The Long View 2007-01-26: The Dead Hand of the Seventies Flexes but Is Mitigated by Scientific Advances

The end of low mass stars

The end of low mass stars

I have never bothered to closely follow popular science news for two reasons:

  1. It is often confused, at best

  2. Even when it is well-reported, whatever results are covered tend to be invalidated over time

Nothing here strikes me as especially dumb, but I like to wait for the dust to settle.


The Dead Hand of the Seventies Flexes but Is Mitigated by Scientific Advances

Homer Simpson himself once characterized the 1970s as "a dark time when folly and madness ruled the earth." Now Mark Steyn sees that decade's return:

“It feels like August,” wrote National Review’s editor, Rich Lowry, about eight months after 9/11. August 2001, that is: he meant America’s war on terror seemed to have lost its urgency and the “sleeping giant” appeared to be resuming his slumbers. Five years on, it’s worse than that: it feels like the Seventies.

But it does not feel like the Seventies. The characteristic of the Seventies (and the Sixties after 1965) was that all the West's establishments, political, artistic, and spiritual, abdicated their historical moral authority. At least in public, they deferred to the superior wisdom of "the kids," or simply embraced chaos. That is not the case today. The establishments know more or less what they are doing. They are far more guilty.

* * *

On a happier note, we are getting closer to a reliable projection for the ultimate fate of Earth. Lee Anne Willson of Iowa State University has been doing the math:

The life-giving, aging star we orbit is using up its fuel supply and will collapse within 7 billion years. Before that, though, there will be an agonizing period of repeated swelling, as the sun grows into a red giant. How giant?...

"Earth will end up in the sun, vaporizing and blending its material with that of the sun," said Iowa State University's Lee Anne Willson. "That part of the sun then blows away into space, so one might say Earth is cremated and the ashes are scattered into interstellar space"...

Willson and her colleague George Bowen studied other red giants, medium-sized stars like our sun that are near death, and used their findings to calculate the fate of Earth.

"If the sun loses mass before it gets too big, then Earth moves into a larger orbit and escapes," Willson told SPACE.com. "The sun would need to lose 20 percent of its mass earlier in its evolution, and this is not what we expect to happen."

I had read an estimate that the sun would in fact lose enough mass to allow Earth to rise to a sustainable orbit. Now I'll have to change my plans.

But what about the moon, you ask?

During the red giant phase the Sun will swell until its distended atmosphere reaches out to envelop the Earth and Moon, which will both begin to be affected by gas drag—the space through which they orbit will contain more molecules.

The Moon is now moving away from Earth and by then will be in an orbit that's about 40 percent larger than today. It will be the first to warp under the Sun’s influence...

If left unabated the moon would continue in its retreat until it would take bout 47 days to orbit the Earth. Both Earth and Moon would then keep the same faces permanently turned toward one another as Earth’s spin would also have slowed to one rotation every 47 days....

[T]he drag caused by the Sun's extended atmosphere will cause the Moon's orbit to decay. The Moon will swing ever closer to Earth until it reaches a point 11,470 miles (18,470 kilometers) above our planet, a point termed the Roche limit.

“Reaching the Roche limit means that the gravity holding it [the Moon] together is weaker than the tidal forces acting to pull it apart,” Willson said.

I had read that solar tidal forces would continue to slow the rotation of Earth even after the day became equal to the month, causing a tidal drag that would draw the Moon to the Roche limit irrespective of friction from the evaporation of the Sun.

I am sorry, but I find this question troubling. Can't these people keep their story straight?

* * *

Speaking of troubling thoughts, there are few more troubling than the ones mentioned recently by Wesley J. Smith at First Things in the comment Zoos: Not for Children Anymore:

Perhaps it is wrong for me to comment about a movie I have no intention of seeing: But if this review of the new semi-documentary Zoo is accurate, it apparently has a sympathetic take on “the last taboo,” meaning bestiality. (”Zoos” in this context don’t refer to animal viewing facilities but are apparently the chosen moniker of people who like to have sex with animals. It is a take off on zoophilia. Who knew?)

Surely this is not the last taboo. That would be consensual cannibalism, of which there have been a few incidents in recent years. Actually, if the courts discern an autonomy right to suicide, it would be hard to see what the objection to this form of self-expression would be. Certainly it would present fewer objections than bestiality, where the consent of the animal is always in doubt. The limiting factor, perhaps, is that any society that really did not see a problem with the practice would already be so chaotic that it would make little difference what the law said.

Getting back to the Seventies for a moment: this film will have to be very strange indeed to be stranger than Equus (1977).

* * *

A scientific cliche' may be about to bite the dust: String Theory may be falsifiable!

[R]esearchers at the University of California, San Diego, Carnegie Mellon University, and The University of Texas at Austin have now developed an important test for this controversial "theory of everything"...at the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, a subatomic particle collider scheduled to be operating later this year at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, or CERN....

"The beauty of our test is the simplicity of its assumptions," explained Grinstein of UCSD. "The canonical forms of string theory include three mathematical assumptions-Lorentz invariance (the laws of physics are the same for all uniformly moving observers), analyticity (a smoothness criteria for the scattering of high-energy particles after a collision) and unitarity (all probabilities always add up to one). Our test sets bounds on these assumptions"...

He added, "If the test does not find what the theory predicts about W boson scattering, it would be evidence that one of string theory's key mathematical assumptions is violated. In other words, string theory-as articulated in its current form-would be proven impossible."

If those pesky W bosons do scatter as theory predicts, that does not prove that String Theory is true, just that it will live to face further tests. That is the best that can be said for any theory.

* * *

On the other hand, there is disturbing news from Mars:

Dried up riverbeds and other evidence imply that Mars once had enough water to fill a global ocean more than 600 metres deep...Some scientists have proposed that the Red Planet lost its water and CO2 to space as the solar wind stripped molecules from the top of the planet's atmosphere. Measurements by Russia's Phobos-2 probe to Mars in 1989 hinted that the loss was quite rapid....Now the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft has revealed that the rate of loss is much lower...Its measurements suggest the whole planet loses only about 20 grams per second of oxygen and CO2 to space, only about 1% of the rate inferred from Phobos-2 data...If this rate has held steady over Mars's history, it would have removed just a few centimetres of water, and a thousandth of the original CO2.

As the link explains, it is possible, even likely, that the rate of solar-wind erosion has not been constant over time. Still, there is an apparent anomaly in the lack of a modern Martian hydrosphere.

Or is it lacking? Once again, the Seventies extend a hand of dementia into the 21st century, and I recall the lyrics of the song A Horse with No Name (1971):

An ocean is a desert
with its life underground
and a perfect disguise
above.

And no, that was not recorded by Neil Young, but by America.

* * *

Finally, here is the strangest item in a post notable for strange items:

Bush Pushes Health Care Plan

He's doing it again. He won re-election in 2004 because he assured people he would not lose the war in Iraq; then he spent months promoting a Social Security reform that was incoherent and repulsive. Today, he just lost an election, he pleaded with the Congress and the public in the State of the Union Address to let him win the war in Iraq, and the first thing he focuses on is that nitwit health-insurance proposal.

This is beyond satire.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Dragon and Liberator Book Review

Dragon and Liberator: Dragonback book 6
by Timothy Zahn
368 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 4 and 5
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

The time has come for Jack and Draycos to fulfill their destiny, or die trying. The K’da/Shontine refugee fleet has nearly completed its two years of faster-than-light travel, fleeing across the void between adjacent spiral arms of the galaxy. Despite all of their efforts, their enemies have assembled an attack force at the rendezvous point for the refugee fleet.

The time has also come for answers. Who are the K’da, and where did they come from? Why are their enemies willing to pursue them beyond the edge of the world? Who is Alison Kayna, and whom does she work for? What exactly is the connection between Jack and Draycos, and and why do they ‘nick’?

By now, we also have many answers. We learned in the last volume that Jack’s parents were Judge-Paladins, the circuit judges of the Orion Arm, empowered to hear cases and dispense justice anywhere they might find themselves. While we don’t learn precisely what the limits of their power or jurisdiction are, we do know that are granted ships of unusual power, speed, and armament, such as the one Virgil Morgan stole from Jack’s parents.

I found Zahn’s description of the badges of authority of a Judge-Paladin fascinating: their distinctive hats were a combination of a biretta and a tricorn hat. As a Catholic convert, and a reader of First Things magazine, that seems like a not entirely accidental combination. If someone were to boldly create a symbol of the late twentieth century project to marry orthodox Catholicism to the American Dream, this would be it.

Biretta  By MK777 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4733523

Biretta

By MK777 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4733523

Tricorne hat  By Unknown - LACMA Image Library. Photograph LACMA.Derivative work: PKM (talk), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14854853

Tricorne hat

By Unknown - LACMA Image Library. Photograph LACMA.Derivative work: PKM (talk), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14854853

While I’ve had some doubts about Zahn, I have absolutely nothing to make me think that Zahn is a secret disciple of Fr. Neuhaus. Nonetheless, this is a striking example of cultural convergence. I might dismiss it as a coincidence if it weren’t for the uncanny resemblance of Draycos’ ethics of war to the police model of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

An interesting wrinkle in this theory is that book 6 is where the gloves come off. Up til now, Draycos has avoided intentional killing, except for book 1, where he executed a man who had killed a random passerby in an attempt to coerce Jack into helping with Arthur Neverlin’s grand conspiracy. Now that time is short, and the fate of his people hangs upon a precipice, Draycos is quicker to kill, and he even resorts to the use of the Death, the dreaded weapon of the Valahgua, smuggled into the Orion Arm to finish the fleeing refugees.

I saw a comment in another review that seems pertinent here. I hadn’t particularly noticed, but book 1 was a bit of a departure from Zahn’s usual style, and even a bit over the top in how the story and even the terminology was simplified. Now that we are down to book 6, I feel like Zahn has gotten more comfortable with the juvenile novel thing, and relaxed back into something that feels more normal for him.

Which is a good thing, insofar as Zahn skillfully wraps up all of his plot threads and hints from the previous five volumes into a hell of a conclusion. This is an excellent series, with some interesting ideas and especially well done character development. I encourage you to pick these books up.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
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

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

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

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave
Dragon and Herdsman
Dragon and Judge

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The Long View 2007-01-24: The State of the Union

Senator James Webb  By United States Senate - http://www.webb.senate.gov/newsroom/official_photo.cfm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1709405

Senator James Webb

By United States Senate - http://www.webb.senate.gov/newsroom/official_photo.cfm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1709405

This The Long View post is brief, so I will be similarly brief: I still think you could assemble an interesting majority coalition in American politics that was all-in for universal healthcare, moderately skeptical about immigration, and just a little bit anti-free trade. I don’t expect this to happen, because party alignments are durable and hard to change, but John poked around these ideas for years and I think he was on to something.


The State of the Union


Unlike Saddam Hussein's execution, last night's State of the Union Address was a model of courtesy on the part of both the audience and the guest of honor. We may legitimately wonder, though, whether both ceremonies will have a similar outcome. These are the points that struck me:

Balancing the federal budget in five years: This is better than promising to balance the budget in 50 years. The people who make the promise will at least still be alive in five years to comment on the state of things then. However, five years is the horizon you choose in federal budgeting when you want to do something now without being incommoded by actual concern for the future.

Expanding health insurance: I understood, after a fashion, the press explanations of the president's proposal, but not the explanation the president gave last night. Still, it was clear that the proposal was based on the expansion of the deductibility of health-insurance premiums, a mechanism which is wholly irrelevant to the problem. He did support federal subsidies to the states that are experimenting with universal-coverage programs, though he took care not to call them that.

Immigration Reform: This was the item toward which the reaction of the president's audience was most ambiguous. To George Bush, immigration reform means unlimited access to cheap foreign labor channeled through a guest-worker program. He seems to be the last politician in America not to recognize that this is the one solution for which there is no popular constituency.

The War in Iraq: I put this item last, in the place of honor to which the president assigned it. It was frank and coherent. It did a good job of connecting the war in Iraq with the war on terror (which are certainly connected now, even though one could argue they were not connected originally). Presentations like that were why George Bush was reelected in 2004. And then nothing happened. Or rather, quite a bit happened, but George Bush was publicly disconnected from all of it as he pursued his idiosyncratic enthusiasms about Social Security and taxes.

Regarding the Democratic responses to the president's address, we note first the English-language response by Senator James Webb of Virginia. We should all take every opportunity to view a live television appearance by Senator Webb. I cannot predict what he will do to secure his place in history, but I keep thinking of that film The Howling (1981). In any case, just as the president did, the senator led with a discussion of domestic affairs, the point of which seemed to be to instruct the American people that they were more immiserated than they actually felt. Then there was this bit:

"We in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans," Webb said.

The vitality of New Orleans was gone long before Katrina. Most of us have gathered by now that curing what ails the place is beyond federal intervention.

As for Iraq, Webb proposed that Bush take as a model President Eisenhower's policy toward Korea, which quickly resulted in the truce that lasts to this day. My understanding is that Eisenhower got a settlement by threatening to drop atomic bombs on Manchuria. Be careful what you wish for.

I don't follow spoken Spanish well enough to understand the Spanish-language response from Rep. Xavier Becerra; maybe I will see a transcript later. In any case, it is profoundly disturbing that different responses were issued simultaneously to different linguistic groups. That's just one step away from making different responses to different nations, which is in fact where bilingualism always leads.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View 2007-01-21: I've Had a Really Bad Weekend

I did not have a bad weekend, but John J. Reilly was rather disappointed in the Republican convention in 2007.

JJR had some substantial disagreements with the domestic policy of President George W. Bush, leading to this cri de coeur:

What a fraud the Republican Revolution was. It was not Burkean, it was not populist, it was not libertarian; it certainly wasn't Evangelical or Catholic. More and more it looks like a pro-business, anti-market scam that co-opted popular disgust with the decrepit and incoherent Democratic Party. The Republican Party in power, starting with the Reagan Administration (don't get me started on the S&L scandal again) has been marked by indifference to the ordinary principles of public administration.

….

If it were not for the necessity to prosecute the Terror War, I would just give up on the Bush Administration.

Would that he had. It is fascinating to return to how we got into the Iraq war after 9/11, and then to see how once it was all laid bare, criticism was really only possible in partisan terms.

Also, Peak Oil was false. Maybe the best you could say is that it is true in some ultimate, heat death of the universe sense.

Strictly speaking, I think we have to chalk up John’s endorsement of this prediction by Mark Steyn as false:

To put it briefly: Mark Steyn said that every major political party in the West will be pro-natalist by 2015. He is almost certainly right: look here.

That being said, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. The rise of populist parties in the West has gone along with pro-natalist sentiment, and even policies. What prevents this from being true is that the establishment parties have shown considerable power to fight back.


I've Had a Really Bad Weekend

What a fraud the Republican Revolution was. It was not Burkean, it was not populist, it was not libertarian; it certainly wasn't Evangelical or Catholic. More and more it looks like a pro-business, anti-market scam that co-opted popular disgust with the decrepit and incoherent Democratic Party. The Republican Party in power, starting with the Reagan Administration (don't get me started on the S&L scandal again) has been marked by indifference to the ordinary principles of public administration. The saddest thing is that these people think the country still owes them a living. As Mark Steyn put it to his confessor, Hugh Hewitt:

You know, I think there’s a big load of wishful thinking going on amongst the Republican leadership that in a sense, the pendulum will swing back in 2008, and things will go their way. I don’t think so. I think in my own state, for example, which was one of those red states with bluish inclinations, and transformed wholly blue, I think Senator Sununu would certainly be swept away if 2008 was like 2006. And they’re not going to hold those kind of seats with this kind of complacent establishment think that is represented by [the recent] RNC gathering...

That's just his assessment of the party in general. When he gets to the Bush Administration in particular, he becomes harsh:

I was very struck by a comment Michelle Malkin made. She’s just back from Iraq, and she said...the Bush administration is Lucy, and those of us who support it are looking like Charlie Brown, that basically, you go out, you spend your whole time…I’ve been in discussions on radio shows and what not, where you’re defending this thing, defending it, you’re whacking down in column after column these guys who are claiming that it’s treason and a police state, and the Bush-Hitler, and you defend, defend, defend, defend, and then it turns out, you know, that they quietly cave, or as you say, give that impression, and you’re left feeling what the hell did I write those last fifteen columns for?

With this thought in mind, we turn to media reports anticipating a key element of this week's State of the Union Address:

President Bush intends to use his State of the Union address Tuesday to tackle the rising cost of health care with a one-two punch: tax breaks to help low-income people buy health insurance and tax increases for some workers whose health plans cost significantly more than the national average...The basic concept is that employer-provided health insurance, now treated as a fringe benefit exempt from taxation, would no longer be entirely tax-free. Workers could be taxed if their coverage exceeded limits set by the government. But the government would also offer a new tax deduction for people buying health insurance on their own.

Here we see the fiscal brilliance of President Bush's Social Security privatization program, combined with the political sensitivity of his nomination of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court: an income-tax deduction-incentive for people who don't pay much income tax that will be paid for by degrading the coverage of the minority of the population with really adequate coverage.

If it were not for the necessity to prosecute the Terror War, I would just give up on the Bush Administration. And in that connection, let me take issue with Hugh Hewitt's parting remark to Mark Steyn:

HH: And so…well, Mark Steyn, always a pleasure in these despairing days. Luckily, there’s nothing that a victory won’t turn around in a hurry, and maybe David Petraeus will go get it.

Not really. The Democrats got serious about bringing down Richard Nixon only after he had negotiated a settlement in Vietnam that offered some hope of keeping the South independent. Victory is precisely what would be unforgivable; or at any rate, victory would be intolerable.

* * *

Some hoaxes never have the opportunity to flower, but wither in the bud. It looks as if Peak Oil is about to join their number:

Fresh data from the International Energy Agency show oil consumption in the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development fell 0.6% in 2006. Though the decline appears small, it marks the first annual drop in more than 20 years among the OECD countries...To be sure, global oil demand grew 0.9% in 2006, owing to steady growth in China and the Middle East. But that was down from growth of 3.9% in 2004 and 1.5% in 2005.

Americans should remember that low oil prices are not an unalloyed good for the United States, which remains a major oil producer. Be that as it may, neither the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela nor the Islam Republic in Iran will survive this trend.

* * *

But while the Republican Party is merely doomed and unworthy, the Democratic Party shows every sign of turning into a Vampire's Ball held on the beach because the organizers have convinced themselves the sun will never rise again. We see this especially in their idea of outreach:

Eager to avoid a resumption of the culture wars, the new Democratic leaders are trying to tiptoe around the abortion issue by promoting legislation to encourage birth control and assist women who decide to proceed with unwanted pregnancies...

"You're going to see a change in the tone of the debate, and a move toward more solutions, rather than the divisiveness," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights group that signed on early to the prevention agenda. "What we're going to see in this Congress is some problem-solving."

Third Way, a moderate Democratic policy group, coined the term "abortion grays" to define the nearly two-thirds of voters who hold mixed views on the subject. Rachel Laser, Third Way's abortion expert, has counseled numerous Democratic candidates and lawmakers on prevention rhetoric. In a poll the group commissioned last summer, 69 percent of voters said they supported the goal of reducing the number of abortions "while still preserving the basic right to have one."

Aside from the underlying insincerity of this Third Way (my Lord, that term is jinxed!), there are three reasons this effort will miscarry:

(1) It conflates, yet again, the notion of "unplanned child" with "unwanted child." You may argue about what God thinks about this equation, but Darwin says "no."

(2) It tries to avoid the fact that Roe and the related cases are fatal to legitimate jurisprudence. By legitimate jurisprudence, I mean jurisprudence that is acceptable to the political system in the long run. Roe would have to be overturned, even if it were about double-parking.

(3) This Third Way is kairotically inapposite. It opposes the flow of the hour, which is the reversal of the anti-natalist population policy that was enacted through the courts in the 1960s and '70s. Official promotion of contraception is not the alternative to abortion; they are complements.

A change in kairos is always somewhat mysterious. When it occurs, the cultural defaults change, and those people who think they are controlling the change (and there always are some) are in fact the most helplessly under its influence.

To put it briefly: Mark Steyn said that every major political party in the West will be pro-natalist by 2015. He is almost certainly right: look here.

* * *

Presidential hopeful John Edwards recently chose to announce his candidacy in New Orleans, a city of social dysfunction and lethal political incompetence. Frankly, after the reelection of Mayor Nagin, the city became an argument against democracy.

According to The New York Times, the New Orleans of [the] Future May Stay Half Its Old Size. It would be better if it were 0% of its old size.

* * *

The cruelty of Spengler exceeds anything I say here, as we see in his latest column at Asia Times, Jimmy Carter's heart of dorkiness:

Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood. The 700,000 refugees of 1948, hothoused by the UN relief agencies, prevented from emigrating by other Arab regimes, have turned into a people, but a test-tube nation incapable of independent national life: four destitute millions of third-generation refugees in the small and barren territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which cannot support a fraction of that number...Jimmy Carter knows better than that: the Palestinians are not in the position of southern American blacks, but rather of southern American whites, the exemplar of a self-exterminating people in the modern period. That is why Carter identifies with them. Apart from modern Palestine, there are very few cases in modern history in which a militant population showed its willingness to fight to the death. The US south sacrificed two-fifths of its military-age men during the Civil War of 1861-65...Think of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings explaining to Samwise why he cannot give up hope for Gollum's redemption from the curse of Sauron's ring, because that would weaken Frodo's hope for his own redemption. This form of obsessive self-pity produces the unctuous forms of expression that make it so painful to listen to a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton talk about political morality...

Let us never forget that Woodrow Wilson was a southerner.

That explains it all.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

Dragon and Judge Book Review

Dragon and Judge: Dragonback book 5
by Timothy Zahn
320 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 4 and 6
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

Finally, five volumes in, we find out what really happened to Jack’s parents, and who they really were. I’ve been waiting a long time for this revelation, and it is just as good as I expected.

Virgil Morgan and Obi-wan share a point of view

Virgil Morgan and Obi-wan share a point of view

It wasn’t hard to suspect that Virgil Morgan wasn’t telling the complete truth about Jack’s parents, but on the other hand he did pretty well by Jack, even as he used him in his cons and trained him in an ethos of radical self-sufficiency. On the gripping hand, we also start to see that Jack and Draycos’ meeting on Iota Klestis was not mere happenstance, but rather a providential act that would ensure that justice can be done for everyone.

Justice is a key theme of the Dragonback series. Draycos needs justice for his harried and beleaguered people, fleeing from genocidal war. Jack wants justice for himself, to start anew after being conscripted into a life of crime by his benefactor. Jack needs justice because the unscrupulous are only too willing to try to take advantage of his checkered past to enlist him in dubious schemes. Justice is clearly in short supply in the Orion Arm.

Another key theme is birthright. Draycos and Jack are each special because of who they are. The key dramatic element in Dragon and Judge is, who is Jack? Where did he come from? Who are his parents, really? We don’t have to wonder much about Draycos, who is after all a dragon and a warrior, although some surprises are yet in store. Jack is an orphan, an archetype of import, and together they have a destiny to fulfill.

In Dragon and Judge, we also have a storyline involving Alison Kayna, Jack’s compatriot from book 2, and Taneem, a phooka turned K’da by bonding with Alison. With the mystery of Jack’s parents cleared up, we have a new mystery to ponder in Alison. We don’t truly know who she is or who she is working for. While we consider this, we also get to see Zahn explore her character. Everything Alison does is of necessity duplicitous, since she is observing Jack at the behest of an unknown party, but her charade is eased by what appears to be genuine agreement with Jack and Draycos’ mission to save the K’da refugee fleet.

Earnest and naive Taneem serves as a foil for Alison, as Zahn gently probes the moral dilemma of doing what is right versus maintaining your cover. Since this is a juvenile, we aren’t going to see Alison faced with an atrocity. That would have been an interesting setup with Draycos’ unyielding sense of right and wrong, but this isn’t that kind of a book. While the stakes are dramatically high, this is the PG version.

All of the pieces are now in place for the dramatic conclusion. Let us see how Zahn wraps it all up.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
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

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

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

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave
Dragon and Herdsman

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The Long View 2007-01-17: Franco-British What-Ifs; Steyn on Children of Men; Obsolete Doomsday Clock

A Franco-British Union is the kind of alternative history that John J. Reilly loved to post about, except this one was seriously proposed more than once in mundane history.


Franco-British What-Ifs; Steyn on Children of Men; Obsolete Doomsday Clock

This is not one of the great "What-Ifs" of history, however much attention this archival revelation has received in the past week:

Britain and France talked about a 'union' in the 1950s and even discussed the possibility of Elizabeth II becoming the French head of state....

On September 10, 1956, French Prime Minister Guy Mollet came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two countries with Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden.

But when Mr Mollet's request for a union failed, the French premier quickly responded with another radical plan: that France be allowed to join the British Commonwealth.

According to the BBC, this proposal appears to have met with more warmth from the British politician.

Actually, something like this had been a real possibility 16 years earlier, when the French government had fled from Paris to Bordeaux after the Germans took Paris. At that time, the British government made this astonishing proposal (I quote from William Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic):

At this most fateful moment in the history of the modern world, the governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution to their common defense of justice and freedom ....

The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defense, foreign, financial and economic policies.

Every citizen of France shall enjoy immediately citizenship of great Britain; every British subjects will become a citizen of France.

The Franco-British Union certainly had Churchillian boldness, but in fact Churchill had doubts about it. His government was prevailed upon to make the proposal by Frenchmen in London, among them Jean Monnet, who wanted to keep France in the Second World War. All that really interested the British at that point was securing the French Fleet. However, the desperate French premier, Paul Reynaud, was enthusiastic about the Union and thought he could convince his cabinet to accept. They did not, of course. His government fell, and its successor sought an armistice.

To this day that decision can be defended. The politicians who made it had been elected to save France. No one was paying them to save civilization, especially if saving civilization meant that all of France would be subject to foreign occupation. I think that calculation is incomplete: every state has a duty to the civilization of which it is a part, and indeed to mankind as a whole. However, the decision was not irrational, or even dishonorable.

It was also a much greater possibility than the proposal of 1956, simply because it would have served an immediate need. It is possible to imagine the French and British empires prosecuting the Second World War together (though one suspects that full union would not have been implemented). One result would have been that the Japanese would have included Indochina in their list of conquests a few months later. Another, perhaps more important, is that there might never have been a German campaign in North Africa: the hostility of the French possessions there would have made it untenable.

No North African campaign would, of course, have freed up resources for the Eastern Front. Would the non-capitulation of France have lost the war for the Allies by enabling a knockout blow against the Soviet Union? Probably not, but we see that the acceptance of the British proposal of 1940 would not necessarily have shortened the war.

* * *

Mr. Demographic Collapse, Mark Steyn, has seen the film version of P. D. James's book The Children of Men and is not pleased:

There are zillions of bad movies, but Alfonso Cuaron’s film Children Of Men is bad in an almost awe-inspiring way. ...the way in which he misses the point portends a difficult future for Hollywood in the years ahead. ...P D James’ short book is a meditation on loss of purpose in society: the symptoms are already well advanced in real-life Europe - convenience euthanasia, collapsed birth rates, wild animals reclaiming empty villages on the east German plain. Cuaron can’t even grasp the question, ...The film looks like a film – which is to say that, apart from Michael Caine, everyone in it is young: young transgressive leaders of young gangs pursued by young cops and young soldiers. But that’s exactly what the novel has in short supply: roads crumble to tracks because the employees of the state are too middle-aged to maintain the rural districts. Entirely accidentally, the ineptitude of Cuaron’s movie makes James’ point: A society without youth is so alien to our assumptions about ourselves that we can’t even make a film about it. Which suggests that Hollywood itself – at least in its present incarnation – will be one of the casualties of the coming of age.

I have not seen the movie, but I, too, regret that Cuaron chose to describe a conventional dystopia rather than to cinematize the book's unusual premise. (That is not the only case of directorial timidity I regret: just once, I want someone to make a film version of H.G. Well's The Time Machine and just shoot the book.) However, in Cuaron's defense, we should note his claim that James herself approved of his treatment of the book.

* * *

This gimmick has outlived its usefulness, as we can see from this report:

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock on January 17, 2007, from 7 to 5 minutes to midnight.

BAS announced the Clock change at an unprecedented joint news conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, and the Royal Society in London. In a statement supporting the decision to move the hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS Board focused on two major sources of catastrophe: the perils of 27,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 of them ready to launch within minutes; and the destruction of human habitats from climate change.

I'm sorry, but what does global warming have to do with atomic weapons? Is the clock now to measure all the Bad Things in the world? How about Bad Cholesterol?

Here's a more serious objection: what does the BAS do when nuclear weapons are actually used, probably in a terrorist attack or in an exchange between states with small arsenals? It is always awkward when the eschaton actually arrives.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Dragon and Herdsman Book Review

Dragon and Herdsman: Dragonback book 4
by Timothy Zahn
304 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 5 and 6
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

Fourteen year old boys still don’t make good plans. After escaping from the Brummgan slavers, the Chookook family, with a healthy dose of good fortune, Jack infiltrates another mercenary organization in order to steal their files. This time, Jack and Draycos know where to look because of an act of mercy that Draycos insisted upon back in Volume 1: Draycos took a few seconds to prop up a man he had disabled so that the mercenary wouldn’t burn to death upon the ground heated by the crash of his ship.

In doing so, Draycos instantiates something very much like the jus ad bello criteria of the Catholic Church that govern just conduct in war.

What Catholic military doctrine does resemble is the criteria that well-run civilian police forces articulate regarding the use of deadly force. As the nightly television news will tell you, rules of this sort often work imperfectly. However, they do make sense for any law-governed society in which the authorities, too, can be held responsible for their actions.

So far as I know, Zahn isn’t Catholic. I guess that he simply used medieval chivalric ideal as an example for Draycos, and in some typically thorough research, brought this along for the ride. What I can’t even begin to guess is whether he developed it into a more modern rendition on his own, or if he used another source.

Reading something like The Song of Roland with the eyes of an early twenty-first century American, it is hard to avoid the impression that Roland is a bit of a chump. Roland’s last stand is certainly dramatic, but he could have blown that horn earlier and saved everyone a lot of trouble. But his knightly honor wouldn’t let him call for help carelessly. To do so would be to admit weakness, which would shame him in the eyes of his peers. Roland is mostly concerned with defending his honor, defined as mutual respect among a society of equals [warriors]. If your peers don’t see or recognize this kind of honor, it very much doesn’t truly exist.

Draycos’ ideas of honor on the other hand, are a little more practical than Roland’s. Draycos is perfectly willing to retreat without shame in the face of a superior force, or seek to avoid combat when defeat is more likely than victory. He is, on the other hand, is acutely interested in defending abstract ideals, even when no one is looking, even when it actively works against his obvious interests. This is guilt culture, rather than shame culture, in the context of war. In the Christian West, chivalry was one of the stages by which shame cultures with a warlike bent turned into guilt cultures with an interest in defending the weak and defenseless, even when they mean you harm.

In the twelve or so centuries since Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, made a last stand that was told for a thousand years, Catholic thinking on war has tended toward a police model, where minimum force is used to achieve the objective at hand. This is very much the model Draycos uses, except that in his culture, he personally combines the prerogatives of judge and jury and executioner in one, which is a bit unsettling to Jack, and probably would be to most of Zahn’s readers, modern Westerners, who are accustomed to a separation of powers model.

Battle of Palatea  Edmund Ollier  Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

Battle of Palatea

Edmund Ollier

Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

However, Western thinking on war by those who actively practice it doesn’t necessary track well with the development of Catholic Just War doctrine. Victor Davis Hanson made the argument that going back to the Classical Greeks, the Western way of war was to seek decisive battle which destroyed the enemy [or at least his ability to fight]. What this looks like shouldn’t be at all unfamiliar to any educated Westerner, because it is how we [the Allies] waged World War II.

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED  BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,  HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED

BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,

HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

We crushed our enemies, until they had no recourse. We burned their cities, without remorse. I’m not talking about nuclear weapons either, which don’t actually rise to the level of the enormity I am talking about. This was what Jerry Pournelle called WARRE. Warre to the knife, fire bombs, nuclear weapons, death and destruction. I am not sure that Hanson made his argument in quite the way he meant to, but I think it is true that the West has a tendency to do this.

Draycos, despite being on the losing end of an interstellar war, is too high minded to embrace the scorched earth tactics of his enemies. Even though that war involved the death of something like 90-95% of his people. We were not so generous to our enemies.

That highmindedness is put to the test here, in Dragon and Herdsman, when Jack and Draycos, fleeing from angry mercs who caught them in the act, stumble upon a colony of Draycos’ people on a remote world. Except, they aren’t really his people, in the cultural sense. These phooka are physically the same as Draycos, but in isolation, they have regressed to a state of mute inactivity, unable to speak, and ignorant of the proud glories of K’da history.

Draycos is stunned and appalled to find his brethren reduced to such a state. Draycos’ sense of honor, like cast iron, can be strong, but also brittle. It is especially endangered when a core assumption, like the inherent nobility of his people, is undermined. Fortunately, Jack’s more pragmatic [self-serving even] sense of ethics provides cushion and flexibility in the same way that a blade can be made more durable by combining hard steel for the edge with mild steel for the spine, taking the best properties of both.

For Jack and Draycos, the process by which this works is not simply conversation and time. They are each becoming more like one another, so much so that Jack is starting to have some of Draycos’ warrior’s spirit [and tactical knowledge], while Draycos now has the resiliency born of living life in the shadows. The phooka are likewise slow of body and of mind because the hosts they found on remote Rho Scorvi are dimwitted and indolent.

There is something special about Jack and Draycos, and in some way their meeting was providential. And now we have another piece of the puzzle as to why this might be.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
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

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

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

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The Long View 2007-01-15: Stephen King & The Second Religiousness

Stephen King in 2007 at ComicCon  By Pinguino Kolb - "Pinguino's" flickr account, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1774637

Stephen King in 2007 at ComicCon

By Pinguino Kolb - "Pinguino's" flickr account, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1774637

I’ve never been a Steven King fan, but his influence is hard to escape in American fiction. John riffs off of Ross Douthat’s attempt to make sense of the historical moment King can represent.


Stephen King & The Second Religiousness

The title of this entry was not the one that Ross Douthat (of The American Scene) chose for his excellent piece in the February issue of First Things; he called it "Stephen King's American Apocalypse." Nonetheless, I think it pretty clear that Oswald Spengler's notion of the Second Religiousness is essentially what Douthat was talking about.

As a preliminary matter, we might note that the article has an obituary air that is not perhaps altogether seemly when discussing an author who is still living and publishing one or two books every year. However, Douthat takes it as given that King's best work is behind him, in the form of the horror novels that threatened to engulf the nation's bookstores in the 1970s and 80s. (For myself, I would argue that King's best book on all levels is Pet Sematary, but Douthat may have a point when takes The Stand as the acme of King's art.) Douthat contends that King's world of vampire-infestation and demon-possession amidst brand-name household appliances was less distant from real American experience than the self-consciously realistic literature of the period. As Douthat notes:

This kind of supernatural realism is hard to pull it off.

It seems to me that King's great strength as a writer is the ability to produce plausible interior monologue, a gift which affords a high level of verisimilitude even to a character who is fighting a giant spider. What interests Douthat, though, is the way that King's tales of disjuncture from conventional reality chimed with an era in which just that seemed to be happening in the wider world:

[I]t is not a coincidence that King did his best work in the decade of Jonestown and The Exorcist, the Ayatollah Khomeini and The Late Great Planet Earth, the decade that stripped away the self-confident science-and-progress ethos of the nineteen fifties and early nineteen sixties.

Douthat notes that this period was the beginning of the age of conspiracy that continues to this day, and which was not without its effect on serious fiction. King's books attracted a mass audience and remain influential today, however, because they were more serious than literature:

The paranoid style is steeped in agnosticism or a wary deism, whereas King's novels don't deal just in devils but in a personal, active Almighty as well.... God does elbow his way into King's America -- it wouldn't be recognizably America if he didn't -- and when he appears, it isn't as the distance half-glimpsed presence, a philosopher's god or the wan deity of wistful almost-believers. He is instead "the Lord of Hosts"...

America does not lack for Christian fiction, or even for supernatural thrillers intended for a Christian readership. The appeal of King is more interesting, however, because it is more fundamental:

At their best, his works aren't just a wide-open window into the bedlam of recent American life. They're the first significant attempts at a literature for a post-secular age.

If you will forgive me, I will quote again the famous passage from The Decline of the West describing the Second Religiousness:

But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase.

This seems to be a good description of King's supernatural, to judge by Douthat's observation:

Nor is King's God disposed to handle every supernatural flare-up. He coexists with a multitude of lesser powers, and he allows most of them more or less free rein.

Perhaps not so much the God of the Old Testament comes back in King's fiction as the God of the Gothic, whose preeminence was not inconsistent with a feudal structure of lesser eminences, some of doubtful loyalty.

Be this all as it may, Douthat is not interested in King as the prophet of a New Age, but as the marker of a transitional period that still continues:

The result, across King's body of work, is a vision of contemporary America as a spiritual realm that is out of joint and up for grabs, thick with competing forces and watched over by an Almighty whose goals are inscrutable, whose demands are peremptory, and whose methods are sometimes cruel...The Age of Reason is over, but the Age of Faith has not yet returned. And so Stephen King's America endures in fear and trembling-waiting for a messiah or a second coming.

Popular culture, and perhaps popular superstition, continued to develop the post-theological spirituality that King made mainstream. An example of this trend is the television series Supernatural, in which the Other World has quite literally gone feral; characters who are probably members of the National Rifle Association have to go out to hunt it. American religion after the 1970s, however, did not continue on the trajectory that King's syncretistic spiritual imagination suggested. Instead, there was a conspicuous turn toward orthodoxy. As is the case with all renaissances, it was a revival that masked novelty. The fastest growing forms of Christianity are generically pentecostal: not a new religion, much less a new revelation, but arguably a new Christendom. The keynote is direct experience, without reference to historical tradition. Actually, I would argue that the same indifference to historical development is also behend the increasingly successful efforts to revive older forms of liturgy: the audience for the Latin Mass, for instance, may be less interested in history than in transcendence.

The end of modernity is not yet. When it arrives, though, it will have less to do with the return of the Sidhe than with the development of a spirituality that does not suffer progress.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The End of the World as We Knew It

The Annunciation  By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

The Annunciation

By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

This is a bit of The Long View entry from February 14th, 2005. March 25th is in many ways the most important day in the Christian calendar. It also happens to be Waffle Day, thanks to a pun in Swedish. Vårfrudagen —> Våffeldagen


Readers of Tolkien will recall that Sauron fell on March 25. In choosing that date, Tolkien acted as a good medievalist. The Feast of the Annunciation itself commemorates the revelation by an angel to the Virgin Mary that she had conceived Jesus: nine months from Christmas, you see. By rumor and tradition, however, almost everything important that ever happened was ascribed to March 25, if it could not be positively dated otherwise. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

All Christian antiquity (against all astronomical possibility) recognized the 25th of March as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring...Consequently the ancient martyrologies assign to the 25th of March the creation of Adam and the crucifixion of Our Lord; also, the fall of Lucifer, the passing of Israel through the Red Sea and the immolation of Isaac.

And if March 25 is the anniversary of the Creation, then it follows, sort of, that it is likely to be the date of the Second Coming. Dr. Richard Landes notes this document from about the year AD 1000:

Abbo, scholasticus, then abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury sur Loire (ca.945-1004) [wrote a letter to the king] of France dated ca. 994-996 [in which] Abbo recalls several incidents of apocalyptic rumors circulating in earlier years:

[M]y abbot of blessed memory and keen mind rejected another error which grew about the End of the World; and after he received correspondence from Lotharingians he ordered me to answer. For a rumor had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.

54525440_2148112612166187_1472767452851994624_n.jpg

The Long View 2007-01-11: Bush on Iraq; the Conversion of Islam; Scandals & Bad Motives

Since David French has done the unspeakable by defending the indefensible sixteen years later, here is a moment of sanity from John J. Reilly in 2006:

Regarding the official Democratic reply to the president's address, I think that Senator Dick Durbin was quite mistaken in expressing the desire for the Iraqi government to now make the hard political decisions. That should be the last thing that anyone wants. The hard decision in Iraq would be to abandon attempts at compromise with the Sunni minority and to ethnically cleanse it. The presence of US troops in Iraq is to facilitate workable half-measures and tactful evasions.

In retrospect, this was an admirable thing about the US occupation of Iraq. When we fomented war in Libya or Syria or Yemen, we kept our troops safely out of harms way, but we did absolutely nothing to restrain the regrettably normal impulse to ethnically cleanse inconvenient neighbors.

Iraq was a stupid war, but since we got involved, at least the US occupation tried to keep the peace.


Bush on Iraq; the Conversion of Islam; Scandals & Bad Motives

George Bush does not give bad formal speeches. Last night's address was up to the usual standard. It differed from the usual Bush commentary on foreign affairs by being very detailed and modest in scope, perhaps misleadingly so. What the president seemed to be doing was explaining the tactics of a minor campaign to restore the police situation in Baghdad. The difficulty of that enterprise may not so great as we might suppose, if this report is accurate and as important as it seems:

NAJAF, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Iraq's national security adviser said on Wednesday the country's most senior Shi'ite cleric had given his blessing to government efforts to disarm militants as it prepares to implement a major new security plan for Baghdad....Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said he had briefed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the security situation in Iraq, and particularly in Baghdad, during a meeting in the holy city of Najaf.

The reclusive Sistani hardly ever makes public statements but is an influential figure behind the scenes and the spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shi'ites.

"His eminence Sistani recommended an emphasis on the implementation of the law without any discrimination based on identity or background," Rubaie told reporters.

"He also asserted the need for weapons to be in the hands only of the state, and to disarm those holding weapons illegally," said Rubaie, who is himself a Shi'ite....The meeting with Rubaie comes just three days after Sistani met Sadr for the first time in over a year.

Essentially, the Bush Administration is proposing to put down the reaction to last year's bombing of the Golden Mosque, an event that was intended to cause Shia retaliation and which, as the president noted, succeeded in doing so. Before that, the US strategy of training Iraqi forces and pressuring for local political compromise was working well enough that the Pentagon was contemplating beginning troop reductions for late 2006. The Administration now is, in part, seeking to return to that glide path. A problem with Bush's speech was that it failed to communicate that his plan requires several weeks of telegenically unsightly street-fighting.

* * *

Regarding the official Democratic reply to the president's address, I think that Senator Dick Durbin was quite mistaken in expressing the desire for the Iraqi government to now make the hard political decisions. That should be the last thing that anyone wants. The hard decision in Iraq would be to abandon attempts at compromise with the Sunni minority and to ethnically cleanse it. The presence of US troops in Iraq is to facilitate workable half-measures and tactful evasions.

* * *

Meanwhile, one suspects that this is the real news:

U.S. forces stormed an Iranian consular office in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil early on Thursday and arrested five people, including diplomats and staff, Iranian officials said...As the overnight raid was in progress, President George W. Bush was vowing in a keynote address on American television to disrupt what he called the "flow of support" from Iran and Syria for insurgent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Plus there is that extra carrier group the president mentioned he was sending to the area.

It would be very foolish if the Administration were doing this to deter Iran, or to "send a message" to Syria. The results of last November's elections deprived the Administration of the power to deter, in the sense of threatening a wider war: few people believe the US political climate would support such a war. We should assume that the new air and sea forces have some specific mission.

* * *

Among the most interesting new members of Congress is Senator James Webb, Democrat of Virginia. In recent days, he has been favoring the media with statements like this:

“One of the biggest problems in the entire approach to the Iraq war is that this administration has never articulated a strategy that will show you an end point,” Mr. Webb said in an interview on National Public Radio. “If you can’t tell this country when this war is going to be over in specific terms, then you don’t have a strategy.”

Webb's ideas seem to be one of those tests that divide the world into two kinds of people: those who find his statements to be wise and sober and those who find them manifestly idiotic.

* * *

If you start looking for a class of story, you start to find examples. I have been looking for items demonstrating the collapse of Islam's long immunity to conversion; and look, here's an example, which MEMRI quotes this from the Algerian paper El-Shourouq El-Yawmi:

"It appears that the fears…concerning the Christianization of the Kabylie region have in effect come true this time, and it has become clear that President Bouteflika's admonition to the region's population to uphold Islam and not to surrender to the lures of Christianization… stemmed from knowledge of what is going on there. 'Santa Claus' appearing there, overtly this time, is a sure sign of the swiftly descending danger that has come into [our] Algerian home. Will the relevant authorities - and first and foremost the Ministry of Religious Affairs - seize the initiative, or will [Algeria] be left to its own devices, in confronting the death arriving from the West?"

MEMRI prefaces the quote with these comments:

The article comes in the context of an ongoing polemic over the phenomenon of conversion to Christianity in the Kabylie region. In 2004, Minister of Religious Affairs Bouabdellah Ghlamallah denounced Christian proselytizing, warning that it could lead to bloodshed. Several weeks later, in an about-face, he said that proselytizing posed no danger, and that "everyone is free to convert to the religion he finds right for him."...

While there is debate over the scope of conversion to Christianity in Kabylie, there is no doubt that the phenomenon exists. The regional daily La Depechede Kabylie often reports on it...and the Berber activist website www.kabyle.com currently features on its home page a link to a November 17, 2004 program on the subject, that aired on the Franco-German Arte TV.

While the vast majority of Kabyles are Muslim, they tend to be liberal and secularist. In the 1991 elections in which the Islamic Salvation Front won the landslide victory that led to civil war, Kabylie was one of the few regions that did not grant them a majority.

Again I ask: is this systemically important? Suppose it becomes so?

* * *

There are embarrassments within Christianity, of course, as we were reminded by the sudden resignation of Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus, who had been appointed metropolitan-archbishop of Warsaw. During the Communist era, he seems to have at least gone through the motions of cooperating with the secret police, though apparently not to their benefit. Many people in similar situations did likewise without committing any gravely evil acts. Reasonable people may differ about whether he should have been offered the appointment, or accepted it in light of the elements in his past that he knew might become public.

The real embarrassment here is the behavior of the Vatican which, as Robert Miller noted at First Things, is part of a pattern:

“[T]he current wave of attacks against the Catholic Church in Poland,” the Vatican Press Office continues, “rather than a sincere search for transparency and truth, has many hallmarks of being a strange alliance between the persecutors of the past and their adversaries, a vendetta by those who used to persecute the Church and were defeated by the faith and the thirst for freedom of the Polish people.” ...Similarly, in 2002 many high church officials complained that the sex scandals had been ginned up by anti-Catholics in the media. For example, in an interview in Spain, reported in the Zenit Daily Dispatch for December 3, 2002, then Cardinal Ratzinger said: “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign. . . . This sort of thing will not do. For one thing, we’re not supposed to judge the intentions of hearts. If someone does something that is, in itself, moral and reasonable—like using documentary evidence in the public domain to show that someone nominated to a high and responsible office is not fit to hold it—we do not ordinarily inquire into his motives; even if we have reason to believe they’re questionable, we leave such things to God. That’s a large part of what the Lord meant when he said, Judge not.

It's perfectly true. Some of the most necessary reporting is done by some pretty dreadful people, and for the shabbiest of motives.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Dragon and Slave Book Review

Dragon and Slave: Dragonback book 3
by Timothy Zahn
287 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018)
ASIN B079JGH1PJ

As it turns out, fourteen-year-old boys do not often make good plans. Jack Morgan has better helpers than most teenagers, but Uncle Virge is a computer and Draycos is transdimensional symbiont who is new to the Orion Arm, so Jack is effectively in charge, no matter how bad of an idea that may be.

In three volumes so far, none of his plans have worked out well, but then again, plans never survive contact with the enemy, and Jack has a lot of enemies. In fact, in order to help Draycos, he keeps seeking them out. Fortunately, Jack has unusual skills developed during an unusual life, plus two companions who will do their best to protect him.

Which he needs, now that he has sold himself into slavery in order to infiltrate his newest target. Like all of Jack’s plans, this is not just crazy enough to work, it is just plain crazy. However, we do get to learn some interesting things, such as the fact that the human worlds are sufficiently put off by open slavery to staff their local embassy with anti-slavery activists, but also not bothered enough to go William Wilberforce on the planet Brum-a-dum and interdict their spaceport.

William Wilberforce  By John Rising - (Original text: Wilberforce House, Hull Museum, Hull City Council)originally uploaded on en.wikipedia by Agendum (talk · contribs) at 23 April 2008, 22:38. Filename was Wilberforce john rising.jpg., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7354415

William Wilberforce

By John Rising - (Original text: Wilberforce House, Hull Museum, Hull City Council)originally uploaded on en.wikipedia by Agendum (talk · contribs) at 23 April 2008, 22:38. Filename was Wilberforce john rising.jpg., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7354415

Now we have an idea of why the Orion Arm is such a seedy place. The powers that do exist lack either the will or capability of enforcing their laws, and petty warlords have stepped into the gaps. We also get to learn the origin story of the K’da. A heroic myth of servitude and rebellion, passed down through the generations. It fits well with Draycos’ self-perception.

Here, we also get the first hints of something unexpected coming from the fortuitous meeting of Jack and Draycos in that ruined ship. Each of them is changing the other, but not in the sense of Heraclitus, but something more remarkable, with its full import not yet visible.

Much like the Quadrail series, on the surface, the Dragonback series seems simple, and each volume follows in a track laid down by its predecessor. But once you see the pattern, you realize that each successive story isn’t following exactly the same path, each one is expanding on what came before, building on it to end up in a place you wouldn’t expect.

Spiral power

Spiral power

Dragon and Soldier Book Review

Dragon and Soldier: Dragonback book 2
by Timothy Zahn
244 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018)
ASIN B079JKBDCN

Dragon and Soldier follows the same pattern as Dragon and Thief, the first volume in the Dragonback series. Jack and Draycos get into sticky situations, and then scrape by on Jack’s thievery, Draycos’ bravery, and sheer pluck. In the first volume, Draycos helped clear Jack’s name of a crime he did not commit, and in return, Jack now feels honor bound to help Draycos find the organization responsible for shooting down the K’da’s ship and killing all of his shipmates.

Since the only lead they have is the make of the fighters that downed Draycos’ ship, and the dragon’s hunch that pirates would have been less professional while a planetary defense force would have had more ships, Jack decides to infiltrate one of the Orion Arm’s many mercenary groups in order to steal their intelligence on their rivals.

With this plan set in motion, we get a chance to see how seedy the Orion Arm really is. Virgil took pains to inculcate a me-first attitude in Jack after his parents died, and here we start to get an idea of why. In the first book, Jack’s prime antagonist was the Braxton Universis corporation. It isn’t too hard to see huge corporations as wicked, but in the Dragonback universe, even the little corporations are heartless too.

The mechanism that Jack uses to infiltrate the Whinyard’s Edge mercenary organization is their practice of indenturing teenagers as cannon fodder. In theory, Internos, the confederation of the human worlds, opposes this. In practice, the individual worlds do as they like as long as the money is good. The money is apparently very, very good.

Whinyard’s Edge isn’t interested in providing much training to their new recruits, but fortunately for Jack, Draycos is the inheritor of a [very] proud martial tradition, and he can make up for some of the shortcomings in Jack’s accelerated short course in soldiering. Jack also gets a few pointers from a female recruit, Alison Kayna, who is set up to be an ally, an enemy, a love interest, or maybe all three somewhere down the line.

This was a pretty good adventure. Jack and Draycos learn how to work together, and we get a good setup for the continuation of the series, even if neither Jack nor Draycos can catch a break. I look forward to seeing more of their world.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
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

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

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

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The Long View: The Translator

John J. Reilly’s book review of John Crowley’s The Translator comes up at an apropos time: I am digesting a history of science fiction in the twentieth century, and The Translator seems to be a good example of science fiction as a kind of secular scripture.

There is one definition I want to post from 1973, because it is very revealing as to the type of people who made this separation such an obsessive goal to begin with. This is by Bulgarian writer Elka Konstantiova:

"Even though the origins of science fiction go back to the mid-19th century, nonetheless as a new literary genre, charged with special social functions, science fiction is the undoubted product of the nuclear age. The more meaningful the scientific and technological breakthroughs and their impact on modern life, the greater the role of science fiction, stimulating our vision for things to come, especially in the aspect of the changes wrought in man's mentality by the scientific and technological revolution. Science fiction brings home the awareness that the future will continue to bring radical changes in all areas of man's life; science fiction is there to prepare him for this eventuality."

In other words, it's secular scripture. Science fiction is a way to guide the populace by informing them on what path they should take to build a better tomorrow. Which better tomorrow, you might ask? Well, the one that will advance humanity as a whole.

This novel is a metaphorical [or metahistorical] interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and thus very much fits the mold described above.


The Translator
By John Crowley
HarperCollins, 2002
295 Pages, US$24.95
ISBN 0-380-97862-8

Remember the Great Atomic War of 1963? It's odd that you shouldn't, or so it seemed in later years to Christa Malone, the protagonist in this metahistorical interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis:

"The final logic of this [20th] century, this century that believed in logic and history and necessity, the final spasm so long and well prepared: it didn't happen, and now seemed likely never to happen."

The Translator explains why the inevitable did not happen, as well as something of the conflict in a higher world that the historical incidents of those days darkly reflected. This novel is not the long-awaited fourth volume of John Crowley's great work, the Aegypt series, but it does treat of many of the same themes: the end of the world, the hermetic subtext of everyday life, and the multiplicity of histories. The book is not precisely fantasy or science fiction, though readers may be reminded of Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven. Rather, the author tries to use just the suggestion of magic in order to rise above history and show that it is not what it seems. As a technique, that works well enough. However, the exercise also presents an example of the fallacy of "beyondism." Though affecting to view a historical conflict from the point of view of eternity, the author is really picking a side, and the stupid side at that.

A love story holds the novel together. Christa "Kit" Malone, a Catholic girl with a recently acquired dark past, comes to a Midwestern university in 1962. She makes many discoveries, some of them specific to her era. She is, for instance, slightly surprised to find that there really are Communists in America; she had begun to suspect that the nuns at school had make them up as minatory figures. Her chief discovery, though, is a Russian poet-in-exile, the mysterious Innokenti Isayevich Falin.

Falin is an uncanny fellow. He is one of those people, for instance, who seem able to appear and disappear without being seen to come and go. More concretely, there is the persistent question of why the Soviet government chose to exile him, when they did not exile, say, Pasternak. He also tells of a kind of life in the Soviet Union that has nothing to do with either the official world of the "gray gods," to use his phrase, or with the anticommunist polemics Kit heard from her nuns. Falin spent part of his childhood as a homeless vagabond in a Dickensian world of youth gangs and train stations, but "with no Dickens to make things right." Even in later life, Russia for him was a place where people just got lost, or were arrested for no reason even the jailors could name.

Kit becomes Falin's student, and later his translator. A fair amount of this book is about the difficulties of translation from one language to another, about whether a poem in translation is really the same poem. This being a John Crowley novel, however, we soon learn that translation is only a metaphor for the interface of worlds:

"Events in the world can perhaps be like rhyming words in poems: they can only, what would you say, pay off in one world, one translation, not in others. In one world people are cheering and weeping with joy, for best conclusion has been reached, heroes have come home safe. In another world, say this world, same events are events of no significance."

Falin's presence turns out to be of great significance in all worlds, however, because he is the way through which the apocalyptic logic of the 20th century can be confounded. Explaining it to her father long afterwards, Kit puts the reality of the Cold War this way:

"I think that back then, when he came to this country, there was a struggle going on between the angels of the nations, his and ours; and that in their anger and their fear, those angels came to destroy the world..."

Crowley's angels generally have more to do with the angels of the schoolmen than with those of popular comfort. Often they are like mathematical objects, insectile intelligences, both omniscient and stupid. There is more to be said about them, however. The great angels of the nations are attended by lesser angels, almost shadows, which complement their greater brethren's strengths and weaknesses. Falin describes the relationship in a poem written just before his disappearance, on the very night the danger of nuclear war crests and recedes. (There is a fair amount of original poetry in The Translator, and it's pretty good.):

"If a nation's angel is proud, then the other is shy
Brilliant if the nation's angel is dull
Full of pity if the angel shows none
Laughing if it always weeps, weeping if it cannot weep."

In a mysterious way, Falin embodies the lesser angel of Russia. In a wrap-around story set in a conference at St. Petersburg after the end of the Cold War, really a sort of Judgment Day in an afterlife, one of Falin's old friends expresses the real significance of Falin's exile:

"[The] worst thing such a corrupted great angel could do would be to send away into exile the lesser angel who is paired with him."

In some way that is not clearly explained, Falin intrudes himself into the attention of the idiot angels at just the right time to distract them from their work of mutual destruction. He dies, or returns to Russia, or otherwise vanishes, with only a car sunk ambiguously in a river to hint at his fate. The balance of the world begins to right itself, and we are given to understand that John Kennedy's assassination a year later was a compensating sacrifice.

The Translator reworks a notion that Crowley has been using for years. It is clearly set out in his famous story, The Great Work of Time, in which a disconcerted time traveler has this to say about an early 21st century world whose past has been unduly tinkered with:

"It was not simply a world inhabited by intelligent races of different kinds: it was a harder thing to grasp than that. The lives of the races constituted different universes of meaning, different constructions of reality; it was as though four or five different novels, novels of different kinds by different and differently limited writers, were to become interpenetrated and conflated: inside a gigantic Russian thing a stark and violent policier, inside that something Dickensian, full of plots, humor, and eccentricity. Such an interlacing of mutually exclusive universes might be comical, like a sketch in Punch; it might be tragic, too. And it might be neither: it might simply be what is the given against which all airy imaginings might finally be measured: reality."

This is not a bad way to put a story together, though we usually find it only in very long novels. The conceit of alternative realities lets us see the box-in-a-box structure. However, The Translator shows that this kind of structure is not necessarily a good way to think about history, or at any rate to write about it. If we can see the alternative worlds, we are outside them and can judge between them. The problem is that, in Crowley's telling, the view from eternity is awfully parochial. We get the first hint of this when Falin the Lesser Angel expresses reservations about a commencement speech that called on the graduates to simply "stick to your dream":

"Some dreams we do not wish that people stick to: we hope that they are weak, and do not cling to these dreams, that they fail to hold on. A dream that one day this world will be free of Jews. That Soviet Union will be destroyed. That all enemies of the state will be crushed. That only one God prevail everywhere."

One might plausibly object that these four aspirations do not belong on the same list. Indeed, it could be that anyone who thinks them morally equivalent is not unusually broadminded, but suffers from blinkered vision. In fact, as the story moves through the climax of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we see that the view from eternity is essentially that of the early New Left. Kit learns that the sepia undergraduate world of the Kennedy years is a front for cruel and secret powers, as if the Land of Oz were really ruled by the East German Stasi. She even meets America's own lesser angel, in the person of an "intelligence agent" who could have walked out of an episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. (He could not have come from The X-Files: Crowley does get the period right.) This discovery changes her life, even causing her to leave the country for a while. Eventually, though, she comes to grips with the powers that be:

"It was only when others who were braver than she was stood up to it - to them, to the secret power - gave a name to it, spoke truth to it; only when they came out in thousands and then tens of thousands singing Dona nobis pacem, that she found she could too."

It is perhaps some evidence that people really do live in different realities that I found this transformation so shocking. Could it really be the case that, even today, there are people who think that conversion to the New Left was a kind of enlightenment? Evidently, there is a world in which the victory of the West in the Cold War was an event without a rhyme.

Even so, it would be a mistake to miss this book because you might not find the political subtext congenial. The Translator succeeds in portraying the days of "The New Frontier" as the haunted time it actually was, as full of premonition in its way as the years before 1914. One need not be metaphysically inclined to accept that there may be more to history than meets the eye. For those who are so inclined, this book has good and bad angels for all.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Underlord Book Review

Underlord: Cradle Book 6
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (March 1, 2019)
ASIN B07NJ3B6HN

If you have been following along with the Cradle series, you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect by now. Our young protagonist, Wei Shi Lindon Arelius, will have adventures, face insurmountable odds, and advance his Path. Wight has got a good thing going here, and he sticks to what works. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: these books are just fun. But I want to stop a moment and look at why it works. Indulge me.

And work it does. When Underlord released on March 1st, 2019, it rose at least as high as #5 on Amazon’s Kindle store, and maybe higher. Wight doesn’t run any sort of amazing social media campaign, his books mostly sell by word of mouth and through the praises of reviews like this one. His release schedule helps, you don’t have to wait years in between installments. But I think this is good evidence that Wight gives his readers what they want. What they [I] want is a good story, and Wight does that.

Fresh off of reading J. D. Cowan’s multi-part review of Sam J. Lundwell's Science Fiction: An Illustrated History, I have a new appreciation for just how good the Cradle series is, and new gratitude to Will Wight for writing the things I like to read. In particular, I learned something about just what it is I like about stories like this. Lindon needed insight into himself in order to advance, and in much the same way I needed insight in what makes a story good in order to be able to understand my own tastes.

One of the things I learned from Cowan’s review is that science fiction isn’t really a genre. In fact, debates about what is or isn’t science fiction tend to get bogged down, because the usual definitions don’t cut nature at the joints. By analogy, what is usually called fantasy isn’t a genre either. Cowan proposes instead that science fiction, fantasy, and horror are all subgenres of adventure fiction, which is meant to evoke the emotion of wonder in the reader.

Wonder is a trait from adventure fiction and its subgenres fantasy and horror. It is the adventure of exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities.

This was the insight that I needed, because now I can understand what I like, and what I don’t. There is an irreducible element of personal taste in all of our entertainment, but I learned that adventure fiction is the kind that I like to read, precisely because the emotion of wonder is what I am after. There are lots of books labeled as sci fi or fantasy that I don’t like, but this is because genre, the emotion meant to be evoked, has been confused with milieu, or setting.

In the sense that I mean the term, setting a story in the future doesn’t make it science fiction. Swords and dragons don’t make a book fantasy either. If the emotion the author is trying to invoke in me is despair or rage, I don’t really want to read that book, no matter what trappings it has. I finally understand why Tolkien insisted that The Lord of the Rings was a romance. He was connecting his work with an older tradition, not inventing a new one.

Wight’s books work for me because he is taking me on an adventure! I see the remarkable world of Cradle: Iteration 110 though Lindon’s eyes, and I get to see him grow up as he learns about the marvelous world in which he finds himself. The speculative fiction element is subdued, but not wholly absent. The focus here is on Lindon and his journey, rather than exactly what kind of society you would get if we lived in a simulation and cheat codes were enabled. There is just enough thought given to the structure and sociology to make it plausible. Everything else is about fun.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Will Wight

Cradle Series:

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

Ghostwater: Cradle Book 5 Review


Traveler’s Gate series:

House of Blades: Traveler's Gate Book 1 Review

The Crimson Vault: Traveler's Gate Book 2 Review

City of Light: Traveler's Gate Book 3 Review

Traveler's Gate Chronicles Book Review

The Long View 2007-01-09: Anti-Freeze Life; Ethical Racket; Charles Fort Lives; Towards Universal Health Care; Steyn on Russia

John Reilly had a minor sideline in Fortean phenomena, named after Charles Fort, strange and uncanny events sometimes described as being outside of what science can explain, but often better seen as low frequency events that are difficult to describe. In that vein, the recent juvenile humpback whale found in a mangrove swamp in Brazil is an excellent example. Not quite far enough from the water to be truly inexplicable, but strange nonetheless.

Small whale in Mangrove forest

Small whale in Mangrove forest

There is also a line in this post which I’ve thought about for a long time, and I think I finally understand what is going on.

If the California system is implemented, we can expect it to work better than the plans in the New England states, for the simple reason that California has a younger population. There are more workers to support the system. Still, I do not expect any of the state plans to be altogether satisfactory. As I have remarked before, health insurance may follow the pattern of bank-deposit insurance. That had been tried in a few states in the early 20th century, but the insurance systems kept collapsing because the the risk pools were not big enough. As an afterthought, Franklin Roosevelt included mandatory national deposit insurance among the bank reforms at the beginning of his administration. To everyone's surprise, the insurance restored popular confidence in the banks immediately.

John thought that the difficulty with universal healthcare systems in the United States was that the risk pool wasn’t big enough. That never seemed quite right to me, but it took a long time to figure out why. There are plenty of healthcare systems in the world that cover smaller and older populations than many US states. For example, in 2005, Sweden had just over 9 million resident. Massachusetts at the time had about 6.4 million. It is at least conceivable that the extra 2.5 million people would make the difference, until you look at the population pyramids.

Massachusetts population pyramid 2000  By No machine-readable author provided. WarX assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=973229

Massachusetts population pyramid 2000

By No machine-readable author provided. WarX assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=973229

Population Pyramid of Sweden 2016  By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). - CIA World Factbook, 2017., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64345478

Population Pyramid of Sweden 2016

By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). - CIA World Factbook, 2017., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64345478

Massachusetts is relatively younger, even though smaller. In theory, this should make your healthcare system, especially if seen in the insurance model, work better. However, universal healthcare didn’t work out as well in Massachusetts as it does in Sweden, because it cost more than expected. Pseudonymous blogger Random Critical Analysis provided me with the reason why: Americans spend much more on health care than Swedes because we are a lot richer, and people don’t understand this and keep being surprised.

John Reilly always insisted that healthcare wasn’t a right, but rather a matter of public order, but I think he was missing some critical quantitative details that would have really made his case better.


Anti-Freeze Life; Ethical Racket; Charles Fort Lives; Towards Universal Health Care; Steyn on Russia


We can probably bet against this ingenious speculation:

Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist theorizes in a paper released Sunday....Dirk Schulze-Makuch...a geology professor at Washington State University. ...In the '70s, the Viking mission found no signs of life. But it was looking for Earth-like life, in which salt water is the internal liquid of living cells. Given the cold dry conditions of Mars, that life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid consisting of a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, author of the new research.

Perhaps the paper addresses this issue, but there are many places on Earth where an anti-freeze biochemistry would be very useful, yet we do not find it here. That strongly suggests it is not possible.

* * *

When I see this kind of story (from the LA Times, in this case), I think "racket:"

Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation:

Ebocha, Nigeria — Justice Eta, 14 months old, held out his tiny thumb.

An ink spot certified that he had been immunized against polio and measles, thanks to a vaccination drive supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But polio is not the only threat Justice faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it "the cough." People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Could someone be gingering up a law suit against the foundation, or are we dealing here with honest idiocy?

* * *

Fortean phenomena should stay off the frontpages, but we have had a flurry of prominent ones in the past few days. Yesterday we had the Manhattan gas incident that interrupted some underground train service and caused buildings to be evacuated, plus the bird die-off that closed much of Houston. That brazen (as in "bold," not "made of bronze") UFO actually visited O'Hare in November, but we heard about only last week. The odds are that all these things, including the UFO, probably were caused by weather conditions that really are unique in our not-very-extensive records.

Regarding the gas smell, I could hear the fire department vehicles looking for the source here in Jersey City, but I could not smell it: I'm getting over a cold.

On the other hand, National Public Radio saw fit to advise its listeners of this development:

Poems, songs, and stories praising Saddam and lamenting his death are popping up all over Arab Internet sites. A few mosques in Baghdad announced that an image of his face could be seen on the moon, and people spilled into the streets this week for a glimpse of their former leader in the night skies.

It's much too early in the year for Silly Season stories.

* * *

In the realm of sober public policy, we see that Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed a state health-care system that would add California to Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont as states that require universal coverage. The plan looks plausible, but I note that almost half the funding would come from new federal money to which the state believes it would be entitled under existing federal rules. I am not pleased that at least some of the funding would also come from new payroll taxes, but that could be a wash in terms of the business climate, since a state with universal coverage is going to be a more attractive place to work. The great red herring in the debate over the Schwarzenegger Plan is going to be its coverage of illegals. The objections to that rather miss the point of the exercise: this is a matter of public order, not social generosity.

If the California system is implemented, we can expect it to work better than the plans in the New England states, for the simple reason that California has a younger population. There are more workers to support the system. Still, I do not expect any of the state plans to be altogether satisfactory. As I have remarked before, health insurance may follow the pattern of bank-deposit insurance. That had been tried in a few states in the early 20th century, but the insurance systems kept collapsing because the the risk pools were not big enough. As an afterthought, Franklin Roosevelt included mandatory national deposit insurance among the bank reforms at the beginning of his administration. To everyone's surprise, the insurance restored popular confidence in the banks immediately.

* * *

Even the House of the Seven Gables demographics of New England looks perky compared to that of Russia, as Mark Steyn recently noted:

The Toronto Star (which is Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper and impeccably liberal) recently noted that by 2015 Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s army...

The Litvinenko murder is only the first of many stories in which Islam, nuclear materials and Russian decline will intersect in novel ways.

Which brings me, alas, to the Iraq Study Group. This silly shallow report, of which James Baker, Lee Hamilton and the rest should be ashamed, betrays no understanding of how fast events are moving. It falls back on the usual multilateral mood music....By 2050, Russia will be the umpteenth Muslim nuclear power, but the first with a permanent seat on the UNSC. Or maybe the second, if France gets there first....forget the extrapolations: already, domestic Muslim constituencies are an important factor in the foreign policy thinking of three out of the big five. Are Baker and Hamilton even aware of that?

I suspect that France will be the first European country to pull out of the deathspiral. The question is how much discontinuity there will be with mid-20th century liberal modernity. In Russia the problem is more serious, but Russia has fewer inhibitions to overcome in order to solve them.

Now that was a scary sentence.

Copyright © 2007 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

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Dragon and Thief Book Review

Dragon and Thief: Dragonback book 1
by Timothy Zahn
231 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018)
ASIN B079JC54C8

The Dragonback series is a what they now call a YA [Young Adult] series, but I still like the older designation of a juvenile novel, since I grew up with it, and also because a lot of what is branded as YA seems like utter crap. Here is what Jerry Pournelle had to say in 2011 about juveniles:

I followed Robert Heinlein’s rules on ‘juveniles’ when I wrote it: no sex scenes, and as Robert used to say, a juvenile has young protagonists and you can put in more science and explanations of what’s going on in juvenile works; which is to say it’s a good story, and has always appealed to adults as well as to the 10 – 15 year olds it was sort of written for.

I like re-posting Jerry’s re-iteration of Heinlein’s definition because I find that my appreciation for a well-done juvenile novel only grows with time. I am of course influenced by having small children that I want to share stories with, but I also just like this kind of story, and I have for a long time. Something that is truly only fit for children cannot really be a juvenile novel in this sense, because the author needs to craft something as interesting to adults as to teenagers. A good juvenile is also mildly didactic, which fits well in the general hard sci fi mold. In this case, Zahn’s juvenile series is less about some useful aspect of science than about a young man learning what it means to be a good man after growing up as the orphan apprentice of a con man and a thief.

The hook which sets this series in motion is our young protagonist, Jack Morgan, stumbling across the wreckage of an unfamiliar starship. Within, he finds a lone survivor, desperate and near death. That survivor is dying precisely because he is alone. The K’Da are interdimensional symbionts. Draycos can push himself into three-dimensional space for brief periods, but in order to rest he must allow himself to relax by becoming two-dimensional on the surface of a compatible host. Unfortunately, his host, and all the other crew of his ship, were killed either in battle or in the subsequent crash.

Lacking recourse, Draycos gambles his life upon the possibility that Jack may provide the sanctuary he needs. Gathering his failing strength, he jumps! Zahn will likely have a lot of fun working out the implications of what this means over the next five novels in this series, but for now, Jack Morgan has gained an impressive tattoo/traveling companion with fierce claws and a strong sense of justice.

After this unlikely meeting, Jack and Draycos find that their lives are entwined in more ways than either initially suspects. Jack, despite [or because of?] his past life of crime, is hiding on this desolate planet because he has been unjustly accused of a crime. Draycos and his former crewmates were there seeking a new home, refugees of the losing side of an interstellar war. Somehow, this all hangs together, and part of the fun is finding out how and why.

Jack and Draycos immediately find themselves in each other’s debt, for Jack saves Draycos from dimensional dissolution, and Draycos returns the favor by saving Jack from the mercenary soldier prowling about the crashed ship looking for survivors, or witnesses. Fear and necessity bind them together initially, but the rest of the book, and presumably the following books in the series, are about Jack and Draycos learning about one another while trying to unravel the mystery in which they find themselves entangled.

The structure of Dragon and Thief is primarily a caper, as Jack uses his apprenticeship in crime to good advantage. This makes the novel rather fun, as we get to see Jack and Draycos bluff and scam their way through various adventures. However, Draycos himself makes for an interesting contrast, because his rather grand sense of honor is a continual foil for Jack’s primarily self-serving survival skills.

Jack is simultaneously fascinated and annoyed by Draycos, who like a knight of old, is fierce in battle, but he will not press an unfair advantage or abandon a fallen enemy in distress. Draycos, for his part, is occasionally appalled by Jack’s instincts, but mostly sees their fortuitous meeting as an opportunity to set Jack back on the straight and narrow in recompense for saving his life.

The interplay between them, mediated by the ship’s AI which houses the memory of the con man who raised Jack, is what raises this from an entertaining caper novel to a disquisition in very very applied ethics. The stakes in the story are dramatically high, but the basic questions are more fundamental: do you help someone because you expect recompense, or simply because it is the right thing to do? Do you defend yourself with maximum ruthlessness and force, because your enemies will not deign to extend you the same consideration, or do you seek the minimum of force which will allow you some measure of safety? Who can you really trust? And what hidden agendas lie behind offers of help and good intentions?

Since this is a juvenile novel, and not a work of historical fiction or political intrigue, these questions receive relatively straight forward answers. Which is in my opinion appropriate for the intended audience. At some point, harder questions and harder answers need to be proposed and given, but the result will be better built upon a foundation like this. It is far too easy to drift into nihilism otherwise.

I really liked this book, and I recommend it to fans of adventure fiction and juvenile novels in the Heinlein mold. You can pick the first three of six volumes up on Amazon right now for $2.99 USD, which is a great deal. I’ve got reviews coming of volumes two and three, so don’t fret.

My other book reviews

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
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

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

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

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The Long View 2007-01-05: Goddard, Mahdi, Climate, Anti-McCain

John J. Reilly proposed this scheme of immigration reform once before:

(1) Physical control of the borders;

(2) Legal immigration restricted to family reunification and political asylum;

(3) Amnesty with parallel tracks for repatriation or naturalization

He intended it as a compromise in the name of domestic peace, even knowing that 1) and 2) would be opposed from the Left, and 2) and 3) from the Right, but he hoped that a broad enough centrist coalition might go for all three. John was of the opinion that America was almost unique in the world in its ability to accept and assimilate new arrivals, but thought it worked best when you took the pressure of continual change away. I suspect this is not the moment for such a thing, based upon poll data.


Goddard, Mahdi, Climate, Anti-McCain

Jeff Bezos is a member of the class of optimates who aspire to become The Man Who Sold the Moon, an ambition that has, perhaps, been advanced by last year's successful testflight of the Goddard -- a first development vehicle in the New Shepard program of his Blue Origin spaceflight company.

The you can find a video of the brief flight by following the link above. For me, at least, the bluntly conical Goddard does not inspire confidence: it's more like an unusually dangerous helicopter than a spaceship. Nonetheless, my hopes for Blue Origin rose when I saw its logo:

The Latin motto, Gradatim Ferociter, lends its self to whimsical translations, such as "Madly Methodical," but the party-line version is "Courageously Step-by-Step," and that will do fine. I am a great fan of tortoises, and here we have two of them.

* * *

Persons who need to add Doomsday to their datebook will be interested to learn that the Mahdi will reveal himself around the time of the spring equinox (though not necessarily this spring's equinox), if we believe this information from Iran:

In our discussion of the world in the last days of the earth we had said in our previous editions of this programme that no source has pointed to the exact date when the Savior will appear and only God knows about the exact timing of the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (AS). The Prophet had said: He will certainly appear and if only a day were to be left to the end of the world God will make that day so long for Mahdi to appear and rise. There are various versions of the exact day of his reappearance. Some say it would be Friday and the date will be Ashura or the 10th of Moharram, the heart-rending martyrdom anniversary of his illustrious ancestor, Imam Husain (AS). Others say the date will be the 25th of the month of Zil-Qa’dah and may coincide with the Spring Equinox or Nowrooz as the Iranians call. A saying attributed to the Prophet’s 6th infallible heir, Imam Ja’far Sadeq (PBUH) says the Mahdi will appear on the Spring Equinox and God will make him defeat Dajjal the Impostor or the anti-Christ as the Christians say, who will be hanged near the dump of Kufa. The 6th Imam goes on to add: There will be no Nowrooz when we will not be waiting for him.

As I have noted previously, there was a medieval opinion that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur on March 25. The Second Coming of Jesus, by the way, is also a feature of Islamic eschatology, even in those versions that do not include the Mahdi.

Be that as it may, I find the notion of the world ending in early spring terribly counter-intuitive. In contrast, for the end to come on a blazing summer afternoon, as in On the Beach, would make perfect dramatic sense, but no one consults me about these things.

* * *

Speaking of dubious Doomsdays, I note with grave displeasure the recent reports that Monsoon records link demise of the Tang in China and Maya in Mexico:

They lived in resplendence, half a world apart, before meeting their respective downfalls within decades of one another. Now a new theory suggests that the decline of the Tang Dynasty in China and that of the Mayan civilization in Mexico may both have been due to the same worldwide drought.

Sediments collected from Lake Huguang Maar in southeastern China suggest that Asian summer monsoon rains were weaker during the eighth and ninth centuries AD, the time during which the Tang Dynasty faded from glory. And intriguingly, the same pattern is seen in sediments from Cariaco basin off the Venezuelan coast, suggesting that a similar drought might have been occurring in nearby Mexico...

The events may both be the result of a southward shift in rain patterns that deprived the entire northern tropics of summer rains, suggest researchers led by Gerald Haug of Germany's National Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. The hardship caused by this drought could have been a key factor in the declines of the two cultures, they suggest.

I have been reading conjectures like this for as long as I can remember. With very few exceptions, the climatic explanation has proven to be a dead end. As a rule, within the era of civilizations, climate explains nothing.

Consider the vast disparity between the events that are "explained" by this particular determinist pastorale. The Mayan Classical civilization disappeared like Cinderella's coach, leaving only six white mice and a library of creeper-covered glyphs. In China, there was a change of regime, but Chinese civilization was not threatened. The weather while these things were going on became part of the material of history, in rather the way that theatrical directors take up current events and fashions when they stage a production of a classic. These features do not, however, determine the plot.

* * *

Regarding 2008: Mark Steyn bids fair to become the ideologist for a new kind of conservatism. However, we see that he has set his face against the candidacy of Senator John McCain:

MS: Well, I think he's very thin-skinned. I think that is what was clear to me in 2000. I actually regard him as a very unpleasant man, and I don't say that lightly. There's a lot of politicians who are sort of angry and slightly deranged. Al Gore, for example, when you see him campaign, certainly the last couple of years, seems to have pretty much flown the coop. And when I saw Al Gore at close quarters campaigning, one could recognize the sort of human side to him. McCain, I think, is a very different kettle of fish. I think he is someone who is very thin-skinned, very vain, and has a sort of cavalier attitude to big questions, particularly Constitutional questions. So I think he is someone who in fact, the more you know him, the less you warm to the idea of having him...I said rather, I said at one point, you know, he'd be our version of President Ahmadinejad, the crazy guy with his finger on the nuclear button. And I think there's actually quite a bit of truth in that.

The gravamen of Steyn's complaint is plainly false: we know what looney senators look like, and nothing in McCain's history fits that description. The bit about Ahmadinejad is particularly excessive: readers will be reminded of the "diagnosis" published in 1964 and signed by numerous psychiatrists which said that Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was insane. Steyn's chief problem with McCain seems to be that McCain is, more or less, an open-borders Republican. Actually, considering McCain's background in the restaurant business, his attitude toward cheap labor is not surprising. If he wants to be president, he will have to not just receive the memo on this issue, but also initial it.

At this writing, it does look as if immigration is going to be the issue on which both sides of the political establishment will founder. The new Democratic Congress is likely to abandon plans for the border wall, a dereliction in which they will be abetted by their Republican minority colleagues, even as the region on the other side of the border slides into infectious chaos. Meanwhile, some state governments seem intent on suppressing local enforcement of the existing immigration laws.

What are the elements of a workable immigration policy? One more time:

(1) Physical control of the borders;

(2) Legal immigration restricted to family reunification and political asylum;

(3) Amnesty with parallel tracks for repatriation or naturalization

None of this is hard, but does anyone consult me?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-01-02: Overdiagnosis; Literature Maps; Starship Jesus Conversion from Islam; Spengler's Deal; Shabby Hanging

I do agree with John here that our diagnostic tools often don’t improve health, and that the definitions of “disease” are often too broad, but I disagree about why healthcare doesn’t do much as you might think to improve our health. I definitely don’t blame administrative costs, although I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find something to cut there, it wouldn’t make healthcare in the US cost half as much. Universities are another matter.


Overdiagnosis; Literature Maps;
Starship Jesus Conversion from Islam; Spengler's Deal; Shabby Hanging

The smartest thing anyone has said in years about the US health-care system appears in an editorial in today's New York Times by members of the VA Outcomes Group of White River Junction, Vt.:

For most Americans, the biggest health threat is...our health-care system..more and more of us are being drawn into the system not because of an epidemic of disease, but because of an epidemic of diagnoses...First, advanced technology allows doctors to look really hard for things to be wrong. ...These technologies make it possible to give a diagnosis to just about everybody: arthritis in people without joint pain, stomach damage in people without heartburn and prostate cancer in over a million people who, but for testing, would have lived as long without being a cancer patient...Second, the rules are changing. Expert panels constantly expand what constitutes disease: thresholds for diagnosing diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and obesity have all fallen in the last few years. The criterion for normal cholesterol has dropped multiple times. With these changes, disease can now be diagnosed in more than half the population.

It's perfectly true: doctors will keep ordering tests no matter your physical condition until you tell them to stop. This practice is particularly pernicious in the case of the trusting and fragile elderly. That's half the explanation for the runaway insurance costs. The other half is bloated and duplicative (and triplicative) administration.

* * *

And if we must do tests, the best personality test I know of is to look at the books in the subject's home library. We soon learn that certain books belong in the same bookcase. Now comes Marek Gidney and his ingenious literature map, essentially a search engine where you input the name of an author and then see what other people who read that author are likely to read. (There are parallel engines for film and music). If this engine to be believed (and we should take it no more seriously than the "recommended books" feature at Amazon), communities of taste are not what we supposed. For instance, there is strangely little overlap between the readership of JRR Tolkien and that of CS Lewis. Tolkien fans favor high-concept science fiction; CS Lewis, to judge by this search engine, is read mostly as a devotional author. I also see that, if you read William Shakespeare, then quite likely you also read HP Lovecraft.

* * *

I don't believe it literally true that there are Millions of Muslims Converting to Christianity, but the reports to that effect multiply:

Around a million believed in Jesus over the past decade in Egypt. The Egyptian Bible Society used to sell about 3,000 copies of the JESUS film a year in the early 1990s. But last year they sold 600,000 copies, plus 750,000 copies of the Bible on tape (in Arabic) and about a half million copies of the Arabic New Testament. "Egyptians are increasingly hungry for God's Word," an Egyptian Christian leader told.

Does anyone have any hard information about this? And if so, why haven't you told me? What don't you want me to know?

* * *

Asia Times Spengler, seeking, no doubt, to annoy me in particular, suggests in his latest that President Bush's fortunes could be about to improve so dramatically that yet another Bush might successfully be elected to the White House in the near future:

[B]rother Jeb, about to step down as governor of the state of Florida, will be elected president of the United States in 2008, thanks in large measure to the rebound of the current president's standing.

For one thing, Spengler notes, the US position in the world is far better than the political class in advanced countries have reason to admit:

Asians cannot earn money to be saved without selling to the American consumer, and they cannot invest their savings except in United States. ...For all America's embarrassment in Iraq, none of its fundamental interests is impaired by Iraq's misery.

The real problem in that part of the world, as Spengler exhorts us every other Monday, is Iran:

There is no point negotiating with the present regime in Teheran...

This is because the current regime there knows its oil exporting period is nearly over, but has dealt with that fact by turning to apocalyptic fantasy. In contrast, we are told, China and Russia will pursue their real interests with sober good sense:

Securing Russian and Chinese cooperation with US strategic objectives, I believe, is a far simpler proposition than is portrayed in the myth of US imperial decline...

China must settle perhaps 15 million rural migrants in cities each year, while building infrastructure and employment in the interior and correcting urgent environmental problems. To do this, China requires stability and predictability in its foreign economic relations.

What does Russia want? Stability on its borders, often at the expense of the aspirations of peoples who have the misfortune to occupy the Russian near abroad, and a free hand in arranging the economic affairs of the Russian state.

According to Spengler, the US should and will drop its fancy notions about spreading democracy universally, but especially in the Russian Near Abroad. Similarly, the US should let it be known that it will stop pestering China about the yuan-dollar exchange rate. Then, Spengler assures us, the US would have all possible options for dealing with Iran, some of them much better than a speculative strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Henry Kissinger believed during the Vietnam War that the Soviet Union was offering to give the United States a free hand in Vietnam, even to invading and overthrowing the government in the North, if the US would acquiesce in a preemptive Soviet strike against China. Then Secretary of State Kissinger and President Nixon showed the proposal no favor.

In this they did wisely. Deals of this sort are like multilevel marketing schemes. They sound like good idea, but they aren't.

* * *

Speaking of impending atrocities, Anthony Sacramone at First Things has alerted an incredulous world to this project:

In this month’s Empire magazine Paul Verhoeven opened up about his upcoming project based, perhaps surprisingly, on the life of Jesus.

Verhoeven is a director with many films to his credit, but he holds a special place in the hearts of Heinlein fans for his 1997 adaptation of Starship Troopers. Anyone who is familiar with both the Heinlein story and the movie knows that we need not take Paul Verhoeven seriously about any book in the world.

* * *

Mark Steyn has some cutting things to say about the recent execution of Saddam Hussein, but not least about the official European reaction to it. We read:

According to a poll published in Le Monde, the majority of Spaniards, Germans, French and British were all in favor of executing Saddam. ...When Die Zeit and The Times and all the rest say that "Europe" condemns the death of Saddam, what they mean is that a narrow, remote, self-insulating politico-media elite condemns it....Whatever one's views on capital punishment, that's not what it's about. Hardcore dictatorships have to be not just politically but psychologically liberated. When one man is so murderously powerful, incarceration cannot suffice - because as long as he lives there will always be the possibility that he will return. ...

On the other hand, the hanging was not all we might have wished:

Unfortunately, when the US handed him over to the Iraqi authorities, the "authorities" did their best to look entirely unauthorized. Saddam was dispatched in some dingy low-ceilinged windowless room of one of his old secret-police torture joints by a handful of goons in ski masks and black leather jackets.

Steyn suggests that someone from the US embassy, or at least the military, should have been on hand to advise on the proper protocol. To that suggestion, I reply that the execution really was not supposed to be public. American executions these days are normally short on pomp and circumstance, too.

On the other hand, the addition of the ceremonial of public executions to the education of the diplomatic corps would add a whole new dimension to Foreign Service School.

Thank you
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---John J. Reilly

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Best of C. L. Moore Book Review

The Best of C. L. Moore
by C. L. Moore
452 pages
Published by Diversion Books (September 22, 2015)
ASIN B07H15QVLC

Catherine Lucille Moore  By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34553491

Catherine Lucille Moore

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34553491

I had heard of Catherine Lucille Moore, but this was my first exposure to her work. I saw this collection of her short stories come on sale on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.

In my typical fashion for a short story collection, I’ll do a short review of each story, and then look at the collection as a whole.


Shambleau *****

Not only is this story my introduction to Moore’s work in general, it is my introduction to one of her most famous characters, Northwest Smith. N.W., as his partner-in-crime Yarol calls him, is very much the anti-hero. I call him an anti-hero insofar as he doesn’t particularly demonstrate the chivalry of other nearly contemporaneous characters like the Geste brothers. However, I think you could almost as accurately call him a hero, if the hero you have in mind is someone like Odysseus.

Northwest Smith is a pirate and a smuggler, a desperado of renown. Like Odysseus, he is cast adrift from his home. He definitely shoots first and then neglects to ask any questions. He is happy to lie to your face and then rob you blind. He is not, however, a force of random destruction, he just is wholly out for himself. In the pre-Christian moral universe of the Homeric Greeks, N. W. would have fit right in. However, he does not actually live in that moral universe, but in one whose foundation is Christianity, which is a thematic element we will return to later.

In addition, the story itself is a re-working of Greek legend, but with an eldritch horror element that feels quite natural here. Greek myth itself doesn’t have the existential dread of living in a universe that contains many things older than, more powerful than, and also indifferent at best to man, but it readily compatible with it. The Greek Gods were anthropomorphic, but often cruel and indifferent. However, the real monsters do not even rise to that level.

“Shambleau” uses the venerable conceit that old stories often contain a gem of truth. Stories in this vein treat their subjects as not at all metaphorical. With suspension of disbelief, such a story can be strange and frightening because you can imagine it to be mostly true. Many of my favorite authors have recycled myth and history to great effect, and Moore does an excellent job here. Even more remarkable, since this was her first commercial sale. “Shambleau” is one of the stories almost everyone talks about when speaking of C. L. Moore’s work, and I think it a remarkable piece. I can see why Moore had such a long career and so much influence on other authors.


Black Thirst ***

Whereas “Shambleau” had a touch of eldritch horror, “Black Thirst” is quite simply Lovecraftian. This is the second Northwest Smith tale, and in typical planetary romance fashion, it is set on a young and torrid Venus, whereas “Shambleau” was set on an old and dusty Mars.

This story gave off a pretty strong Tim Powers vibe for me. Powers’ early novel, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, in particular. The antagonist of “Black Thirst”, the Alendar, has a likeness to Powers’ Norton Jaybush. Most of Powers’ protagonists are nothing like Northwest Smith however.

Unfortunately, while this possible connection is intriguing to me, I started to lose steam on the collection here. “Black Thirst” is very much in the vein of Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. I liked the John Carter stories well enough, but not enough to read again, so I found more of the same unispiring. Not even the Lovecraftian element was good enough, since it was more of a mood than a repetition of Lovecraft’s peculiar way with words.


Mantorok – The Corpse God

Mantorok – The Corpse God

The Bright Illusion **

“The Bright Illusion” is the weakest story in this collection. I might actually have given up here, but I am glad that I did not. My best description of this is Lovecraft in spaaaace! It features a human coerced into serving as an agent in a titanic battle between two beings so great in power and majesty they are worshiped as gods, although they are nothing of the sort.

Except, this story ends on a curiously hopeful note, which in the hands of lesser author would have been merely schmaltzy. We get “Love conquers all” mixed up with “There are fates worse than death”, but I am most fascinated by the way in which this is used to illustrate the fundamental inadequacy of the victor of the titanic battle of the “gods”, who is forced to admit that the worst it can actually do is kill you.

This is curiously not like Lovecraft, and piqued my interest despite the overall weakness of the story compared to the rest.


This is the most perfect image I could find of Jirel.

This is the most perfect image I could find of Jirel.

Black Kiss *****

“Black Kiss” was the story that rescued the whole collection for me. It helped that I stumbled upon a recently written blog post, Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part I: Origins and Tales From the Crypt). This blog post illuminated Moore’s work in particular, and my love of science fiction in general.

The blog post has a lot of sci-fi inside baseball that need not detain us here, but this part stuck out to me:

The Gothic is the beating bloody heart in any good traditional romance story and is what gives it the universal core so needed in fiction. White against black. Dark against Light. Hero against Villain. Eternal Life against Endless Death. Temptation against Virtue. It goes beyond the surface into weighty themes of the Ultimate, God, and True Justice. The knowledge of a battle between forces beyond both parties at play that haunt the scenery and the overall world behind the story. It underpins every action and decision, and the thought that salvation or damnation is a stone throw away is the most nail-biting experience of them all. Now those are stakes, and they were an integral part of all fiction until the second half of the 20th century where the worst thing that can happen to you is that a monster might kill you in the dark where you can't see it.

The term romance, as used here and in my own musings above, echos the sense in which J. R. R. Tolkien insisted that The Lord of the Rings was a romance, by which he, and I, means a story of heroism and adventure and wonder. This was a development of the earlier chanson de geste, such as the Song of Roland. Not a bodice-ripper, although you might actually be confused if you search of images of Jirel of Joiry. I picked the one image I found that matched the story best.

The moral universe of Jirel is explicitly a Christian one. Defeated, and in extremis, Jirel seeks the possibility of a weapon beyond mortal ken in the bowels of her castle. She has previously explored the forbidden passage with her chaplain, but now she disregards his entirely sensible advice to turn back and she descends into a strikingly imagined Hell to exact vengeance. Jirel reaches a point where she can progress no further without discarding the Crucifix she wears about her neck. She proceeds.

I have no idea what Moore’s beliefs, or personal life, were really like. But at the distance of 85 years, what struck me was she simply assumed her readers would understand the peril in which Jirel was placing herself. If you don’t think there are fates worse than death, this story won’t make any sense at all. The stakes are not death, but damnation.

Jirel finds that which she seeks in that mysterious tunnel under her castle. But what we seek, and what we really want, often aren’t truly the same things. Moore’s denouement is so characteristically feminine that I don’t know how to properly do it justice, other than to say that the image I selected for this short story is simply perfect, and all the others are irrelevant cheesecake.

I am also almost certain that Tim Powers lifted parts of this story into his works, particularly The Drawing of the Dark. There is a scene in “Black Kiss” with a spiral tunnel that Jirel transits, and Powers wrote of a spiral staircase under a brewery in Vienna that his protagonist descended to seek power, claustrophobically close. Once I saw the similarity here, I couldn’t unsee it in other places too.


A Tryst in Time ***

A time travel/reincarnation/love story. I was impressed with how well Moore blended the masculine adventure elements with star-crossed lovers. Not exactly my thing, but well-imagined.


Science laboratory, The University of Iowa, 1930s   Rights Information: There are no known copyright restrictions on this image. The digital file is owned by the University of Iowa Libraries, which is making it freely available with the request that the Libraries be credited as its source.    More information about this image:  digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/7358

Science laboratory, The University of Iowa, 1930s

Rights Information: There are no known copyright restrictions on this image. The digital file is owned by the University of Iowa Libraries, which is making it freely available with the request that the Libraries be credited as its source.

More information about this image: digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/7358

Greater than Gods ****

This short story feels to me like something written much later, for example Ballard’s work, with its elements of science run amok and managerial expertise turning into despotism. On the other hand, Heinlein’s first published story came out the same year as this, 1939, and Heinlein’s work is often similar to “Greater than Gods”.

Due to an accident in converging time streams, a scientist finds himself thrust upon the horns of a dilemma. In one future, his choice of a wife means that a pacifist, matriarchal, and quite stagnant society will occur. There is no more war, but no more technology or drive either, and that society’s grip on prosperity is slowly slipping away. In the other future, the other woman he is considering proposing to will bear him a son, who will beget a long line of sons who will dominate the Earth, and far, far beyond. This society is militaristic and regimented, but also capable of genuinely great things.

At this distance in time, I am fascinated by the dilemma Moore gives us. Today, no one could possibly propose this as a genuine dilemma in literature. I don’t think it could be done, because even I feel like maybe the peaceful but incompetent society is clearly better. However, the story makes no sense at all if you cannot truly feel that heroic deeds and exploring the universe and inventing new things are genuinely good things, which counterbalance the very very topical jingoism of this late 1930s tale.

Also, Moore superficially presents us with the thought that future history depends on whether each woman bears a daughter or a son first, but on another level, what really matters is the character of the mother, and what kind of child that union will create. I won’t spoil the choice the man makes in the end, which is what makes this story really transcendent.


Mary and Eve    by Sister Grace Remington OCSO

Mary and Eve

by Sister Grace Remington OCSO

Fruit of Knowledge *****

A dramatic retelling of the Fall of Man and the Temptation of Eve. Of Biblical stories, the sin of Adam and Eve retains popular currency even now, while other stories have begun to fade from our memories.

”Fruit of Knowledge” is perhaps a typical expression of the West in the twentieth century, insofar as the sin that truly separates Man from God is not simply disobedience, but sexual desire. On the other hand, if this story had been written today, Adam would have had sex with Lilith, not simply spoken to her and enjoyed her company for a brief time before the creation of Eve.

Like “Jirel of Joiry”, “Fruit of Knowledge” is set within a Christian moral universe. Moore sets the Fall shortly after the rebellion of Lucifer, an act which does not appear in the Hebrew tradition, but is instead from the Revelation to John. Also, there are hints that the Fall of Man was in some sense a happy accident, an event that was allowed to happen, because a greater destiny was in store. This is a speculation that goes back to Augustine of Hippo, so far as I know.

Finally, the children of Lilith, referenced by Moore here, were used by Tim Powers in his novels The Stress of Her Regard and Hide Me Among the Graves.


No Woman Born *****

Moore explicitly links this to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, through the dialogue of her characters. This is a tale of the creation of a monster by means of good intentions, and also truly terrifying to me.


Daemon ****

I think I can trace this short story to two Tim Powers novels. First, the setting, Atlantic sailing in the age of the buccaneers tinged with Vudun, is much like On Stranger Tides, the book that was optioned for Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Next, The Drawing of the Dark, Powers’ contribution to the Arthurian legend, which hinges upon the titanic change in the world wrought by the first Christmas.

No, three, because the influence of the Grait God Pan, who was the center of Powers’ Earthquake Weather.

This was a fantastic little story, from near the end of Moore’s career. Poignant and well-crafted, with acute psychological insight. Not as striking as “Shambleau”, but far better written.


Vintage Season ***

A sad tale of time-traveling voyeurism, but a well-executed one.


Ben’s final verdict *****

I almost gave up on this collection, but I am glad I didn’t. Moore wrote some great stories, of a kind I don’t think you can find anymore. I can’t find any interviews or essays where Powers talks about Moore, but after reading this, I have a hard time imagining he didn’t read her works and find inspiration in them. Highly recommended.

My other book reviews

The Long View: God's Plan for America

It is never prudent to completely dismiss the suggestion that the purpose of your life to serve as a warning to others. It may not be a leading hypothesis, but it is a possible one.

That being said, this essay contains John J. Reilly’s reflections on how Christians ought to relate to politics. This essay is brief, but only because John included most of his thought by reference, rather than repeating things he had already said.

Like all of us, John had particular political commitments and preferences, but I think he pointed toward something bigger than his party affiliation here.


God's Plan for America


That's the title of a column by Vox Day (hat tip to Brainbiter) where we read in part:

I do find it peculiar that there are so many people who make national politics a central part, if not the central point, of their theology. And I'm saying this as a member of the Christian right by blood; when Ralph Reed was in town with the Christian Coalition, he stayed at my parent's house.

Consider the state of the seven deadly sins in America...

There is, I suspect, an unconscious stream of omniderigence underlying the concept of divine American exceptionalism. Either God has inordinately blessed America because of the unique qualities of her inhabitants or because He has a special plan for America. The problem with the first possibility should be obvious in light of the character and behavior of said inhabitants; the problem with the latter is that it requires believing that the Christian God is responsible for the death of millions of unborn children, the establishment of transnational globalism and Paris Hilton.

Wise words (particularly "omniderigence"). One might point out that the United States could have been providentially preordained as an Awful Example, but I rather doubt that to be the case.

I see two issues.

The first is the status of politics and government in a Christian framework. I don't really find this problematical: all government is a divine institution, in the sense that legitimate authority comes from above. That by no means implies that all governments are or should be theocracies. However, there is a sacred, not merely prudential, obligation to participate in public life and not make a nuisance of yourself. Patriotism is a virtue. Get over it.

On the other hand, patriotism is not analytically the expression of the highest political loyalty. (In many eras in may be the highest available, of course). The common humanity of the human race implies natural standards of just treatment, which, as the human race interacts on a broader and broader scale, implies the establishment of ever more universal structures to ensure these standards. Dante famously argued that only a universal government could be altogether legitimate. The Catholic Church, after having skewered Dante (posthumously) for his inordinate affection for the Holy Roman Empire, has come around to an oddly similar point of view, in the sense that doctrine today asserts that certain sovereign prerogatives must, in the modern world, be reserved to supranational authorities.

This presents us with the second issue: the relationship between theodicy and macrohistory. If you accept that there is a tendency toward global unity, does that make the process a divine imperative? Contrariwise, is there an imperative to oppose it? (As C.S. Lewis once remarked, just because you have terminal cancer is no reason to be on the tumor's side.) For my part, I would suggest that this question tends to generate much the sort of category mistake that we see in sacralized environmentalism: anything as big as history or the atmosphere is presumed to be a theater of miracle and moral absolute.

Nonetheless, there is an level of loyalty that is ordinate to the ideal universal empire that Dante envisioned. For St. Augustine in the final generation of the Roman Empire, this loyalty was the highest form of patriotism he knew. Similarly, it would be possible to make the argument that some form of globalization merits devotion of this order, since the universal empire is also a divine institution, though most of the time it exists only virtually.

If you accept the neo-Spenglerian hypothesis that the United States is going to play the same role in the modern world that Rome did in Classical antiquity and Qin did in ancient China, then you might be able to formulate "God's Plan for America" in terms of the providential formation of a universal state at the end of the modern era; however, this development would be "providential" only at the level of natural providence, not as a matter of divine election.

In other words, somebody had to do it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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