The Long View 2005-12-27: Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

This year, we've made a batch of Alton Brown's aged eggnog. It is quietly mellowing in the back of my fridge as we speak.

Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms


Ever have mulled wine? A retired English couple in exile from Blairistan were kind enough to ask me over for high tea on Boxing Day (just try to rent a pair of jodhpurs on short notice over Christmas) and they had made some mulled wine. It tastes like warm, liquified apple pie, spiked with cinnamon and brandy. It's pretty good, really, but like Christmas eggnog, it's one of those drinks you need an excuse to make.

* * *

Intelligent Design has never been one of my enthusiasms, so I have no reason to quarrel with the holding in the decision by Judge John Jones of the Federal Middle District of Pennsylvania striking down the requirement by a local school board that would have made an allusion to Intelligent Design mandatory in biology classes. It was not necessary for the court to touch on any profound philosophical issues to decide the case. Unfortunately, the judge did, and so wrote passages like this in his opinion:

Further support for the proposition that ID requires supernatural creation is found in the book Pandas, to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are directed. Pandas indicates that there are two kinds of causes, natural and intelligent, which demonstrate that intelligent causes are beyond nature...Professor Haught, who as noted was the only theologian to testify in this case, explained that in Western intellectual tradition, non-natural causes occupy a space reserved for ultimate religious explanations.

The judge seems to be saying here that intelligence is non-natural, and so cannot be the object of scientific inquiry. This is a weird proposition. However, the weirdness is not of the judge's making. For years now, the scientific investigation of consciousness has tied itself in knots because the investigators generally begin with the assumption that the phenomenon they are trying to explain does not exist. Strictly speaking, this premise would preclude government support for any SETI project, because a search for intelligence would be, by the judge's definition, a search for the supernatural

* * *

This headline made me grumpy, even under the influence of mulled wine: Customers Order over 108 Million Items Worldwide During 11th Holiday Season; More Than 99 Percent of Orders Shipped in Time to Meet Holiday Deadlines Worldwide

This was the first year when I had trouble with Amazon. I ordered in good time, but they cancelled one order and, just before Christmas, told me the rest would not arrive until almost the end of the year. In a dazzling display of misplaced efficiency, Amazon did manage to deliver the remaining items, on Christmas Eve, but not before I had bought replacement presents.

Amazon is always polite and helpful, but maybe they have bitten off more than they can chew.

* * *

Perhaps you know NUMB3RS, the CBS television series about the mathematician who solves crimes in consultation with his police detective brother, under the benevolent eye of their retired father, played by Judd Hirsch. I like the series, and I have read enough popular science to be able to recognize the math. What strikes me, though, is that the investigations are a little like Gulliver's adventures on the flying island of Laputa. The island is ruled by natural philosophers, the 18th-century precursors of scientists, who never encounter a problem so small or obvious that they cannot complexify it past the point of comprehensibility.

In any case, I mention the series here because I was looking for some information about it, and I found that much the best source was the Wikipedia link. This is getting spooky. The scope of Wikipedia has reached the stage where I am afraid to ask "What have I got in my pockets?" for fear of finding out that Wiki already knows.

* * *

Speaking of popular culture, the Grinch-like Mark Steyn observes that familiarity with it is quite consistent with a lack of sympathy for the wider culture it imperfectly reflects:

The two are not mutually exclusive. They never have been. The Merry Widow was both the biggest smash on Broadway and Hitler’s favourite operetta. In a not entirely persuasive attempt to humanize the old KGB hard man, Yuri Andropov was widely touted as a Glenn Miller fan. The world’s former Numero Uno Commie, China’s Jiang Zemin, could hardly attend a state banquet without getting up and singing Elvis’ “Love Me Tender”. Saddam Hussein is not just assimilated with western culture, he’s eerily assimilated with National Review’s back page columnist: The old Baathist mass-murderer and I share the same favorite singer – Frank Sinatra. If you dialed up’s “We have recommendations for you!” CD page, Saddam’s and mine would be identical.

On the subject of Hitler, we all know that Hitler's favorite movie was the 1933 version of King Kong. At any rate, we all say that, but there is some difficulty in sourcing that assertion. I've read it, too, but I cannot remember where. The assertion is not in any of my books. Any ideas?

* * *

Wikipedia does not know everything. Here is what other people keep in their pockets.

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The Long View 2005-12-22: Europe and Its Discontents

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

In this blog post, John Reilly points to a sublime essay written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the height of his powers: Europe and Its Discontents. Published in English by First Things magazine, Benedict analyzes the idea of Europe through a grand sweep of history, religion, and politics.

You should go and read it.

I was quite excited when Pope Benedict was elected, and this essay illustrates why. Benedict has an extraordinarily sharp mind, and he turned his mind towards the largest questions of our age. I think his diagnosis of the crisis of European civilization, broadly defined to include the European diaspora and those parts of the world brought fully into the European cultural orbit, holds up well eleven years later.

In particular, it seems to me that Benedict was right that the default position among the centrist coalitions that dominate politics in Europe and America and their cultural partners, that there is nothing of value in Western culture or history, is profoundly weak, and this weakness has enabled nationalist populists of various sorts to gain political power by simply not expressing disdain for their nations or their history.


I don't think these movements are really what Benedict had in mind:

What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

I think Benedict was trying to build a more peaceful future by looking squarely at what was happening, but also by trying to build bridges between the powerful and those in Europe who felt marginalized. In his characteristic way, he sought this way through truth.

He frankly said this about immigration and low birthrates:

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.
Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted.

Eleven years ago, Benedict attempted to head off the political crises we have now by warning that low birthrates and high rates of immigration with the frank intent to replace the missing natives were bound to reach a tipping point that sparked a backlash. Would that we had listened.

Europe and Its Discontents


The essay "Europe and Its Discontents," by Pope Benedict XVI, appears in the January 2006 issue of First Things. (This is the piece’s first appearance in English; it was apparently published in Europe last year.) The pope tries to define Europe geographically and religiously; to diagnose the causes of the loss of morale in European societies; and to outline certain remedies.

Europe, for the pope’s purposes, includes the historically Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox regions of the Old World from the Atlantic to the Urals. To some extent, it also includes the Americas and the Russian East, but Benedict’s historical observations apply chiefly to Western Europe. He proposes the interesting hypothesis that the original self-consciousness of post-Roman Europe was an awareness of finality and mission provided by the model of history in the Book of Daniel. However, Benedict emphasizes that the notion of a distinction between church and state is very old in the West. As early as the fifth century, Pope Gelasius (492-496) cautioned that secular and spiritual authority were united only in Christ, not in any human institution. At the time of the Reformation, the traditional practice of close cooperation between church and state was challenged by the model of the state church, a model which later included provision for the toleration of free churches. The Enlightenment and the French revolution saw the beginning of laicism, under which religion was treated as a private matter and the public sphere was secularized as much as possible. The United States took a middle ground between these positions. The American stance is based on a combination of the religious disestablishment demanded by the free-church tradition with a national sense of universal religious mission. The result is not so far from the model of Pope Gelasius.

Throughout Europe, and also in the United States to a lesser degree, religion was in decline in the 20th century no matter the model that a given country favored. The same was true of socialism, which had briefly tried to replace religion or (in its democratic forms) supplement it. Thus, the terms in which Europeans had identified themselves for centuries lost their meaning. The loss of identity has apparently also meant the loss of the societal will to live. The symptoms are both demographic, in the form of below-replacement birthrates, and cultural, in the form of a multicultural refusal to embrace the European heritage or to pass it on.

The essay considers whether there is anything to be done about this situation. Benedict notes Oswald Spengler’s model of history, with its pattern of civilizations that grow, bloom, and decline toward death. The biological metaphors that Spengler used leave little room for hope. The pope is far more pleased with Toynbee’s model. It is not deterministic, and in fact it diagnoses the problem of modern Europe as a loss of social cohesion that arises from a loss of religious faith. Toynbee counseled that Western Civilization needed a new spiritual foundation. His Holiness, perhaps predictably, is of like mind.

The essay suggests three specific points of identity that Europe needs to regain:

Human rights must be acknowledged to have a transcendent origin;

Marriage and the family must conform to historical norms;

There must be respect for the sacred; even atheists can be expected to manifest ordinary respect for what other people hold to be holy.

Returning at the end to Toynbee, Benedict notes that the well-being of a civilization depends on its creative minorities. He says that Christians should look on themselves as just such a creative minority. They should help Europe to regain its identity and thereby allow Europe to serve all mankind.

* * *

Reading Benedict’s short essay, one is reminded of Henri Pirenne’s observation that it is much easier to write briefly of a large subject; narrow topics, in contrast, must be treated at length. Actually, it is probably a failing on my part that my summary is as long as it is. So, rather than compound the error by long commentary, let me just highlight a few points that touch on my own peculiar interests.

It is a mistake to see too much daylight between Spengler’s and Toynbee’s views on the future of the West. Both spoke in terms of a civilization-wide revival of religion. The chief difference is that Spengler said “is” and Toynbee said “ought.” Spengler’s prophecy of the Second Religiousness is not perhaps wholly complimentary to religion; certainly it does not understand of the malaise of modernity as a religious issue. Nonetheless, it does point to a substantial resacralization of thought and of public life. It might be said, in fact, to predict the return to religion that Toynbee advised.

Note that Toynbee is a problematical prophet, however. Sometimes he seemed to think of the future not in terms of a revival of historical Christianity, but of the appearance of a new universal faith that would be the underpinning of a future ecumenical society. This new faith would have a large Christian component, of course, and it might even be considered a development of Christianity. Inevitably, however, it would be a Christianity with quite a lot of syncretic elements, certainly with regard to expression and possibly in terms of dogma. What use would such a Christianity be for the reconsolidation of a European Europe, whose problem is precisely the forgetting of the historic forms that this new Christianity would replace?

This brings to the three essential points that Benedict says must enter into a European identity. The items he mentions are unobjectionable, indeed obviously necessary. The problem is that there is nothing particularly European about them. Inalienable rights; a human model of the family; reverence for reverence: what part of the world does not need these things? One could argue, of course, that having returned to essentials, Europe would again embrace that part of its heritage that was consistent with them, and then move on to a new golden age. One fears, however, that such a thin understanding of the European identity would prove a bit like John Rawls’s theory of ethics: an economy of principles often produces an economy of results.

Then there is the basic question of whether religion should be recommended for its practical benefits. Jesus did not come into the world to save Western Civilization; he came to save souls. Augustine provided a partial answer to this objection, of course: Christians have an obligation to work for the betterment of the human condition, and it is no great stretch to argue that the revival of Europe would make the world a better place. However, there is a difference between a situation in which Christians know what they have to do and the practice of commending Christian principles to the world at large for their curative properties.

As for applying Toynbee’s notion of “creative minority” to the Europe’s dwindling stock of Christians: that would be a fine thing, but one does not create a creative minority at will. There is nothing wrong with elites per se; Toynbee is perfectly correct when he says they make the world go round. As we know, however, anyone who wants to belong to an elite does not deserve to be a member. Elites are constituted by the work they do; at their best, they scarcely notice their own status. An elite that knows it’s an elite is more likely to be what Toynbee called a “dominant minority,” the ruing class of a civilization in its terminal phase.

Having made all these carping remarks, let me conclude by saying that there is actually very little in Benedict XVI’s essay that I disagree with. The points I have made here are more in the nature of qualifications than of criticisms. Like Spengler, I am of the “is” rather than “ought” disposition. The difference is that I have persuaded myself that the “is,” the most likely future, is not so bad as some people (notably Spengler himself) would have us believe. Of course, for an inevitable good outcome to happen, we must act as if the outcome depends solely on our own efforts, which in fact it does.

It is entirely possible that I have thought about all this too much.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-20: Domestication; Wiretaps; Scandals Past

Earlier this week, I said that Greg Cochran's the 10,000 Year Explosion was one of the five books that have influenced me most. I've probably given different answers to this kind of question in the past, but right now this is pretty accurate.

In this 2005 blog post, John Reilly mentions some of the things that Cochran and Harpending discuss in their book.

Domestication; Wiretaps; Scandals Past


The human condition is cast in a troubling light by this finding:

A detailed look at human DNA has shown that a significant percentage of our genes have been shaped by natural selection in the past 50,000...This analysis suggested that around 1800 genes, or roughly 7% of the total in the human genome, have changed under the influence of natural selection within the past 50,000 years. A second analysis using a second SNP database gave similar results. That is roughly the same proportion of genes that were altered in maize when humans domesticated it from its wild ancestors...Genes that aid protein metabolism – perhaps related to a change in diet with the dawn of agriculture – turn up unusually often in [the] list of recently selected genes. So do genes involved in resisting infections, which would be important in a species settling into more densely populated villages where diseases would spread more easily. Other selected genes include those involved in brain function, which could be important in the development of culture.

Am I the only one who remembers the song that goes, "We'll make great pets"? Evidently not.

* * *

More gerbil-brained behavior was evident in the reactions of members of Congress to President Bush's observation that they had, in fact, been informed of the extraordinary wiretaps he had directed the NSA to conduct:

Some Democrats say they never approved a domestic wiretapping program, undermining suggestions by President Bush and his senior advisers that the plan was fully vetted in a series of congressional briefings.

Some now say that they were troubled by this outrage from the very beginning and protested most vehemently:

"I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities," West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said in a handwritten letter to Vice President Dick Cheney in July 2003. "As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney."

So also says:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., received several briefings and raised concerns, including in a classified letter, her spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.

In contrast, the brighter ones know enough to play dumb. If they had enough information to raise the suspicion that something might be wrong, after all, then they should have done something about it. That is what consultation with the Executive Branch is for. So, we are also getting reactions like this:

Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who was part of the Intelligence Committee's leadership after the 9/11 attacks, recalled a briefing about changes in international electronic surveillance, but does not remember being told of a program snooping on individuals in the United States.

"It seemed fairly mechanical," Graham said. "It was not a major shift in policy."

And to similar effect:

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said he, too, was briefed by the White House between 2002 and 2004 but was not told key details about the scope of the program.

Daschle's successor, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he received a single briefing earlier this year and that important details were withheld. "We need to investigate this program and the president's legal authority to carry it out," Reid said.

Confusion makes merry with a death-wish in this comment from Jonathan Alter:

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

In reality, it is hard to see how President Bush's executive orders in this matter could ever wind up in the Supreme Court: the only people who could file a lawsuit to contest them would be the people whose communications were monitored, and their names are secret. More interesting is the notion, which has been popping up in recent weeks, that a change in the control of the House of Representatives in next year's election would mean impeachment for President Bush, if not necessarily conviction in the Senate.

I may be quoting Instapundit again, but impeachment might be the one issue that could maintain a Republican majority. Many people, including me, had been considering voting Democratic next year, to punish the Republican Party for its irresponsible fiscal policies and its refusal to acknowledge the malfunctioning of the health-care system. If it becomes clear that voting to put a Democrat in office means voting to eject President Bush from office, however, there will simply be a repeat of the election of 2004.

And speaking of the election of 2004, we know that the New York Times knew about the NSA program before that election and considered running with the story then. Why did they decline? Their candidate, John Kerry, was trying to look serious on defense issues. If the NSA program had been revealed, he would have been faced with the choice of saying he would have done the same thing, or opposing what no one denies was necessary surveillance because of some questionable technicalities. Perhaps the Times realized that Kerry would try to say both.

* * *

Speaking of technicalities, the continuing discussion at The Volokh Conspiracy shows how close a question the legality of the NSA wiretaps was. The basis for discussion there is Orin Kerr's analysis of the constitutional and statutory issues. His assessment is that the NSA program was probably constitutional, but that it probably violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by failing to require judicial warrants. That is, by the way, more or less the Bush Administration's position, too. However, the Administration also argues that the Congressional act, passed after 911 to authorize the use of force to prevent further attacks, superceded FISA in this context: intelligence, after all, is part of the use of force, and so the surveillance of communications between al-Qaeda contacts in the United States with al-Qaeda abroad was authorized by the later and narrower statute.

This is a toughie. The Supreme Court did find that the post-911 authorization act did allow the military to make arrests in Afghanistan, but the relevant decision was written by Justice O'Connor, so no one knows what it means. As Kerr point out, it would be a stretch to extend that act to cover wiretaps, but the argument is not unreasonable.

The comments to Kerr's analysis are very good, too. They point out that the NSA program may not have been within the purview of FISA at all, if the intercepts were done outside the United States, or if the people whose communications were being watched could be classed as foreign agents, or if the taps were on email addresses and telephone numbers rather than people. These are factual questions, of course, and they may be the sort of facts that have to remain secret.

A final point, by the way: legality means nothing in an impeachment prosecution, in the sense that no court could review what Congress does in this area. President Bush could be impeached even if the NSA program were authorized.

Perhaps now the impeachment of President Clinton for nothing in particular seems like a less dandy idea?

* * *

Again, I could be missing something, but it seems to me that this will be another case where the accusation becomes the scandal rather than what the accused is supposed to have done.

My favorite meaningless scandal is, of course, the Affair of the Necklace, the baroque (no, roccoco) intrigue at the fringes of the court of Louis XVI. The Affair, a great fraud in which a cleric, who sought to return to the queen's favor, was duped into facilitating the theft of a necklace of legendary cost, went a long way toward persuading the French people that everyone involved, innocent and guilty, was a head too tall. It's a long story, but look how it turned out:

The cardinal de Rohan accepted the parlement of Paris as judges. A sensational trial resulted (May 31, 1786) in the acquittal of the cardinal, of the girl Oliva and of Cagliostro. The comtesse de Lamotte was condemned to be whipped, branded and shut up in the prostitutes' prison, the Salpêtrière. Her husband was condemned, in his absence, to the galleys for life. Villette was banished.

Yes, in those days that had Cagliostro for their scandals. There was never any reason to believe he might have been involved; he was arrested because in the neighborhood. How the world has worsened.

* * *

Merry Solstice! Remember, you can send The Long View a Solstice Present here.

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The Long View 2005-12-19: Bush Speaks; Spengler Smirks; Aslan Roars

More tedious political crap from 2005.

Bush Speaks; Spengler Smirks; Aslan Roars


It is otiose, as a rule, for a blogger to quote Glenn Reynolds, since if you read any blogs at all you probably read his. Nonetheless, let me note for the record his take on President Bush's address from the Oval Office last night:

BUSH DOUBLES DOWN: I just watched Bush's speech. Nothing new there for anyone who's been paying attention to the speeches he's been giving over the past couple of weeks. But one big thing struck me: In this national televised speech, Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war. He repeatedly talked about "my decision to invade Iraq," even though, of course, it was also Congress's decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his.

Why did he do that? Because he thinks we're winning, and he wants credit. By November 2006, and especially November 2008, he thinks that'll be obvious, and he wants to lay down his marker now on what he believed -- and what the other side did. That's my guess, anyway.

That is possible, but the hypothesis is unnecessary: Bush needed to be seen to be in favor of his own war no matter how he thinks it is going. In any case, let me also note these remarks by that old calumniator, Mark Steyn:

One day Iraq will be a G7 member hosting the Olympics in the world's No. 1 luxury vacation resort of Fallujah, and the Defeaticrat Party will still be running around screaming it's a quagmire. It's not just that Iraq is going better than expected, but that it's a huge success that's being very deftly managed: The timeframe imposed on the democratic process turns out to have worked very well...

The Iraq election's over, the media did their best to ignore it, and, judging from the rippling torsos I saw every time I switched on the TV, the press seem to reckon that that gay cowboy movie was the big geopolitical event of the last week, if not of all time.

He is correct about the establishment-media treatment. The policy of the US opposition seems to be that no outcome in Iraq can be judged to be anything better than a disaster, at least as long as the Bush Administration is responsible for it.

As for silence about good news, I note that the The New York Times must have had an advanced copy of Bush's speech in good time to make an editorial comment about it in today's edition, but no such comment appeared on today's editorial page. That's not censorship, though it's odd enough to suggest a division of opinion in the paper's management. More troubling about the Times was the publication, on the day after the Iraqi elections, of the story about NSA wiretaps or residents of the United States who mad been in communication with possible terrorist organizations abroad. The wiretaps were colorably legal, and the people being monitored were reasonable objects of surveillance. The appropriate members of Congress had been informed.

What stinks to high heaven is the timing of the story. The Times had sat on the information for two years. They released it when they did, apparently, for no other reason than to have something else on their frontpage besides coverage of the notably successful elections. (There was also the fact that the journalist who reported the story is about to publish a book on the subject.) To paraphrase a recent Times editorial, we have to ask whether the country can tolerate having a newspaper of record this bad.

There is reason to believe the story will backfire. Bush justified the wiretaps at length in his press conference this morning. He took special care to note his consultation with Congress. Many of the president's most ardent supporters are fed up with him, but I think that the public now appreciates how artificial these "scandals" have become.

* * *

Despite the good news for the White House, That Spengler continues to blaspheme against the implacable benevolence of Immanuel Kant and his Democratic Peace:

Apropos of Washington's triumphal response to the high voter turnout in last week's Iraqi elections, we should ask this simple question: why do political leaders believe that democracy fosters peace, despite innumerable examples to the contrary? History shows us that the broad electorate can be as bellicose as the most bloodthirsty tyrant. But there is a sound reason to equate democracy and peace; sadly, this argument has a fatal flaw...The trouble is that entire peoples frequently find themselves faced with probable or inevitable ruin, such that no peaceful solution can be found...That is why Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is the Islamic world's pre-eminent democrat...By the same token, Hamas represents the popular will in Gaza and the West Bank.

That Spengler's many admirers will recall that he has a theory that the Iranian theocracy is doomed six ways to Sunday, so the theocrats quite literally have nothing left to lose. The same is true, he tells us, not of Islam, but of its Islamist deformations.

Be that as it may, I am reasonably sure that the outcome of the recent Iraqi elections was not a victory for Iran. Unless I am greatly misinformed, Arab Shia think that Iranian Shiism is something of an impertinence. Watch.

* * *

As for stability fascists, let them choke on this:

'Drastic global warming threat from Pantheron Dileoxide': Chief Wolf speaks out

By Our Own Correspondent, Digdirt the Dwarf

Today, the Wolf Council of the White Queen, Imperial Majesty Jadis, Empress of the Lone Islands, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, the Witch of Narnia, ('May She Freeze Forever!'), howled an apocalyptic warning in the Narnian Independent that the world is threatened by drastic global warming from the continued emissions of Lion's Breath, Pantheron Dileoxide (PL2). "PL2 is a dangerous, roaring greenhouse gas", the Chief Wolf, Maugrim, growled. "It melts everything, even frozen fauns and fountains. Climate change is the biggest threat ever to Narnia - we might even have Christmas, and the Queen's war chariot polar bears will have nowhere to live", he snarled.

* * *

Many intelligent people never got the memo about Alternative History, and those who come upon that section of my website sometimes take for real the items there. Well, I at least have menu page that explains what AH is and clearly lists all the AH items. In contrast, what excuse will the Weekly Standard be able to give for Joe Queenan's "Keeping it Real," which appears without warning in the December 19 issue of the magazine?

[F]rom Schubert to Shakur, musical violence is an old story

The recent shooting of record mogul Suge Knight at a music industry celebration has evoked the usual handwringing [but recent scholarship contends] that violent internecine behavior has been a staple of Western music since at least the 18th century..."Brahms blinded his first agent, fed his publisher's ear to his pet piranha, Sasha, and paid to have an opera critic gang-raped by lovesick Montenegrin goatherds," says [one scholar] "And Brahms did not even write operas..."

* * *

Here's another paranoia engine for you, called They Rule (Thanks, Tim!). This one cover CEOs, financial moguls, and their corporate entities.

It seems to me, by the way, that the real use of this engine is as an aide to customer complaints. If you have some intractable billing problem, for instance, but can't get satisfaction from Customer Service, try writing to the whole board of directors. Remember to be brief and polite.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-16: Better Paranoia; Testable Origins; Kantian Complacency

The manner in which radial organizations of the Left and Right are supported by organizations with nefarious motives, is a topic that doesn't seem to lose its currency.

Better Paranoia; Testable Origins; Kantian Complacency


Legend has it that, in the days of the Republic of Venice, a hollow statue of a lion stood in the Plaza of St. Mark. Into the statue's mouth informers could drop notes that anonymously identified the enemies of the Republic. For several centuries, that lion was the last word in paranoia technology. Now, however, the folks at Frontpage Magazine have set a new standard with their Discover the Network engine.

In some ways, it's like any other database. You enter the name of someone on the Left you want to know about, or perhaps of some foundation that supports lefty causes, and you will get a prose narrative describing the malefactions of the object of your suspicions. The wonderful part, however, is the Image Map. Click on the icon for that, and you get a spider-web graphic that shows who that party knows and who finances that party's operations.

David Horowitz, whose industry brings us this service, really is onto something. Scratch the surface of the noisier antiwar groups, and you will find that many of its constituent parts belong to the creepy-crawly region of the Left. They are the sort of people who show up for every demonstration, but who have to work through front organizations, because their own agendas are too repulsive to expose to the public. The Frontpage folks also have a lively sense that this old New Left network is now in cahoots with Islamism, which is arguably now the world's most formidable revolutionary ideology.

Still, without having examined the database exhaustively, it seems to me that it misses something. The network is not merely Red-Green, but Red-Brown-Green, at least on the ideological level. Fascists and mystical nationalists are mixed up in it, too. The really radical Right in the US, the LaRouchies, the Russian Eurasianists, and the deformation of Shiism that rules Iran can, at times, be heard to sing a remarkably similar tune. Are there organizational links as well? I don't know, but a hunt merely for the residual Left could obscure the question. The mid-century hopes of Black Traditionalists like Francis Parker Yockey have progressed from insane to merely very unlikely.

* * *

The herd of independent minds is even larger than I thought. I had planned to post here about a certain advertisement that seemed to me to sin against geography, but then I found that many other people had noticed the same thing. Consider Diary of a Necromancer:

A question, raised by lying about watching TV all afternoon because I wasn't exactly up to much else yet: some of you may have seen that CG Coca-Cola commercial where the penguin gives the Coke polar bear a bottle of his favorite sugarwater; now, speaking off the top of your head, do you know if this is a likely scenario? Because I mentioned this to Mum as a prime example of how dumbed-down Society has gotten, and she expressed her doubts as to whether the average American on the street would think twice about the penguin and the polar bear...

There are no polar bears in Antarctica. Apparently, everyone knows this, but we all think that everyone else does not know. The one good point about solipsism is that you have so much company.

Of course, if there were polar bears near the South Pole, they would be antipolar bears.

* * *

Whatever happened to primordial soup? When I was in school, every biology text had a section on Stanley Miller's famous experiment that seemed to suggest that life could be expected to arise spontaneously in a reconstruction of the primitive environment of Earth, which you could reproduce using Tupperware and ordinary household cleansers. Thanks to a link from Danny Yee, however, we can now all get up to speed on the origin-of-life question. Science writer Richard Robinson, in his article Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks, has this to say about the Miller experiment:

“The initial Miller experiment was earth-shaking,” says Harold Morowitz, Professor of Biology at George Mason University, and a long-time theorist and researcher in this area. The suggestion that random chemistry could produce the molecules of life “held the field for a long time.” But later calculations appeared to show that the early atmosphere contained much more carbon dioxide and much less hydrogen than Miller's model required, and correcting these concentrations cast doubt on the likelihood that complex molecules would form in abundance. Where, then, might organic precursors have come from? There is some, albeit scant, evidence for their arrival on comets colliding with the earth, but there is little enthusiasm for this as a solution. Finally, there is no geologic evidence, in either sediments or metamorphic rocks, that such a soup ever existed.

The thinking now is that the kind of life we have today, with its DNA heredity, could not have arisen from prebiological components in any conditions that now obtain on Earth or that obtained in the past. (Why? I think the short answer is that early DNA and its catalyzers would have destroyed each other before they could organize.) However, it is possible to imagine that RNA-based life might have arisen spontaneously, because RNA, unlike DNA, can both encode information and catalyze other bits of RNA. It is not such a big step to imagine RNA life acquiring a DNA component, with RNA retreating to the auxiliary role it plays in the biology we know.

Apparently, some interesting feedback loops have been created using RNA. Should such reactions one day produce RNA life in a test tube, then the Intelligent Design hypothesis would have been falsified. Again: can anyone suggest a comparable test of Darwinian evolution?

* * *

But who first settled the Americas, you ask? A programme aired by the BBC supports something that a mad physical anthropologist told me almost 30 years ago:

"DNA lineage predominantly found in Europe got to the Great Lakes, 14,000 to 15,000 years ago"

The speaker is one Douglas Wallace of Emory University, who has been keen on explaining why the famous Clovis Point of Clovis, New Mexico, which has been dated to 11.5k years ago, resembles tools make in Europe during the Solutrean Ice Age. Modern Eskimos say that they would have had no trouble navigating around the edge of the extended ocean ice sheet between Europe and North America. Now, apparently, there is a bit of DNA evidence involving the Ichigua people, who live around the Great Lakes, to suggest that someone may have done it.

When I went to find more information about the Ichigua, by the way, I found that White Nationalist websites were featuring this story, in the misguided hope that a new model of the peopling of the Americas would allow them to win the game of more-indigenous-than-thou. Actually, though, you would have to reconcile any such claims with other new findings, such as this:

The 7,500- to 11,000-year-old remains suggest the oldest settlers of the Americas came from different genetic stock than more recent Native Americans. Modern Native Americans share traits with Mongoloid peoples of Mongolia, China, and Siberia, the researchers said. But they found dozens of skulls from Brazil appear much more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans.

Somedays I think Tolkien's make-believe history is less misleading than the archeological consensus.

* * *

Fans of Peggy Noonan will know that, though she generally supports President Bush for much the same reasons I do, she also finds that the style of the Administration grates.

David Brooks noted last Sunday on "Meet the Press" that in private Bush aides are knowledgeable and forthcoming about the war--this is working, this isn't, we made a mistake here and are fixing it in this way--but that in public they rely too much on platitudes and talking points.

It's true. The Bush White House treats the message of the day as if it were the only raft in high seas. Hold, cling, don't let go. Their discipline seems not persuasive but panicky.

They think their adherence to spin is sophisticated and ahead of the curve, but it is not. What is sophisticated is to know that the American people have been immersed in media for half a century and know when they're being talked to by robots who got wound up in the spin shop. They are not impressed by rote repetition, cheery insistence or clunky symbolism. They see through it. When you have the president make a big speech and he's standing under the sign that says VICTORY, the American people actually know you're trying to send an unconscious message: Bush equals victory, Bush will bring victory, victory is coming. It's not so much nefarious as corny.

This political style seems to be shared by the Bush family. The elder President Bush had a sterling record of public service at every level of government. Few more knowledgeable men had ever sat in the White House. Nonetheless, he chose to run his 1988 presidential campaign as an extended visit to a flag factory.

On the other hand, Bush the Younger is not really ineducable. He has started to present his strategy for Iraq repeatedly and cogently, and events on the ground seem to be cooperating. Now it is the proponents of immediate withdrawal who seem locked in a logic loop when they repeat that the president has failed to articulate a strategy. This is all well enough, as far as it goes, but the White House must resist the temptation to move on "to the rest of its agenda." The war is the agenda. There is no other.

Speaking of events on the ground, Instapundit echoes some pointed questions about the establishment media's coverage of yesterday's parliamentary election:

THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Ed Morrissey wonders why the New York Times editorial page isn't excited about Iraq.

Similar questions might be asked about me, too, but my silence is not malicious: I rarely talk in detail about events in Iraq, because I have no special sources of information. As for the significance of those events, I tend to follow the example of the old guy in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy:

I would sit here, in perfect confidence, if the [imperial forces] landed on the planet, Trantor, itself.

Anyone seeking a similar degree of metahistorical equanimity might consult the website of R.J. Rummel. Kant's Perpetual Peace, plus some AH novels: what more could a reasonable man ask for?

Well, Hegel, maybe.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

John mentions the Rosenbergs in passing here, citing a book by Ron Radosh. I knew that the Venona transcripts had decisively identified the Rosenbergs as Soviet spies in 1995, Radosh put the pieces together without classified information in 1983. Well done.

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

John also mentions other former Leftist radicals like Eldridge Cleaver, who eventually became a Mormon Republican. I kind of admire the way in which the Black Panther Party tried to suborn the Second Amendment in the name of racial justice. However, they turned out in retrospect to be pretty much the kind of people their enemies painted them as.

Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey
by David Horowitz
Touchstone Book, 1997
$15.00 (Paperback), 468 Pages
ISBN: 0-684-84005-7


World's Oldest Red Diaper Baby Tells All


It is possible that David Horowitz is wrong in believing himself to be "the most hated ex-radical of [his] generation." His sometime colleague, Ron Radosh, may have earned that distinction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Rosenbergs were guilty (well, Julius anyway). Nevertheless, Horowitz is indeed the most prominent former polemicist for the New Left of the 1960s who not only had "second thoughts" in the 1970s, but who now champions what are usually characterized as conservative causes. It is quite a trip from his first major book, "The Free World Colossus" (1963), which made the revisionist interpretation of the origins of the Cold War respectable, to his current magazine, "Heterodoxy," which seeks to make life a misery for the radical faculty on university campuses. The tale of how this transformation took place is as gripping an autobiography as you could hope for from a man who has spent his working life filling up blank sheets of paper and attending editorial meetings. Still, at the end of the book, I found myself asking just how important the New Left really was.

A "red diaper baby" is a person who was raised in a Communist family, particularly during the `40s and `50s, when the Communist Party USA was large enough to provide its members with a remarkably comprehensive subculture. David Horowitz was born in 1939 in a Communist colony in the New York City borough of Queens, so he was raised in that special world of leftist summer camps, folksingers who insisted they were 200% American and anodyne euphemisms designed to disguise from outsiders just what his family's political affiliations actually were.

His parents' dedication to the cause was heroic. They followed the twists and turns of Soviet policy in the 1930s without a murmur. To the considerable aggravation of their non-Communist neighbors, in the 1940s they tried to stop the break-up of their cooperative housing development into private lots: the Communists insisted they had a right to pay rent. They even lost their jobs as public school teachers in the `50s. (They did get their pensions back after the loyalty legislation in question was declared unconstitutional.) Through all this, they never despaired of the Revolution, though they had little to do with the Party itself after the Khrushchev Report of 1956.

American Communism, at any rate in New York City, was largely an activity of anti-religious Jews. Horowitz has a lively sense that people like his parents had, in effect, escaped from the protective ghettos of Eastern Europe only to construct an unnecessary ghetto in America, a ghetto that chiefly benefited the Georgian mountain bandit who ruled the Soviet Union during Horowitz's youth. (Even in Sunnyside, Queens, there were people peripherally involved in espionage for the Soviets.) One of the specific issues that made Horowitz break with the Left by 1980 was its increasing support for the destruction of Israel, a consideration that also motivated the more prominent neo-conservatives to change sides a few years before. More generally, though, he had come to accept the idea that Marxism for many Jewish radicals was essentially a sublimation of the desire to belong, since Marxism was an ideology that disposed of the question of ethnicity by dissolving it in millenarian universalism. His change of heart might be summed up as the realization that the species of universalism afforded by traditional American pluralism was about as good as anything history was likely to afford.

The New Left began during the Kennedy Administration. Horowitz's own political life began in association with other red diaper babies in Berkeley, California, in the early 1960s, on a magazine called "Root and Branch." (Horowitz would actually miss several years of its development during a stay in England and Sweden from 1965 to 1968.) It was not simply an outgrowth of the Old Left. For one thing, it was never a creature of the orthodox Communist Party, which had become an anachronism by the end of the 1950s. For that matter, neither was it an enterprise predominantly of red diaper babies, Jewish or otherwise. The model New Leftist was perhaps Tom Hayden, principle author of the Port Huron Statement, whose background was neither Jewish nor Communist. The New Left was, however, remarkably anti-American right from the start.

This antipathy extended to John Kennedy and all his works. One of the hypocrisies that Horowitz highlights in the memoirs of other New Leftists that have appeared in recent years is the pretense that their authors had begun as moderate Kennedy-worshippers who were driven mad by Kennedy's assassination and then by the war in Vietnam. This is simply a lie. The New Left was a Marxist revolutionary movement that looked for guidance to the Third World, or at any rate to the ideologues who affected to speak for that chimerical region. Its chief peculiarity, perhaps, was its tendency to racialize revolutionary praxis, to substitute ethnic tensions for class struggle. In its final form, at least as Horowitz encountered it, it hoped to foment a race war in which white radicals would act as a fifth column for a revolutionary army of color.

By 1970, Horowitz's chief claim to eminence on the Left was as co-editor of Ramparts magazine with Peter Collier. Ramparts, based in San Francisco, was a politically engaged publication of the sort that was too pure to ever actually turn a profit. It depended on a series of financial angels and the fundraising skills of its managers. Collier and Horowitz took it over in a coup made possible by the fact that the angels of the East Coast could not be bothered to come to a board of directors meeting in San Francisco to discuss the latest financial crisis. Once in control, they attempted for a while to institute a regime of Maoist equality. Everyone got the same salary, all major decisions were made by collective agreement, even the names on the masthead were arranged alphabetically to avoid the taint of hierarchy.

One thing that this experiment proved was that hierarchy is an instrument of kindness. Without it, every dispute must be personalized and decided in public. Ordinary staff meetings became day-long struggle-sessions that not only wasted time, but envenomed personal relations. And behind it all, of course, was the fact it was a fraud. Collier and Horowitz actually ran the magazine as long as they had the angels on their side. It followed the policy they set, and their most unfortunate policy was to promote the Black Panther Party as a revolutionary vanguard.

The Black Panther Party was essentially a street gang that adopted fashionable revolutionary rhetoric. It had some success organizing nationally, though its base remained in the San Francisco Bay area. Even at the height of its leftist respectability, its leadership was prone to fission. Eldridge Cleaver went into exile in Algeria, claiming, with some reason, that Huey Newton was out to get him. Elaine Brown was both put into power and removed by Newton. Nevertheless, as far as the radicals at Ramparts were concerned, the Party could do no wrong. If a member was accused of killing a policeman, then obviously the Panther was as innocent as the Rosenbergs. If a Panther was in jail, he was a political prisoner. If the Party was accused of gangland slayings aimed at taking over the prostitution and drug trade in the Bay area, then the rumors were counterintelligence disinformation concocted by the federal government.

When not directly supporting the Panthers, Ramparts delighted in publishing information about US intelligence activities. In one case, they publicized classified National Security Agency information that probably got agents in the field killed. In retrospect, Horowitz is ashamed of this, but he did not began to realize the gravity of what he was doing until someone he knew himself was killed.

Horowitz had helped the Panthers organize a model school, and he sent a bookkeeper from Ramparts to help them straighten out the Party finances. Apparently she asked too many questions: in early 1975 her body was fished out of the water a few weeks after she failed to come home from Panther headquarters. The party blandly told her family that she had been dismissed. Within fairly short order, one of Horowitz's friend, a leftist attorney who had helped represent the Panthers, was shot and paralyzed in her home for refusing to sneak a gun to a "political prisoner." Another whose life's work was teaching youths with criminal records was killed by one of them. Rumors that the Panthers had a killing field in the Santa Cruz Mountains for the execution of their enemies, both political and criminal, turned out to be true. These facts were not exactly secrets on the Left. They were, however, unreportable by anyone who wished to avoid ostracism.

The 1970s were good years for criminal cults, especially though not exclusively in California. The Panthers for a while became fixtures of Bay area electoral politics. Far from being the victims of police conspiracies, the police were afraid to touch them and had even been infiltrated by their supporters. The same was true of the Reverend Jim Jones's People's Temple, which at the end of the decade would become famous for organizing what remains the greatest mass suicide in modern history. The Students for a Democratic Society, for whom the Port Huron Statement had been written, had shrunk and hardened into the Weatherman. They conducted armed bank robberies and blew up buildings, often by accident with themselves inside. Some of their leaders expressed admiration for the remarkably deranged Charles Manson and his homicidal followers.

For Horowitz, all this was a sharper lesson than the disillusionment his parents felt when Khrushchev revealed the nature of Stalin's regime. The Soviet Union was far away, after all, and the distortion of the Revolution there could be attributed to inessential historical "mistakes." This time, Horowitz knew the people involved. He also knew that they did not suffer from fear of foreign invasion or from primary poverty, factors that were often said to excuse revolutionaries in other parts of the world. As for events in the idealized Third World itself, these were the years when the victorious North Vietnamese was organizing a familiar Gulag system in the south of their reunited country, while the Khmer Rouge were doing something so strange and terrible to the people of Kampuchea that it even today it still seems like bad science fiction. Slowly, over a period of years, Horowitz acknowledged that these things were not accidents. The Panthers were not a corrupted Leninist vanguard; by world standards, they were typical.

"Radical Son" is not exclusively a story of ideas, since Horowitz tries to weave the events of his personal life into the story of how his politics changed. He turned forty about the time he abandoned the Left, and the tale he tells of his mid-life crisis is singularly disedifying. Part of the problem was that just about then, for the first time in his life, he started to make serious amounts of money. Working with Peter Collier, he co-authored a series of highly regarded biographical studies of American "dynasties," notably of the Rockefellers and the Kennedys. Within a few years of souring on the Panthers, he had divorced his faithful wife, bought a sports car and taken up with ever younger women, two of whom he married, with results that even he seems to think served him right. For a while, he had enough money to spend on large houses and to consort with Hollywood-types and fashionable New Age people, at least until the divorce settlements caught up with him. He apologizes to everyone in the whole world for this behavior. By his account, he is again on good terms with his first wife and four kids, all things considered.

Horowitz's emergence as a conservative did not happen all in a day, and in the early 1980s his leftist credentials were still good enough to get him a hearing. Working again with Collier, he produced one of the first studies of the politics of AIDS, back when it was still an unusual infection affecting a few thousand gay white men in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. What they discovered was another example of the lethal potential of New Left politics.

By 1983, the scientists knew that AIDS was a blood-borne, sexually transmitted disease. The relevant public health officials knew it. Even the leaders of the various gay communities knew it. Nevertheless, the truth about AIDS was as unreportable as the truth about the Panthers had long been. Anyone who mentioned it in public was fairly certain to meet political ostracism, since homosexual activity had been defined as a civil right. Gay leaders long resisted, successfully, any attempts to close the bathhouses that were one of the chief venues of infection. Public authorities would not do the contact tracing that was normal with sexually transmitted diseases. When information was finally provided to the public, it falsely equated heterosexual transmission with homosexual transmission. Horowitz and Collier were among the first to say these things not just in public, but to a leftist audience. The fact that they were eventually proven right did nothing to repair their tarnished reputations.

They continued to shed friends through the 1980s while writing their dynastic biographies. The process perhaps culminated in the publication of their joint memoir, "Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the `60s" (1989), which demolished what was left of the romanticized myth of the Panthers. Of course, they also acquired allies at the same time. There are still people on the Right that Horowitz cannot abide, but he soon discovered that William Buckley does not have horns. In 1991, Ronald Reagan even made a witticism to him at an awards ceremony: "I had second thoughts before you." The greatest surprise was how little institutional support conservatives actually had. The major foundations, Ford and Rockefeller and MacArthur, still support a slightly diluted version of the cultural agenda that the New Left enunciated in the 1960s. While there are smaller foundations to fund conservative think tanks and projects (Horowitz has a little foundation of his own, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), the fact is that people like Horowitz are still swimming upstream in the major institutions of American life. The upshot is, as under his parents' roof, he can once again think of himself as countercultural. He appears to find this comforting.

Perhaps the key to the assessment of the place of the New Left in American history is Horowitz's account of his return to Berkeley in January 1968, after having spent three years in Sweden and England. When he left, even the most radical radicals, even in California, wore ties and buttoned-down shirts to free speech demonstrations. When he got back, people were painting themselves funny colors and listening to music of a volume and description theretofore unencountered by human man. "Anything is possible," he thought in stunned amazement at a concert of electronic instruments. This may or may not have been true, but in any case the Left was deluded in thinking that it could take advantage of the situation.

There is an old comedy routine dating from about that time in which President Johnson, dressed in pajamas, appears on television at 3:00 a.m. and announces to the startled viewers: "Good evening, my fellow Americans. This is your President speaking. I don't know what's happening. If any of you think that YOU know what's happening, please write the explanation down and mail it to me, Lyndon Johnson, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. Good night and God bless." The problem with the Left, New and Old, was that they did think they knew what was happening. They were Marxists, after all, and Marxism was the key to history. The fact that no Marxist, anywhere, ever, had imagined anything like America in the 1960s was beside the point.

Horowitz's parents had lived sober, careful lives, so that they could be models of socialist rectitude to the proletariat when Der Tag came. Horowitz's slightly younger radical contemporaries lived lives of promiscuity and impulse, because disorder conduced to a revolutionary situation. In both cases, they were simply exaggerating tendencies that were already present in American culture, tendencies which they did not foresee and could not control. They were as blindsided by history as ever Lenin was. Perhaps they added nothing really essential to those years.

David Horowitz notes that there were two radical movements in America during the 1960s, though he was almost oblivious to the fact at the time. In addition to the New Left, there was the movement on the Right that succeeded in nominating Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. It, too, commanded youthful enthusiasm, and its supporters were the sort of people who were willing to make the "Long March through the institutions." Though long in eclipse, this radical movement is the one that seems to have the best chance of permanent success. There is a lot to be said for William Strauss and Neil Howe's hypothesis that the 1960s were simply another of the Great Awakenings that occur in American history every three generations or so. They begin as anarchic events but end up being profoundly conservative. Horowitz's memoir is evidence for this pattern. Still, even if this is true, the destructive element of the Awakening this time around did take the form of the New Left, and there is still a lot of damage to be fixed. The racialization of public life continues through most affirmative action programs, for instance. Even the goal of arbitrary "socialist legality" has achieved petty embodiments in infinitely flexible concepts like "sexual harassment" and "hate crimes." For that matter, it may be that the reflexive liberal opposition to strategic defenses owes something to the tradition of "defending socialism" by making the United States vulnerable. In recent years, David Horowitz had done useful work in combating these `60s leftovers, and sensible people can only wish him well.

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Freedom & Necessity

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel By Jakob Schlesinger (1792-1855) - Unknown, Public Domain,

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

By Jakob Schlesinger (1792-1855) - Unknown, Public Domain,

A failure of my philosophical education up to this point is that I never quite got to modern philosophy in my graduate studies. I've got Hegel sitting on a shelf 5 feet from where I sit, but I haven't been in any kind of hurry to rectify that.

Freedom & Necessity
Steven Brust and Emma Bull
TOR Fantasy (Tom Doherty Associates), 1997
$6.99 (paper), 589 Pages
ISBN 0-812-56261-5


A Hegelian Allegory


You don't find many 600 page epistolary novels in the science fiction racks. You also don't find many current novels anywhere at all that seek to illustrate the operation of the Hegelian dialectic in life and history. "Freedom and Necessity" is all those things, with the added distinction of being the only book in my experience whose characters' principal recreation is reading Hegel's "Science of Logic." We are not dealing here with existentialist fiction, but with a Hegelian allegory.

"Freedom & Necessity" is apparently a minor publishing phenomenon. Steven Brust ("The Phoenix Guards") and Emma Bull ("War for the Oaks") are both noted fantasy writers. The tale they tell, however, is a fairly straightforward historical melodrama. It is set in England in 1849, and is chiefly concerned with the conflicts among the younger cousins of the intricately interrelated Cobham, Voight and Callendar families. Some of these people want red revolution, some are part of a murderous occult group straight out of "The Golden Bough," and some just want the family inheritance. All of this intrigue is intended to illustrate concretely a set of philosophical propositions that otherwise would be too stupefying for words.

Most of the story treats of the history and adventures of James Cobham, the Byronic eldest son. In fact, the bare bones of the book is that James moves from Non-Being (he is mistakenly thought dead as the story opens) through Becoming (as he learns the dark secrets of his family history) to completed Being (which takes the form of his reunion with the love of his life and their son in, for some reason, Baltimore, Maryland). James's problems are not entirely family-generated. For his whole adult life, he has been a confederate at the street-fighting level of the radical Chartist movement, whose members spooked the establishment of the Industrial Revolution with their demands for universal male suffrage, labor legislation and, at the extreme end, the abolition of the monarchy. In the aftermath of the failed pan-European Revolutions of 1848 (which also included a minor uprising in Ireland), people like James are in more than usual danger of being imprisoned or transported. In addition to threats from the British government, certain agents provocateurs in the pay of Prussia are trying to foment labor unrest in Britain in order to induce the forced repatriation of political fugitives from the recent rebellions. Chief among the fugitives is Friedrich Engels, an important minor character who loses no opportunity to press his acquaintances to read "The Science of Logic."

Despite these early modern trappings, the thesis to which James's life is the antithesis is thoroughly archaic. For several generations, his family has been involved with a dark cult, rather misleadingly known as "the Trotters' Club." Although some of his allies among the younger cousins are opium-using mystics who have a generic idea of what the Trotters' Club might be up to, James himself had always been singularly incurious about why his side of the family is so oddly lacking in adult males. The real conflict in the story, we learn by the end, has always been between James and his father. Under the rules of the cult, one must kill the other. The authors appear to be trying to suggest that Hegel's ideas chime well with the great themes of mythology. That, at any rate, would seem to be the logical inference to be drawn from the fact James ultimately becomes the wounded Fisher King and is transported like a Celtic hero to the uttermost West.

If nothing else, this book is a useful reminder that there was always a great deal more to Hegelianism than dialectical materialism. Despite the fact most of the characters chatter about "class consciousness" like assistant professors, "Freedom & Necessity" is hardly a Marxist tract. James and his allies do go to meet "the workers," but he meets them on midnight rendezvous as if they were leprechauns, shy of the company of ordinary mortals. The workers impart a kind of primordial wisdom that he and Engels puzzle over like messages from Delphi. James is startled when Engels remarks offhandedly that, of course, one can choose one's own class. That was how James the squire's son and Engels the successful industrialist could both really be proletarians. So much for the principle that class is a function of the relationship to the means of production.

"Freedom & Necessity" really is about what its title suggests. The problem of freedom, from a Hegelian perspective, is how we can be free in a world in which the outcome of any choice we might make is predetermined by physics and history. The answer is that, as our knowledge increases with experience, so the measure of our freedom does, too. This happens because real choice is possible only when we know the actual context in which we choose. The discovery of the "actual context" is the "Becoming" of history. It is also the "Becoming" of the story. We go through 500 pages worth of soap-opera revelations about family scandals, political assassination, bastardy and infanticide before we find out the only real issue, the only point on which choice is relevant, is whether James will kill his father or his father will kill James. There are, I suppose, briefer ways to make this point, but in the Hegelian universe prolixity is often the functional equivalent of concreteness.

Is the exercise worth the effort? Most of the book consists of long letters between the principal characters, supplemented by excerpts from their journals and actual news articles from the Times of London in 1849. The authors do succeed in making all the characters sound different, which is no small accomplishment. However, this does not necessarily make them sound interesting, particularly one long-winded opium-using cousin. Quite aside from the viscous effect that often attends a narrative composed of personal letters, this is one of those novels whose action tends to occur in situations where there is lots of mud and not enough light. The snappiest parts to the story are the ones where everyone just talks about Hegel. I can easily see how "Freedom & Necessity" might become an undergraduate favorite. Persons who are simply interested in its philosophical message, on the other hand, might do better just to read "The Science of Logic."

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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Freedom & Necessity
By Steven Brust, Emma Bull

The Song of Roland Book Review

Pater Europae

Pater Europae

Translation by W. S. Merwin, Notes, Glossary, and Select Bibliography by M. A. Clermont-Ferrand
The Modern Library, 2001
137 pages
ISBN 978-0375757112

The Song of Roland is a classic of Western literature, part of the mythology surrounding Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. Probably composed in this form sometime in the 11th century, the Song of Roland was hugely popular for a very long time, and it informed what it meant to be a Christian knight during the High Middle Ages.

While the Song of Roland contains the fanciful embellishments common to all epic poetry [the superhero movie of medieval Europeans], the core of the story seems to have been transmitted substantially intact: the rearguard of Charlemagne's army, led by Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, was ambushed and killed to a man in Roncesvalles Pass in 778. The only things resembling a historical record of this come from a brief passage in a revised edition of the Life of Charles the Great, and a coin bearing the names "Carlus" and "Rodlan".

However, something noteworthy seems to have happened in that mountain pass, given that the story appears to have been already popular by the time it was written down. With the evidence thin on the ground, barring the discovery of any heretofore unknown manuscripts, a heroic folk memory is likely to be all we have.

My own interest in the Song of Roland has been developing slowly for fifteen years. I had heard of the book before then, but it was the game Halo that really sparked my interest. There is a tradition in science fiction and videogames of drawing upon the deep wells of classical literature and mythology. Probably because both are popular art forms that speak to our souls, and anything old enough to truly be classical usually has to also be popular, or to have been popular for a long enough time to survive accidents of history.



Roland and the other paladins of Charlemagne carried named swords, weapons of unusual power granted as boons to worthy warriors. These swords, among them DurendalJoyeuse, and Curtana, all featured in the epics that grew up around the character of Roland. Real swords that still exist are known by these names, usually used as part of the mythology of legitimacy that surrounds kings of ancient lineage. It is at least possible that some of these objects might actually date to the periods in question, although many of them lack the supernatural qualities the epics describe.

Ogier the Dane

Ogier the Dane

The statue that appears in the sidebar of my own website, Ogier the Dane, or Holger Danske, came out this same milieu. It is conceivable that Ogier actually lived in the eighth century, and that he was a servant or vassal of Charlemagne, although it is also possible that he is simply a figment of our collective imagination. In the epics, Ogier carried Curtana, a sword with the tip broken off, to symbolize mercy. Since it is the tip of a European style sword that is truly dangerous, this random bit of chivalric legend has appealed to me for a long time.

The more I learn about the myths and legends like the Song of Roland, the better I like them. Random bits of history, technology, and theology I learn tend to accrete to them in ways that make them more plausible as bits and pieces of real events passed down over many generations. Stories are never just stories.

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The Song of Roland
Modern Library

The Art of Aardman: The Makers of Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and More Book Review

by Ruth Hobday (Editor), Peter Lord (Foreword), Geoff Blackwell (Editor), Sharon Gelman (Goodreads Author) (Editor), David Sproxton (Foreword), Marianne Lassandro (Editor)
Chronicle Books, 2017
204 pages
ISBN 978-1452166513

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

I enjoy reading things written by people who are passionate about their work. The forewords by Peter Lord and David Sproxton make me want to be a character designer, artist, and lighting director, even though I have no real interest or talent in those fields. Their love of their craft comes through in these brief passages, and it is infectious.

The remainder of the book is sketches, character studies, and production stills of Aardman's many popular characters. I sat down with my five-year-old, a Shaun the Sheep fan, and flipped through the images here. He was curious about the characters he had not yet seen, such as from Aardman's pirate movie. He enjoyed looking at the book, but it also whetted his interest in other series and movies, which I suppose is the point of a book like this.

A fine coffee table book for fans of Aardman.

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The Long View 2005-12-14: Frauds & Provocations

John did guess right here that Australia would see less interethnic violence than France in the coming years.

Frauds & Provocations


The recent riots in France probably were an episode in the clash of civilizations. The even more recent Australian riots, however, look more like West Side Story, but without the annoying music. I gather from the links at The Null Device that there is a Middle Eastern youth gang problem that be could discussed only obliquely for multiculti reasons, and which provoked a reaction that was fanned into a riot by talkshow hosts. The original beach riot seems to have begun as a protest by Anglo Australians that got out of hand.

On the other hand, if you believe reports today, the situation could be taking a nastier turn:

A suspicious fire at a Sydney church hall early Wednesday and shots fired during a Christmas carol service heightened tensions as Australians braced for more racial violence between whites and ethnic Arabs...Four men were seen near the Uniting Church hall, which is next to an Islamic centre in the multicultural suburb of Auburn, before the fire broke out in the early hours of the morning...

I am not much impressed with suspicious fires, particularly fires that are suspicious because they are "near" something else, but the harassment of churchgoers does sound like an attempt to put the dhimmis in their place.

* * *

A federal judge has outlawed Christmas, if you believe The Onion, which of course you shouldn't:

"In accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation, this court finds Christmas to be unlawful," Judge Rinehart said. "The celebration of the birth of the philosopher Jesus -- be it in the form of gift-giving, the singing of carols, fanciful decorations, or general good cheer and warm feelings amongst families -- is in violation of the First Amendment principles upon which this great nation was founded."..."Getting rid of every wreath or nativity scene is not enough," [Senator] Kennedy said. "In order to ensure that Americans of every belief feel comfortable in any home or business, we must eliminate all traces of this offensive holiday. My yellow belly quakes with fear at the thought of offending any foreigners, atheists, or child molesters."

This would be over the top, if the judge were not supposed to be in the 9th Circuit.

Please note that the description of the outlawing of Christmas that appears in that piece is exactly what millenarian novels describe as happening during the Tribulation.

* * *

But some people can't take a joke, at least in Scotland:

Satan's Grotto, a tinsel-free "fun" alternative to Santa's Grotto, has opened its doors to the public at Edinburgh Dungeon....where the Prince of Darkness interrogates young and old to try to track down Santa Claus who has escaped his clutches....The Rev William Armitage, minister of [a] church, said they had objected to the "satanic Christmas". He added: "We got loads of e-mails from groups in the United States supporting us, and other churches in Edinburgh said if they had known about it they would have formed a campaign."

Nothing in that grotto could be as scary as Tim Burton's 1993 film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. That's the stop-action masterpiece in which Halloween tries to take over the management of Christmas. We tend to forget that Christmas is, generically, much the same sort of season as Halloween: a year-end celebration in which the boundaries between this world and the other grow thin. The tradition of telling ghost stories over Yuletide seems to survive chiefly in grotesque recastings of A Christmas Carol, and of course in the release of all those end-of-the-year horror flicks.

There was a brief period after The Nightmare Before Christmas appeared when it seemed like prophecy. Christmas displays took on a gothic cast. At least one of the major department-store window displays in Manhattan featured spider webs and gremlins in red caps. The danger passed, however.

* * *

Here's how one grinch got his comeuppance, according to the physicist Stephen Barr:

The philosopher Daniel Dennett visited us at the University of Delaware a few weeks ago and gave a public lecture entitled “Darwin, Meaning, Truth, and Morality.” I missed the talk—I was visiting my sons at Notre Dame and taking in the Notre Dame-Navy football game. Friends told me what I missed, however. Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.” After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.

Note that the cleverness is not on the Supreme Court's part.

* * *

Speaking of comeuppance, the recent massacre of protesting farmers at Dongzhou could turn out to be very important, precisely because of the efforts of the government to suppress information about the incident. As the New York Times reported today behind its own self-destruct shield:

Beijing casts net of silence over protest: One week after the police to violently suppressed a demonstration against the construction of a power plant in China, leaving as many as twenty people dead, an overwhelming majority of the Chinese public still knows nothing of the event.

That was a bad incident, and reporting it would certainly embarrass the provincial and possibly the national government. However, the government was by no means able to suppress all information. All it succeeded in doing was to ensure that the reports were fragmentary and unofficial. Moreover, quite a lot of people in newsrooms and in ISPs had to be told what to delete. The government has, in effect, ordered the national communications system not to think about white bears. We can imagine what lurid horrors are being added to the reports about the event that must be circulating surreptitiously.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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Engineering Design

The way in which you design is probably driven by personality and circumstance. Personality shapes what you like, and circumstance shapes who your teachers and mentors are. With those limitations in mind, I like to explore what is possible in engineering design, what works and what doesn't.

I tend to like to get something approximately right, and then iterate to something almost completely correct as fast as I can using that first one as a learning experience. Today I learned that this approach was once described as the "New Jersey" approach in programming. Its contrary was called the MIT approach, since that institution emphasized these elements at the time this term was coined.


The New Jersey Approach

  • Simplicity-the design must be simple, both in implementation and interface. It is more important for the implementation to be simple than the interface. Simplicity is the most important consideration in a design.
  • Correctness-the design must be correct in all observable aspects. It is slightly better to be simple than correct.
  • Consistency-the design must not be overly inconsistent. Consistency can be sacrificed for simplicity in some cases, but it is better to drop those parts of the design that deal with less common circumstances than to introduce either implementational complexity or inconsistency.
  • Completeness-the design must cover as many important situations as is practical. All reasonably expected cases should be covered. Completeness can be sacrificed in favor of any other quality. In fact, completeness must sacrificed whenever implementation simplicity is jeopardized. Consistency can be sacrificed to achieve completeness if simplicity is retained; especially worthless is consistency of interface.

The MIT Approach

  • Simplicity-the design must be simple, both in implementation and interface. It is more important for the interface to be simple than the implementation.

  • Correctness-the design must be correct in all observable aspects. Incorrectness is simply not allowed.
  • Consistency-the design must not be inconsistent. A design is allowed to be slightly less simple and less complete to avoid inconsistency. Consistency is as important as correctness.

  • Completeness-the design must cover as many important situations as is practical. All reasonably expected cases must be covered. Simplicity is not allowed to overly reduce completeness.



Lots of engineers like the MIT approach, and the author of the piece argues that despite this attractiveness, the New Jersey approach is superior, hence the catchphrase "worse is better." The way I've usually phrased it is "the perfect is the enemy of the good." I think this is a rule of thumb, and more useful in engineering than metaphysics.

Even though the context is programming, I think this can be applied to other fields of engineering as well. A really good appreciation of both risk and tradeoffs is key to making the New Jersey approach work. Since you can't actually create a perfectly simple, correct, and consistent design, something will always be inadequate. Knowing what really matters, and what can be given up without really harming your business or the customer allows for more rapid development and release, and better responsiveness to the market. However, part of the the appeal of the MIT approach is that when the New Jersey approach really screws up, it can be catastrophic. Regulatory controls tend to push engineering in the direction of the MIT approach, in order to prevent and eliminate foreseeable disasters.

h/t Ken Shirriff

The Long View 2005-12-12: Peace on Earth. Or Else.

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser John Reilly mentions here is another zombie boondoggle that survived the end of the Cold War, probably by being relatively cheap. According to Aviation Week, the final cost was around $5B USD. Good work if you can get it. The similar General Atomics HELLADS is still in development, probably because it has a more modest goal of shooting down surface to air and air to air missiles instead of TBMs and ICBMs.

Peace on Earth. Or Else.


Despite the remarks about "Paris Down Under" that I see on the Web with regard to the ongoing riots in and about Sydney, the only parallel that really strikes me is the flashmobs:

Police are braced for further violence after new text messages, including one declaring war between Sydney's Middle Eastern youths and Australians, began circulating.

The new messages follow a round of similar ones sent last week, calling for retaliation after an attack on surf lifesavers at Cronulla on December 3.

One of the new messages congratulates Australians for the fight they put up against the Lebanese at Cronulla during Sunday's riots, and called for more attacks.

"We'll show them! It's on again Sunday," The Australian newspaper reported the message said.

Another warned of retaliation from the Middle Eastern groups.

"The Aussies will feel the full force of the Arabs as one - 'brothers in arms' unite now..." it read.

Another called for "straight up WAR. The leb's/wogs won't stand for this".

Not to sound old fashioned, but might it quieten things down to turn off the damn network for a couple of days?

* * *

Meanwhile, That Spengler is offering film commentary over at Asia Times:

Steven Spielberg's next movie tells the touching story of two male Palestinian suicide bombers who fall in love and engage in graphic on-screen sex before detonating themselves at a Natany shopping mall. Tentative title: Blowback Mountain. I made that up, of course, but more than happenstance links Ang Lee's gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain with Spielberg's Munich, the subject of the cover story in this week's Time magazine.

It's complicated, but his argument is that, if the people who make films like this are President Bush's opponents, then the Administration has nothing to worry about.

* * *

Speaking of movies, I deplore the making, if not the success, of Peter Jackson's King Kong. The film was done right the first time. Plus the new monkey is much too frisky for its size.

* * *

The tragic decision by the New York Times to put its content behind a registration barrier has deprived the Web of heart-warming holiday stories like this one, which appeared yesterday:

Scuba Santa five times a day into a 385,000-gallon shark tank at the Newport Aquarium here [in Kentucky]. This tradition started three years ago, when the Aquarium was searching for ways to increase attendance during the normally slow holiday season...To avoid being eaten, Santa takes several precautions. He checks his arms and legs before each show to be sure he has no open, bleeding cuts. Once in the water he keeps his hands close to his body and makes no sudden moves; if Santa were to waive quickly, a passing shark could mistake is flopping, white-gloved hand for a wounded fish...The subsequent interaction would no doubt prove emotionally scoring for the dozens of children in the audience.

Or maybe not. They could take a lesson.

* * *

And if the flashmobs get really uppity, soon they may regret it:

Airborne Laser Completes Laser Ground Tests The Boeing-led [NYSE: BA] Airborne Laser team announced today the successful completion of a series of tests involving its high energy laser at the Systems Integration Lab at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During this test series, lasing duration and power were demonstrated at levels suitable for the destruction of multiple classes of ballistic missiles. This is the second of two program significant knowledge points planned for 2005.

Of course, the real use of this class of weapon is not the incineration of the canaille, however well-wired, but to nullify the strategic arsenals of North Korea and, soon, Iran. To repeat myself: missile defense does not prevent the use of terrorist nukes, but it does mean that regimes with modest arsenals could still be safely removed at modest cost.

* * *

Regarding peace on Earth, I was asked to do another poster to advertise the Latin Mass my church will celebrate this Christmas Eve. There is an embarrassment of graphics on the Web, but I had two basic options.

On one hand there was Snob Appeal:




The other possibility was Sentiment:


Given these two possibilities, we chose both.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-08: Coulter, Warren, Rice, Brooks, Noonan & That Spengler

Monty Python's The Life of Brian came up in response to John Reilly's review of Anne Rice's Out of Egypt. It never gets old.

Coulter, Warren, Rice, Brooks, Noonan & That Spengler


Students Against Hate seem to have not so much shouted down Ann Coulter during her recent attempt to give an address at the University of Connecticut as to have out-amplified her:

STORRS -- Music that seemed to come from somewhere in the raucous audience that packed the Jorgensen Center at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night brought Ann Coulter's speech to an abrupt end about 15 minutes after she started.

On the other hand, she was able to conduct a question-and-answer session:

"I love to engage in repartee with people that are a lot stupider than I am," she said.

Now there's invective for you.

Granted, we'd be living in a cartoon if that was the only public discourse we had, but some recent remarks by David Warren should give us pause about the kind of world we'd be living in if we actually succeeded in shutting people like Ann Coulter up:

Christ also taught "forgiveness". But forgiveness, and toleration, are hardly interchangeable ideas. They are, rather, directly in conflict: and the latter leaves no room for the former. We cannot forgive what we don't think wrong. Yet if it is indeed wrong, it requires forgiveness.

I challenge my reader to think this through over the next week, in this Advent season, while I'll be away. To think about how cold and mean a society becomes, when toleration is raised to its only moral standard, and the whole possibility of forgiveness is consequently withdrawn.

The smartest thing ever said by a fictional Antichrist was said by the one in Monsignor Hugh Benson's variously appalling novel, Lord of the World:

One does not forgive; one simply understands.

Smart, but lethal.

* * *

Speaking of eschatology, I just finished reading Anne Rice's novel about Jesus as a child, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. My review is here. I very much liked the book. Yes, it is possible to describe daily life in first-century Palestine without the story becoming a Monty Python routine (what have the Romans ever done for us?) or turning into the Longest Story Ever Told.

A word about that review, though. At the end of the book, Anne Rice discusses her research, some of which touches on slightly obscure areas of theology I know a little about. Not as much as I thought, however. I uploaded the review last night, but, partly in response to a reader's question (thanks, Tom!) I had to add a sentence of correction this morning.

I had forgotten the distinction between preterism and hyper-preterism.

I'm such a scatter brain.

* * *

Moving on to the New Dispensation, David Books in today's New York Times has a column, "Running Out of Steam," about the implosion of the Republican Party. Here's a line worthy of Ann Coulter:

When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it’s the movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs.

More substantively, he notes the perverse genius of a political leadership whose primary support comes from the most financially risk-adverse segment of the population (people with incomes between $30K and $50K) but who nonetheless propose to reform Social Security by making the participants bear more of the risk. In any case, Brooks sees hope:

The good news is that we are about to enter a political season with no obvious conservative standard bearer, leaving plenty of room for innovation. Also, the current conservative crisis has produced some new thinking. A few weeks ago, two young writers, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam (my former assistant), unveiled a fresh conservative agenda in a Weekly Standard essay called “The Party of Sam’s Club.” These writers, 26 and 25 years old, are closer to the future than the party leaders.

Does that last sentence mean, "They are closer to the future than they are to the party leaders?" or "They are closer to the future than the party leaders are?" In either case, I have discussed that article previously. Now we know who is in cahoots with whom.

* * *

More harsh words for the Republican leadership, though not so harsh as what Ann Coulter could come up with if she had a mind to, come from Peggy Noonan:

Again: What does it mean when your first act is to break the laws of your new country? What does it mean when you know you are implicitly supported in lawbreaking by that nation's ruling elite? What does it mean when you know your new country doesn't even enforce its own laws? What does it mean when you don't even have to become an American once you join America?

Actually, my own experience of people who were once illegals but who have regularized their immigration status is that they are pretty patriotic. The disturbing thing is that they usually come from countries where the law is a joke or an obstacle course for honest folk. The immigration system suggests to newcomers that the US is no different.

* * *

If you need another precursor of Antichrist, That Spengler at Asia Times has a candidate for you:

Until Mahmud Ahmedinejad's Islamist leader had emerged with the cunning and capacity to exploit the West's confusion. Iran seemed the least likely venue for Islamist leadership. With 15% inflation and 11% unemployment, Iran seemed vulnerable in early 2005 - almost as vulnerable, one might add, as Germany was in early 1933 when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. [Western analysts were surprised by Ahmedinejad's rise to power because they] ignored the groundswell of support from the rural poor and the Tehran slums that gave Ahmedinejad an overwhelming margin of victory in the June presidential elections. It took the new president just a few months to put paid to dissidents and moderates, placing hundreds of his Revolutionary Guard comrades in the key positions of Iran's bureaucracy, and purging 40 ambassadors from the diplomatic corps. Hitler was no more ruthless in consolidating power during the weeks following his ascension to the Kanzleramt in March 1933.

That Spengler (what is the fellow's name?) has joined the ranks of those who think that Iran is the chief winner of the Iraq War, because of the close ties between Shia southern Iraq and Shia Iran. I think this is unlikely to be the case: Qom and Najaf are not quite Geneva and Rome, but the relationship is not such that the Iraqi dog would consent to be wagged by the Iranian tail; rather the opposite, if anything.

Then there is the fact that Iranian techs are probably assembling a nuke even as I write this. The existence of a nuclear Iran would force a post-occupation Iraq, and indeed the rest of the region, to maintain fairly close ties with the United States. Had a Baathist regime remained in Baghdad, the situation really would be hopeless.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

By Anne Rice -, Public Domain,

By Anne Rice -, Public Domain,

Five years after this review was written, Anne Rice found herself unable to really embrace the doctrines of Catholicism, or at least the way she felt they were being applied. Which makes John Reilly's comment apposite:

It is quite possible to accept an early date and high historical reliability for the Gospels and still believe that the people who wrote them were deluded or disingenuous. On the other hand, it is also possible to accept the message of the Gospels and still maintain unorthodox notions about their history and provenance.
That is what happened to Ms Rice.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
By Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
322 Pages, US$25.95
ISBN 0-375-41201-8


Anne Rice is best known for her vampire novels, books that combined a diligent study of social history with a non-theistic model of the supernatural. Then we learned that she had embarked on a series of biographical novels about Jesus Christ. We were assured that she had diligently studied the finest modern biblical scholarship. Moreover, the story was to be told from the point of view of the subject, in the first person. Perhaps she planned a fictionalized version of Morton Smith’s Jesus the magician. Maybe a Jesus modeled on the Vampire Lestat would paraphrase Josephus in a tale laced with atrocity and dark witticisms. And that might be if we were lucky: the first novel was to deal with the childhood of Jesus, and some accounts of those “lost years” have him visiting the Ascended Masters in Tibet.

The actual book is a complete surprise.

This story, told through the mouth of seven-year-old Jesus, is thoroughly engaging. Yes, there is quite a lot of Josephus and other standard authorities, but the book never falls to the level of a Pageant of History (or worse, of source notes). The backbone of the story elaborates a quite conventional reading of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, an account we find in Matthew’s Gospel. (Rather cleverly, Ms. Rice has Joseph the foster-father of Jesus doing carpentry for Philo of Alexandria, the philosopher who attempted a Platonic interpretation of Judaism and who clearly influenced St. Paul.) In the biblical account, Jesus implicitly becomes the new Moses. Ms. Rice sets the return of Jesus’s family to Nazareth during the revolts against Herod Archelaus, so that their experiences in riot-torn Jerusalem and Judea also become a recapitulation of the history of the Jewish people on the return from Exodus.

For better or worse, Ms. Rice has also chosen to revive some noncanonical tales about Jesus from the apocrypha, but orthodox readers will find little to object to in Christ the Lord. The Author’s Note at the end of the book does suggest there may be a little packet of dynamite in the series, but we will get to that in a moment. Let us consider now how the book works as a novel.

It is presumptuous to speak in the person of the Lord, but that has never stopped people from doing so. In this book, Ms. Rice does succeed in creating a believable voice for Jesus, down to a touch of sibling rivalry, as we see from Jesus’s first sight of the Temple:

As for Big James, my brother James who knew so much, James had seen it before, when he was very small, and had come here with Joseph before I was ever born, even he seemed amazed by it, and Joseph was quiet as if he had forgotten us and everyone around us.

The problem, of course, is that the voice of an actual seven-year-old would soon grow tiresome. At one point, we get a hint that maybe this is not the seven-year-old Jesus who is speaking:

But as I am trying to tell you this story from the point of view of the child that I was, I will leave it at that.

In any case, most of the speaking is not done by Jesus, but the members of his enormous extended family, of whom the most talkative member is his know-it-all maternal uncle, Cleopas:

Cleopas took me by the shoulder. “You’re the only one who ever listens to me," he said, looking into my eyes. “Let me tell you: no one ever listens to a prophet in his own land!” “I didn’t listen to you in Egypt,” said his wife.

Ms. Rice makes her characters bilingual in Greek and Aramaic; Uncle Cleopas even knows enough Latin that once he buys a small book in that language. The story, like the Gospels, is history “from below,” but Ms. Rice knows that the people below often have articulate and well-informed views about politics and current event. For instance, the people of Nazareth have mixed feelings about the Romans, but they despise the loathsome Herodian dynasty. As for social status, Joseph was essentially the head of a fair-sized construction firm composed of brothers and brothers-in-law. Though not well-to-do, they were not poor people, and they did not live in a backwater.

In addition to her trademark social history, Ms. Rice’s supernatural does maintain some continuity with her earlier books. A character strongly reminiscent of Lestat appears in the person of Satan, whom one suspects will get many of the best lines in later books. Jesus himself is often frightened, but he always has access to perfect peace. And of course, sometimes he sees angels:

They came again, so many of them but this time I only smiled and I didn’t open my eyes. You can come, you aren’t going to make me jump and wake up. No, you can come, even if there are so many of you there are no numbers for you. You come from the place where there are no numbers. You come from where there are no robbers, no fires, no man dying on a spear, but you don’t know what I know, do you? No, you don’t know.

And how do I know that?

For many readers, the most interesting part of the book will be the Author’s Note, in which Ms. Rice describes her research and relates something of her spiritual history. She had fallen away from the Catholic Church in college. She returned in 1998, but did not attempt a systematic study of the origins of Christianity until 2002, when she began the background research for this book. By her account, she would have been prepared to accept a distinction between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. The results of her researches were not what she expected, however:

In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who had stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified if he knew about it – that whole picture which had floated into liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for 30 years – that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

This is not an unusual assessment. There is good higher criticism and bad higher criticism, but even the good higher criticism is no better than plausible. Classicists, notoriously, often think that the whole of New Testament criticism is stuff and nonsense. That is far from saying that scholars of Greek who are prepared to treat the New Testament like an ordinary text are necessarily persuaded by what it says. It is quite possible to accept an early date and high historical reliability for the Gospels and still believe that the people who wrote them were deluded or disingenuous. On the other hand, it is also possible to accept the message of the Gospels and still maintain unorthodox notions about their history and provenance.

That is what happened to Ms Rice. In the Author’s note, we also find this:

Before I leave this question of the Jewish War and the Fall of the Temple, let me make this suggestion. When Jewish and Christian scholars begin to take this war seriously, when they begin to really study what happened during the terrible years of the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the revolts that continued in Palestine right up through Bar Kokhba, when they focus upon the persecution of the Christians in Palestine by the Jews; upon the civil war in Rome in the 60s which Kenneth L. Gentry so well describes in his work Before Jerusalem Fell; as well as the persecutions of the Jews in the [Diaspora] during this period -- in sum, when all of this dark era is brought into the light of examination -- Bible studies will change. Right now, scholars neglect or ignore the realities of this period. To some it seems a two-thousand-year-old embarrassment and I'm not sure I understand why.

But I am convinced that the key to understanding the Gospels is that they were written before all this ever happened.

Kenneth L. Gentry (and another major authority for her, N.T. Wright), are preterists, people who believe that the whole of Biblical prophecy was completely or almost completely fulfilled in the 1st century. The apocalyptic prophecies in the New Testament (and in the Old Testament too, for that matter) were fulfilled by the New Covenant established by Jesus and by destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. In order to maintain this position, they must show that the canon of scripture was complete by AD 70. This includes John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation. Traditional scholarship was content to assign a date of composition for those books to end of the first century. After a long period when scholars speculated about fantastically later dates for those books, modern Biblical criticism has returned to that view. With a few dissenters, however, modern criticism resists the notion that any of the Gospels could have been written before Jerusalem fell.

This has become an issue because of the growing interest in recent decades in endtime prophecy. Preterism is not a new idea; in some ways, it is just a form of postmillennialism, which holds that Christ will come again after the church has reformed the world. In any case, within the last 30 years, ideas along these lines have seemed increasingly attractive to certain churchmen and theologians who were embarrassed by the theology of the Rapture that we find in the books of Hal Lindsey and in the Left Behind series. Preterists argue, in effect, that the Tribulation has already occurred. The most rigorous preterists, sometimes called "hyper-preterists," would add the Second Coming and Resurrection to the list of fulfilled prophecy. (Readers may be interested in a review of John Noë’s Beyond the End Times.) Christians thus need not fear the end of the world.

Preterists had had high hopes for the year 2000. Endtime hysteria, they believed, would expand in a great bubble, and then burst in disappointment at the failure of the Rapture to occur. Christian millenarians would thereafter cast about for a new model of salvation history; the preterists thought they had the most coherent one on offer.

Maybe they did, but they suffered a form of millennial disappointment themselves. The only people who were really preaching doomsday for the year 2000 were doing so in connection with the Y2K computer bug. So, pretribulation dispensationalism (the technical term for the Rapture model) survived the year 2000, and preterism was without any obvious prospect of linking to popular culture. Now, five years later, comes Anne Rice and what promises to be a successful series of popular novels, endorsing preterist views and texts.

Although the preterists have embraced Ms. Rice as one of their own, this does not necessarily mean that she shares their views about eschatology. Her interest in the area seems confined to the dating and credibility of the Gospels. Still, her work may succeed in doing what I would not have thought possible: providing preterism with a mass audience.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-02: Tradition, Optimism & Cartography

It is rather sad that John didn't live to see the rise of the tradinistas. He would have enjoyed pointing out they make the same arguments as Tradition.

Tradition, Optimism & Cartography


Over at First Things, Fr. Neuhaus has noted that there may be a contradiction between the goals of the magazine and the argument against capital punishment that Joseph Bottum made in his famous article published over the summer. I have already remarked on the piece here. What drew Neuhaus's attention, however, was a comment by Caleb Stegall in the remarkable quarterly, New Pantagruel. In "Natural Law, the Death Penalty, and Political Theology," Stegall observes:

Bottum’s point about liberal forms forsaking history in favor of the dead letters of the social contract is quite good and right. What is startling is his blithe acceptance of this as the necessary result of Christianity... When, in the wake of religious wars, old Christendom attempted to do away with political theology altogether by demythologizing history (and the state along with it) and by rationalizing all order as nothing more than a social contract, it made the conscious decision to rely on positive law...

The problem, of course, is that First Things is dedicated to the reintroduction of a natural law perspective into American political life. Bottum's analysis rubbed me the wrong way because it too closely resembles the critique of the liberal state put forward by Tradition. Note that Stegall ends his piece by suggesting that the project of the liberal state should be abandoned In favor of an explicitly Christian political culture. Bottum, in contrast, says that it was one of the great victories of Christianity to whittle the state down to liberal dimensions. Go figure.

* * *

Speaking of Tradition, I recently came across this site, created in admiring memory of the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley.

The site is managed by neo-fascists, so it tilts toward the Continental Conservative Revolution. There is a long quotation from Julius Evola, for instance, on the prerequisites for the creation of a European nation . (Mosley did have thoughts along these lines in the 1930s, but he focused on them only after the Second World War, when he was little more than a national amusement.) The startling thing is the encomiums on the introductory page from people like AJP Taylor and Michael Foote. The site's editors have expanded their possible audience by using the word "Jew" very sparingly. The material is useful for anyone studying the interwar years, but it could mislead uninformed Youth.

Mosley and his ideas, as they appear here, remind me of HG Wells more than of anyone else. Wells, in his later years, had much the same notions. I don't mean just the obvious stuff, like the disgust with parliamentary democracy. Mosley and Wells both advocated turning the judiciary into a cadre of sociological experts with the power to make law, without reference to the constitution, and over the objection of the government. Today, this has a familiar ring, in both the US and the EU. It is startling to see it in a British context, since the notion of judicial review is quite limited in British jurisprudence. An idea that has gone down the memory hole entirely in recent years, however, is Mosley's proposal that the franchise should rest on the basis of occupation rather than geography. In the US, that was quite a Lefty notion in the 1930s.

Roger Eatwell once remarked that Mosley had the best-worked-out programme of all the fascists in Europe. No doubt Mosley suffered from the "if we build it, they will come" syndrome. In reality, if you build it, people will be able to see it from a distance, and they may have the sense to run away.

* * *

Am I too optimistic about Iraq?. Maybe, but then I see items like this one by Victor Davis Hanson, which recently appeared in National Review, and my assessments are reconfirmed:

Almost everything that is now written about Iraq rings not quite right: It was a “blunder”; there should have been far more troops there; the country must be trisected; we must abide by a timetable and leave regardless of events on the ground; Iraq will soon devolve into either an Islamic republic or another dictatorship; the U.S. military is enervated and nearly ruined; and so on.

In fact, precisely because we have killed thousands of terrorists, trained an army, and ensured a political process, it is possible to do what was intended from the very beginning: lessen the footprint of American troops in the heart of the ancient caliphate.

When Hanson speaks here of lessening the footprint, he seems to be referring to drawing down the number of troops present in Iraq now. However, we should not forget that reducing the military face of American influence in that region was one of the reasons for the Iraq War in the first place. As Walter Russell Mead has noted, there was no peace in and around Iraq even before 2003. The United States and Great Britain were involved in a low-level air-war with Iraq that began the last time the Baathist government kicked the UN weapons inspectors out. The Iraqi government was being forcefully restrained from entering its own Kurdish region, lest it murder the inhabitants. It was prohibited by force from flying its aircraft in the south of the country under the ceasefire agreement that ended the war of 1990-1991. Sanctions were kept in place that impoverished the population, enriched government officials and their agents of influence in the West, and created a propaganda theme that could be used against United States.

People sometimes object to the statement that the Iraq War was a reaction to 911. The objection is inapposite, whatever role the Baathist government might have had in the destruction of the World Trade Center. (There are actually pretty good reasons for believing that Iraq was directly involved with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but that's another story.) After 911, the situation in Iraq had to be settled. Every day the regime survived was more evidence that even losing a war to the United States had a limited price that other regimes might be willing to pay.

* * *

If you are looking for the official manufacture of disinformation, Washington is probably not the place you should start. In yesterday's New York Times, there is a piece in the Business Section that records the continuation of an old Soviet tradition:

From the maps the Russians gave Mr. Monroe, he could never really know where he was, a mystery for him as an oil engineer at a joint venture between BP and Russian investors. The latitude and longitude had been blotted out from his maps and the grid diverged from true north....Even now, Mr. Murrow and his colleagues can use only Russian digital map files that encrypt and hide the coordinates of his location. Officially, only Russians with security clearances are permitted to see well field maps with a scale [finer than] 1:2500.

During the Cold War, it made a certain amount of sense for the Soviets to give false coordinates for the locations of their cities. Most of the information was available from pre-Revolutionary maps, of course. The locations of newer industrial facilities probably were not such great secrets, either. Still, the practice added another layer of complexity to nuclear targeting. In any case, the Times piece suggests that the continuation of this practice may be due to more than simple bureaucratic inertia. It's a jobs program, for one thing: the Russian Federal Security Bureau keeps a large cadre of cartographers harmlessly employed removing and falsifying the coordinates of important industrial facilities. Then there is the security-clearance angle. If only Russians are allowed to know where they are, then, all things being equal, it is better to hire Russian engineers.

And yes, they do have Google Earth in Russia. That is beside the point.

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The Long View 2005-11-30: Won Wars; Lost Films & Doctrines

Here is a prediction that did not pan out:

There is also this: Post-911 veterans are not Vietnam veterans. Their numbers are smaller, of course, but they are already an admired and self-confident minority. They will transform the military and, one suspects, domestic politics.

At this point, it seems that veterans of America's imperial wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other shitholes are mostly ignored, both by politicians and the wider public, unless some issue forces them into the public eye. 

Won Wars; Lost Films & Doctrines


It was as if someone threw a switch. Two weeks ago, if you were following the media, it seemed as if the only remaining question about the Iraq War was whether the US had the lift capacity to evacuate the bleeding remnants of its army from Iraq before they were all massacred. Then (I think it was last Friday) I heard Mark Shields on the PBS New Hour remark soberly that of course there are serious people on both sides of the withdrawal question. Today, I see this from Glenn Reynolds:

Funny, but not long after Rep. Murtha's outburst on the war, we're seeing a bipartisan consensus that a cut-and-run approach would be disastrous.

Murtha's six-month withdrawal resolution jumped the shark. If the Democratic leadership used him as a stalking horse on the matter, then they did the old man a grave disservice.

From what I can tell, it really does seem to be the case that opinion on the ground in Iraq has it that the war is going well both militarily and politically. The question has become how the war will be perceived in retrospect. Security Watchtower recently quoted itself from July:

"It will be interesting to analyze the media's reaction to any U.S. troop withdrawals that might occur in Iraq over the next 12 to 18 months. With the Iraqi Constitution being finalized and another election in December, the subject of bringing American soldiers home will remain a prominent topic of conversation for some time. There is a segment of the media that will attempt to portray any troops withdrawals as a desperate, defeated and humbled superpower that blundered through one mistake after another and managed to eject when they realized the effort could not be won. Get use to seeing alot more of this 'history' over the next year or two."

There was quite a lot of this revisionism in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. It became a matter of dogma that the Reagan Administration had either had no effect of the liquidation of the Soviet Block or had actually retarded the process. The arms-control industry continued to insist that Reagan's Star Wars proposal was a blunder, no matter how many former Soviet officials attended post-Cold War conferences in the West and said that of course Star Wars was a major factor in their decision to end the arms race.

Something similar happened after the First Gulf War, largely for the purpose of diminishing the senior George Bush's reelection campaign in 1992. That conflict really was one of the great conventional victories of modern times, but by the beginning of 1992 there was a flood of articles explaining why it wasn't.

After the Vietnam War, there turned out to be little political advantage in denigrating the military. On the other hand, some people tried to argue that the US had really won, but had been stabbed in the back: that did not fly either. After the US largely disengages from Iraq, politicians will find that attempts to disparage the outcome or the rationale for the war will be ill-received. With whatever justice, Iraq is going to get the credit for defeating the Jihad.

There is also this: Post-911 veterans are not Vietnam veterans. Their numbers are smaller, of course, but they are already an admired and self-confident minority. They will transform the military and, one suspects, domestic politics.

* * *

George Bush is not a stupid man, but there is reason to believe he may be ineducable. You would think that the rout of his Social Security proposals would teach him to forget about his libertarian schemes. But no: Look:

President Bush vowed today [Nov. 28] to step up enforcement of U.S. immigration laws on America's borders and inside the country, but he said this could not be done without also creating a new "temporary worker program" that would allow illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States for a defined period.

Sometimes commenting on the Bush Administration is like repeating the Dead Parrot Sketch. The Guest Worker Program is not pining for the fjords. It's dead. Deceased. Statements to the effect that this idea has any chance at all are inoperative.

I object to more than the waste of time. Like the Harriet Myers nomination, this proposal alienates the president's base. He needs the base in order to work with Congress. He needs to work with Congress in order to win the Terror War. That's what he was reelected to do.

* * *

My local video store recently closed, so I dropped by during the going-out-of-business sale to see if there were any DVDs I might want at a low price. And indeed I found one of the most famous obscure movies of all time: Incubus

It's a low-budget horror film, made in 1965. You can find details here, but there are three reasons it attracts attention:

(1) Stars the young William Shatner, as a veteran from an unnamed war who is tempted by diabolical forces.

(2) It is the only major film ever made in Esperanto. (The DVD has French and English subtitles.) Esperanto sounds like Italian. In this film, it sometimes sounds like Italian spoken by American tourists. Not Shatner, though: he clearly worked hard.

(3) There is a Curse of Incubus.

Most horror movies are provided with suitable "curses" by their publicity departments. Incubus's misfortune was genuine, however. All copies of the film and all materials relating to it were lost soon after the film went into release. It was only in the 1990s that a single print was discovered, in France, where a movie house showed it weekly like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The SciFi channel subsidized cleaning up the print and producing the DVD.

By the way: watching the film is like seeing a slightly extended episode of the old Outer Limits series because much the same people (Anthony Taylor, Leslie Stevens, and Conrad Hall) were involved with both the film and the series.

By another way: Esperanto is not an "artificial language." It is a "planned language."

* * *

Speaking of films, it has become headline news that C.S. Lewis did not want his Narnia stories turned into live films:

I am absolutely opposed – adamant isn’t in it! – to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy.

I see the point, but the worry seems to have been misplaced. There is already a good BBC version.

* * *

Limbo also seems about to become inoperative:

THE Catholic Church is preparing to abandon the idea of limbo, the theological belief that children who die before being baptised are suspended in a space between heaven and hell.

The concept, which was devised in the 13th century and was depicted in numerous works of art during the Renaissance, such as Descent into Limbo by the painter Giotto, and in Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is of a metaphysical space where infants are blissfully happy but are not actually in the presence of God...[A]n international commission of Catholic theologians, meeting in the Vatican this week, has been pondering the issue and is expected to advise Pope Benedict XVI to announce officially that the theological concept of limbo is incorrect.

The Catholic Church actually has little dogmatic to say about the afterlife. Limbo was the sort of speculation that occurs when people insist on asking questions on subjects about which there is little information.

Here is a point I have never seen addressed: was Limbo related to the notion of the Neutral Angels? We see them in Grail lore from roughly the same period.

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The Long View 2005-11-25: Defeatism, Exopolitics, Multicult, Gaudete

Douglas MacArthur was a war-monger. Admittedly, a fairly skilled one.

Defeatism, Exopolitics, Multicult, Gaudete


Anyone who is getting spooked by the defeatist talk about Iraq can take comfort, after a fashion, from the views that General MacArthur held in 1944 about the progress of the Second World War. Thanks to Medienkritik for these carping remarks:

“[MacArthur] said that every mistake that supposedly intelligent men could make has been made in this war. The North African operation was absolutely useless, yet all the available strength of Great Britain and the United States was thrown into the task.

The general, as he is depicted in the report, was full of two ideas: that the Pacific war had been “starved” in the interests of Europe, and that whereas the MacArthur-Nimitz strategy in the Pacific was skillfully to hit the enemy “where he ain’t,” the European strategy was to hammer stupidly against the enemy’s strongest points. “Patton’s army, which is trying to batter its way through the Vosges in the Luneville-Baccarat sector, can’t do it. He repeated---they can’t do it. No army could do it. … The Chinese situation is disastrous. It is the bitter fruit of our decision to concentrate our full strength against Germany. …He said that if he had been given just a portion of the force which invaded North Africa he could have retaken the Philippines in three months because at that time the Japanese were not ready.

The report goes on to expand on MacArthur's views: "He lashed out in a general indictment of Washington, asserting that ‘they’ are fighting this war as they fought the last war. He said that most of them have never been in the front lines and that they aren't rotating field officers back into Washington.”

The above is a direct quote from pages 17 and 18 of “The Forrestal Diaries” edited by Walter Millis and published by the Viking Press in 1951. James Forrestal was US Secretary of the Navy during the final year of World War II and learned of General Douglas MacArthur’s views through a report provided to him by Bert Andrews, the Washington correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, who had just returned from a trip to the Philippines. The quotes appear in an entry dated 22 November 1944 (sixty-one years ago today).

For an intractable situation, the war in Iraq has actually gone rather better than we might reasonably have hoped. At the end of the invasion in 2003, Iraq was fish soup. Now it's an aquarium, though the fish are still sick. Today's public controversy is about ensuring that the Bush Administration does not get a nickel's worth of credit.

* * *

Meanwhile, in those parts of the planet that have so far escaped the grasp of the neocons, we see that progressive transnational opinion is dealing with the real issues that face the world today:

(PRWEB) - OTTAWA, CANADA (PRWEB) November 24, 2005 -- [Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67] has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs....”

The proposed Decade of Contact is “a 10-year process of formal, funded public education, scientific research, educational curricula development and implementation, strategic planning, community activity, and public outreach concerning our terrestrial society’s full cultural, political, social, legal, and governmental communication and public interest diplomacy with advanced, ethical Off-Planet cultures now visiting Earth.”

Don't make fun. I'd lay any amount of money that UFO sightings are not caused by visiting extraterrestrials, ethical or otherwise, but it does give one pause to see how perfectly these stories match old mythological motifs. Most interesting of all is the counter-mythology that has appeared in opposition to the Hon. Hellyer's "Exopolitics." (For an intelligent exposition of this opposition, see the work of Charles Upton.)

By the way, note that expolitics is bound up with opposition to strategic missile defense:

Paul Hellyer, who now seeks Canadian Parliament hearings on relations with ETs, on May 15, 2003, stated in Toronto’s Globe & Mail newspaper, “Canada should accept the long-standing invitation of U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to launch a conference to seek approval of an international treaty to ban weapons in space. That would be a positive Canadian contribution toward a more peaceful world.”

It has always been my experience that stranger notions are to be found among progressive than among reactionaries. The difference is that, with the progressives, you have to ask.

* * *

The eccentricity of the progressive West is not lost on Joseph Thompson of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, as we learn from his article in the Fall 2005 issue of Comparative Civilizations Review: Cultural relativism or Covert Universalism? The Metaethics of multiculturalism. (This is the journal of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations: I'm on the membership committee, so you please consider joining.)

The article admits what everybody knows: cultural relativism is incompatible with multiculturalism. The multiculturalism that we find in the academy has quite a lot of content, and that content is the worldview of the progressive West. The principle of cultural relativism is invoked to claim that this content is neutral. This pretence is unsustainable. This is the honest thing to do:

Against cultural relativism, but on behalf of genuine multiculturalism, I offer considerations for an explicitly affirmed universalist and (albeit one considerably reduced from traditional moral metaphysics). No longer “granted” transcendentally, not dependent upon theology or other high–level metaphysical propositions, the universality which can realistically sustain the globalization of human rights is derived from the declared international consensus of human beings. For my purposes it is less a matter of the specific rights in question, and more about the foundation upon which these rights may be said to derive their legitimacy. If this turns out to be nothing more than convention, well, it is also nothing less – a coming together. This is, in all likelihood, as much as we are going to get. And yet it’s appliances – provided that our effort is as inclusive, as widespread, and as truly multicultural as possible.

Quite so, but I must remark that pretty much all human societies claim some transcendent basis for their ethical principles. An honest universalism could not rest on an immanent metaphysics.

* * *

My knowledge of the transcendent has limits. I don't recall whether I had ever heard of Gaudete Sunday until about ten days ago. That's when some of the local Latin Mass crowd asked me to do a poster for a vespers service on Gaudete Sunday, which falls on December 11 this year.

I'd never been to a vespers service, so I was at a loss about graphics. I asked whether the service had anything to do with the sacrifice of small animals. I was ignored. Finally, I came up with this:



The scary thing was how much material about vespers, graphical and textual, that I found online. And why does Wikipedia know as much about it as the Catholic Encyclopedia?

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The Long View 2005-11-21: The Rally for Marshal Pétain

By Marcel Baschet (1862-1941) - L'illustration, n° 5074 du 1er juin 1940, Public Domain,

By Marcel Baschet (1862-1941) - L'illustration, n° 5074 du 1er juin 1940, Public Domain,

It was unfair of John to associate Lt. General William Odom with Marshal Pétain, although John did at least go out of his way to give Pétain some credit. In retrospect, Odom sounds like he was right.

The Rally for Marshal Pétain


As I have elsewhere had occasion to remark, 50 USC Section 407 forbids the expenditure of federal money to devise contingency plans under which the United States would surrender to an enemy. That provision, of course, applies only to the Executive Branch, so it would not apply to the sort of legislative debate that Democratic Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha began when he proposed a resolution in favor of a rapid US withdrawal from Iraq. (The Republican leadership immediately emended the resolution to "immediate withdrawal," which was soundly defeated: a stunt, of course, but then it also forced Congress to acknowledge what it was actually taking about.) In any case, the fact that the heretofore obscure Congressman Murtha took the lead on this matter has some interesting historical resonance.

Murtha, as the world beyond Pennsylvania was immediately informed, is a Marine Corps veteran. This personal history is supposed to give his views greater credibility, or even immunity from criticism:

Referring to Vice President Dick Cheney, Murtha used the "chicken hawk" attack so far uttered in public only by out-of-office liberals.

"I like guys who got five deferments and have never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what ought to be done," Murtha said.

It is an old principle of politics that opposition to a distasteful policy will be minimized if the step is taken by a leader of the party that finds it distasteful. As the saying goes, "Only Nixon could go to China." By this logic, then, the best person to conclude a surrender would be a leader with a respected military career. This was exactly the logic that made Henri-Philippe Pétain the French premier in 1940.

Marshal Pétain was a genuine hero of the First World War. In that war of attrition, he had a reputation for not wasting the lives of his men. His gift was the defense of territory while minimizing French losses. After the war, he became a gray eminence: a man of the Right, but generally respected by all parties. He was more than willing to help when the Third Republic was overrun:

On 14th June 1940, the German Army occupied Paris. Paul Reynaud, the French prime minister, now realized that the German Western Offensive could not be halted and suggested that the government should move to territories it owned in North Africa. This was opposed by his vice-premier, Henri-Philippe Pétain, and the supreme commander of the armed forces, General Maxime Weygand. They insisted that the government should remain in France and seek an armistice.

Outvoted, Reynaud resigned and President Albert Lebrun, appointed Petain as France's new premier. He immediately began negotiations with Adolf Hitler and on 22nd June signed an armistice with Germany. The terms of the agreement divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones, with a rigid demarcation line between the two. The Germans would directly control three-fifths of the country, an area that included northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining section of the country would be administered by the French government at Vichy under Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain.

The interesting thing about the Vichy Armistice is that it was actually a very good result, considering the French negotiating position. It kept the French state and administrative structure intact. France continued to function as an independent diplomatic actor. It even preserved the French empire, at least as far as the Germans were concerned. The US law against government funding of surrender studies was passed when someone on the federal payroll was tactless enough to suggest that, should the US lose a nuclear war, we would be lucky to get an agreement for the US as good as the one Henri-Philippe Pétain obtained for France.

* * *

Surrender may be a misnomer in this context of the Terror War, however, because it implies an enemy that would be willing and able to accept one. For that reason, arguments by people in the US for withdrawal from Iraq tend to be a bit self-referential, as we see in the list of reasons for withdrawal recently published by yet another retired military figure, William E. Odom, a former Air Force general. He has actually been saying these things for quite some time, without reference to the state of things on the ground in Iraq, but his latest pronouncements got media coverage because of the Murtha incident. Some points from the latest restatement of his argument run like this.(He has always liked numbered lists, apparently):

1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we can’t prevent a civil war by staying...

Certainly it is a goal of the terror campaign to start a civil war; it is also clear that the goal has not yet been reached. Should open war break out, of course, it can hardly be a matter of indifference to the US who wins it. But moving along...

3) On the insurgency and democracy. There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-American, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.

The logic behind this is obscure. The base of the insurgency is the Arab Sunnis, a fifth of the population. The tactic of terror attacks on the Shia and Kurds has not endeared the insurgency to the rest of Iraq. The insurgents, in fact, are the only people we know for sure that most Iraqis do not want to run the government. Of course, Iraq was governed by a minority before the invasion, so unpopularity would not exclude such a government arising again. "National unity" would have nothing to do with it, however.

In any case, next we see where Odom's policy is flawed in a way that Pétain's was not:

4) On terrorists. Iraq is already a training ground for terrorists. In fact, the CIA has pointed out to the administration and congress that Iraq is spawning so many terrorists that they are returning home to many other countries to further practice their skills there. The quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes order, the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced terrorists.

And why should the new dictator stop producing terrorists? I suppose it is possible that Odom thinks that the Baathist Party might return to power. It's hard to see why: the Baathists were blown of of power pretty decisively, and they seem to have less and less to do with the violent opposition to the new government.

Mark Steyn remarked about jihadi suicide tactics that the Islamists like them for the same reason the British in the 19th century liked the Gattling gun: it brings them victory. An American withdrawal from Iraq at this point would, correctly, be seen as a victory for that tactic: when you talk about the insurgency in Iraq these days, that's mostly what you mean.

If Odom's insurgents ran the country, there would be an Islamist state that believes it could discount retaliation from abroad incurred by any mischief it works in the world. What's the worst that can happen: an invasion? The withdrawal would not solve the problem.

* * *

Odom's analysis is much more than the Democratic Party in the US needs. It's not just that it is divorced from the course of Iraqi politics; it's that the party is not actually trying to lose the war. In point of fact, the notion of beginning a withdrawal in 2006 is close to being a consensus. What the Democrats are trying to ensure is that the outcome of the war, any outcome, is seen as a failure of the policies of the Bush Administration.

The withdrawal must be perceived to be a change in course, made under pressure from the Democrats in Congress. After that, if the new government collapses and Osama bin Ladin is is acclaimed the new caliph at Baghdad, that would provide a campaign issue for many years to come. On the other hand, if the new government is a success, then the Democrats can claim credit for having forced the withdrawal that allowed the Iraqi political factions to find a way to accommodate each other.

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The Long View 2005-11-18: Luminous Surrealism; National Insurance Schemes

I've never gotten into any of Ballard's writings, but I probably ought to give him a try someday.

This is the "Cadillac of the Skies" scene from Spielberg's film adaptation of Empire of the Sun. It is an amazing scene, classic Spielberg, and sufficiently iconic that you usually find it on the cover of the movie.

John mentions Michael Fumento in passing here. I used to follow Fumento, he was an interesting contrarian in the early 2000s. But it turned out that he didn't so much write what he thinks [consequences be damned], like Greg Cochran, but rather he wrote what he was paid to write. Eventually, his gig and his marriage fell apart. I feel kind of bad for the guy, but you could probably see this as a kind of rough justice. However, he wasn't always wrong. It really isn't likely that you can get an Ebola epidemic in the US or another country with decent medicine.

Luminous Surrealism; National Insurance Schemes


J. G. Ballard is best known for his memoir, Empire of the Sun, but he is usually classed as a science-fiction writer with a surrealist twist:

Though still essentially grounded in science fiction (his future technologies and ecological disasters are unsurpassed in the genre), reading one of his books is like falling into the interior world of a Surrealist painting.

When a story about the food supply conjures memories of J. G. Ballard stories, maybe you've got a problem:

Australians have been told there is no need to panic after a recent "glow-in-the-dark pork chop" scare. ...The New South Wales Food Authority said the glow was caused by the harmless pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria.

Food authority head George Davey said he understood people would be "shocked" to see their meat glowing in the fridge but said the bacteria were safe...[however]...The bacteria are naturally present in meat and fish but they multiply quickly if food is not stored at the correct temperature.

So the glowing can be a sign that the food is starting to go off and Mr Davey recommends consumers throw any luminous pork chops - or other cuts of meat - straight into the dustbin.

In a typical Ballard story, some minor anomaly will intrude into everyday life: a prolonged drought, say, or a new kind of crystal will be noticed spreading in wilderness areas like creeper vine. At first the anomaly will be a minor annoyance in the everyday world; then it will be a major public issue; then it will overwhelm ordinary life, both physically and metaphysically.

But nothing like that is happening now. That is just ordinary bacteria. Ordinary, glow-in-the-dark bacteria.

* * *

Speaking of surrealism, this may be the first perfectly tautological pitch in the history of fundraising:

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking to the group’s national leadership here last week, signaled a sharp shift in ADL policy by directly attacking several prominent religious right groups and challenging their motives, which he said include nothing less than “Christianizing America.” But even more threatening, Foxman said, is how the views of many of the most strident Evangelical leaders have started to pervade American society, which he said will be revealed in a forthcoming ADL poll...Although only portions of the survey were available this week, Foxman said some of the results are alarming...According to the survey, 70 percent of weekly churchgoers and 76 percent of self-described Evangelicals agreed that “Christianity is under attack”...

Probably those numbers are even higher among churchgoers who have read the ADL's direct mail solicitations.

* * *

Who is this Marshall Law anyway? I went to a perfectly good law school and, frankly, the subject of "martial law" never came up. In any case, those of my readers who plan to stage military coups might be interested in this brief explanation of the by Rohn K. Robbins:

Exactly what is martial law and why might the spread of a killer strain of flu - H2N1 or some other - one day invoke it?... Martial law is, strictly speaking, the suspension of civil law and, in its place, the imposition of military authority. While not explicitly provided for in the Constitution, suspension of habeas corpus is mentioned in Article 1, Section 9, and the activation of the militia in time of rebellion or invasion is mentioned in Article 1, Section 8.

Speaking of avian flu, Michael Fumento has a critique in The Weekly Standard of the interminable hype we have been hearing on the subject:

High on the list of scaremongers is Laurie Garrett, former Newsday reporter and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Garrett is to pandemics what Paul Ehrlich is to population growth, having amassed fame and fortune by being consistently and spectacularly wrong. Just as he became famous predicting a Population Bomb that fizzled, she came to prominence through a 1995 book, The Coming Plague. No, it hasn't come yet, but--trust her--it will. Garrett's rise began with her prediction of an Ebola virus pandemic. This was notwithstanding the fact that Ebola is just about last on any realistic list of possible pandemic pathogens, since it's terribly difficult to transmit. But guess who won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Ebola coverage? Lessons like this aren't lost on other journalists.

Sometimes, as we saw with the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, long-anticipated catastrophes do finally arrive. On the other hand, disasters that once seemed certain are often postponed indefinitely. And some developments are complete surprises, like the one that began with the odd glow from the meat section of your refrigerator.

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Meanwhile, on the healthcare front, Bruce the Psychic Guy has favored us with the outline of a universal medical-insurance system for the United States. (Thanks, Jay!) A complete system would need more moving parts, but the Psychic Guy's proposal is correct in emphasizing the need to increase the supply of doctors and nurses.

The most common criticism of national health schemes is the libertarian argument that government cannot be expected to do anything more efficiently than the private sector, and that the bigger the government program, the more inefficient it will be. There is a historical analogy that suggests otherwise, however.

Deposit insurance for bank accounts had been tried on the state level several times before the New Deal finally created a national deposit-insurance system. The early experiments had not worked. The insurers, either private entities or state agencies, just were not big enough or credible enough. Neither were their client banks diversified enough; all the banks in an agricultural state, for instance, would be stressed in a year with bad weather.

The problem with deposit insurance is "moral hazard." Depositors will have no incentive to seek out banks that have prudent lending policies if the depositors know that their deposits will be protected even if the bank fails because its creditors default. The only way around moral hazard is a fairly intrusive system of supervision by the deposit insurer. The supervision is not rocket-science, but the states usually lacked the personnel or the political will to do it effectively.

The banking system was flat on its back when FDR became president in 1933. The Roosevelt Administration was actually not very keen on deposit insurance. The key feature of the finance-industry reform that the Administration presented to Congress was a centralization of the Federal Reserve System: deposit insurance was an afterthought.

To everybody's surprise, deposit insurance was what made people trust banks again. It continued to work without a glitch thereafter, except for the S&L episode in the 1980s, when political influence turned off part of the supervision system for a few years.

I suspect we might see a similar pattern with health insurance. Some states, such as Tennessee, have tried to run their own health-insurance schemes, with mixed success. Everywhere, the system is a patchwork of state regulators and private insurers that has none of the merits of a free-market system and all of the defects of a social-welfare bureaucracy. With a national system, economies of scale will solve more than half the problem.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-11-13: The Shape of Things to Come

This post from 2005 was the first time I became aware of Ross Douthat. Ross has done well for himself as a pundit in the last twelve years, and now works for the New York Times. I've enjoyed his work immensely over the years.

The Shape of Things to Come


Who are Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam? They seem to be ubiquitous these days. They have their own bloglike entity at The American Scene, where you can find out more about them. I mention them here because of their remarkable article in The Weekly Standard of November 14 entitled "The Party of Sam's club." If the Republican Party really needs a new domestic agenda, it need look no further:

Many of the issues that the Republican Party wrote to power remain salient today, of course. The capital GOP doesn't need to rethink its support for a strong national defense, for instance, or its commitment to social conservatism. But having risen to power at a time when most Americans were worried about their economic freedom, the Party needs to adapt to a new reality -- namely, that today, Americans are increasingly worried about their economic security -- and reorient its agenda to address those concerns.

This is the first article I have seen in a conservative journal that admits just how anachronistic the traditional Republican platform has become. Thanks to past tax decreases, the federal income tax burden on the middle class is now low enough that few people find it onerous. At least on the federal level, Republicans can no longer run successfully on tax cuts, though there is room for political gains on the questions of simplification and fairness. The piece makes the interesting proposal that, instead of reforming the income tax so we can abolish the alternative minimum tax, we should abolish the income tax and retain the alternative minimum tax. That would in effect return us to what the income tax was supposed to be originally: a progressive tax on relatively high incomes. The shortfall caused by the abolition of the income tax might be made up by a modest consumption tax.

The authors broach the subject that the political system has heretofore avoided entirely: the need for mildly pro-natalist labor policies. This does not mean that Republicans should pursue the Democratic preference for professionalizing child-rearing through daycare, or by redefining the family out of existence. It does mean that pension systems and education subsidies should be structured so that young women have a realistic option to stay home and be mothers without jeopardizing their career opportunities in later life.

Immigration is the issue on which Republican voters are diametrically at odds with the Republican leadership. The voters do not dislike immigrants; they do perceive, correctly, that immigration suppresses wages at the lower end of the income scale. The most popular, indeed populist, policy at this point would be one that regularized the status of illegals who are settled in the United States while ensuring that the borders are secured.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is devoted to the need for a national health-care system. The Republican Party came to power in the 1990s partly as a result of the implosion of the unworkable health-care proposal that the Democrats made early in the Clinton Administration. Since then, the Republicans have evaded or derided the issue. This is a grave error. Guaranteed health insurance is not a question of help for the underprivileged. Almost all ordinary people at some point in their lives will have trouble providing health care for themselves and their families, or will find that the insurance they do have is inadequate. Furthermore, the overpriced and over-bureaucratized system in the United States has become deadly to the competitiveness of American manufacturers. The important criteria are: insurance must be portable, mandatory, and cheap. If I understand their argument, they say that the country needs is a national catastrophic insurance system, with a competitive insurance industry to manage the deductible.

Some combination like this, of cultural conservatism and social security in the broad sense, is probably the future. The question is whether the Republican Party can provide the vehicle. The Democrats could do it too, if they jettison some of their own pathologies.

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Several people have written to me over the past three years to ask when I am going to read Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. Well, I have; the review is here. It's the best AH novel ever written. Okay?

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Reports from New Orleans has taken a surreal turn. The following information all appeared the New York Times this week (I would link to the articles, but the Times has that idiotic registration wall).

Murder rate in New Orleans falls to zero. This is because five sixths of the population is still missing. A criminologist described the disappearance of violent crime as "a great experiment," apparently without irony. The Times did not quote Tacitus: "They have made a desert, and call it peace." That would be too much to expect from the paper nowadays, I suppose.

New Orleans real estate market set to rise. Well, yes, I suppose it would.

On death certificates of the victims of the flood, "decomposition" is sometimes cited as a cause of death. After a major disaster, there is a delay before people can grasp causal relationships again.

Copyright © 2005 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