Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

 An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

Solo: A Star Wars Story 
Director Ron Howard 
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover
Writers Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan

I finally watched Han Solo’s origin story. I really liked it. I saw it as an attempt to rehabilitate the reluctant hero Han of the original Star Wars.

I don’t say that lightly. The poor box office for Solo was widely interpreted as a failure of a Star Wars movie starring a white man, but there is a counter-narrative that the failure of Solo was really a delayed reaction to the identitarian overreach of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

 In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

With my Straussian hat on, I’m starting to lean towards the latter interpretation. Aside from Chuck Wendig’s lackluster novels, the recent entries in the new Disney Star Wars canon have been subtly reactionary while checking all of the proper boxes. Rogue One was a carefully crafted homage to the original Star Wars that was in fact more Star Wars than Star Wars. It filled in the plot holes of the original movie, while also honoring it. On the other hand, it was the love story of a father for his daughter, full of regrets for the life of hardship he had bequeathed to her. On the gripping hand, it was also about the unsentimental hard-asses the Rebellion was full of in order to win.

Star Wars Rebels turned into the way Disney rehabilitated the most popular character in the Extended Universe. A character who is as unforgiving as any Roman general.

 Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Solo is the least woke Star Wars movie of this decade. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is a tragic hero, compromised by her own cooperation in evil. L3-37, the droid revolutionary, is played for laughs, Lando is a cheater. Only Han [and Chewie, neglected hero of the Rebellion] comes out well.

In part, that is because he is still young and naive. I can see a plausible character arc, in which Han, as he gets more experienced and more jaded, finally finds out that cowardice and betrayal really does pay off, à la Woody Harrelson’s Beckett. Which isn’t quite what happened in Episode Seven, which involved a remarkable feat of self-sacrificial love, but is close enough in spirit to generate hard feelings in fans.

To be fair, Harrison Ford wanted out, so they wrote him an out. I can just imagine a different way to play it all out, since I was deep into the Extended Universe from the beginning. This is not the EU, but I think Ron Howard and the Kasdans, father and son, did pretty well, given what they had to work with.

I’m sorry Solo didn’t do that well at the box office, I think it deserves a second look [or a first] from Star Wars fans who feel betrayed. Also, props to whomever retconned in the West End Games attempt to make sense of the twelve parsecs line. I always kind of liked that explanation.

My other movie reviews

The Long View 2006-10-30: Premonitions and Dark Arts

 Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914)

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914)

There is an interesting premonition of the Eurozone financial crisis here. Monetary union between Germany and Italy and Germany and Greece devastated the economies of the smaller, less productive countries. Some people saw this coming a long time ago.

There is a kind of analogy to be made to the monetary union between the several States of the United States of America. One hundred years ago, this kind of thing was current in domestic politics.

Let’s look and see how the European economies compare to US states:

  • Germany’s per capita income is $48,111 (PPP)

  • Greece’s per capita income is $26,669 (55% of Germany)

  • Italy’s per capita income is $36,833 (77% of Germany)

In the US:

  • California’s per capita income $59,796

  • Mississippi’s per capita income is $37,903 (63% of California)

  • Ohio’s per capita income is $46,732 (78% of California)

Overall, pretty comparable. I don’t know whether the EU has the kind of transfer that we have in the US of taxes from richer states to poorer states. If not, that would be a big difference.

John Reilly also mentions Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s 1909 novel The Necromancers. Because John Reilly mentioned it more than once, I read it. This is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. Monsignor Benson took spiritualism, then in vogue in England, very seriously indeed. This book, plus Last Call by Tim Powers, put me off anything of the sort forever. If you want to scare yourself for Halloween, read The Necromancers. You can get a Kindle version or a Gutenberg version for free.


Premonitions and Dark Arts

Arson does not make an Intifada, but apparently the security situation in parts of France really is deteriorating. Mark Steyn has this to say to Hugh Hewitt about where it is all headed:

HH: I hate arsonists. They're not only at work here...that's because my grandfather was a fireman for 60 years. But in Paris today, two buses are torched with ten people on them last night, barely got out with their lives. It's starting again in Paris.... MS...You know, these are countries that can be very coercive, and very unpleasantly so, when they have to be. And the danger is that you provoke them, you provoke them, you provoke them. You don't get a reaction. Then when you do get a reaction, it's a kind of nuclear one. And I think that is the situation that...whether that's actually any more effective in the long run is of course an open question. But I think that actually is the situation they're heading towards now in France.

Note that Steyn seems to be hedging his assumption in America Alone that Europe in general and France in particular will simply surrender.

* * *

Speaking of the miseries of Europe, real and imaginary, here's a bit of "I told you so" from the London Times about the euro:

The Iraq invasion, disastrous though it has been, may not go down in history as the greatest political blunder of the past decade. That dubious honour will probably belong to an event most people still regard as a triumph: the creation of the euro. What we see today, not only in Italy and Hungary, but also in the other relatively weak economies on the southern and eastern fringes of the EU, is the beginning of the end of the European project....

But what does the euro have to do with the political troubles in Hungary and Italy? And how can I compare the technocratic financial problems connected with the euro to a moral and humanitarian disaster such as Iraq? These two questions have a very clear answer: democratic self-government — or, more precisely, its denial.

What we see in Eastern and Southern Europe today are the consequences of the EU’s transformation from a union of democratic countries into a sort of supra-national financial empire in which the most important decisions affecting EU citizens are no longer subject to democratic control.

I still think the euro is a good idea; the problem is that the charter of the European central bank is a sort of mutual suicide pact. In any case, these complaints remind me of nothing so much as the agitation in the United States at the end of the 19th century against the Treasury's "hard money" policies. See, for instance, William Jennings Bryan's famous 1896 address that ends, Thou shalt not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!:

* * *

Speaking of agitation, James Lileks has drawn our attention to the discussion at the Huffington Post Blog about what to do if the outcome of next week's Congressional election is not all the Democrats might wish. Lyn Davis Lear favors us with this advice:

When I asked Gore Vidal at dinner why the White House seemed so serene and at ease about the vote, he replied that, this time around, the Bush-Cheney henchmen could simply call on martial law. ...We all know the neocons won't cede power easily. They have to be aware that if the tide of Congress turns, Bush's last two years will be mired in gridlock and perhaps even be punctuated by several embarrassing congressional investigations....Therefore we should all be on alert. If for whatever reason we don't win back Congress in November the only real answer will be to take to the streets.

On the whole, the Democrats probably have cause to regret the motif of election fraud that they deployed during the recounts of the Election of 2000. There was enough genuine confusion then to make it plausible, though the evidence did not in the end back up the charge. They deployed it again in 2004, when the result was not even very close. They did so, apparently, for no better reason than to excuse an embarrassing loss. The Democratic problem now is that they have succeeded in convincing a large fraction of their constituency that the elections really are rigged. Such a belief does not encourage high voter turnout.

Paranoia can be put to sophisticated uses, however, as James Boyce later demonstrated on the same blog:

Voters have absolutely had enough of claims and counter claims and yard signs - only one question remains for us to ask ourselves- will every vote count next Tuesday?...Despite passing laws designed to guarantee that the votes be counted, there is no guarantee that next week, we will know the outcome of the races that ...I fear for the Democrats because we have not yet learned to fight until the fight is won. The reasons for this are many but the fundamental flaw lies in the basic structure of where political power exists within our part[y]..Who is leading the charge to make sure that when the cry of 'fraud' is raised, as it most certainly will be, we will have the team to fight. Sure, the DNC and others will issue statements "we will fight to make sure every vote is counted." But are there teams of lawyers at the ready? ...the increasing cooperation between online and offline power circles these past few weeks has been encouraging. This new detente will fall quickly, and perhaps permanently, apart if yet again, a Democrat is advised to 'do the right thing' and concede. The online community will demand a fight. And we can not fight this fight alone....We need to work with our elected leaders and top donors. ... We have failed to prepare....Where are our leaders?

You see what is going on here? There is no reason to doubt that the Democrats will do reasonably well. If they don't, however, the faction represented by the Netroots believe they will be in a position to make a bid for the control of the party.

* * *

I have federal jury duty on Halloween, so I may not be able to blog. However, I submit for your consideration this short excerpt from The Necromancers, by Monsignor Hugh Benson (1871-1914). The Monsignor was a Catholic priest who was once a well-know popular novelist. This book is about spiritualism, which the author both deplored and took very seriously. In this scene, a young Catholic who has been experimenting with spiritualism and who has suffered an out-of-body experience goes to a medium for an explanation of what happened to him. This medium is dangerous because he is honest:

"Very well, Mr. Baxter, I will take you at your word.... Have you ever heard the phrase, 'The Watcher on the Threshold'?"

Laurie shook his head.

"No," he said. "At least I don't think so."

"Well," said the medium quietly, "that is what we call the Fear you spoke of.... No; don't interrupt. I'll tell you all we know. It's not very much."

He paused again, stretched his hand for the matches, and took one out. Laurie watched him as if fascinated by the action.

Outside roared Oxford Street in one long rolling sound as of the sea; but within here was that quiet retired silence which the boy had noticed before in the same company. Was that fancy, too, he wondered...?

The medium lit his pipe and leaned back.

"I'll tell you all we know," he said again quietly. "It's not very much. Really the phrase I used just now sums it up pretty well. We who have tried to get beyond this world of sense have become aware of certain facts of which the world generally knows nothing at all. One of these facts is that the door between this life and the other is guarded by a certain being of whom we know really nothing at all, except that his presence causes the most appalling fear in those who experience it. He is set there--God only knows why--and his main business seems to be to restrain, if possible, from re-entering the body those who have left it. Just occasionally his presence is perceived by those on this side, but not often. But I have been present at death-beds where he has been seen--"

"Seen?"

"Oh! yes. Seen by the dying person. It is usually only a glimpse; it might be said to be a mistake. For myself I believe that that appalling terror that now and then shows itself, even in people who do not fear death itself, who are perfectly resigned, who have nothing on their conscience,--well, personally, I believe the fear comes from a sight of this--this Personage."

Laurie licked his dry lips. He told himself that he did not believe one word of it.

"And ... and he is evil?" he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"Isn't that a relative term?" he said. "From one point of view, certainly; but not necessarily from all."

"And ... and what's the good of it?"

The medium smiled a little.

"That's a question we soon cease to ask. You must remember that we hardly know anything at all yet. But one thing seems more and more certain the more we investigate, and that is that our point of view is not the only one, nor even the principal one. Christianity, I fancy, says the same thing, does it not? The 'glory of God,' whatever that may be, comes before even the 'salvation of souls.'"

Laurie wrenched his attention once more to a focus.

"Then I was in danger?" he said.

"Certainly. We are always in danger--"

"You mean, if I hadn't prayed--"

"Ah! that is another question.... But, in short, if you hadn't succeeded in getting past--well, you'd have failed."

The genteel people in this novel get up to more scary stuff than can be found in all the torture dungeons in Slovakia. And look: it's available free from The Gutenberg Project!

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-26 Pointed Humor

This post written in 2006 illustrates nicely the difference between antifa on the Left and Frog Twitter and 4chan on the Right. Unlike Weimar Germany, America is full of Righty humorists and Black Bloc marchers with bats and bike locks.


Pointed Humor

The propaganda element of the Terror War has notoriously been neglected, so it is all to the good that Ivan Osorio, writing in The American Spectator, draws our attention to the value of ridicule:

"Ridicule is man's most potent weapon," says the fifth rule of Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, Saul Alinsky's classic 1971 activist handbook. That's because, "It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule," as Michael "tank moment" Dukakis so painfully knows.

He further draws our attention to a paper from an analyst at the Institute of World Politics (new to me; it's apparently an independent graduate school in DC) that offers some specifics:

[The paper's author, Michael Waller] cites Team America: World Police, an all-marionette-cast war-on-terror movie comedy by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as a good example of effective contemporary anti-anti-American ridicule.

Certainly some of the graphics from that film came in very handy after the recent North Korean nuclear test. Nonetheless, I am reminded of a scene from one of Woody Allen's funny movies. It takes place at a literary gathering in Manhattan, when Allen's character becomes annoyed at the futile political chatter:

"Hey look," Allen says, "I just heard that the Neo-Nazis are marching tonight in New Jersey. What do you say we take some baseball bats and pay them a visit?"

His interlocutors reply: "Oh, no no. I think irony would be much more effective."

Weimar Germany was full of Lefty humorists.

* * *

The Clinton Administration occasioned some brilliant political humor. Perhaps it was too brilliant for the Republican Party's own good, since the party's supporters are recycling it long past its sell-by date.

Consider, for instance the The People's Cube. The material is all terribly anachronistic. Take, for instance, the image on this site of Hillary Clinton managing a concentration camp. To be shown an image of an American politician operating a concentration camp these days is to be reminded of Guantanamo. That's unfair, but it's true. Political viral-marketing is supposed to say in an unofficial medium what could not be said in a broadcast political ad. Here we have a viral message that will infect the viewers with ideas the message's makers had not intended.

And then there's David Zucker's latest video, which shows IRS agents dressed like Men in Black collecting new taxes passed by a hypothetical Democratic Congress. Like many Americans, I think my taxes are too high, too. My property taxes are outrageous, but that's because the New Jersey state government is deadlocked and cannot simplify the structures of local government. I suspect that I am also like many Americans, perhaps like most Americans, in thinking that anyone who is really worried about keeping the Bush tax cuts in place is part of the racket that has so visibly corrupted Congress.

* * *

Speaking of humor and New Jersey, here is some of the Darwin Award-winning logic from Lewis v. Harris, in which the New Jersey Supreme Court gave the legislature six months to either redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, or create a parallel institution with precisely the same terms as marriage:

[From the Syllabus] The State does not argue that limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman is needed to encourage procreation or to create the optimal living environment for children. Other than sustaining the traditional definition of marriage, which is not implicated in this discussion, the State has not articulated any legitimate public need for depriving committed same-sex couples of the host of benefits and privileges that are afforded to married heterosexual couples. There is, on the one hand, no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships. To the extent that families are strengthened by encouraging monogamous relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the Court cannot discern a public need that would justify the legal disabilities that now afflict same-sex domestic partnerships.

Note that the court took care to find an equal-protection claim only under the state constitution, thereby ensuring that the federal courts would not have a chance to second-guess them, and that the court found no fundamental same-sex right-to-marry even under the New Jersey Constitution. The most interesting aspect of the decision, however, is found in the first paragraph:

JUSTICE ALBIN delivered the opinion of the Court. The statutory and decisional laws of this State protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation. When those individuals are gays and lesbians who follow the inclination of their sexual orientation and enter into a committed relationship with someone of the same sex, our laws treat them, as couples, differently than heterosexual couples. As committed same-sex partners, they are not permitted to marry or to enjoy the multitude of social and financial benefits and privileges conferred on opposite-sex married couples. In this case, we must decide whether persons of the same

Actually, "our laws" don't treat anyone as "couples." There is a Domestic Partnership Law, which gives individuals in certain situations the right to confer certain benefits on other individuals, but that no more creates a legal person called a "couple" than does a landlord-tenant contract. In reality, marriage rights have always been the same for heterosexuals and homosexuals; the fact that the latter group is much less interested in exercising them is not a denial of equal protection of the law.

Even if you accept the legal reification of "couples," can the court really mean that the state is forbidden to offer special benefits to that class of couples that is capable of producing and raising offspring? Also, though the court does refer to "monogamy" on a few occasions, if "to follow the inclination of their sexual orientation" is enough to create a legally cognizable person, then I am at a loss to see why these entities need have only two members.

Again, it's embarrassing to discuss this issue, because demographics settle the matter. The court notes that the relevant statutes and state constitutional provisions were clearly not written by people who contemplated same-sex marriage, but "times and attitudes have changed." Yes they have, and they will change again. Mark Steyn has prophesied that every viable political party in the West will be pro-natalist by 2015. He will be right about that, even if he is wrong about Eurabia. (In fact, if he is wrong about Eurabia, he will be wrong because of that.) Same-sex marriage is part of a cultural constellation that is not sustainable; Lewis v. Harris is an example of a type of progressivism that can have no future.

What will happen in New Jersey itself? What had been a very Blue state on cultural issues is about to become much redder.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-23: American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

I would concur with John Reilly here that a sung Mass, whether High or Low, is a remarkable experience. There are a variety of sung settings for the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, by well-known composers. It is unfortunately difficult to find one in practice. I had the good fortune to participate in a Mass in Vienna that was a Mozart arrangement.


American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

A Nadir of American Power is the way The Washington Post describes the current state of things:

In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile...Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? ...It would be nice if this merely proved that tough talk can backfire. But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. ...Now Russia's pro-Western voices are being snuffed out, ...In Somalia, a Taliban-style group of Islamic militants has seized part of the country. ...Sudan's tin-pot dictator thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam and dispatches more death squads.

And as if that were not enough:

[T]he United States has several economic frailties and can't seem to address any of them. Every honest politician knows that entitlement spending on retirees is going to bust the budget....Every honest politician knows that support for globalization is fraying because of rising inequality at home....In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. ...I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.

The comparison with the situation just before the Reagan Administration is instructive, but chiefly because of the differences. The US was not just suffering foreign-policy reverses in those days: it was apparently losing the long-term strategic contest with the USSR. In the 1970s, the "economic frailties" were not merely potential. The country was becoming accustomed to nearly Latin American levels of inflation, which mysteriously were occurring at the same time as high unemployment and economic stagnation. The centers of major cities were in ruins after more than a decade of abandonment and sporadic race riots. Needle-shaped warcraft from the Pegasus Galaxy swooped down over suburban streets and abducted pedestrians who were never seen again.

I made that last part up.

What is different this time is that the problem is not so much an enemy, or even a constellation of enemies, but entropy. Consider the issues connected with North Korea and Iran and the Sudan. If the US is flubbing them, then the world is flubbing them, too.

Well, these turbulent bits don't last forever.

* * *

Orson Scott Card, as we see in his upcoming book, Empire, seems to have gotten the memo about the Hellenistic Analogy:

[W]hat Torrent was saying about America and empire made perverse sense. While the other students sidetracked themselves into a discussion about whether Torrent's statements were "conservative" or "liberal," "reactionary" or "politically correct," Reuben could not shake off Torrent's premise -- that America was not in the place Rome was in before it fell, but rather in the place where Rome was before civil war destroyed the Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Caesars.

I can only repeat, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a national empire and a universal state.

* * *

Art Weekend ended yesterday here in Downtown Jersey City. Helium balloons and numbered signs marked the stoops of the houses where artists have their studios. Visitors from New York, for the most part black-clad men and unusually tall women, followed maps about the district from numbered location to numbered location.

The one confusing point about this otherwise admirable procedure is that the displays the artists put out to mark their studios were not so different from the displays that realtors put out to attract people to an Open House to view a property for sale. I could not help but wonder whether unscrupulous realtors misidentified their properties as Houses of Art, so that people who came to view the last word in neo-ironic pointillism would find themselves asked to consider the merits of a four-story walkup just 5 minutes from Manhattan.

* * *

My local parish may get some press coverage when the Vatican issues the new rules that ease restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass: we have been doing it long enough that we have more or less got it right by now. The latest rumors say that the new rules will actually create a right to the old Mass in any parish where 20 people ask for it, provided the local bishop has not specifically forbidden it.

Frankly, I have never been very keen on creating a right to anything unless you are also creating a supply. The problem is not so much the lack of priests as the lack of the cultural infrastructure needed to do the Latin liturgy right. As a matter of preference, though not of principle, I would say that the Latin Mass is not worth doing unless it is sung, and for that you need a decent schola. Organizing a schola is not intrinsically difficult, but it is beyond the capacity of most parishes today. The fact is that the typical parish music ministry is ideologically committed to sing-along choirs at maximum amplification. The result of the new indult could be a lot of dry-as-dust, unsung, Low Masses: very quick, but not very nutritious.

* * *

Thanatophobia continues to spread, with Max Brooks demonizing Differently Animated Americans in a way that recalls the militant intolerance of Mark Steyn. First it was The Zombie Survival Guide, and now we have World War Z. Throughout the media, in fact, irresponsible persons continue to encourage violence against the Differently Animated. No judicial hearing, no habeas corpus: a quick shot in the brain is the only due process that interests these bigots. Their unthinking discrimination between the living and the undead is an affront to the principle of inclusion. Putting an end to beating-heart privilege will be the final frontier in equal protection of the law.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: World War Z

World War Z remains one of my favorite books. I liked Brooks’ device of an oral history, and I enjoyed the wide variety of characters we meet through the “interviews”. As with so much of my favorite fiction, the characters seem like real people you could meet somewhere, or maybe have met somewhere, sometime.

I also enjoyed how the book is a covert paean to American greatness, positing a challenge to which we moderns can rise to meet, like unto our grandfathers. While technological mastery is a part of the final victory, organizational mastery is even more important. Some of the most lovingly crafted sections of the book are the descriptions of how the economy was put on a war footing using the techniques of Germany and Great Britain in the Great War.

The Brad Pitt movie version of World War Z was enjoyable, but for me, not nearly as good as this book. They didn’t even use any of the best scenes that John Reilly described in his review. Ah well.


World War Z:
An Oral History of the Zombie War
By Max Brooks
Crown Publishers, 2006
342 Pages, US$24.95
ISBN 0-307-34660-9

Clausewitz posited the concept of "pure war" simply as a theoretical boundary to military activity. It could never be achieved in reality, he thought, because it would mean annihilation for its own sake, an absence of politics either within or between the belligerents. No such enemy was imaginable. At any rate, no such enemy was imagined until Max Brooks wrote World War Z, a wonderfully inventive and fast-paced pseudo-history of a war that almost ends the human race. What we have here is a genuinely new idea in imaginative fiction: The Pure Enemy.

That's not to say that carnivorously inclined zombies are new. They had been shambling across movie screens and the pages of fiction even before George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Nonetheless, they have rarely received anything like the lovingly detailed treatment that vampires or even werewolves have enjoyed. Brooks (son of Mel, by the way) has written an earlier book, The Zombie Survival Guide, that fleshes out the subject. For the purposes of World War Z, however, there is little we really need to know:

Zombies have no memories, no language, no culture, no lairs. The invariably fatal zombie virus is transmitted by bites or scratches. When the infected person dies of the disease, or for some other reason after they have been infected, the body quickly reanimates. It immediately seeks out the living to eat, or at least to consume: zombies can no more digest than they can breathe. They decay very slowly, especially the ones on the bottom of the sea, from which they sometimes emerge after walking remarkable distances. They can be killed (well, de-animated) only by destroying their brains. Individually, they are not formidable. The nearly fatal danger to the human race comes from their habit of swarming. They give off a low moan when they become aware of the presence of the living, thus alerting other zombies, who in turn alert other zombies, to join in the pursuit. By this means, the undead can form chains that encompass the former populations of whole cities, or indeed of continents.

That said, World War Z is worth reading not because of these tinkertoy nightmares, but because of the ingenious way in which the author projects a struggle comparable to the Second World War onto the lives of the grandchildren of the people who fought in that conflict. As the subtitle suggests, the book uses the device of the "oral history," brief interviews by a single reporter with people all around the world who had lived through a cataclysm that is supposed to have ended, more or less, about a decade before the interviews are conducted. Toward the end of the book, we get this reflection from an ordinary citizen that perhaps best expresses the author's ambitions toward generational drama:

"I wonder what future generations will say about us. My grandparents suffered through the Depression, World War II, then they came home to build the biggest middle class in human history. Lord knows they weren't perfect, but they sure came closest to the American dream. Then my parent's generation came along and fucked it all up---the baby boomers, the 'me' generation. And then you got us. Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we're the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least, we're cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that's the best epitaph to hope for. 'Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.'"

Just how that mess came to be made is the burden of most of the interviews. The author makes rather direct parallels between the intelligence failures that preceded the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the far more serious failure of the world's major governments to react intelligently, or sometimes at all, to the reports they were receiving about re-animations. The outbreaks spread slowly, over many months, before civil order suddenly collapsed almost everywhere.

The virus was first known as "African Rabies." In reality, it originated in China, where the government had succeeded in covering up news of the initial outbreaks until it was too late. When confused accounts of the disease became public knowledge, panic was avoided for a while by the marketing of a wholly ineffective vaccine. (One of the interviews is with the entrepreneur responsible, apparently the Most Hated Man in the World, at the base in Antarctica he rents from the preoccupied Russian government.) Meanwhile, governments were increasingly unable to suppress the outbreaks that overran rural districts, neighborhoods, and finally major cities. In the United States, the government attempted to reassure the public by giving maximum publicity to the high-tech defense against the mobilized zombies of Manhattan. In the resulting Battle of Yonkers, the Army dissolved on television before an enemy that was not much troubled by anti-personnel weapons or even large explosions. That was the start of the Great Panic.

What makes World War Z so interesting is that there is no easy gimmick that overcomes the zombie threat at the last minute. Neither is there a collapse into post-apocalyptic anarchy, or even much survivalism. Rather, there is a manpower-intensive strategy of retreat to defensible regions, the mobilization of economic resources for a long war, and finally the retaking of undead territory with huge infantry armies of riflemen. In the United States, this meant that a nation that had shrunk to the West Coast and Hawaii had to deal with the 200-million zombies east of the Rocky Mountains. Worldwide, victory in this conflict meant that the number of member states in the United Nations General Assembly had been more than cut in half, and large parts of the world were still wholly in the hands of the dead.

The film rights to this book have long since been sold, so we may speculate about which elements of the book will make it into the screenplay. The most filmable incidents take place in the collapse-phase of the war. One feels sure that the film will include the Decameron-like reality show that is overthrown, not by the undead, but by its own audience. It also is very likely that we will see the teenage otaku realize that his parents are not coming home and his Internet access is down permanently; then we will follow him for a while as he rappels down the wall of his zombie-infested high-rise apartment building and sets out to acquire a samurai sword and a blind sensei. The defense of Windsor Castle (the queen refuses to retreat with her government to Scotland) may be worth a few scenes, especially with the suddenly useful medieval body-armor and pikes. One suspects, though, that the chief action of the film will focus on the Battle of Five Colleges, a self-organized defense by the students of a group of colleges in California that ensured the central part of the state would not become zombieland. For theme music, the author draws our attention to "Avalon" by Roxie Music.

The colleges, by the way, are members of the Claremont group, the great citadel of Straussianism. One hopes the screenwriters will have a faculty member remark that the equality among the zombies perfectly realizes the eschatology of Alexandre Kojève: spiteful, but true.

Finally, anyone contemporary with the time in which this book was written will note that it expresses the free-floating anxiety of the early 21st century. The term "War on Terror" may leave something to be desired as an expression of the strategic situation, but the term survives because the word "terror" has resonance.

Let us not overly psychologize the situation. Certainly there is a quite real jihadist threat to the West. It is associated with a cult of homicidal martyrdom: in effect, it is a death cult that is not quite as inhuman as the zombies but very nearly as morbid. However, the current anxiety does not have an obvious human source, as did the anxiety during the crisis of the Depression and World War II. Maybe the current flurry of books about demographic collapse is a product of the dread; maybe the dread is a sublimation of unarticulated anxiety about the collapse. In any case, World War Z works because the enemy is not an ordinary human enemy, as in a Tom Clancy novel about a hypothetical world war. It is about the Pure Enemy, whose face we have not yet seen.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Goodnight, Anne Book Review

Goodnight, Anne: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables
by Kallie George (Author), Genevieve Godbout (Illustrator)
40 pages
Published by Holt, Reinhart and Winston (1978)
ISBN 978-1770499263

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

First published in 1908, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables has come into the public domain in the United States and Canada, which means we can have delightful little derivative works like this one, Goodnight, Anne.

Kallie George and Geneviève Godbout have distilled Anne Shirley into a series of rhymes and colored pencil drawings. My wife says this image of Anne and Marilla looking at the Snow Queen tree embodies them both perfectly:

 Anne and Marilla respectively gaze upon and fret toward the Snow Queen

Anne and Marilla respectively gaze upon and fret toward the Snow Queen

Very sweet, and clearly captures the spirit of the original. My kids haven’t heard or read Anne of Green Gables, so they don’t ask for this one much, but my wife adores it.

My other book reviews

Everything Will Wight on Sale!

I’m trying to catch up on my sleep, so things are quiet around here right now, but Will Wight announced a sale on his blog:

Free

Unsouled (Ben’s review)
House of Blades (Ben’s review)

On sale for 99¢

The Crimson Vault (Ben’s review)
City of Light (Ben’s review)

Soulsmith (Ben’s review)
Blackflame (Ben’s review)
Skysworn (Ben’s review)
Ghostwater (Ben’s review)

I love Will Wight’s books, so now is a great chance to get started on these series cheap!

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66905151

Marion Marechal

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66905151

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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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
http://spengler.atimes.net/viewtopic.php?t=1744

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.

Concentration_City.jpg

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 ****

Fallout-4-Lore-History-Vaults-Vault-Tec-101.jpg

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)
ASIN B07CRWBPZJ

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

pope-francis.0.jpg

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 Beliefnet.com. 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

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

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:

SHAMELESS STAR BUYS AN AFRICAN SOUVENIR

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
(201)795-0120

I really need to learn Flash.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-10-11: 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

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

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 - http://www.president.go.kr/img_KR/2018/04/2018042706.jpg, KOGL Type 1, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69950427

Kim Jong-um

By Cheongwadae / Blue House - http://www.president.go.kr/img_KR/2018/04/2018042706.jpg, KOGL Type 1, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69950427

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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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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Who was John J. Reilly?

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