The Long View 2006-10-06: Deus Vult; Foley Fake; Friedman's Folly; Times Hoax; Abortion & Medical Ethics

If anything, the deus vult memeing has only gotten more intense in the last twelve years.


Deus Vult; Foley Fake; Friedman's Folly; Times Hoax; Abortion & Medical Ethics

 

An old friend called a few days ago to ask me to refresh his memory about the First Crusade. What was the Crusaders' motto again?

"'Deus Vult,' I replied. "Latin for 'God Wills.'"

"That's it. Thanks, I needed that information."

"What for?"

"I'm having T-shirts made with that printed on them. I'm sick and tired of Islam."

Deus Vult may be the best slogan ever coined, but I have doubts about its use in the current context.

I don't doubt that God, in a general sort of way, would approve of the disappearance of Islam. (Islam really is just a very eccentric Christian heresy, and I begin to wonder whether its ultimate fate might not lie along a Muslim version of "Jews for Jesus.") However, nothing we could do today would include the enterprise for which Deus Vult was authorized.

The First Crusade (1095) was launched in somewhat delayed response to the Battle of Manzikert (1071), the battle that began the collapse of the Byzantine position in Asia Minor under the influx of the Seljuk Turks. More specifically, the crusade was a response to the request for assistance that came to Pope Urban II from the Byzantine Emperor Alexis II. The pope sponsored the enterprise, and the crusaders took oaths that would be unambiguously fulfilled only if they captured Jerusalem (which they did, to the surprise and annoyance of the Byzantines and their partisans among the later historians).

To put it bluntly, the First Crusade believed itself to be on a mission from God; its participants could produce documentary support for that proposition. Today, there may be prudential reasons for driving back or converting Islam, but the use of Deus Vult would imply a product endorsement that has not been authorized.

* * *

The most sensible thing yet said about the Foley Affair was Hugh Hewitt's introduction to a recent broadcast of his talkshow:

Condoleezza Rice is in Baghdad, the North Koreans are getting ready for a nuclear test, and my guest, Mark Steyn, is with me to discuss not those, but Mark Foley.

I am beginning to suspect that Karl Rove orchestrated all this, at least with regard to the timing, in order to distract attention from Bob Woodward's new book, I'm Still Relevant, Dammit!. As for the Korean nuke test, does anyone doubt that the Dear Leader is simply Rove's catspaw?

* * *

Here's the worst piece of economic history I have seen in a long time, and it comes from Milton Friedman:

It had to happen. Hong Kong's policy of "positive noninterventionism" was too good to last. It went against all the instincts of government officials, paid to spend other people's money and meddle in other people's affairs. That's why it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle. Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite. Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71. Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling. His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable. At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's. By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period. That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

Hong Kong got rich because it was the entrepot city to China, as Singapore is for Malay World and as Miami is for the Caribbean. Only the dimmest government (like, say, the one in New Orleans) could prevent the gateway to a vast hinterland from prospering. What Friedman is complaining about is that Hong Kong is starting to implement some of the regulations that have long been a feature of advanced economies. Perhaps these regulations will be used crookedly. Ideally, though, Hong Kong's place in the scheme of things in this point in its history is to set a good example to China, whose economy is turning into the bar scene in the first-released Star Wars movie.

* * *

The readership of the New York Times is, as we know, an eccentric and in many ways psychologically fragile population. We can therefore only be astonished at the editors' cruelty in running as story as misleading as the one headlined Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers:

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves...Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation...The 4 percent is cited in the book “The Bridger Generation” by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old.... George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna’s methodology, however, for defining “Bible-believing” so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

As this compressed version of the story shows, a reader who carefully read to the end of the piece would learn that this "fear of the loss of teenagers" is nothing more than a bit of scaremongering by some evangelical rally-organizers. However, the people who read the Times daily have a strong need to believe that religion is a negligible epiphenomenon to American life that will soon become extinct. I have already seen the Times story interpreted online in just that way and the prospect of a post-religious future applauded. The Times needs to hold on to its base readership, but is it really ethical for a newspaper to encourage a delusion among its readers in this way?

* * *

What would life be like after Roe v. Wade? Consider the Illegal abortion doctor struck off in Australia:

A SYDNEY abortion doctor has been struck off after the NSW Medical Board found her to be of bad character and guilty of professional misconduct.

Suman Sood, who in August became the first doctor in NSW in 30 years to be found guilty of performing an unlawful abortion, was deregistered yesterday and may not reregister.. for 10 years.

You see: no criminal trail, no manslaughter charges; it's a disciplinary procedure that can actually be carried out because the penalties are not terribly severe. That is the kind of legislation that the pro-life movement in the United States should be working on.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2018-08-13

While I am opposed to this kind of Luddism, it does demonstrate a kind of consistency. GMO does not actually describe all kinds of genetic engineering that we apply to food. Here is the article about the damage to the research plot.


Cash transfers and labor supply: Evidence from a large-scale program in Iran

The tweet that pointed me to this article about a UBI-style program in Iran noted that probably no one is interested in this example because no one wants Iran to be the good example. There are also complicated inflation-related effects going on.


Nonfiction: White Working Class by Joan Williams

A nice book review on a subject of perennial interest here: class in America. The author of the book used a idiosyncratic definition of working class, family incomes from $41,005 to $131,962 [class isn't about money!], which produces some oddities of analysis, but the book review is nevertheless interesting.


BLUE-COLLAR BLUES

Another take on the same book about the working class from Claremont Review of Books.


The Myth of Thrusting versus Cutting Swords

Any idea of fighting you get through popular entertainment probably has more to do with stage direction than making people dead. I appreciate the work of the Association of Renaissance Martial Artists does to understand the history of martial arts in the West.


A Striking Similarity: The Revolutionary Findings of Twin Studies

Twin studies have labored under the shadow of Cyril Burt's flawed experiment for a century. Recent work is much better.


Open Borders and the Hive Mind Hypothesis

I find open borders to be a nutty idea, but I appreciated this look at the economic models behind many prominent economists' support of this radical notion. There is something to be said for trying to make the poorest people at least a little richer, but I worry that the models don't take into account likely consequences of an economic contraction in first world economies accompanied by massive migration. For example: do-it-yourself interethnic strife. People would be mad. Sure, you can argue people should be happy to provide more for others, but that isn't what is going to happen if 58% of world population migrates. Hell, even if global GDP goes up, there will be enough losers to be really mad about it.


This graph, and accompanying thread contains a massive amount of detail about agricultural productivity.


The Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge

J. R. R. Tolkien casts a long shadow on modern fantasy. However, if you wish, you can find lots of books written before his influence was so prevalent.


The Fake Split of Scifi and Fantasy

I too am sympathetic to the idea that speculative fiction is really of a piece, no matter the trappings.


The Long View 2006-10-05: Fratricide; Mutiny; Eurasianism for Americans; Steyn's Reservations; Neologisms

The mid-2000s idea that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan would start to influence the course of public affairs never did come to much. There was the idea that bitter combat veterans might form the nucleus of anti-government groups, later advanced by Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security. There was also the idea that being a veteran would add gravitas to candidates for political office. Neither thing ever panned out, mostly veterans keep to themselves, probably because they are relatively few in number, as America's imperial wars don't really need much manpower, and also because they don't have much in common with the rest of American society anymore.


Fratricide; Mutiny; Eurasianism for Americans; Steyn's Reservations; Neologisms

 

Fratricide is the term I had been using privately to describe the oddly ineffective barrage of conveniently timed scandals concerning the Republican Party, but Mickey Kaus suggests another term:

There's also the Densepack Theory--the anti-GOP media have launched so many damaging GOP stories--see Josh Marshall's list-- that they are all arriving at once and, like fratricidal incoming ICBMs, are knocking each other out of the news rather than destroying their target! ...

It is true that the Republican Party does not deserve to be reelected. There is, in fact, something unseemly about this ludicrous patronage machine holding the country hostage with the threat that the choice is between them and the Darwin Award Party. Sometimes I do think that the shaping of a new partisan alternative would be facilitated by the spectacle of a Democratic Majority. However, the temptation to adopt the adage, "the worse, the better" should always be resisted. Besides, we should remember that part of the solution rests with salvaging elements of the Democratic Party. As long as that party is out of power, those segments will be detachable. The Republican ensemble is already disarticulated enough, I think.

* * *

Some of you may have come across this bit of 1960's nostalgia about the state of the American Army entitled Awaiting the Rebellion:

When, one wonders, will mutiny begin among the troops in Iraq?

Recently I talked by email about the war with Jim Coyne, an airborne-infantry friend who served two tours as a gunship door-gunner in Viet Nam and then made a career in journalism. I asked, “Do they [I meant the officer corps, the official military] actually believe the optimistic twaddle this time around? Do they really not know what is happening?”

The article is a fact-free projection of the Vietnam Era conscript-military mentality onto Iraq, a projection that is found congenial by some people on the Right whose larger agenda does not bear close scrutiny. For as good a refutation as you are likely to find of this scenario, visit the Mail Section of Jerry Pournelle's site.

* * *

Mark Steyn has not had second thoughts about his new book, America Alone, but he has felt the need to put his Jeremiad in perspective:

My little tome on the end of the world comes out in a few weeks. And, though the end-of-the-world bit is now reduced to the subtitle, I found myself once it had gone to the printers suddenly riddled with self-doubt: oh my God, what if I'm just being apocalyptic and neurotic? So I started picking up other books about the shape of things to come just to reassure myself.

I think that Steyn's apocalypse will prove altogether more accurate than the one in the original Shape of Things to Come. That 1933 novel by H.G. Wells now makes readers' jaws drop, not because he got so many specific "predictions" wrong (he was writing a novel, after all), but because his anti-market and anti-religious worldview systematically misled him. Actually, I would compare Steyn's book to Oswald Spengler's tract from about the same time as Wells' novel, The Hour of Decision. It has some ideological features that Spengler's admirers' might prefer to pass over in silence, but it does share many of the demographic preoccupations of Steyn's book. It's one of those books that becomes less ridiculous every year.

At the risk of repeating what I said in my last entry, let me emphasize that, whatever usefulness America Alone may have with regard to foreign policy, the book could turn out to be the decisive culture wars text. Steyn has given us the theoretical underpinning for a conservative cultural policy that natural law enthusiasts promised but never delivered.

* * *

But just what is the Rightist Alternative to the War on Terror (and Steyn too, for that matter) that dare not speak its name? We see an unusually bald form of it in this essay, Eurasia Contra America:

For American patriots, the fall of the American empire may or may not be good news. It is natural for a patriot to want to support his government, especially when young men are sent in harm’s way, but ask yourself for whose interests our people are dying. Is it really worth the blood of patriots to protect free markets, a steady supply of oil, multiculturalism, military supremecy, and the pariah state called Israel? Others might like the idea of an American-dominated world, complete with free trade and a cosmopolitan, universal, materialist culture. We must remember that the American empire is far from “American” and our current culture and foreign policies have little to do with what is traditionally thought of as American and actually work against the best interests of the American people. Many so-called “Americans” might like to install Israel-friendly puppet regimes in all of the Middle Eastern states and are perfectly willing to sacrifice your sons and daughters to that end. However, for those Americans who dream of a patriotic America that looks after its own interests first and isn't hated by nearly the entire world, the sooner the American empire ends, the better. A new balance of power would truly be good news.

It could very well come to be that Mother Russia's destiny as the "Third Rome" will indeed save the West and the world will become multipolar.

Not everyone who says things like this is in league with the Forces of Evil. However, when you hear such sentiments, alarms should go off in your head.

* * *

But sometimes evil does triumph. I was disappointed that the phrase "bright and shiny," often shortened to "shiny," did not make it into common parlance from the Serenity/Firefly backstory. It would have been a welcome replacement for "okay" and "cool." In contrast, the idiot expletive "frak" has escaped from Battlestar Galactica into the real world, with devastating consequences.

This development is doubleplus ungood.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent Book Review

Dear Earthling: Cosmic Corrrespondent
by Pen Avey
114 pages
Published by Common Deer Press (December 3, 2018)
ISBN 978-1-988761-26-8

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

Pen Avey's Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent missed the mark for me. I suppose it had to happen eventually. I've been getting a lot of great review books for kids, but you can't like everything.

Partly, this book is just aimed at older kids than mine. Ages 8-11 says the included bookmark. My wife said this is the kind of book a ten-year old would probably like reading, so that checks out. Unfortunately for me, my oldest is six. However, I also find the style of the book rather obnoxious. Even if my son were ten, I might not be real happy about him reading this book. I certainly did not like reading it to him. Probably because it is pitched a little too hard at what ten-year old boys find funny. Fart jokes mostly. 

As I find the book déclassé, I am unwilling to excuse the derivative nature of most of it. I like pastiche, but only in the service of greater ends. I will not be returning to this book at bedtime. If your taste in children's books is different than mine, your mileage my vary.

My other book reviews

Linkfest 2018-08-06: Now with more science!

 Barrow Steelworks  By unknown - 1877 or earlier, republished by University of Strathclyde project - http://victoria.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/browseTimeline.php?group=&year1=&year2=, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14652342

Barrow Steelworks

By unknown - 1877 or earlier, republished by University of Strathclyde project - http://victoria.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/browseTimeline.php?group=&year1=&year2=, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14652342

Somehow I had never really captured the term, Second Industrial Revolution. This is the far more interesting one that came in the late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century. This is where we got electricity and steel and mass production.


A long journey to reproducible results

Reproducibility is often an afterthought in science, which means it is often quite hard to *actually* reproduce someone's results from their method section. Sometimes it is hard even if you call the scientist and ask them how they did it. True standardization is one of the fruits of the second industrial revolution, but we have forgotten how to use it.


Plan to replicate 50 high-impact cancer papers shrinks to just 18

A high profile project runs into trouble because of a lack of attention to standardization and reproducibility when experiments were first run. If you have experience doing this, it can be easy to help the next experimenter down the line. But you only get that experience by doing it....


Not a problem limited to the sciences either. One of the ways in which you can enable replication is to make all of the intermediate products of your research available, which I think ought to be a wider practice, especially for publicly funded research. With the raw data, and the analysis script(s), you can then run the numbers yourself and see what happens. With online appendicies, this could be easy.


A fine thread on the implications of the ability to make guns at a craft scale instead of the factory scale. 3D printing isn't the real issue, it is about machining know-how and a ready market in non-gun parts that can be turned into truly functional modern firearms.


THE STRANGE HISTORY OF ONE OF THE INTERNET'S FIRST VIRAL VIDEOS

I missed this one somehow, possibly because I wouldn't have waited for it to download when I was on dial-up. I just wanted to play Quake.



Why is so little plastic actually recycled?

A Danish and Swedish report on the practical difficulties of plastic recycling.


Grandmotherhood across the demographic transition

Longer lives meant more time with grandparents.


A step closer to BMD shield: India successfully test-fires interceptor missile

Outside of the context of American politics, a number of countries are working on missile interceptor technology.


Parking rules raise your rent

How Much Should Parking Cost?

Two data driven looks at the true cost of parking requirements.


 Brief evolution of European armor

Brief evolution of European armor

A nicely done graphic.


The Long View 2006-10-03: Religious Studies; Humans versus Homo Sapiens

 St. Thomas Aquinas – An altarpiece in  Ascoli Piceno , Italy, by  Carlo Crivelli  (15th century)  By Carlo Crivelli - Via The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=149804

St. Thomas Aquinas – An altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

By Carlo Crivelli - Via The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=149804

This is perhaps the most profound thing John J. Reilly ever said:

Human, homo sapiens, and person are not just different things, but different kinds of things. A human is an essence (if you don't believe in essences, then you don't believe in humans; maybe that's Peter Singer's problem); a homo sapiens is a kind of monkey; and a person is a phenomenon. Perhaps I read too much science fiction, but it is not at all clear to me that every human must necessarily be a homo sapiens. (As for the converse, C.S. Lewis occasionally toyed with the possibility that not every homo sapiens need be human; so have I, though I'd rather not pursue the matter.) As for "person," I think this kind of argument conflates the primary meaning of "person," which is an entity, conscious or otherwise, that you can regard as a "thou," with the notion of "person" as an entity able to respond in law, either directly or through an agent.

I ponder this all the time, and the critical distinction he makes here just gets better with age. Clear terms enable clear thinking. 


Religious Studies; Humans versus Homo Sapiens

 

Your degree in Religious Studies is not useless, if we consider the Jobs for the Boys implicit in this assessment by that Spengler at Asia Times:

Theological illiteracy is epidemic in the neo-conservative camp. The American Enterprise Institute's Iran expert, former US Central Intelligence Agency officer Reuel Marc Gerecht, thinks that "Islam is akin to biblical Judaism in accentuating the unnuanced, transcendent awe of God". Gerecht is ge-wrong. Worst of all is Norman Podhoretz of Commentary magazine, who insists that Islam takes even a stricter approach to idolatry than Judaism....These are the blunders of secular intellectuals who approach religion from the outside. Because the neo-conservatives propose to democratize the Middle East, they also must insist that Islam can be twisted into the pretzel that they prefer.

In fact, the foreign policy establishment was trying to get up to speed on religious issues even before 911. This effort requires academic expertise, however, and "Religious Studies" is too often an exercise in stultifying multiculturalism; or worse, a scarcely disguised form of Tradition. Many of the people who are already in the religion consultancy business are part of the problem: don't even ask what Spengler thinks of Juan Cole.

One of Mark Steyn's suggestions for combatting the ideological dimension of the jihad (as I note in this excessively long review of America Alone) is the creation of a "civil corps" to refute Islamist ideas and propose alternatives. Might I suggest that the only reality such a measure could have would be something like Christians praying for Muslims during Ramadan:

DALLAS, September 29 (UPI) — A global coalition of evangelical Christians is urging prayer for Muslims during their holy month of Ramadan.

But the idea has met some resistance from Muslims — and even some Christians, Associated Baptist Press reported Friday.

I am not altogether happy with the idea of evangelization as a national security strategy, but it could come to that.

* * *

Speaking of religion and politics, and particularly with regard to the Democratic Party's religion deficit, Robert P. George raises these objections at First Things:

Over at the Mirror of Justice website, law professor Eduardo Peñalver keeps reasserting his arguments for why Catholics and other pro-lifers can and should support Democrats—even those who uphold abortion. But Professor Peñalver’s arguments do not improve with age or repetition....But let us get to the heart of the matter in dispute. Either Eduardo Peñalver believes that human embryos are human beings or he does not....the answer to [that] it is clear. The evidence, attested to unanimously by the major embryological texts used in contemporary anatomy and medicine, is overwhelming. From the zygote stage forward there is a complete, distinct, individual member of the species Homo sapiens ...

[I]s dignity something we possess only by virtue of our acquisition or realization of certain qualities (immediately exercisable capacities) that human beings in certain stages and conditions possess (or exhibit) and others do not, and that some possess in greater measure than others, e.g., self-awareness, consciousness, rationality? If the latter, then not all human beings are “persons” with rights....

I and many others have advanced philosophical arguments against the idea that some human beings are “nonpersons.” I will not repeat the arguments here. I will say only that among the weakest arguments for denying that embryonic human beings are persons is the one that seems to have impressed Professor Peñalver: namely, the argument that purports to infer from the high rate of natural embryo loss (including failure to implant) that human embryos lack the dignity and rights of human beings at later developmental stages. No one knows what the rate actually is, in part because what is lost in some cases is, due to failures of fertilization, not actually an embryo. But the rate doesn’t matter. For nothing follows from natural death rates about the moral status of the human individuals who die.

I'm prolife, too, but I think George's arguments are glitchy. Human, homo sapiens, and person are not just different things, but different kinds of things. A human is an essence (if you don't believe in essences, then you don't believe in humans; maybe that's Peter Singer's problem); a homo sapiens is a kind of monkey; and a person is a phenomenon. Perhaps I read too much science fiction, but it is not at all clear to me that every human must necessarily be a homo sapiens. (As for the converse, C.S. Lewis occasionally toyed with the possibility that not every homo sapiens need be human; so have I, though I'd rather not pursue the matter.) As for "person," I think this kind of argument conflates the primary meaning of "person," which is an entity, conscious or otherwise, that you can regard as a "thou," with the notion of "person" as an entity able to respond in law, either directly or through an agent.

And actually, the conjecture that most concepti might be duds does bear on the matter. If, say, 75% of humans are organisms of a dozen cells that live for just a few days, that fact might not affect their dignity, but it does affect the dignity of the small minority of humans who survive to become adults. Do we really want to define humanness is such a way that intelligence, percipience, or compassion become irrelevant? Then there is also this: if those certainly human concepti could be rescued, won't we be morally obligated to try?

Let me suggest that a human is a little like a quantum particle that strikes a target behind more than one aperture: you can tell where it has been only after it has arrived. Certainly every adult alive today was once a conceptus, and then an embryo, and so on: every stage of this development shared the same essence, and so had the same dignity. That's quite different from saying that every conceptus is a human being; the most we can say is that every conceptus might be. That is quite enough reason not to interfere with it.

A final point on this matter: the human-life question will turn out to be epiphenomenal to the end of the abortion era. Contraception, abortion, and homosexuality were all features of a human-rights package that was designed, at least in part, to lower the birthrate. The intellectual and cultural climate on this issue is changing very rapidly. The interesting thing is that, whereas the courts that created these rights tended to avoid the suggestion that they were really implementing a population-control program, the courts now seem open to explicitly pro-natalist arguments.

You need an argument for your appellate brief that does not smack of theology or natural law? Here you have it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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I have a beautiful dream, but what really happens?

In May I wrote I Have a Beautiful Dream, an article detailing a vision for more effective development in my hometown. There is a real project happening on that same site I selected for the article, but I don't have anything regarding it I can share yet.

However, just across the street, a teardown development is going up. Let's look at that.

Miramonte Homes is building a three-story condo on the corner of Dale and Beaver. Here are a couple of pictures of the site and its previous construction, a somewhat aged looking duplex.

 Corner of Beaver and Dale, Google Maps overhead view 2018

Corner of Beaver and Dale, Google Maps overhead view 2018

 Duplex on the site previously, Google Street View 2018

Duplex on the site previously, Google Street View 2018

Here are some photos I took of the building site:

 Beaver Street view of Dale Condos

Beaver Street view of Dale Condos

 Dale Street view of Dale Condos

Dale Street view of Dale Condos

The lot coverage looks to be a bit under half. Maybe a third if you take account of the shape of the building. There looks to be a parking lot on most of the east side of the parcel.

Each condo looks to be a bit under 1,000 square feet, as shown on these floorplans from Miramonte Homes.

174204.jpg

And the asking price? $400,000 each. Which comes to $436 per square foot. In my article, I was aiming to build out the block across the street at $215 per square foot, less than half of that price.

So what is different? Miramonte Homes has a number of developments here, and presumably they know their business better than me. Since I don't know their costs, I'll take a guess at things that genuinely add cost:

  • Elevators are expensive. This condo has an elevator, which my townhouses did not. Elevators add at $50,000 to $100,000 to the cost of a building, with a smaller marginal cost for each floor served.
  • The building is served by sprinklers as well. This is a standard safety measure, and costs between $1 and $2 per square foot for single family homes. This condo may cost more, so lets assume 4 condos per floor, 3 floors, 916 square feet each, gives us about $11,000 to $22,000. That seems pretty cheap, but I wouldn't be surprised if a more expensive system is required in a condo than a single family home.
  • Miramonte didn't cheat on setbacks or parking. I think they could have covered more of the lot, the maximum is 80%, but this building needs at least 24 parking spots. It is way cheaper to build a flat lot like you can see above, instead of the tandem garages I proposed on the ground floor of each townhouse. I think you could also have put in parking on a ground floor, and had bigger units over it, but this may have required concrete construction, which is more expensive than the wood framing you can see. This parking lot might be about $20,000

I'm sure there are other things I'm less familiar with as well. Fannie Mae's estimate for apartment construction costs is $192 per square foot, much higher than the $120 I assumed for single family homes. The items above don't get you all the way there, but labor costs are a big factor, and right now construction labor is getting more expensive. Selling for $215 per square foot is ruinous if construction costs what Fannie Mae says it does.

If I had been aiming for such a high price point, I could have reduced the number of units, made the roads bigger, and put in some green space. All of those are nice things, but I also wanted to see if you could put in a lot of townhouses to provide additional supply to the market. If you really want to do something about the housing market, you gotta build a lot of stuff. However, no matter what, new construction is expensive.

The Long View 2006-09-26: Theocons; 2012; Christians & Muslims; Respectable Eurasianism

 George Kennan  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=251169

George Kennan

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=251169

Kinds of minimalist geopolitics have long been advocated in the United States by learned and thoughtful men. George Kennan, in his essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", had observed there were “only five centres of industrial and military power in the world which are important to us from the standpoint of national security.” Kennan wanted to focus on protecting the four centers of power that the Soviets did not control, and mind our own business elsewhere.

The Eurasianism John J. Reilly mentions here is a variety of minimalist geopolitics like Kennan's, although it probably does have something of a whiff of despair about it. It is about as likely has Kennan's realism to gain any traction in the United States, because we just don't do careful, measured foreign policy. We make a grand project out of everything.


Theocons; 2012; Christians & Muslims; Respectable Eurasianism

 

The New York Times has taken notice of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, an expose' by Damon Linker of the malefactions of that notorious journal, First Things. The review is by no less a person than Adrian Woolridge, Washington bureau chief of The Economist and a co-author of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. He does not seem wholly displeased by the book, but one gathers that the subject matter is new to him. He tells us:

Linker is a disillusioned theocon who cut his journalistic teeth working for Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things. But his tone is admirably restrained, dispassionate and scholarly when it could so easily have been rank and recriminatory, and he uses his insider’s knowledge to build up a detailed account of the movement. The result, for anybody who wants to understand the growing public role of American religion, is a book to reckon with.

On the other hand, perhaps in part because Linker's book does not tell the story that Woolridge has been reporting, he concludes:

In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique.

Whatever else Fr. Neuhaus was trying to do when he founded First Things, it is unlikely that he was trying to start a movement. It really is just a damn magazine.

* * *

Meanwhile, Mel Gibson's apocalyptic views have grown clearer, as we see from this further report of his remarks after a public showing of a rough-cut of his upcoming film, Apocalypto:

“I just wanna draw the parallels,” Gibson said. “I just looked at it, and thought, we display that stuff here. I don’t wanna be a doomsayer, but the Mayan calendar ends in 2012,” he chuckled. “So have fun!”

No, the Mayan Calendar does not end in 2012. The 13th baktun ends in 2012. Later dates can be found on Mayan stellae. Be that as it may:

The film itself, according to some who’ve seen it, is so gory that it makes his notoriously blood-soaked flicks “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ” look like kiddie flicks.

“The violence in the film is just downright mean and nasty,” notes a glowing review on CinemaStrikesBack. “This isn’t the kind of violence that makes you pump your fist like in a film like ‘Rocky.’ This is violence that makes you squirm in your seat and worry that it will sear your brain forever.”

As for why there are future dates on Mayan stellae, just never you mind.

* * *

The text of Benedict XVI's address on Monday to a group of Muslim ambassadors can be found here. I noted in particular his quotation of this key passage from the documents of the Second Vatican Council:

The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God" (Declaration Nostra Aetate, 3).

Note that this is not a declaration of respect for Islam, but for the piety of individual Muslims. At the risk of misstating the magisterium, let me suggest that the Catholic position on Islam is that pious Muslims do indeed worship God, despite the erroneous and even misleading view of God afforded by the Koran and Muslim theology.

Does theology make no difference, then? By no means. Muslims try to placate God; Christians try to be like Him, through the imitation of Christ.

* * *

A quite different view appears on the website of The National Interest, in the form of a comment by Paul L. Heck of the Georgetown University Theology Department:

[The Regensburg Address has] been cast as the latest example of a long-standing pattern, stretching back centuries, in which Europeans speak disparagingly of Muhammad with the goal not of provoking Muslims, but of exhorting those in Europe to a more vigorous commitment to their own civilization.

This remark is the third weirdest thing in the Heck's comment. The short answer to it is that Europeans have spoken "disparagingly" of Mohammed over the centuries because Muslim armies, particularly Turkish ones, were overrunning Christian territory and imposing a brutal and stultifying political order of their own. Yes, the mere contemplation of Mohammed and his followers was enough to make Europeans keen to defend Western civilization, and for good reason.

The second weirdest thing is that, throughout the piece, Heck refers to the pope as "Benedictus XVI." Well, this is from Georgetown, after all. Weirdest of all, though, even for a professor of Islamic studies, is this suggestion:

We need a Christian statement, issued by the Vatican, on the prophet Muhammad. This is what is at stake for Muslims, the image of the prophet whom they love so dearly...What is sorely needed is a Vatican statement on the prophet Muhammad that reflects the love that Muslims have for him.

Be careful what you wish for. Joseph Ratzinger is quite capable of ending such an encyclical with a rhetorical address to Mohammed that concludes "...te, et equem in quo equitavis."

* * *

The venue of Heck's remarks is at least as interesting as their content. I have previously noted the turn toward Eurasianism that National Journal began to take last year after the defenestration of John O'Sullivan from the editorship. Judging by the September/October issue, the transformation is now complete. What it has turned into now is a respectable organ to argue the proposition that United States should begin to accommodate itself to a world in which it will take second place to a Eurasian constellation of powers, or at best become a peer in a multipolar world.

The articles in the issue doe not have uniform views, and the magazine is not just a propaganda sheet. (In this it is unlike, say, anything put out by the Cato Institute, which seems to have signed on to the Eurasian agenda and is well-represented the National Interest's pages.) About the contributors, I might note that it is bad look to begin any journal with a piece by Michael Scheuer, who seems to forget nothing and learn nothing. On a more serious level are contributions by Harry Harding and Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy whose name is apt for its product. There is also an article by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who recommends the official partition of Iraq. That is a plausible strategy, but the senator's well-wishers might suggest to him that he propose it elsewhere.

What are the elements of practical Eurasianism for the United States?

(1) The unstoppable rise of China (and sometimes India);

(2) The folly of the Democratic peace and of nation-building

(3) The inevitability and advantageousness of the dissolution of the Japanese and European alliances

(4) The ontological supremacy of the UN;

(5) The inevitability of American economical decline, certainly in relative terms and perhaps absolutely;

(6) The American military is unsustainably overstretched;

(7) The benign necessity of nuclear proliferation.

Many of these points are simply revivals, without modification, of the "declinist" thesis of the late 1980s. Three points that are almost never mentioned in the Eurasianist literature (at least that I have seen) are:

(1) The demographic decline of China and Europe;

(2) Strategic missile defense

(3) Eurabia.

Legend has it that, as Secretary of State for presidents Nixon and Ford, Henry Kissinger conceptualized his job as negotiating an acceptable "number 2" position for the United States with the USSR, which he believed was likely to win the Cold War. It is, no doubt, coincidence that Kissinger is the Honorary Chairman of the National Interest Foundation.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2018-07-30

 Lord of the Rings by Frank Frazetta

Lord of the Rings by Frank Frazetta

The images from today's linkfest are Frank Frazetta illustrations of the Lord of the Rings. Frazetta was a prolific illustrator of comics, book covers, album covers, and paintings. His style is instantly recognizable to any fan of science fiction and fantasy, and perhaps is the epitome of SFF cover art. There are a lot of links this week about science fiction and fantasy works, so this just seemed right when it came through my Twitter feed. His children and grandchildren still benefit from his work, so please patronize their online shops.


THE MUD, THE BLOOD AND THE YEARS: WHY “GRIMDARK” IS THE NEW “SWORD AND SORCERY”

Warhammer 40k is the thing I had most often heard described as grimdark, but it turns out there is a wide variety of books that could be described by that label. I might have to check it out.


WHY WAS THE 20TH CENTURY NOT A CHINESE CENTURY?: AN OUTTAKE FROM "SLOUCHING TOWARDS UTOPIA?: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LONG 20TH CENTURY"

The first of two related Brad DeLong links this week. An nice capsule history of China's relative position in the world during the twentieth century.


Curing cancer statistically via mammography

Many modern diagnostic techniques, while quite accurate in absolute terms, can have false positive results in numbers higher than true positives because the actual occurrence rate of what is being sought is low.


A slightly gloating post, but arguably deservedly so, that self-published authors are overtaking traditional publishing at a rapid pace in science fiction and fantasy, with lots of graphs. Even more damning is the fact that much of the traditional science fiction and fantasy book sales of the traditional model are The Handmaid's Tale, currently trendy as an anti-Trump book.


Congress is giving the officer promotion system a massive overhaul

I once considered a career in the military. This is a big change in how promotions, especially the end of up or out.


DjT4HdHU8AA-czM.jpg

Robots and Jobs: A Check on Fear

A reasonable take, based on historical data about automation.


ARISTOTLE RETURNS

I might argue he never left, but there is a genuine neo-Aristotelian moment in analytic philosophy.



Underestimating the power of gratitude – recipients of thank-you letters are more touched than we expect

I just received a handwritten thank you note from my mother, so this came at the right time.


 Why did the Industrial Revolution occur in England?

Why did the Industrial Revolution occur in England?

Pseudoerasmus tweets a chart looking at how few people were employed in the English agricultural sector in the eighteenth century.


THE MEIJI RESTORATION: A PROBABLE IN-TAKE FOR "SLOUCHING TOWARDS UTOPIA?: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LONG 20TH CENTURY"

A counter-point to DeLong's piece on China above, but with a disputed claim about agricultural productivity in Japan.


Compulsory Licensing Of Backroom IT?

I would genuinely like to know if the claim that different executions of custom IT software are  a large differentiating factor in the market right now is true.


Dollars for Docs

Public records on payments to physicians from pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies in the US.


“WHY ARE DEVELOPERS ONLY BUILDING LUXURY HOUSING?”

Some data on why it makes economic sense [for developers] to build expensive housing right now.


DjT4HdGUYAAh0vs.jpg

The Marriage of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton

A beautiful reflection on the little touches that make Tolkien so great, and why the Fellowship was comprised of bachelors.


When Ramjets Ruled Science Fiction

Some of the most fun ideas in science fiction get disproven later. Ah well.


I need this for professional purposes.


The humanities are suffering from not being vocational.

 

DjT4HdGU8AAp7JQ.jpg

The Long View 2006-09-25: Evangelism at Home; Steyn No. 1; Papal Success; Gibson's Maya; NYT Ad

This list of influential conservatives from 2006 is mostly interesting now to see who has dropped into obscurity, and who has managed to cling to their livelihood for another decade. I'm not sure it has much to do with accuracy or prescience.

I've considered calculating a Brier score for John J. Reilly, since part of the objective of the Long View re-posting project is to retrospectively assess the predictions he made. Perhaps I'll do so.


Evangelism at Home; Steyn No. 1; Papal Success; Gibson's Maya; NYT Ad

 

Sunday morning National Public Radio broadcast a long, admiring story about Hispanic women in Union City, the town just north of me, who have converted to Islam. One got the impression that what the reporter was admiring was not so much the conversion to Islam as the rejection of Catholicism. In any case, the women got a chance to air their complaints against the Church. What they came down to is that nothing had ever been explained to them. They may well have had a point. In many places, Catholic religious education is high on sentiment and short on apologetics, or even systematic ethics. While I listened, I hoped that someone from the archdiocese was listening: the Church has to get its priorities straight.

At Mass an hour later, we were told that the regular homily would be replaced that morning by a plea for funds "for China." The person doing the pleading was a large Jesuit associated with a scholar-exchange program at Seton Hall. It was an interesting address. Many of the points he made about China echoed those of Gordon Chang. By and by, however, it became clear that what he was actually asking for was money to go and teach literature in China. He implied that he would be evangelizing, but doing so sotto voce.

A special collection was taken up after he spoke. I am one of the ushers, but I don't count the money; I think our Jesuit got between $50 and $100. After Mass, there was audible unhappiness about the incident. I am told that one particularly militant parishioner walked up to the Jesuit and rebuked him for declining to become a martyr. Had I been there, I might have put in a good word for the example of Mateo Ricci, but I think the Jesuit's solicitation might better have been addressed to one of the Pew foundations.

* * *

With characteristic Canadian modesty, Mark Steyn recently directed his readers' attention to this list of conservative commentators, arranged in increasing level of influence:

30) Heather Mac Donald
29) Mac Johnson
28) Bill O'Reilly
27) Wesley Pruden
26) Mary Katharine Ham
25) Michael Graham
24) Michael Fumento
23) Dennis Prager
22) John Fund
21) Peggy Noonan
20) David Warren
19) Jeff Jacoby
18) James Lileks
17) Tony Blankley
16) Brendan Miniter
15) Michael Barone
14) Jack Kelly
13) Rich Lowry
12) David Limbaugh
11) Robert Novak
10) Michelle Malkin
9) Newt Gingrich
8) John Stossel
7) Walter Williams
6) Jonah Goldberg
5) Charles Krauthammer
4) Thomas Sowell
3) Victor Davis Hanson
2) Ann Coulter
1) Mark Steyn

The interesting question is not so much how these people got on the list as what other noted conservatives did to get excluded.

* * *

The Regensburg Lecture seems to be working:

CASTELGANDOLFO, Italy (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Monday that Christians and Muslims must reject violence, in an unprecedented meeting with Islamic envoys to defuse anger at his use of quotes saying their faith was spread by the sword...The Pope expressed his "esteem and profound respect" for members of the Islamic faith ...He did not specifically mention the quote that angered Muslims, saying the circumstances that made the meeting necessary "are well known". But he called for greater dialogue between the two religions..."Christians and Muslims must learn to work together ... in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence," the 79-year-old Pope said at the meeting in a frescoed hall of the papal summer palace.

Note what's happening here. Usually, when the pope or any other Western leader mentions Islam and tolerance, he is making a plea for tolerance for Muslims in the West. Here, however, Benedict denounced Muslim religious violence and demanded tolerance for Christian minorities in Muslim countries. He was then applauded by a roomful of Muslim ambassadors. Compare that to the outcome of the Cartoon Jihad.

Last week, Le Monde had some perceptive commentary about the real meaning of Regensburg, if we may judge this refraction through the Iran Press Service: which says that Pope’s Speech Again Demonstrated The Fragility of Islam. The IPS story dealt with a comment on September 19 by:

Henri Tincq, a leading religious analyst at the French influential daily “Le Monde” on Tuesday 19 September...

Mr. Tincq concludes in his interesting analytical article that one way or another, Islam does feel very fragile to react with such a violence every time it is tackled by outside, as seen by the case of Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoons and now the Pope and does Islam knows any other way to react every time it feels insulted?”

“The answer (to Mr. Tincq) is that contrary to other religions, Muslim religious leaders never allowed any discussion, any debate about this faith, but only to confirm Islam’s traditional line in every matter of life. There has been no reform in Islam and anyone who tried to challenge it, he was assassinated”, one Iranian religious expert pointed out.

* * *

I look forward to Mel Gibson's new movie, despite Gibson's continuing insistence on, well, talking:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mel Gibson has returned to the spotlight to promote his upcoming movie "Apocalypto," and to criticize the war in Iraq, according to the Hollywood Reporter...In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, "The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America's present situation. "What's human sacrifice," he asked, "if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?"

Actually, as I have been arguing with certain learned email correspondents, the collapse of the Classic Maya period with which Gibson deals should be understood as the end of the Culture era of Mezoamerican society, followed by the Civilized phase based in Yucatan and Central Mexico. The end of the Classic period seems to have had less to do with human sacrifice than with an appalling insistence on closure.

* * *

Here's an Unpaid Political Ad from The New York Times, which informs its readers that Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat:

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

More than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document. The officials included employees of several government agencies, and both supporters and critics of the Bush administration. All of those interviewed had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts. These officials discussed some of the document’s general conclusions but not details, which remain highly classified.

So, a few weeks before an important Congressional election, we have unnamed people leaking fragments of a report to a newspaper that helped perpetrate the Wilson-Plame Hoax. The assessment in the Times headline might even be true, but the Times editors must be the last people in journalism who do not understand that their paper has zero credibility about anything to do with Iraq or the Bush Administration.

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

Judgment at Proteus Book Review

 Finally, Frank is found with a dead body somewhere other than a train!

Finally, Frank is found with a dead body somewhere other than a train!

Judgment at Proteus: Quadrail Book 5
by Timothy Zahn
416 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POP4E

When Frank finally gets to the end of his quest, he finds out that he has been fighting the wrong war all along. But at least he's not on a train anymore!

Much of the action in Judgment at Proteus takes place on the eponymous Proteus station, centerpiece of the Filiaelian Empire and proud showcase of their mastery of genetic engineering. Unfortunately, Frank killed some Filiaelian walkers back in book 3, so now he has some 'splaning to do. Which of course he doesn't want to, since his battle against the Modhri has been an unauthorized shadow war waged for the benefit of the Spiders and their secretive masters.

That simple hook is enough to set in motion the denouement of a five book series, wrapping up a number of loose threads, and being a hell of a lot of fun in the process. I blew through these books over the course of a couple of weeks, thanks to a timely family vacation, but being able to pick up four of five volumes at once really helped a lot. There is something to be said for waiting until a series is complete to get started.

While these are quick and easy reads, this is not simply the equivalent of popcorn fare summer blockbusters, fun to watch and quickly forgotten. You could read the Quadrail series that way, and come away having had a good time. Zahn writes in an accessible style, and has been a popular writer for a very long time, so he's good at it. But I wouldn't have enjoyed the Quadrail series quite so much if there wasn't something more lurking under the surface.

Zahn just never makes a big deal out of the ideas he explores here. Frank is a bit of a loose cannon, always trusting in his brains, guts, and luck to get him through to the end. That is a perfectly acceptable strategy when you are just a cog in the intelligence apparatus, high risk and high reward if you are indeed both clever and lucky. It clearly worked for Frank, right up until it didn't, and he got fired for making a big stink about something obviously stupid, that ended up being part of the Modhran shadow war before Frank knew what that was.

This is less good as a strategy when you are on your own, with the fate of galaxy riding on your luck. Unfortunately, Frank doesn't really know any other way to operate. Fortunately for him, others who are less clever but more systematic, are available to back him up. There are hints of this fundamental tension throughout the five books in the series, but it isn't a major plot, nor does it take up a lot of space in the text. It is just there to think about, if you find it interesting. 

There are other interesting themes that clearly form the background of this series but are only mentioned in passing: unintended consequences, the price of making yourself open and vulnerable enough to love, how to ensure enough of an advantage to defensive warfare to make interstellar war unprofitable, what happens when you introduce a large number of fundamentally dissimilar alien species to one another. Each one of these things is big enough to write a whole book about, but Zahn did a good enough job on each one to just make it a background detail.

This makes his written worlds feel complete, rather than fantastical sets upon which his characters act out their lines, requiring suspension of disbelief to make the plywood and paint feel real. I could just relax into the story, and go along for the ride. The fact that Zahn can write this kind of thing year after year, over a career now stretching almost 40 years, is a remarkable accomplishment. And it is a hell of a lot of fun too.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

The Long View 2006-09-20: Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

In 2006, the Democrats had big gains in the mid-term elections, a state that lasted until 2010, when the House swung strongly Republican. As John noted here, no American political party has managed to assemble a stable coalition since the end of the New Deal era.


Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

 

Every optimistic political forecast presented to the public is itself a piece of propaganda. Nonetheless, I think that this one has merit:

It is no longer a "given" that the Democrats will gain at least one house of Congress in the November elections ó and the latest poll shows trend that should make Democrats nervous: Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year.

Republican control of the House is still iffy, but the small majority that the Democrats might acquire is likely to be too fractious to pose more than a nuisance to the Bush Administration. This is a remarkable turn around; a few months ago, I was certain the Republicans were toast. And in fact, given a reasonably competent opposition party, they would have been toast. The Democrats have failed to achieve competence. In my estimation:

They have not put together an attractive platform: On the Iraq War, they fudged the difference between the genuine anti-war position (which at least creates enthusiasm) and the War-on-Terror position by offering a "lose slowly" alternative. This position dispirits everybody. The chief Democratic domestic issue seems to be an increase in the minimum wage. For my part, I would like to see the minimum wage defined as a percentage of the median wage so we could be done with the matter. As an electoral issue, however, it suffers from the defect that most of the people who earn the minimum wage are students or in the country illegally.

They have not found plausible candidates: I see this particularly in the US Senate race in New Jersey. Incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez has good qualifications and he functions well in the ethnic politics of the urban northeast of the state, but the political history of New Jersey consists in large part of qualified candidates from the northeast failing to win statewide office. He may yet beat the empty Republican suit, Tom Keane Jr. (the "Jr." got him the nomination), but it says something about the Democratic Party that they put forward such a weak candidate in a race that ought to have been easy for them. This pattern has been repeated nationwide.

The Republican Party had the chance after 911 to achieve the level of domination of national politics that the Democrats did in 1932. In this the Republicans signally failed. If they retain both Houses of Congress this November, it will be because the electorate sees no reason to replace one party that is beyond satire with another.

* * *

Correction: A kindly Arabist corrected an assertion of mine in the entry for 18Sept06. There I said that textual priority rather than chronological priority is key to the practice of Koranic interpretation. Apparently I was mistaken. Chronological priority is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogation. However, I am also informed that the interpretation by Juan Cole that I had been questioning is problematical anyway, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.

* * *

Benedict's Regensburg Lecture was not holy writ, but it continues to attract interpretation and commentary, such as these surmises from Stratfor's George Friedman:

One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ...Bush has been trying to portray the war against Islamist militants as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict, whether he accepts Bush's view or not, offered an intellectual foundation for Bush's position....

This perspective would explain the timing of the pope's statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe....

[W]ith his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe's Muslim community -- without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. ...And he has delivered his own warning to Europe's Muslims about the limits of tolerance.

Let me suggest that a key segment of Benedict's audience was the Oriana Fallacis of the world (would that she had lived even another week!), and that among that class we must number the Left-agnostic anti-Islamist Christopher Hitchens. As a diagnostic baseline by which to judge the progress of the Lecture, let us note Hitchens' column of September 18, Papal Bull -- Joseph Ratzinger's latest offense:

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm and absolutely no good to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam...

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances...

[At] Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith... and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible...

Several things are happening in this column. There is Hitchens' good English-red-beef No Popery, the Left Book Club's take on the Whig interpretation of history, and a measure of the frustration felt, even among people who are not anti-religious, at the slowness of the churches of the West to recognize their peril. Hitchens is quite mistaken about the relationship in Western intellectual history between science and faith (a point about which even Stephen Gould got the memo in his last days). Here we will note that, perhaps because of his other misunderstandings, he has adopted this clearly erroneous of what the Vatican and the Muslim world have been doing since the Lecture was given:

And of course now we hear, as could have been predicted, the pathetic and unconvincing apologies issued by his spokesmen and finally Ratzinger himself. These will only serve to convince infuriated Muslims that by threatening reprisal, calling for the severing of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and issuing a few more sanguinary fatwas, they can force yet another retreat. The usual things have happened: the shooting of a nun in Somalia and the desecration of Christian churches in Palestine. And so the ecumenical "dialogue" goes on.

What happens when he recognizes the subtlety of the Vatican's policy? One might ask that of the whole non-suicidal wing of the Left in the West.

* *

Starting to cheer up, were you? Just in time, there is a new television drama to fill your Wednesday evenings with thoughts of cosmic catastrophe:

JERICHO is a drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents.

I strongly suspect that this story of civic collapse in the face of natural disaster was inspired by last year's Katrina disaster. In fact, the only American city where you can rouse a rabble at the drop of a hat is Springfield, where the Simpsons live.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2018-07-23: I should have been an economist

The Tech Backlash We Really Need

Embarrassing questions abound regarding the business models of social media companies.


A thread by Gwern on Great Society era social science that should probably be better known, if only to stop us from trying to reinvent wheels that we already know don't roll.


Cultural Evolution and Conservative Thought

This discussion between Tyler Cowen and Joseph Henrich is a fascinating counterpoint to a debate between Elizabeth Bruenig and Bryan Caplan on socialism. Caplan's rebuttal to Bruenig said of the greats of Western tradition:

While these “luminaries” were smart, most were also profoundly ignorant and dogmatic – and apologists for the brutal societies in which they lived.  Most had near-zero knowledge of what actually sustains the true and beautiful in our culture, namely: science, tolerance, and markets.  They have far more to learn from us – both factually and morally – than we do from them.

Whereas Cowen and Henrich came up with a bunch of cases where ancient authorities came up the same thing as modern science.


This reminds me of the actuarial global compliance system discussed by James Franklin. In principle, Franklin argues that the tools of accounting should allow us to accurately cost the things economists like to call "externalities". 


Did wages reflect growth in productivity

I went down a long rabbit hole this week learning about wages and economic growth. This is worth a post of its own, but the short answer is: it depends on how you measure it.


America’s Factory Towns, Once Solidly Blue, Are Now a GOP Haven

The share of American counties that have a large proportion of jobs in manufacturing has declined quite a bit in the last twenty years. In that time, the counties that remain have swung strongly Republican.


Trump's Trump-iest Tweets Aren't Popular

There is some reason to think that Trumpism without Trump could be more popular.


Book Review - Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist

I didn't know anyone was still seriously arguing that economic growth should cease. I have my doubts about the way our economy is built upon assumptions of eternal growth in both population and dollars, but the book under review seems...strange.


The Sources Of Russian Conduct

A pretty standard geopolitical analysis of Russia's position. I mostly agree with this.


Where there’s a will, is there a wage?

A great article on what it looks like to get a job for the truly poor.


Housing Costs Reduce the Return to Education

Cost of living means that expensive coastal cities with high wages are harder to live in that average wage numbers might suggest. This led me down another rabbit hole worthy of its own post.

The Domino Pattern Book Review

 What if security inspections cannot defeat a determined and resourceful foe?

What if security inspections cannot defeat a determined and resourceful foe?

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

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

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

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

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

My other book reviews

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

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

Odd Girl Out Book Review

 Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

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

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

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

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

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

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

My other book reviews

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

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

LinkFest 2018-07-16

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

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

Ways to think about machine learning

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

 

Why the Future of Machine Learning is Tiny

An example of what machine learning can mean in practice.

 

Snapping Spaghetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes

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

 

Israeli space probe to land on Moon in 2019

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

 
 

Thou Shalt Not Wirehead: Religion vs Gratification

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

 

Welcome to the Party, Pal

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

 

Does Free Trade Bring Lower Prices?

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

 

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

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

 

The Fear of White Power

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Pope_Benedict_XVI_on_Aug_28_2010_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNA_2.jpg

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


The Benedictine Jihad II

 

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

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

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

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

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

We will see,

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

This is not comforting.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Le Monde we have this:

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

The significant points about this entry are that:

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

This can get only more interesting.

* * *

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

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

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

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Third Lynx Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

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

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

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

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


The Benedictine Jihad

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Night Train to Rigel Book Review

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

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

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

Cars of the Orient Express

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

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

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

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

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

My other book reviews

 

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution