Pop Kult Warlord Book Review

Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Pop Kult Warlord: Soda Pop Soldier Book 2
by Nick Cole
Kindle edition, 318 pages
Published November 4th, 2018 by Castalia House

A man with decisions to make. Choices that weigh heavily on him. Heavy is the brow that wears the crown, someone once said.

I may be weird, but I found the opening chapter of Pop Kult Warlord riveting. I think I might actually watch the SuperBowl of videogames, if it existed as described. John Saxon, by now known only by his online alias PerfectQuestion, is competing in the world championship of online videogames in Havana. The game in question, WarWorld, is the ideal combination of FPS and MMO. You can LARP as a Colonial Marine in game, only communicating in scraps of dialogue from Aliens, or you can go pro like PQ did, and focus entirely on being better at putting digital bullets into digital heads than the other guy or girl in exchange for corporate sponsorship, fame, and fortune.

PerfectQuestion is a top-tier competitor, and he is in demand as a digital mercenary. In a world where e-sports pulls in billions in ad revenue, the world’s most popular and recognizable player can write his own ticket. Unfortunately for him, he is starting to feel like he is too old to be playing videogames all night, and longing for a simpler, more fulfilling life.

I’ve played a lot of videogames in my day, so I know what he means. I like videogames a lot, and I write about that frequently on my blog, but I would never trade videogames for my career and my family. The hours I’ve invested in gaming have tapered quite a bit over the years, in a natural progression of family involvement. John Saxon, alias PerfectQuestion, is on the outside looking in, and starting to wonder if the grass isn’t really greener in suburbia.

Unfortunately for him, fate has other plans. When his agent shows up with a truly sweet offer, PQ lacks any of the mundane grounding of a wife, kids, or a mortgage to effectively question whether a deal that is too-good-to-be-true really is. So he finds himself on a plane to Calistan, the Islamic Protectorate of Orange County. Once there, PQ quickly finds himself in over his head, and hilarity ensues.

Like some of my other favorite authors living [Tim Powers] and dead [Jerry Pournelle], Cole uses his favorite places in Southern California to add verisimilitude to Pop Kult Warlord. Even after the Meltdown, the rogue-AI apocalypse from the prequel CTRL ALT Revolt!, the denizens of Orange County remain much as they are now, a mishmash of different cultures jammed into some of the nicest real estate in America.

When he isn’t doing the bidding of Rashid, the Sultan’s son, PQ gets to see both the beauty and the squalor of Calistan. He can enjoy the gulls and the waves off of Rashid’s private island, drive fancy sports cars, tour slums and barrios, witness summary executions, you know, the usual. He even gets to fall for a doe-eyed Mexican beauty, who may or may not be involved with the Aztec Liberation Front [or is that Liberation Front of Azteca?]


The Sultan has long suppressed Catholicism in his domain, but I was rather pleased to see that when PQ does finally meet up with an underground priest, he is in fact a faithful Catholic. Even in extremis, he counsels the Mexican terrorists to repent and follow the Gospel [which doesn’t rule out armed resurrection per se].

All of the intrigue and duplicity PerfectQuestion has found himself embroiled in comes to a head, and then to a fairly satisfying conclusion. I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers, since this book really is hot off the presses, but for the most part, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. In a grand sense, justice is done, but the price is often severe. Some bear that price more than others.

Finally, I should comment on the book’s structure. This is the third book I have read in as many weeks that employs a parallel structure to tell a more complicated story than a simple narrative would allow. I don’t know whether that is a mere coincidence, or just the hot stuff for authors right now, but in this case I felt like it worked out fairly well. I wasn’t surprised when I saw how it all fit together in the end, and I liked how it tied into the last volume in the series, while pointing ahead to possible future works.

PerfectQuestion isn’t getting a white picket fence anytime soon, but I look forward to his next adventure.

My other book reviews

Other books by Nick Cole

Soda Pop Soldier book review

Other books by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

The Long View 2006-11-16: Rising through Humiliation; House; Quiverfull; Einstein

House of Representatives, 2006 election compared to 2018 [preliminary as of Nov. 11]

House of Representatives, 2006 election compared to 2018 [preliminary as of Nov. 11]

Last month, I guessed that the House would swing Democratic, but the Senate would not quite. That looks pretty close, but I didn’t make any kind of fancy prediction with numerical probabilities. I just looked at 2006, which seemed similar, and asked myself what seemed different this time.

There is still some settling to happen in the results. Arizona’s senate race was very close at first, and as votes were counted the Democratic candidate has strongly pulled into the lead.

US Senate, 2006 compared to 2018 [preliminary as of Nov. 11]

US Senate, 2006 compared to 2018 [preliminary as of Nov. 11]

Rising through Humiliation; House; Quiverfull; Einstein

American conservatism is suffering from the worst kind of nostalgia, the kind that distorts the recollection of the past that it idolizes. We see an example of this syndrome in this comment from National Review OnlineNew Age Conservatism:

Last Tuesdayís elections were, as widely expected, a solid thrashing for the Republican party. But the real loser was classical liberalism. And the winner was conservatism but of a relatively new and perverse kind. ... The Republicans had governed as Democrats, and the voters unsurprisingly decided to get themselves the real thing.

The Republicans have been strongest when they have adhered to classical liberal principles and articulated them boldly, as in the Reagan years and New Gingrich's Republican revolution. They have been weakest when they have attempted to be New Age conservatives, as during the two Bush administrations when they have governed as Democrats Lite.

In reality, the Republicans were at their strongest when they were the party of reform, and they had a specific agenda for the deregulation of certain industries. That agenda was largely carried out, successfully. The measures were popular. They were seen as part of a reform movement that included the end of patronage-spending and influence-buying in Congress. The articulation of classical liberalism helped in some quarters, perhaps, but at this point one suspects that any gesture toward consistency would have served as well. Reform, for electoral purposes, is an end in itself.

* * *

There should be a public-relations version of the Peter Principle, perhaps something like: "Celebrity tends to increase to a point where biography becomes an embarrassment." That seems to be the problem with Congressman John Murtha, the apple of the eye of House-Speaker presumptive Nancy Pelosi. He played very well as a gruff old Marine uttering blunt criticisms of the Bush Administration's military policy. Unfortunately, the attention he attracted to himself revealed a career that has not been invariably flattering. Whatever else happens, we can be sure that the new Congress will not be esteemed for reformist leadership.

Of course, the Democratic leadership seems in little danger of being upstaged by the Republican minority, as Dean Barnett notes (by way of Hugh Hewitt through Instapundit):

Trent Lott has won the number two job among Republicans in the Senate! Whoopee! If there's one message that the electorate sent the Republican Party last week, it's that we hadn't given them enough of Trent Lott. I cannot adequately express my delight that Senate Republicans have moved with such expediency to right this egregious wrong.

Is it just me, or is it becoming increasingly apparent that the Republicans and Democrats are determined to engage in a two year dumb-off? If it weren't for the fact that there are some very determined lunatics out there trying to kill us, this would be funny.

But they are out there, so it isn't.

One may doubt whether they will have two years to be stupid in. The United States after the Cold War became a little like Earth in The Seafort Saga. We have attracted the attention of the Fish. History thereafter becomes almost a cybernetic process of action, reaction, and action again.

* * *

I try to watch as many episodes as I can of House, the Fox surrealist drama about a misanthropic diagnostician and his exasperated staff. The star is the British actor, Hugh Laurie, who may have been new to many American viewers, but has actually had a long career:

Laurie plays Dr Gregory House, a cranky hospital doctor lacking a bedside manner, with a flawless American accent. It is a far cry from his upper-class twit roles in Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, which helped to make his name in Britain.

Watching the most recent episode on Tuesday, however, in which Dr. House conspired with his friend the oncologist to abet the suicide of a patient in order to get a heart to transplant into the patient's son, it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of scrape that Bertie Wooster would get into. The merriment is set in a casino in Atlantic City; the oncologist friend, as loyal as Jeeves, creates an ingenious alibi by making a disgusting proposal to a player at a gaming table. For that matter, the administrator at House's hospital might easily be seen as the most terrifying of Great Aunts, whose displeasure House is chiefly concerned to avoid.

I can't catch every episode, so if the series actually starts to allude to the Wodehouse books, please let me know.

* * *

Meanwhile, on the Mewling Infant Front, there have been several pieces in the media recently about the Quiverfull movement, of which the most horrified may have been this one in The Nation:

There are signs of denominations and churches picking up the Quiverfull philosophy, not least among these the statements made by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler last year, who wrote that deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is "moral rebellion" and "an absolute revolt against God's design." Meanwhile, Phillip Longman hardly offers a left-wing counterpoint. Instead, he's searching--at the request of the Democratic Leadership Council, which published his policy proposals in its Blueprint magazine--for a way to appeal to the same voters [Allan ] Carlson [an economic historian who heads the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society] is organizing: a typically "radical middle" quest to figure out how Democrats can make nice with Kansas....Longman says that no society can survive to reproduce itself without following patriarchy. "As secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default..."

I do know people sort of like this, but they all have advanced academic degrees, are multilingual, and travel widely. If there is another babyboom, the "philosophy" will be a symptom rather than a cause.

* * *

I received Denis Brian's Einstein: A Life, a few years ago as a review book, but there was no venue for a review, so I had not gotten around to reading it until now. The book is heavy on detail and short on analysis, which is probably just as well. In any case, I noted this anecdote from an interview that Einstein gave around 1920:

Moszkowski wanted to know if the twins paradox was true. Einstein said that the effect illustrated by the paradox had been wildly exaggerated. The reason for this is that the speeds attainable by humans are so much less than light-speed that the resulting age difference would be insignificant. If, for example, the young space traveler had covered 19 billion miles as 600 miles a second (which is about 100 times faster than the greatest speed yet attained in space flight but still only 1/320 of light-speed), when he returned to earth he would be just one second younger than his brother.

I have garbled lesser subjects more thoroughly than this in speaking to the press, but I cannot help but note that this response avoid the issue. The paradoxical thing about the twin paradox is that , once both twins are back in the same frame of reference, both will have an equal right to say, "You were the one who was moving; I stayed 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

Thrawn: Alliances Book Review

Old School Star Wars by Timothy Zahn

Old School Star Wars by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn: Alliances
by Timothy Zahn
Del Rey (2018)
350 pages
ISBN 978-0-525-48048-8

This book was a breath of fresh air for me. Timothy Zahn has written something that feels like an old-school Star Wars adventure in the new Star Wars canon. The Star Wars novels written since Disney nuked the Extended Universe have ranged from the merely competent to downright awful, with a few excursions into active hostility towards the fanbase. So far, other than Zahn’s reboot of Thrawn, none have been fun.

This book was a lot of fun.

It might even be better than Thrawn, although that book was trying to do something very different than this one, which makes the comparison difficult. The last book in Thrawn’s story was a political thriller. This one is simple adventure, although Zahn made an interesting choice to tell two stories, widely separated in time, but unified in setting and protagonists.

The settings Zahn chose map onto The Clone Wars and Rebels respectively. We thus have one foot in the sunset of the Republic, and another in the dawn of the Empire. This book makes the most sense seen within the context of those cartoons, which are among my favorites of the Disney era.

We also lack the window into Thrawn’s mind the previous book provided, other than some brief observations on body language. Instead, we get to see into Vader’s head. I didn’t mind the shift in emphasis, because Zahn was able to deftly explain the way Vader sees himself. Years ago, I remember reading a fan theory that Obi-wan’s betrayal, the shock of accidentally killing his wife, and the process of being made into Vader caused a psychotic break in Anakin’s mind. Vader remembers being Anakin, but it was like it all happened to someone else. And precisely because of how horrible those experiences were, and his own complicity in how it all turned out, Vader doesn’t have much interest in introspection regarding his former life.

I don’t know who wrote that fan theory, or even where I read it, but they nailed it.

Zahn also gets to have a bit of fun with fan-service. Dave Filoni’s Rebels took a clever Thrawn gambit from the original trilogy of books, the Marg Sabl, and returned it to the canon by having Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan in The Clone Wars, invent it. In Alliances, Zahn brings it full circle by having Anakin teach it to Thrawn.

Another super popular character that arose from the margins of Star Wars

Another super popular character that arose from the margins of Star Wars

Zahn resurrects the Noghri commandos here, who were the nemesis that brought justice upon Thrawn’s hubris in the original story arc. It isn’t at all clear what might happen this time, since Thrawn’s new origin story shifted his personality subtly. Padmé also makes an appearance here, and I feel like Alliances does her justice. Since Zahn also created one of the most popular female Star Wars characters, Mara Jade [whom I suspect of being based on his wife], I’m not surprised that he can write Padmé convincingly.

Of course, Zahn needs to pay his dues as well. One of the worlds in the book is Batuu, and the city upon it Black Spire Outpost, which is the name of one of the attractions under construction at the Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Disneyland. Zahn works hard to find a way to tell an interesting story while still putting in the requisite product placement and nods to other products in Disney’s Star Wars portfolio.

It probably helps that this isn’t the first time he’s tried.

Zahn has written this book before, Outbound Flight. I read it in 2016, and so far, it has been the only Zahn book I’ve given a tepid review. I felt it was just too hard for Zahn to try to reconcile his early 1990s inventions for the course of the Star Wars universe post-Return of the Jedi with the later prequels. This was Zahn’s opportunity to reboot that story, where Anakin Skywalker met Thrawn out beyond known space, and he made the best of it.

I would say that this is hearkening back to the Star Wars that could have been, the road that was not taken, but Timothy Zahn and Ron Howard and Dave Filoni and Gareth Edwards make me think there is an active resistance to the identitarian overreach of The Last Jedi.

This isn’t just the Star Wars that was, in the old Extended Universe, it is the Star Wars that is.

My other book reviews


Other books by Timothy Zahn

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review


Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Starcraft: Evolution

The Long View 2006-11-13: TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

It has genuinely been long enough that a terrorist attack that I have no personal stake in, like the Madrid bomadmbings of 2004, with 193 people killed and 2,000 injured, seems like it happened in another lifetime. At the time, I remember reading hot takes [which wasn’t a thing then, if I remember aright. Merriam-Webster backs me up.] like Steyn’s that credited that bombing with redirecting Spain’s involvement in the Middle East.

I don’t have any idea whether that is actually true, and I don’t care to find out at this point. It is more interesting to me to reflect upon what John J. Reilly said here:

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said.

At lot of what happened in the United States post 9/11 has clearly been useless or worse, but also we haven’t had anything on that same scale since. In retrospect, our enemies really are stupid and feckless, and incompetent as well. 9/11 was shocking, but it also seems to have been sui generis. Unfortunately, there was a whole cottage industry of people turning out purple prose about the imminence of another terrorist attack on the United States for quite some time afterwards. Most of them haven’t really owned up to that foolishness, with a few notable exceptions. Despite writing things like this, John J. Reilly himself perpetuated some of this foolishness.

This quote is still useful twelve years later:

In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Both of the despicable frames mentioned here are still going strong in 2018.

TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

Yet another educational jurisdiction is accepting text-messaging conventions on exams, and Simon Jenkins could not be more pleased:

Thank you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations. The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing north of the border and need our support...I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins. Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or -ible from -able does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity....The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange.

From the point of view of orthographic reform, we should applaud this development only conditionally. The text conventions that Scotland is now tolerating are often suboptimal. It also really isn't true that Sam Johnson's Dictionary became the basis for the current conventional spelling in order to grind the faces of the poor: the striving classes required a teachable standard, and Johnson's Dictionary was the only resource on the shelf. Still, as Jenkins notes, texting is the first mass-experience of an alternative orthography for English. It is news to many people that such a thing is even possible.

* * *

Mark Steyn is disenthused about the results of last week's election; he argues that the U.S. must prove it's a staying power:

On the radio a couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt suggested to me the terrorists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elections. You'll recall (though evidently many Americans don't) that in 2004 hundreds of commuters were slaughtered in multiple train bombings in Madrid. ... they employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked. ...On Tuesday, the national security vote evaporated, and, without it, what's left for the GOP? Congressional Republicans wound up running on the worst of all worlds -- big bloated porked-up entitlements-a-go-go government at home and a fainthearted tentative policing operation abroad. As it happens, my new book argues for the opposite: small lean efficient government at home and muscular assertiveness abroad. It does a superb job, if I do say so myself, of connecting war and foreign policy with the domestic issues. Of course, it doesn't have to be that superb if the GOP's incoherent inversion is the only alternative on offer...

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said. However, it does seem to me that now they have an added incentive to accelerate whatever plans they have: they believe they have the US on the run, but from their perspective, a collapse would be far better than a staged withdrawal. One of the effects of the election, ironically, is that any attacks that do occur in the US will now be blamed on Democratic capitulationism, rather than on the Administration (which of course is actually responsible for preventing terrorism).

It really is not true that the national-security vote evaporated on the first Tuesday in November. The Bush Administration made a deliberate decision after the president's reelection to make the war politically sustainable by lowering its profile, which meant making it just another of the many important items in the president's second-term agenda. The Republicans lost the benefit of the national-security vote because they had long ago stopped cultivating it.

Steyn is right about the catastrophic effects of the congressional Republicans' bovine certainty that raiding the treasury was the same as good constituent-service. However, that has nothing to do with the "big government/small government" dichotomy, a rhetorical device that increasingly impedes thought. In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Readers will know that I am a great fan of Steyn's America Alone, but as I have also observed, his attempt to link the defense against the Jihad with domestic policy is the book's great weakness. You cannot fight Churchill's war abroad and maintain Coolidge's Normalcy at home. That is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Steyn further tells us:

Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

For the near term, we must remember that the outcome in Iraq has not yet come out. There is no equivalent there of North Vietnamese heavy infantry waiting to pour across the borders when US forces leave. Neither, for that matter, is there really much sentiment in the US for total withdrawal, especially from secure areas like Kurdistan. For the longer term, I would point out that the era of half-measures, bad deals, and actual defeats began with the Korean War in the Truman Administration and extended through the Clinton Administration, which did one damned stupid thing after another, with no discernible diminution of US influence. It's not that the US is so splendiferous as that the world seems to have lost capacity to generate an alternative.

* * *

Spengler takes these things in stride, noting from his perch at Asia Times that Halloween came late in Washington

The sina qua non of a ghost is that it is condemned for eternity to reenact the delinquencies of its past life. That is just what we should expect from Robert Gates [the nominee for Secretary of Defense]. As chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet desk during the early 1980s, Gates shared the consensus academic view that the Soviet economy was strong and stable. A prosperous Russia, he reckoned, would respond rationally to management by carrot and stick. Fortunately for the United States, then-CIA director William Casey recruited outsiders such as journalist Herbert E Meyer, and listened to them rather than to Gates...

If the Soviet economy was crumbling, some leftist commentators object, what justified the Reagan administration's military buildup of the 1980s? The answer is that a failing empire is far more likely to undertake dangerous adventures than a successful one. That was true of the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion of Afghanistan threatened US power at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It is equally true today of Iran, which faces demographic implosion and economic ruin during the next generation...we cannot easily imagine a world in which we will not exist because the world has no use for us. Self-styled power brokers of the James Baker ilk have no place in the world when power asserts itself in its naked form and there is nothing more to broker. The realists fancy themselves the general managers in a world of hierarchy, status and security. Replace these with insecurity and chaos, and there no longer is any need for such people...For the past five years I have counseled the United States to learn to live with the chaos that it can do nothing to prevent. No matter: Americans will learn, late and at cost, the way they always do.

Actually, i was having thoughts along these lines a few weeks back when I saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on the PBS New Hour explaining that there is no such thing as Islamofascism. When he was President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, he never quite said there was no such thing as Communism, but there was a certain resemblance between his policy of disengaging from the Cold War and his attitude toward the Middle East today.

* * *

The Tridentine Restoration approaches, or so we may judge from this report:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the most popular and powerful Vatican officials to visit St. Louis since Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit, told more than 250 people at the Chase Park Plaza Saturday morning that Latin should be used more frequently in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The Latin language now, he said "is in the ecclesiastical refrigerator ... Mass today should be in Latin from time to time." ...In an hourlong, often humorous, address that received several standing ovations, Arinze suggested that, in order to give Catholics options, large parishes offer the Mass in Latin at least once a week, and in smaller, rural parishes, at least once a month. (Homilies, he said, should always be in the faithful's native language.) Latin "suits a church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don't have," he said.

It is in the nature of restorations often to be substantial improvements on what they purport to restore. This variety of usage that the Cardinal describes is precisely what should have happened in the 1960s. Doing it now will not eliminate the vernacular liturgy; it will shame it into perfection.

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 2006-11-10: The Morning of the Day Before

I hadn’t known [or had forgotten] that John J. Reilly was among the Catholics who find the logic of Humane Vitae less than airtight. He was also among the much smaller group who thinks the doctrine is correct, it just needs to be explained a bit better.

The Morning of the Day Before

Peggy Noonan has the sanest response to Tuesday's midterm elections:

We are in a 30-year war. It is no good for it to be led by, identified with, one party. It is no good for half the nation to feel estranged from its government's decisions. It's no good for us to be broken up more than a nation normally would be. And straight down the middle is a bad break, the kind that snaps.... One day in the future either New York or Washington or both will be hit again, hard. It will be more deadly than 9/11. And on that day, those who experience it, who see the flash or hear the alarms, will try to help each other....Make believe it's already happened.

Possibly no other election in history has elicited so many acknowledgements by the losers that it was not a bad thing for their side to lose.

* * *

The only connection with UK nonprofits I have ever had is the Simplified Spelling Society, of which I have the honor to be a member. Something that always mystified me about the Society, however, was that it did not function as a not-for-profit: it has to pay taxes on its modest endowment and even on its fees. I was told that the problem was that the Society had done a bit of lobbying in the 1950s, which had branded it as a political group for all time. I thought that strange, since in America charitable tax-exemptions are not hard to obtain. Now I see that the situation in the UK is about to get worse:

Next week, the new Charities' Bill will finish its passage through Parliament. It should become law before the end of the year. In spite of being billed as "the biggest review of charity legislation in the past 400 years", it has generated very little comment. This is surprising, because the Bill will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause.

That threat is alarming and real. It used to be taken for granted that organisations devoted to education, to religion, or to the relief of poverty, were automatically providing a "public benefit". The new legislation dissolves that assumption. Even more worryingly, it also leaves it up to the Charities Commission to decide what constitutes a "public benefit". There is no guidance in the legislation on how that slippery notion should be defined. Ministers and members of the Commission have referred to "case law", but there is almost none, precisely because, for the last 400 years, there has been so firm a consensus that education, religion and the relief of poverty constitute public benefits.

...The motive behind redefining that notion seems to have been the desire to ensure that charities benefit all the public, not just some small section of it. That is why, for instance, schools and hospitals that charge fees are being threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status: they are said only to benefit people who can afford to pay, and not the whole of the British public. In fact, every charity benefits a portion of the population rather than all of it

One could argue that the American nonprofit sector is too big and too irresponsible, but perhaps we should prefer it to the alternative.

* * *

Here is one of the ways the Iraq War differs from the Vietnam War, as revealed by the election on Tuesday:

Forget the war in Iraq. The political war in America this year proved to be a bloodbath for the "fighting Dems," who might more aptly be called the "fallen Dems" after Tuesday's election.

After Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat, nearly scored a special-election upset in Ohio's strongly Republican 2nd District last summer, bloggers and other Democrats began touting war veterans as candidates for 2006. They touted dozens of such candidates as the antidote for the Democratic Party's long-running electoral ailments on the defense and security fronts.

But if Democrats have the same low tolerance for political casualties as they have shown for battlefield casualties in Iraq, their push to recruit and elect to Congress military veterans who run as Democrats will be short-lived.

Actually, it would be a poor notion to "forget the war in Iraq," which is still ongoing. As I have remarked before, no outcome of that conflict will be acknowledged to be a victory. The opponents of the Bush Administration might accept a pretty good result, however, provided the Administration does not get credit for it. Current thinking seems to run along the lines of the plan put forward by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware in The National Interest (a publication which continues to get a little more disconcerting every time I see it). The plan is of the variety that leans heavily on the division of Iraq into federal cantons, based on negotiations with the Sunnis of the northwest. It is not clear to me that this is terribly different from what the Bush Administration has been trying to do. It is also not clear to me that peace is in the gift of the interlocutors that Senator Biden's plan contemplates.

In any case, domestic morale in the US is not as great a constraint on policy as the recent election may have led us to believe:

The US Army exceeded most of its recruiting and retention goals for October, the service said, even as it launched a new television and radio ad campaign dubbed "Army Strong." ...Re-enlistments in October far surpassed the goals for the active army (30 percent), the reserve (14 percent) and the national guard (43 percent).

Note that these figures coincide with an unemployment rate well under 5%. This is not 1974; Any party that works on the assumption that today is like then will get its head handed to it.

* * *

Meanwhile, here's a bit of preemptive disinformation about events in the Catholic Church:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH laid down a tough, absolute law in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: no condoms, no abortion, no contraceptives. Never. Now the condom part of that rule is being reviewed, and if it is changed, expect new challenges to the entire contraception doctrine, to the doctrine of papal infallibility and even to the church's abortion rules....Pope Benedict XVI has ordered a Vatican staff report on whether condoms can be approved for situations in which there is potential for HIV infection. That report is imminent, according to Vatican rumors, and it is likely that Benedict will act quickly on it given that it was undertaken on his initiative...And yet Humanae Vitae is not, in its reasoning, as absolute as one might think. Paul wrote: "A right conscience is the true interpreter … of the objective moral order which was established by God." Thus he left a sort of conscientious-objector status for those Catholics who could not believe in the evil of contraception.

The actual text of Humanae Vitae does leave quite a bit of interpretive room for maneuver, though not in the way this editorial suggests. Humanae Vitae does, for instance, distinguish contraceptive intent from mere contraceptive effect (and it is not all clear the logic of the encyclical has any application outside marriage at all). The use of condoms for epidemiological purposes would not constitute an abandonment of the basic doctrine.

Like many people, I have never found the logic of Humanae Vitae altogether compelling. Like many exercises in natural-law reasoning, it is rhetorically persuasive without ever really locking into place with a rigorous proof. The irony is that, as sociology, the encyclical is the key to understanding the demographic and cultural evolution of the developed world over the past quarter century. The logic could use an upgrade, but to change the doctrine at this point would be wildly anachronistic.

I have my own notions of a class of argument to supplement natural law for civil purposes, but I don't particularly commend it to the Vatican.

* * *

Markus Wolf has died, the head of East German espionage for many years, and perhaps the most successful (though hardly the best known) spy in history. He died on November 9, an already overstuffed date in German history. I have a long review of Leslie Colitt's biography of Wolf, Spymaster.

* * *

Will it never end? Massachusetts continues to pursue the Darwin Award:

BOSTON, Nov. 9 — Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, dealt what appeared to be a fatal blow Thursday to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

In a flurry of strategic maneuvering, supporters of same-sex marriage managed to persuade enough legislators to vote to recess a constitutional convention until the afternoon of Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session.

On that day, lawmakers and advocates on both sides said, it appeared likely that the legislature would adjourn without voting on the measure, killing it.

“For all intents and purposes, the debate has ended,” said Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and the assistant majority leader. “What members are expecting is that the majority of constituents are going to say, ‘Thank you, we’re glad it’s over, we think it has been discussed enough.’ ”

You could write a blog, you could run a news service, dedicated to nothing but stories about how this sort of issue has been settled once and for all, followed by accounts of the mass movements that spring up to insist that the matter has by no means been settled. You cannot settle the matter of abortion or gay marriage or euthanasia by judicial ukase; not even if, as happened here, you are in a position to sabotage the legislative process that might reverse it. More than a generation of experience shows that the strategy just does not work. Anyone who thinks otherwise in 2006 is ineducable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Why I can never be Tyrus Rechs

I recently completed my book review of Requiem for Medusa by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. It took me a little longer than I would have liked. I first read the book on vacation in June, and I tried to start writing the review shortly after I got back, but I found myself stuck.

This was an unwelcome surprise, and one even moreso when I discerned that the reason I was having trouble was that I was disappointed. I like Cole and Anspach’s work, but I also like to be honest, so I decided to sit on the review for a while, and then re-read the book after I’d had some time to digest it.

I’m glad that I did, because I found out that the book itself is awesome. I also found an interesting take on the character and personality of Tyrus Rechs, and this is a good place to explore some of the interesting bits I left out of that book review.

This will be a bit more personal than I usually make my book reviews, but that I why I separated this into another blog post. Only regular readers need to suffer from my introspection, not random Amazon review readers. I am also going to give away all of the secrets of the series, less volume 9, Retribution, since I only just started it today. Consider yourself warned about spoilers.

I really liked Imperator, the Galaxy’s Edge standalone novel about Goth Sullus. The review I wrote for it is my favorite of the Galaxy’s Edge series so far. Sullus turned out to be Tyrus Rechs’ oldest friend, another practically immortal survivor of the twisted experiments of the lighthugger Obsidia. The impression I got from Imperator was that Casper Sullivan always lived in Tyrus’ shadow. While a capable warrior in his own right, no one looks badass standing next to the Tyrus Rechs.

I also got the impression that Tyrus and Casper both loved Reina, the woman who saved them from captivity on the Obsidia. And that maybe Casper felt he got out-competed by Tyrus here too. Thus, I wasn’t really all that surprised when Casper killed his oldest friend, because this is the way friendship turns into jealousy. And here, the reason is that I think Casper always wanted to be Tyrus, and he could never be him. They were just fundamentally different people.

Tyrus and Casper each instantiate an archetype of manliness. I’m going off the schema from the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, which I’ve found pretty informative, especially in explaining stories.

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tyrus is the warrior, you can think of him as something like King Arthur. He’s epic, and strong, and dashing, and probably gets all the girls too.

Tyrus is a fundamentally simple man. You do the just thing because it is the just thing, and that is that. While there is something refreshing about this, Tyrus is also something of a blunt instrument. He is like the man with a hammer, except he has an autocannon. Every problem looks like something to shoot. Preferably lots of times. Tyrus is introspective enough to understand this about himself, but he is fundamentally accepting of himself as well. He can rest in his own skin.

Casper is more like Merlin, a more introspective and devious character, but also key to Arthur’s success. He can see further, and knows when discretion is the better part of valor. Arthur probably never appreciates Merlin, or stops to thank him for what he does.

As Goth Sullus, the politician and tactician Casper Sullivan becomes more truly what he is. He gains unspeakable powers from beyond the Galaxy’s Edge, the ability to peer into men’s minds, shape reality, bend all to his will. But….something is missing for him. The power isn’t enough, or in the service of the rightful King.

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

There are two more archetypes in this schema, which interestingly, Reina seems to fit both. The Lover, and the King. She is the love interest, and her name even invokes the sound of reign, which seems right as Reina represents what both Tyrus and Casper fight to preserve, even when they find her conducting vile experiments in another lighthugger, the Moirai, the Fates of Greek legend. I don’t yet know what happened to Reina, other than some hints in Imperator, so I’m interested to see what comes out of Retribution. [My guess, she is the Mother in the heart of the Cybar mothership.]

One of the things that surprised me most about Requiem for Medusa was that it portrayed Tyrus and Casper’s fundamental similarity and difference in the same way, at the same time. Imperator showed a Casper, as Goth Sullus, willing to blow up the whole galaxy to see justice be done. In Requiem, we see a Tyrus willing to do exactly the same thing.

Except, the way they both do that is characteristically different. Casper wants to see cosmic justice. Every mourner’s tear wiped away. Tyrus just wants to kill every bastard involved in setting up his woman, and everyone who happens to get in the way of that. Casper ruined the galaxy in his fool’s quest. Tyrus just ruined himself.

When I realized that, I realized why they were friends. In a way, they both wanted the same things, and just pursued those things in their own characteristic ways. Yet, at the end of the day, I realized that I just couldn’t identify with Tyrus Rechs, even though I had wanted to ever since I first met him in Galactic Outlaws.

Tyrus Rechs is a hell of a warrior. Steadfast, loyal, unmovable. Simple even. I respect him, but I found that I was disappointed that I can’t be like him for one simple reason:

I am Goth Sullus.

Requiem for Medusa book review

Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 291 pages
Published June 15th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge

What price would you be willing to pay for vengeance? How much of your substance would you be willing to spend, so that the wicked would not escape their due? To see justice done, even though the heavens may fall?

For Tyrus Rechs, that turns out to be just about everything. And in another sense, it turns out to be not much at all. To resolve that enigma, we need to understand the character of Tyrus Rechs. Rechs is fundamentally a very simple man, but to explain why is not so simple.

Let us start by looking at similar characters in fiction. One of the closest examples I can think of is Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane:

Solomon Kane – illustrated by Gary Gianni

Solomon Kane – illustrated by Gary Gianni

Solomon Kane is fanatical in personality, unadorned in both speech and deportment, and convinced of the absolute sovereignty of God. His characteristic boast is something I could see Rechs saying:

"It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives."

In another man, we might call this a humblebrag, but for both Kane and Rechs, they are simply being honest. Each of them is an avatar of truth and justice, and are constitutionally incapable of either dishonesty or subtlety.

Just call my Tyrus.

He said it like he was a normal person and not one of the most wanted men in the galaxy. Forget all the rumors, ghost stories, and legends that littered his reputation. He had a warm, almost wry voice that held no pretensions within it. If anything, he seemed casually ordinary and of few words. If you were to have asked her later, after everything had happened, what the truth sounded like if it had a voice, she would’ve told you it sounded like Tyrus Rechs. Like he was some kind of galactic true north that compasses couldn’t stop themselves from finding.

Fundamentally, neither man wants for anything. They have nothing, and want nothing, because they are sufficient unto themselves. Thus, it is easy for them to lay it all out each and every time, without hesitation. Whether as a soldier, or a bounty hunter, Tyrus is willing to lay down his life for others.

But this time, something is different. That something is a woman.

Rechs felt nothing.

Which was, as he well knew, when he was at his most dangerous. He rarely felt anything at all before he killed people. Or during it. Or after. Maybe because he’d done it so long. Because it was one of the only things he knew how to do well.

And to him, that was the way it needed to be when you killed someone. Emotionless. Otherwise…mistakes were made.

Impersonal personification of justice he may be, but Tyrus Rechs is also a man, and a soldier; stone cold killer he may be, he is is also capable of love. Not just the fraternal love which motivates men to run towards danger instead of away from it, but also the wild abandon of erotic love. Which explains one of the biggest questions I had in the Galaxy’s Edge series: what happened to Tyrus Rechs? Now it all makes sense.

As for the book itself, this volume struck me as the most cinematic of all of Anspach and Cole’s work so far. The climactic set-piece battle on a ruined world between Rechs and the man who betrayed his woman, I could see it. This would make a hell of a movie. Or a mini-series, as some devoted fans remind me frequently.

The Wheel, not Cassio Royale, but similar in concept

The Wheel, not Cassio Royale, but similar in concept

The Long View: Third Law Conservatism

John Reilly proposes here an interesting psychology of schism:

The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way.

For groups like the Old Catholics [split from the Catholic Church after Vatican I proposed papal infallibility] and the Old Believers [split from Russian Orthodoxy after a 17th century liturgical reform], this seems just so. One might argue the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation fall into this pattern as well, but that might stretch the point too far, and not entirely be fair to the latter events.

Third Law Conservatism

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is rapidly approaching a state of badly edited omniscience, Clarke’s Third Law runs thus: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Clarke here, of course, is Arthur C. Clarke, the venerable science-fiction writer who is credited with conceiving the communication satellite. His Third Law (the other two need not detain us) is among the most widely quoted aphorisms in the culture of cyberspace, and indeed among the enthusiasts for all new technology with an information component. It expresses the hope that matter can be wholly subjected to the imagination.

The Third Law is not without empirical support; certainly it reflects something of the experience of anyone who has lived a reasonably long life in an advanced country during the past two centuries. It also seems to be the case that the latter technological innovations are more uncanny than the former ones. Perhaps technological progress is inevitable and perpetual. More likely, it approaches an ultimate state where reality is a work of art. In any case, the point I want to make here is that the freedom afforded by technological power does not simply dissolve the world and human nature in mere caprice: quite the opposite, in fact.

Consider, for instance, Jonathan V. Last’s piece in First ThingsGod on the Internet. In that survey of religious expression in cyberspace, the author makes all the points that conservatives usually make about the cultural effects of the Internet. Religion online, Last notes, tends to become politicized, consumerist, and worst of all, denominationalist. Little groups of the saved create their webrings of the like-minded where neither authority nor informed criticism can enter. In this regard, cyberspace has lent its unique facility of disintermediation to the extension of what was already a deplorable tendency in modern religious life.

But there is this: these little cyberchapels are rarely liberal, much less daringly original. We find almost none of the new mutations of the spirit that many people (including me, frankly) were expecting only a few years ago to emerge from the ether of electronic environments.

Denominations form online for much the same reasons that they form in the outer world. Occasionally, someone pronounces a doctrinal innovation and convinces a fraction of an older religious body to break off and form a new group. The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way. And in fact, conservatism in this sense has been typical of cyberspace in general. There are many reasons why conservative politics prospered in the United States through the latter 20th century, but part of the answer has to be just this pattern of refusal by newly empowered individuals to follow what they believe to be departures from historical norms of governance.

The Third Law has merit if by magic we mean the magic of fairytales. That kind of magic is normally conservative, or at least nostalgic. We see it deployed in the fantastically successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter film series. Purely surrealist fantasies have also been cinematicized, sometimes with commercial success, but none has had the impact of the works that present traditional themes and traditional images. To some extent, the reception of these was prepared by their familiarity as literature, but we must also consider that their force rests on the inherent power of their traditional elements: indeed, that those elements became traditional because they are powerful. The new power of illusion serves to visualize a world that never was, but that, somehow, always is.

Christian parents who worry that these series are propaganda for an occult view of the world should not be lightly dismissed. There is popular entertainment, particularly branches of popular music, which seeks to do just that. Magic in that sense, however, is magic in the sense that some anthropologists use it: magic as the illicit and private appropriation of a society’s religion. This is almost never a feature of digitalized sword-and-sorcery.

Whether on the screen or in print, this type of fantasy can be used to allegorize an orthodox religious message, as C.S. Lewis and Tolkein have demonstrated. (The Lord of the Rings is really about the relationship between grace and works, but that is another essay.) By no means do all such stories have a spiritual message, however, or even most of them. Was there ever a more secular institution than Harry Potter's Hogwarts? It is essentially a trade school. The Harry Potter stories might not work all that differently if the school had been founded to educate young prodigies with an aptitude for computer programming; instead of invoking supernatural powers, the students might as well use their dog Latin to operate voice-activated computer interfaces.

What all these stories have in common is an animate world, an ensouled world, that responds directly to the human mind. The world of animism is the most intuitive for human beings. Science itself assumes such a mind-friendly world even when it is dispelling crudely animist superstition. Given the premise of historical progress, whatever is intuitive is easy to see as inevitable. Clarke's Third Law implicitly posits a model of history in which the world evolves from material to animate.

This seems to be the real implication of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology. The notion is pure Hegel, which is hardly a criticism. Kurzweil hangs his forecast from computer science, and suggests that a very radical disjuncture from history and biology will occur by the middle of the 21st century. We should note, however, that much the same model can rest on different premises (and indeed many lesser lights have made many of the points that Kurzweil has). Most notably, the historian Henry Adams proposed an analogous idea 100 years ago, in the essays “The Tendency of History,” “A Letter to American Teachers of History,” and “The Rule of Phase Applied to History.” The idea achieved bestseller exposure in the Adams autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams: specifically in Chapter 34, A Law of Acceleration.

Adams derived his progression from growing energy use as measured by the consumption of coal. Like Kurzweil, his acme point was projected for just a few decades in the future, which in Adams’s case meant the first half of the 20th century. The physical model he favored as an analogy to the evolution of mind in the modern era was a cometary hyperbola. The comet moves very slowly, except for its brief stay in the inner solar system. Then it accelerates with stunning swiftness until it makes its closest approach to the sun. After that, it is flung out into space, where it again moves slowly among the stars. Adams's model allowed for the possibility that Earth might literally explode when historical acceleration reached its peak, but he suggests that the human race will "change phase," like a solid turning to a liquid, or a liquid to a gas. Modernity is simply the era of transition. After modernity will follow a future that, like the premodern past, is essentially changeless.

We know a bit more about the cultural effects of technology than Adams did. As we have seen above, one of the things we know is that technology sometimes favors the archaic. It has become a cliché to note that technological progress promotes personal interaction and networks. Human beings are not herd animals, and are never entirely comfortable being part of a mass. The drift of technology is toward a future in which everyone can act like a pack animal again: the rifleman of the First World War is wholly obsolete, but the knight is back, in electronic body armor.

Important as this trend is, I would suggest that the most important conservative effects of technology are more subtle. It might be too much to say that every human being secretly wishes to live in Minas Tirith, or even in the Shire. However, it may well be the case that the heart’s desire does not volatilize in all directions when freed from the constraints of physics and economics. In the space of the imagination, there are islands of stability. Information technology allows us to explore them in fine detail, but that technology did not create them, or even discover them.

In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye notes that the progression of history in the Bible is marked by a change in man’s relationship to the world. In the beginning, the human body is contained in the garden that is the world. At the end, the body contains the world. The body is the New Jerusalem, the symbol of the humanized universe. By no means do I wish to equate the world of fairy tales with the eschaton, even the world of very good fairy tales like Tolkien’s, or to suggest that technological progress is the engine of salvation. Nonetheless, the humanization of the world that Frye proposes is at least in part a tale of technology, and the result must be something very like the magic of Clarke’s Third Law.

The irony is obvious. Technological optimists these last few centuries have trumpeted the power of technology to supersede all historical institutions and to replace them with radically new forms of life and thought. However, when freed from constraint, the creative impulse does not necessarily pursue the radically new. Frye suggested the opposite, at least with regard to literature: the only way in which writers can really be original is by reaching back to the origins, to the small set of plots and character types that inform all fiction. Original works in this sense simply break through ephemeral artistic conventions to a fresh representation of primordial forms. Similarly, the magic of the Third Law has in recent years served more to revive and conserve old ideas than to generate genuinely new ones.

Conservatism in this sense is not necessarily a bad thing, but then neither is it necessarily a good one. No one in his right mind would want to be the subject of a fairy-tale kingdom, even one without dragons. There can be tension between Burkean conservatism and Third Law conservatism, between the conservatism of deference to sentiment and the conservatism that seeks to incarnate archetypes which history may illustrate but does not define. Perhaps the most radical of all 20th-century ideologies, Tradition, has yet to be fully heard from. Tradition in this sense comes in various forms, but at its worst, it looks directly to the archetypes and distains all actual history. As an element of fascism, it had limited scope to develop. In a world where reality is becoming a work of art, its projects may be more practical.

For myself, I do not believe that Third Law Conservatism tends to a dark tyranny. Quite the opposite: we are dealing here with another version of Hegelian optimism, which itself was only a timid restatement of Joachim of Fiore's millennialism. One takes all such notions with a grain of salt, but we are wrong to dismiss their optimism. Indeed, faith in the providential structure of history is not just comforting, it is the predicate of sanity. It must, therefore, figure somewhere into any usable conservatism.

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 Backlash Mission Book Review

The Backlash Mission: The Blackcollar series book 2
by Timothy Zahn
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (October 16, 2012)
352 pages

The second book in the Blackcollar series picks up several years after the conclusion to the previous volume. The Blackcollars of Plinry have wrestled concessions from the conquerors of Earth that allow them to continue to train guerrilla fighters and operate a small space fleet.

With the possibility of re-establishing contact between the human worlds, now there is an actual glimmer of hope that the disparate resistance movements might organize into something greater, rather than simply trying to survive as long as possible.

Our young POV character, Allen Caine, has graduated from his guerrilla training on Plinry, but he lacks the supernatural reflexes and strength of the true Blackcollars, because no one on Plinry has access to Backlash, the drug that transforms their bodies into living weapons. He convinces his superiors to let him lead a mission to Earth in the hopes of finding the drug or its formula.

Of course, once on Earth, we get to see the Blackcollars in action again. The tactical doctrine of the Blackcollars, or at the least the group from Plinry seems to be equal parts Sun Tzu and GRU. Blackcollars never face an enemy where he is strong, and focus on controlling the flow of battle by understanding the motives and patterns of behavior of their opponents.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In addition to psychological insight, the Blackcollars use a combination of compartmentalization, misinformation, provocation, and wheels-within-wheels style planning to pull victories from seemingly impossible odds.

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

― Sun tzu, The Art of War

Of all of this, is is really only the last item that I find somewhat implausible. Other fictional commanders, such as Colonel Falkenberg, make use of deception as well, but Falkenberg would scoff at the complicated plans Lathe relies upon. It seems like there are too many ways for things to go wrong, but Lathe’s plans always seem to work out perfectly. I would have liked to see some improvisation on the fly, but I admit it is kind of fun to see how it all comes together in the end.

That aside, I rather enjoyed this sequel. We got further development of the world and its history, and I feel like Zahn tightened up his intrigue a bit, although sometimes I was a bit baffled by the arguments between the two human collaborators assigned to hunt down the Blackcollars. They were of course quite successfully bamboozled by Lathe’s wilderness of mirrors, but even in those terms sometimes the discussion didn’t seem to make sense.

I consider that a pretty minor flaw in an otherwise very enjoyable work.

My other book reviews

The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review


Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command


Starcraft: Evolution

The Long View 2006-11-06: The Zombies in Retreat

John Reilly used to poke fun at the sclerotic state of Republican economic policy with the phrase “capital gains zombies”. Gains…gainssss!

I see that twelve years later, this idea is still current:

The alliance of social conservatives with the business lobby in the United States is contingent. If the Trump era Supreme Court really does blow up Roe v. Wade, this could very well be one of the things that gets blown up with it.

The Zombies in Retreat

A proper catastrophe for the Republicans in the election of 2006 might have been better. It would have given the Democrats the responsibility to actually make policy, and it would once and for all have decapitated the Long-Term Capital Gains Zombies that have for many years prevented the formation of a real conservative party. Still, the carefully nuanced decision that the electorate made in this election was probably the best available. I note in particular two Senate races. This result is most important for the immediate future:

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000 but running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary, kept his seat from Connecticut, despite his earlier support for the war in Iraq.

"This puts Joe Lieberman, without question, in the catbird seat," says CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer (audio). If you have a closely divided Senate ... everybody is going to be wanting Joe Lieberman's vote.

"And let's not forget, Democrats turned their backs on Joe Lieberman, after he decided to become an independent, so he really doesn't owe them," Schieffer adds.

The other important result was the rather humiliating defeat in Pennsylvania of incumbent Senator Rick Santorum by Bob Casey: 41% to 59%. Why was this? Because both candidates were social conservatives, and on economic and social-welfare issues, Santorum was a "small-government conservative." The electorate has gathered by now that "small-government conservative" means someone with no plans to make their lives easier or safer.

* * *

If social issues seemed less prominent in this election than in 2004, that's because the Democrats seemed to concede them. Of course, we do see efforts reported, to spin the results to suggest that social conservatism is a weakening force, but the results do not bear that interpretation:

In a triple setback for conservatives, South Dakotans rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions, Arizona became the first state to defeat an amendment to ban gay marriage and Missouri approved a measure backing stem cell research...Eight states voted on amendments to ban gay marriage: Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved them. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.

I have had occasion to comment previously on the folly of the South Dakota law. Popular sentiment will not tolerate the recriminalization of abortion, and popular sentiment is right: abortion can and should be largely eliminated through the ordinary disciplinary mechanisms of medical ethics, once the standards are returned to historical norms. Doing that will require getting rid of Rove v. Wade, which is challenge enough. The South Dakota criminal law was an expensive self-indulgence. It failed to stop abortion in the state; now abortion proponents will be able to argue, falsely I think, that the state is libertarian on the issue.

Regarding embryonic stem-cell research: it's a scam that will peter out in due course. And as for gay marriage, I am surprised that so many of the marriage-defense initiatives have done so well in such a variety of states. The Arizona result is a blip. The trend is otherwise.

Be this all as it may, the Democrats ran as well as they did in large part because they ran social conservatives in districts where local sentiment required it. One may question how much impact these people will have in the new Congress. Maybe there will be the sort of evolution that Ralph Reed described in the Republican Party of the 1970s: people who were embraced by the party on the supposition that they were poor, ignorant, and easily led eventually wound up running the place, or some parts of it. It's harder to imagine that happening with the Democrats, however. The leadership of the post-Goldwater Republican Party really did not have strong opinions on social issues, so they were willing enough to defer to the evangelicals and Catholics on these matters. In contrast, an important faction of the Democratic Party has no other reason for being except to promote the Bohemian cultural agenda. They cannot give an inch.

When the Democratic social conservatives understand that that is the case, they will look across the aisle and see some of their Republican colleagues struggling to escape the embrace of the surviving Capital Gains Zombies. The question is whether the genuine centers of the parties can cooperate and still leave the parties intact.

The Capital Gains Zombies themselves may well decide that Second Amendment and libertarian conservatives are easier prey than the pro-lifers. We could easily see a situation in which the Democratic Party becomes more religious while the Republicans become less.

* * *

Nancy Pelosi is no Newt Gingrich, for better or worse. Gingrich made such an impact because he took the chair as Speaker of the House with a coherent ideology and the ambition to govern as prime minister to a figurehead President Clinton. Today, although there are some specific items of various degrees of merit on the Democratic "to do" list, they do not constitute a legislative agenda. The Democrats ran against the president; there is no popular demand that they do anything in particular now that their position has been strengthened. That is true even about Iraq. The people are tired of waking up and hearing every morning that another 19-year-old has been killed by a roadside bomb. They are particularly tired of hearing only that from Iraq, while the Bush Administration seems to find time to talk only about Zombie business. Neither the Democrats nor the people who elected them have any particular idea about what to do in Iraq. The Bush Administration may well have some idea: perhaps now they will enlighten us.

* * *

When I was thinking about writing this entry, I had contemplated using the lede, "I for one welcome our new insect overlords," this in homage to the Simpsons episode in which television-news anchor Kent Bronkman surrenders on the air to what he mistakenly believes to be an invasion of giant ants from outer space. A glance at Instapundit this morning, however, revealed the headline I for one welcome our new Democratic overlords, which links to the same sort of graphic I had also considered making. Then I checked Language Log, and saw how many thousands of times that variations of that phrase have been used online.

Just once I would like to have an original idea. Just once.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Up in the Air

Up in the Air, Walter Kirn’s 2001 satirical novel on frequent flyer culture, later made into a movie starring George Clooney and written by Jason Reitman, has always been of topical interest to me.

My father-in-law has lived that life for almost all of the time I have known him. In my professional life, I’ve often been only one degree removed from the frequent flyers who live in Airworld.

The book is probably truer to this world than the movie is. As Steve Sailer noted in his review of the movie, no man with George Clooney’s charisma would fly around the country just to fire people, he would schmooze clients with lots of money. The Clooney’s of Airworld do exist, it is just most of its denizens do things that don’t require quite so much glamour.

Up in the Air
by Walter Kirn
Doubleday, 2001
303 pages, US$23.95
ISBN: 0-385-49710-5

"To know me you have to fly with me."

So begins "Up in the Air," an opening line almost as memorable as "Call me Ishmael" at the beginning of "Moby Dick." The author, Walter Kirn, is currently the literary editor at GQ, though you are more likely to have seen his byline in "Time." He lives in Montana, which is very far away from everyplace else. No doubt he flies a lot. In any case, let history record that this is the novel that put business travel on the cultural map.

"Up in the Air" is prefaced by a six-day itinerary of Ryan Bingham, a business traveler rich in frequent flyer miles. One of the several storylines deals with how he arranges to pass the million mark at just the right moment. Another subplot, the most important, is about identity theft, or the rather the fracturing of identity; there is quite a lot of "Fight Club" in this book. Yet another shows how hard it is to finagle a job with the marketing consultants who control the universe. There is much more to "Up in the Air," however.

We have here a depiction of a new stage in the human condition, which Ryan Bingham calls "Airworld." (This term came along just in time; we have needed a new Never-Never Land since "cyberspace" went bust with the dot-coms.) While in this book Airworld seems to be confined to the United States west of the Mississippi, it could be universal. Airworld has its own culture, its own economy, even its own atmosphere. As Bingham puts it: "Planes and airports are where I feel at home. Everything fellows like you dislike about them - the dry, recycled air, alive with viruses; the salty food that seems drizzled with warm mineral oil; the aura-sapping artificial lighting - has grown dear to me over the years, familiar, sweet."

Bingham traverses Airworld in the practice of his personnel-management specialty, Career Transition Counseling (CTC). He does not fire people, and he does not help them find new jobs. What he does is exhort the newly terminated to find jobs for themselves. In this craft, he uses "grieving aids," including "squashables," well-worn teddy bears that some of his more introverted clients find comforting. To his credit, he hates this job. The itinerary with which the book begins is the skeleton of his plan to escape it.

Airworld is a cold place in some ways. "Fast friends," the seatmates he strikes up conversations with and usually never sees again, "aren't my only friends," Bingham tells us. Nonetheless, "they're my best friends, because they know the life - so much better than my own family." This is not to say that "Up in the Air" is without sentiment. It ends with a small-town homecoming, after a fashion. Airworld, like a novel by Dickens, even has its Worthy Poor, in the form of those polite people back in economy and coach. It's only in first class that airline personnel are in serious danger of attack by drunken louts.

Bingham's world is not frivolous. "There is grace in Airworld," he tells us after getting some sound in-flight financial advice from a consultant to the Lutheran Church. On the other hand, there is grave moral turpitude: "The truth is that I root for ball teams depending on where I am at the time and who I happen to be sitting with...I started the evening rooting for the Bulls in an O'Hare microbrewery and finished it whistling for the Timberwolves at the Minneapolis Marriott." There is also traveler's sex, mostly in Nevada, but in Bingham's case these interludes are cautionary tales.

In addition to viruses, the atmosphere of Airworld is full of paranoia: "I turn on my HandStar and dial up Great West's customer information site, according to which our flight is still on time. How do they keep their lies straight in this business? They must use deception software, some suite of programs that synchronizes their falsehoods worldwide." It's the little deceptions, Bingham suspects, that will eventually undermine trust in consensus reality.

During his quest to get a job at that cosmic consultancy, Bingham actually meets one of the hidden persuaders. "If you hear there's a 'they,'" the magus says, "get in on it, if only to be proactive and defensive." Indeed, some quite exotic rumors turn out to have a basis in fact. None of it helps, however.

Airworld has its own literature as well as its own folkways, chiefly thrillers and management books. Bingham is working on one of the latter, an inspirational allegory called "The Garage." (As a matter of fact, "Up in the Air" is a book for business travelers about a book written by a business traveler for business travelers. Self-reference like this is what they used to call "postmodernism.") It's easy to satirize management books, but there's something special about a satire that promises to impart "The Four Plenteous Attitudes."

Just as the tropics have malaria and the poles hypothermia, so Airworld has its peculiar syndromes. Bingham suffers from more than one of them. "My circulation is ebbing flight by flight - I can't feel my toes if I don't keep wiggling them, and that only works for the first hour on board." Another drawback to living in Airworld for an extended period is that your teeth decay; it's so hard to maintain a relationship with a good dentist.

"Up in the Air" will probably chime with most people's experience. There are sad-but-true vignettes, like this strangely inevitable conclusion to a long delay at a metal detector:

Guard: "Your boots, sir?"
Bingham: "They're new."
Guard: "They must have steel-lined arches."

As for Bingham's surmises that hidden powers are manipulating him, they don't turn out to be true in quite the way he supposed. Still, even they are the sort of thing that many ordinary travelers have darkly imagined on a long layover at some western hub.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared in the September, 2001 issue of Business Travel Executive.

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The Long View 2006-11-06: Wretched Excess

Twelve years ago, dissatisfaction with W brought both houses of Congress to the Democrats. This time, it looks like the House may swing, but the Senate may not. We shall see.

Wretched Excess

So how many stunning rebukes to the Bush Administration have we seen in the past few days? There was Stars & Stripes; there was Richard Perle (who claims he was quoted out of context, but it is never good when the Prince of Darkness is only equivocally on your side); there was the Simpsons belated Halloween show. I lost count of the number of scandals, accusations, and expose' books that have been brought to the public's attention recently, all of them to the effect that the Republicans are liars and child-molesters. That is why I am not altogether surprised to see that, nationally, the Republican poll numbers had suddenly risen to a near statistical dead-heat with those of the Democrats. This comment in today's New York Times sums up the situation well enough:

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democrat leading his party’s effort to win control of the House, said, “It’s inevitable that there would be some tightening in the end.”

Still, Mr. Emanuel, who has been careful this campaign to avoid the public expressions of optimism voiced by other Democrats, added, “This is making me nervous.”

You can overdo any kind of advertising. It is a shame that Gestalt Psychology has so thoroughly fallen out of popular consciousness. Studies of voter behavior done from a Gestalt perspective showed many years ago that political advertising for one side sometimes had the effect of increasing turnout for the other side. The advertising just reminded people of the category of "politics": the semantic content of the ads was much less important.

The Republican Party, the party of Lee Atwater, would be in no position to complain if it were undone by unprincipled campaign tactics. However, it now seems that the Democrats' prospects would be far more certain if they had employed a little less venom, and injected it from fewer directions.

* * *

Regarding the death sentence just handed down to Saddam Hussein, we note three classes of objection. From The New York Times, we have the fatuous:

The editorial called for deferring the death penalty "long enough to allow the completion of a second trial, in which Mr. Hussein is charged with ordering genocidal massacres against the Kurds."

From the European Union, we have a principled response:

BRUSSELS, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The European Union urged Iraq on Sunday not to carry out the death sentence passed on Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein after his conviction for crimes against humanity.

"The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and it should not be carried out in this case either," Finland, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement.

By far the most interesting was this bit of confusion from the Vatican:

VATICAN CITY, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Vatican and Roman Catholic officials said on Sunday that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should not be put to death even if he has committed crimes against humanity because every life is sacred...Roman Catholic Church teaching is against the death penalty except in the most extreme circumstances, stating that modern society has all the means needed to render a criminal harmless for the rest of his natural life without capital punishment...Jesuit priest Father Michele Simone, deputy director of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, said ..."Even in a situation like Iraq, where there are hundreds of de facto death sentences every day, adding another death to this toll will not serve anything..."

As I have had occasion to point out before, the paradigm case for the ethical use of the death penalty would be when the continued incarceration of a convicted murderer incites violence and kidnapping by his followers, who hope to liberate him. That is precisely the case with Saddam Hussein. According to his American guards, in fact, he himself still claims to believe that he will return to power someday. Vengeance is irrelevant. The death of that man will solve a great deal.

* * *

The Presidium of the Central Committee of the Republican Party sometimes favors me with email. Just recently, they sent me this request:

With four days to go, a handful of House and Senate races will determine control of Congress. No matter where you are, you can put us over the top in this fight. How? Just pick up the phone, log on, and use your free minutes to contact 30 Republican voters in battleground states this weekend.

I have had bad experiences with political telemarketing. The callers all seem to be natives of the South and West; frequently, they do not know the local pronunciation of the names of the candidates. As it happens, I do live in a battleground state, so no one would suspect I was calling from a cubicle in Mumbai if I participated in this effort.

But no.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-11-03: Justice Done; Holy Political Ads; The Irony of History

When I first re-read this post, I wondered how John Reilly, an attorney, made it through voir dire. He was obviously surprised too, because he explained how it all went down. Also, apparently he got the “enhanced screening” at the courthouse.

Justice Done; Holy Political Ads; The Irony of History

The federal criminal trial on which I was serving as a juror has ended with a conviction. Trial jurors are not prohibited from describing the details of the case after the trial is over. However, the jurors throughout were identified by numbers rather than their names, no doubt to prevent reprisals, and I see no reason to try to defeat that precaution here by giving the particulars of the case. Still, I have a few general points to make:

(1) This is my first experience with federal service. On this slight evidence, the federal system seems to be much better organized and more comfortable than what goes on in county court. The court house where I served was a splendid modern building that never seemed to have more than 20 people in it at any one time. I was reminded of nothing so much as the mausoleum complex in the Phantasm movies.

(2) The questions at voir dire, when the jury is selected, are designed to weed out prejudices against criminal defendants, but the actual effect is not that intended. The defendant in this case was black, and naturally any defense attorney would want at least some black people on the jury. There were in fact people of all ethnicities in the jury pool, but the question, "Have you or a family member ever been the victim of a crime?" caused all the black ones to be excused. (It had the same effect on Filipinos.) Among white people, the chief disqualifying question was, "Are you or a family member employed in law enforcement?" I seem to belong to the small minority of white people in a five-county area who don't have a nephew on the police force.

(3) Epistemology is not a merely speculative science. Given a plausible scenario for a crime and some credible witnesses, what is the difference between a merely imaginable doubt and reasonable doubt? Is that a real distinction, or just a cultural convention?

A nonsystemic point: All metal detectors hate me. No, I do not have metal in my shoes. No, I do not have a pacemaker. This is personal.

* * *

I have great respect for the Catholic episcopacy, and I know that it is proper for religion to inform public policy, but this stinks to high heaven:

MADISON, WI, November 2, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Bishop Robert C. Morlino is a man of courage. The 59-year-old who has been a bishop for seven years, serving the last three in the diocese of Madison, has taken steps to ensure that his teaching on voting in favour of life and family get transmitted to the faithful...he went to the extraordinary step of ordering all of the priests in his diocese to play a recorded message of his own at weekend Masses on November 4-5 in the place of the homily...The 14-minute recorded message from the bishop addresses three issues two of which are coming up for a vote in Wisconsin on November 7 - the marriage amendment, the death penalty and embryonic stem cell research. On both homosexual 'marriage' question and embryo research the bishop exposes the "baloney" being used to garner support for the practices which are contrary not only to Church teaching but also to reason. On the death penalty the bishop explains that it is not necessary in the US for protection of citizens, and thus serves only to increase the climate of violence.

Let us put aside the fact that capital punishment is a more debatable matter than the other items on the bishop's list of things to do. The fact is that requiring local parishes to play what in effect is a political ad on the Sunday before election day is the sort of behavior that will lose the religious denominations their tax exemptions.

* * *

I am also a great admirer of Peggy Noonan. This is true even though she sometimes delivers herself of reports like this, about the apparently floundering reelection campaign of Republican Senator Rick Santorum:

I end with a story too corny to be true, but it's true. A month ago Mr. Santorum and his wife were in the car driving to Washington for the debate with his [Bob Casey] opponent on "Meet the Press." Their conversation turned to how brutal the campaign was, how hurt they'd both felt at all the attacks. Karen Santorum said it must be the same for Bob Casey and his family; they must be suffering. Rick Santorum said yes, it's hard for them too. Then he said, "Let's say a Rosary for them." So they prayed for the Caseys as they hurtled south.

This much sugar could put a non-diabetic into insulin shock.

* * *

And just in case you were thinking of having a good day, there is more than one way to read these remarks by Elizabeth Powers at the First Things blog:

An academic colleague of mine has carved out considerable expertise for himself in the area of slavery. I roused his ire once by asking if, two centuries from now, people might regard abortion the way we now do slavery. This was at a meeting of Enlightenment-period scholars. There is in all of us a tendency to see the past through the eyes of the present, what is called “provincialism of the present,” and this tendency extends to academics, perhaps especially so. Still, it always surprises me when I encounter it among those in my own discipline of eighteenth-century studies.

Simply for Darwinian reasons, it's a good bet that the future will regard abortion with all the holy horror that Ms. Powers could wish. Perhaps I should not have read all of Poul Anderson's novels, but it seems to me that the cussedness of history would be quite consistent with a world 200 years from now in which people wonder what high modernity's visceral recoil from slavery was all about.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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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--"


"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:


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!