at Campus Report Online:

Ef u kan reed this, u must saport tha simplefied speling system. If you couldn’t read the previous statement due to typographical errors, you must be for the current spelling system, which is as strong as ever before.

No doubt. In any case, if you would like to use the American Literacy Council's Soundspel system, you can download the macros here. Please note that it is phonics teaching software. One may use it for illustrative purposes in discussions of spelling reform, but not even its greatest fans say that it is a mature upgrade for English orthography .

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-13: Crime, Terror, The Demon Republic, and Perfume

 Michael Oakeshott  By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science - Professor Michael Oakeshott, c1960sUploaded by calliopejen1, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15987493

Michael Oakeshott

By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science - Professor Michael Oakeshott, c1960sUploaded by calliopejen1, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15987493

 Juggalos  By The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Wizard World Anaheim 2011 - Insane Clown Posse) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Juggalos

By The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Wizard World Anaheim 2011 - Insane Clown Posse) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The juxtaposition of Michael Oakeshott with Juggalos is interesting. I'm not certain it was intentional, but I'm also not certain it was unintentional. I'm not familiar with Oakeshott's work, but I am sorry to admit that I am familiar with Insane Clown Posse

I had a friend in high school who was a fan, and I think he fit the juggalo profile pretty well: from a working class background, never really fit in. I had one album on cassette tape, The Great Milenko. My twenty year old memories of the album are that it was vulgar, dark, and kinda catchy. 

Since Youtube exists, I would be remiss if I didn't go listen to that album again. It is remarkable the way songs stay with you, even twenty years later. It is indeed, vulgar, dark, and kinda catchy. I remember even as a teenager I noticed an unusually strong current of disapproval around ICP, so I stopped listening to them. I can see now that it was not just the crudity of the songs, but also that the juggalos are low class.  

Since I haven't read anything by Michael Oakeshott, I can neither confirm nor deny Andrew Sullivan's implication that Oakeshott was a nihilist, but I do know that ICP and the Juggalos aren't nihilists. That is an upper class affectation. They are working class white guys looking for meaning in their lives.


Crime, Terror, The Demon Republic, and Perfume

 

Bad posture should be a hanging offense, I have sometimes felt, and it seems that the police forces of the world are now inclining to this view:

For more than ten years, scientists have been working on a computer system that can analyse the movements of criminals caught on CCTV and compare them with those of a suspect. The system works on the premise that every individual has a signature walking style.

The technique is still in its infancy but has been employed in high-profile cases...Mark Nixon, of the Southampton University department of electronics and computing, said that studies showed everyone has a distinct walk.

Frankly, considering the recent events in Mumbai, and the fact that I regularly take the PATH trains to Manhattan, I am troubled not at all by the prospect of this surveillance.

* * *

Law and Order have also collapsed in Washington, DC, to put the most hysterical slant possible on this report:

Two groups of tourists were robbed at gunpoint on the National Mall, just hours after the police chief declared a crime emergency in the city in response to a string of violence that included the killing of a British activist.

The activist, Alan Senitt, was attacked in the Georgetown area on Sunday, his throat was slit and police say the attackers attempted to rape his companion. It was the 13th homicide in the city this month. Robberies are up 14 percent, and armed assaults have jumped 18 percent in the past 30 days.

These incidents happened in the touristy sections. What is happening in the neighborhoods we can only imagine.

* * *

Nightmares now lurk in the public parks of that non-DC Washington, or so says The Seattle Times:

For several nights last month, a group of thugs with black hooded sweat shirts pulled tight over their heads, including at least one in "angry" clown makeup, terrorized visitors to Pierce County's Fort Steilacoom Park, police say.

The group cried "woo, woo, Juggalo" as they assaulted park visitors with a machete and fists. They stole cellphones, cash and wallets and even threatened to cut their victims' heads off, according to court documents.

So far, two men and a woman have been charged with robbery and assault for their alleged roles in the string of attacks, said Pierce County deputy prosecutor Phil Sorensen. Prosecutors say the suspects claim to be "Juggalos," a subculture that has developed among the fan base of the rap/metal group Insane Clown Posse.

I have always disliked clowns. Now I have a good reason.

* * *

Regarding the latest horrors in Iraq, Wretchard of the Belmont Club quotes this (informally transcribed) soliloquy by Colonel Kurt in Apocalypse Now:

I remember when I was with Special Forces--it seems a thousand centuries ago--we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile--a pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized--like I was shot...like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, "My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that." Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that--these were not monsters, these were men, trained cadres, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled wi th love--that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time were able to utilize their primordial i nstincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment--without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

The Viet Cong did not invent Schrecklichkeit (neither did the Germans, for that matter). In the context of the Vietnam War, however, we should remember that the insurgency failed. That was irrelevant to the outcome of the war, of course, in the sense that South Vietnam was overrun by a conventional invasion a year and a half after American forces left. The Schrecklichkeit that the US public recoiled from was not that committed by the enemy, but by that alleged to have been committed by its own forces.

When terror is carefully modulated (an anonymous note; a small bomb that explodes just before a place of business opens; perhaps a tactful assassination) it often does bring an opponent regime to negotiations, or even collapse. In contrast, these horror-show attacks are bonding rituals for the perpetrators. They demonstrate to the perpetrators how ruthless they are and how implacable their dedication.

* * *

But how can order be maintained? Probably not through the political theory that Andrew Sullivan promotes in his forthcoming book, The Conservative Soul : How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. I just reviewed that for Kirkus, and so I cannot reproduce the review here. What I can do is express the hope that Michael Oakeshott, whom I have never read, is not the invertebrate nihilist that Sullivan, approvingly, makes him out to be. A state governed by the "conservatism of doubt" that Sullivan attributes to Oakeshott would be just another member of the federal republic of demons that Kant described: that is, a state of pure procedure that was designedly indifferent to virtue.

The argument against Rawls's version of the Demon Republic is that its totalitarian insistence on a minimalist public square would be sure to bring gunfire from people who don't want their worldviews delegitimated (a group that would ultimately include everyone, including Rawlsians). Sullivan's Demon Republic would collapse from lack of official support for the political sentiments and anthropological institutions that would be necessary to keep the state in existence; which is, more or less, what seems to happening to much of Western Europe and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

* * *

This is not to say that Europe is without hope, or at least some interesting legal precedents:

[In] mid-June, the highest court in France ruled that making perfume is not an artistic creation, but the work of a mere artisan.

The distinction is not an abstraction. Legally, it is more about money than about art. At stake are potential royalties for perfume makers (a k a noses) and profits and protection for manufacturers during the life of a fragrance.

In its ruling, the court, the Cour de Cassation, denied the petition of a perfume maker, who claimed she deserved to continue receiving royalties from a former employer, even after she had been fired. The court stated, “The fragrance of a perfume, which results from the simple implementation of expertise,” does not constitute “the creation of a form of expression able to profit from protection of works of the mind.”

To confuse matters, a French court of appeals ruled the opposite last January, determining that a perfume could be a “work of the mind” protected by intellectual property law. It ordered a Belgian company to pay damages to the perfume and cosmetics giant L’Oréal, which sued it for producing counterfeits of best-selling L’Oréal perfumes.

If you could have intellectual property rights in a perfume, then why not in a really good pastry?

Yum.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-10: Rolling Fast; Dumb Reform; Smart Reform

This fasting protest seems pretty tame now.


Rolling Fast; Dumb Reform; Smart Reform

 

Mark Steyn is a cruel man, as we see from his account of the last word in celebrity war protesting:

''Penn, Sarandon, novelist Alice Walker and actor Danny Glover will join a 'rolling' fast, a relay in which 2,700 activists pledge to refuse food for at least 24 hours, and then hand over to a comrade.''

...Personally, if celebrities have to ''put their bodies on the line for peace,'' I'd much rather see them bulk up. How about if Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow promise to put on 20 pounds for every month Bush refuses to end his illegal war? ...even al-Qaida couldn't have come up with as withering a parody of the Great Satan's decadence as a celebrity pseudo-fast.

I think perhaps "relay fast" would be a better term than "rolling fast." The latter sounds like what a barrel does on a steep hill.

* * *

Spelling Reform is cruel too, at least to its proponents, such as myself. Only those persons familiar with my sensitive and nonconfrontational nature can imagine the hurt and spiritual maim I have suffered since Darlene Superville's AP story of July 5 made the matter topical. With some exceptions, the typical blogosphere reaction has been like this:

Okay, I came across this article this morning, and felt a need to share it with you. I find it utterly ridiculous and sad that people are actually arguing over this, and demanding for simpler spelling. I mean why is this such a huge issue, when we are facing so many more bigger problems than how to dumb ourselves down a bit more by being lazy with our grammar?

There is a genuine mystery here. Information system are modified all the time. A familiar example would be an upgrade to a computer program that made the program less confusing to use and less likely to crash. A more esoteric one, though perhaps more like what a spelling reform in English intends, is the routine codification areas of Common Law. (The Uniform Commercial Code did not abolish the Common Law of contacts, for instance, but the Code did make that law more coherent and easy to cite.) No step like this would ever be characterized as dumbing the system down. Apparently it's an Anglophone cultural insistence: any change in orthography is regarded as negligence, even when it's deliberate and demonstrably an improvement.

When you hear commentators referring to "spelling upgrade" rather than "reform," then you will know the insistence has been overcome.

What would a world with upgradable spelling be like?. It would be very much like this:

A few months ago, we released a brand-new French spell-checker for Office 2003 users (it was integrated into Service Pack 2 in September 2005). One of the main features of this new tool was that it now takes into account the French spelling reform, which is recommended by official bodies such as the Académie Française, the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, etc. I have discussed the various changes as well as the quality label we received for this tool on our other blog, so I won’t do it again here.

The official texts make it clear that both the traditional (‘old’) spelling and the ‘new’ spelling are valid. The default setting therefore accepts both forms. However, we had provided a separate dialog box to enable users to select the flavor they would like to use in the French texts if they wanted to change this default configuration.

I promise not to turn this into a spelling blog, but someone has to make these points.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Magician's Secret Book Review

 The Red Baron - Manfred von Richthofen  By C. J. von Dühren - Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). Immediate source: The Wartenberg Trust, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18314105

The Red Baron - Manfred von Richthofen

By C. J. von Dühren - Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). Immediate source: The Wartenberg Trust, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18314105

The Magician's Secret
by Stuart Hyman (author) and Joe Bluhm (illustrator)
Tundra Books (April 3, 2018)
$17.99 hardcover; 40 pages
ISBN 978-1770498945

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

This is a very sweet book, about the adventures a little boy has with his grandfather, who is always filling his head with wild stories. 

Since any good children's book must appeal to the parents as much as the kids, I appreciate that the adventures the little boy has with this grandfather are the same kinds of things I enjoyed as a child: dinosaurs, King Tut, and the Red Baron. I also appreciate that Charlie's dad warns him against putting too much stock in Grandpa's tall tales. At some point, your children must learn that the world outside [hopefully outside] is a horrible place, and it will eat them alive, if they let it. You ideally want to ease them into that.

On the other hand, only a monster would deny their children beautiful stories and make-believe.

On the gripping hand, beautiful stories and make-believe are a part of what strengthens us to withstand the ordinary and extraordinary vicissitudes of life, and I feel like Charlie's grandpa knows that. Dragons exist. And they can be killed.

My other book reviews

The Magician's Secret
By Zachary Hyman