The Long View 2007-04-18: Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

The infrastructure failure that John mentions here where a big storm inundated NYC and affected theoretically robust networks like the Internet would be repeated on a much larger scale five years later with Hurricane Sandy.

Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

No, it wasn't a nor'easter: That storm that dropped nine inches of rain on the New York City area over Sunday and Monday was not a coastal storm, which is what nor'easters (I hate that contraction: northeasters) are. The pattern was more like that of a winter continental storm that brings a blizzard.

Anyway, my own neighborhood is right at the mouth of the Hudson on New York Bay. Short of the Deluge, there is no way to get the sort of flooding here that forced evacuations further inland. On the other hand, the ground becomes completely saturated; my condominium's basement took a foot of water, and that was with the pump working.

I mention the storm here only because, while it was happening, the Internet slowed to a crawl and became unusable for a time. This has happened repeatedly in civil emergency and bad weather. I thought the point of the Internet was to be a communication system that would keep working even during a nuclear war.

Maybe it will, if the weather's fine.

* * *

The first mention I saw of the Virginia Tech Massacre characterized it as an assault on our Second Amendment right to own guns. Other variations on this offensive-defense include this surreal column: Virginia Tech's Gun-Free Zone Left Cho Seung-Hui's Victims Defenseless. Actually, if you are a Second Amendment buff, the massacre should cause you no concern. The new Democratic majority in Congress, NPR noted this morning, is based on representatives from rural districts who won election largely by adopting the National Rifle Association's position on gun rights. As we have noted before, the high strategy on the Left is to trade guns rights to the western states in order to secure their support for the Darwin Award Agenda on reproductive and marriage issues.

It could work.

I suspect that, even in Thomas Jefferson's day, students were not expected to come armed to the lecture halls.

* * *

We should compare this latest incident with the murder-suicide at Harvard in 1995. Cho Seung-Hui produced disturbing writings and otherwise gave signs of mental deterioration. So did the Harvard student in her diaries, as well as in letters to perfect strangers asking for help. In both cases, the students absented themselves for a long time from their classes before taking violent action. Perhaps steps should be taken to ensure that faculty note such absences and that the school administration investigate them. That would be more practical than requiring faculty to carry guns, even stun-guns.

The Harvard student was clearly depressed, and was even getting some futile counseling from the school medical service, but did not seem to be dangerous; at least, not to people other than herself. The Virginia Tech student, we are now told, frightened his teachers and fellow students. I wonder how seriously to take that: he was scary, we learn, because he was so, well, so quiet. Even in retrospect, I would not read too much into the violent themes he chose for his class assignments. This is evidence not that he was homicidally insane, but that he had been seeing the films created for his cohort.

* * *

Speaking of violent films, I recently ordered a set of DVDs from Amazon Canada of the films of documentarian and horror-director Richard Stanley. The one item that interests me is his documentary, The Secret Glory, about the life and alleged Grail Quest of Otto Rahn. I got started on this because I just reviewed Rahn's book, Crusade against the Grail. After I finished the book, it occurred to me that Rahn would make a good subject for a documentary. Then I discovered it had already been done.

By the way, despite its vulnerability to inclement weather, the Internet has now advanced to the point of Rahn blogging, as we see at Arcadia, Andrew Gough's blog.

There would still be something to be said for a biopic of Otto Rahn, but it would be a mistake to view him as a hero. Esoteric fascism has never been a good thing.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Gemini Warrior Book Review

Matthew White and Jason McCrae are oddly similar. Other than being five years apart in age, they could be twins. Living in Serenity City, they easily could have never crossed paths with one another. Except that a mysterious woman needs test subjects who are as similar as possible to one another….

Gemini Warrior: Gemini Man book 1 by J. D. Cowan Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Gemini Warrior: Gemini Man book 1
by J. D. Cowan
Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Once they pass the “test”, Matthew and Jason find themselves trapped in another world, prisoners of their erstwhile employer. And she is only just getting started with making them do things they don’t want to do. Fortunately for them, passing that test means they have possession of an artifact of great power, the Gemini Bracelets.

Castor and Pollux are not amused by your shenanigans

Castor and Pollux are not amused by your shenanigans

Every volume in the Heroes Unleashed series has been very different. Gemini Warrior surprised me by being an isekai, although since I follow the author’s blog, I feel like I shouldn’t have been. Cowan often writes of adventure stories, and isekai in particular. Also, I should say that his series of posts on the history of science fiction as a genre has been an inspiration to my book reviews, changing how I see everything.

In line with Cowan’s argument that the heart of adventure fiction is wonder, Gemini Warrior is a pulpy, desperate quest, where Matthew and Jason try to escape the world of Tyndarus, master their powers, and defeat the wicked. Along the way they might have to learn how to trust one another, narrowly escape death, and somehow find time to get romantically involved.

What it isn’t is a thinkpiece about Tyndarian society, or the character of Matthew and Jason. The other two volumes I’ve reviewed in the Heroes Unleashed universe are like that, and I think they are done well, but I appreciate that Cowan can write a story in a different mode in the same universe, and make it fun.

An only mildly inaccurate portrayal of the object of power in Tyndarus

An only mildly inaccurate portrayal of the object of power in Tyndarus

We do get to see what Tyndarus is like. I am fascinated by the religion of the inhabitants of Tyndarus, its sacramental character, and the frankly Eucharistic object of power that Matthew and Jason contest with the woman who brought them to this world. It is not that there isn’t a great backstory, it just takes a back seat to the immediate problem that lizard men and evil sorcerers are trying kill them.

We also experience the character of our protagonists. If anything, Matthew and Jason are fairly typical young men, in that they are vaguely disappointing by not amounting to much or doing anything worthwhile with their lives. They are both callow youths, unremarkable except for the mysterious similarity that got them into this mess in the first place.

This is of course standard for an adventure story of this sort, but at the same time everything is set up just so, such that subsequent volumes will give us new wonders, and new adventures. By pulpy, I do not mean the opposite of well-crafted. I am also interested to see where Cowan takes the story, since Matthew and Jason don’t seem to be Primes. Maybe everything will all make sense later, but insofar as they were granted powers by an artifact, they seem quite different than Primes, who just wake up one day different than they were before.

Overall, I enjoyed Gemini Warriors. I am happy to see books of this style written, and I look forward to seeing where the adventure takes us next!

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books in the Heroes Unleashed series

by Morgon Newquist
Heroes Fall: Serenity City book 1

by Cheah Kit Sun
Hollow City: Song of Karma book 1

The Long View: Crusade Against the Grail

Otto Rahn is one of those characters who would have had to be invented, if he didn’t actually exist. And if that were the case, you might accuse the author of fantastical speculations far beyond reason.

This book review by John J. Reilly serves not only as a short biography of Rahn, but also a capsule history of the Albigensian crusade.

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

========= By Otto Rahn =========

German Original Kreuzzug gegen den Gral: 1933
Translation by Christopher Jones
Inner Traditions International, 2006
229 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN-10: 1-59477-135-9

Anyone who undertakes the study of the intellectual underpinnings of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) will soon notice that at least some members of the regime were doing things that are not covered by the typical survey course in political theory. Researchers who attempt to investigate these anomalies will dig through a swamp of popular and crank literature about the Third Reich’s connection to the occult underground, some of it coincident with conspiracy theory and some of it (often the most coherent works) purely fictional. Nonetheless, a sober study of primary sources will reveal that not all the fantastic rumors were made up out of whole cloth. When researchers strike bedrock, one of the things they find is this book by Otto Rahn, the Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail, or at least for traditions about what it was and what happened to it.

Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was an amateur German folklorist with a keen interest in speleology. In company with the Swiss mountaineer Paul-Aléxis Ladame and the folklorist Antonin Gadal, he explored the regions of southern France associated the with Cathar heresy and its suppression in a series of military and evangelical campaigns in the 13th century. The Cathars had made extensive use of the spectacular caves of the mountainous southeast of France as fortresses and refuges, and Rahn duly found new evidence of their occupation of those sites, as well as greater knowledge of the size and interconnection of the caves themselves. He also collected stories and traditions from the local people about the Cathars, the crusade against them, and about the region in general. Most of this book deals with what Rahn calls “Occitania.” The one map the book provides depicts part of the modern region of Languedoc-Rousillon, though the story extends across Alpine and Pyrenean France into Catalonia. Occitania is really a linguistic term, referring to the Romance language of that region, which French has still not wholly displaced. Occitan, better known as Languedoc (which is also a better known term for the region), was the language of the French troubadours, and once was a serious rival to the language of northern France that became modern French.

SS leader Heinrich Himmler might be supposed to have had more practical matters on his mind in 1933, but he found time to read Rahn’s book. Then he invited him to an interview and immediately offered him a job as a professional folklorist for the SS, of which Rahn eventually became a member. Rahn continued to pursue his researches and to write, but he does not seem to have been a happy Nazi. He died of exposure during a hike in 1939; his death was ruled a suicide. The sympathetic Translator’s Introduction notes briefly that there had been rumors about homosexuality and Jewish ancestry. We are not told that alternative (and admittedly unsupported) versions of his biography have him dying in a concentration camp in 1944.

Crusade against the Grail supports the thesis articulated by Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) in a short work, The Secret of the Troubadours. Péladan, a novelist who favored occult themes, had argued that the legend of Montsalvat, the fortress of the Grail, and the Grail legend as a whole, were closely connected with Montségur, the last great Cathar stronghold, with the Cathar heresy, and (inevitably) with the Templar order of knights that was suppressed early in the 14th century. More particularly, Rahn tried to show that the people and places in the German version of the Grail story created by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220) are lightly allegorized renderings of real people and places in Occitania in the early 13th century, when Eschenbach composed his Grail epic, Parzival. The most important of these identifications was of the fortress of Montségur (which fell in 1244 to the forces of orthodoxy) with Montsalvat, also known as Muntsalvaesche, or Munsalvaesche, and other variants.

Trying to substantiate Eschenbach’s version of the story has some odd consequences. The original Grail story, composed by Chrétien de Troyes probably in the 1180s, was artfully unclear about the nature of the Grail, except that it was a sort of dish or table that carried the Eucharist and provided nourishment and healing. In the Anglo-French tradition, thanks to the romancer Robert de Boron who wrote a generation after Chrétien, the Grail became associated with the plate or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. In Eschenbach’s telling, however, the Grail became a Stone that conferred immortality. Moreover, according to Eschenbach, this Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance during Lucifer’s rebellion against God. In later German tradition, this Stone was said to have broken off from the crown of Lucifer when he fell from Heaven. If we are to believe Rahn, the folk tradition of Occitania also took this view of things. A shepherd is quoted thus:

When the walls of Montségur were still standing, the Cathars, the Pure Ones, kept the Holy Grail inside them. Montségur was in danger; the armies of Lucifer were before its walls. They wanted to take the Grail to insert it again into the diadem of their Prince, from where it had broken off and fallen to Earth during the fall of the angels. At this most critical point, a white dove came from the sky and split the Tabor [the local peak] in two. Esclarmonde, the keeper of the Grail, threw the precious relic into the mountain, where it was hidden. So they saved the Grail. When the devils entered the castle, it was too late. Furious, they burned all the Pure Ones, not far from the rocky castle on the camp des cremats.

One of the interesting differences between a Stone and, say, a chalice (as the Grail was usually pictured in later years) is that the provenance of a chalice would be awfully hard to prove, but stones really do fall from the sky. It is also not unknown for meteoric rocks to become cult objects, as the Kaaba at Mecca exemplifies. So, it is not quite impossible that the Cathar treasure which Rahn frequently mentions could have included a sacred stone. It’s even possible that Rahn was looking for it; that’s part of Rahn’s legend. However, no such specific quest is apparent in Crusade against the Grail. Moreover, though the Translator’s Introduction mentions the meteorite possibility, Rahn, perhaps surprisingly, does not.

Be this as it may, it is very unlikely that Rahn’s thesis about the historicity of Parzival is correct. The fit between Eschenbach’s story and medieval Occitania just is not very close (or so we must judge from this account, which does not describe either systematically). Moreover, the thesis is based on Eschenbach’s claim to have found a more reliable version of the Grail legend than that of Chrétien de Troyes. There is no evidence at all for that. Chrétien’s modest romance was original, and Eschenbach was just exercising his poetic license to take the story in a grander direction.

Even if Rahn was wrong as a historian, his book is by no means without interest as a record of influential esoteric thought. He was not the only person in the first third of the 20th century who admired the Cathars. Another admirer, according to Otto Wagener, an aide to Adolf Hitler in the 1920s, was Hitler himself. Wagener, his book Memoirs of a Confidant (1978), quotes an apparent reference by Hitler to Catharism and its suppression:

During the Middle Ages, a new movement of inner liberation and the establishment of the natural link of man to his God began, which fell back on the true teachings of Christ and the instinctive apprehension of the truth. The reaction was not long in coming. The Inquisition and witch-hunts rooted out all aspects of the heresy, as the hypocritical priesthood called it...

That was, pretty much, Rahn’s understanding of the history, too. In large part, Crusade against the Grail is an anti-Catholic polemic, recounting history “in the tradition of the French Romantic historians,” such as Jules Michelet. This school saddled later generations with the myth that millions of people were executed during the witch-burnings of the late medieval and early modern periods, and that the Inquisition (usually depicted as a single institution, rather than a class of court) would torture thousands of people anywhere in Europe at the asking of an awkward question in a seminary class. The actual crusade against the south of France in the 13th century (yes, it was an official crusade, sanctioned by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) in the same terms as an expedition to the Holy Land) did not lack for low motives and atrocity. As is usually noted, its chief supporters were the kings of France, whose control of the wealthy and culturally prestigious south traditionally had been nominal. It was also the campaign to which we owe the expression, “Kill them all; let God sort them out!” Nonetheless, Rahn’s account of the suppression of Catharism is simply uncritical popular history.

Who were these Cathars whom Rahn championed? The term “Cathar” is Greek for “pure.” Those who were fully initiated into the Cathar church were “Cathari,” that is to say, “Pure Ones.” (The German word for heretic, by the way, “Ketzer,” is derived from the term.) Catharism, sometimes called Albigensianism after a city in the region, was a form of Gnosticism, a cult of esoteric wisdom that purported to teach its adherents the way to salvation. It incorporated elements of Manicheanism, which held that the world is a duality of spirit and matter; the meaning of salvation was liberation of the spirit from an irredeemably corrupt physical world.

Rahn had a theory that Catharism was a refined resurgence of a form of Manicheanism called Priscillianism. This rather intellectual doctrine had become popular in northern Iberia and southern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was the first heresy to be violently suppressed by the secular government (in this case, the collapsing Roman government, which, like Himmler, might be thought to have had more practical things to worry about). Rahn somewhat fantasticates this hypothesis by arguing that Priscillianism worked on the pre-existing Druidism of the region, which already would have included ideas like metempsychosis. Thus, he tells us, the Manicheans converted the Druids to Christianity.

Be that as it may, the Cathar laity of the High Middle ages, called “the believers,” were of every class and way of life. They married and had children. They conducted business and politics in the ordinary way. (Indeed, the Catholic Church may have been so alarmed by Catharism because of its many followers among the aristocracy of Languedoc.) However, Catharism despised matter and even life; birth was a matter of regret. The fully initiated were those who had received the Cathar sacrament called the “consolamentum.” They were expected to be celibate and sterile for the rest of their lives. Similarly, the fully initiated would not kill, even for food, and so were vegetarians. Except for an elite who functioned as clergy, most Cathars took the consolamentum only on their death beds. This book does not mention the rumor that the Cathars encouraged sodomy because it was inherently nonreproductive. It does mention the less controversial point that the Cathari were permitted to take their own lives, preferably through starvation, provided they did not do so from boredom or to evade a duty.

The Cathars despised the physical world because, like most other Gnostics, they held that God had not made it. The world and its ways were the creation of the demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, who had entrapped the spirits of angels in the mechanisms of the world. This reviewer has seen accounts of Rahn’s later work which say that, for Rahn, the demiurge may be the devil, but Lucifer might not be. Rahn is sometimes characterized as a “Luciferian,” which is to say, one who regards Lucifer as the liberator of mankind, and the true object of Cathar devotion. However, that position is not even hinted at here.

In any case, the Cathars held that the demiurge kept the entrapped spirits in its prison universe. These spirits passed from incarnation to incarnation, deluded by the demiurge’s pretension to be the true God. Nonetheless, like Marcion, the 2nd-century heretic who had similarly rejected the Old Testament, the Cathars insisted they were Christians. They accepted parts of the New Testament, particularly John’s Gospel, and held Jesus for their savior. He was the emanation of the true God from beyond the world. However, they also held that Jesus had never had a physical body, but only pretended to be an incarnate being. (The term for that doctrine, incidentally, is “Docetism.”) Thus, Mary was not the Mother of God, and Jesus had never really been crucified. It may or may not be significant that this is also a Muslim doctrine. In any case, the Cathars distained the use of the cross.

They had other liturgical eccentricities, too. In the Lord’s Prayer, which they retained, they asked for “our supersubstantial bread” rather than “our daily bread,” thus perhaps referring to the bread used at the consolamentum and certainly expressing contempt for anything so material as the bread necessary for everyday life. In this they had the support of the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible, where Matthew’s Gospel has “panem...supersubstantialem.” Luke’s Gospel has “panem...cottidianam,” “daily bread,” but both phrases translate the same Greek term, “epiousios,” which means literally “above the substance.” The Greek Orthodox Churches in English-speaking countries today translate that “daily bread.” Go figure.

In any case, Rahn tells us that the Cathar church was also the Church of Amour, the Church of Love. The troubadours of southern France were the apostles of this doctrine, disguised as the cult of chivalric love. (The German troubadours were called “Minnesinger,” which is “love-singers”; “troubadour” means “inventor.”) The novelty is that this love of Languedoc was a cultural novelty: a practice intense personal devotion to some selected individual that systematically rejected sexual consummation. The doctrine of the troubadours was, in effect, a discipline by which human beings could cultivate among themselves the pure love of God, which generates nothing in this world.

Few of these ideas were altogether new even in Rahn’s day, and some may have merit. However, despite the fact the author was not attempting a full account of Grail scholarship, one wishes that he or his translator had addressed a few other issues. For instance, if you are looking for references to Cathars in the Grail stories, the most obvious place to start would be the great French synthesis of the Grail legend, the anonymous, The Lancelot-Grail. In the part of that romance that treated of the Grail Quest, it is precisely the failure to display the cross that excites the suspicion of the Grail knights about the orthodoxy of a monastery they later destroy. That looks more like Innocent III’s crusade than anything Wolfram von Eschenbach had to say.

One might be forgiven for suspecting that the point of Rahn’s hunt for the Grail had less to do with discovering an ancient secret than with divorcing Christianity from its Jewish roots: that would seem to be an implication of a theory that identifies Jehovah with the devil. However, the actual Cathars did not draw antisemitic implications from their doctrine, and neither did Rahn. Indeed, in his praise of Occitanian civilization, he cites the high positions of public service occupied by Jews, and compares it unfavorably with the condemnation of Jewish office-holding by the Church of Rome. Still, quite aside from what he has to say about the Cathars, Rahn tells us that Christianity was a deluded and resentful thing that, in the case of Catharism, happened to form the container in which something quite different appeared. There is demythologized Christianity for you.

Any defects in Rahn’s theological acumen are rarely made good by the translator, who restored Rahn’s citations and added some notes of his own. The text has some oddities. For instance, we are told that the penitential yellow crosses that former Cathars were forced to wear “measured five centimeters wide and ten high [two inches wide and ten high].” The brackets are presumably an editorial insertion, but even editors should be able to do better math. More seriously, there are what appear to be artifacts of translation. For instance, we learn that former Cathars were whipped at Sunday Mass between “the Epistle and the Evangelism.” The German word for “Gospel,” which is “Evangelium,” might also be rendered “Evangelism” in English, but to make that choice here suggests that the translator is not very clear about what happens at an ordinary Catholic liturgy. Aside from the whippings, I mean.

Finally, there is also this: in the long list of people whom the translator thanks for helping to see this book through to publication, we find Michael Moynihan and Alain de Benoist, both notable ornaments of today’s esoteric neo-fascism in its Traditional dimension. Despite Himmler’s patronage, people like Otto Rahn never got the opportunity to make their case freely during the Third Reich. Times change.

Click here for a review of
the companion volume
of this book:
Lucifer's Court

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The Long View 2007-04-13: Sunspots, Christian Europe, Boomsday, Perpetual Peace

Something John J. Reilly talks about in this post, and something that was really common post 9/11, was the idea that Europeans who were failing to reproduce themselves would be replaced by immigrants from places that had not yet undergone the demographic transition.

Trendlines of central tendency

Trendlines of central tendency

Versus prediction intervals – but you still don’t see the underlying model

Versus prediction intervals – but you still don’t see the underlying model

Much of this was, overwrought, at least. However, even as staid a man as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI talked about it. Demographic predictions are hard, not least because the simple charts that get published obscure the model, and the model assumptions, that underlay them.

The onset and duration of the demographic transition is one of the things that goes into such a model. In the early 2000s, birthrates were really high in much of the Muslim world, sparking some of the concern about the potential Islamicization of Europe. In the decade or so since, birthrates have fallen almost everywhere, except sub-Saharan Africa.

A merely possible future is that Europe could in fact be re-Christianized by an African diaspora. Which would amount to restoring a faith by displacing a people. However, predictions of this sort are very uncertain, and are best addressed very carefully. I would not be surprised if it turned out differently.

Sunspots, Christian Europe, Boomsday, Perpetual Peace

Do you grab people by their lapels and shout at them that global warming is really caused by variations in the solar magnetosphere? If so, you'll find this study comforting, within limits:

Scientists based at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich used ice cores from Greenland to construct a picture of our star's activity in the past.

They say that over the last century the number of sunspots rose at the same time that the Earth's climate became steadily warmer.

This trend is being amplified by gases from fossil fuel burning, they argue...

Dr Sami Solanki presenting a paper on the reconstruction of past solar activity at Cool Stars, Stellar Systems And The Sun, a conference in Hamburg, Germany...

But the most striking feature, he says, is that looking at the past 1,150 years the Sun has never been as active as it has been during the past 60 years...

Over the past 20 years, however, the number of sunspots has remained roughly constant, yet the average temperature of the Earth has continued to increase...

This is put down to a human-produced greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

Again, the mechanism between solar activity and climate is supposed to be the expansion and contraction of the solar magnetosphere. When the magnetosphere expands (as evidenced by an increase in sunspots), it diminishes the amount of cosmic rays that reach the atmosphere. Cosmic rays promote cloud formation; you get fewer of them, you get fewer clouds, you get warmer weather. Recently (very recently, as these things go), temperatures on Earth have continued to rise while sunspot counts remained level (though historically high).

This suggests that there must be some additional factor driving temperatures. For reasons of basic physics, CO2 is a good candidate. On the other hand, it could be that effects of persistently low cloudiness (which would be expected to correlate with persistently high sunspot counts) would be cumulative. The most obvious candidate would changes in albedo, the reflectiveness of the Earth's surface. Warm weather in one year would melt polar and glacial snow, which means that next year the surface would reflect less heat back into space, which would make the world even warmer, which would melt yet more snow. This kind of feedback mechanism does not progress indefinitely, of course. There would eventually be some new point of equilibrium, which could take several decades to reach.

Climate modelers believe that they have taken these feedback mechanisms into account and found them wanting as explanations for the climate changes of the past 20 years. They have done a sufficiently thorough job that the burden of proof now lies with anyone who supports the hypothesis of a transition to a new solar-magnetosphere equilibrium. Well, the behavior of the atmosphere in the next 20 years or so will tell the tale. Meanwhile, the nukes-and-ethanol proposals to stop the rise in CO2 levels have much to recommend them on strategic and economic grounds.

* * *

In the spirit of Easter, last Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran a feature story, entitled Keeping the Faith, by one Russell Shorto. The article is an assessment of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, and particularly of the prospects for Benedict's plan for the re-evangelization of Europe.

It's not a stupid article. The author understands that last year's Regensburg Address by the pope was not about Islam, but about the centrality of essentially religious issues to the European tradition of humane reason. Nonetheless, it is a Times piece. For instance, even though the author does some original reporting by talking to members of the new lay groups for young Catholics, he never quite reports the fact that these are not associations of young progressives chafing under the restraints of orthodoxy, but groups of keen rigorists who think that the hierarchy is too lax. Worst of all, the author talked to the Usual Suspects who have been misinforming the Mainstream Media about Catholic issues for 40 years:

Benedict may be right that the Catholic Church has a world-historic chance to transform Europe and bring about change. But the church’s own strictures could work against that. The paradox may be that for all his stylistic softening as pope, Joseph Ratzinger’s own labors through the decades, applying his life experience with such rigor to protecting and preserving the church, are precisely what prevent Europeans from reconnecting with their roots. “Think of the silencing of theologians in recent decades,” said Father Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit journal America. “The suppression of discussion and debate. How certain issues become litmus tests for orthodoxy and loyalty. All of these make it very difficult to do the very thing Benedict wants. I wish him well. I want him to succeed. But it seems everything he has done in the past makes it much more difficult to do it.”

Yes, think of the lost opportunities. After all, what people chiefly seek in religion is debate about fundamental issues, that and more wonderful choices. It works every time.

* * *

Speaking of the Usual Suspects, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has a long piece in the May issue of First Things (not yet available online) entitled "The Much Exaggerated Death of Europe." The article is largely a review of Philip Jenkins' new book, God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. Jenkins, best known for his earlier work, The Next Christendom, argues in his new book that the Eurabian future of Europe will not occur. He puts particular stress on the success of the United States in absorbing large religious minorities, a success that did not seem at all certain in 1925. Fr. Neuhaus does not dismiss these points, but he ends on this note:

At a recent dinner with European intellectuals, I put to an influential French archbishop Daniel Pipes' projection: Either assimilation or expulsion or Islamic takeover. That, he said, puts the possibilities much too starkly. "We hope for the first," he said, while we work at reducing immigration and prepare ourselves for soft Islamization." Soft Islamization. It is a wan expression.

It is also a misleading expression. Only the early parts of the process will be soft.

* * *

For a further example of wishful thinking, we turn to Christopher Buckley's protestations that his new novel, Boomsday, is a satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." That essay suggested eliminating hunger in Ireland by eating the children of the poor:

From Publishers Weekly...Reviewed by Jessica Cutler: In his latest novel, Buckley imagines a not-so-distant future when America teeters on the brink of economic disaster as the baby boomers start retiring. ...a radical but tantalizingly expedient solution to that most vexing of issues, the Social Security problem—[a wildly popular blogger] proposes that senior citizens kill themselves in exchange for tax breaks.

May I ask why anyone thinks this is a joke? The attempts in the 1990s to create a constitutional right to suicide were struck down by the courts, but the courts were reduced to speaking in tongues when they gave their reasons. The fact is that, if you accept the privacy-autonomy-liberty principle of the Griswald-Roe decisions, then there is no coherent reason why people should not have the right to end their own lives. In some places, notably in Holland, the medical system is already making extensive use of this logical extension. We should recall that, even in the US, the autonomy principle created the suicide question: it was the premise for the successful anti-natalist campaign that kept birthrates substantially below replacement levels in the 1970s and '80s, thus ensuring that there would be far fewer workers to support the Boomers in their old age. It would make perfect historical sense if the principle that created the problem should also solve it.

* * *

Ah, for the good old days of total war: John Dillin notes in The Christian Science Monitor that the US effort in Iraq has been attended by a certain lack of seriousness, which is true enough, and points to the decisive success of America's total wars. But what is a total war?

Total war means everything belonging to the enemy is a potential target – their factories, their cities, even their civilians. With clear orders from Roosevelt, generals such as Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton knew what to do. They obliterated Germany's and Japan's will to fight. The cost was high, including hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in the Axis homelands.

Not really. Total war consists not so much in what you are willing to do to the enemy as what you are willing to do to yourself. The point is mobilization of the whole society, not annihilation of the other side. (The article remarks that there has been a singular dearth of mobilization for Iraq, which is also true.)

Simply for the purposes of discussion, might I suggest that total war, like the state-monopoly socialism with which it was so closely linked from 1860 to 1945, has become anachronistic? The Bush Administration's problem may be that it deployed the rhetoric of total war for an enterprise that would require no such effort, while the military that was deployed had systematically neglected the civil-administration skills that it would need for the 21st century. Similarly, the Perennial Opposition continued to look abroad for foreign allies and models, just as if Stalin were still in his Kremlin and all were right with the world.

What we may need is not Total War, but the ability to conduct Perpetual War, which by and by will become Perpetual Peace.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-10: 2035; God & the Left

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

John uses this 2007 report from the British Ministry of Defence to riff on some of his favorite themes. In particular, he seems to have well understood that communications technology could be used to surveil and manipulate just as much as it can be used to enrage mobs, and this was well before social media’s peak.

I’m intrigued by the idea that we might have a better set of transnational institutions if we stopped trying to solve the last century’s problems. John here asserts that most of the features of the international system were created to mitigate the scale of industrialized total war between nation states. Now that we are starting to lose the capacity to mobilize citizens in grand projects, the kind of wars we saw in the twentieth century is becoming less likely. Which isn’t quite the same as saying that we couldn’t have massively destructive wars in our future. It is just that the destruction will be because of violence and chaos spilling out of control because state capacity is on the wane.

While in general, I think John’s thoughts are pretty interesting, at least in the short term, here is one he got wrong:

No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights.

After the well-intentioned Angele Merkel invited the world to settle in Germany, lots and lots of migrants took her up on the offer, setting off a populist reaction. The likelihood of lots of people leaving Africa in the 21st century is pretty high too. Lots of people make fun of Steve for talking about the UN demographic predictions that say there will be 4 billion people in Africa by 2100, saying that this is clearly ridiculous.

Maybe. Trends have a way of not continuing forever. One way is that the future people of Africa will find their homes poor and crowded and relatively undeveloped, and they will move elsewhere. This will change everything, as lots and lots of people move into new places. This happened before, in fact. We should expect future demographic transformations to be just as unsettled as the previous ones.

2035; God & the Left

The British Ministry of Defence is entertaining some unhappy thoughts about the year 2035:

Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx's proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe's drops as fertility falls. "Flashmobs" - groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups. This is the world in 30 years' time envisaged by a Ministry of Defence [report]... ....

"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx," says the report. The thesis is based on a growing gap between the middle classes and the super-rich on one hand and an urban under-class threatening social order: "The world's middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest". ...

Migration will increase. Globalisation may lead to levels of international integration that effectively bring inter-state warfare to an end. But it may lead to "inter-communal conflict" - communities with shared interests transcending national boundaries and resorting to the use of violence.

There is a tradition of making retrospective fun of predictions made in sober reports written by committees of the great and the good. Nonetheless, reports like this are not as ridiculous as we pretend. In contrast to popular forecasts, they rarely mention flying cars. I remember the early reports from the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s. They forecast, quite correctly, that first the United States, and then Europe, and then Japan, would go through periods of difficult economic restructuring, with each region going into a relative eclipse that would last about a decade. That was pretty much what happened through the 1990s. As for the famous "Soylent Green" future projected by the likes of Paul Ehrlich and The Club of Rome, they do seem to have been attended by an unusually high level of self-delusion, but even they were really just variations on the theme that certain trends can't continue. Well, the trends did not continue, in part because of reactions to the hysterical forecasts. Judging from the press report quoted above, the MOD-UK does not seem to aspire to prophecy. Let me make a few comments about the issues I excerpted:

Flashmobs: We'll take this as a synecdoche for the security-downside of communications technology.

I suspect that most of these problems create their own remedies. For instance, there is likely to be some way that mass political activity organized through a cell-network could be detected and monitored. Technologies like this should actually facilitate the construction of unprecedentedly powerful tools of surveillance.

And if that does not turn out to be true? Prune back the capabilities of the systems. Information may want to be free, but the infrastructure to support all this subversive chatter is licensed public utilities. Mobile personal communications devices could be as highly regulated as handguns, with the difference that the restrictions on these devices could be made to work.

Brain chips: We should be so lucky.

The end of warfare between states: I think we might distinguish between the end of warfare between states and between nation-states.

We must remember that the state preceded the nation-state and will out last it. The scariest aspect of the nineteenth century and the first half of the 20th was the ability of states to mobilize their populations. This was possible because "the nation" became the chief way that people defined themselves politically. The basic machinery of global governance was designed to mitigate the catastrophic scale of total war, of war between populations, and to smooth down the economic instabilities caused by the efforts of states to manage all economic activity within their borders. However, we may see a world where few states can mobilize their populations because "the nation" has evaporated through demographic changes or has become post-democratically non-political. In such a situation, what the state does with the very limited military force it can deploy becomes less important.

Europe in the 18th century, before the period of mass politics, was a continent where war as almost continual because it was limited enough to be tolerable. It is hardly likely that post-political Europe will return to that condition. However, we should not exclude the possibility of a revival of interstate warfare, for the simple reason it will be for limited objectives.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie: Actually, most revolutionaries have always been middle class.

Classical Marxism was in some ways a modest affair. It married the Hegelian model of history to a not wholly misleading theory of economic cycles. The idea was that history would end with the last economic bust, the one that was so severe that it could not be recovered from. The problem was that the economic crashes were largely an effect of inadequate communication of prices; the severity of the crashes were eminently fixable by regulatory oversight (especially oversight to ensure transparency) and better technology. By the end of the 20th century, the hypothesis that capitalism must be mechanically mortal had been as thoroughly refuted as this kind of question can be. Since then, Marxism itself has been moving in an ever more meta trajectory: consider Hardt & Negri's attempt to redefine production as culture.

That sort of analysis has an audience, but such ideas have nothing to do with politics. Indeed, the fashion for such notions is itself a symptom of the retreat of politics.

On a more general level, there were other projections by the MOD about which we can say with some assurance "reversal is the movement of the Tao." No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights. And climate change is likely to take care of itself. The scary futures it conjures up bear more than a slight resemblance to the Soylent Green future, and seem likely to produce a similar overreaction (not in promoting an economy of scarcity, but in new presumptions about what constitutes good engineering). The adaptation of societies to climate change will become invisible as time goes on.

* * *

Speaking of ancient futures, PBS last night broadcast a documentary entitled Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, about the origins of the mass suicide of 1978. With no disrespect intended to people like Jim Wallis, I could not help but be reminded of the project in the Democratic Party to rescue religion from the right-wing fundamentalists. The fact is that the return of religion to American politics started from the Left. Here's a quote from the Jonestown cult's founder, Reverend Jim Jones, in his salad days:

"I represent divine principle, total equality, a society where people own all things in common, where there's no rich or poor, where there are no races. Wherever there are people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am."

And here's what he said after he shot the visiting congressman and had started passing out the Cool Aid:

In an audiotape that was recovered from the disaster site, Jones declares, "We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."

Jones was by no means a marginal figure. He was important on the Left of the Democratic Party in California because he could deliver a respectable-looking crowd within minutes should a national politician come to visit. There is at least one embarrassing picture of him on the same stage as Marilyn Carter, the wife of Jimmy Carter. And about Jimmy Carter, we should remember that it was he who brought evangelical protestantism to the forefront of national politics, as an expansion of the New Deal Coalition.

There are problems with politically conservative religion, just as there are problems with any attempt to define religion in political terms. Nonetheless, at least in the American context, the most catastrophic association between throne and altar has been on the Left.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-05: Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

No letters of marque for you

No letters of marque for you

Letters of marque never really took off, but private military companies seem to have done relatively well in the years since the Iraq War.

Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

Could the United States prosecute the Terror war by licensing pirates? Instapundit entertains this libertarian fantasy in a posting entitled: BRINGING BACK LETTERS OF MARQUE:

A reader is interested in the idea:

Thing is, I've enough money to hand to train, equip, and deploy six people for six months in the area between Baghdad and Kabul. I'm ex-military, and I'm young enough to be up for a challenge.

Why not open-source the Global War on Terror?

As I recall, the Independent Institute -- a libertarian thinktank not to be confused with that other libertarian thinktank, the Independence Institute -- was pushing this idea right after 9/11. And so was Ron Paul. If I recall correctly (and Wikipedia says the same thing) the United States never signed the treaty renouncing letters of marque and reprisal. So if you want one, apply to Congress, but I doubt the application will be received favorably at this point.

You can read about Letters of Marque here. Again, they were authorizations by a sovereign to private persons to seize and sell the shipping of a designated entity. The point of the authorization was to prevent the recipient of the letter from being hanged as a pirate. In any case, it is irrelevant whether the United States ever signed the Declaration of Paris of 1856, whose signatories foreswore the issuance of these documents. Letters of Marque have dropped out of customary international law in even the most conservative sense. Other states would not recognize them, so parties purporting to operate under their authority would be treated as pirates.

* * *

Speaking of hijacking, Daniel Henninger at Opinion Journal asks whether the attempt by the Democratic Congress to take control of the foreign and military policies of the United States might backfire:

Carried aloft on the gassy fumes of politics, the congressional Democrats may be overshooting on Iraq. Six months from now, they may wish they had been more temperate. Helped finally by the right U.S. military strategy, the Iraq nightmare might be ebbing. Then what?

Actually, there would be a perfectly obvious Plan B. If the Surge in Iraq succeeds (as indeed seems likely at this point: it is really a modest operation), the Democrats could always argue that the establishment of relative peace in Iraq justifies a US withdrawal within a year. Withdrawal could become what tax cuts are to Republicans: a policy for every conceivable situation.

That said, we should remember that the Bush Administration had actually planned to have largely withdrawn by now. Those plans were interrupted by the demolition of the Golden Mosque in 2005 after the last general elections, before which it looked as if peace was supposed to break out. The difference now that a withdrawal can be made to look like a defeat, which suits both the Democrats and Al-Qaeda just fine.

* * *

Returning to piracy in a less metaphorical sense, Victor Davis Hanson says the Iranians captured those British sailors because the Iranians need a war:

It's probably a good rule to do the opposite of anything the Iranian theocracy wants. Apparently, this government is now doing its darnedest to be bombed. So, for the time being, we should not grant them this wish.

In the last three years, the ranting adolescent theocrats in Tehran have alienated the United Nations' Security Council to the point of earning trade sanctions. That's a hard thing to do, given the U.N.'s bias toward the former third world and the way China and Russia value petroleum and trade above all else....

Prior to capturing last month 15 British Navy personnel, Iran had for years misled and embarrassed Britain, Germany and France, who all tried to negotiate a peaceful end to Iranian nuclear proliferation. And as a rule, these are European nations that will suffer almost any indignity to talk a problem away....

It is also nearly impossible to offend the Russian government on any matter of law - except squelching on debts. Still, Iran even accomplished that. Moscow is withdrawing from the country its nuclear technicians, who are critical to Tehran's efforts to obtain the bomb...Those "realists," like former Secretary of State James Baker, who insisted that we talk to Iran are now silent. Iran's serial provocations seem to have finally turned off even those in the West who were always willing to give it a second and third chance...

The Iranian government is desperate to provoke the West to win back friends in the Islamic world...Despite having among the world's largest petroleum reserves, their production is shrinking and they have managed to earn increasingly less petrodollars even as the world price has soared...Their strategy seems to be to find a way to provoke someone to drop a few bombs on them, on the naive assumption that such an assault would be of limited duration and damage. Such an attack, they may figure, would earn them sympathy in much of the world.

There is something to be said for the proposition that the Islamic Republic is like an Eastern European Communist state in the 1980s. I would still argue that the current Iranian regime is working less from desperation than from ambition: they want to show that they can get away with this kind of thing. From what I can gather, however, the resolution has not been a great boost to the domestic popularity of the current regime. Maybe they can't get away with it, but for reasons other than one might have supposed beforehand.

* * *

It's much too late for this:

NEW YORK - A Russian researcher, delving anew into once-secret Soviet files from the Cold War, says she has found no evidence that Alger Hiss spied or that Soviet intelligence had any particular interest in him. In a speech to be delivered at a New York University symposium Thursday, Svetlana A. Chervonnaya says neither Hiss' name nor his alleged spy moniker, Ales, appears in any of dozens of documents from Soviet archives that she has reviewed since the early 1990s.

...[Alger Hiss's son] Tony Hiss, a New York-based writer, said he was encouraged by Chervonnaya's research.

"Her stating of the negative in all this is so strong that it almost becomes a positive," he said. "With her findings, plus new findings from FBI files, we envision reopening the whole field of investigation. After looking for so long like a played-out mine, it's now revealing new veins and whole new galleries of material, but it's far too soon to say this has reached any kind of positive conclusion."

If the Internet had existed in the 1940s and '50s, the Communist-contrived legends of the innocence of Alger Hiss and of the Rosenbergs (the piece mentions them, too) would have been Fisked to shreds in a week or two; there is no reason to suppose this strange attempt to revive them will fare any better. This effort is anachronistic for a deeper reason, however.

It was thought necessary in the Leftist circles of two generations ago to conceal the Soviet element in the American Establishment, until the day would come when progressive influence had grown broad enough to promote Marxism openly. That day arrived in the 1960s. The fellow-traveler network was no longer necessary, because the fellow travelers could work without subterfuge. Well, Der Tag was a dud, and today some explanation is required for younger people to understand what the fuss was all about. These Cold War controversies are less than irrelevant; they are becoming as incomprehensible as Prohibition.

* * *

Moving on to the glorious future, Francis Fukuyama is keen to explain why the thesis he presented in The End of History and the Last Man is not the basis for President Bush's foreign policy. As we read in The Guardian:

To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so...But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society - that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law....The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.

Fukuyama has a point when he suggests that the Bush Administration credited Iraqi society with powers of self-assembly it does not possess. However, the point would be more interesting if The End of History were about the sociology of institutions. In fact, it's about the evolution of political culture, as indeed was the Hegelianism of the vile Alexandre Kojève on which Fukuyama's thesis was based. The End of History really does suggest that any regime short of a liberal democracy will be unstable and ephemeral. That thesis may or may not be true, but Fukuyama is, if you will excuse the expression, The Last Man who could claim that his ideas counseled a Burkean caution that the Bush Administration disregarded.

Not content with distancing himself from the Bush Administration, Fukuyama makes a gesture toward tossing America itself into the dustbin of history:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following [the loathsome] Alexandre Kojève, the Russian- French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

As an aside, we may note that the Bush Administration thought it was establishing the transnational rule of law when it invaded Iraq. Only later did it become clear that the principal international opponents of the invasion were chiefly interested in kickbacks from the Baathist government. The most dispiriting thing about the years around the year 2000 is not that transnational mechanisms were subverted by American hegemonism, but that those mechanisms, many of them lovingly maintained in storage since the 1940s, fell apart as soon as they were turned on.

As for Fukuyama's larger point, it is possible to imagine an EU-like world modeled on that of Isaac Asimov's Trantor: conceived in red-tape, and dedicated to the proposition of the form in quadruplicate. However, such a world would not necessarily be the closed, nihilist sphere of immanence projected onto the future by Kojève.

I never put much credence in the master-slave dialectic that powers Kojève's model of history, but much the same result is reached by the logic of expanding networks that Robert Wright outlined in Nonzero. So, yes, societies move toward civil equality for their citizens; local patriotisms fade; multiple sovereignties move toward structures of universal justice. However, the effect of this broadening of human intercourse is not to banish the transcendent from human experience: quite the opposite. This is the irony of the universal state, something that the unphilosophical Toynbee understood, but which Hegelianism seems to obscure. When the historical process of civilized history eventually clears away the foliage of king and caste, the sky becomes visible, and it turns out not to be empty.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-02: Saecula, Bismarck & Lincoln, House of Lords

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors  Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei,

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors

Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei,

The 1860s were a peculiar decade. You saw the US Civil War, the formation wars of the German Empire, the War of the Triple Alliance in South America that killed something like 70% of all men in Paraguay, and the Taiping Rebellion in China that killed something like 15%-20% of the population.

Saecula, Bismarck & Lincoln, House of Lords

Sometimes, after the world ends, people prefer not to mention the fact, or so we may gather from this comment by David Warren:

The question, at what precise moment did Western Civilization capsize, continues to interest me. ...For long I’ve mentioned August 10th, 1969, as my own estimate for the date of the “great rotation.” ...The proof came to hand, recently, when a friend since early childhood sent me the link to a website where my high school yearbooks were stored: including the entire contents for my Grade IX year of 1967-68, and ditto for my drop-out year of 1969-70. ...The difference is dramatic. The teachers in the earlier yearbook are, when male, invariably in boring suits with narrow ties; and when female, regardless of age, dressed as school marms. The kids themselves, though not uniformed, are almost uniformly wholesome-looking. ...Just two years later, and the teachers are a mess...All these changes happened (not quite literally) overnight. Yet within a year or two, nobody could remember that anything had ever been any different. ....Well, I was kidding about the date. The poet Philip Larkin said the annus mirabilis was 1963.

I have high-school year books from the same period as David Warren, and yes, there is a boundary layer in the 1970 year book, as blatant as a boundary layer of extraterrestrial isotopes in the geological strata that mark the extinction of the dinosaurs. In any case, this mention of a Year of the Great Change inevitably brings to mind Virginia Woolf's famous remark that human nature changed in 1910. However, if we are to believe Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, this is one of the famous sayings that were never quite said, or at least not in the way that we recall:

What she wrote was "On or about December 1910 human character changed." The sentence appears in an essay called "Character in Fiction," which attacks the realist novelists of the time for treating character as entirely a product of outer circumstance—of environment and social class. These novelists look at people's clothes, their jobs, their houses, Woolf says, "but never . . . at life, never at human nature." Modernist fiction, on the other hand, because it presents character from the inside, shows how persistent personality is, and how impervious to circumstance.

Of course, the question of the definition of the saeculum in the 20th century was answered conclusively in R. A. Lafferty's The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney, but that's another story.

* * *

Speaking of saecula, regular readers of this site will be aware that I have argued that the period 1860-1945 is an intelligible unit in Western history: in a mere lifetime, the fortunes of the state and the people became coincident. I mention this now because I was searching Google Video over the weekend, and I came across this biopic of Otto von Bismarck. It's a black-and-white film, made in Germany in 1940; the star is Paul Hartmann. There are no dubbing or subtitles. My German is such that I could follow about a third of the dialogue.

I gather that this film is not regarded as one of the Nazi era's better efforts, but it is not bad for a biopic that was made at government behest. The film does make Bismarck's policies and career more similar to Hitler's than they actually were, but the only overt Nazi influence I could detect was that the film went out of its way to identify a would-be assassin of Bismarck as an English Jew. The film takes the story only to the declaration of German Empire in 1871. I suspect we have all seen this painting of the acclamation of the new Kaiser in the Hall or Mirrors at Versailles. Well, this film staged it.

You can't fault the production details, but there seem to have been some constraints on the producers' resources. The story required crowd scenes and battles scenes, and the film duly presents them, but with an economy of personnel. If we see a line of soldiers, for instance, they will always be shown through trees, marching around a corner, the better to disguise the fact there were not very many of them. The compensation is the fine interiors and the location-scenes at Potsdam and Vienna. The better to illustrate the depravity of the French, the members of the French government are usually shown attending elaborate parties. They seem a merry lot. Napoleon III's mustache is the real star of the film.

The contemporaries of the American Civil War and of the German unification wars of 1860s were aware that they were in some sense analogous events. I find it odd, though, as I search around the Internet, that there seem to be few detailed comparisons of Lincoln and Bismarck. The Theosophists are on the case: in their interpretation, Bismarck and Lincoln were representatives of the Black Lodge and the White Lodge respectively. Dualism is always entertaining, but rarely helpful. Whatever his faults, Bismarck was not one of the villains of history; and though Lincoln may have been one of the heroes, he was history incarnate at its most catastrophic.

* * *

Of course, it might be simpler to damn them both, which is what Adam Young, a follower of Ludwig von Mises, does in the essay Lincoln and Bismarck: Enemies of Liberalism:

"...Abraham Lincoln and Otto von Bismarck--should be viewed as allied together in the common cause of destroying the principles of classical liberalism. Both Lincoln and Bismarck followed the course that Mises rightly named after Bismarck.

It shouldn't be surprising that the actions of two despots would closely parallel each other. The activities involved in centralizing power would necessarily involve similar means to that end--chiefly, war, dictatorship, and deception.

Both Lincoln and Bismarck began their careers laboring in their respective wildernesses in pursuit of their twin goals: the consolidation of their general federations into a centralized regime of privilege and the destruction of free trade and other classical liberal ideas. And both Lincoln and Bismarck would found their power on the slave labor of conscript armies.

So, Slavery is Liberalism; but weren't the Draka protectionists?

* * *

Speaking of the enemies of classical liberalism, Bruce Ackerman is seriously missing the point of reforming the House of Lords in his article, Second Chambers, which appears in the London review of books March 8, 2007. The reform of the British House of Lords, like the rules of cricket, is one of those things that foreigners will go to quite a lot of trouble not to have to hear about. The gist of it is that the Blair Government has abandoned the hereditary principle as the definition of the membership of the Upper House of parliament and now finds itself stuck with finding a way to select new members that will ensure that neither House ever acts like an independent legislature. Ackerman shares this dread: [I]t seems wiser to build on the best traditions of the current House of Lords, and create an appointed assembly which draws broadly on the wisdom and experience of proven leaders from political and civil society.

Once this fundamental point is recognized, it might be possible to reintroduce the democratic principle as a minor theme without doing harm.

"Democracy as a minor theme that does no harm": that is the philosophy that keeps the government of the European Union from ever becoming entirely legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. Is it really a good idea to pump the same post-democratic embalming fluid into the British Constitution?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Order of the Centurion Book Review

…the general said, his voice subdued and low, speaking for just the two of them to hear, “on behalf of a thankful galaxy, I award to you, in the place of your son, the highest honor the Legion can bestow: the Order of the Centurion."

Cover art by  Fabian Saravia

Cover art by Fabian Saravia

Order of the Centurion: Order of the Centurion #1
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 314 pages
Published September 21st 2018 by Galaxy's Edge

The Order of the Centurion series is set in Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s Galaxy’s Edge universe. Other than this first volume, each one is also written with another author or authors, giving us a glimpse not only into other times and places, but differing ways of telling a story around a common theme:

SmartSelect_20190721-124552_Amazon Kindle.jpg

The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.

Order of the Centurion is set many years before Legionnaire, but it serves to bring us full circle in a way, by showing us both how the Legion was brought low by political interference, and also showing us the value of good men who meekly serve something greater than themselves.

The truth of it is, I understand a bit how Lieutenant Washam feels as one of the first appointed officers in the Legion. While he seems in many ways like a Legionnaire, he is in practice always on the outside looking in. No matter what uniform he wears, or what his rank is, he is not one of them.

The fanbase for the Galaxy’s Edge series is heavily weighted toward veterans of military service. Legionnaire in particular seems like the novelization of the Afghanistan experience, and the series as a whole is frequently praised by veterans as a faithful representation of their lived experience. In addition to the shared jokes of barracks life, and the myriad annoyances of living under a hierarchy of leaders who may or may not have been promoted based on their ability to lead and inspire the rough men who guard us while we sleep, one of the key elements of bonding among combat veterans is their shared experience of exhilaration, terror, and random death. At the same time, this separates them from those of us who quite simply have no idea what this is like.

Unlike me, Wash undergoes a baptism of fire that will haunt him forever. Like me, however, Wash is conscious of a barrier of separation between him and the soldiers that he loves and respects. What makes Wash such an admirable man is that his response to scorn and disbelief is to redouble his own efforts, to make the best of himself and his chosen path that he can, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I’ve said before that the real heroes are often dead, which is why the Order of the Centurion is awarded posthumously 98.4% of the time. However, not every hero dies a glorious death. Sometimes, they just toil away in obscurity, wondering why they are the ones who lived.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

The Long View 2007-03-30: Human Nature, Human Rights, Iranian Motives, Goodbye Bees

This is a fun one: I hadn’t remember that John J. Reilly referenced Greg Cochran and John Hawks in 2007.

John also mentions a fairly standard criticism of any attempt to understand human behavior in terms of evolution, the Just So Stories of Kipling. It is sometimes true that such explanations are just ad hoc rationalizations in the mode of fiction, but the charge tends to get used regardless of the merits of the original argument.

A more interesting thing is that many of the most interesting arguments about understanding human behavior in light of evolution and genetics is that the best arguments are often taking advantage of final and formal causation to argue that we can understand something to be true without knowing a detailed mechanism, which then causes the truest of true believers in the supremacy of efficient causes to point and splutter.

Also, I find it a little sad that there have been rumors of war with Iran for the last twelve years at least. Give it up already.

Human Nature, Human Rights, Iranian Motives, Goodbye Bees

Conservatives can appropriate Darwinism in any of several ways. The least problematical is at the intersection of culture and demographics: certain cultural regimes seem to be inconsistent with maintaining the magic replacement-fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. In this sense, the conservative agenda will have succeeded in all essentials on the day when the phrase "The Darwin Award Agenda" principally calls to mind terms like "same-sex marriage" or "reproductive rights." However, there is also a Darwinian conservatism that aspires to make use of the full resources of sociobiology. Larry Arnhart's blog, Darwinian Conservatism, is an able presentation of this position.

There are two points that anyone interested in following this line of thought should consider. The first is one associated with most applications of "applied Darwinism": the explanations often look suspiciously like Just So Stories. There is also this point: maybe human nature ain't what it used to be:

Human evolution has been speeding up tremendously, a new study contends—so much, that the latest evolutionary changes seem to largely eclipse earlier ones that accompanied modern man’s “origin.” ....The authors are Cochran and anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin Madison. “Holocene [from -10K years ago] changes were similar in pattern and... faster than those at the archaic-modern transition,” A “thing that should probably worry people is that brains have been getting smaller for 20,000 to 30,000 years,” said Cochran. But brain size and intelligence aren't tightly linked, he added. Also, growth in more advanced brain areas might have made up for the shrinkage, Cochran said; he speculated that an al­most breakneck evolution of higher foreheads in some peoples may reflect this. A study in the Jan. 14 British Dental Journal found such a trend visible in England in just the past millennium, he noted, a mere eye­blink in evolutionary time. ...[I]n a 2000 book The Riddled Chain..[b]ased on computer models, [John McKee] argued that evolution should speed up as a population grows...Many of the changes found in the genome or fossil record reflect metabolic alterations to adjust to agricultural life, Cochran said. Other changes simply make us weaker.

In the June 2003 issue of the research journal Current Anthropology, Helen Leach of the University of Otago, New Zealand wrote that skeletons from some populations in the human lineage have undergone a progressive shrinkage and weakening, and reduction in tooth size, similar to changes seen in domesticated animals. Humans seem to have domesticated themselves, she argued, causing physical as well as mental changes.

Never let anyone scare you with visions of the human race being replaced by artifacts. We are the artifacts.

* * *

"Human Rights" has become an Orwellian term, according to Joseph Bottum First Things:

“Peace is a communist plot,” Irving Kristol used to observe back during the Cold War...every organization with the word peace in its title was a communist front...the equation holds as true now as did then: Human rights are a communist plot, and international human rights are an international communist plot...Well, maybe not communist...Some amorphous radical leftism is clearly afloat in the world. Generally undefined in philosophy, economics, or eschatology, it seems nonetheless able to unite the most unlikely bedfellows: terrorists, and sexual-transgression artists, and agitators for radical Islam, and abortion activists, and third-world dictators—anybody, anywhere, who thinks there’s an advantage to be gained from claiming that the West is wrong. And they can always join under a banner emblazoned with that noble phrase “human rights.”

There is something to this, particularly at those United Nations agencies where the foxes are in firm possession of the chicken coops. Still, we should remember the insistence by the United States that the Helsinki Accords of 1975 contain a human-rights plank. The Soviet Union had wanted the Accords to set in stone the Cold War division of Europe, but the human-rights plank delegitimized the European Marxist regimes in a mere 15 years.

What's the difference between "human rights" as principles that protect freedom and "human rights" as an ideology that justifies enslavement and promotes extinction? About this, Dinesh D'Souza was perfectly correct: the civil liberties that the Founding Fathers understood are workable and almost universally attractive; the social engineering projects that come out of the transnational human rights industry are disliked and dysfunctional. Could the distinction be as simple as the one that Oliver Wendell Holmes proposed, that between procedural and substantive rights?

* * *

Speaking of catchy turns of phrase, was Vox Day the first to refer to the US presidency as The Cherry Blossom Throne?

* * *

About the Iranian seizure of British sailors in the Persian Gulf, Time Magazine has this to say in connection with the question, Is a U.S.-Iran War Inevitable?:

This week Iranian diplomats are telling interlocutors that, yes, they realize seizing the Brits could lead to a hot war. But, they point out, it wasn't Iran that started taking hostages — it was the U.S., when it arrested five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Erbil in Northern Iraq on January 11. They are diplomats, the Iranians insist. They were in Erbil with the approval of the Kurds and therefore, they argue, are under the protection of the Vienna Convention.

Iranian grievances, real and perceived, don't stop there. Tehran is convinced the U.S. or one of its allies was behind the March 2006 separatist violence in Iranian Baluchistan, which ended up with 20 people killed, including an IRGC member executed. And the Iranians believe there is more to come, accusing the U.S. of training and arming Iranian Kurds and Azeris to go back home and cause problems. Needless to say the Iranians are not happy there are American soldiers on two of its borders, as well as two carriers and a dozen warships in the Gulf. You call this paranoia? they ask.

Actually, I would call the Iranians mendacious, and I would call the editors of Time that, too, were not honest stupidity a more economical explanation. Surely the only explanation the incident requires is that the recent votes in the US Congress to, in effect, lose the war in Iraq by a date certain show that US hegemony is evaporating; the Iranians took the sailors to demonstrate that Iran can now act with impunity, and the states of the region should restructure their foreign policies accordingly.

I suspect that that Iran will release the sailors in short order; the Iranians probably believe their point has been made. Of course, it is possible that Iran wants a war now, believing that, however much damage they suffer at first, the US and UK will be unable, for domestic reasons, to sustain it for more than a few days.

* * *

Any reader of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy can read these reports only with great distress:

Across the country, honey bees are disappearing by the thousands. ...

“This is unique in that bees are disappearing,” Hayes said. “The hives are empty. You don’t see dead bodies. The colony, over time, dwindles until you don’t see anything left in the colony.”

So long, thanks for all the gardens?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-03-28: AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Charles Darwin  By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain,

Charles Darwin

By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain,

John J. Reilly makes a statement here that I readily agree with, but is probably highly non-obvious to almost everyone:

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization.

To assert that What Would Darwin Do? leads to much the same policy prescriptions as What Would Jesus Do? requires some unpacking. Or maybe come contextualization.

To start, John clearly doesn’t mean what Charles Darwin himself might suggest if he were alive. Darwin, and most of his family, were in the English freethinker tradition, and as such not particularly interested in traditional Christianity or in any ideas that come out of it. John is rather using Darwin as a synecdoche for a tradition of thinking about humans in light of evolution that probably owes at least as much, if not more, of an intellectual debt to Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.

In an American context, the phrase WWJD? is mostly used in evangelical Christianity, which has not exactly been known for welcoming evolutionary concepts. However, since John was Catholic, he was more likely thinking in terms like those articulated in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connunbii, which said:

66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may come of it.[52]

68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

Pope Pius XI was making an argument not wholly dissimilar from Galton here. Galton of course did not share the Pope’s ideas about what was right and wrong in terms of marriage and sex, but they were both saying that it wasn’t crazy to think about whether potential children might inherit poor health. Even Galton wasn’t making the argument almost everyone today assumes he was, since he was wholly opposed to anything coercive.

So what did John probably mean? Since he provided a link, we should have a pretty strong clue. A modern attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism can be found on the blog DarwinCatholic, which took its name from an attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism. The two big things added are genetics, unknown to Galton, and the bitter fruits of widespread contraceptive technology.

In this argument, echoed by Pope Emeritus Benedict in the linked article, the future belongs to those to bother to have kids, since people who don’t want them don’t have them. When you combine this with the heritability of personality and behavior, you get the conclusion that in the long run, you tend to get more of whatever results in having more kids who survive to adulthood. Right now, one of those things is traditional religiosity.

AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Kindly artificial intelligences at often send me suggestions for books I might want to buy, based on my previous purchases. Usually, these suggestions are plausible, but yesterday I got this:

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization by Patrick J. Buchanan have also ordered And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress by Charles B. Rangel. For this reason, you might like to know that Charles B. Rangel's And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress will be released on April 3, 2007. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of $5.99 by following the link below.

On Charlie Rangel be peace, but it is unimaginable that anyone who bought The Death of the West is a candidate to buy that legislator's memoir. Could it be that a sufficient criterion for being alerted to the publication of this book is to have once bought a book about politics? Talk about spam.

* * *

The Vatican has stopped returning my phonecalls about when Benedict XVI will release the motu proprio authorizing the universal use of the Tridentine Mass. There is no reason to doubt that he will do so eventually, though the event has been delayed so long that it is passing from expectation to eschatology. In any case, we should note that some friends of the Latin Mass do not want the motu proprio to issue, arguing, as one such person told me last Sunday, that it would commence "the Novus-Ordo-ization of the Tridentine Mass."

The argument has some force. Under the current Indult system for authorizing the Tridentine Mass, the congregations most likely to receive permission are those with the liturgical and musicological resources to have a chance of doing it well; and even so, "the Tridentine Mass" in many places today means unsung Low Masses that seem not just puritanically austere, but deliberately anti-esthetic. The motu proprio, should it issue, would turn the realization of the Old Mass over to the same people who structured the New Mass in such a way as to persuade two generations of Catholics that their Sunday mornings would be better spent on home repairs.

Nonetheless, there is no alternative to casting chant before swine. The Tridentine Mass was always a work in progress, with a nip-and-tuck made every generation or so. Indeed, if I understand correctly, the greatest anomaly of recent decades is that the Tridentine Mass now means a liturgy frozen in amber in the Missal of 1962. We must now begin the work of transition that will not finally be completed until the Imperial Period. We have not yet seen the immemorial Mass, anymore than we have yet seen classical English prose. When these things arrive, they will be faithful to the past and continuous with it. They will, however, be revivals. As is the nature of revivals, they will in some ways be improvements over the originals.

* * *

Mark Steyn may be a Demography Bore by his own account, but his arguments in America Alone are not going to go away. Here's a version of the same themes on the blog DarwinCatholic: Where Religion, Philosophy and Demographics Meet:

Population and Ideology

This has been my pet topic, and the overall purpose for this blog. With the advent of universally available birth control, child bearing is essentially "optional" which (as a number of demographers are just beginning to point out) means that the main drivers of fertility in the coming decades will be not economics and food supply but faith and ideology.

I cannot say which blogs Pope Benedict reads, but he has recently been expressing thoughts along the same lines:

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children. "One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.

Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile"—though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization. As I may have also remarked, demography affords arguments that today's conservatives could win, but which they are not self-evidently prepared to make.

* * *

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has some sophisticated remarks in the April issue of First Things one the relationship between science and scientism, with an eye to explaining why empirical evolutionary science is entirely consistent with a providential interpretation of history:

In the traditional view, the Creator endows nature with a kind of quasi-intelligence: Like an agent, nature "acts" for an "end," with immanent principles of self-unfolding and self-operation. Newton, by contrast, is already seized by the early modern "mechanical philosophy," in which nature is seen as a kind of unnatural composite of passive, unintelligent, preexisting matter, on which the order has been extrinsically imposed by a Supreme Intelligence.

Actually, the Cardinal's quarrel seems to be not so much with Newton as with John Scotus: it was Nominalism that began the disenchantment of the world. Fifty years ago, one might have dismissed "the traditional view" as described here as vitalism, but today one can argue that there is quite a lot of teleology in evolutionary history. The Schoolmen's principle that matter contains "intelligible elements" may, perhaps, have been reincarnated in complexity theory.

Nonetheless, we could lose something if we abandon the mechanical world. That would probably have been the view of William Ernest Hocking. I quote from my own review of The Coming World Civilization:

Consider, for instance, the most extreme view of 19th-century science, that the world is nothing but dead matter. Hocking calls that "the Night Vision." He also argues that it is a great moral achievement. Western science is based on the virtues of humility and austerity: humility before the facts, and the rejection of extravagance in the making of hypotheses. Francis Bacon said: "We cannot command nature except by obeying her." Science is the willful suppression of self-will. Only thus could the will of God be known, as manifest in the created world.

There is something to that.

* * *

Speaking of First Things, the April issue also contains a essay in appreciation of the science-fiction writer, Gene Wolfe. Now, Wolfe was a worthy wizard, to whom we owe the expression The Claw of the Conciliator, but his work seems to have been discussed simply because he was Catholic. I must point out that First Things has been in business for 17 years, but they have yet to so much as mention R. A. Lafferty, the greatest Catholic science-fiction writer of the 20th century.

May I ask what the editors think they are about?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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Veil of Shadows Book Review

An old old idea in fantastical fiction is that it might be possible to enhance, or even replace, parts of the human body, giving the subject greater power. Since this often produces an unsettling, or even disturbing result by deviating from the natural appearance and abilities of a typical human being, it also raises the fear that doing such a thing calls into question the human nature of the person so enhanced.

Veil of Shadows: Empire of Bones Saga Volume 2
by Terry Mixon
Yowling Cat Press (April 20, 2019)
ISBN 978-1947376021 [Volume 1-3 omnibus edition]

I was provided a review copy courtesy of the author.

Adam Jensen is not entirely happy with the direction of his life

Adam Jensen is not entirely happy with the direction of his life

When the mode of the story is one of tragedy, that is often exactly what happens. This, however, is not a tragedy, but rather a romance, by which I mean a sequence of marvelous adventures. Often, in an adventure story, our hero is markedly superior to other men. Faster on the draw, stronger, more clever, more beautiful than their foes. In an otherwise mundane universe, cybernetic enhancements can give a character something very much like superpowers.

An undesired transformation of this sort is a way that we can introduce an element of pathos to the hero’s story, without completely losing what makes an adventure story exciting and wondrous. I think you can dial this element up or down, and end up with stories that feel different even though they are exploring the same concepts. The circumstances of a character’s involuntary transformation shape their character and their place in the universe.

You can go for something only one step removed from horror, as in the Stroggification sequence from Quake 4. Kelsey’s experience in book 1 isn’t far off from this.

The stroggification sequence from Quake 4 matches up well with Kelsey’s experience in book 1

The stroggification sequence from Quake 4 matches up well with Kelsey’s experience in book 1

Or you can go for something a bit more subtle, like the self-inflicted anguish of Will Smith’s Del Spooner, who is only a monster in his own mind. Since her outward appearance is unchanged, thanks to the medical technology of her society, Kelsey does not have to deal with shock and rejection just because she walked into a room.

Rather, her struggles are those of a victim of a crime. Grief and loss as she tries to cope with the knowledge of what happened to her, plus an entirely reasonable fear that she might hurt someone by accident, as the rescue interrupted the implantation procedure. Her psychological feeling of a loss of control is shadowed by a very physical lack as well.

But, since this is an adventure, Kelsey doesn’t wallow in self-pity like Detective Spooner, but rather deals with her trauma in roughly the same way that Teddy Roosevelt dealt with the death of his mother and first wife: by never leaving herself a quiet moment to think about it. Fortunately for her, the opportunity to pay back her attackers comes quickly.

To heighten the tension, Kelsey and her half-brother Jared, commander of their ill-fated expedition, are drawn into local politics as well. A coup is imminent among their new allies, because why waste a good crisis when you can consolidate your position?

As the series progresses, we learn more and more of what the pre-Fall Empire of Man was like, and the magnitude of the disaster that befell it. This is of course part of the fun, and I like the pacing of revelations in Mixon’s work. A good backstory makes an enjoyable work even more interesting for me, and we get to learn about the world at the same time that Jared and Kelsey do.

The second volume has time for quite a lot of action, since the stage was set so well in book 1. Each new discovery broadens the universe, and the scope of what can be seen and done. Since the scene has been set, now I can look forward to seeing Kelsey drive her enemies before her.


The Long View 2007-03-22: Conrad Black, Biblical Literacy, the No-State Solution, Theology in the Air

Council of Trent, painting in the Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio, Trento  By Laurom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Council of Trent, painting in the Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio, Trento

By Laurom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This paragraph contains a line that has echoed in my mind for more than a decade now:

This item caught my eye, however, because I am already taking the professor's advice: as an exercise for Lent, I am reading the whole Bible. I started on the New Testament just last night.

This exercise is strenuous but useful. Reading so much material so fast shakes the reader free of both the historical-critical method and theology. Those things are valuable, even necessary, but they obscure the canon. The canon is more than the sum of its parts. It has emergent properties. Just ask Northrop Frye.

The canon John J. Reilly has in mind here is the canonical books of the Bible, as defined by the Council of Trent during the Counter-Reformation. I was struck by the idea that the collected books of the Bible constitute something more than just a literal library of texts, but is a coherent whole. The proximate cause of the Council defining the canon was Luther’s attempt to excise books he found uncongenial. In retrospect, the Council also defended an idea that hadn’t really been well articulated yet: as literature, the Bible really does have a narrative arc that is destroyed by attempting to alter it.

Conrad Black, Biblical Literacy, the No-State Solution, Theology in the Air

We live in the land of biblical idiots, according to Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. He has apparently been making this point for some time, as we see on his blog. His most recent comments along these lines were in the Los Angelos Times, which helpfully put them behind a registration screen. Here is the gist of it:

Public school courses that promote Bible literacy can enhance our civic life.

Biblical illiteracy is not just a religious problem. It is a civic problem with political consequences. How can citizens participate in biblically inflected debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment without knowing something about the Bible? ...One solution to this civic problem is to teach Bible classes in public schools. ...the Supreme Court has repeatedly given a constitutional stamp of approval to academic courses about religion.

Persons of a cynical turn of mind might remark that public school courses in the Bible as an academic subject would create considerable demand for graduates with degrees in religion. This item caught my eye, however, because I am already taking the professor's advice: as an exercise for Lent, I am reading the whole Bible. I started on the New Testament just last night.

This exercise is strenuous but useful. Reading so much material so fast shakes the reader free of both the historical-critical method and theology. Those things are valuable, even necessary, but they obscure the canon. The canon is more than the sum of its parts. It has emergent properties. Just ask Northrop Frye.

* * *

Speaking of literary exercises, I recommend very highly the Tolkien site, Middle Earth Tours. The site is a an orderly anthology of Tolkien-related graphics from many sources, plus a little fan fiction.

Turning from Tolkien to fanciful matters, we note this illustration at Powerline of Jerry Pournelle's observation that Congress and the president are in a race to prove which is more unworthy to conduct the affairs of the nation and both are winning:

How many times have you heard that President Bush's approval ratings are low? Guess what: the Democratic Congress's approval rating is lower...For some reason, this hasn't been getting much press. But the low esteem in which voters held Congress prior to November's election barely changed after the Democrats took power in January. Today, Gallup notes that the modest bounce Congress experienced in January and February is now gone...

The modest uptick in approval of the job being done by Congress has dissipated for the most part after only two months. According to Gallup's monthly update on job approval of Congress -- in a March 11-14, 2007, national poll -- 28% of Americans approve of the job being done by Congress and 64% disapprove.

I wonder whether polls after the congressional elections of 1930 would have shown a similar result. Herbert Hoover was the increasingly unpopular Republican president, and in those elections he lost control of Congress. Congress, however, did not seem to be doing much good either: it was not in a position to make policy, just to oppose whatever the president was trying to do.

In any case, no one should take satisfaction that both elected branches of the federal government are regarded as repulsive and incompetent by a large majority of Americans.

* * *

Meanwhile, Conrad Black, hero of the Anglosphere, is on trial in federal court in Chicago for malicious mopery and public conspiculation. Well, the actual charges, which have to do with non-competition agreements and the use of corporate funds for private purposes, are a little hard to follow. The confusion is really not much clarified by the daily blogging of the event by Black's old protégé, Mark Steyn. Steyn's refrain is that both sides need "a narrative." His narrative so far is that a defense panel of grumpy and rumpled Chicago lawyers is running rings around the fashion-plate attorneys representing the government.

Black is not just a newspaper magnate (stripped of his holdings for the moment) but also a biographer. A few years ago, he published a well-regarded work, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion Of Freedom. He is just now publishing another book, The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon.

You can't make this stuff up.

* * *

Well, if you could make it up, you might come up with something like The Winter of Our Discontent by Harry Turtledove and Bryce Zabel. The latter is a film producer with an interest in alternative history. The book is about the impeachment of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: the idea is that, if he had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas, some awkward facts might have come to light about why certain people wanted him dead.

Note, by the way, that Zabel uses "alternative history" rather than "alternate history." As I have repeatedly observed, the latter phrase is unsatisfactory, because it implies just two possibilities.

* * *

Mark Steyn still has time for doomsday, despite his duties at the Black trial. I think this observation ties quite a lot together:

To modify the Palestinian peace-process cliches, these “collections of violent groups” are in favor of a no-state solution. In Thailand, they target the lowest officials of the kingdom – schoolteachers, policemen and municipal functionaries. The object is to emphasize that not only can these people not protect you but that associating with them is likely to endanger you, too. If the state reacts with a bloody crackdown on Muslims, that’s good news for the insurgents. If the state instead dithers uncertainly, that works, too. The Buddhist villages in the south are emptying out, week by week, remorselessly.

There are no-state solutions popping up hither and yon these days, from Somalia to southern Lebanon to Waziristan. If you can hollow out a state from within, the husk provides useful cover for all kinds of activities, as we should have learned from Afghanistan. In fact, these non-state actors practice a more effective multilateralism than most great powers. ....East is east and west is west and ne’er the twain shall meet, but Kipling never saw Heathrow and Manchester airports when the flights land bearing Pakistani wives from the old villages for young Muslim husbands in Bradford and Leeds and Birmingham and Bristol. There, too, is another no-state solution in the making.

Anarchism was (and is) a flaky ideology. The no-state solution, in contrast is a culture, capable of evangelization.

* * *

The anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is not essentially a religion, though it seems to excite a religious resonance in many people. Here is an unusually sophisticated example:

In a thought-provoking statistical analysis, Dr. Peter Tsigaris of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, Canada, concludes that whether or not climate change can be wholly attributed to human factors, it makes strong economic and environmental sense to treat it as human-caused and take action now. ...“As one of my statistics students, Robert Guercio, wrote in his exam booklet, ‘The cost of a type I error would mean spending a great amount of money and time focusing on how we can stop humans from causing global warming when humans are not the problem, but the cost of a type II error would mean spending a great deal of money and time on finding what is causing global warming and then continue to work on some factor of global warming, but not focusing on the real factor, humans.” ...“The cost of changing behaviour and taking action now is estimated at one percent of global GDP and this can be seen as an investment from a long-term perspective: investing in cleaner technologies and also putting a price tag on the use of our atmosphere. If we delay as we would do if we accepted that climate change is not human-caused when this conclusion was false, we would be faced with a huge cost,” warns Tsigaris.

And what is this? It's Pascal's Wager.

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Empire of Bones Book Review

Empire of Bones Saga Volume 1
by Terry Mixon
Yowling Cat Press (April 20, 2019)
ISBN 978-1947376021 [Volume 1-3 omnibus edition]

I was provided a review copy courtesy of the author.

Empire of Bones is a future history space opera with a military scifi feel. I think all of those things are important descriptors, because it sets the stage for what kind of book this is trying to be. If you are interested in that, this book will be a lot of fun.

So what kind of book is this? Primarily, it is an adventure story, the kind of thing J. D. Cowan usefully described as “exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities”. The primary fun is seeing what is around the next corner. But there are a lot of different ways to approach this kind of story, so let’s look further.

We, and the protagonists, find ourselves in our own far future, which is why I call it a future history. A future history, and its close cousin alternative history, look at how the world might be if you assume a certain pivotal event occurs. The primary difference is whether that event is in the past, or the future. The preeminent example of this in my mind is Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s CoDominium, and the greatest book set in that universe is the Mote in God’s Eye, which which this book shares common themes. The Terran Empire, a galaxy-spanning civilization, came to a terrible end nearly five hundred years prior to this novel, except the Imperial heir escaped to a remote world to refound the dynasty. Now, that world is reaching out to the stars again.

In addition to the second foundation of the Empire of Man, another element that Empire of Bones shares with Mote is a naval emphasis. There is a grand old tradition of naval adventure novels, with Master and Commander being an example, which military scifi novels of this type tends to draw upon. The convention has become that space navies follow the tradition of oceanic navies, with different authors picking different national traditions to draw upon in order to flesh out shipboard routine.

An interesting difference here is that Niven and Pournelle based their navy on the age of sail. In the CoDominium, it takes weeks to traverse between Alderson points within a system, making travel times long for a journey of any distance. For Empire of Bones, the drive technology is far more powerful, resulting in travel times over similar distances of mere days. In addition to altering the political dynamic by making it possible for the universe to effectively be smaller, it makes ship combat very different, like battleships that move like fighter aircraft. Well, fighter craft with a hell of a lot of momentum.

It is also a space opera, which means that our hero and heroine are legendary figures in the making. We can expect them to get into trouble and then barely escape, using pluck, wits, and any sweet Old Empire technology they manage to scrounge up. I also think space opera is dominant in the mix, which means that we are not primarily going to be getting a careful look at how history might unfold if you follow Toynbee’s model of history, which is the back story of Mote. You also aren’t going to get detailed logistics or the kind of fussy battle planning which means the Captain never leads the away party.

We do get pitched battles, unknown enemies of unusual viciousness, melodrama, and romance. Space Opera. For example, our female protagonist, Kelsey Bandar, spare heir to the Terran Empire, is ostensibly on board the ship as the understudy to a more experienced diplomat.

As it turns out due to an unfortunate series of events, Kelsey ends up with approximately the same negotiating skills as Korben Dallas.

If you want scifi that is more on the speculative end, or military scifi that strongly focuses on realism [you send middies to die on away missions], then you may not find what you are looking for here. If you like seeing bad guys blown up and exploring and reconquering worlds that humanity lost, then this is probably for you.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

The Long View 2007-03-15: Global Warming and Conversation Stoppers

The conversation

The conversation

This bit is particularly funny now that “conversation” has started to have the meaning “I talk and you listen” in politics.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton officially rescinded her bid for president at an Iowa campaign appearance Saturday..."America, you spoke clearly and with conviction—and I listened. And so I say to you today: Let the conversation end."

Global Warming and Conversation Stoppers

I quote this item from The Onion not because I have strong feelings about Senator Clinton, but because it expresses my wish for so many issues in our public life:

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton officially rescinded her bid for president at an Iowa campaign appearance Saturday..."America, you spoke clearly and with conviction—and I listened. And so I say to you today: Let the conversation end."

More argument; less chatter.

* * *

Some plans for subverting the Islamic Republic of Iran are better than others. Consider this comment from Joseph Puder:

It was flattering to read Edward Luttwak’s piece in the Wall Street Journal (February 27, 2007) titled Persian Shrug. In the opinion piece Luttwak repeated this writer’s argument, expressed a year ago on the pages of the Philadelphia Bulletin that U.S. strategy with regard to Iran must involve the various ethnic minorities in Iran that account for almost 50 percent of the population.

The Kurds in northwestern Iran adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan comprise 7 percent of the Iranian population....Based in the oil rich province of Khuzestan in the Gulf region of Iran, the Arabs account for 3 percent of the population...The Baluch (2 percent of Iran’s population) in Iranian Baluchistan ...Turkman Sunni Muslims (2 percent of the population)...And then of course there are the Azeris who count for 24 percent of Iran’s people.

That piece also talks about encouraging reformist groups in Iran who seek to return to the original draft for the constitution of the Islamic Republic, which would have created a state much less clerical than the existing one. That's a good idea. The same is not self-evidently the case with promoting ethnic secessionist groups in Iran. Such a policy would also strike at the integrity of Pakistan, Turkey, and Iraq, all of which share borders and minorities with Iran.

Then there is also this: the door swings both ways. The danger that irredentist or secessionist movements could threaten the integrity of the United States is actually what the immigration issue is about. The US should think twice about promoting such movements abroad, for the same reason that it should think twice about launching a war of assassins. In either kind of conflict, the United States has no special advantages.

* * *

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Despite McCain’s recent appeals to the GOP’s conservative base and a positive military image as a former prisoner of war, his record is drawing the ire of economic conservatives and some of the same veterans who worked to tar Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign.

The anti-tax group Club for Growth yesterday released a review of McCain’s record on its top priorities and cautioned against electing him president. Meanwhile, a new “527” advocacy group, similar to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has pledged to expose McCain as a communist apologist who turned his back on prisoners of war.

The attacks in 2004 on John Kerry's war record were, some of them, distasteful, too. They caused his campaign to implode, however, because for some unfathomable reason he had chosen to run as a war veteran.

* * *

The learned and ingenious Jerry Pournelle has provided this YouTube link to the complete broadcast of The Great Global Warming Swindle, first aired on BBC Channel 4 on March 8. The documentary's website is here.

The documentary is the best kind of polemic, in this case against the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. The documentary's chief thesis is that global warming and cooling are caused, indirectly, by changes in solar activity. Cosmic rays, we are told, are an important factor in cloud formation, and cloud cover promotes cooling. Some fraction of these cosmic rays are kept away from the Earth's atmosphere by the sun's magnetic field. That field expands and contracts in a not wholly predictable fashion; the variation is evidenced by the increase in sunspots when the sun is more active and the sun's magnetic field is expanding.

The documentary makes much of duelling graphs: we are shown that historical reconstructions of CO2 levels in the atmosphere fit only very loosely with estimated temperatures of the Earth's atmosphere, while those temperatures fit very well with graphs of sunspots and cosmic rays.

We also get a great deal of politics. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is credited with introducing global warming to the arena of high policy. She did not trust the the strike-prone miners to produce coal, and she did not trust the nations of the Middle East to produce oil without political conditions. She favored nuclear power as the alternative. Therefore, she funded the development of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis in order to provide a pro-nuclear argument that was not economic or political.

Since the Thatcher government, global warming has become the centerpiece of an international, neo-Marxist, anticapitalist, anti-American ideology. Indeed, we are given to understand that global warming consoles the Left for the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Great Global Warming Swindle is very persuasive, but it is a polemic: we don't get to hear any experts from the other side. This detracts from the force of the argument. If the documentary is right, then the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is not just wrong, but trivially wrong. Would it have been so difficult to trap a pro-global-warming climatologist in an elevator and confront him with the evidence of his folly?

If you are looking for a response to the program, you might start with that of John Houghton, President of the John Ray Initiative, who answers the documentary's central argument thus:

Changes in solar output together with the absence of large volcanoes (that tend to cool the climate) are likely to have been causes for the rise in temperature between 1900 and 1940. However, the much more complete observations of the sun from space instruments over the past 40 years demonstrate that such influences cannot have contributed significantly to the temperature increase over this period. Other possibilities such as cosmic rays affecting cloud formation have been very carefully considered by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] (see the 3rd Assessment Report on and there is no evidence that they are significant compared with the much larger and well understood effects of increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

When we go to the IPCC's 3rd Assessment Report, we find: section Cosmic rays and clouds. There we are told that there is no proven mechanism whereby cosmic rays produce clouds, and that the relationship of cloud cover to atmospheric temperature is also problematical.

This is all fair enough. However, though I may be missing something (if I am, please tell me), but I don't think that the report quite addresses the strong correlation that the documentary claims to exist between the incidence of sunspots and the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere. As we all know, correlation is not causation, but a strong correlation is a sign that says: dig here!

* * *

Finally, if you have not noticed already, my long review of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home is now online.

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The Long View: The Enemy at Home

I’m not sure it was even fair in 2007 to describe Dinesh D’Souza like this:

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution

But by now, it is clear that D’Souza is a hack, but at least he maintains a reasonable sense of humor, as the tweet below demonstrates.

Still funny

Still funny

The Enemy at Home:
The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
By Dinesh D’Souza
Doubleday, 2007
333 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 978-0-385-51012-7

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution, has been regaling his readers for years with tales of the political and cultural depravities of the American left. In The Enemy at Home, he takes this polemic to a more cosmic level. The result is a thorough, thoughtful book that mixes many valid points with others that are, at best, problematical. The author’s critique of the left has a subtext that conservatives might want to think twice about before signing on for his planetary culture war.

“Why do they hate us?” spokesmen for the cultural left asked immediately after the attacks of September 11. Then they pointed their fingers at their allegedly bigoted and militaristic conservative countrymen. D’Souza’s thesis is that the fingers should have been pointed in the opposite direction. The essentially bohemian cultural and family mores of the cultural left have been foisted for two generations onto American society as progressive social policy; more recently, the left has used popular culture and the increasing coercive power of the UN and transnational agencies to impose these policies abroad. The effect has been to incite outrage among traditional peoples worldwide. In the case of Islam, the outrage created a violent radical faction that struck back. This is the state of things today:

“So, realize it or not, American conservatives are fighting a two-front war. The first is a war against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The second is a political struggle against the left and its pernicious political and moral influence in America and around the globe. My conclusion is that the two wars are intimately connected. In fact, we cannot win the first war without also winning the second war.”

The book is very precise in identifying the cultural left. In fact, towards the end, there is a helpful list of the politicians, academics, artists, and organizations who are its most well-known proponents. As a matter of definition, though, the cultural left consists of those people who look to their subjective intuitions for moral standards, rather than to a pre-existing standard outside themselves. The latter is the mark of traditional peoples the world over, including Christians. These traditional moral systems, we are assured, differ only in detail. Cultural leftists do have a morality, but a modern, highly aggressive morality based on personal autonomy. The author never ceases to remind us that cultural leftists love America and wish to spread its ideals universally. The problem is that the America they love is exclusively their own:

“Here in America, a longtime man of the left, Christopher Hitchens, argues that modern America represents the values of secularism, feminism, and homosexuality. An outspoken atheist, Hitchens is the author of a book vilifying Mother Teresa entitled The Missionary Position. It is ‘godless hedonistic America’ and the state of Massachusetts’s recent sanction of practices such as homosexual marriage, Hitchens gleefully points out, that provoke the ‘writhing faces and hoarse yells of the mullahs and the fanatics.’ It is in defense of this godless, hedonistic America that Hitchens supports the Bush administration’s war on radical Islam.”

The author supports that war too, including the war in Iraq, in part because America’s enemy in that war is what he calls “radical Islam.” The latter is a modern deformation of traditional Islam, though these two differ in tactics and political temperament rather than theology. Only through alliance with traditional Islam is there hope for traditional, Red State, Christian America. (Late in the book, traditional Judaism gets a friendly nod, too.) The author contends that though “liberalism” in the Hollywood sense is repulsive to traditional people, classical liberalism is not. Islam, in the author’s telling, is entirely consistent with democracy, market economics, the rule of law, and the decent treatment of women. If America again becomes known in the world as the chief proponent of those things, as well as for respect for religion, the popular base for the radicals will evaporate.

The author is a Catholic from India, a country whose Hindu heritage is quite as traditional as that of Islam. Muslims are tempted to fly airplanes into American skyscrapers but Hindus are not, if I understand the argument correctly, because the Islamic world is governed by “liberal tyrants.” These regimes curry favor with transnational institutions by importing the latest ideas about family law and homosexuality from the West, and particularly from America. By the end of the 1980s, the domestic opposition to the liberal tyrants had despaired of overthrowing them. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then the apparent unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to suffer military casualties, persuaded the radicals that America itself might easily be intimidated into a retreat from the Muslim world, thereby leaving the American client-regimes vulnerable.

Once the attacks began (and remember, they began in 1993 with the first bombing of the World Trade Center), the cultural left has either opposed any forceful American response to them, or has insisted that the response be restricted to futile law enforcement. There are several reasons for this opposition, none of which is connected with pacifism. For one thing, some members of the left immediately imagined that their own critique of American society was also held by its enemies, and so they pronounced the attacks justified. Another reason for opposition, at least according to the author, is that the Bush Administration has sought to spread democracy. The left has soured on democracy as a method of implementing its cultural agenda; it is much happier working through the courts and through transnational institutions. Finally, and most important, the attacks of the radical Islamists may be directed at America in general, but they are not directed at the cultural left in particular. Indeed, Osama bin Laden has increasingly adopted the rhetoric of the antiwar left. American conservatism, in contrast, represents an existential threat to the cultural left. If the Republicans won the war in Iraq, there might be no getting rid of them. Thus, the cultural left is in a de facto alliance with radical Islam against Red State America.


Regarding the author’s most sensational charge, we may note that there is some sentiment among the European left, particularly in France, to nominate Islam as the successor revolutionary ideology to Marxism. That is not quite what he accuses the cultural left in the United States of, which is just as well, since there seems to be little of that sentiment in America. As for the strategic alliance he discerns between radical Islamists and the cultural left, one could see how that might make sense from their point of view. Still, it’s not clear who, if anyone, has actually thought these things. The current antiwar left differs from its Vietnam era counterpart in that it has little to do with revolutionary ambition. Rather, it is founded on incredulity at the proposition that the United States might actually be in danger.

Some of the most provocative elements of the author’s thesis are true. The cultural progressivism that is promoted by transnational organizations really is an annoying hoax, often promoted with the aid of front organizations designed to give a Third World veneer to the latest clap-trap from the American law schools. It is also true than many of the creations of American culture, both high and low, raise doubts not just about their creators’ virtue, but about their sanity. The cultural left really does make America look ridiculous and repulsive abroad. At home, of course, the cultural left is a menace because of the ever-present danger that a majority of the people might accept its transgressive view of the world. A transgressive culture is not worth dying for, or even perhaps worth living for. (We get only a brief mention of the phenomenon of the demographic collapse of culturally liberal societies; maybe that is another book.)

Be that all as it may, the author does the Islamists, and particularly al-Qaeda, too much honor in accepting their own account of their grievances. Osama bin Laden’s statements in particular about the dealings of the United States government with Muslims societies over the past two decades are Big Lie propaganda. The behavior of the Islamist radicals does not suggest desperate defense, but confident ambition. Yes, they think America is vulnerable, but getting rid of America is only a step in a program that includes winning a civil war against the House of Saud. Perhaps the dazzling prospect of Islamic revival blinds them to reality, but they are not acting because they are frightened. A less contemptible America would not necessarily draw less fire.

Readers of The Enemy at Home will note points that are familiar from other writers. The idea that the United States should seek out allies among traditional Muslims is unexceptionable. The point was mentioned, for instance, in Walter Russell Mead’s Power, Terror, Peace, and War (2004). In many ways, though, D’Souza’s more thorough development of this strategy updates the proposal that Peter Kreeft made in Ecumenical Jihad(1996) for an alliance of all people who believe in natural law against the degenerate aspects of the West. As the title suggests, Kreeft had particularly high hopes for an alliance of Muslims and conservative Christians.

D’Souza goes even further with the principle that the traditions of the world’s “traditional peoples” are fundamentally the same, and therefore the people who retain these traditions should be in active alliance against an aggressive and implacable modernity. When “tradition” is spoken of in this way, one will sometimes find that the speaker does not use the term in the conventional sense of “cultural inheritance.” Rather, the speaker means “Tradition” in the sense of René Guénon. That French mystic held that each of the world’s great religions was linked primordially to the Transcendent, that each was equivalent in dignity, and that each was radically at odds with a demonic but transitory modern world. There is no reason to suppose that D’Souza is a thoroughgoing Guenonian. Still, we should note that, in this book, the chief authority on Islam and its relationship to the West is the noted Iranian cultural historian, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who also happens to be the most eminent contemporary Islamic proponent of Guenonian Tradition.

D’Souza frequently finds not just that recent outbursts of Muslim outrage are explicable, but that the Muslim point of view is the correct one. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed, for instance, really were an assault on Islam, and the outrage they occasioned was justified, even if the violence was not. Saudi women, we learn, are not in the least annoyed by the legal prohibition against their driving a car. The author does not quite condemn Benedict XVI for his remarks at Regensburg, but he deplores the remarks themselves. He also gloats a bit over the continuing discomfiture of Salman Rushdi, the provocateur who went into hiding when someone was actually provoked. The Afghans had a right to be aggrieved when the United States imposed its notion of tolerance to prevent the execution of a convert to Christianity. The degree of sensitivity that this book evinces is consistent with the Traditional principle that no primordial tradition may be criticized from outside. Actually, this degree of sensitivity would be consistent with a mild form of sharia.

D’Souza is correct to note that there are resources within Islam that are friendly to democratic governance. It is also true that the Islamist radicals are a modern innovation: if anything, he underestimates their disruptive effect on traditional Islamic society. Despite these points, however, it is not at all clear that Islam of any description can adequately make the distinction between leftist cultural liberalism and ordinary Western culture.

The book frequently cites Sayyid Qutb, the great theoretician of modern Islamic radicalism, whose descriptions of the pervasive depravity of American life form the basis of the Islamist critique of America to this day. The problem is that Qutb’s horrified account of his sojourn to America is a surreal reworking of his experiences in the 1940s. That was a long time before the point in the 1960s when, as D’Souza would have it, leftist America departed from the universal traditional consensus. It is one thing to object to a cultural milieu that finds Kill Bill to be normal entertainment; it’s another to call a society depraved where a typical film is It’s a Wonderful Life.

We are assured in this book that there is no “clash of civilizations.” That is because, in D’Souza’s telling, Western civilization really no longer exists, or shouldn’t: American conservatives are advised to abandon Europe to its debauched fate. Even America is no longer really one country, and conservatives should not hesitate to accuse individual members of the cultural left of giving aid and comfort to the radical Islamist enemy. The solution we are offered, in fact, is to abandon “tradition” in the conventional sense of the word and join a league of the world’s “traditions” in a somewhat more exotic sense.

Just how is this different from surrender?


Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Takeover: Part 2 cover art By  Tommaso Renieri

Takeover: Part 2 cover art By Tommaso Renieri

Takeover: Part 2
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Published 2018 by Galaxy's Edge Press

In Part 1 of Takeover, Bravo Team leader Carter was lamenting his life choices as he humped dead koobs into the back of a truck. Like a lotta guys in his position, he assumed the good money he was going to get to KTF in some backwater was going to a help a marriage strained by constant deployments in the Legion. Only problem is, his part of the op is less kicking in doors and more cleaning up bodies left behind by someone else. Plus, the money was never really the problem before. It was being gone, which isn’t really different now.

Except now Carter and Bravo Team are finally getting their chance. In Part 2 of Takeover, the mysterious Big Nee orders his mercenaries to assault a Zhee temple in the Kublar desert. What are the Zhee doing on Kublar? I’m sure the koobs want to know as much as we do. Which isn’t the only mystery at hand: who is Big Nee, and what is his plan?

We at least get some satisfaction, but Cole and Anspach give us as many mysteries here as they resolve. It wouldn’t be fair of me to reveal what. So we’ll turn to the action in the book, which reminds me a bit of Rainbow Six, if only Clancy had wanted to show us what mission planning looks like when you don’t include your team leads.

Mission planning with Big Nee’s outfit

Mission planning with Big Nee’s outfit

After I finished Part 2, I went back and read Part 1 again. I was pleased to see how Anspach and Cole had set us up in Part 1, including little things that looked like filler content to flesh out a scene, but in fact turned out to be hints. This is the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to the Galaxy’s Edge series: attention to detail plus a keen sense for what is fun to read. I am looking forward to Part 3, and seeing what else I missed the first couple of times.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review

The Long View 2007-03-12: Several Small Matters and a Large One

A common theme in theories [or future histories] that posit the formation of a universal state in the next hundred years or so is that they almost always also posit a re-unification of Christianity. Since the schisms between the apostolic churches are often at least related to jurisdictional differences in states, this makes some sense.

When Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven tried this idea, they also united the two national empires of the day, the United States and the Soviet Union. On Earth, that union led to eventual planet-destroying war, but the successor state did successfully blend American ideas with Russian ones.

Several Small Matters and a Large One

Second Amendment Rights advocates are pleased as punch about the decision of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Parker v. District of Columbia, which discovered a personal right to own firearms and consequently struck down the District of Columbia's highly restrictive gun laws. Frankly, gun control has never been high on my list of things to worry about, either for or against. I have looked only at summaries of the decision. Judging just from those, the court's reasoning seems possible but not required. One way to put it is that the court really did "discover" a right here; it not make just one up out of whole cloth in the manner of Griswold v. Connecticut (the template for Roe v. Wade).

However, though the DC Court of Appeals is by no means a tool of the Democratic Party, we should note that this decision advances the strategy set forth by political scientist Thomas Schaller in Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without The South. AS that author put it in another context:

Let's put the other nine Amendments of the Bill of Rights behind the ramparts of the Second Amendment and protect them all with equal vigor. That's smart politics.

We have discussed the Schaller strategy before. Essentially, it's a way of trading loose gun-laws to Libertarian-minded conservatives in the West in return for their acquiescence in the retention of Roe v. Wade. The strategy might or might not work, but it will be easy to implement if the Supreme Court follows the DC Circuit Court.

* * *

I am by no means a vegetarian, but I think twice about eating pate', because I am aware of the misery the goose from which the pate' came. Now this comment on National Public Radio has given me much the same thought about fresh fruit and vegetables:

All Things Considered, March 10, 2007 · American farmers depend on immigrant labor to cull their crops. Organic peach farmer David Mas Masumoto says it's time for Congress and the White House to enact real immigration reform. He says it will be better for the workers, and for his peach trees.

Essentially, the farmer wants an unlimited supply of cheap labor, because that will allow him to grow delicate and interesting fruit that can be harvested only by human hands, rather than fruit cultivated with an eye to mechanical harvesters. He tried to make the labor-intensive option sound humane and natural. In fact, he simply exposed the reality of his business: it relies on the perpetual existence of a population that can never be paid beyond subsistence level because the produce they gather is simply not worth very much.

There are elements of the agricultural industry that should be as disfavored as poppy-growers.

* * *

I am unimpressed by the alleged scandal about the use of National Security Letters by the FBI; these are administrative authorizations which allow the FBI to obtain information about individuals that would otherwise require a warrant. I am appalled by the theme, taken up my many members of Congress, that the FBI must be prevented from going on a fishing expedition. The term "fishing expedition" usually refers to a misuse of the pre-trial discovery process in which a prosecutor or civil plaintiff bombards the other party with questions and subpoenas in order to find a cause of action, rather than using discovery to gather information about a charge or complaint that already exists. "Fishing expeditions" are one of the abuses that the rules of discovery are designed to prevent. However, the concept has no application to national-security investigations. Of course the agencies assigned to prevent terrorist attacks are on a fishing expedition. Whether anyone is ever prosecuted, or whether a crime is ever actually committed: these things are beside the point.

Again: 911 happened in large part because the FBI treated terrorism as a criminal matter, and avoided going on "fishing expeditions." The members of Congress who are now taking about forcing the FBI to return to that policy also happen to work in the building that is likely to be the prime target for the next attack. You would think they would at least have a keener sense of self-preservation, but no.

* * *

Russia & the Salvation of Europe: This is not a new theme, and Asia Times Spengler takes it up again in his latest:

Europe existed before any of its constituent nations, and the unified Europe of Church and Empire created the nations along with their languages and cultures. As individual nations, Europe's constituent countries will die on the vine...To recapture Europe means re-creating the faith. It is hard to imagine that the Roman Catholic Church might re-emerge as Europe's defining institution. The European Church is enervated. But I do not think that is the end of the matter. As I argued last month, Russia has become the frontier between Europe and the Islamic world and, unlike Europe, is not prepared to dissolve quietly into the ummah...Pope Benedict's recent pilgrimage to Turkey, it must be remembered, only incidentally dealt with Catholic relations with Islam; first of all it was a gesture to Orthodoxy in the form of a visit to the former Byzantium, its spiritual home...If Europe has a future, it lies in an ecumenical alliance of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and at least some elements of Anglicanism.

Well, one thing is for sure: Danilevsky lives. It may also be significant that Spengler's remedy closely parallels that of Vladimir Solovyev, whose works were recently in the news as the basis for some of the presentations at the pope's Lenten retreat. To me, at least, it seems that Orthodoxy is not in a flourishing state, so much so that it is difficult to see how Orthodoxy itself could be the basis of a revival. On the other hand, we do note that Benedict XVI's understanding of the Mass tends toward the Orthodox understanding: the eucharist is eschatological, so the Mass reveals eternity in somewhat the way that the end of the world will. This view is not new in Catholicism, though it was more strongly emphasized in the old Latin liturgy than in the new vernacular ones. Is is entirely a coincidence that we hourly await Benedict's motu proprio that will restore the Latin liturgy to universal legitimacy, if not universal use?

We should also note that Spengler makes no mention of the role of American evangelicalism in this holy alliance. This is a mistake, caused no doubt by Spengler's misapprehension of the United States as a civilization separate from Europe (a mistake that the Real Spengler did not make, by the way).

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Good Omens and Good Theology

With the popular success of the Amazon Originals series Good Omens, based upon the popular success of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, we also have popular Catholics pointing out that Neil Gaiman doesn’t exactly have a STD [Doctorate of Sacred Theology].

First, the Catholic Herald, Good Omens is a travesty of eschatology.

This one was prominent enough that Neil Gaiman himself retweeted it:

For the most part, I can’t actually disagree with the narrow claim that Good Omens isn’t an accurate representation of the Catholic faith, or any specific item you might find in the Catechism. But, on the other hand, I also have zero expectation of that, so I’m inclined to give Gaiman some slack here. He hasn’t ever represented himself as a Christian author, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

If you want catechesis, popular culture is absolutely the wrong place to look for it. I get the idea that you want to educate the vast majority of Christians who don’t know much of the intellectual content of their faith, but I do take exception to blaming Gaiman for getting it wrong, when he cannot reasonably be expected to get it right.

Especially when I find Good Omens in particular to not be that bad. Gaiman has written far worse stories, for example the short story “The Problem of Susan”, or the comic “Murder Mysteries”, with P. Craig Russell. These are objectionable enough to scandalize me, in the narrowly technical, canon law sense. I gave up reading Gaiman for years because of “The Problem of Susan”. Which genuinely makes me sad, because he is a talented author.

Let’s look at a particular claim in Kendra Tierney’s article, that angels are incorporeal. Yes, this is absolutely what the Catechism says on the subject. Especially because it was the stance of my patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor. However, it was a minority position among Scholastics that angels could be corporeal.

Tim Powers – writer of stories involving corporeal angels

Tim Powers – writer of stories involving corporeal angels

More to the point, let us look at examples of authors with a better claim to be Catholics who have written stories that involved angels with bodies, or at least wearing bodies, which is what I think Good Omens actually presents. One of my all-time favorite authors, Tim Powers, wrote Declare, his first overtly Catholic novel, despite being very publicly Catholic for a very long time, which features fallen Angels living on Mount Ararat, and tied in with the life of Kim Philby and the fate Soviet Union. Those angels are very corporeal, because they can be killed. By men. With guns [admittedly special guns]. Powers is the most authentically Catholic author I know, and he always writes his books in a way that reflects a deep conviction of the Catholic faith.

Tim and Jerry were friends, BTW

Tim and Jerry were friends, BTW

Next, Jerry Pournelle. Jerry was pretty public about his struggles with Catholicism, but he also wrote stories that assumed Catholicism was true. Especially his retelling of the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno. Jerry himself described the inspiration for this story as C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce meets Dante.

This story only makes sense if people in Hell/Purgatory have bodies. Which coincidentally, is one of the complaints philosophically minded Orthodox have with Catholics. This contradicts the Catechism, but it also makes for a really good story, which is genuinely supportive of the faith. I take this to illustrate that good stories might not constitute good theology.

Finally, the author that probably represents Catholicity to the greatest number of the faithful at present, J. R. R. Tolkien. Gandalf and Saruman and Sauron himself are represented as spiritual beings wearing bodies of flesh. Bodies which can be destroyed, leaving those spirits unable to act in the world, echoing Gaiman’s line in Good Omens about being inconveniently discorporated.

I don’t think any of the authors I listed would have wanted to try to disprove any element of Catholic theology with their fiction, and they all wrote stories featuring a major plot element of Good Omens. I think we can cut Neil Gaiman some slack here.

The Long View 2007-03-09: Physics, Warrior Robots, Glottochronology, & Reforms Good and Bad

A small sample of the high-temperature superconductor  BSCCO -2223.  By James Slezak, Cornell Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

A small sample of the high-temperature superconductor BSCCO-2223.

By James Slezak, Cornell Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

High-temperature superconductors are much like nanotechnology: just another kind of vaporware that has gone nowhere. I should probably update my cocktail party theory of why science can’t seem to do anything cool anymore on this in light of an additional ten years of experience.

Also interesting to note that John J. Reilly was a fan of the national popular vote, and not a fan of daylight savings time, at least as implemented.

Physics, Warrior Robots, Glottochronology, & Reforms Good and Bad

It's about time, that's all I can say:

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli defense firm on Thursday unveiled a portable robot billed as being capable of entering most combat zones alone and engaging enemies with an onboard armory that includes a machine-pistol and grenades.

Click on this totally misleading image to see what the robot really looks like:

I am inclined to think that this is just a minor improvement in SWAT technology rather than the beginning of the end of infantry, but I could be wrong. In 1914, hardly anyone appreciated the implications of the machine gun. In any case, we have a way to go before we see the slinky Cylons of Battlestar Gallactica.

* * *

Why are there no flying cars in the early 21st century? In part because so little came of this:

Twenty years ago this month, nearly 2,000 physicists crammed into a New York Hilton ballroom to hear about a breakthrough class of materials called high-temperature superconductors, which promised amazing new technologies like magnetically levitated trains...But today the heady early promises have not yet been fully filled. High-temperature superconductors can be found in some trial high-capacity power cables, but they have not made any trains levitate. The rise in transition temperatures has stalled again, well below room temperature. Theorists have yet to find a convincing explanation for why high-temperature superconductors superconduct at all.

In those days, Chaos Theory had just recently been the flavor of the month, and was still supposed to be a new, culture-transforming model of causality. Room-temperature superconductors were supposed to provide the hardware component for the new world. Only the geekiest geeks and a few SF writers had a clue about the Internet, which really was an important technological development (and whose effect, as I have argued at tedious length, has been essentially conservative).

Let those of us take a lesson who think that neuroscience will make all things new.

* * *

The peoples of the British Isles are all pretty much cut from the same genetic cloth, according to a piece in The New York Times. For the most part, they have been there since the ice age, if not before, so we can forget about all that Saxon versus Celt business. Well, okay, but genetics is one thing; what are we to make of conclusions like this?

Dr. Oppenheimer has relied on work by Peter Forster, a geneticist at Anglia Ruskin University, to argue that Celtic is a much more ancient language than supposed, and that Celtic speakers could have brought knowledge of agriculture to Ireland, where it first appeared. He also adopts Dr. Forster’s argument, based on a statistical analysis of vocabulary, that English is an ancient, fourth branch of the Germanic language tree, and was spoken in England before the Roman invasion.

The hypothesis that Anglo-Saxon was spoken in England before the arrival of the Angles or the Saxons is, perhaps, counterintuitive, but no doubt the argument is more persuasive in detail. In any case, this attempt to date language change is based on glottochronology. That procedure is based on a reasonable notion for estimating how long one language has diverged from another with the same ancestral language: count the cognates in a list of 100 or 200 basic words in the daughter languages. Morris Swadesh estimated that 14% of that vocabulary would diverge in a millennium. That worked well for the Romance languages, but there were counter examples in different language groups. Sergei Starostin suggested that a count should be made only in "autonomous" changes in the basic wordlist, excluding loan words. With that stipulation, the rate of change falls to 5 or 6 native replacements per millennium.

The problem is that, to apply these rules, we need to already know so much about the histories of the languages in question that the glottochronological estimate will usually be superfluous. Alas.

* * *

Friends of civil peace must regret the failure of the House of the Colorado legislature to pass the National Popular Vote bill, after the Senate had approved it. As the measure's proponents put it:

Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

The most discouraging thing about the opposition to this necessary measure is the transparent nonsense of arguments like this:

Law professor Robert Hardaway from the University of Denver was equally critical.

He said problems with a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote are rare, but result in cries for changing the system.

Without the electoral college, close votes would be a nightmare, Hardaway said.

"You think 2000 was bad? You’d have recounts in every precinct, in every state," he said.

In reality, of course, the NPV mechanism does not change the local rules about when a recount can be demanded. No matter how close the national vote, districts with 60% to 40% majorities for one candidate would not have a recount. Districts with electoral results that are close within the definition of local law would have recounts, just as they do today. The NPV does not abolish the Electoral College; the College would still turn pluralities into majorities.

And why is the NPV necessary? It's necessary because if George Bush had won an Electoral College victory in 2004 there would have been gunfire. It is necessary because the US cannot promote democracy abroad if its chief executive is chosen by gerrymander. It is necessary so that the rural populations of the big electoral-vote states are no longer disenfranchised in presidential elections. The last point is maddening: it's the Republican Party that is chiefly handicapped by the current system.

* * *

Brothers and sisters, I can no longer keep silent, since we are just days away from the fulfilment of this scripture:

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws:

And what is Microsoft doing about it??

IT workers have been waiting three or four hours to get telephone support from Microsoft [regarding the start of Daylight Saving Time on March 11 under the new federal law], whose Exchange Server serves as the official calendar for many of the world's largest businesses.

Aiming to shorten that wait, Microsoft has boosted the number of people addressing the time change issue. Earlier Thursday, the company opened up a "situation room" devoted to monitoring customer issues and providing support to the software maker's largest customers.

Unlike Y2K, this change could be a real nuisance. Supposedly, businesses like this change, because it gives people more daylight in which to shop. Again, I can only ask: why not just institute spring and autumn schedules? If federal offices were directed to open at 8:00 A.M. in March and 9:00 A.M. in November the rest of society would follow suit and we would not need to reset the damn clocks.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-03-06: Various Book Reviews, and That Cranky Spengler

I will admit that I went through an Ayn Rand phase when I was young. Here a repeat of the best thing I ever said on the subject:

I like the late 90s idea that devotees of Ayn Rand might prove to be unusually resistant to the false religion of the Antichrist, because of how sweetly naive it is. Rand built up a formidable cult of personality around herself that is probably only limited by intentional eschewing of religious elements. Thank God.

I have some inkling of this, because I too felt the siren call of Rand's individualist philosophy as a teenager. The scholarship programs aimed at high school students that encourage them to read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged are persuasive genius. Intelligent high school students are the perfect targets for this kind of thing. Some small percentage are probably hooked forever.

As a teenager, I read everything I could find by and about Rand. And then I discovered how weird she really was. The best story [recounted by Greg Cochran in his recent interview] is how her adulterous lover Nathaniel Branden decided to end the affair they had been carrying on and marry a normal woman. In response, Rand required all remaining members of her inner circle [including future Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan] to denounce Branden, and forsake all future association with him.

That incident, above all else, helped me see how batty it all was. I also fondly remember my parents, sweetly pooh-poohing this bosh.

Which is just as well. I think the Objectivists are about as likely to end the world as anyone.

This line from John J. Reilly recapitulates my opinions on writing:

Rugs should be richly textured; prose should be lucid.

Various Book Reviews, and That Cranky Spengler

Yes, it does seem like 50 years since Atlas Shrugged was published, for the excellent reason that 50 years seems like just enough time to read a book that long. In any case, Mark Skousen of the Christian Science Monitor has some useful comments about the great anniversary:

NEW YORK - When Ayn Rand finished writing "Atlas Shrugged" 50 years ago this month, she set off an intellectual shock wave that is still felt today. It's credited for helping to halt the communist tide and ushering in the currents of capitalism. Many readers say it transformed their lives. A 1991 poll rated it the second-most influential book (after the Bible) for Americans...Rand articulates like no other writer the evils of totalitarianism, interventionism, corporate welfarism, and the socialist mindset.

Skousen says in that piece that "children do not appear" in Rand's world of Objectivist Capitalism. That's not quite true: I seem to recall that one of John Galt's colleagues, the Norwegian one, is described as having two kids. Nonetheless, Skousen does have a point if he means that Objectivism does not do a particularly good job of connecting the present to the future. The philosophy would work best for a race of immortals, which I suppose explains the Randian streak in Transhumanism.

Something else that I would argue Atlas Shrugged does not do particularly well is critique totalitarianism, or even describe it. The book is about the implosion of the welfare state, but a welfare state with no particular ideology, and certainly without any ideological connection to developments abroad. Atlas Shrugged is devoid of geopolitics. In the Objectivist perspective, perhaps, war is just another form of socialism. A military might exist in Rand's capitalist utopia, but as an anomaly: its ethos could have nothing to do with the larger society.

George Bush is by no means a Randian, but perhaps it is not an accident that his Administration's War on terror, especially in Iraq, has always been just such an anomaly in the context of his fiscal and immigration policies.

* * *

Asia Times Spengler also faults President Bush, this time for failing to coordinate the different branches of his foreign policy, as we see here:

Washington had the opportunity at the turn of 2007 to isolate and neutralize the Mahmud Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran, but through stupidity and arrogance has made war the most probable outcome.

Misreading Russia...may have been the irreparable blunder. Meddling in the Muslim-majority states of the former Soviet Union and expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization prompt Russia to step on Washington's toes in the one place that hurts, namely West Asia...[T]his has an unintended consequence: it has led Iran to believe that without Russian support, the United States will be isolated and impotent to act against it. That is not true, for the US can and will act to forefend a nuclear-armed Iran, alone if need be.

For myself, I find it hard to believe that anyone could perceive NATO as threatening, though its expansion to the east does diminish Russia's ability to make costless threats to the rim of states on its western border. Russia's unhelpfulness with regard to Iran is, perhaps, overdetermined by many other considerations. I rather doubt that the Russian government is any better than the US at coordinating policy in Europe and the Near East.

* * *

There is another early online review (in addition to my own) of John Crowley's Endless Things, this one by Kestrell Rath at Green Man Review. Yes, that review is favorable, too, but perhaps more appreciative than I am of the complex structure of the tetralogy. Rugs should be richly textured; prose should be lucid.

* * *

Here is a brief reply to all reviewers, offered by Mark Steyn in The New Criterion:

In the BBC TV adaptation of Kingsley Amis’ 1986 novel The Old Devils, John Stride gives a gleeful, roaring performance as Alun Weaver, a celebrity novelist and professional Welshman recently returned from London to his native clime. There’s a scene set at a book-signing for mostly effusive customers, to whom Weaver responds with a glance up from the table and some labored demurring: “No, no, you are too kind. This is mere hack work.”

And then an intense young man appears. “I’m a great fan,” he begins, “but I didn’t think this book quite captured the lyrical freshness of Mumbles Boy.”

There is the briefest of pauses, just time for a malicious smile from the novelist. “Why, thank you very much,” he replies. “And what on earth makes you think I’m interested in the opinion of young shags like you? Bugger off now, and a very good afternoon to you.”

A word to the wise: it is best to devise comebacks to remarks like that before they happen.

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