The Long View 2006-07-13: Crime, Terror, The Demon Republic, and Perfume

 Michael Oakeshott  By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science - Professor Michael Oakeshott, c1960sUploaded by calliopejen1, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15987493

Michael Oakeshott

By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science - Professor Michael Oakeshott, c1960sUploaded by calliopejen1, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15987493

 Juggalos  By The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Wizard World Anaheim 2011 - Insane Clown Posse) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Juggalos

By The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Wizard World Anaheim 2011 - Insane Clown Posse) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The juxtaposition of Michael Oakeshott with Juggalos is interesting. I'm not certain it was intentional, but I'm also not certain it was unintentional. I'm not familiar with Oakeshott's work, but I am sorry to admit that I am familiar with Insane Clown Posse

I had a friend in high school who was a fan, and I think he fit the juggalo profile pretty well: from a working class background, never really fit in. I had one album on cassette tape, The Great Milenko. My twenty year old memories of the album are that it was vulgar, dark, and kinda catchy. 

Since Youtube exists, I would be remiss if I didn't go listen to that album again. It is remarkable the way songs stay with you, even twenty years later. It is indeed, vulgar, dark, and kinda catchy. I remember even as a teenager I noticed an unusually strong current of disapproval around ICP, so I stopped listening to them. I can see now that it was not just the crudity of the songs, but also that the juggalos are low class.  

Since I haven't read anything by Michael Oakeshott, I can neither confirm nor deny Andrew Sullivan's implication that Oakeshott was a nihilist, but I do know that ICP and the Juggalos aren't nihilists. That is an upper class affectation. They are working class white guys looking for meaning in their lives.


Crime, Terror, The Demon Republic, and Perfume

 

Bad posture should be a hanging offense, I have sometimes felt, and it seems that the police forces of the world are now inclining to this view:

For more than ten years, scientists have been working on a computer system that can analyse the movements of criminals caught on CCTV and compare them with those of a suspect. The system works on the premise that every individual has a signature walking style.

The technique is still in its infancy but has been employed in high-profile cases...Mark Nixon, of the Southampton University department of electronics and computing, said that studies showed everyone has a distinct walk.

Frankly, considering the recent events in Mumbai, and the fact that I regularly take the PATH trains to Manhattan, I am troubled not at all by the prospect of this surveillance.

* * *

Law and Order have also collapsed in Washington, DC, to put the most hysterical slant possible on this report:

Two groups of tourists were robbed at gunpoint on the National Mall, just hours after the police chief declared a crime emergency in the city in response to a string of violence that included the killing of a British activist.

The activist, Alan Senitt, was attacked in the Georgetown area on Sunday, his throat was slit and police say the attackers attempted to rape his companion. It was the 13th homicide in the city this month. Robberies are up 14 percent, and armed assaults have jumped 18 percent in the past 30 days.

These incidents happened in the touristy sections. What is happening in the neighborhoods we can only imagine.

* * *

Nightmares now lurk in the public parks of that non-DC Washington, or so says The Seattle Times:

For several nights last month, a group of thugs with black hooded sweat shirts pulled tight over their heads, including at least one in "angry" clown makeup, terrorized visitors to Pierce County's Fort Steilacoom Park, police say.

The group cried "woo, woo, Juggalo" as they assaulted park visitors with a machete and fists. They stole cellphones, cash and wallets and even threatened to cut their victims' heads off, according to court documents.

So far, two men and a woman have been charged with robbery and assault for their alleged roles in the string of attacks, said Pierce County deputy prosecutor Phil Sorensen. Prosecutors say the suspects claim to be "Juggalos," a subculture that has developed among the fan base of the rap/metal group Insane Clown Posse.

I have always disliked clowns. Now I have a good reason.

* * *

Regarding the latest horrors in Iraq, Wretchard of the Belmont Club quotes this (informally transcribed) soliloquy by Colonel Kurt in Apocalypse Now:

I remember when I was with Special Forces--it seems a thousand centuries ago--we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile--a pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized--like I was shot...like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, "My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that." Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that--these were not monsters, these were men, trained cadres, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled wi th love--that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time were able to utilize their primordial i nstincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment--without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

The Viet Cong did not invent Schrecklichkeit (neither did the Germans, for that matter). In the context of the Vietnam War, however, we should remember that the insurgency failed. That was irrelevant to the outcome of the war, of course, in the sense that South Vietnam was overrun by a conventional invasion a year and a half after American forces left. The Schrecklichkeit that the US public recoiled from was not that committed by the enemy, but by that alleged to have been committed by its own forces.

When terror is carefully modulated (an anonymous note; a small bomb that explodes just before a place of business opens; perhaps a tactful assassination) it often does bring an opponent regime to negotiations, or even collapse. In contrast, these horror-show attacks are bonding rituals for the perpetrators. They demonstrate to the perpetrators how ruthless they are and how implacable their dedication.

* * *

But how can order be maintained? Probably not through the political theory that Andrew Sullivan promotes in his forthcoming book, The Conservative Soul : How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. I just reviewed that for Kirkus, and so I cannot reproduce the review here. What I can do is express the hope that Michael Oakeshott, whom I have never read, is not the invertebrate nihilist that Sullivan, approvingly, makes him out to be. A state governed by the "conservatism of doubt" that Sullivan attributes to Oakeshott would be just another member of the federal republic of demons that Kant described: that is, a state of pure procedure that was designedly indifferent to virtue.

The argument against Rawls's version of the Demon Republic is that its totalitarian insistence on a minimalist public square would be sure to bring gunfire from people who don't want their worldviews delegitimated (a group that would ultimately include everyone, including Rawlsians). Sullivan's Demon Republic would collapse from lack of official support for the political sentiments and anthropological institutions that would be necessary to keep the state in existence; which is, more or less, what seems to happening to much of Western Europe and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

* * *

This is not to say that Europe is without hope, or at least some interesting legal precedents:

[In] mid-June, the highest court in France ruled that making perfume is not an artistic creation, but the work of a mere artisan.

The distinction is not an abstraction. Legally, it is more about money than about art. At stake are potential royalties for perfume makers (a k a noses) and profits and protection for manufacturers during the life of a fragrance.

In its ruling, the court, the Cour de Cassation, denied the petition of a perfume maker, who claimed she deserved to continue receiving royalties from a former employer, even after she had been fired. The court stated, “The fragrance of a perfume, which results from the simple implementation of expertise,” does not constitute “the creation of a form of expression able to profit from protection of works of the mind.”

To confuse matters, a French court of appeals ruled the opposite last January, determining that a perfume could be a “work of the mind” protected by intellectual property law. It ordered a Belgian company to pay damages to the perfume and cosmetics giant L’Oréal, which sued it for producing counterfeits of best-selling L’Oréal perfumes.

If you could have intellectual property rights in a perfume, then why not in a really good pastry?

Yum.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-07-10: Rolling Fast; Dumb Reform; Smart Reform

This fasting protest seems pretty tame now.


Rolling Fast; Dumb Reform; Smart Reform

 

Mark Steyn is a cruel man, as we see from his account of the last word in celebrity war protesting:

''Penn, Sarandon, novelist Alice Walker and actor Danny Glover will join a 'rolling' fast, a relay in which 2,700 activists pledge to refuse food for at least 24 hours, and then hand over to a comrade.''

...Personally, if celebrities have to ''put their bodies on the line for peace,'' I'd much rather see them bulk up. How about if Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow promise to put on 20 pounds for every month Bush refuses to end his illegal war? ...even al-Qaida couldn't have come up with as withering a parody of the Great Satan's decadence as a celebrity pseudo-fast.

I think perhaps "relay fast" would be a better term than "rolling fast." The latter sounds like what a barrel does on a steep hill.

* * *

Spelling Reform is cruel too, at least to its proponents, such as myself. Only those persons familiar with my sensitive and nonconfrontational nature can imagine the hurt and spiritual maim I have suffered since Darlene Superville's AP story of July 5 made the matter topical. With some exceptions, the typical blogosphere reaction has been like this:

Okay, I came across this article this morning, and felt a need to share it with you. I find it utterly ridiculous and sad that people are actually arguing over this, and demanding for simpler spelling. I mean why is this such a huge issue, when we are facing so many more bigger problems than how to dumb ourselves down a bit more by being lazy with our grammar?

There is a genuine mystery here. Information system are modified all the time. A familiar example would be an upgrade to a computer program that made the program less confusing to use and less likely to crash. A more esoteric one, though perhaps more like what a spelling reform in English intends, is the routine codification areas of Common Law. (The Uniform Commercial Code did not abolish the Common Law of contacts, for instance, but the Code did make that law more coherent and easy to cite.) No step like this would ever be characterized as dumbing the system down. Apparently it's an Anglophone cultural insistence: any change in orthography is regarded as negligence, even when it's deliberate and demonstrably an improvement.

When you hear commentators referring to "spelling upgrade" rather than "reform," then you will know the insistence has been overcome.

What would a world with upgradable spelling be like?. It would be very much like this:

A few months ago, we released a brand-new French spell-checker for Office 2003 users (it was integrated into Service Pack 2 in September 2005). One of the main features of this new tool was that it now takes into account the French spelling reform, which is recommended by official bodies such as the Académie Française, the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, etc. I have discussed the various changes as well as the quality label we received for this tool on our other blog, so I won’t do it again here.

The official texts make it clear that both the traditional (‘old’) spelling and the ‘new’ spelling are valid. The default setting therefore accepts both forms. However, we had provided a separate dialog box to enable users to select the flavor they would like to use in the French texts if they wanted to change this default configuration.

I promise not to turn this into a spelling blog, but someone has to make these points.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Magician's Secret Book Review

 The Red Baron - Manfred von Richthofen  By C. J. von Dühren - Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). Immediate source: The Wartenberg Trust, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18314105

The Red Baron - Manfred von Richthofen

By C. J. von Dühren - Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). Immediate source: The Wartenberg Trust, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18314105

The Magician's Secret
by Stuart Hyman (author) and Joe Bluhm (illustrator)
Tundra Books (April 3, 2018)
$17.99 hardcover; 40 pages
ISBN 978-1770498945

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

This is a very sweet book, about the adventures a little boy has with his grandfather, who is always filling his head with wild stories. 

Since any good children's book must appeal to the parents as much as the kids, I appreciate that the adventures the little boy has with this grandfather are the same kinds of things I enjoyed as a child: dinosaurs, King Tut, and the Red Baron. I also appreciate that Charlie's dad warns him against putting too much stock in Grandpa's tall tales. At some point, your children must learn that the world outside [hopefully outside] is a horrible place, and it will eat them alive, if they let it. You ideally want to ease them into that.

On the other hand, only a monster would deny their children beautiful stories and make-believe.

On the gripping hand, beautiful stories and make-believe are a part of what strengthens us to withstand the ordinary and extraordinary vicissitudes of life, and I feel like Charlie's grandpa knows that. Dragons exist. And they can be killed.

My other book reviews

The Magician's Secret
By Zachary Hyman

The Long View 2006-07-08: Propulsion; Cars; U2; PATH Flood

 First panoramic view by  Viking 1  from the surface of Mars. Captured on July 20, 1976  By "Roel van der Hoorn (Van der Hoorn)" - Own work based on images in the NASA Viking image archive., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2407343

First panoramic view by Viking 1 from the surface of Mars. Captured on July 20, 1976

By "Roel van der Hoorn (Van der Hoorn)" - Own work based on images in the NASA Viking image archive., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2407343

A lot of popular science fiction relies on some version of faster-than-light travel. It isn't impossible to tell a good story that doesn't include it, but it is definitely harder. Unfortunately, at this point it looks like all such stories are in much the same place as Heinlein's 1949 juvenile novel Red Planet was after the Viking probe sent back photos from the surface of Mars.

Interstellar travel is still imaginable at slower than light speeds, but I will never again be able to think of it without a shudder as my mind turns to the Moriai and other lighthuggers from Galaxy's Edge. The great slower-than-light colony vessels turned into apocalyptic communes once isolated from the rest of humanity. I find that just a little too plausible for comfort.


Propulsion; Cars; U2; PATH Flood

 

Probably you can't travel faster than light, which maybe means you shouldn't try. Nonetheless, we learn from Instapundit that there is at least one foundation concerned, in part, with figuring out how to do just that:

The Tau Zero Foundation, which takes its name from Poul Anderson's science-fiction novel about a near-speed-of-light odyssey, focuses on the subject of "practical starflight." ...[O]ne of its founding fathers [is] Marc Millis, who keeps tabs on breakthrough propulsion physics at NASA's Glenn Research Center...

The Foundation is looking into new science less problematical than superluminal travel. Some new resarch suggests principles that conceivably could put spaceflight on a new basis. For instance, there is the Woodward Effect:

The test consists of detecting a small stationary force with a sensitive force sensor. The force is presumably induced when a periodic transient Mach effect mass fluctuation is driven in high voltage, high energy density capacitors that are subjected to 50 kHz, 1.3 kV amplitude voltage signal, and threaded by an alternating magnetic flux of the same frequency.

And then there is the Gravitomagnetic London Moment:

It is well known that a rotating superconductor produces a magnetic field proportional to its angular velocity. The authors conjectured earlier, that in addition to this so-called London moment, also a large gravitomagnetic field should appear to explain an apparent mass increase of Niobium Cooper-pairs. This phenomenon was indeed observed and induced acceleration fields outside the superconductor in the order of about 10^-4 g were found. The field appears to be directly proportional to the applied angular acceleration of the superconductor following our theoretical motivations. If confirmed, a gravitomagnetic field of measurable magnitude was produced for the first time in a laboratory environment. These results may open up a new experimental window on testing general relativity and its consequences using coherent matter.

Yes, it is rocket science, even when you are no longer talking about rockets.

* * *

Self-piloting cars have actually existed in experimental form for many years, so we should not be altogether surprised to read that:

German car giant Volkswagen has turned fiction into reality by unveiling a fully automatic car which really can drive itself - and at speeds of up to 150mph.

Volkswagen apparently intends to use the car as a labor-saving device: they can do road tests of components in the car without the need of a test driver. The story does not say whether the car could function in traffic; I remember seeing a story about one such prototype about ten years ago.

Some people seem to think that self-piloting vehicles are part of a plot to disempower drivers. Not so, I think. The market would be the elderly who live in places where there is inadequate public transportation and who really shouldn't be driving anymore. Well, drunk drivers, too.

* * *

The Holy City is an archetype whose structure and society have been variously described. Here one Father Erich Rutten of St. Paul, Minnesota, suggests a feature that I had not previously encountered:

"[Bono of U2, because he grew up in a mixed Catholic and Anglican household in Dublin] was very sensitive to the ways in which people of faith hurt each other, just across denominational divides," Father Rutten said. In fact, in a song on the 1987 album "The Joshua Tree," Bono sings of a place "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's an image of heaven, free of tension and division, "not divided by what side of the street you live on," the priest said.

I think perhaps that an eschaton that was too tactful to allow place names would not be worth arriving at.

* * *

Meanwhile, a plot has been foiled against the commuter trains that run between New York and New Jersey:

The main target of the plot was the heavily traveled underground PATH train system that connects lower Manhattan and New Jersey's suburban communities, officials confirmed. The system carries more than 215,000 commuters daily. ...The men believed that by bombing the train tunnels, they could unleash a severe flood in lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The official also said investigators believe that an attack on a train tunnel, unlike the Holland Tunnel, could have achieved that goal.

Officials downplayed the danger, saying the Financial District is well above sea level.

Regarding that flooding, I think I see what the terrorists were thinking of. The PATH tunnel dives deep into the bedrock between Jersey City and lower Manhattan to emerge in the the basin of the former World Trade Center Towers. The new, temporary station, is on the floor of the basin, and I believe the passenger platform is still substantially below the level of the river. A breach in the tunnel would flood the basin. It might also flood sewers and utility tunnels that connect to the basin. Something like this happened in Chicago in 1992, though of course Chicago had a system of freight tunnels that New York lacks.

* * *

If you are looking for the MSNBC interview, a link to the clip and my account of the incident are here. My reform pages are here

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-07-06: The Deer in the Headlights

 By Fabrice Florin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabola/874357185) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Fabrice Florin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabola/874357185) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This was a pretty funny bit. I have been on camera a couple of times myself, and I also find it very different than performing on stage.


The Deer in the Headlights

 

My fellow spelling reformers' tactic of picketing the National Spelling Bee every year has never greatly engaged my enthusiasm. They do take care to be supportive of the kids who participate and to be tactful and helpful to the press. Still, I wondered whether the smattering of media coverage the picketing would generate really justified the embarrassment.

Evidently it does. This AP story on the picketers and spelling reform in general has become one of the most cited on the Internet. At any rate, in recent days it has generated enough interview requests to overwhelm the slender public-relations resources of the American Literacy Council. As a board member, I have no more business doing interviews than a snake does to tap dance. Still, yesterday (July 6) I got email from a friendly and persuasive booker at the MSNBC talk/news show, The Most, asking for someone to do a quick segment at about 3:00 PM. Since no one else was available, I agreed.

MSNBC has studios in Seacaucus and Manhattan. I was offered a car to pick me up, but just took the train from Jersey City to Midtown, to an inconspicuous studio off Fifth Avenue. Apparently this function is outsourced to enterprises like this, at least when the talking head is not going to be in the same facility as the anchor (who in this case was Chris Jansing: I'm still not sure where she was).

It was less like going to a debate than like going to an imaging clinic: small rooms off a short, crowded hall; the interview room itself is very much like an MRI chamber, where they secure you to a desk and leave you in the sound-proofed semi-darkness to glare at the camera. The staff are efficient young women you offer you water and paint your face, and then give you handiwipes afterward to take the paint off. I suppose you could get used to this procedure, but I found the experience claustrophobic.

The clip is om the MSNBC website. Go to this page, then scroll down to the box entitled More from the Most. Choose the link Speling Mayd EZ. If anyone can figure out how I can save that for my files, please let me know.

Let me assure my readers that I do not actually have a hairlip. Also, for most purposes, I lost that stutter in high school. Still, it did not go quite as badly as I had thought. Hereafter, however, I will think less harshly of interviewees who appear on the screen with their talking points and cling to them for dear life. I am actually pretty agile in debates, and live audiences inspire me to epigram. Perhaps because there is no such feedback in front of a camera, I found that the only things I could say were things I had already formulated. The questions, and they were not bad questions, were mere impediments to my exposition.

Apparently someone really does watch MSNBC at three in the afternoon, because when I returned from the studio I found an invitation to do a radio interview. For those of you in the Twin Cities area, that interview is today, Friday, July 7, at 1:10 PM CT, on WCCO News/Talk 830.

I have been telling the spelling reformers for years that, someday, there would be a media breakout like this, and when it came we better have our story together. We don't, alas, at least in the sense of having a serious, consensus reform proposal. Spelling reform for English is a fleet of prototypes, as you can easily see from a glance at the Spelling Reform Ring. This may turn out to be a good thing: the lack of a firm proposal allows for more public input. Still, I could do with a product to sell.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Skysworn Book Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 257 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (September 30, 2017)
ASIN B0762YQ2H8

And so we come to the end. For now. Will Wight's website says work on the next installment in the Cradle series will start after the summer of 2018. Thus, it is appropriate that a number of plot threads from the first three volumes get wrapped up here. 

Lindon finally faces Jai Chen, his nemesis. Yerin achieves a final solution with her unwelcome guest. Someone finally catches up with Eithan. It is a time of endings.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that reminds me of the four last things in Skysworn, but it does. There has been an apocalyptic element in the background all along, but this is the first time it comes to the forefront. Maybe it is Lindon's first real brush with death, with his own mortality. Or the Naru clan, with their angelic wings. Or maybe it is just the eldritch horrors that we finally meet face-to-face.

 The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell  By Hans Memling - http://mng.gda.pl/zbiory/sztuka-dawna/hans-memling/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1455943

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell

By Hans Memling - http://mng.gda.pl/zbiory/sztuka-dawna/hans-memling/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1455943

This fifteenth century triptych of the Last Judgment is oddly evocative of Skysworn for me, given that it in general the Cradle series has an Eastern vibe to it. Perhaps it is St. Michael in the middle, weighing souls, reminiscent of Suriel and Ozriel saving people from chaos. Or the glowing sword behind Christ's head. Or the fact that Christ is sitting on a rainbow. I could see a high level sacred artist doing something like that.

For all of the pan-Asian flair of the Cradle series, it has some of the aesthetics of Christian apocalyptic art. Of course, the apocalypse is not unique to Christianity. It is something like a human universal. Probably for the reason that the world does occasionally look like it is going to end.

But this is not the end for Lindon and his friends. Not yet anyway. He still has a long way to go before he meets his destiny.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Blackflame Book Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 370 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (April 30, 2017)
ASIN B0716GZ8QX

One of the things I like best about the Cradle series is the pace. There are secrets to be discovered, but you don't need to wait forever to find out. Take Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn as a counter-example. Sanderson is slowly building up his Cosmere, a shared universe in which all his books somehow hang together. But hell, you don't even find some things out until you get to the Alloy of the Law series, books written more than three years later. And even then, Sanderson drips out his little hints, slowly, slowly.

I'm only three books into Wight's Cradle series, and I already know the backstory of the inhabited worlds and I have an idea of where Lindon is going to end up, and new information comes at a fast and furious pace, quickly linking up with things already established. And we aren't even three years into the whole series. I liked Sanderson's books, but this is just so much more satisfying. For example, Blackflame actually did address the question I raised in my review of Soulsmith: why hasn't someone invaded and pillaged the Sacred Valley of Lindon's birth? We don't get a complete answer, but we did get something.

“We could…go west,” she suggested hopefully. He started to tell her no, but hesitated. She was referring to a legend. In the mountains to the west of the Desolate Wilds, there was supposed to be a hidden valley that occasionally emerged to trade with the outside. The inhabitants were weak, but protected by a curse.
 
 Spiral power

Spiral power

Much like Cole and Anspach's Galaxy's Edge series, the amount of Wight's world we can see gets bigger and bigger as we go along. The structure of everything is the same, but also simultaneously new and exciting.

As Lindon gains new abilities, he [and we] gain new insight as well. Things that were previously seen through a glass darkly suddenly snap into focus

 

In my review of Soulsmith, I said that the ranks of sacred artists on Cradle were something like natural kinds. There really do seem to be differences in kind, and not just in degree. Yet, part of the arc of Lindon's life itself is that isn't the whole story. Lindon, unsouled and unworthy, achieves things no one in his home would have thought possible even for the best of them, let alone poor Lindon. 

Orthos gingerly stretched out a leg, wincing at the pain. “Humans make every stage into a legend. A Lowgold is just a Jade with teeth. The only difference between Jade and Gold is a mountain of power.”

This pattern continues to repeat itself once Lindon escapes the Sacred Valley, and he is repeatedly discounted by his social betters, even as he vaults past them in power. As is typical for this kind of a book, Lindon himself is special, and he receives help, of a sort, from his patron Eithan, who sees Lindon as he is, rather than as he appears. 

What we don't yet know, is the depth of the games that Eithan is playing. In Soulsmith, Eithan takes Lindon and Yerin under his wing. Here in Blackflame, Eithan adopts them into his family, and his plans. What those plans truly are, we do not know. But there are hints that Eithan knows far more than he lets on, perhaps even is more than he lets on.

Yet even Homer nods. Eithan's games are high stakes. Eithan does everything he can to cheat, to better the odds in his favor, but things still sometimes go awry. The final battle of Blackflame was genuinely exciting to read, tense and gripping. I was actually surprised at how it all turned out, so I won't ruin it for you. You should go see for yourself.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

The Long View 2006-07-05: Format; The Fall of New Jersey; Anti-Southern Strategy; Democrat Immigration Liability

I've lost a few of John's blog posts from the middle of June through July 2006. It looks like he was trying a hosted blog service that he didn't like, and I can't access saved copies of the main blog URL from archive.org since someone is squatting on his old domain right now. Alas.

This was a period when John was experimenting with public comment boards of various types. I have copies of the phpBB, but at this time in 2006 he was using something on Geocities that is probably lost forever. Alack.

 2008 United States Presidential Election

2008 United States Presidential Election

On another note, it looks like Thomas F. Schaller's argument in Whistling Past Dixie : How Democrats Can Win Without the South was spot on for 2008, except for the bit about Mountain State hunters. Those guys are way too red tribe for that strategy to have worked. But I can see the argument, a lot of guys on the Right who are really into guns are often pretty libertarianish, and not really social conservatives, at least in my experience. However, identity politics has very much prevented any such wedge issue from working.


Format; The Fall of New Jersey; Anti-Southern Strategy; Democrat Immigration Liability

One more time: Having lost patience with the Yahoo-Geocities-Verizon-Smersh blog software, I am returning to my old format, at least for the time being. However, there is now a Comment board to which readers can post replies and carry on discussions with each other. (Note the links on the right above). Actually, all the Reply links on my site now give readers the opportunity to post there. Unless the number of comments becomes very large, that is probably better than a php board with lots of different categories.

Yes, this is much better.

* * *

Alas for my beloved New Jersey, where the state government has closed down because of the failure of Governor Corzine and the legislature to agree on a budget. (I am not particularly fond of tax increases either, but the governor is probably right in insisting on balancing the budget with a sales-tax increase rather than IOUs and accounting gimmicks, which has been the custom in recent years.) Much sympathy has been expressed for our valiant gaming industry, whose dealers and patrons were forced from their friendly windowless gaming rooms and into the unfamiliar sunlight at 8:00 AM for lack of state inspectors to oversee the casinos. However, all areas of life have been affected. The border fortifications that defend civilization from Pennsylvania are now derelict, and the savages of Bucks County are making devastating incursions into central New Jersey, and even the north. Here is a scene from Paramus Mall this morning:

sor.gif

Already the spreading chaos has provoked the people to raise questions of theodicy. Is the existence of a good God, they ask, really consistent with the total collapse of the EZ-Pass system on the New Jersey Turnpike?

* * *

The Democratic Party has two options for 2008 and beyond. One is to relax its position on culture wars questions, the better to attract cultural conservatives, particularly from the South. As I have elsewhere noted, this was essentially the New Deal formula: culturally Right, economically Left, and it was very successful for a very long time. Plan B, however, would make the bet that secularization and bohemianization are irreversible historical trends. That is essentially what Thomas F. Schaller does in his forthcoming book, Whistling Past Dixie : How Democrats Can Win Without the South.

I just submitted a review for that book to Kirkus (publication is in October), so of course I cannot post the review here. However, I can do another summary. Essentially, the author attempts to make an argument converse to the one that Kevin Phillips made in The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). That groundbreaking study proposed, correctly as it turned out, that the Republicans would become the dominant party of they could get and keep control of the South. Rather than try to retake the South, Schaller says that region is too eccentric to try to placate (which is also the import of Phillips' latest, American Theocracy). Instead, Schaller lays out a quite detailed plan to retake the presidency and Congress by cultivating the Midwest, and to a lesser extent the mountain states. He uses lots of tasty state and local statistics and profiles of local politicians. If the publisher has the wit to give the book a thorough index, this book could become a handbook for both sides in 2008.

As Schaller points out, his proposal would mirror, geographically, the electoral configuration that prevailed from the Civil War until the Great Depression. In those days, it was the Democrats who controlled the South and the Republicans who controlled the Midwest, and the Republicans usually won the presidency and Congress. He does recognize that there are differences, however. In the intervening decades, the Midwest has either stagnated or even declined demographically. He hopes to make up the deficit with, in effect, a coalition of childless professionals, replacement immigrant population, and a scattering of Western hunters to whom the canny Democrats should offer secure Second Amendment rights. The enemy demographic is native-born two-parent heterosexual Christian families with kids.

I can see how Plan B might work for an election or two, especially if the Republicans continue to run inarticulate candidates, but isn't it a bit morbid?

* * *

The president got the memo about immigration, if we believe this report from The New York Times:

Republicans both inside and outside the White House say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on comprehensive reform, is now open to a so-called enforcement-first approach that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program or path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally.

Congress is holding summer hearings too, contrary to its custom:

The meetings will undoubtedly expose the deep Republican rift just as the elections draw near, and some say they are simply a way to stave off legislation until after November. Democrats, eager to pick up Congressional seats, intend to use the hearings to drive home the idea that Republicans have failed to address illegal immigration, a tactic that could further complicate prospects for a bill before Election Day.

One thing the meetings will undoubtedly not expose is the Times's misapprehension that Democrats have a comparative advantage on this issue. The Republican Party contains nativists and open-borders types, though the latter increasingly dare not draw attention to their real beliefs. The Democrats, in contrast, are pretty much riding down a fixed track defined by amnesty and continued heavy immigration. They have no room for maneuver, and they are headed for a cliff.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Soulsmith Book Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 286 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (September 26, 2016)
ASIN B01M09PWJQ

I saw a line in another review that I'm going to steal: these books are like candy. I just can't stop reading them. Although I worry the implication of the phrase may be unfair to Wight; while fast and fun reads, the Cradle series has been anything but empty calories.

 
 Ruth Benedict  By World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14649, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1276865

Ruth Benedict

By World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14649, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1276865

In Soulsmith, we pick up right where we left off at the end of Unsouled, Wei Shi Lindon is desperately fleeing the vengeance of the Heaven's Glory School, whom Lindon has robbed blind and shamed by killing one of its highest ranked members. Out in the wilderness beyond the Sacred Valley, adventure awaits. The fun lies in learning about the world at the same time, and mostly in the same way that Lindon does.

While this is fantasy, and thus not really an attempt to present some insight about the world in the context of an adventure story, there are nonetheless interesting elements of the world Wight has built. For the most part, fantasy relies upon historical examples of human societies to provide building blocks which are then reshuffled as needed to create the fantasy world intended without straining credulity too much.

A critical part of the culture of the world of Cradle is shame. I'm using the word in the same sense as Ruth Benedict did in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism. A man is shamed either by being openly ridiculed and rejected or by fantasying to himself that he has been made ridiculous. In either case, it is a potent sanction. But it requires an audience or at least a man’s fantasy of an audience. Guilt does not. In a nation where honor means living up to one’s own picture of oneself, a man may suffer from guilt though no man knows of his misdeed and a man’s feeling of guilt may actually be relieved by confessing his sin.

Benedict, 1946, p. 223

 

The sacred artists of Cradle live within an honor code of vengeance and shame, like many real-world human societies, both past and present. Justice is mostly of the vigilante variety, with your blood relations the only people you can really trust.

Another building block of the culture of Cradle is the natural hierarchy that results from the ranks of sacred artists. I call it a natural hierarchy because the ranks seem to be natural kinds. There really is something qualitatively different about an Iron artist compared to a Copper, and between all the other ranks as well. Unlike many such theories in our world, whether social, racial, occupational, or what have you, there is an essence of Ironness that underlies the social distinction.

However, those essences are also very meritocratic. Ranks are earned, through hard work and discipline, and above all, through competition. When you put all these things together, a shame culture with a social hierarchy built on real distinctions of ability and power, and the need to compete not only for social distinctions, but for power itself, you get unending war.

This last bit is perhaps the most interesting to me. Lindon's home in the Sacred Valley has the same shame culture as the world outside, but the power levels to be found within are far lower. Perhaps in compensation, it is also a far less brutal place to live. Not only is life easier there, but there are valuable materials and items available there. I'm genuinely curious why someone hasn't rolled in from the wilds outside and taken everything, because it would be easy.

I'm hoping this turns into a plot point later. It would be genuinely interesting to see why the most pleasant place we have seen so far that is also the most undeveloped in terms of sacred arts hasn't been sacked and looted. As for the rest of the world, it must be something very much like Hobbes' state of nature, although we haven't yet been to the Blackflame empire, purported bastion of civilization. I suppose we shall see.

I'm pretty happy I picked up Soulsmith, and I'm looking forward to volume 3.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

The Long View 2006-06-14: Inconstant Constants; Snowball Earth; Ireland & Denmark & Bush

 Snowball earth

Snowball earth

The snowball earth hypothesis is an interesting one. It makes some intuitive sense to me as a meta-stable point in a dynamic system, but the devil is in the details here.


Inconstant Constants; Snowball Earth; Ireland & Denmark & Bush

 

The universe rests on shaky foundations, if we may believe this report:

On April 21 this year new findings were published in Physical Review Letters implying that a dimensionless constant - the ratio between the electron mass and the proton mass - has changed with time...

And shortly measurements will be presented in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society showing that another dimensionless constant, called the fine structure constant, is also varying with time...The changes of both the proton/electron mass ratio and the fine structure constant are very tiny. The fine structure constant has changed by some parts per million during six billions years.

Physicists have been speculating along these lines since the 1930s, so these results are not a complete surprise. (And isn't the idea that the laws of physics were different in the past a point of theosophical doctrine?) I gather that these variations are not enough to upset the anthropic coincidences, so we're safe. For the time being.

* * *

I had thought that Snowball Earth was one of the two robust configurations for the Earth's climate, the other being the climate known to us from history. In other words, if complete glaciation ever occurred, it would be irreversible because the alebedo of the Earth's surface would be so high as to prevent warming by the sun. Now it seems I was misinformed: Snowball Earth has come and gone:

Ancient relatives of today's plants and animals may have survived Earth's oldest, longest winter, when the planet was covered in a deep sheet of ice.

Scientists refer to this chilly period as "Snowball Earth," which first occurred more than two billion years ago. Some computer models suggest the planet was encased in a shell of ice at least a half-mile thick.

...The finding fits with a study last year that concluded bacteria actually caused the first snowball scenario by producing oxygen that destroyed a warm blanket of methane in the atmosphere.

...The research calls into question the severity of Earth's snowball, however. The eukaryotes would not have survived a total, global ice age over a long period of time, according to Buick....However, one proponent of the Snowball Earth theory said that Buick's findings aren't contradictory to the deep-freeze model.

"No matter how thick the ice was, if you had eukaryotes before the freezing, there are still going to be survivors somehow making a living—even in complete darkness," said geologist Mark McMenamin of Mount Holyoke College.

Indeed, Snowball Earth has come and gone more than once:

It seems pretty likely, given the evidence, that a Snowball Earth did take place, somewhere between 600 and 700 million years ago. And that likelihood brings us back to the Cambrian explosion.

Apparently, the glaciation will break up on any planet with enough vulcanism and plate tectonics to keep a carbon-cycle going. So once again, everything is just fine.

* * *

I tried to learn Irish when I was in college; now a student would find more institutional support:

[In Ireland] Irish-language schools and an Irish-language television station are booming in popularity, despite Gaelic's seemingly unpronounceable strings of consonants. And now the language's supporters, who have long bemoaned the impending death of the ancient tongue, have set their sights overseas... This fall, the local branch of the Fulbright program will, for the first time, send native-speaking teaching assistants to American universities.

"Their immediate response was: 'Yes, yes, yes! We can't get enough teachers!' " said Carmel Coyle, director of the Irish Fulbright Commission.

At the risk of sounding like a multi-culti malcontent, I still bristle at the memory of an unsatisfactory meeting I had with a dean in 1975 when I tried to get my school to grant credit for an Irish-language seminar: three students were willing to take it, and a tweedy senior professor was eager to teach it. But no: there was a for-credit seminar on Victorian pornography, but a seminar to teach an actual language was, well, unfashionably substantive.

The seminar went ahead, without credit, and I eventually got to a basic reading level. Then I let the matter lapse. Irish is good evidence for the dictum that the smaller the number of speakers, the harder the language. You must imagine a language with the syntax of French and the grammar of German, except that the verb-subject-object word order is also reminiscent of Hebrew (or so I'm told; I don't know Hebrew). One bright spot is that Irish did a spelling reform around 1950. Irish orthography used to be outrageous; now lit's merely appalling.

* * *

Meanwhile, Irish terrorism wears a wry face:

DUBLIN?Professor Hanlon O'Faolin, once called "mad" at the Royal Irish Academy for attempting to reanimate the traditional body of Celtic folktales with the power of elcectic multilingual puns, is readying his apoplectic Bloomsday Device for activation on June 16. "Yes! Yes, they laughed at me yes but now yes I will make them pay and yes!" O'Faolin wrote in a letters to the Irish Times, promising the destruction of Dublin on the same day portrayed in Joyce's Ulysses.

Is Jasper Fforde now writing for the Onion?

* * *

Could the Bush Administration's fortunes fall any lower, asks Scrappleface:

(2006-06-13) Republican electoral prospects in November appeared bleaker than ever this week after U.S. forces allowed al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to die in their custody and President George Bush's close friend and adviser Karl Rove fanned the flames of conspiracy theories by preventing a special prosecutor from charging him with any wrongdoing in the CIA leak investigation.

I still think the Republican Party is toast this November, but I can't help noticing the frustration in certain segments of the media that reality is getting off message.

* * *

Meanwhile, there is such a thing as justice, at least for Denmark:

[W]hile the export to Islamic countries has gone down, this is more than compensated for by an increase in export to other countries, especially the USA, Senior analyst Joern Thulstrup is quoted as saying: (translated) “It’s an overlooked fact in the Danish debate that Denmark is held in very high regard in the USA, and this is really paying off in regard to business.”

All very well, but the mechanisms of hate-crime prosecution still must be dismantled and the principle repudiated.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Soulminder Book Review

 The dome of the Florence Baptistry, showing the hierarchy of angels  By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2267968

The dome of the Florence Baptistry, showing the hierarchy of angels

By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2267968

Soulminder
by Timothy Zahn
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (September 23, 2014)
334 pages
ASIN B07B675RVC

For Dr. Adrian Sommer, a split second of driving while distracted leads to tragedy—and obsession. His family destroyed, he devotes his entire being to developing Soulminder, a technology that might have saved his son as he wavered on the edge of death. Sommers’s vision is to capture a dying person’s life essence and hold it safely in stasis while physicians heal the body from injury or disease. Years of experimentation finally end in success—but those who recognize Soulminder’s possibilities almost immediately corrupt its original concept to pursue dangerous new frontiers: body-swapping, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perhaps even immortality.

Soulminder is a little different that the other books of Timothy Zahn that I have read. I picked it up in late December, and I started reading it immediately, but it didn't hook me. I turned to other things, then I came back to Soulminder in March. The more I read, the better it got. This book is not a page turner, but rather a slow burner.

Part of the reason for that is the structure. This work was expanded from a serialization in Analog magazine, with three of the chapters adapted from that previous publication. Accordingly, this isn't a traditional novel, with a continuous flow, but rather is more like a collection of novellas with common characters and a common theme, sometimes with separations of many years in between the events each chapter.

Another reason why this book is different is that it is a different kind of science fiction. For a long time, my working definition of hard sci-fi has been: the method of good "hard" science fiction leaves the reader usefully instructed in certain principles of physics or biology after reading a story that otherwise closely resembles a Western. Many of the best works in the field use this formula, but it isn't the only one that works. 

Isaac Asimov had a three-part typology that explains some other ways:

In 1953, Isaac Asimov published an article titled "Social Science Fiction" in Modern Science Fiction. In that article, he stated that every science fiction plot ultimately falls into one of three categories: Gadget, Adventure, or Social.
Gadget: The focus of the story is the invention itself: How it comes to be invented, how it works, and/or what it is used for. The invention is the end result of the plot.
Adventure: The invention is used as a dramatic prop. It may be the solution to a problem, or it may be causing the problem itself, but the main focus is on the caper and how the invention's presence helps or hinders it.
Social: The focus of the story is on how the presence of the invention affects people's daily lives, whether for good or for ill. The chief distinction between this and the other two types is that the presence of the invention influences the plot rather than causing it or being the goal.

Soulminder is social science fiction in Asimov's model. There isn't any attempt to describe the scientific principles of Soulminder for the very simple reason that there aren't any. This is a technology that doesn't exist in our world, and we don't have anything that even vaguely approaches it. Thus, we can't learn about soul transfer like we learn about linguistics in The Way of the Pilgrim, or about orbital mechanics and extra-planetary habitats in The Martian. What we can learn about is what our world might be like if a technology like this existed.

The depth at which Zahn explores this question impressed me more and more as I read through Soulminder. My first hint that Zahn was up to something really interesting came in chapter two. Dr. Adrian Sommer, co-inventor of Soulminder, is on a televised panel with several religious media figures to debate the merits of his technology. Since I have a background in moral theology and moral philosophy, I found the stances each expert took to be plausibly within the range of acceptable opinion in their respective faiths, but mostly I found the whole exchange a little boring, since it was mostly a rehash of existing controversies in our world. However, it turns out the debate was really just a red herring for the really interesting question that comes up while Dr. Sommer is sitting in the green room during a commercial break: one of his clients has been caught in the soul trap after suffering an entirely expected third heart attack, but he also has an organ donor card and the hospital is about to start harvesting his organs, since he is legally dead.

On the one had, Dr. Sommer's client probably deserves a chance to be put back into his body once his infarcted heart has been dealt with. On the other hand, at least four people will benefit from the technically dead client's organs. On the gripping hand, it isn't at all clear that the client's heir/protege has pure motives when he insists that the legal precedents around organ donation be followed. This is very, very applied ethics.

And Dr. Sommer has a decision to make. He very much wants to do the right thing, even when he frequently doesn't know what that is. So he makes his decision, and he goes on, through the rest of the book, doing his best to make sure the moral monsters of the world can't take advantage of the power over life and death that he has created.

Earlier in chapter two, Dr. Sommer tries to enlist the help of the Reverend Tommy Lee Harper, a fiery televangelist who is staunchly opposed to Soulminder and all its works. Dr. Sommer suspects that Harper is a man of integrity, and Sommer is right, Harper has so much integrity that he won't help Sommer defend a technology Harper thinks is fundamentally wicked, and contrary to God's plan, no matter what the earthly stakes are. 

Sommer closed his eyes briefly. “It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons,” he quoted quietly, “but out of bad archangels.” “You and C.S. Lewis make my point for me,” Harper nodded. “Soulminder is an archangel, Doctor, so far as earthly creations go. I’m very much afraid that it’ll be beyond your ability to keep it from becoming a demon.”
...
For a long minute Harper gazed past Sommer, at the lights of the city stretching to the horizon. Then, slowly, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Sommer,” he said, “but I can’t help you.” The knot in Sommer’s stomach retightened. “Why not?” he asked, fighting to keep his tone polite. “You see the evil in what Marsh is doing—” “But you ask me to support one evil to keep another from happening,” Harper interrupted him. “I can’t do that.”

The ethical dilemma at the hospital bed, and Zahn's portrayal of Rev. Harper, a man who would simply have been an obscurantist villain in many a book, convinced me that Zahn had written something truly compelling, a moral thriller. 

Once I got into it, this book just kept getting better and better. The schemes, grift, and oppression that come into being just because Soulminder exists are breathtaking. Much of it is even plausibly high-minded. The professional witness program, spearheaded in my own great state of Arizona, offers up the bodies of volunteers to the souls of murder victims so that they can testify at their own trials. Justice will be done. However, it is never that simple, especially since only souls that had been rich enough in life to pay Soulminder's fees can be captured and returned, and professional witnesses tend to be the same kind of people who volunteer for drug safety trials. And that is the kind of program the United States governments run. There are plenty of less savory places in the world, and they have Soulminder facilities too. Harper's prediction has a lot going for it.

While I appreciate the moral realism with which Zahn approaches the likely consequences of soul transfer technology, I was also pleasantly surprised by some subtle philosophical points that seemed rather Thomist. For example, the body matters as much as the soul. If you find yourself in someone else's body, you can inherit their habits, emotions, and memories as well. Depending on who that person was, you may find yourself with some unwelcome side effects, like the crime lord who stole the body of a pious young Catholic who happened to share a resemblance, and then discovered that he unexpectedly felt guilty!

If you can persevere through an opening that is admittedly a bit slow [the first chapter was originally written in 1988 or 1989], you will find a work of surprising depth. Not exactly space opera, but worth your time.

My other book reviews

Soulminder
By Timothy Zahn

Supporting the Long View re-posting project, with some book reviews thrown in for fun

 John J. Reilly, RIP

John J. Reilly, RIP

I've been at this for just over 4 years now. Traffic is growing strongly, and I occasionally run into a comment somewhere else along the lines of: "isn't there some guy reposting all of John Reilly's stuff?"

I find that gratifying, and I'm glad that others seem to be interested in John Reilly's internet legacy, even though some of the things he said didn't pan out. All the same, some did, which is probably why we still get visitors here looking for his writings, nearly six years after his death. Not bad, in internet terms.

So how can you help? First and foremost, by reading John's stuff. The only regular commenter we have around here is subforum, a long cry from the days when John hosted a fairly lively BBS, but these days you would just make a Reddit sub instead of hosting it yourself. I think John nuked the whole board at least three times trying to apply patches to phpBB.

After that, I've selected to run only Amazon affiliate links and Brave browser affiliate links. Amazon, since much of what happens here is book related. Brave since I support their mission of trying to make the financial underpinnings of the internet less dependent on mining your personal information. I've switched over to Brave as my primary browser, and I think you should too.

If you want to try it out, download the Brave browser from my affiliate link, and I will get credited for it if you use it "some" over the next thirty days. I think you'll like it. I like never having ads or pop-ups unless I opt-in.

For Amazon affiliate links, if you just buy something every once in a while, I would appreciate it. That would defray the minor costs of hosting, which is all I am going for. I've noticed a general increase here as well, so thank you.

The Long View 2006-06-12: Annoying Meteors; Mad Cows in America; Reprimitivization; Haditha; All the Past Before Us

 Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Prion diseases like BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) aren't as well understood as some other infections, in part because their causes are hard to study. As it turned out, it was CJD (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) that killed John J. Reilly.


Annoying Meteors; Mad Cows in America; Reprimitivization; Haditha; All the Past Before Us

 

How big is a big meteorite? Not very big at all, if we may believe this report that a record meteorite hit Norway last week:

As Wednesday morning dawned, northern Norway was hit with an impact comparable to the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima....The astronomer believes the meteorite was a giant rock and probably the largest known to have struck Norway.

"The record was the Alta meteorite that landed in 1904. That one was 90 kilos (198 lbs) but we think the meteorite that landed Wednesday was considerably larger," Røed Ødegaard said, and urged members of the public who saw the object or may have found remnants to contact the Institute of Astrophysics.

So a meteor of 100 or 200 kg can do as much damage as a small atomic bomb. How is it that not one of these modest-sized objects have hit anything important through all of recorded history?

* * *

Why isn't this report causing livestock futures to go haywire?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two cases of mad cow disease in Texas and Alabama seem to have resulted from a mysterious strain that could appear spontaneously in cattle, researchers say...No matter what the origins might be of an atypical strain, the government says there is no reason to change federal testing or measures that safeguard animals and people from the disease. "We still feel confident in the safeguards that we have," Clifford said. "We have to base our assumptions on what is scientifically known and understood."

Great Britain destroyed its livestock herds a few years ago because of mad-cow disease. They eventually had to destroy so many animals because, early on, they continued to "feel confident" in the existing procedures.

* * *

Listen to the approach of Mad Max, or least of Alaric the Visigoth:

Modern-day Goths and Vandals threaten the West via cheap flights and the net The direct effects of Third World instability would soon lick at the edges of the Western world as pirate gangs mounted smash-and-grab raids on holidaymakers. "At some time in the next 10 years it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," he said....

Western countries would have little use for large-scale, low-technology forces in responding to the new threats. He foresees wholesale moves towards robots, drones, nanotechnology, lasers, microwave weapons, space-based systems and even "customised" nuclear and neutron bombs...

He pinpointed 2012 to 2018 as the time when the power structure of the world, much of which dates from World War II, was likely to crumble. Rising nations such as China, India, Brazil and Iran would start to challenge the US as the only superpower... This would come as "irregular activity" such as terrorism, organised crime and "white companies" of mercenaries burgeons in lawless areas at the expense of conventional forces. ...

The bloodiest result of the competition for resources, Parry argued, may be a return to "industrial warfare" as countries with large, growing male populations mobilise armies, even including cavalry, while acquiring computerised warfare technology from the West.

Mark Steyn has been having similar thoughts, to judge by his assessment of Robert Kaplan's notion of reprimitivization:

Take the subject of, say, decapitation. There's a lot of it about in the Muslim world. These Somali Islamists, in the course of their seizure of Mogadishu, captured troops from the warlords' side and beheaded them. Zarqawi made beheading his signature act, cutting the throats of the American hostage Nick Berg and the British hostage Ken Bigley and then releasing the footage as boffo snuff videos over the Internet...Which brings us to Toronto. In court last week, it was alleged that the conspirators planned to storm the Canadian Parliament and behead the prime minister. On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous. As ridiculous as it must have seemed to Ken Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq with no illusions about the world..

It is easy to imagine public places being overrun by the Goths and their blood-curdling emo music, while the vandals tag every flat surface with their tasteless calligraphy. Still, we should note that these imaginary horribles are incompossible: you can't really have laser-wielding cavalry, not if the lands of cheap electronics are falling apart too.

I might also point out that reprimitivization can take less dramatic forms. When I was in high school, personal servants had become extremely rare. They were not just too expensive for all but the richest individuals: they were old fashioned. Now, thanks to immigration, we have revived Edwardian conventions, and even people of modest means have nannies and gardeners. In the extreme case, of course, illegal immigrants work in secret sweatshops in a state of peonage. In some contexts, there has been a revival of genuine slavery.

As the president says, there are some jobs Americans will not do.

In any case, the Goth-and-Vandal scenario is premature. This assault will be beaten back and its lands of origin assimilated. If I may quote Robinson Jeffers once again:

----But this, I steadily assure you, is not the world's end,
----Nor even the end of a civilization. It is not so late as you think:
---------give nature time.

He wrote that in the 1940s, and it's still true It's a good 500 years before we really have to worry about a permanent collapse. As for the pirates, though, we should remember that Julius Caesar himself was captured by pirates as a young man on his way to college in Greece, during a time not wholly unlike our own.

* * *

Is the Haditha Massacre story really falling apart? I was prepared to believe that American troops who had been hit by one too many roadside bombs would shoot everything that moved in the immediate area. It seems that the media and members of Congress were not just credulous, but eager. The narrative accounts of the massacre are contested but not discredited, or at least not yet. However, what made the story a media sensation was the prospect of damning visual evidence, evidence whose provenance is now doubtful.

* * *

The Sapir-Worf Hypothesis lives, it seems, at least in the Andes:

New analysis of the language and gesture of South America's indigenous Aymara people indicates a reverse concept of time.

Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies' orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind.

We can only speculate about the aftermath of this great discovery. As the Chinese might say, it makes all prior research a matter of qián tian, of the day before.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-06-06: Panspermia; China; 666; Terrorism

 Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

Panspermia is the kind of idea that seems to appeal to Aspergery scientists and science fiction writers, and pretty much no one else.


Panspermia; China; 666; Terrorism

 

There are no good explanations for the origin of life. There are two bad explanations, however: Intelligent Design and panspermia. If you believe this report, panspermia now seems a little less bad:

In April, [Godfrey Louis], a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples -- water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis's home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001 -- contain microbes from outer space.

Specifically, Louis has isolated strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell-like structures about 10 microns in size. Stranger still, dozens of his experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit . (The known upper limit for life in water is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit .)

This is the kind of finding that often does not survive the transition to a better laboratory, but it would make a certain amount of sense. Part of the problem with the origin question is that it is hard to see how delicate ensembles of DNA (or RNA, for that matter) could arise without the pre-existence of the cell walls that the DNA is supposed to generate. If earlier reproductive packages existed, however, perhaps packages that were not technically alive, they might have provided stable environments in which DNA/RNA evolution could occur.

As for the provenance of the spores, I think we would have to find them in space to be certain that they were not just bits of odd terrestrial chemistry.

* * *

Gordon Chang's thesis about the collapse of the Chinese financial sector, first published in 2001, are echoed in this analysis by George Friedman of Stratfor: An Inflection Point In China's Banking Problem:

The month of May witnessed an interesting phenomenon: a spate of reports on China's nonperforming-loan problem. ...The wide divergence between the Western perception of Chinese economic health and the realities of China's economy is beginning to close. There will be consequences to that....McKinsey, for example, writes:

"Underlying these reforms, however, is capital misallocation by the system. Nonperforming loans are the most conspicuous outcome of this misallocation, but our research shows that the much larger volume of loans to underperforming ventures that don't go bad but yield only negligible returns are potentially more costly to China's economy."...

There are numerous ways to measure the magnitude of the problem, but one of the simplest is this. China is said to hold nearly $819 billion in foreign reserves. Fitch's conservative estimate of the bad loan situation comes close to matching that number, and a more liberal calculation would swallow those reserves up and then some. Put very simply, the Chinese banking system is in deep trouble -- and with it, so is the Chinese economy....

What keeps China afloat is exports -- exports in ever greater numbers, and with ever-smaller profit margins.

As the piece points out, great nations do not normally implode because their banks become insolvent. More likely is a period of low growth, like the US in the 1930s and Japan in the 1990s. Does that imply substantial political change? It did in the US.

* * *

In addition to the birth of the Antichrist, yesterday (06-06-06) saw party primary day here in New Jersey. I don't have figures for turnout statewide, but I can tell you my own experience.

The polls are supposed to be open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. A bit before 8:00 AM, I went to the polling place indicated on the ballot. No polls were operating, there or at the alternative site a block away that is sometimes used on short notice. I tried again at lunchtime. By then, the polls were open across the street from the alternative site. I announced I was Republican and voted. I was #2 for that party.

The incumbent Bob Menendez was nominated to run for US Senator as a Democrat and Tom Kean Jr. as a Republican. Why this universally anticipated outcome required an unattended election is a mystery.

* * *

And Speaking of 06-06-06, here is what Newsday had to say about that not-particularly-dread date, reminiscent though it is of the numerological encryption of the name of Antichrist as given in Revelation:

Soon, the streets will fill with death and decay.

Soon, scalped chickens will fall from the sky.

Soon, the anti-Christ will rise to render the earth a mosh pit of despair; an empty, rotted stink hole of evil mayhem brought about by all things satanic. Doom will reign! Faces will melt! Alan Thicke will star in a new sitcom! The world will explode! Die! Die! Die!

Pish posh. The Antichrist is the Christmas Fool, the Lord of Misrule, and we find him in even the most respectable contexts:

Some themes were repeated year after year. The ceremony featured the President as the Lord of the Castle. A Lord of Misrule presided over the festivities, accompanied by a fool. Pages or Heralds announced the entrance of the Lord of Misrule. The Lord of Misrule always led a long procession into the Banquet hall.

Somedays I think we should think of the Tribulation as the sort of family Christmas gathering when no one is on speaking terms by December 27.

* * *

Obviously, the comments above understate the matter. Does this report do likewise?

(CBS) U.S. officials believe Canadian arrests over the weekend and three recent domestic incidents in the United States are evidence the U.S. will soon be hit again by a terrorist attack. Privately, they say, they'd be surprised if it didn't come by the end of the year...The next attack here, officials predict, will bear no resemblance to Sept. 11. The casualty toll will not be that high, the target probably not that big. We may not even recognize it for what it is at first, they say. But it's coming — of that they seem certain.

One of the "three incidents" the report refers to was a string of gas-station robberies in California. If that is what "terrorism" has come to mean, then how is the concept useful?

I am not comforted.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-06-02: Parties, Calumny, Spelling

 Pierre Trudeau  By Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg: Chiloaderivative work: Jbarta (talk) - Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9487779

Pierre Trudeau

By Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg: Chiloaderivative work: Jbarta (talk) - Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9487779

Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada when I was very young, and perhaps as a consequence, is the the first Canadian politician I am likely to think of. Currently, his eldest son is also Prime Minister.


Parties, Calumny, Spelling

 

"America may be ready for a new political party," said Peggy Noonan in her Opinion Journal column yesterday: a sentiment that readers will know I share. Nonetheless, I can only repeat that the existing third parties have little to recommend them, as a glance at Third Party Watch will confirm. The problem is not just their platforms, but their names. The Green Party; the Constitutional Party; the Peace & Freedom Party: none invites a second look. In contrast, consider the vibrant political culture of Golden Astrobe that R. A. Lafferty described in Past Master:

But the Parties -- who could ever make sense out of their jungle? The Center Party, of course, was Thomas' own, and that of his three big sponsors. There was the First Compromise Party, the Second Compromise Party, the Third Compromise Party; there was the Hatrack (or Conglomerate) Party, and the Solidarity Labor Party; there was Demos and the Programmed Liberal Party; there were Mechanicus and Censor and the Pyramid; there was the New Salt Party and the Kiss of Death Party; there was the Intransigents and the Reformed Intransigents and there was the Hive; there were the Golden Drones, and the Penultimate and the Ultimate parties. It sometimes seemed that there were too many of them, but they all had their programs and their platforms. There were the Obstructionists and the New Obstructionists. There were the Esthetics, and the Anesthetics, and a splinter group called the Local Anesthetics; these latter were jokesters and so automatically their opinions counted for nothing on Astrobe, though the party was allowed to register. There was Ochlos, which carried the special blessings of Ouden. Several of these parties were for Programmed Persons only; one, the Unreconstructeds, was for humans only; but most had a varied membership

Actually, the online party that has caused so much discussion this week, Unity 08, has a better name than most, and there is something to be said for its self-definition as a sort of rally rather than a permanent party structure. It's only deficit is the absolute lack of reasons to vote for it.

My preference for the name of a new party would be something like:

The Party of Public Safety

I will spare readers a description of its platform, at least for now.

* * *

And what of John McCain? At The American SceneRoss Douthat has enunciated some thoughts that have troubled many of the senator's admirers:

[F]or the first time in a long while I think that John McCain might not be the Republican nominee in 2008 - and the reason is immigration.

No one in Congress is going to emerge looking well after work on the current immigration reform bill is completed (and the completion may take the form of just letting the matter die for now), so at least McCain won't be damaged more than any other of the usual suspects for 2008. There is time enough for him to recoup his position, but he better get the memo sometime this year.

* * *

Pierre Trudeau was a fascist in his youth, according to that shameless calumniator Mark Steyn in a meditation on some recent biographies of the late Canadian premier. Not everything that Steyn has to say about Trudeau is so damning, however:

Fortunately, Conrad Black is on hand to keep things in proportion. In Pierre, he concludes his appreciation thus:

"I always found him a delightful conversationalist and a gracious host, though perhaps slow to reach for the bill in a restaurant, even when we were there on his invitation."

Steyn is an immigrant, by the way, and he better be sure his papers are in perfect order: he is one alien whose residence status the Democrats may regard with great skepticism should they come to power.

* * *

Perhaps it's the measure of television these days that ABC's broadcast last night of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was the most interesting thing to be broadcast in a very long time. Still, speaking as a spelling reformer, I tell you that the whole exercise is an indictment of English orthography. The absurdity of competitive spelling is illustrated by the word that decided the match: "Ursprache." Ursprache is a moderately obscure German term meaning "source language," but the spelling is as transparent as "cat." If you know German spelling (which you can learn in an afternoon) you would have no trouble spelling Ursprache even if you had no idea what it meant. The grotesque thing about last night's contest was that the kids were struggling with loan words whose spellings are regular and simple in their languages of origin.

It would be a fine thing if the contestants were studying Latin and Greek and German and French and Italian. Certainly that would be better than memorizing the undigested fragments of those languages in English dictionaries.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: A Man in Full

jeff-lect-2006tomwolfe.jpg

A only slightly sarcastic review of Tom Wolfe's novel about Atlanta real estate, football, and racial politics.


A Man in Full
by Tom Wolfe
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998
(US) $28.95, 742 Pages
ISBN: 0-374-27032-5

 

Tom Wolfe had been going to lunches with editors for thirty years, so he knew the language of dining venues. He knew that meeting in an extravagantly expensive restaurant usually meant the publisher was certain of the book's success, but also that the editor he was talking to was too senior to have actually read the manuscript. Still, it was only when he noticed the plastic plant in the corner of the pizza parlor that he fully appreciated just how different this lunch was going to be.

"Good morning, Mr. Wolfe," said the extraordinarily junior editor as she slid into the seat across the table from him. While Wolfe had always made it his practice to be gracious to all the editorial munchkins he encountered, this courtesy did not always extend to remembering their names. He suffered a spasm of panic before recalling that this particular munchkin with the prematurely graying hair was named "Laetitia."

"Well, good afternoon, Laetitia!" he said with what he hoped sounded like genuine good cheer. "What a wonderful idea to meet in an informal setting like this! I can't remember the last time I had a good pepperoni pizza!"

"I eat here every day, Mr. Wolfe," she said without looking up as she leveraged the 1,500 page manuscript of his book out of her shabby book-bag and onto the formica tabletop. "And if you don't mind, all I am budgeted for is a plain pie."

This is getting serious, he thought as he sipped his Diet Pepsi. Still smiling, he asked, "Do you have any overall comments about the book?"

The intolerant glare of her ringed and sunken eyes seemed to bore directly into his brain. "About which book?"

He had a momentary falling-elevator sensation as he wondered whether he had mixed up his appointments and was actually talking to his tax accountant. But no, surely his finances had not reached the plastic-plant stage? "'A Man in Full,' of course," he answered in a slightly disconcerted tone.

"But which 'man in full' is your manuscript about?" she asked with a note of accusation. "Look, you have three major characters here: an aging Atlanta real estate developer with an unsellable office complex and an expensive trophy wife, a black corporate lawyer who has spent his whole life trying to avoid involvement in racial cases, and an earnest young man who rejects his hippie parents in a heroic struggle to attain bourgeois respectability. You also have a comic villain, a staff officer at the developer's bank who hopes to get his hands on the old fellow's assets. What's the little jerk's name?"

"Peepgass."

"Yes, Peepgass. Just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, it is supposed to suggest a certain trifling flatulence."

"I tell you what, Mr. Wolfe, why don't we leave the cute surnames to Dickens, okay? Anyone who would name the principal black character `White,' as you did, should not overexert himself. And speaking of whimsical language, are you aware of how many words and turns of phrase you use in book after book? Your vocabulary has become as idiosyncratic as H.P. Lovecraft's. Somehow, you always manage to mention `deltoids,' `season of the rising sap,' 'tout le monde' and, my personal favorite, 'loamy thighs.'"

Wolfe's discrete reconnaissance of Laetitia's legs as she sat down had actually lowered that particular phrase on his list of things to think about, though of course he would never comment on such a topic himself. He was, after all, a southern gentleman. Besides, she was drinking Yoohoo, which suggested she might be physically dangerous.

"In any case," she went on, "for the life of me, I just don't see why we should care about these people. Take the developer, Croaker I think you call him. He is the center of the book, to the extent it has a center. The problem is, he is no more interesting than the other vain, rich people you have been writing about for years. Granted, the description of the quail hunt on his plantation presents a higher order of wretched excess than we find in your New York stories, but it is hard to feel any interest in, much less sympathy for, somebody who is going broke on $6 million per year."

Wolfe could no longer restrain himself.

"Laetitia, if I may say so, you are failing to appreciate the rich warp and woof of American society that I depict in this book. Consider the earnest young man you mentioned, Hensley. He has to forego higher education to work in a cold-storage warehouse so he can support his young family. He is unjustly sent to jail, which provides an occasion to contrast the sentimental homoeroticism of a museum exhibition in Atlanta with the brutal reality of a society where homosexuality is normal. More important, though, his study of the Stoics while in prison allows me to introduce a philosophical perspective on the content of masculine gender roles that has been sorely missing these many years."

Wolfe was slightly disappointed that Laetitia did not take offense at this response. In fact, he was somewhat offended himself when she answered him through a mouthful of plain pizza.

"You know, I was thinking myself that you might have had a tight little novella right at the end of the book, where Hensley preaches the gospel of Epictetus to the despondent Croaker. You could have set it up as a dialogue in the classical style, which is by far the most entertaining way to present a sustained argument. Before you could do something like that, though, you would really have to do your homework. Stoicism has a metaphysics as well as an ethics, for one thing, so you would have to engage postmodernism to some extent. And you would also have to avoid making historical bloopers, like the statement on page 666 that Nero reigned about AD 95. As the book stands, that coincidence between the name and the page number is the most interesting thing in the text"

"My character said that," Wolfe interrupted with dignity, "a young autodidact without the benefit of university training."

"Un-hunh," she said, inhaling her fourth slice of pizza. "Look, Mr. Wolfe, it really doesn't matter whether Nero lived so long ago that he had a pet dinosaur. The really big problem with your really big book is that these lives you describe simply don't have anything to do with each other."

"That is just unfair!" he exclaimed, accidentally dripping some tomato sauce onto the trousers of his immaculate white suit. Since that suit was his pride and world-famous trademark, Laetitia was puzzled by how little this accident seemed to worry him. Little did she know that there were 19 suits just like it in the dust-free biological containment room he used as a wardrobe.

"The way that I tie these people together is both natural and ingenious. The racial incident, the desire of the Atlanta city government to keep the peace, Croaker's status as a former football hero and his bank's susceptibility to political pressure, all these devices mesh together perfectly. The only somewhat artificial accident is the one whereby Hensley meets Croaker, and by your account that is the only part of the book that is any good."

"Yes, it is ingenious," she countered. "It is even informative, if you want to know about how banks try to extract money from their big debtors without actually sending them into default. The fact remains that all this machinery cuts across the grain of the book. 'A Man in Full' is supposed to be about how fate is determined by personal character, but the key features of the plot are wholly arbitrary. Even worse, most of the plot machinery is not even assembled until fairly late in the book. When you tell a story involving characters who don't meet until near the end, the story has to be an explanation of why these characters were really connected from the very beginning. Instead, you have written a book that might have been three separate books until the last hundred pages."

Wolfe exhaled. "Well, I'll be damned if I will rewrite this thing from scratch, and I won't see it broken up into separate books. As far as I am concerned, the book is complete, and it is pretty good."

"I won't argue with you, Mr. Wolfe. It is pretty good, it just wasn't thought through. Sales will be fine. And don't worry about being asked to rewrite it. Frankly, management is relieved the manuscript is as good as it is. You know as well as anyone that, once the name of an author is enough to guarantee sales, he can write pretty much whatever gibberish he wants, at any length he wants, and get it all published without cuts. Some authors benefit from this freedom. As for others, well, we all know what happened to Stephen King."

They bowed their heads for a moment of silent remembrance. Then they started on the last two slices of pizza.

"There is one thing I would like to ask you about, though," Laetitia asked as she finished off the crust. "Would you be interested in helping with the screenplay?"

"Are you thinking about film or television?"

"Television, probably. The book has the sort of rambling quality that goes over well in two-hour episodes. There would have to be a few changes, though nothing that is not already implied by the book as it stands. For instance, your text positively invites some new subplots involving Hensley and Croaker's young wife, maybe also the wife and Croaker's teenage son. Incest in prime time; the cable networks will love it."

Wolfe tried even harder not to think about loamy thighs.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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A Man in Full
By Tom Wolfe

The Long View 2006-05-31: The Life of Saint George and the Coming of the Third Party

Third parties have a habit of not actually doing much in American politics. The Unity party ticket mentioned here is a prime example.


The Life of Saint George and the Coming of the Third Party

 

The Bush Administration would be in worse shape were it not for the fact that Congress is in worse shape still: a body that has just alienated public opinion on the immigration issue really should not be claiming newly discovered forms of parliamentary privilege, as it seems to be doing in connection with the FBI search of a congressman's office for (more) evidence of bribery.

That said, though, just what is wrong with the Bush White House? The invaluable Regnum Crucis hits the nail on the head:

[O]ne area that I have been constantly harping on is how tone-deaf the administration has been politically when it comes to defending what is almost certainly going to be the defining event of the Bush presidency [the Iraq War]. Whether it is admitting mistakes (and more importantly correcting them), challenging the critics, or even assisting its supporters in defending the rationales for war (the fact that Arthur Chrenkoff and Steve Hayes respectively have done more for the administration's case in this regard than the entire White House PR staff in of itself speaks as to what utter fools these people have been), the approach of the White House, its Congressional supporters, and the GOP in general have been utterly underwhelming. The fact that the administration didn't even start to notice this until after the Cindy Sheehan/Katrina debacle speaks wonders to just how out of touch many of the people assigned to deal with these issues are, as does the fact that the campaign of speeches to support the war in Iraq has since ended. In 24-hour media environment, especially with a press corps as unsympathetic as this one (and blaming the media is a red herring here - if the administration isn't making an effort to defend itself and its positions, why the hell should they?), you have to be in campaign mode all the time. The Clinton people, love 'em or hate 'em, understood this, but the Bush people clearly don't and it has cost them dearly.

And where does all this lead, you may ask? A mythology-minded correspondent offers this oracle:

>As for the Stooge in Chief, well, I keep remembering what I learned in the
>"Golden Bough", once the chief is seen as week and ineffective, he gets
>torn to pieces and used to fertilize the field.

To that I would say that the destiny of the Bush Administration is a question of form-criticism. The current president's father really did have the Tyrant Holdfast problem. The administration of George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993) was seen as the extension of the administration of Ronald Reagan, who, as we know, was a thousand years old and had reigned for a century, after having defeated the greatest dragon the world had ever seen. In other words, poor GHWB was forced to play the role of the hero who has lived past his freshness date: he became the dragon, if you can imagine a dragon who never failed to write polite thank-you notes.

That is not the current president's kind of story. He is not the redeeming hero whose stages of life represent an archetypal lifetime. Quite the opposite: aside from some inevitable graying about the temples, the most notable thing about GWB is that he does not seem to age. The interest his story affords comes not from the development of the man's character, but from the failure of the events through which he passes to change him.

The life of President Bush is a hagiography. There are several kinds of lives of saints: the hagiography of George Bush is of the sort that emphasizes how the saint, after his conversion, resists temptation and works miracles without putting a hair out of place or raising his voice. His power is not growth, but impassibility.

Of course, even the most equanimous saint may suffer martyrdom before he is canonized. I rather doubt that will happen. Bush will stay in office, and even succeed against all expectation. It's the institutions around him that will suffer damage

* * *

This brings us to the vigil of the dawn of the Third Party. Readers will have noticed that, in America, "Third Party" has something of the ring of "Third Age." Be that as it may, a column by Jonathan Alter draws our attention to an effort to immanentize the eschaton: "A New Open-Source Politics: Just as Linux lets users design their own operating systems, so 'netroots' politicos may redesign our nominating system." The project in question is called Unity 08, and it explains itself thus.

We are not looking to build a new and permanent party. That might happen, but our objective is to fix the old parties. A Unity Ticket in office for one term or even taking part in just one election can bring new ideas, new integrity and new leaders to the fore...

In our opinion, Crucial Issues include: Global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington's lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people.

By contrast, we consider gun control, abortion and gay marriage important issues, worthy of debate and discussion in a free society, but not issues that should dominate or even crowd our national agenda.

This is a non-starter, of course. The argument for Third Party is that the political class, particularly in Congress, no longer has a clue about what matters most to the electorate. This manifesto begins by, effectively, conceding the culture wars issues to the Left, which is what happens when these matters are relegated to the courts, which is what caused all the fuss in the first place. Immigration, of course, does not even make it to the list of secondary issues. The agenda of Unity 08 is not a remedy for the alienation of the political class, but a manifestation of it.

Alter's account of the origins and organizers of the Unity 08 is quite dismaying:

This Internet-based third party is spearheaded by three veterans of the antique 1976 campaign: Democrats Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon helped get Jimmy Carter elected; Republican Doug Bailey did media for Gerald Ford before launching the political TIP SHEET Hotline. They are joined by the independent former governor of Maine, Angus King,...

Antiques indeed, and of flea-market quality. Of course, Alter is not blind to these shortcomings:

There are plenty of ways for this process to prove meaningless, starting with the major parties deciding to nominate independent-minded candidates like John McCain (OK, the old McCain) or Mark Warner. Third-party efforts have usually been candidate-driven, and the centrist names tossed around by way of example (Chuck Hagel, Sam Nunn, Tom Kean) don't have much marquee value in the blogosphere.

Surely we can do better than this?

* * *

103,000,000 immigrants in 20 years was the forecast of the Heritage Foundation made about the Senate version of the new immigration legislation. I noted the matter on May 16 without, perhaps, giving the numbers a good look. Here, in the interests of fairness, is what the Cato Institute has to say in response:

Few [analyses] are wilder than a prediction from a well-known think-tank that the reform bill just passed by the Senate will result in 103 million legal immigrants to the United States during the next 20 years.

In a "Web Memo" from the Heritage Foundation, author Robert Rector claims that the Hagel-Martinez immigration bill (S. 2611) would unleash a flood of chain migration that would overwhelm America's capacity to absorb so many people....

A far more credible and objective study just released by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that S. 2611 would increase the U.S. population by only 8 million in the first 10 years. Although more chain migration would be expected in the second decade after the original temporary workers achieve citizenship, the rate of 800,000 immigrants per year is far more in line with recent history and the expected need of the U.S. economy for new workers.

An analysis by President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers exposed a number of flaws in the Heritage study. The CEA found that the study double counts millions of new immigrants, first as guest workers, then again as new green-card holders. It substantially overestimates the number of illegal immigrants who would remain in the United States permanently as well as the number of parents of newly naturalized citizens who would immigrate, and it ignores millions of immigrants would later choose to leave.

I have not gone over these numbers in detail, either, but I might point out that a more interesting figure than the cumulative increase in the population would be the change in the population's composition. If all the growth and much of the replacement is coming from immigrants, then the objection to cultural dilution still stands.

Of course, I'm not inclined to accept Cato's numbers in this context in any case. For a libertarian think tank like Cato to understate the effect of immigration is another case of the National Ice Cream Council publishing a study that proves ice cream is America's favorite dessert.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Thrawn: Alliances Except

 An uneasy alliance...  TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. 2018

An uneasy alliance...

TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. 2018

An except of Timothy Zahn's new Thrawn: Alliance novel is available at Starwars.com:

“I have sensed a disturbance in the Force.”
Emperor Palpatine paused, stretching out his thoughts to the two men standing before his throne, awaiting their reactions.
No. Not men. Of course not men. Men were insignificant, pitiable creatures, fit only to be ruled, or intimidated, or sent to die in battle. These were far more than mere men.
A Chiss Grand Admiral, a strategic and tactical genius. A Sith Lord, ruthless and powerful in the Force.

You can pre-order the novel from Amazon, or elsewhere, and in the meanwhile you can check out my reviews of the early 1990s Thrawn Trilogy, or the more recent reboot.

I know I'm excited. Zahn has been writing great books for 35 years, I expect this will continue.

New Belgium Tartastic Raspberry Lime Ale Review

I haven't done a beer review in nearly four years, so why not?

20180323_205226.jpg

New Belgium Tartastic Raspberry Lime Ale

Berliner Weisse [Type 1] 4.2% ABV

This is a Berliner Weisse, a light, fruity, sour style. The raspberry and lime are subtle, as is the sour. This is not one of those sour beers that will blow your socks off. This is something to sip on a sunny afternoon while you watch the world go by.

I have often felt like New Belgium's seasonals are a couple of months off where I live, and this one is no exception. March and April can be nice in Flagstaff, but they often aren't. Come May around here, this would be a great patio beer.

Rating

Beer_rating.png

Just about right for May here, but I suppose if I lived in Phoenix, this would be perfect. Maybe that's why the seasonals are always off here.

My other beer reviews

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 374 pages
Published February 23th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B079NGCX1T

Turning Point is an ugly book. It is ugly, because war is ugly. And this is warre, war to the knife. Firebombs, orbital strikes, death and destruction.

 The war my grandfathers waged  By English: Ishikawa Kōyō - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3681456

The war my grandfathers waged

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

In theory, when statesmanship and diplomacy and the just use of force have been applied prudently, none of this is necessary. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. And then, when good men find their back against the wall, they will do things that are more horrible than even they could have imagined they would do, if you had asked them before the deed was done.

This is also a book about divided loyalties. In the self-image of the Legion, they are loyal servants of the Republic. In practice, the oligarchs of the Republic use them and hate them, and the Legion returns that hate in spades. The Legion is already divided against itself, and against its masters, but truly, the split runs deeper than that. 

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every leeje, with the result that brother will turn upon brother, and the galaxy will burn. There are hints that something far worse than venial and self-serving politicians, even worse than Goth Sullus, tyrant holdfast, is lurking in the darkness. Yet, I still have hope, hope that the worst can yet be avoided, even if we don't quite know what that could be.

My other book reviews

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 Book 7)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole