The Long View 2006-10-18: Doomsday Deniers; Treason on the Right; Spengler Back

The first item John Reilly mentions, from the National Review Online’s blog The Corner reads like a precis of Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission. I wish John Reilly had lived to see Houellebecq’s book, it seems to the embodiment of one of John’s main interests, the relatively unknown philosophy of Tradition.

Marion Marechal  By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Marion Marechal

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

In another vein, my favorite French politician no longer uses the Le Pen name, probably because of the association of the Le Pen’s with anti-Semitism. I’m not an expert on French politics, but you might check out Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

It is also interesting to note, in light of The Long View post from 2006-10-17, that unlike today, when editors felt uncomfortable posting a controversial piece, pressure usually brought it back online, which is quite different from today.

Doomsday Deniers; Treason on the Right; Spengler Back

Citing National Review Online just encourages it, but I did see these items on The Corner yesterday that seemed worth following up:

Le Pen Flips? [Post by Stanley Kurtz]

Arnaud De Borchgrave has a remarkable report on France’s civil war [see below]. The big news here is that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far right National Front has given up its opposition to Muslim immigration and has instead allied with Muslims, taking America and the Jews as its primary targets. This shift has provoked a split in the movement, with conservative Christians refusing to go along. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents are at epidemic proportions in France.

[From a later post]

On a related matter, here's a supposed rebuttal by Gideon Rachman [see below] of the many "doom-mongering" American books about Europe's demographic crisis. So far from disproving American predictions, Rachman instead confirms them.

A little later there was this reply in the same venue:

A French Civil War? [Post by Andrew Stuttaford]

Le Pen's tilt towards Arab nationalism *outside* France is, alas, nothing new. It's dog-whistle politics designed to appeal to the anti-semitism that lurks within certain strands of French political thought, nothing more, disgraceful certainly, but a phenomenon as old as the Dreyfus case, and with roots deep in the dislocations that followed the French revolution.

Stuttaford also thinks that the term "civil war" does not apply to the urban disorders in France. That is probably true. However, the French government, indeed the French political establishment, has to contend with an increasingly unhappy police force as well as the disorders themselves. Maybe in France these things work differently, but in the US the police are uniquely well-positioned to leak embarrassing stories to the press about the incompetence of public officials.

* * *

We need not say "Civil War." Like Arnaud de Borchgrave, we can write columns with titles like Analysis: Gallic intifada:

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen's far right National Front appears to have opted for a can't-lick-'em-join-'em strategy, a rapprochement with France's large immigrant Muslim community -- with undertones of anti-Semitism. Le Pen's reasoning appears to be the recognition that Islamicization is in France to stay with 25 percent of France's under 20 population Muslim (40 percent in some cities), 2nd and 3rd generation North Africans. FN's tough stance on immigration is tempered by support for Arab and Islamist causes in the Middle East (Hamas and Hezbollah are two favorites). There are an estimated 6 to 8 million Muslims among France's 62 million and Islam is now France's second religion. Mosques are well attended on Fridays; churches aren't on Sundays. France's prison inmates are over 50 percent Muslim

Le Pen's strategic advisers argue the FN must drop its founding mythology and forget about the once popular image of a modern Joan of Arc resisting the invasion of Muslim hordes. Americans and Jews are the new targets. But the party's Christian right-wingers do not agree and are defecting in large numbers. The Islamist threat is their main concern and they are finding a new political home in MPF, Mouvement Pour la France, which is anti-European Union and anti-Muslim, and given only 7 percent of registered voters in a recent poll. Le Pen's followers have dropped back from 11 percent to 9 percent.

This does not mean that French fascism is about to take the turban (convert to Islam). It does mean that the fascists have despaired of a Catholic alliance. I find this something of a relief.

Incidentally, the website of the Mouvement pour la France is here. It's leader, Phillipe de Villiers, is preferable to Jean-Marie Le Pen in that he does not appear to be trying to imitate L. Ron Hubbard. That is not necessarily reason to vote for him. however.

* * *

US prophets of Europe's doom are half wrong, Gideon Rachman assures readers in this piece in The Financial Times:

[It] is impossible completely to dismiss the American prophets of European doom. Strip away the hysteria and the hype and they make two serious points.... First, European fertility rates have fallen well below the rate of 2.1 children per woman needed for a population to remain stable. ...The second point is that the Muslim population of Europe is rising sharply at the same time as the white, European population is falling....These trends could, indeed, spell trouble...The weakness in their arguments is that – at every stage – they tend to make the most pessimistic assumptions....Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, projects that the 25 members of the EU will have a total population of 449.8m in 2050, compared with 456m today – because falling fertility will be largely offset by rising immigration....The problem is not that the European population will simply shrink away. It is that over the next 50 years, Europe will have to deal with the fact that its population is becoming both much older and much more diverse....[A]s the saying goes: “Something that cannot go on forever, won’t.” Demographic pressure is already forcing Europeans to change their welfare systems and career patterns. In some countries, the process will be very difficult. In others, it may be relatively painless..Similarly, the American vision of a Muslim takeover of Europe – creating a new continent called “Eurabia” – relies on projecting demographic trends to their limit and beyond...Until a few years ago, mainstream European opinion would have shrugged off rising Muslim populations as unworthy of debate. But that is no longer the case...It is certainly possible that things will just get worse. But it is not inevitable.

European governments are acutely aware of this and are changing policies in response. The British are rethinking their “multicultural” approach to immigration; the French are considering positive discrimination; the Danes have cracked down on arranged marriages. Who knows – some of these policies may even work. If they do not, politics and policies will change again. Of all the many scenarios for the future of Europe, perhaps the least likely is that Europeans simply sleep-walk off a cliff.

We should note that not all the Eurodoomsayers are American. Their queen was the late Oriana Fallaci, and the British Melanie Phillips is the author of Londonistan. For that matter the author of what may turn out to be the most influential Eurodoom polemic, America Alone, is the quasi Canadian Mark Steyn. Even Tony Blankley is an immigrant.

In any case, Rachman is no doubt correct that "politics and policies will change again." I am an optimist, too: eventually, a mix of policies will be found that work. However, that will take 10 to 20 years of disruption, and the result will be appreciably different from the Europe of the 1990s.

* * *

Spengler remains in the good graces of Asia Times, if we may judge from this posting of an editorial explanation in the Spengler forum:

Asia Times Online did not decline to publish Spengler's essay. The essay was returned to him because certain problems needed to be addressed. Those problems have been addressed and a revised version of the essay is published in this edition of Asia Times Online. The original text is no longer on the forum, in fact the entire forum is offline for the time being at least as it is in breach of its host's policy.

The forum itself is back, as we see. My discussion of the essay that caused the problem (at any rate, of the version of the essay that Asia Times was prepared to publish) is here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-10-17: Refutation of the Refutation

The Long View re-posting project took a back-seat while I struggled through J. G. Ballard’s short stories, but we are back!

An interesting bit that I missed at the time this was going on in 2006 was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio publicly criticized Pope Benedict for his Regensburg address, and some behind the scenes maneuvering occurred, possibly a rebuke of the then Cardinal Archbishop. Mostly interesting in retrospect, since nothing major came out of it.

Refutation of the Refutation

Spengler has been naughty, as many of his fans discovered when they saw this post this afternoon on The Free Republic message board:

Yesterday, the Asia Times rejected Spengler's latest essay [which argued that the very idea of "Reason" was fundamentally incompatible with the competing idea of Islam as a religion revealed to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel], so Spengler posted the essay on his forum:

My Monday essay, refused by AToL

Now today the forum is off-line:

Sorry, but this board is currently unavailable. Please try again later.

So anyone got any contacts at the Asia Times? Anyone know what's going on?


I have never, at any time, known what is going one, but a quick look at Asia Times shows that the editors have relented. The new column is up: Reason to Believe, or Not

Pope Benedict XVI has drawn a collective response from the Muslim world, in the form of an open letter from 38 Islamic leaders regarding his September 12 address in Regensburg. "All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories," according to a press release hailing the letter as "unique in the history of interfaith relations"....The pope provoked outrage by suggesting that Islam rejects reason: the open letter proves him right. They argue that there is no dichotomy in Islam between reason and faith, which turns out to mean that there is no role for reason. ...Reason, the Muslim clerics aver, is one more of the "signs in the horizon" that God sets before us to reveal His presence, like sunsets and rainbows. Now, I suppose that sunsets, rainbows, cellular mitosis and one's capacity to bisect an angle all might serve as inspiration....[In contrast, the Judeo-Christian tradition has it that the] core of the issue is human freedom. Reason is a gift from God, to be sure, but it is a parent's gift of love to a child: the capacity to doubt and even to rebel, in the hope that grace will overcome man's obstinacy.

I think Spengler's account of the role of reason in Christianity actually understates the case, at least for Catholic theology. As I understand the doctrine, reason is constituent of reality, at least in part, and even of the divine nature. Be that as it may, Spengler's list of things for Higher Critics of Islam to criticize may be what got Spengler in trouble:

1) There are numerous variant versions of the Koran, making it quite unlikely that the Archangel Gabriel dictated the entire document to the Prophet Mohammed;
2) Approximately a fifth of the Koranic text is "just incomprehensible" according to Professor Gerd R Puin of the University of Saarbruecken; 
3) Much of what is incomprehensible in Arabic makes good sense if one reads the text instead in Syriac, the liturgical language of pre-existing Christian communities in the Middle East, according to "Christoph Luxenburg";
4) The archeological evidence (assembled by Yehuda Nevo) from the Koranic period strongly contradicts the notion that a finished text of any sort existed within a century of Mohammed's death.

The text of the letter to which Spengler refers can be found here. It is extremely polite, even irenic. Among other things, the authors had the grace to acknowledge that Benedict XVI's expressions of regret about the violence that followed the Regensburg Address were just that: expressions of regret, and not apologies. Nonetheless, to read the letter with a measure of attention is not to be reassured:

You [addressing Benedict XVI] mention that "according to the experts" the verse which begins, "There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet "was still powerless and under threat," but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community.

The letter's authors are correct when they say that the injunction to "no compulsion" was not made at a time when Mohammad was physically vulnerable. However, as I previously discussed on 18Sept06 and (by way of amendment) 20Sept06, it is also usually conceded that the "no compulsion" verse from Sura 2 was abrogated or at least modified by later verses. The letter does not mention the verses from Sura 9 about using force to make infidels pay the tax on dhimmis.

In the Islamic spiritual, theological, and philosophical tradition, the thinker you mention, Ibn Hazm (d.1069 CE) is a worthy but very marginal figure...If one is looking for classical formulations of the doctrine of transcendence, much more important to Muslims are figures such as al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE)...There are two extremes which the Islamic tradition has generally managed to avoid: one is to make the analytical mind the ultimate arbiter of truth, and the other is to deny the power of human understanding to address ultimate questions...

In reality, a glance at the philosophy of al-Ghazali (Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī) supports Benedict's argument:

[Al-Ghazali] is also viewed as the key member of the influential Asharite school of early Muslim philosophy and the most important refuter of Mutazilites. His 11th century book titled "The Incoherence of the Philosophers" marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology, as Ghazali effectively discovered philosophical skepticism that would not be commonly seen in the West until George Berkeley and David Hume in the 18th century. The encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of God. The logical consequence of this belief in practice, and an outcome that has developed in part from it over the subsequent centuries, is a turn towards fundamentalism in many Islamic societies.

The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labelled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

I am at a loss to understand why apologists for Islam always try to finesse the meaning of "jihad":

We would like to point out that "holy war" is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and especially the struggle in the way of God....When God drowned pharaoh, was he going against His nature?

In any case, the authors of the letter claim to know better than Emperor Manuel II Paleologous what form "jihad" actually took around 1400 when his empire was being eaten alive by it. They do offer what might be a minor concession, however:

Had Muslims desired to convert all others by force, there would not be a single church or synagogue left anywhere in the Islamic world. The command "There is no compulsion in religion" means now what it meant then. The mere fact of a person being non-Muslim has never been a legitimate casus belli in Islamic law or belief. As with the rules of war, history shows that some Muslims have violated Islamic tenets concerning forced conversions and the treatment of other religious communities, but history also shows that these are by far the exception that proves the rule....

Reading the letter, I was struck how it mirrored what less eminent apologists for Islam have been saying since the Regensburg Address: item by item, evasion by evasion, omission by omission. Sounding for all the world like Dan Rather complaining about criticism of network news by the blogosphere, the authors reproach the pope for using unapproved sources:

You refer at one point non-specifically to "experts " (on Islam) and actually cite two Catholic scholars by name, Professor (Adel) Theodore Khoury and (Associate Professor) Roger Arnaldez. It suffices here to say that whilst many Muslims consider that these are sympathetic non-Muslims and Catholics who should truly be considered "experts" on Islam, Muslims have not to our knowledge endorsed the "experts" you referred to...

Despite the flaws in its content, this letter marks a great improvement in the Muslim responses to the Regensburg Address. Certainly it is better than murder, pillage, and death threats. In fact, this is just the sort of response that Benedict was trying to elicit. Now let's see what he does with it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard Book Review

The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard
by J. G. Ballard; Introduction by Anthony Burgess
312 pages
Published by Holt, Reinhart and Winston (1978)
ISBN 0-03-045661-4

I am a great lover of scifi short story collections, and this volume of J. G. Ballard’s work, lent to me by a co-worker, is no exception. There are some top-notch stories in here, spanning just over twenty years of Ballard’s career. In the past when I have reviewed collections of short stories, I have usually featured a few really notable ones, and discussed the general theme of the work.

This time, I want to try the technique of giving each short story its own mini-review, along with a mini-score out of five stars. I’ve seen it done to good effect in other reviews, and it seems like fun. I also plan to discuss the general themes of the collection.

The Concentration City ***

One of the reasons I like reading old scifi is that because it ages so rapidly, you can get a better feel for the obsessions of the past. “The Concentration City” has a too obvious textual link with the then still new Nazi concentration camps, but a more subtle one with overpopulation. There is just one problem….

The eponymous city is huge. A county of the enclosed, multi-level city represents a thousand floors, one hundred thousand cubic miles, and a population of thirty million people. Each county is grouped with 249 others to form sectors, and 1500 sectors form a Local Union.


Let’s look at that math. Each county is a thousand levels, so each floor must be 100 square miles. That is about the same as a medium size American city, like Sacramento. If you assume roughly even distribution of those 30 million people, you get 30,000 people per floor….

Sacramento currently has almost 500,000 people in it, and I don’t know anyone who finds it oppressively dense. An order of magnitude less people would make it positively rural by almost anyone’s standards. I think Ballard was going for something like the feel of Alex Proyas’ 1998 movie Dark City, a movie also about an inescapable prison city, but just had no quantitative sense at all.

The city as a whole makes better sense as a crushing mass of humanity. 30 million people per county times 250 counties per sector times 1500 sectors per local union gives you 11 trilliion 250 billion people. And we see several local unions in the text! That is a number that can boggle the mind! It clearly seems to have boggled Ballard.

The story is strong on atmosphere, but weak in details. The huge numbers probably worked to inspire the right feeling in Ballard’s readers, so I suppose I can’t fault him for that stylistic sense, I just like it when an author tries hard to get the little things right even when most people won’t notice. It is like a carpenter who makes the lines straight on the backside where no one can see, the mark of a true craftsman.

A visualization of a level, if you packed all 30 million into it

A visualization of a level, if you packed all 30 million into it


Manhole 69 **

The flavor text in this tale of a psychological/surgical experiment gone wrong is heavily Freudian. Sixty years later, it looks kind of stupid, given how far Freud’s reputation has fallen, but I have to imagine the flavor text of a contemporary book would look just as ridiculous in 2078.

Chronopolis *****

I love this one. At his best, Ballard had an impressive imagination that encompassed the good and the bad of both the thesis and the antithesis at once. Chronopolis is the ruin of a once great city that was overthrown in a revolution against the tyranny of precisely-scripted efficiency.

There is a bit more sloppiness about population density here, but what really struck me is that just before the protagonist is arrested for the forbidden practice of time-keeping, he restores the chimes of the bell tower of Chronopolis, and the muddled masses who mill about aimlessly start using the chimes to order their days again.

The city truly was tyrannical and inhumane in its time-keeping. It was also much more productive, supporting ten times as many people in far greater luxury. Being punctual is the epitome of quotidian, but it is easy to underestimate how valuable it truly is.


The Voices of Time ***

This was the first story in this collection that brought me up short. Ballard’s wikipedia entry describes his work as provocative and transgressive, and this is all of that in spades. “The Voices of Time” combines the mid-century English novel’s characteristic despair with post-apocalyptic dystopia.

We see a return of the themes from “Manhole 69”, but done far better; dubious scientific experiments attempting to literally excise the need for sleep from the human brain, badly suppressed erotic desires, and a pervasive sense of decline.

I’ve written a few posts recently about superversive science fiction. Superversive scifi attempts to create a sense of wonder and hope in the reader. The neologism is coined in opposition to subversive scifi, which seems to be aptly represented by Ballard. This story is hella edgy, and even though-provoking, but this isn’t the kind of scifi that inspires nerds to create stuff. This is the kind that inspires them to cut to feel.


Deep End ***

“Deep End” is a fantastic example of the kind of scifi that inspired the environmental movement. It also features an almost heroic protagonist, grimly determined to pay homage to a dying world, but also a bit cracked in the head.

The feel of this story is nearly Stoic in its unblinking acceptance of Fate, but not really interested in the cultivation of virtue that Stoicism entails.


The Overloaded Man ****

This story nails the feelings of alienation and ennui that accompanied the huge material successes of the mid-twentieth century. It also perceptively describes the dangers of mystical experience. Unlocking your psyche isn’t necessarily a good idea.


Billennium ***

Another overpopulation tale, but this one is subversive of the genre insofar as the protagonist ends up a capitalist in the end. Concern for overpopulation was a big thing in the middle of the twentieth century, but it largely got shoved down the memory hole at the beginning of the twenty-first, even though there are roughly twice as many people now as there were then. The rate of growth has slowed, but that likely isn’t the only reason. In part, I also think that those of us alive today simply don’t remember the world that existed before. Jerry Pournelle once pined for the America that had a population of 125 million people, which he thought was too many at the time. I can’t imagine my country with 200 million people not there.


The Garden of Time *****

Another Stoical tale of the calm acceptance of a horrible fate, with the suggestion of some preventable tragedy in the unwritten past. The garden, an oasis of beauty, will inevitably be overrun by the masses of the unwashed. Count Axel and his beautiful wife are the only inhabitants of the villa within the garden.

Each day, they watch the surging horde approach the villa. Each day, the count spends of the substance of the garden to delay the inevitable, until at last, nothing remains.

I have a hard time imagining that I am on board with the idea Ballard was getting at here, but this is an achingly beautiful story.

Thirteen for Centaurus ****


This is the Fallout short story, reminiscent of the sick experiments the Vault Corporation conducted on its customers. In real life, the best examples came later than the fictional 1950s of the Fallout series. The Stanford Prison Experiment, fraudulent from the start, was in 1971. “Thirteen for Centaurus” was written in 1962, earning Ballard some points for prescience, but losing some for missing the likely perpetrators. The military-industrial-complex didn’t run most of the shitty science of the mid-twentieth century. They just featherbedded the Cold War.


The Subliminal Man ***

A haunting extrapolation of the finding in economics that the most efficient economies in the world replace their equipment most frequently. I was pretty surprised when I found this out some number of years ago, but now that I work in manufacturing I can see how it works.

Unfortunately, it is also pretty obvious that doing faster and faster it just because it is supposedly more “efficient” would be counter-productive. An interesting conceit for a story, but too clever by half.


The Cage of Sand ****

Unlike most of these short stories, “The Cage of Sand” was markedly improved by its ending. The premise was kind of stupid to me as physicist: eastern Florida had been turned into a facsimile of the Martian desert because we kept dumping Martian sand there to balance out the stuff we shipped to Mars in order to preserve the Earth’s orbital distance from the Sun. This was compounded by a plot device of dead astronauts in orbit, entombed in their space capsules, because they missed their one and only chance to rendezvous with an orbital platform.

Since my parents got me SimEarth on the Mac LC, I knew that there was no plausible way the fractional change in orbit from moving a few million tons of stuff to Mars would matter, due to the remarkable homeostasis of the Earth. But I already knew that Ballard wasn’t a details guy for the science stuff.


End Game ***

This one was completely unexpected. I didn’t need to be told that the Soviet Union was a tyranny the likes of which the world had never seen, but perhaps Ballard’s audience did in 1963. Clearly, Ballard had no sympathy for the Soviets in this tale of guilt, innocence, and power.


The Drowned Giant ****

At first, I was inclined to dismiss this uncanny tale of a overly large body washed up on shore, on account of Chesterton’s notion that mere physical size ought not to impress us. But then upon reflection, I realized Ballard was trying to criticize failing to see another’s humanity because of physical differences.

One point of contention I would take with Ballard is that he says the common people were more easily convinced that the bones left behind in the bay were merely a giant whale, than his professorial interlocutor. I don’t believe that for a second. Folk memory works just fine, you need to be highly educated to disbelieve your lying eyes.


The Terminal Beach **

As a child of the 1980s, I have struggled to understand the obsessions of my immediate predecessors with the Cold War. The Cold War still existed when I was a child, but it had obviously [to me] lost its sting. The apocalypticism of earlier generations regarding nuclear war often seemed disproportionate to me, and this story is all of that in spades.

Since it is also couched in now tainted Freudian terms, I find “The Terminal Beach” completely ridiculous. It doesn’t help that I have seen the same idea done far better by another author. You can get an interesting story out of the identification of sex and death, but Freud and Ballard alike didn’t manage to contribute anything interesting to the conversation.


The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D ***

I’m curious to know if Ballard had some reason for hating the Chanel family, given his antagonist here. This is about the point in the collection where I started to wonder if I would finish. Many of these short stories are challenging, rather than enjoyable, but the ability of Ballard to tell an interesting story while riding his hobby-horses seems to have tapered off with time.


The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race *

This is the point where I started to question Ballard’s sanity. I think it was not actual mental illness, but rather a calculated pose. Whether that makes this better or worse, I am not sure.


The Atrocity Exhibition *

In a way, this may be the ultimate Ballard story in this collection. Apparently he called the technique a “condensed novel”. My opinion of the short, choppy paragraphs with no transitions is that is just an unenjoyable as James Joyce, but at least shorter.

We get Freud, eros, thanatos, an attempt to make a literary device of weird mathematics, and painfully avant-garde style.


Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy *

Just about the only thing Freud ever talked about that seems to have stood the test of time is projection. As such, one wonders about Ballard’s obsession with Jackie O. But he’s dead now, so it is probably all sorted out.


Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan *

Ronald Reagan inspired an impressive amount of vitriol from the writers of his day.


Ben’s final verdict ***

There are some truly great stories in here. There are also some truly bizarre ones, that seem to lack the kind of enduring value that might excuse their sins against propriety. I am not sorry that I read this volume, but I doubt I would ever return to it. As Ballard aged, he seemed to get lost in his edginess and simply sought shock-value above all else. Some of these works are genuinely challenging, but few of them are fun. I’m not really surprised that Ballard doesn’t appear on the NPR list of 100 best science fiction books, voted on by fans. There is nothing here to be a fan of.

My other book reviews

Hack: A LitRPG Novel Book Review

This cover is ridiculous. But, I suppose lots of scifi/fantasy book covers are.

This cover is ridiculous. But, I suppose lots of scifi/fantasy book covers are.

Hack: A LitRPG Novel
by Paul Bellow
348 pages
Published by LitRPG Reads (April 29, 2018)

I had seen this book pop up through Amazon's recommendations several times. I hadn't been willing to take a chance on it. The cover is ridiculous. Yes, I know that pretty much every scifi/fantasy book published in the last 100 years has a ridiculous cover, but I went ahead and judged the book by its cover anyway.

I did give it a chance when Nick Cole, author of Soda Pop Soldier and co-author of the Galaxy's Edge series recommended it to me. And it was free. The first hit always is.

I messaged Nick immediately after I started reading the book, because I was already hooked. This book was just plain fun. I went in with pretty low expectations. I had heard of LitRPG before, and arguably, some books I've really liked fall into this category, it was a pretty hard sell for me. A book about kids playing a videogame? Hard pass.

Which is a funny thing to say, since I'm probably close to the target audience for this kind of thing. Both a reader of scifi and a videogamer. Fan of self-published indie works. If I'm not it, I don't know who is. But I'm also kind of picky. I've had about a 50% rate of liking new series and authors I've tried out in 2018. Paul Bellow's Hack made the cut. 

Now, to the book! Eric, our teenage protagonist, desperately wants to play the virtual reality MMORPG his dad works on. He is desperate for two reasons. First, he is paraplegic; access to the fully immersive game will give him freedom of a kind he craves. Second, his best friend Sarah agreed to help him hack into the game, and he hasn't seen her as much recently as he would like to. The problem is, Sarah invited her boyfriend Josh along.

This is a simple setup, and it gives us quite a bit of energy to help keep the plot moving along, and ample opportunities for drama, misunderstandings, jealousy, and what have you. And, of course, the game is much more than it first appears. Secrets and conspiracies abound. Oh, and you can't log out. Eric's dad wasn't just being a jerk about not letting his son play the game.

As for the videogame RPG elements that make this genre what it is, such as character selection, leveling, experience points and whatnot, I find it to be a harmless conceit. The characters are kids. They grew up playing videogames, and now they are in a super immersive videogame, so they act accordingly. I suppose it won't be to everyone's taste, but we now live in a world in which you can find a book written to match just about any taste.

If you have tastes like mine, and you are looking for an entertaining read, then Hack is worth a look. But I'm still laughing about the cover.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-10-16: Crunchy Convert; Cardinal Invisible; Stinger Countermeasures


Both Rod Dreher and now Damon Linker have quite publicly left the Catholic Church in reaction to the on-going sexual abuse scandals. Both of them have also publicly said that part of their reason for doing so is their disappointment in the behavior of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in reaction to the sexual abuse scandals. 

I wasn't there, so I shan't comment, other than to note, as I have before, that since Neuhaus is now dead, we only get one side of that story.

I feel about all of this very differently than Dreher and Linker do, but I have to ask myself, what would push me over that edge? Perhaps a similar kind of revelation about my own Bishop in the Diocese of Phoenix, but I know that he has disciplined a number of priests for sexual improprieties, including reducing some to the lay state. I suppose anything is possible, but I would be genuinely surprised. 

Hints have emerged from this controversy that Pope Emeritus Benedict was quite ineffective as pontiff, but I don't find that surprising. He never wanted to be the Pope, and he got out when he had a chance. Despite being slandered as "God's rottweiler", Joseph Ratzinger is a shy and bookish man who was most at home in the university. Now it looks a lot like he resigned because he was defeated.

When Pope Francis was elected, he was supposed to be a head-breaker who could finally crush the corruption in the Vatican. I think this is an accurate assessment of his personality, it just happens that he isn't really interested in doing that job. Pope Francis is really good at the dramatic gesture, and got people interested in the Church who had drifted away, or simply had never considered it, but now it isn't clear if that was worth the price.

Another thing I like about Pope Francis; he really knows how to stick the shiv in:

The day before a newly elected Pope Francis was to be formally installed at the Vatican in 2013, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica when he passed out at the altar and had to be rushed to the hospital.
It was a scary moment, and especially odd to see McCarrick stricken; even at 82, the energetic former archbishop of Washington always had a reputation as one of the most peripatetic churchmen in the Catholic hierarchy.
Doctors in Rome quickly diagnosed a heart problem -- McCarrick would eventually get a pacemaker -- and the cardinal was soon back at his guest room in the U.S. seminary in Rome when the phone rang. It was Francis. The two men had known each other for years, back when the Argentine pope was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. McCarrick assured Francis that he was doing fine.
"I guess the Lord isn't done with me yet," he told the pope.
"Or the devil doesn't have your accommodations ready!" Francis shot back with a laugh.

Benedict never would have gotten that jibe in.

Crunchy Convert; Cardinal Invisible; Stinger Countermeasures


If this is the kind of blog you read, then you probably already know that Rod Dreher, famous convert to Roman Catholicism and Mr. Crunchy Con himself, has joined the Orthodox Church (a Russian Orthodox diocese in Texas, no less). Promising not to burden his readers with the subject further in the future, he explained his reasons last week in a long article in Much of the article consists of horror stories about diocesan dissimulation in connection with the clerical sexual-abuse scandals, but I think these lines are the heart of his explanation:

As my dearest friend, Fr. Joe Wilson, has said many times, the Scandal does not exist in isolation. It is only a part of a many-headed beast.

The sex-abuse scandal can't be easily separated from the wider crisis in the American Catholic Church, involving the corruption of the liturgy, of catechesis, and so forth. I've come to understand how important this point is, because if most other things had been more or less solid, I think I could have weathered the storm. But I found it impossible to find solid ground....What I didn't understand [when I converted to Catholicism], nor anticipate, was how difficult it would be to find an orthodox [Roman Catholic] parish here. We have lots of faithful Catholic friends here, and I don't think it's unfair to say that most of them are doing what most (but not all) orthodox Catholics in this country do: grit their teeth and white-knuckle it out in their parishes, doing what they can to hang on.

Well, yes: tell me about it.

I regard myself as a sort of convert, too, having stopped going to church from the time I was in high school until I was about 30. I walked right into the Spirit of Vatican II determination to define the Church simply as a community that people joined for essentially social reasons.

Though the individual members of the clergy were usually pretty reasonable, I quickly became aware of the institutional and catechetical indifference, indeed hostility, to the real reasons for which most converts convert. As I think back, I am appalled to contemplate how much time and energy were spent on matters like the use of gender-neutral language in the liturgy, a project that no one in the pews supported, but which the diocesan and national bureaucracies ensured would be the chief topic of conversation at every conference of bishops. While they bishops and their advisors were chattering about this non-issue year after year, the priest scandal was being brought to a slow boil by the malpractice of the Church's own lawyers and psychologists. But don't get me started.

The most sympathetic reaction to Dreher's move I have seen so far comes from Fr. Neuhaus at First Things, himself a Catholic convert.

I hope every Catholic bishop and priest will read his essay, and especially those bishops and priests who are inclined to heave a sigh of relief that we have weathered the sex-abuse scandal. And every Catholic engaged in the standard intra-church quarrels, whether on the left or the right, should take to heart what he says about Catholics being more preoccupied with church battles than with following Jesus.

We should note that, at least in terms of Catholic ecclesiology, Dreher's relationship to the Church is now ambiguous rather than broken. Catholicism holds that Orthodoxy retains the Apostolic Succession and the validity of the sacraments. I would not do what Dreher did, and I don't think anyone else should either. I think that partly because Orthodox ecclesiology is somewhat defective. I have also been told that Orthodoxy, which its proliferation of autocephalous churches and schismatic groups that are not on speaking terms, is much more like American Protestantism than like pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Still, let us cut Dreher some slack. We may hope he'll be back, either by returning to the Roman communion directly, or by the reconciliation of his new Orthodox communion with Rome.

* * *

Speaking of ecclesiastical politics, there is great unrest in the Archdiocese of New York:

Edward Cardinal Egan yesterday took more fire from clergy who want him canned, after he scheduled a meeting of his top advisers at the same time as the funeral of a popular priest. The emergency session of Egan's aides has been called for Monday - at the same moment many were planning to say goodbye to Msgr. Charles Kelly, pastor of St. John and St. Mary Church in Chappaqua, Westchester County.

The timing has upset priests already being urged to challenge Egan's leadership in a letter circulated by an anonymous group of clergy....Egan is said to be furious about the letter, which was circulated earlier this week by a group calling itself a "committee of concerned clergy" and criticizing his leadership style.

The authors called Egan "vindictive," "arrogant" and "cruel."

Actually, the worst I have heard myself about Cardinal Egan is that he focuses on little besides getting the archdiocese's finances in order. Good management should never be discouraged. However, the cost of that policy has proved to be that he barely ranks as a public figure. I had occasion to mention the cardinal of New York City a few weeks ago. I found that I had forgotten the man's name, so I had to look it up. When last has the cardinal of New York been obscure?

* * *

As for the other kind of sky pilot, I see that the condition of a select few may be made a little safer:

(10-12) 04:00 PDT Oklahoma City -- In yet another reminder of the lurking threat terrorist missiles pose to airliners, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun installing anti-missile systems on its fleet of aircraft. ...

The FAA move is the latest in a stepped-up effort to protect "commercial derivative" aircraft from missile attacks. Commercial derivative aircraft are essentially commercial airliners the government has modified for official use....

The anti-missile device being installed is known as LAIRCM, or Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures System, which detects ultraviolet light coming from an attacking missile's exhaust and then directs a pulsating laser beam at its homing device, or "seeker." The laser sends false tracking information, causing the missile to lose track of the target aircraft.

The Air Force already requires LAIRCM for large transport aircraft that fly to and from Baghdad.

It is not true that bringing the troops home from Iraq would bring the war home from Iraq. The war is already here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2018-08-28

Men’s wages since 1979, broken down by wage percentile (10th is the poorest, 95th is the richest)

Men’s wages since 1979, broken down by wage percentile (10th is the poorest, 95th is the richest)

Population Immiseration in America

I've got a draft on wages over time in the wings now, but Peter Turchin has some great graphs in this article.

Museum Visitor Falls Into Giant Hole That Looks Like a Cartoonish Painting on the Floor

I think a previous linkfest included an article on Anish Kapoor and his legal battles regarding Vantablack. I'm not surprised someone fell in this thing, it really was an accident waiting to happen.

Land expropriation: learning from the Chinese

South Africa is pondering expropriating land from Boer farmers. There are lots of different angles on this subject, this one uses China as a foil.

The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History

A cyberattack on Maersk that reads like a thriller novel. Things like this make you appreciate the Butlerian Jihad.

Tolkien 101: On Fairy Stories

Wrapping up H.P.'s summer series on Tolkien, an extended reflection on Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories", which contains a great many ideas that I have seen reflected in the work of many authors I like, such as Neil Gaiman or Tim Powers.

(Almost) Everyone Hates Urbanization

Kevin Drum throws cold water on the dreams of urbanists. Everyone is too wedded to the status quo and their own self-interests to really do anything that would make a big impact. Harsh, but largely true.

Facing the Elephant

I must have really different priors than John Nerst, because I just assume everyone has hidden motives, even ones hidden from their own introspection. I am honestly not that interested in motives at all. I'm more interested in behavior, by their fruits you shall know them.

Two Cheers for Ultramontanism

Not enough attention is current paid to the first Vatican Council, which has a lot to do with where the Catholic Church finds itself today. The office of the Papacy gained much prestige and power in the nineteenth century

Tradition is Smarter Than You Are

T. Greer links Chesteron's Fence with James C. Scott and Joseph Henrich. This reminds me of something Aquinas once said, that man is barely an intellect at all, so weak are our powers of reason.

The Trouble with the View from Above

An introduction to James C. Scott.

Rudyard Kipling Does Scifi: The Secret of the Machines

This is my favorite stanza of Kipling's "The Secret of the Machines":

But remember, please, the Law by which we live, 
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
If you make a slip in handling us you die! 
We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—
Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!-
Our touch can alter all created things,
We are everything on earth—except The Gods!

Progress and Polytheism: Could an Ethical West Exist Without Christianity?

An exercise in counterfactual history: what would the West be without Christianity?


The Long View 2006-10-13: Eurasia Spotting; Zombie Watch; Looking for Character

Just today, David French wrote a piece for the Atlantic, "America Soured on My Multiracial Family", in an odd coincidence with John Reilly's ponderings from 2006 about Madonna and other celebrities adopting African children. Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie also come to mind. French is hurt and puzzled by those who attack him on grounds of virtue-signaling, but given the popularity of international adoption amongst celebrities in the the 1990s and 2000s, I don't know why he's surprised.

To be fair to French, his motives appear to be nothing of the sort, but I don't think he should act surprised. Hurt and offended. Righteous anger even, but not surprised.

Eurasia Spotting; Zombie Watch; Looking for Character


Does anyone but me really care about Eurasianism? I wonder. At least The Jamestown Foundation produces a security-related journal about Eurasia:

Eurasia Daily Monitor is a publication of The Jamestown Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. Jamestown’s vanguard publication, the Eurasia Daily Monitor (EDM), was launched on May 3, 2004 and has since become a unique analytical resource on the emerging security realities in the former Soviet space.

There is more to the matter than the former Soviet space, as readers of this site know.

* * *

The Golden Age of tabloid headlines has passed, but even in these degenerate days, the The New York Post can still rouse itself from its laurels to write this coverage of Madonna's recent adoption of an African child:


Days ago, she lined up 12 African boys - tots hand-selected for her perusal. She picked out a 1-year-old, David, to take home in her luggage. ... Well guess what? The boy selected in this freakish slave auction is no AIDS orphan. He's got a biological father, plus a granny - but was placed in an orphanage after his mother died. His family loves him. They just can't afford him.

Madonna has never done me an injury that I know of, but I am at a loss to understand this fashion among celebrities for adopting multi-ethnic families. Do their publicists recommend it?

* * *

Be Good All The Time is perhaps the lesson we should draw from this report from Chicago:

Security and terrorism won't be an issue if Chicago wins the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games because, by that time, there'll be a surveillance camera on every corner, Mayor Daley said Wednesday.

There are neighborhoods of my own city that are approaching this condition. We are reminded of this often, because videotape of particularly outrageous crimes committed in public will appear on the evening news. I always ask myself when I see these videos: was no one watching the monitor when the attacks occurred? No one ever intervenes to stop the crime.

Again, if we are going to have cameras everywhere, we should have the output available to the public as Internet webcams. That way we can decide for ourselves whether the gangs of zombie marauders have retreated far enough for us to venture out to our bookclub meetings.

I don't actually belong to a bookclub, by the way, but I did see the premier episode of the new season of Lost.

* * *

I have made enough predictions about the upcoming midterm Congressional elections that I am starting to contradict myself. Still, I would endorse what Mark Steyn says in this interview with Hugh Hewitt:

MS: I think the Republicans will do a lot better than these ludicrous predictions of massive losses. I think Mark Foley is over already...the intention of this is to kind of label the Republicans as a kind of decadent, gay toga party, so that the religious right all stay home on election day... anyone who knows most evangelical Christians, knows they are not as dumb as cynical but ignorant Democrats in New York and Boston and Los Angeles think they are.

I would extend this point to Iraq: that country will seem to be doing much better once the barrage of pre-election propaganda is over. Some of the propaganda is true, of course, but the timing of its release creates a sense of crisis that does not reflect events on the ground.

In any case, Steyn is certainly correct that the Foley affair is unusually fatuous, but the gold standard for fatuous domestic politics in the face of grave foreign threats was set by the Republicans in the 1990s. Steyn himself unwittingly alludes to this fact when he derides Bill Clinton:

Richard Clarke's book. Read Richard Clarke's book. Read Richard Clarke's book. Well, if you take Bill Clinton at his word, and you read Richard Clarke's book, this guy explains that every time Richard Clarke came up with a great idea for how to get bin Laden, how to do something about the jihad, how to deal with the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, Bill Clinton would never go along with it, because he felt that with his particular problems, with the draft dodging issue, with all the rest of it, that he couldn't plausibly order American troops into action on any difficult mission. In other words, character tells. Character tells. If you elect people in the full knowledge that they have significant character flaws, and those character flaws have certain implications for policy areas. Don't be surprised, then, that it comes back to haunt you.

Yes, character does come back to haunt you: institutional character as well as the character of individuals. The national Republican Party is of such a character that it actually impeached a president, because of nothing in particular, while war raged in the Balkans and the approaching detonations of the jihad were getting louder and louder. Perhaps a man of sterner stuff than Bill Clinton would have responded better to these problems, but it is the measure of the Republicans that they saw in his weakness nothing but an opportunity.

Again: it would better if the Democrats do not take control of both Houses of Congress, but the current generation of kickback-and-chaos Republican leadership does not deserve a future.

* * *

If zombies do not worry you this Halloween season, you might want to attend services here.

Holy Rosary Church
Downtown Jersey City
344 Sixth Street

I really need to learn Flash.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View 2006-10-11: Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself

A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the few Catholic apocalyptic novels. It remains one of my favorites, because of how seriously, and how imaginatively, Miller took Catholic doctrine.

Will Wilson's brutal tweet about the online LARPing of Catholic space empires is on point, and the best response I could imagine is the Catholic imagination of Walter Miller.

In this blog post, John also works at the essential dilemma that we face today regarding freedom of speech and the deplatforming tactics of groups such as Antifa. If all the West really stands for is allowing Nazis and other assorted ne'er-do-wells to have rallies, then it isn't worth defending. John discussed this in the context of the intentionally offensive cartoons of Muhammad in 2006, but the principle isn't really different now. John made an argument that allowing intentional transgressions was a necessary friction, but I think that time may have passed us by.

In 2002, John made an argument that healthcare was a public good, not a public right, and I still like this argument. He said that you couldn't call healthcare a public right in the same sense you could call the right to confront your accuser at trial, because healthcare depended upon an elaborate infrastructure of technology and training, while if you were going to have a trial, your accuser could simply be produced.

I think teasing out the subtleties of this argument would be a book, at least, but I think there is something here. 

In a similar vein, the relatively homogeneous Western European societies that developed ideals of free speech had a remarkable ability to tolerate cranks and dissent, within certain bounds. Think of Toad in the Wind in the Willows. The relatively unhomogeneous Western societies we have now, don't. Much like healthcare, our capacity to tolerate blasphemy and hatred depends on our capacity to provision public life with a common meaning. When that is lacking, it doesn't matter what the constitution says; no one is getting what is promised.

Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself


Alas for Millennial Studies, which made the mistake of trying to institutionalize itself in connection with the year 2000. Today, I think, few people would deny that the area is of more enduring significance. Consider, for instance, Thomas Hibbs' comments on the enduring significance of Walter Miller's 1959 novel about the interval between the Third and Last World Wars, A Canticle for Leibowitz:

[A]t a time when we are inundated with ideologically charged and artistically mediocre end-times stories — the latest entry is the CBS TV series Jericho — it is perhaps time to recommend Canticle, a novel that serves to put in question our simplistic apocalyptic oppositions between science and religion, knowledge and faith, even Jews and Christians. ...

End-times stories have become quite popular in recent years. In a recent New York Magazine piece, entitled “The End of the World as They Know It,” Kurt Anderson observes that from “Christian millenarians and jihadists to Ivy League professors and baby-boomers, apocalypse is hot...”

Buffy and other apocalyptic stories stress the recovery of a lost knowledge of good and evil, but this knowledge is typically needed, not so much to inform a living culture, but merely to fend off destruction and to do so by violent means. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, by contrast, the accent is not on destruction or even holding back destruction through violence but on preservation. The goal is integration and unification, however difficult that objective might be.

I have been saying that for years; I may be saying that until doomsday.

* * *

What are we going to call the rollback of Islam? The Reconquesta? Anyway, we will soon need a term if even a journal as clueless as The New York Times notices that Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center

Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values...Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits....

When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth....

In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate...The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away...

Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.

On the subject of free speech and expression, we should note Stephen Schwartz's report that there was less to the Idomeneo controversy than met the eye:

First, the Berlin Opera performance of Idomeneo was threatened with cancellation because German authorities decided that showing the decapitated head of Muhammad would offend Muslims and cause violent disorders.

Such a claim might have borne some weight, except that there was no evidence that any Muslims anywhere had ever heard about the opera or cared at all about it. Excitement among the Berlin officialdom was caused by a telephone tip from an individual who surmised the opera might cause problems. As this column is written, however, German Muslim leaders have called for the opera to be shown as planned.

Second, the appearance of the severed heads in the opera was a novelty created by producer Hans Neuenfels, to express his own hatred of religion. It does not appear in Mozart's original work, which is set on the island of Crete at a time when nobody in the Hellenic world knew anything about Buddha, and Jesus and Muhammad had not yet been born. Islamophobes (because people who irrationally fear and hate Islam do exist, unfortunately) soon blew the brouhaha far out of proportion, declaring that the Berlin Opera had surrendered to expressions of Muslim rage that, as noted, did not exist, and as much as declaring that the very survival of human liberty depended on the opera being presented in Neuenfels' version.

The latest news assures the opera public and global opinion that the Neuenfels production of Idomeneo will be mounted as planned, the head of Muhammad will be displayed, and the Western understanding of freedom will be, at least temporarily, saved.

That's an encouraging outcome, I suppose. It leaves us with the satisfaction of seeing cultural provocateurs fleeing from their own shadows. More important, maybe, is that it saves us the embarrassment of needing to defend this godawful production. As I have noted, the avant garde has become subversive of liberty:

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

These people need to read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

* * *

Speaking of forward-looking preservation, we see that Benedict XVI is about to do something else that needed doing:

THE Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times...The new indult would permit any priest to introduce the Tridentine Mass to his church, anywhere in the world, unless his bishop has explicitly forbidden it in writing.

I know people to whom this move has been almost an eschatological hope. We should remember, though, that priests educated after the 1960s do not know how to say the Tridentine Mass. As for the older ones who do know how, most of them would not do so even at gunpoint. Still, this is a positive development. The old liturgy needs to stay in circulation so it can be mined for ways to perfect the vernacular liturgy, particularly with regard to music.

* * *

Finally, take note of the website in which that Stephen Schwartz item above appears: Family Security Matters. In part, it describes itself thus:

We want to be your best resource for accurate and practical knowledge that will make your families and communities safer, stronger, and more secure. This problem is too important to wait for someone else to solve it. So explore our site, sign up for membership and FSM's Daily Security Updates, and come back often to learn everything you need to become active participants in America's struggle for security and peace.

This smacks of one of Mark Steyn's suggestions in America Alone, that it would be better if ordinary people took responsibility for their own physical security rather than waiting for the government to make them safe.

As Mr. Burns said when Smithers assured him that the Jade Monkey had been found in the glove compartment of Mr. Burns's limousine: "Excellent. It's all falling into place."

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Phone Call with a Fish Book Review

Phone Call with a Fish
by Silvia Vecchini, illustrated by Sualzo
48 pages
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (September 5, 2018)
ISBN 978-0802855107

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

Phone Call with a Fish is a delightful book about a little boy who doesn't talk, and a little girl who is curious about what it is like to be him. We never really learn why he doesn't speak, but it really doesn't matter why. It is enough that he is different than everyone else.

The young girl ponders what it would be like to never speak in school. His mom says he is very shy, but he talks at home, so the little girl tries to do what he does. She watches him stare out the window at school, and the way he interacts with his classmates.

Her curiosity is very sweet, the little girl manages to empathize with the silent boy even though others around her have little interest in understanding him. She finally connects with him via the eponymous phone call with a fish at the science museum. 

I enjoyed this book immensely, and I appreciate the lessons that can be taught to my children. Highly recommended.

My other book reviews


The Long View 2006-10-10: Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits

Kim Jong-um  By Cheongwadae / Blue House -, KOGL Type 1,

Kim Jong-um

By Cheongwadae / Blue House -, KOGL Type 1,

Here is something to ponder. New York City took down its post-9/11 vehicle barriers, intended to prevent truck bombings and the like, in 2006. Ten years after that, European cities have added them. Of course, the state of the art changed quite a bit. Truck bombings take hard work and skill. Running pedestrians down with a vehicle just takes an acceptable credit rating.

Also, a prediction that didn't pan out: Kim Jong-un did indeed succeed Kim Jong-il.

Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits


Security Barriers of New York Are Removed, reports the New York Times, and none too soon if you ask me:

They started appearing on Manhattan streets immediately after September 11: concrete and metal barriers in front of skyscrapers, offices and museums. Some were clunky planters; others were shaped artfully into globes. They were meant to be security barriers against possible car or truck bombers in a jittery city intent on safeguarding itself.

But now, five years later, their numbers have begun to dwindle. After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city’s Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away. So far, barriers have been removed at 30 buildings out of an estimated 50 to 70 in the city.

It will take a while to fix this. The whole region is full of slabs of concrete defacing the entrances to buildings and making the many fine new plazas look like construction sites. As the Times piece notes, some of the barriers have proven to be happy accidents: the bollards, the short, thick pillars set into the ground, make convenient stools and give a geometrical accent to open urban spaces. For the most part, though, the barriers detracted from aesthetics while adding nothing to safety. Good riddance.

* * *

Why did the North Koreans shoot the last hostage? That is essentially what they did with their recent nuke test, if that's what it was. Since the end of the Cold War, the whole of North Korean diplomacy has consisted of extracting tribute from its neighbors and the United States, based on the threat to develop nuclear weapons and an ICBM. Now that they claim to have actually exploded a bomb, what further leverage do they have?

Of course, the really strange thing here, even for a North Korean story, is that their WMDs are apparently duds. That was certainly the case with the recent, failed ICBM launch. As for the weekend's nuke, it may be that the explosive yield was so small because the test was of a tactical weapon, suitable for terrorist use. More likely the bomb was supposed to be a typical first nuke of a few kilotons, but it misfired. Some American analysts are suggesting it was a conventional explosion that the North Koreans are just claiming to have been nuclear. Even Team America would not have suggested such a thing.

It would be reasonable to anticipate that the Dear Leader will suffer a mishap at no distant date; perhaps one of his trains will explode again. When that happens, his likely successor will not be one of his lamentable offspring (not that the offspring won't try), but one of those funny-looking generals he likes to appear in public with at times of crisis, a general whom the Chinese find acceptable. What happens then is that the reunification of Korea becomes a real possibility, with the Chinese offering Seoul an orderly transition, contingent on the demilitarization of the peninsula.

* * *

Rich people are breeding like rabbits. Well, some of them are, if you believe The New York Times:

It's barely a blip on the nation's demographic radar — 11 percent of U.S. births in 2004 were to women who already had three children, up from 10 percent in 1995. But there seems to be a growing openness to having more than two children, in some case more than four....

The families involved cut across economic lines, though a sizable part of the increase is attributed to a baby boom in affluent suburbs, with more upper-middle-class couples deciding that a three- or four-child household can be both affordable and fun...

Clark, 38, is aware of the buzz that large families — in the suburbs, at least — are a new status symbol.

"I thought it was kind of funny," she said...

Since Strauss & Howe's model of history suggests some such development, and since I know a couple of families to whom this story applies, I can't say that I find the Times story altogether surprising. That's not to say I don't find it slightly surreal. Maybe you have to be a babyboomer or older to appreciate how strange it is for large families to be regarded as status symbol. I can remember when it was like smoking is today.

There is even a website.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View: Populism and the Mirror of Democracy

It has been a while since I've put up one of the orphan posts written by John J. Reilly that he didn't explicitly call out in his main blog. This one is from 2005, and originally appeared in the journal Democratization.

John used the line, “The people have spoken. The bastards.”, but I would have used the Wizard of Id classic, "The peasants are revolting!" 

I enjoy this book review because of this useful definition of populism:

“Populism” has no ideological content: “populist movements” can be Left or Right, violent or peaceful, liberal or tyrannical. Nonetheless, certain formal features of some political environments can be usefully defined as populist. Populism is a likely result when the ordinary processes of politics and administration do not address a growing list of demands and dissatisfactions. Various groups of dissatisfied persons can then be persuaded that they are all parts of a single group, the people. In this sense, the “people” is defined by its antagonism to some elite, a minority who prevent the people from achieving plenitude.

The West is in a broadly populist moment, and antagonism to some elite is a widespread emotion, although not every part of the People hates the same elites.

Populism and the Mirror of Democracy
Edited by Francisco Panizza
London: Verso, 2005
Pp. 358; index, bibliography
£15 (paperback)
ISBN 1 85984 489 8


There is an old saying: “The people have spoken. The bastards.” The people, variously defined, have lately been making political establishments around the world say just that. This book explains not so much why this is happening as how.

Ernesto Laclau’s contribution articulates a discourse theory based on Gramsci’s notion of ideological hegemony; the other nine contributors use this framework to analyze populist movements from Alberta to Natal. The semiotological language of the contributors will not be to every reader’s taste (certainly it wasn’t to this reviewer’s), but in all the pieces local knowledge and practical insight compensate for the excesses of theory. The editor, Francisco Panizza of the London School of Economics, provides a clarifying introduction.

“Populism” has no ideological content: “populist movements” can be Left or Right, violent or peaceful, liberal or tyrannical. Nonetheless, certain formal features of some political environments can be usefully defined as populist. Populism is a likely result when the ordinary processes of politics and administration do not address a growing list of demands and dissatisfactions. Various groups of dissatisfied persons can then be persuaded that they are all parts of a single group, the people. In this sense, the “people” is defined by its antagonism to some elite, a minority who prevent the people from achieving plenitude.

Populist movements are organized around symbolic issues of little substantive content. Populist leaders bulk large because the leader’s name can become the unifying symbol the movement needs. They operate outside the rules of ordinary politics, which they condemn as corrupt. These leaders speak in moral terms: even patronage becomes social justice. Of course, all this can be quite consistent with operating within the law and the broader rules of the democratic process.

Ernesto Laclau points out that all politics is populist to some extent. Not all public issues can be handled as questions of administration, and it would be a mistake to try. Chantal Mouffe, in her contribution, suggests that right-wing populism has flourished lately because the political establishments of Europe have tried to do just that. Benjamin Arditi proposes that populism represents the internal frontier of the democratic system. There exists a sort of political Freudian unconscious, which manifests itself in populist “symptoms” when the political system is unresponsive.

Not all populist projects become popular. Oscar Reyes details the odd attempt by William Hague to redefine the Tory Party as the people oppressed by the elites. In the western provinces of Canada, the Reform Party and its successors had better luck, but David Laycock notes that the movement foundered when it tried to increase its electoral chances by muting moral issues and focusing on economic libertarianism. Even when populist formulas prove durable, the leader who espoused them need not. According to Joseph Lowndes, former Alabama Governor George Wallace created the link between liberal economics, private morality, and public order that eventually became the consensus of American politics, but thereby made himself unnecessary.

Successful populist organizations deploy symbols rather than substantive platforms. That is how the ANC prospered in South Africa, says David Horwith, though success meant throwing overboard the socialist hopes of many of its members. Sebastian Borros says something similar happened in Argentina. Carlos Menem achieved the alchemical transformation of the Peronist movement into a government of economic neo-liberals.

Disparate victims of violence can become a people, or the people, because of their victimhood; nationalism differs from populism to the extent that the people’s enemies are external or internal. Glenn Bowman notes the enemies of the newly created Palestinian people and of the new nations of the former Yugoslavia were all external, but in the latter case the violence was recollected from inter-ethnic strife of the Second World War. Yannis Stavrakakis presents a less gruesome overlap of nationalism and populism in the role of the Orthodox Church in Greece, whose leaders increasingly serve to articulate popular unease about absorption into Europe.

Populism can never wholly succeed: the unfettered “people” united under its leader is as much an image of the end of history as the homogenous and universal state. Populism in the real world does both good and harm. As the title of the book suggests, populism is neither the highest form of democracy nor its enemy, but its mirror.


Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly
The review first appeared in the journal Democratization (2005).

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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.


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 -, Public Domain,

Barrow Steelworks

By unknown - 1877 or earlier, republished by University of Strathclyde project -, Public Domain,

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.


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,

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,

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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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.


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,

George Kennan

Public Domain,

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

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