Hollow City Book Review

Hollow City: Book of Karma book 1
by Cheah Kit Sun
Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Hollow City is the second book in the Heroes Unleashed universe I have reviewed. I picked up this copy on my own, so you can’t blame the author for my opinions.

My opinion is: I like this book. Adam Song is a fascinating character, and I’ll delve into why at some length. Adam’s interests and profession also make this book a kind of gun pr0n, which is fun for me since I am also interested in firearms. Finally, I am enjoying the Heroes Unleashed take on superheroes, which doesn’t make them mundane, but at least routine. Not everyone has super powers, but you better take the possibility into account when making any kind of serious plan.

I doubt this review would pass a strict spoiler policy, but I’ll try to keep it under control. Consider yourself warned.

Let’s get into why I find Adam so interesting. Adam Song is a cop. Not just any cop, but a member of the elite Special Tactics and Rescue team. He is a doorkicker, a life-taker, and a heart-breaker. Well, probably not the last, now that I think about it. In so far as Adam has killed an average of one person a year in the course of his duties with the Hollow City Police Department, he definitely qualifies as a life-taker. But he lacks the dark triad traits that make murderers and terrorists the recipients of gushing fan mail in prison. If anyone’s heart is going to be broken, it is probably Adam’s.

Adam also has a secret. He is a Prime, the Heroes Unleashed version of a superhero. His powers are precisely what elevated him to the STAR unit. At the beginning of Hollow City, Adam has been a cop for six years, but a member of STAR for only eighteen months. Which just happens to coincide with the time since he gained his powers. This is because STAR, like Detroit SWAT, specializes in no-knock raids. But in Hollow City, unlike Detroit, the guy on the other side might have superpowers too, so HCPD makes sure to even the odds by having a Prime on the entry team. In that capacity, he goes by his codename Amp, and wears a mask when he is working.

Knock knock.

Knock knock.

Many men in Adam’s position would probably be insufferably arrogant, but Adam strikes me as a quiet, unassuming type. In part, this is a matter of self-protection, since his public persona would be liable to reprisals if his enemies knew where he lived, but also I get the feeling Adam would have acted the same way in public if there were no danger. His primary motivation is not fame or money, but duty.

His dutifulness is the prime hinge of his character, and the source of the two major conflicts Adam experiences in the book. In each case, he feels duty-bound to do two-incompatible things. In a sense, his life [and this book] is a quest to reconcile these moral imperatives.

First, Adam is first-generation Chinese immigrant. His parents brought him to America when he was thirteen, by way of Singapore and Hong Kong. He was old enough to remember his previous life, but also young enough to imprint on his new home. His parents have definite ideas about what constitutes honest employment, and neither his previous job [Marine] nor his current job [Cop], meet that definition. In the straightforward expectation of his culture, duty would require him to follow his parent’s wishes, and work in the family business.

Aaron and I were outsiders. Always had been, always were. In Singapore, primary schoolers made fun of our funny accents and weird speech patterns. In Halo City high schoolers did the same. Everywhere we went, the old rules no longer applied. We had to learn quickly, adapt even faster.

Aaron kept his head down, submerged himself into the local Chinese community, and followed in Father’s footsteps. I almost did the same, until I saw my first USMC recruiting advertisement. In the Marines, I saw a way to become a man. I wanted to prove that I was an American, more American than everyone else.

In America, duty primarily means service to the nation, rather than the family. So when Adam decides that he wants to be a good American, he does the thing that is expected of him as an American. He travels to distant lands, meets interesting people, and kills them.

This decision flows into his second conflict, which is secondary to his character, but primary to the plot. After Adam gets out of the Marines, his duty to the nation fulfilled, he naturally flows down to the next lower level of loyalty, and joins the Halo City Police Department. In America, the basic motto of any police department is To Protect and to Serve. It just happens that Adam is really really good at protecting the public by shooting bad guys in the face.

Which is exactly what he is hired to do once he becomes a Prime. Adam’s history with the HCPD prior to the STAR unit is a bit less explored in the book, but we do know that Adam was the trigger puller in more than one OIS [officer involved shooting] before he joined the high risk STAR unit. It is possible that this was overlooked in the overwhelming need to put an already employed Prime officer into the high risk STAR unit, but I suspect it is more likely that this was seen as a feature and not a bug.

At least until he became a political liability by killing an admittedly dangerous man [a Prime with the ability to shoot anything he pointed at] who was also the son of a gangster in the process of crossing the line between crime lord and pillar of the community. When Adam was in the Marines, this was his job, full stop. You killed anyone who was dangerous, and you did so in a way that maximized your odds of coming home at the end of the day. This is uncomplicated when you can identify your targets as enemy combatants, and potentially explosive then they are American citizens who are innocent until proven guilty.

In this way, Adam serves as the personification of the militarization of the police in the United States. The actual military is famously forbidden from engaging in police activities by the Posse Comitatus Act, but there is a creeping influence which can probably be measured by looking the kind of uniforms police officers wear, as can be seen by the image above of a no-knock raid training exercise. The fear is that the distinction between accused or suspected criminals and open enemies of the state is being erased.

There is also a positive sense, insofar as the militarization of the police has coincided with a professionalization of the police. Cops used to do pretty much any damn thing they felt like. Now, there is at least a standard to which they are expected to adhere. At the best, this means less chance of death for both the cop and the perp, insofar as options are sought that seek to maximize that outcome.

Adam Song occupies the ground precisely where that question comes into play. A question that is interesting to me is where does the line lie for police work as opposed to war? When is it acceptable to kill a man who might be a danger to public order? Or who is definitely dangerous, but not currently in the act of shooting his victims? For a soldier, that question is relatively simple. You act with maximum force at the first opportunity. For a police officer, the answer is always NO, you cannot kill except when your life or the life of another is directly at risk, or at least that is the moral and legal presumption in our society. What makes this hard is that a lot of former soldiers eventually find themselves in service as cops. Men just like Adam Song.

For Adam Song, what makes a strait-laced cop go rogue is the feeling of betrayal when your superiors throw you to the wolves for doing precisely what they hired you to do. Adam’s job, as Amp, the HCPD Prime, is to serve the warrants on dangerous Primes that would otherwise simply kill all of the arresting officers and then disappear.

This gets even more complicated when your job is to arrest the bad guys that are widely known to be bad, but who of course enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. When you mix in Halo City’s high-diversity, low-trust environment, along with a dash of corruption, you get a lot of guys like Adam, who start to feel that the military way has its attractions. Adam clearly loves his city, but he also feels like there are good guys, and bad guys, and he isn’t particularly interested in watching the bad guys take advantage of a system that was designed for a high-trust environment.

Since I happened to read Hollow City at about the same time I read Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series, I was struck by the differing trajectories the main characters in these books take. Jack Morgan starts as an outlaw, and over the course of the series eventually is reconciled to polite society. Adam Song starts out as a respected member of the community, and ends up becoming exactly what his detractors call him: a rogue cop, a vigilante, and a criminal defendant.

However, in many respects, what each of them do isn’t actually that different. Jack mostly tries to avoid killing, but his symbiont Draycos, the K’da warrior-poet who possesses the rights of judge, jury, and executioner in one person, kills a man in the first book because Draycos seems him commit a murder. This can only loosely be called defense of another, since the man was threatening Jack, but the book makes it clear that Draycos is like a monster of legend, as much greater in combat power than a human as a powerful Prime like Amp is. Also, Jack’s AI guardian, Uncle Virge, does lots of killing, it is just the kind where he shoots down other ships to protect Jack.

Once I realized that, my whole opinion of the weight of the Dragonback series started to shift. There are some real similarities, but also some real differences with Adam Song’s Halo City. Jack Morgan’s universe is a lot further down the path of societal dissolution that Halo City is only starting to tread. Is Adam’s vigilantism worth it if it prevents open slavery and corporations hiring mercenaries to fight literal turf battles over their commercial interests?

Even if we temporarily ignore the question of how probable the odds of success are for Adam’s attempt to stave off further dissolution, this is a worthy question. In the moral and legal framework of the United States, which is clearly the setting of Halo City, which I take to be an analogue of Los Angeles, Adam is pretty clearly beyond the pale. However, the reason I bring in Zahn’s more speculative universe here is that other arrangements that still seem just are imaginable.

Adam is pretty clearly doing what he finds to be his duty, in the circumstances he finds himself. We might judge that he has nonetheless crossed a line that should not be crossed, even if the results are otherwise just. That tension is exactly what makes this book fascinating. I don’t know what Cheah has in mind for Adam after this, but I would like to find out.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books in the Heroes Unleashed series

by Morgon Newquist

Heroes Fall: Serenity City book 1

The Long View 2007-01-27: The Real Enemy; Guardian Robots; The Constant of Tolerable Terror

The High Altar survived the fire just fine

The High Altar survived the fire just fine

Two of the links John J. Reilly put in this post are really good:

  1. A Culture Worth Dying For

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

  2. Culture War and Foreign Policy

    How this links into foreign policy was both sides in the Cold War sought to recruit allies from the Third World to bolster their international reputation and fight in proxy wars. Insofar as the Soviets could tar the West with the Original Sins of slavery and colonialism, the Soviets had a clear advantage. Thus, John claims that desegregation and civil rights in America set the stage for the Helsinki Accords, which the Soviets considered to be a victory at the time, but later were seen as a key factor that weakened the Soviet Union and its satellites from within.

    The twist is that the political movements that allowed the United States to claim the mantle of justice in the mid-twentieth century now seem increasingly bizarre to an international audience, let alone to their domestic political opponents. Thus we have an odd collusion of interests both at home and abroad that increasingly see the continuing dominance of America as something at odds with both political order and domestic harmony. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, this shades off into outright identification of the United States with the Whore of Babylon. So far, this remains a minority opinion.

We currently have a culture a lot of people tried really hard to make, but when it comes down to it, how many of its architects or proponents would make warre to the knife to defend it?


The Real Enemy; Guardian Robots; The Constant of Tolerable Terror

Regarding Dinesh D'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, visitors to my website may be interested to know that I have done a review, but I have submitted it for print publication. If no one picks it up, I will post it to my website (as indeed I will even if someone does publish it, but then I will post it several weeks later). Here, let me just say that there are elements of D'Souza's thesis with which I agree. Let me refer readers to a posting I made to this space about this time last year, A Culture Worth Dying For, and to an item I wrote in 2000 and posted two years later, Culture War and Foreign Policy. Where I differ from the book is my lack of confidence in the proposal for an alliance of American and Muslim conservatives.

I find that I am not the only person to have had thoughts along these lines, particularly among writers who have been critical of Islam itself. Srdja Trifkovic has entitled his response to the book "Dinesh the Dhimmi," in which he says:

Two of the titles D’Souza finds so offensive that condemning them tops his list of “critical steps” are by my friend Robert Spencer, and “The Sword” is mine. D’Souza wants us, and presumably other similarly minded authors (Bat Ye’or, Ibn Warraq, Andrew Bostom, Walid Shoebat, et al.), to shut up.

Lawrence Auster is of similar mind:

Now think how amazing this is. Has it ever happened in this country—I’m not talking about some totalitarian country but America—has it ever happened that a prominent “intellectual” called on leading writers on a subject of major importance to stop writing what they’re writing, because it would “offend” someone?

My own take on all this is that D'Souza's call for an alliance of traditionalists has less to do with tradition than with Tradition.

* * *

Speaking of tradition, the Telegraph (UK) has cast cold water on the expectation that Benedict XVI is about to issue a motu proprio (a document "on his own initiative") encouraging the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass. The report is an interview with "Fr Reginald Foster, 68, a Carmelite friar who was appointed the Papal Latinist 38 years ago by Pope Paul VI," who said:

"He is not going to do it," Fr Foster said. "He had trouble with Regensberg, and then trouble in Warsaw, and if he does this, all hell will break loose." In any case, he added: "It is a useless mass and the whole mentality is stupid. The idea of it is that things were better in the old days. It makes the Vatican look medieval."

This does not look like a Vatican leak; it looks like the opinion of a clerk. As for me, I have set up a Google News Alert for the term "motu proprio." Thus, when the document is issued, I will be able to go immediately into the public square and join one of the mobs that will form to call the liturgists to account. These venacularist-roaders will then be paraded through the streets and forced in struggle-sessions to recant their errors.

Medieval indeed.

* * *

Other computers watch over me, too, including the ones at Amazon, which were recently kind enough to suggest I might want to buy this list of things:

Crusade Against the Grail: The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome

The SS Brotherhood of the Bell: Nasa's Nazis, JFK, And Majic-12

Nietzsche, Prophet of Nazism: The Cult of the Superman--Unveiling the Nazi Secret Doctrine

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust

The Vril Society

Reich Of The Black Sun: Nazi Secret Weapons & The Cold War Allied Legend

The Secret of the Spear: The Mystery of the Spear of Longinus (Mysteries of the Universe)

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

The first I might actually get: it's a translation of a book published in 1933 by Otto Rahn, that Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail. However, the really scary item in this list is the last one.

* * *

Not only I noticed that yesterday's anti-war rally in Washington was a dud. Readers are encouraged to amuse themselves by looking for pictures of the event: they all take advantage of oblique angles and the Mall's scant foliage to avoid showing how much space the crowd did not occupy. NPR this morning was still reporting that "tens of thousands" of people were there. So, I am told, did the frontpage of the Washington Post, but the online headline was Thousands Protest Bush Policy:

The crowd, while exuberant, seemed significantly smaller than the half-million people organizers said were present and may not have matched similar protests in September 2005 and January 2003. The throng filled much of the Mall between Third and Fourth streets NW but thinned toward Seventh Street.

This does not mean that the media is making up the unpopularity of the war. The unusual thing about this war, and what makes it different from the Vietnam War, is that the population that is bearing the burden of the conflict is distinct geographically and socially from the people who are strongly against it.

* * *

Meanwhile, American conservatism was committing suicide a few blocks away, at the National Review Conservative Summit. Jeb Bush was well received: enough said, I think.

Consider these remarks by Mark Steyn in an interview by Hugh Hewitt I have already linked to:

I’m a believer in small government. I think it’s very difficult for big government to maintain the kind of self reliant citizenry that you need to win long existential struggles like the one we’re in.

I have raised this point before, but let me put the response to this thesis more tersely:

PuR * PrR = Kt

PuR = Public Risk
PrR = Private Risk
Kt = Constant of Tolerable Terror

In other words: Societies whose members experience greater than normal risks because of some collective threat must assume collectively some of the risk that their members would otherwise manage individually. Failure to make this adjustment will have the effect of a confiscatory tax, causing concealment, withdrawal, and a diminishment of activity. Conversely, perfectly safe societies can normally allow their members to assume a great deal of risk without degrading social morale.

In other words, in an existential crisis, small government is a form of expropriation.

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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The Long View: We All Fall Down

The best paragraph in this fascinating book review by John J. Reilly is this:

As an aside, we may note that this solidifying of the self into an entity that acts without regard to desire is also the goal of certain esotericists. The adamantine self becomes a "body of light" divorced from time, and so immortal. The preservation of the self through the rejection of the rest of reality might, in another view, be thought to be nothing more than the construction of a personal Hell. The author of We All Fall Down may well have intended to make just this point.

As a modern, it is actually kind of hard for me to find fault with the lead character’s stubbornness. The power to be able to say “No” is rather appealing. But as the ashes of Notre Dame cool in Paris, it is worth reflecting that the woman who is honored above all other people in our culture, except for her Son, said “Yes”.

Pierre Téqui‏  @Pierretequi   Photo de l’intérieur de  #NotreDame  La voûte du transept s’est effondrée

Pierre Téqui‏ @Pierretequi

Photo de l’intérieur de #NotreDame La voûte du transept s’est effondrée


We All Fall Down
By Brian Caldwell
2000, Infinity Publishing.com
(2006, Reissue by Alphar Publishing)
253 Pages, US$15.95
ISBN 0-7414-0499-0


Yes, the Antichrist is evil and his agents are vivisecting nightmares from splatterpunk fiction. Anyone who understood that would never accept his mark; certainly not now, when the visible fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation proves that the Second Coming of Christ is less than seven years distant. But wouldn’t making a decision for Christ be, well, inauthentic? That’s the existential decision that the remarkably foul-mouthed Jimmy Lordan has to make during the Tribulation period in this equally remarkable riff on the now-familiar themes of the apocalyptic novel.

The theme song for this book should probably be The Day the Ravens Left the Tower by the Alarm, a Welsh evangelical rock-band that used to open for U2 25 years ago. The song is about the legend that England would end when the ravens leave the Tower of London; the song ends with the rhyme, "Ring around the Rosie," which is also recited in the course of the book. The connection of the song to the book is speculative, but the Generation-X edginess is obvious enough. The protagonist is a member of that generation, a teacher of English at a high school in Michigan but a native of Boston, a city to which he returns twice in the course of the story. (The book is in three acts, rather like a screenplay, and they are presented nonsequentially.) We see Jimmy sliding into early middle age in the early 21st century after his devout wife disappears in the Rapture and the world begins to come apart at the seams.

The pre-tribulation millenarianism that the story assumes is explained only in briefest outline. This is quite unlike the custom in apocalyptic novels, whose primary point is usually to inform the reader of the details of that eschatology. We get just a glimpse of the Antichrist (one Sir Richard Grant Morrison) and that only on television, when he welcomes the sadly depopulated United States into the One World Community. The story is not about world history, but the choices that cosmic catastrophe bring to Jimmy. Readers accustomed to the air-brushed atrocities of the Left Behind series may well be shocked by what they read in this book. As Jimmy explains to the penitent homosexual who tries to help him perform at least one good deed before the Second Coming:

"George, do you have any idea how many times in the last few years I’ve woken up without the slightest fucking clue where I was and what was happening? My wife disappeared from my bed, I watched my father get shot in the face, I thought I was going to die in a nuclear attack, I spent a month getting tortured, a building I was in collapsed, killing everyone but me. I’ve wandered insane through the Israeli desert, spent two years surrounded by Christ-freaks in a camp protected by God, a month on a prison ship watching kids get raped. I’ve been beaten by an ex-student who worked in a death camp and got attacked by a swarm of locusts."

Actually, Jimmy’s adventures are even worse than that, because here Jimmy is telling only what happened to him, not what he himself did. There is quite a lot of graphic sex in this book. It’s not gratuitous, since it serves to establish character, but it is often vindictive.

The Rapture in this book serves to set us a philosophical puzzle by removing metaphysical doubt. Suppose we knew for a fact that theism is true, as we well might surmise in the face of the clockwork fulfillment of the pre-tribulation Endtime scenario. Obviously, the worship of God would then be advisable on utilitarian grounds. However, does the power of God make it morally imperative that we love Him?

This is not a new question. The Book of Job is the text to which all other treatments of the matter are commentaries. In this connection, Immanuel Kant laid down the principle that a command, even the sort of command that God seems to spend so much of His time issuing in the Bible, cannot be the basis of a moral duty. Perhaps the most entertaining relatively recent treatment of the issue in fiction is Robert Heinlein’s Answer to Job. That book, too, is set during the Endtime, indeed during the Endtime in several parallel universes. Theodicy fails to justify the arbitrary salvation and damnation of the characters; in the end, God Himself is ultimately convicted of tyranny. The problem with that conclusion, though, is that it rather incoherently appeals to a justice that transcends God. We All Fall Down takes the issue in a more radical direction. We see it stated here by Jimmy’s highly amputated cellmate, Stan, as he explains why he once refused to inform on a prison gang that had abused him:

"You wanna keep saying no, then ya better find your Inch, boy. Find it and protect it. Ya can cry and scream and beg and curse. Ya can do any damn thing ya gotta do to get through it, but as long as you don’t say yes, you win. Long as ya keep yer Inch for yerself, long as ya don’t pussy out and give it to Morrison or God, you win. You win and they lose."

The power not to say “yes” seems even more intolerable to Antichrist’s government than mere Christianity. As is usual in apocalyptic fiction, people who refuse to receive the mark of the Beast are arrested. Receiving the mark is called “tagging” here; as has also become a literary commonplace, it means you need an implanted microchip in your hand to buy or sell. The authorities quickly execute the Christians, once it is clear they are sincere. In contrast, the authorities take infinite pains with the small number of people who have not converted to Christianity but who refuse to be tagged as a matter of personal integrity. They beat the recusants in ingenious ways over a period of weeks; by and by they snip off ever more noticeable bits of them, all the while engaging in the sort of thoughtful dialogue familiar to us from O’Brien’s exchanges with Winston in 1984. Jimmy’s rudeness during these sessions is stunning, but then, as we slowly come to realize, Jimmy is a genuinely bad man.

Jimmy’s refusal to give an Inch, in fact, raises the question whether the evil in this book comes in two distinct varieties. There is the garden-variety evil of those who willingly follow Antichrist. They worship an object unworthy of worship, and therefore suffer a fitting decline in their sanity and physical condition. Then there are the elite of the damned, people like Jimmy and his father and Stan. Their whole motivation shrinks to the defense of their personal integrity, which is defined in an amoral, even ahedonic way. In normal times, perhaps, one might take this supernal stubbornness for ordinary existentialism: the existentialist defines as real what he would be willing to die for. As an aside, we may note that this solidifying of the self into an entity that acts without regard to desire is also the goal of certain esotericists. The adamantine self becomes a "body of light" divorced from time, and so immortal. The preservation of the self through the rejection of the rest of reality might, in another view, be thought to be nothing more than the construction of a personal Hell. The author of We All Fall Down may well have intended to make just this point.

There is another perspective that the book does not consider, however. Though Jimmy’s recusal from the demands of both God and the Devil is not presented as admirable, it is presented as unanswerable. The final defense of the self is made to seem as self-evident a choice as the acceptance of salvation, even if the final outcome of that defense is completely horrible. This equation is not just ill-advised, however; it may also be merely mistaken.

We should note that the discernment of the absolute self has not always been thought to lead to an inescapable spiritual black hole. The method of contemplative prayer described in The Cloud of Unknowing is based on the premise that, when the contemplative strips away all desires, fears, and distractions, all that remains is the naked desire for God. Furthermore, only someone who has already become virtuous in conventional ways can hope to clarify his basic nature for this purpose.

If that example seems too esoteric for Stan’s Inch, then consider that it is precisely in those extreme situations of danger, when recourse to moral theory is impractical, that many people first encounter the moral life. This is the truth of which existentialism is a caricature. There are circumstances in which moral imperatives are experienced as both commands and discoveries. Kant had a point when he said that a command from one human being to another cannot create a moral duty, but he was wrong when he assumed that experience cannot be commanding. In this sense, the moral life can be said to be a direct experience of the substance of God.

At the risk of taxing the concept behind the book with more analysis than it should be required to bear, let me also suggest that the choice for salvation and the defense of the Inch may not be so incompatible as We All Fall Down takes for granted. Readers may be familiar with the C.S. Lewis novel, That Hideous Strength. It involves an occult conspiracy that could well have been the beginning of the Endtime, if it had been permitted to get off the ground. The story includes another interview between an interrogator and a victim whom the interrogator is trying to convince to make a decision very like the one the forces of Antichrist were trying to foist on Jimmy Lordan. The victim in the Lewis novel refuses, too. He does not refuse because of theological scruples, but because he sees that what he is being asked to do would be the end of him in some more fundamental way than merely dying. However, far from being the event horizon of a spiritual black hole, the victim’s refusal is his first discovery of the moral life, and then of the transcendent. In deciding to resist, he had decided, all unknowing, to fight on the side of the angels in whom he did not believe. In other words, by defending his Inch, he had also accepted the grace of salvation.

This book uses eschatology to simplify certain questions, which is fair enough. Still, I could not help wondering as I read what would happen to the logic of the story if complications had been introduced. Suppose anonymous Christians had been raptured. Well, that’s another story.


Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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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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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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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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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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Who was 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?

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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

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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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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