Juniper Hollow: Fox and Raccoon Book Review

 Tom Nook wants his money, I mean, Fox and Raccoon are really cute!

Tom Nook wants his money, I mean, Fox and Raccoon are really cute!

Fox and Raccoon: Juniper Hollow
by Lesley-Anne Green
Published by Tundra Books (June 19, 2018)
ISBN 978-1101917961

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

This is a book about giving and friendship, done in a rather fetching felt diorama style. Fox and Raccoon are best friends, and on a day when Fox is too busy to spend time with Raccoon, he chooses to help her be a little less busy.

This book's style reminds me a bit of the Animal Crossing franchise from Nintendo, except the animals are cute instead of annoying. This is because in Animal Crossing they are always asking you to do things they could clearly do themselves, unlike Raccoon, who offers up to help when he sees something needs to be done.

Everyone in Juniper Hollow is similarly generous. The sense of community in Juniper Hollow is so real that I wish I lived there. However, this particular book didn't grab my kids quite as strongly as some other children's books I've reviewed recently, so despite it's cuteness, I'll have to dock one star for being more interesting to adults than children.

My other book reviews

Fox and Raccoon (Juniper Hollow)
By Lesley-Anne Green

Linkfest 2018-06-18

Perhaps Monday is the new Friday around here.


Conan the Barbarian: A Review, an Analysis, and a Little Bit of a Misunderstood and Improperly Played - While Talking About the Pulps

I found this reading the Conan roundup from Monday. I also rate the 1982 Milius Conan higher than Rick Stump. I love that movie, and I am astounded by how well it holds up. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic reflection on Robert E. Howard and his influence on the storytelling of the twentieth century.

THERANOS DIDN'T NUKE THE DIAGNOSTICS BUSINESS

There are reputable companies working in the same space as Theranos, but since there is either no hype or no scandal, we don't hear much about them.

There’s a Place for Us: Revoice and Gay Christian Futures

There’s a Place for Us Part II: More on Revoice & Gay Christian Homemaking

I really enjoyed Eve Tushnet's two-parter on being a gay Catholic, and I think she's completely right that an obsession on avoiding even the possibility of sexual feelings has cramped the friendships of too many people. As Eve rightly notes, this is not limited to those who identify as gay or lesbian, but affects all of us to some degree. This reminds of things the Art of Manliness has written about friendship, from a completely different direction. Anytime I find two people with completely different perspectives and agendas talking about the same thing, I take notice. 

The Murder That Changed Germany

I read John Schindler extensively for a while, then I started to be concerned that he had lost his mind. I'm glad to see he can still write a cogent column. The murders of so many young women in Germany by migrants of various sorts was the kind of thing predicted after Angela Merkel so unwisely threw open the borders. This prediction was then dismissed as racist trash, and inconveniently, happened anyway.

Violent crime rises in Germany and is attributed to refugees

This Reuters report states the facts succinctly.

Why Working on the Railroad Comes With a $25,000 Signing Bonus

Railroad work is irregular, hard, and dangerous. Consequently, it also pays well. Of course, this kind of thing can be highly cyclical, and under railroad union rules, the guys who get laid off will be the ones with the least seniority. Nonetheless, this is really good work.

The Lesser Cruelty on Immigration

Ross Douthat pens the kind of column on the fuckup at the southern US border that I wish I had written. I am resolutely against mindless cruelty, but there has to be some level of cruelty in a rich nation's border enforcement, or that nation will end.

McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised

The more classified stuff comes out that we did during the Cold War, the more sympathetic I am to the idea that innovation in the US has slowed down.

018-021_CAPA_Arqueologia_267.jpg

Time has been kind to Francisco de Orellana.

The Long View 2006-09-07: The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

    Mohammad Khatami  By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

 

Mohammad Khatami

By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

In retrospect, I think I agree with Mohammad Khatami that American policy in Iraq in the first half of the 2000s led to increased terrorism and instability. John Reilly was often harsh on Iran and Iranian politicians in his blog, and this post is no exception. To be fair to John, Iran was and is a patron of Hezbollah, a player in the bloody factional politics of the Middle East that is considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU. And of course there was the 1979 Tehran Embassy thing, and Iran really was working hard on a nuclear program.

On the other hand, important men in the Iranian version of Shia Islam tend to have philosophical educations heavy on Plato and Aristotle, much like Catholic priests. The first female Fields medalist, Maryam Mirzakhani, was from Iran. Before the embassy takeover and Iran sponsoring attacks on Israel via proxy after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, Iran was the traditional American ally in the region. Hell, pursuing a nuclear program in the hopes of either getting real military independence, like Israel, Pakistan, and India, or major concessions, like North Korea, seems like a winning geopolitical strategy to me.

Khatami, in particular, probably didn't deserve John's ire, but I also don't think we should pretend that the Twelver branch of Shia Islam that is predominant in Iran would be popular with the US public if they knew what it was or what it meant, or that Iran wants things that the US foreign policy establishment wants.

I do suspect that we could reach some kind of reasonable compromise with Iran, but to be honest I don't think much of the opinions of most US middle east foreign policy experts either. I want things my own countrymen [at least the ones who talk about it all the time] don't appear to want, like staying out of land wars in West Asia.


The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

 

Personnel Selections for the McCain Administration are perhaps premature. Nonetheless, correspondent DD sends this advisory from ABC News that Niall Ferguson has entered the circle of the senator's advisers. This is newsworthy, we are told, because Ferguson Compares America to British Empire:

Sept. 4, 2006 — - A recent New York Times article about John McCain's growing "kitchen cabinet," contained a piece of information that might have been meaningless to many American readers, but resonated strongly with most British ones.

According to a McCain aide, the article said, one of the senator's unofficial advisors as he ponders a possible run for the White House is the British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. ... London-based columnist Johann Hari... wrote that Ferguson had been positioning himself to become "court historian to the imperial American hard right."

The New York Times article, by the way is from August 21: McCain Mines Elite of G.O.P. For 2008 Team.

Ferguson is most notable, at least to my mind, for his methodological use of alternative history, which he explains in Virtual History. His views on the relevance of the British imperial precedent are explained in his book, Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. As I remarked in that review, his chief analytical blindspot is that he does not distinguish between a national empire and a universal state.

Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is touring the United States and speaking at venues from the National Cathedral to the Kennedy School of Government. He is regaling the natives to this effect:

But the former president, a moderate who was succeeded last year by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already made news since his Aug. 30 arrival, attacking the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism while hinting there was room for agreement with Tehran on recognizing Israel and stabilizing Iraq. "As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Mr. Khatami, an Islamic cleric, said in a speech to a North American Muslim convention in Chicago over the weekend.

I have thought about this kind of apologetics for years, and I finally have a suitable reply. It's based on the game-theory notion that you can force your opponent to take an action you want by convincing him that you cannot control your own actions. Thus, in a game of highway chicken, for instance, you can make your opponent swerve by ostentatiously tossing your own steering wheel out your driver's side window. Another way to do it is convince your opponent that you cannot be swayed by rational argument. Thus, a reply to President Khatami might go:

"Yes, we are very unreasonable. What will you do to mollify us?"

The Persian's principal stop, by the way, will be at a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN-sponsored body of which he is a founding member. In fact, he seems to be speaking before every creepy-crawly Islamist front-organization in America. Should the pro-Islamist network expand, will its progressive nodes have second thoughts when they realize just how implacable the Islamists are on culture-war issues? That has not happened in Europe.

This just in: it should make the next few weeks even more interesting:

Diplomats at the United Nations were sent into disarray yesterday when President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he intended to attend the General Assembly of the world body on September 19 and to debate his country's nuclear program with President Bush, who is due to address the Assembly that day.

* * *

Those readers hoping for civilizational collapse (and I know some of you are) should take a look at these images of an abandoned city in Russia. This sort of thing happens in the American Midwest, too, but rarely with so much waste of concrete. Note that there are none of the elements that routinely turn up in fictional treatments of this kind of thing. There is no "back to the land" efflorescence of neo-peasantry; neither is there any tendency to local control. The people just packed up and moved to other cities.

* * *

Yes, the Democrats are making overtures to the religious vote, as we see from the Faithful Democrats site. It's not a bad effort, though one must wonder who the audience is. In any case, the problem with asking "what would Jesus do" in a political context is that Jesus routinely responded to peace-and-justice questions with wisecracks.

* * *

You already knew I would link to this item:

NORWICH (Reuters) - Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Sheldrake seems to produce nice, testable claims, but does anybody ever test them?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Ghostwater Book Review

Ghostwater: Cradle Book 5
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (May 31, 2018)
ASIN B07DFWZP9C

I bought this book the day it came out, but I ended up circling back around and re-reading the other four books in the series, then reading this one again, before I felt ready to review it. The first time I got to the end of Ghostwater, I felt like a lot of things that had been set up back in Unsouled had been at least partially fulfilled, so I decided to go back and check.

Upon completing the cycle again, I have now verified that initial vague impression to be correct. I won't spoil the fun, but I appreciate a few lines in the early books better now. As a coming-of-age type story, it was quite satisfying to look back and see how far Lindon had truly come.

Orthos nodded as though he'd expected nothing different. “Once, you were weak. That boy is long dead, but his Remnant still haunts you.” He turned to drink from the Life Well. “Your weakness, Lindon, is thinking you are weaker than you are.”

I will also steal a line I saw in one of the first day Amazon reviews: this book is like an RPG dungeon crawl. I have to think this was entirely intentional. Any kid who grew up playing Final Fantasy or Dungeon Warrior will immediately grok what is going on here. With the help of luck, a powerful patron or two, and a hell of a lot of grinding, Lindon has leveled up far beyond his wildest dreams. But there is still a long way to go. 

In Ghostwater, we finally get to see some details of the vision Suriel showed Lindon in Unsouled when she saved his life and set him on his quest. In a technique that I greatly admire, Wight can answer questions raised in earlier volumes, and simultaneously manage to create even deeper questions by means of the same revelation. We still don't know what Eithan truly wants, or what he is truly capable of, but my estimation of his power and knowledge only grows with each volume. Lindon, unschooled and green as he is, repeatedly defeats sacred artists several levels higher than him. I shudder to think what Eithan could do if he truly pulled out all the stops. 

I am also glad to see that Eithan knows how to properly launch a secret technique:

lipstick.gif

The Long View 2006-09-05: Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

I had recently been thinking thoughts much like John Reilly's here: if labor unions in the US had real political power again, one of the first things they would do is demand decreased immigration, and effective enforcement of labor laws. Since at the moment neither major US party really supports unions, it would take a party realignment for anything to really happen.


Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

 

Most stories about the labor unions these days touch on the support of their activists for illegal immigrants. There had been so many such stories that one might be forgiven for supposing that unconditional amnesty for illegals was settled policy. Then, yesterday, which was Labor Day, stories like this one from Marketplace began to appear:

Many rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO question why their union is pushing for legalization for undocumented day laborers. But proponents say the move is a sign of things to come. Rachel Dornhelm reports.

And here's an example from the local level:

Local 75 of the Plumbers and Gas Fitters will break from tradition and not march in Milwaukee's Labor Day parade today because the union considers the inclusion of immigrant advocates a distraction from Labor Day. ... "This is strictly a Labor Day celebration. Any other purpose of this parade would not do Labor Day any justice, in my opinion. It's designed to celebrate labor. Labor only," said Harry Kreuser, Local 75 business manager.

In fact, despite all the talk about the next great initiative for organized labor being the campaign to organize illegal service-industry workers, you can mine the AFL-CIO website in vain for evidence of special support for illegals (for whom the polite term is "undocumented workers"). The national leadership is cautious about what they will say to the public, apparently.

This refusal among the rank-and-file to go along with what, in effect, is an open-borders labor policy is the first real sign of life that the labor movement has displayed in a long time. The first sign of revival is often the awakening of the need for self-preservation. As regular visitors to my site will know, I actually do support something close to amnesty (including a godfathered guest-worker program) for illegals currently in the US, provided it goes into effect after the borders are secure and a new regime of low-immigration is in place. What the pro-immigration wing of the unions is trying to do is incoherent, however. They want to coerce the state into ignoring its immigration laws while simultaneously insisting that the state enforce more rigorously its workplace health-and-safety and overtime laws. A government that can't control its borders certainly won't be able to control what happens in the workplace.

At least the plumbers seem to grasp the point.

* * *

Bob Roberts is a film by Tim Robbins that was released in 1992. Ever eager to keep up with popular culture, I got around to seeing it last Saturday. It's about a right-wing country-music singer who runs for the US Senate, dogged all the while by a freelance reporter who has the goods on his CIA connections, particularly the program to support the Nicaraguan Contras by selling crack cocaine in black neighborhoods in the United States. That may sound a little complicated, but it was a feature of the left-wing conspiracy litany at the time the film appeared.

In this and other ways, the film has aged oddly. "Yuppie" is a term of reproach. Part of the soundtrack consists of news reports about the buildup in 1990 for the first Iraq War. One of those reports featured an assessment that the Baathist government could be a few months away from having an atomic bomb. That assessment turned out to be true, but you would not know that from the film. Bob Roberts seems to represent the Left just as it realized that it might really be in trouble. The title character's appearance on TV is sabotaged by one of the cast who says, "You can't let that yuppie go on the air and say whatever he likes!" The strangest element is the reporter with the subversive story too big for mainstream media to handle. There have been many such stories since the film appeared, but they have almost all cut the other way: the Right breaking through the mainstream media monopoly to report on the malefactions of the Left.

Fans of political invective will particularly enjoy the appearance of Gore Vidal as Senator Brickley Paiste, Bob Roberts' prim and liberal Democratic opponent. His appearances are all the more interesting because sometimes he is clearly out-of-character, just cranky old Gore Vidal complaining about the omnipotence of the National Security Council.

Bob Roberts takes place in the world of ANSWER and MoveOn.org. All their themes were in place long before anyone outside of Texas had heard of George W. Bush.

* * *

Walter Russell Mead is among the most illuminating denizens of the murky depths of the nation's foreign policy think tanks. His piece in the current issue of Foreign AffairsGod's Country is a useful corrective to current polemical literature about the alleged rise of American theocracy. In particular, he explains how the different strands of Protestantism actually function in American politics to affect US foreign policy:

The three contemporary streams of American Protestantism (fundamentalist, liberal, and evangelical) lead to very different ideas about what the country's role in the world should be. In this context, the most important differences have to do with the degree to which each promotes optimism about the possibilities for a stable, peaceful, and enlightened international order and the importance each places on the difference between believers and nonbelievers. In a nutshell, fundamentalists are deeply pessimistic about the prospects for world order and see an unbridgeable divide between believers and nonbelievers. Liberals are optimistic about the prospects for world order and see little difference between Christians and nonbelievers. And evangelicals stand somewhere in between these extremes.

Evangelicals are more optimistic than fundamentalists about the prospects for moral progress. The postmillennial minority among them (which holds that Christ will return after a thousand years of world peace, not before) believes that this process can continue until human society reaches a state of holiness:...Although the premillennial majority is less optimistic about the ultimate success of such efforts, American evangelicals are often optimistic about the short-term prospects for human betterment....

One might take issue with many of his points. For instance, Southern Baptists are not as ready to be wholly identified with evangelicalism as Mead seems to think. And Mead revives this old suggestion:

[E]vangelicals managed more than a century of close and generally cooperative relations with Muslims throughout the Arab world. Muslims and evangelicals are both concerned about global poverty and Africa. Both groups oppose the domination of public and international discourse by secular ideas. ... fostering Muslim-evangelical dialogue may be one of the best ways to forestall the threat of civilizational warfare.

That sounds as if it should be true; Peter Kreeft gave the idea systematic form in Ecumenical Jihad. The problem is that it just doesn't work. Sorry.

Despite these quibbles, Mead is almost certainly right about this:

As more evangelical leaders acquire firsthand experience in foreign policy, they are likely to provide something now sadly lacking in the world of U.S. foreign policy: a trusted group of experts, well versed in the nuances and dilemmas of the international situation, who are able to persuade large numbers of Americans to support the complex and counterintuitive policies that are sometimes necessary in this wicked and frustrating -- or, dare one say it, fallen -- world.

Conversely, to the extent that the anti-theocracy lobby succeeds in driving the evangelicals out of the public square, to that degree any American foreign policy will lack public support.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2018-06-11

I meant to get this one out last Friday. Ah well.


How we can learn from the history of protectionism

It is easy to find lots of economists who are down on protectionism, but the evidence turns out to be rather mixed on exactly what its effects are. There are countries that have done poorly with this policy, and countries that have done very well indeed.

It’s Time to Think for Yourself on Free Trade

Dani Rodrik is an interesting and thoughtful economist. This example from his article is illuminating:

In some sense we all know this. Consider another thought experiment: Suppose Harry and John own two companies that compete with each other. How do you feel about each of the following four cases?
  1. Harry works really hard, saves and invests a lot, comes up with new techniques, and outcompetes John, resulting in John and his employees losing their jobs.
  2. Harry gets a competitive edge over John by finding a cheaper supplier in Germany.
  3. Harry drives John out of business by outsourcing to a supplier in Bangladesh, which employs workers in 12-hour shifts and under extremely hazardous conditions.
  4. Harry “imports” Bangladeshi workers under temporary contracts and puts them to work under conditions that violate domestic labor, environmental, and safety laws.
From a purely economic standpoint, these scenarios are what economists call “isomorphic” — they are formally indistinguishable because each creates losers as well as winners in the process of expanding the economic pie in the national economy. (That is, Harry’s gains are larger than John’s losses.)

For economists to call these four situations in some sense identical is probably important for analysis, but it probably also warps the mind to do that too regularly.

JASP

 JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

I haven't used JASP myself, but I saw people talking about it on Twitter. I will give it a try, and perhaps report back. I am entirely in favor of easy to use stats tools.

Burying Your Father and “Return of the Jedi” (1983)

This was a fascinating reflection on fatherhood, spurred by the climax of Return of the Jedi.

Is Global Equality the Enemy of National Equality?

I like Dani Rodrik's work, but sometimes I also think he's nuts. This is a good example of why. I think really bad things would happen if we tried to implement this suggestion of globally free labor movement.

Tolkien 101: The Animated Tolkien Movies

A roundup of the animated Tolkien adaptions over the years. The author has a whole series on this subject. Ooh, and one on Conan!

Even Dead, The Expanded Universe Is Better Than Disney Star Wars. And That's A Good Thing

I have said my piece on Disney's decision to reboot the Star Wars universe, but in the time since, I have found the new novels pretty lackluster. There was some crap in the old EU, but the crap to good stuff ratio seems poor in the new canon. Thankfully, the animated series are making up for the deficit.

The Lifespan of a Lie

A retrospective of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, that is a case study of the failures of social science that led to the replication crisis. The first person, and the last person, Philip Zimbardo lied to was himself.

Normalizing Trade Relations With China Was a Mistake

A perennial theme here at the blog: are we sure we really knew what we were doing?

The Long View 2006-09-01: The Overthrow of Islam

The politicization of religion is a nuisance. Unfortunately, it is often less than clear what counts as politicization when you get started.


The Overthrow of Islam

 

"Taking the turban" was the term that American and European mariners called the practice of formally embracing Islam when captured by Muslim pirates. One took the turban to lengthen one's life and to avoid slavery. As we all know, two journalists working for the Fox network recently revived the custom (though not, alas, the term) when they were captured by a previously unknown Palestinian group. The incident occasioned these thoughts from Mark Steyn:

The bad news is that Islam will soon be able to enforce submission-conversion at the point of a nuke. The good news is that any religion that needs to do that is, by definition, a weak one. More than that, the fierce faith of the 8th century Muslim warrior has been mostly replaced by a lot of hastily cobbled-together flimflam bought wholesale from clapped out European totalitarian pathologies. It would have struck almost any other ruler of Persia as absurd and unworthy to be as pitifully obsessed with Holocaust denial as President Ahmadinejad is: talk about a bad case of Europhile cultural cringe. But in today's mosques and madrassahs there is almost as little contemplation of the divine as there is in the typical Anglican sermon. The great Canadian columnist David Warren argues that Islam is desperately weak, that it has been "idiotized" by these obsolescent imports of mid-20th century Fascism. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but, if Washington had half the psy-ops spooks the movies like to think we have, the spiritual neglect in latter-day Islam is a big Achilles' heel just ripe for exploiting.

To this one might ask, "weak in what sense?" We know from many decades' experience that the Stockholm Syndrome can turn submission based on fear into submission based on conviction. The answer Steyn's piece implies is that Islamist Islam has been drained of the content that might form the basis of conviction. Violent Islamists go to mosques, according to this view, in order to have their political and social views reaffirmed, in rather the way that some people go to liberal churches in order to hear their progressive politics preached to them. Maybe this is true, but we should recall that the liberal denominations in the West have been losing members for two generations. As one wag put it, why go to hear a in sermon on Sunday what one has read over breakfast on the editorial page of The New York Times? Conservative denominations have been gaining adherents, but their conservatism is theological rather than political; to the extent these denominations support a political view, that support is a side effect.

Perhaps Steyn is suggesting that Islamism collapses when submission can no longer be enforced at gunpoint. The problem with that hypothesis is that it fits badly with the fact that the idiotized Islam to which Warren refers works best in its Western colonies, where the state, as yet, gives no coercive support to Islam. The more interesting possibility is that Islamism might awaken spiritual needs that it cannot satisfy. In that case, Islamism might be like the Hindenburg: a huge and impressive vehicle that could explode in a shower of apostasy (presumably through conversion to Christianity) given a little encouragement.

* * *

If you look into the void intelligently, the void will look back at you intelligently. Web searches have a similar quality. If you insist on finding a statistic online, even a statistic that could not possibly be compiled, the Web will give you a number, such as this assertion that 660-plus Muslims an hour are leaving Islam. That link is, actually, more interesting as a gateway to sources for the evangelization of Muslims. The subject is scarcely new: the Time Magazine cover story for June 30, 2003 was Should Christians Convert Muslims? My own answer to that question is "Yes, obviously!" I am particularly ashamed of the reluctance of Catholic institutions to become involved in evangelization efforts. However, I am also aware that pursuing such a policy for reasons of geopolitics is to do so for the wrong reason. Evangelization conducted for any purpose other than the good of the prospective convert is likely to have ironic results. One such result, for instance, might be the creation an idiotized, synthetic parody of religion; a Christian version of Islamism might be just as much of a nuisance as Islamism.

We hear now of Christian undergrounds of recent converts in Muslim countries. This is unprecedented. It was notoriously the case for centuries that Muslims almost never converted. If this trend continues, it is likely to do so because it is nobody's policy.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Traveler's Gate Chronicles Book Review

The Traveler's Gate Chronicles
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (June 8, 2015)
394 pages
ASIN: B00Z92K3PG

I love short story collections. I love them because you can really get to the meat of a story without the overhead of a novel. I like novels, I read a lot of them, but I find many of my favorite authors by means of short stories. Take Tim Powers for example. Jimmy Akin published Powers' short story "Through and Through" in 2006, and I was immediately hooked. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the late Jerry Pournelle's There Will Be War! series too, I own all ten volumes of it. I've explored the works of many of the authors who contributed to those collections, and I am better read for it.

Where the short story format shines is in letting us traverse the depth and breath of Simon's world, without needing to build characters, construct narratives, or even introduce the grand concept. While I think this book could serve as an excellent introduction to Simon's world, the Unnamed World, it served even better as a digestif.

For example, we get to see the Territories outside of the point of view of Simon's grand tale of vengeance and awakening. I didn't really appreciate that people lived and worked in the Territories! Even for people who were not themselves Travelers, the Territories could be mundane [you can get used to anything]. 

On the other hand, we also get the backstory of several important characters, including Valin himself. Seeing Valin as a mere man, before Valinhall existed, explained so much. Valinhall was aptly named.

In this case, I didn't read The Traveler's Gate Chronicles until after I had finished the rest of the Traveler's Gate trilogy, but this themed collection set in each of the nine Territories was written so beautifully, and answered so many questions I didn't know I had, that I almost wish I had read it first. Wight deftly wove in little bits that I hardly remembered from the novels into an exploration of the world he created for Simon, son of Kalman.

Something I hadn't appreciated about Simon's world until I read Chronicles is the way color tells you hidden details about characters. I was reminded of an article I read years ago, sent by my friend Tom, about the visual storytelling of Pacific Rim. Visual storytelling in movies is simply how things are done. del Toro, in particular, is obsessed with color. But to do this in a book.

Mako1.PNG
Mak02.PNG

In Wight's world, each Territory, and its corresponding virtue, is color-coded. Violet is the color of honesty and openness. Orange is the color of loyalty, red the color of dominance and rule, blue of mercy. What truly surprised me, and this colors my review of City of Light, is that those virtues are often not precisely what you, or even the Travelers of a Territory, might think. The color that matches the prime virtue of a Territory is often different than the dominant hue you see there, or in its Travelers' habitual dress and presentation. 

However, this is not simply a matter of balancing yin and yang, counteracting dominance with self-sacrifice, but the more active discernment of the golden mean. A self-consciously self-sacrificing leader is often the most oppressive one of all.

My other book reviews



The Long View 2006-08-28: Resentment, Stupidity, Pigeons, & Statistics

The trend John mentions here, that people who see themselves as conservative have more kids than people who see themselves as liberal, has only accelerated. Although, genetic determinist that I am, it is still possible that having kids tends to push you more conservative than you otherwise would be.


Resentment, Stupidity, Pigeons, & Statistics

 

The Interstate Compact on Electoral Reform is making progress, laments Pete du Pont in today's Opinion Journal:

[L]ast week the California Senate passed legislation to award the state's Electoral College votes to the candidate who has received the most popular votes nationally--whether Californians chose him or not. A similar bill passed the Assembly on May 30, so it will soon be up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign or veto the bill. Such a bill also passed the Colorado Senate in April, part of a national [campaign] to change the way we choose our presidents. The mandate doesn't take effect until enough other states sign on to provide a majority of electoral votes.

As I have remarked before, and will no doubt do again, I am at a loss to understand why conservatives in general and Republicans in particular would oppose this measure: they are supposed to be the popular party, after all. The piece by du Pont is a catechism of misapprehensions:

First, the direct election of presidents would lead to geographically narrower campaigns, for election efforts would be largely urban.

Certainly it would make the Midwest less important. However, as Democratic strategist Thomas Schaller has observed, Midwestern has the loosest party affiliation of any region of the country. That gives the Democrats hope, and should give the Republicans pause about just how reliable the electoral votes of those states are.

In any case, the argument that the reform would urbanzie electoral issues. Not even the dimmest Republican would make a major effort to wrest New York or Los Angeles from the Democrats. What a smart Republican would want, however, is an opportunity to campaign in the suburban, exurban, and rural regions of the states with Democratic majorities. That would make a big difference not just for presidential campaigns, but also for congressional races.

Second, in any direct national election there would be significant election-fraud concerns.

Fraud was an issue in 1960, 2000, and 2004 precisely because the present divorce between the electoral college result and the popular vote made vote-rigging in key states obviously advantageous. There was no major fraud in any of those cases, but the system invited suspicion of fraud. Under the reform system, there would be no key states, and therefore no special incentive anywhere to cheat.

Third, direct election would lead to a multicandidate, multiparty system instead of the two-party system we have.

A system of proportional representation does this to a legislature. The point is irrelevant to a presidential voting system, which choses a single official (well, two: president and vice president).

Finally, direct election would also lead to weaker presidents...the highest percentage winner, no matter how small (perhaps 25% or 30% in a six- or eight-candidate field) would become president.

Presidents elected by pluralities are a product of the electoral college system already. We should remember that the College would still exist under the reform; the electoral votes would just be assigned differently. This is, actually, one of the reasons for retaining the Electoral College. It is convenient to have a system that turns pluralities into majorities, something that happened numerous times in the 20th century. It would continue to happen occasionally under the reform. In any case, no president is weaker than one who takes office despite the popular vote.

We should remember that the Constitutional Convention thought they were creating a system under which the Electoral College would normally select the president; they assumed that popular vote in the states would go to favorite sons, leaving the electors free to choose on late ballots. By the 1820s, though, presidential races were regarded as essentially popular votes. Today, of course, an Electoral College vote that contradicts the popular vote is not regarded as fully legitimate.

* * *

Conservatives are more fertile than liberals, according to a piece by Arthur C. Brooks that we noted last week. Now comes Half Sigma (hat tip to Danny Yee) to parse the same numbers and point out that Democrats have more children than Republicans. There is no real discrepancy, however, and Half Sigma notes:

How is it possible that conservatives have more children but Republicans have fewer children? Well the answer is that there is not a perfect correlation between political party and whether a voter identifies himself as “liberal” or “conservative.” Furthermore, a plurality of respondents identified themselves as “independent.”

Not content with making this unexceptionable point, Half Sigma then, perhaps, goes beyond the evidence:

The trend in the United States is that poor, religious, and stupid people are having more children, while rich, secular, and smart people are having fewer children.

It's an odd definition of intelligence that identifies it as a characteristic of a population whose behaviors are causing it to become extinct. One is reminded of Schopenhauer's belief that the human brain is a useless fruit, just a bit of biological hypertrophy, and thought just another bodily function.

* * *

Some support is lent to this theory by AI, once we understand the technology behind Google's great results:

As a Google user, you're familiar with the speed and accuracy of a Google search. How exactly does Google manage to find the right results for every query as quickly as it does? The heart of Google's search technology is PigeonRank™, a system for ranking web pages developed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University.

And why do you never see a baby pigeon? The pigeons you see are the baby pigeons.

* * *

Returning to stupidity (as if we ever left it) we have this explanation by the friendless Spengler about its relationship to American Idolatry:

Some readers have asked whether Americans are quite free from idolatry. The answer is: of course not.

The resentful country folk [of the agriculturally depressed 1920s and 1930s] formed the first audience for the now-dominant style in American music...The object of high art is to lift the listener out of the misery of his personal circumstance by showing him a better world in which his petty troubles are beside the point. ...Resentment is simply an expression of envy, the first and deadliest of sins....Why reject what comes from on high to worship one's own image, unless you resent the higher authority? ....The culture of resentment runs so deep in the American character that the self-pitying drone of immiserated farmers, amplified by the petulant adolescents of the 1950s as a remonstration against parental authority, now dominates the musical life of American Christians. ...This helps explain why Americans are so stupid. ...One learns only by accepting a suitable authority. If one rejects authority in favor of one's own impulses, one cannot learn.

Resentment is what motivates folk who drag musicologists from their offices to be publicly humiliated in struggle sessions before sending them to the countryside to learn from the music of the people. America, in contrast, is covered with amateur orchestras, scolas, and motet ensembles from sea to shining sea. The cultural tick is the reluctance to state as matter of fact that Mozart is better than Madonna.

* * *

Making a related point, we find The Belmont Club critiquing Niall Ferguson's latest at Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Next War of the World":

The three factors which Ferguson believes produced the 20th century wars which killed 170 million people -- 1 person in 22 -- were "ethnic disintegration, economic volatility, and empires in decline": the three E's....

[Ferguson says] Events in Iraq suggest that there, too, what is unfolding is not a clash between the West and Islam but, increasingly, a clash within Islamic civilization itself. By some accounts, ethnic disintegration there is already well under way

And the only power that can moderate these destructive tendencies is the only power that has no political appetite for empire..France and Iran, to name just two powers, may have the appetite for empire but not the teeth. And America by contrast and despite Niall Ferguson's longing for a strong hand in the world, may have the teeth but not the appetite. If the European Union project could be called putting a French jockey atop a German horse, the attempt to create an "international" world order might be described as a scheme to harness American muscle to a transnational agenda. Unfortunately and to the everlasting resentment of internationalists, the US refused to put its economy and military at the service of its environmental, cultural and political projects.

Eventually blame for the ruin of Kyoto, the UN and probably the EU -- those shining international palaces in the sky -- will probably be put down to American reluctance to play along. As Eros said in Plan 9 from Outer Space to the earthlings after they refused to appreciate the brilliance of his scheme to turn the dead from Southern California cemeteries into zombies: "You see? You see? You're stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

One could argue with some of these points, but references to Plan 9 from Outer Space should always be encouraged.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Will Wight's Traveler's Gate Trilogy Free on Amazon Kindle

Now that I have finished reviewing the Traveler's Gate trilogy, and I have reviewed four of the five Cradle books, I am happy to share the news that Will Wight is making both the Traveler's Gate trilogy and Cradle: Foundations, the first three books in that series, available free on Amazon, June 1st, 2018!

Head on over and download them now! Here are my reviews of these fantastic books:

House of Blades: Traveler's Gate Book 1 Review

The Crimson Vault: Traveler's Gate Book 2 Review

City of Light: Traveler's Gate Book 3 Review

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

You can also snag some free wallpaper images from Wight's website.

City of Light Book Review

City of Light
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (April 9, 2014)
394 pages
ASIN: B00JL6JMR6

In City of Light, Will Wight finishes what he started. I admire his focus, there are clearly more stories in this world that can be told. But Simon has completed the hero's journey, and the cycle is now complete. Which also means that Simon has become a man, and the nature of the problems he faces will be different in the future. Thus, Wight has ended the story at the place where the story should be ended. And for that, I salute him.

 We who about to die salute you!

We who about to die salute you!

We also see a great many pieces fall into place [though not all!], explaining why Elysia and Ragnarus are warring with one another, and why the Incarnations were trapped within the bloody trees of Ragnarus. And why the rebel city of Enosh was trying to free them. 

In the end, it turns out that many of the fateful decisions made had some justice behind them. But justice is not the problem. Everyone has had more justice than they can handle. What this world needs is redemption and forgiveness.

Surprisingly, in a world gone mad with power and thirst for vengeance, there is redemption to be had. In the end, it comes down to strength of character. By strength of character, what I really mean is virtue, in the Aristotelian-Thomist sense of what you habitually do. With a few surprises thrown in, for unusual acts of will. I couldn't ask for a better ending to an already fine series. Highly recommended.


Spoilers below.

My policy in most book reviews is to avoid spoilers if possible. My definition of a spoiler is arbitrary and whimsical, so caveat lector. I think this is a reasonable thing to do, although sometimes it means I can't discuss the things in a book I find most interesting.

In this case, the spoiler is about the nature of Incarnations, and the specific fate of Indirial, after he incarnates. As Wight's artfully chosen name indicates, an Incarnation is their Territory in the flesh. The wild aggressiveness of Endross. The fiery justice of Naraka. The haughty dominion of Ragnarus. We also learn that Incarnations spin out of control when outside of their Territories, but that Incarnations inside their Territories are much more like the humans they used to be.

But, even on the outside, who you used to be matters. When Valin is the Valinhall Incarnation, he fights everyone he sees on the way to kill the King of Damasca. His actions embody the nature of Valinhall, except that he has lost all of his inhibitions about those weaker than himself. Indirial, on the other hand, is quite different. His power and deadliness is the same, but the first thing Indirial does as an Incarnation, in fact the reason he Incarnates, is save his wife and daughter even though it means losing a fight. Indirial, as Incarnation, still thinks the same thoughts as Valin as Incarnation, but his habits push him to do things slightly differently. 

The Indirial who saved Simon because he couldn't bear to see a child die, saves his daughter at the cost of losing a fight to the Ragnarus Incarnation. Valin would have never done that. Thus we see that while the urges of Incarnations are powerful, they do not completely consume the man or woman within.


The Crimson Vault Book Review

The Crimson Vault
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (August 27, 2013)
386 pages
ASIN: B00EV12PH0

The Crimson Vault starts with the same scene that initiates Simon's hero's journey in House of Blades, from the point of view of one of the other participants. If anything, this initial tragedy is even more gripping, now that we know something of who Simon is. Not only that, but we now get to see something of the character of Indirial, the Valinhall Traveler who chose to save Simon's life on that rainy day.

I was moved by the very human reason that spurred Indirial to intervene: Indirial was a father, and he didn't want to see a child die if he could help it. I did not expect this, in House of Blades, Indirial was mostly a looming figure, painted in shades of black [no, really, he always wears black]. With this one detail, Wight started to flesh him out into a real character. There really are few comic book villains or heroes in the Traveler's Gate trilogy. Almost everyone has a reasonable motivation somewhere along the line. Simon, son of Kalman, is moderately introspective, but neither talkative nor gifted in seeing into other men's souls. Thus, Simon does not often stop to inquire why the people he is bludgeoning or stabbing would do the things that they do.

Fortunately for us, there are a number of other characters in the book more interested in these things, and more adept at drawing them out, so we get to see a remarkable amount of moral complexity. We also see conniving, backstabbing, greed for power, and pride in ample measures. Then there are miscommunications, judgments made from partial information, and motives that while otherwise just, simply work at cross-purposes with what someone else wants.

When evil is done, it is not uncommonly because inflamed passions, or personality defects combined with a surfeit of power, run away with someone. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of injustice in the world, some of it of venerable antiquity, which provides lots of opportunities for further evil to be done in the name of vengeance. 

Simon's world doesn't really lack for justice. There is a whole Territory devoted to it in fact. Unfortunately, the unflinching attitude of Narakan Travelers illustrates what happens when any one good is pursued without regard for the others, swollen to madness in isolation. Every Territory is like that: an embodiment of a virtue that has gone so far in a quest for perfection that you literally cannot see any of the other virtues from where you find yourself. Every Territory is isolated from the others.

What it all calls for is something like we get in the long-lost tenth Territory, Elysium, a harmonious whole of the other nine Territories and their corresponding virtues. In practice, it seems not to work out so well. I am not surprised.

The reason for this is that courage is not the mid-point or balance between cowardice and rashness. Rather, it is the golden mean, or the third way, or the synthesis of the other two. All of the Territories tend to just embody their respective virtues turned up to 11.

spinal-tap-11-590x330.jpg

This excess of virtue is bad enough on its own, but when you mix them all up together without anything to put them in order, bad things happen. What will put them in order is not some kind of blend of everything turned up as far as it goes, which is Elysium, but phronesis [φρόνησῐς], the art of practical wisdom. Interestingly, Aristotle associated this virtue in particular with politics, and we see that the one Territory that has tried to put some kind of order to the world is Ragnarus, the territory of power, domination, and rule.

Of course, they screw it up too, because Ragnarus is just domination turned up to 11. The ruling dynasty even practices a kind of post-natal embryo selection like the Ottomans did on their heirs to find the best successor. But at least in principle, this is where harmony could come from. But in order to do that, the Ragnarus dynasty would have to learn to let the other things in the world be what they are.

My other book reviews

House of Blades: Traveler's Gate Book 1 Review

Other books by Will Wight

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

The Long View 2006-08-24: Automation; Celestial Justice; Darwin Award Stats; The Negligence of the Clerks

This was written six years before Hurricane Sandy inundated the New York and New Jersey shores. As John surmised, the flooded subways weren't nearly as much of a problem as the storm surge damage to houses.


Automation; Celestial Justice; Darwin Award Stats; The Negligence of the Clerks

 

Was it Philip Dick who wrote a story about a completely automated newspaper, one that continued to chronicle events even after civilization collapsed? Anyway, there is no reason to be surprised by this report:

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice....Thomson started writing computer programs for different types of stories, at a cost of $150,000-$200,000 (£79,623-£106,190) per project, to try to catch up with rivals such as Reuters and Bloomberg. Thomson has also hired hundreds of specialist reporters to boost its news operations. Reuters said it automatically generated some stories, while Bloomberg said it did not.

In fairness, we should note that the kind of story in question is so formulaic that the information might as easily be presented in tabular format. And how many blogs would pass the Turing Test?

* * *

The Cosmic Fraud has been exposed, at last:

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight...Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Okay, but if Pluto is not a planet because it has not swept Neptune from its orbit, then why is Neptune still a planet when it shares part of it's orbit with Pluto? The only really satisfactory description of the solar system is that it consists of the sun, Jupiter, and some debris.

If you think the recategorization of Pluto will cause unhappiness in the primary grades, just wait until they try to explain to the kids that the typical dinosaur was the size of a dog.

* * *

The Left is winning the Darwin Award, it is widely believed, and Arthur C. Brooks has some numbers to that effect in a piece in Opinion Journal called The Fertility Gap:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids....Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today....The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race--or even religion.

To this one must add a cautionary note: any philosophy that receives no other support than the fertility of those who currently hold it probably does not have much of a future, either.

* * *

Speaking of the mark of dubious ideas, AP sent me this link to a French-language wiki in the early stages of development, Christ Le Roi. It is maintained and augmented, wonderful to relate, by members of the Society of Pius X, the schismatic Catholic group whose devotion to tradition often seems to slide into Tradition. Even if you don't read French, you can see at a glance that it divides its contents into articles about Evil and articles about Good. The former collection is much the larger.

* * *

As for a Darwin Award-winning strategic policy, I have a new essay online entitled Tokugawa America that attempts to describe a consistent isolationism.

* * *

Hurricanes in Florida not scary enough for you? Consider these thoughts from Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center:

Or how about a major hurricane racing up the east coast to the New York-New Jersey area, with its millions of people and billions of dollars of pricey real estate? "One of the highest storm surges possible anywhere in the country is where Long Island juts out at nearly right angles to the New Jersey coast. They could get 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to 9.1 meters) of storm surge ... even going up the Hudson River," Mayfield said. "The subways are going to flood. Some people might think 'Hey, I'll go into the subways and I'll be safe.' No, they are going to flood."

Forget about the damn subways. The disaster waiting to happen is the southern shore of Long Island: 5 million people living in houses made of ticky-tacky on an island that cannot be evacuated.

* * *

What has the Church to say to the World about 21st-century geopolitics? Not nearly enough, according to Wilfred McClay blogging at First Things, and most of what the Church does have to say is pretty stupid:

[T]he most important intellectual and institutional expressions of the Christian faith, including Rome and Canterbury, have found almost nothing of value to say about the current Middle East crises, and more generally about the West’s struggle against militant Islam and terrorism, and the terrifying possibilities now facing the entire civilized world. The patent inadequacy (to put it mildly) of the current cease-fire in Lebanon, which was precisely what the world’s most vocal Christian leaders had sought, is but the latest indication of all the reasons why no one in his right mind would go to them for counsel in these matters. ...Even those who gravitate toward harsh criticism of the Iraq War and of Bush-era American foreign policy do not avail themselves, except in the occasional rhetorical flourish, of the pronouncements of religious authorities. ...It is a problem when a crisis that penetrates to the very core of our civilization is not being freshly and meaningfully addressed and interpreted by the institutional representatives of what is, arguably, that civilization’s single most important formative force. It is a problem that gives fresh plausibility to a very old charge against Christianity, put forward by the likes of Gibbon and Rousseau, that it disarms citizens and disables the polity.

Unless the Church is ready to issue a new theology of history, the less it says the better.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View: Tokugawa America

 Tokugawa Ieyasu   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tokugawa Ieyasu

 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tokugawa Japan is one of the more remarkable societies that have ever developed. It produced most of the culture that both we Americans and the Japanese find distinctive, and managed to be relatively stable and resistant to the outside world for nearly 250 years. When the outside world finally barged in, Tokugawa Japan responded more creatively than China did, although you could argue the mess Imperial Japan made in the early twentieth century mitigates this accomplishment.

Here, John Reilly asks the question: What would America look like if an isolationist policy as strict as the Bakufu's were implemented? This is the kind of fascinating thought experiment that John's fascination with alternative history made him well prepared for.


Tokugawa America

An Essay by John J. Reilly

With Thanks to Akatsukami

 

In this sixth year of the 21st century, one might argue that the American unipolar moment has ended, or that unipolarity has been revealed to be not at all identical with omnipotence. In either case, many Americans now feel less safe than they did ten years ago. The anxiety has many sources, all of them with an international component. There are the continuing wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, the ever more alarming terrorist threats, the relative decline of US manufacturing, the uncontrollable fluctuations in petroleum prices, the demographic transformation arising from Latin American immigration; and, an as yet insufficiently appreciated factor, the purely confessional tensions generated by the appearance of an aggressive Muslim minority in a Protestant-Christian country. For these and other reasons, there is now audible sentiment in the United States for less engagement with the wider world.

This sentiment is sometimes expressed in terms of an argument that the United States should share more of the cost of maintaining the global security and economic commons. The argument is, perhaps, incoherent. Quite aside from the fact that it assumes the existence of peer powers with an interest congruent with that of the United States in maintaining a liberal world order, the solution the argument implies would do nothing at all to shield America from the global forces that are causing the new anxiety. The opposite may be true: to wholly assimilate American interests to those of multilateral organizations in which the US does not have a preponderant voice would simply transform foreign engagement from a question of policy to one of legal obligation.

More interesting, if more radical, is the call by nationalists for far more radical disengagement. At least for purposes of this discussion, we will not consider the “civilizationist” variant, which holds that the West as a whole must fight off Islamist aggression. Though apparently of more than one mind on the subject, nationalists like Patrick Buchanan seem, on the whole, to be willing to write off the non-American portion of Western Civilization and concentrate on the defense and cultural preservation of the American homeland. In this essay will consider not so much whether such a policy would be possible or sustainable, but what it would look like if it were implemented.

As a metaphor for this project, we call the thorough-going recusant model “Tokugawa America,” after the period in Japanese history known as the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). Japan under the Tokugawa Shoguns (essentially a line of hereditary prime ministers) was perhaps the most successful and sophisticated hermit kingdom in history. It began as an attempt to re-impose order, after a long period of civil war, using an ideology of Neo-Confucian hierarchy to support a feudal four-layer caste system. At least at the beginning, the regime was anti-commercial; it famously limited foreign trade to a minimum. It also undertook to suppress Christianity as a disruptive foreign influence. Nonetheless, the Tokugawa period was by no means a dark age. The arts of the Tokugawa period, particularly in painting, achieved a level of evocative subtlety that has rarely if ever been matched. Neither was the period socially immobile. The original feudal caste system developed more market features with the passage of time, as well as a lively intellectual life. Some Japanese elites had kept abreast of events in the rest of the world. When the challenge from America and Europe came in the middle of the 19th century, Tokugawa Japan had the resilience and self-confidence to respond creatively, though the Shogunate itself was abolished early in the following era of reform.

What the American nationalists are asking for is the Tokugawa period, but with American characteristics.

Let us imagine that, after September 11, 2001, the American political system had determined to protect America by hardening the target rather than by eliminating the source of the threat. “Hardening the target” is here taken to mean, not simply making the US less vulnerable to terrorism from the Middle East, but less vulnerable to any disruption from any quarter. This invulnerability would be accomplished by changes to the United States and its immediate environment, not by attempting to modify the economic or political evolution of other parts of the world.

There would be three strategic principles:

Economic Autarky: The survival, and even the prosperity, of the United States could no longer be allowed to depend on events outside the reliable control of the American state. Tariffs would become the chief instrument of macroeconomic policy, as they were in the 19th century. Increasingly punitive imports would promote withdrawal from world commodity markets, and most especially from the world oil market. Other areas of the economy would, presumably, produce the technological innovations needed to accommodate the new price structure. In addition to the oil question, the US would no longer import manufactured goods, except perhaps for some luxury items; neither would export industries be favored. The single greatest change would be that the dollar would no longer be the chief international reserve currency, or the preferred medium of international exchange. Taxes on fund transfers would accomplish these goals. One suspects there would be a return to an international gold standard for such trade as still occurred.

Military Disentanglement: The rejection of foreign sources of essential commodities would remove the Middle East, West Africa, and Latin America as possible spheres of small wars. Large wars, or at least large wars involving the United States, would be prevented by the withdrawal of security guarantees from Europe and Japan, and indeed from everyplace east of Maritime Canada and west of Hawaii. The military could shrink to the Coast Guard, missile defense, and the Marine Corps (with the latter including its air arm).

Closed borders: Except for policed transit points, the Mexican border would be closed. Areas that could not be continuously patrolled would be mined. Businesses unable to meet their personnel needs from the domestic labor force or by automation would be expected to close. Schools, particularly graduate schools, would be in much the same situation regarding students: student visas would be rare. Travel of all kinds to the United States would be rare. Even tourists are a potential threat, both in transit and once they arrive. Government functions connected with the franchise and the administration of justice would be conducted in English.

We should note that the condition of the United States did approximate these principles during the Great Depression. The US was, almost, resource independent in those days. It actually ran a small trade surplus, though of course the absolute volume of trade was small. The US military was trying to disengage even from residual commitments in Latin America and the Philippines. President Roosevelt, during his first term, came close to turning the Army into a paper force. During the early years of the Depression, immigration actually reversed: more people left the country than entered it. Important industries were subsidized and regulated to keep them in business and to maintain employment. On the many occasions when government sought to influence prices, from the cost of wheat to the cost of airline tickets, it usually tried to raise them to prevent deflation.

Internationally, of course, the 1930s ended very badly, but that was because the US recused itself during a period of manifestly growing threats from peer states. It is not certain that the same bad result would obtain in a context in which the rest of the world were turning to rubble.

Similarly, Tokugawa America need not be a gray place of persistently high unemployment, shabby flannel clothes, and Humphrey Bogart movies. The isolation of America in the 1930s was more a matter of necessity than design, as was the disengagement of the United States from European affairs in the 19th century. The spirit and structure of a recusant regime would be quite different if the isolation were a matter of policy.

We might, for instance, consider Robert Heinlein’s novel, “If This Goes On,“ first published in 1940. During the 1930s, Heinlein thought that the United States would and should prescind as much as possible from European affairs. In most of his scenarios for the future, a second world war does occur, but the United States remains neutral. “If This Goes On---“ uses a variation on that idea: a few generations after the date of publication, Heinlein posits, the United States has dropped out of world affairs because it has become a theocracy, ruled by a line of prophets. The military is a small internal police. Life goes on pretty much as it always had (there are flying cars, but there were many flying cars in Depression era stories), except that it has become almost impossible to leave or enter the country.

Avoiding personal foreign contacts is a fundamental feature of the prophet’s system: the isolation is designed to prevent ideological contamination. This objective does not bulk large in the writings of nationalists today; neither are the nationalists, for the most part, would-be theocrats. The closest that nationalists come to an exception in this regard is the question of Islam. In some circles, every Islamic neighborhood is regarded as an incubator of fifth columnists. At the very least, Tokugawa America would have to discourage the spread of Islam, a policy that would require attention not just to immigration and nationalization policy, but also the administration of prisons. A consistent policy would also favor conversion to some form of Christianity.

A Tokugawa policy for America, however, would require some broader rationale than anti-Islamism and economic protectionism. The economic and social configuration it would seek to maintain is not natural. Markets do not stop at borders except at gunpoint. Energy will have to be continually applied to prevent the system from dissolving, something that was not true of the isolation of the 1930s. Investments will be forgone and expenditures made where they would not be in the absence of public policy. In other words, Tokugawa America will be expensive to maintain. The political system will have to be firmly committed to doing so. The recusal of the United States would have to be understood not just as a policy, but as a way of life.

In any case, Tokugawa America would need more command and redistribution features than have been fashionable since the era of deregulation began in the 1970s. It’s not just that command would have to be continually applied to keep the system in existence. The fact that the system would so obviously be picking winners and losers, particularly with regard to tariffs, that the losers would demand compensatory subsidies of various sorts. Tokugawa America would be in persistent danger of becoming a “blocked society,” in which competing claims for rents would tend to freeze the political system.

The really interesting question is whether Tokugawa America would be recognizably American. The United States has a venerable history of holy horror at the corruption of the outside world; the United States has experienced periods of “isolationism” (the 1920s was not one of them, but that’s another story); for much of its history, the United States has practiced beggar-thy-neighbor trade protectionism. What the United States has never been is defensive or culturally protectionist. In this the US has been the opposite of all the world’s hermit kingdoms, including Tokugawa Japan’s. These societies usually felt that their cultures were in some sense superior to those of the rest of the world. However, far from attempting to spread their arts or institutions to other societies, they often went to some lengths to ensure that foreigners would learn as little as possible about these treasures.

Universal liberal democracy is not the only element in American political culture, but it is one of the earliest and most persistent. Only episodically has America attempted to spread its institutions to the rest of the world as a matter of official policy. Nonetheless, the American view of the world, and indeed of itself, has always incorporated the tenet that liberal democracy would or should spread, that it would be better for everybody if the world became a society of liberal republics, as Kant had speculated. Do not be deceived by the Americans who claim to overcome American chauvinism by asserting that the whole world need not be like America. They are, perhaps, the most naive of their countrymen, since they have simply globalized American patriotism by failing to see that the world society of liberal republics does not yet exist.

Tokugawa America would no doubt retain the language of its ancestral universalism, but the meaning of the words would have shifted. For the first time, liberal democracy would just be something that Americans do, like baseball; whether or not other societies had similar institutions would no longer be relevant to the American view of historical development. For that matter the idea of historical development as progress would not fit into Tokugawa America. America’s only imperative would be its own preservation. That might make America less peculiar, but it would also make it less American.

Finally, one suspects that America in recusal might shift its emphasis from the production of popular culture to the production of a new high culture. American popular culture has always in fact been idiosyncratic, from the loner heroes in films to the advertising industry’s ideal of the female figure. Nonetheless, this culture was produced by people who unselfconsciously thought their own assumptions about beauty and virtue to be universal. The same holds true from music to food to the size of cars. Tokugawa America, in contrast, would be the kingdom of self-consciousness. These themes and motifs would be taken up like popular tunes were taken up by the great classical composers and reworked into creations of a new order. America has had self-consciously American art before, of course, but heretofore it has always been drowned out by the commercial popular arts on the one hand and the acids of the avant garde on the other. In Tokugawa America, however, there would be no subsidy for the nihilist avant garde, not in a political culture whose first duty was national preservation. As for commercial art, its market will have shrunk with the geographical sphere of American culture. Discerning patrons would determine the flow of American culture.

The model we have considered is scarcely a dystopia. Tokugawa America need not be poor, tyrannical or even ugly. There are ways in which it would be superior to the America of history. However, let no one imagine that the establishment of this society would be the preservation of the Old Republic against a globalizing world. Tokugawa America would be another country.

 

End

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-08-21: Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

 By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9256692

By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9256692

I keep meaning to read Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars. I've also got his one-volume history of the papacy, but I haven't got around to that one yet either.


Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

 

Something snapped when I was listening to a National Public Radio report from Tyre on Sunday morning. The report was about the return to their grieving relatives of the bodies of civilian victims of the recent Israeli attacks. The authorities were too few to hold them back, so the keening mourners soon swamped the vehicles on which the bodies were carried. A man collapsed over the coffin of his father. A clerk read off the names of dead children and asked, "Were these guerilla fighters?" Beneath this symphony of grief, the sound of wailing and lamentation flowed unceasingly, like a Wagnerian theme.

I am not a particularly hard-hearted fellow. However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there comes a time when a man would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.

* * *

The Commanding Heights is a phrase coined by Lenin to refer to the key features of the economy, things like the banking system and heavy industry, which even a reformist socialist government would need to keep control of. The Public Broadcasting Service used it as the title for their series about the evolution of the world economy. The organizing conceit of the series is that the 20th century was the time of a struggle for the souls of men between Keynes and Hayek. The notion is not self-evidently correct, but it did lend the series more dramatic interest than most economic history can boast.

And look, it's available as a webcast: here's the index page. A helpful feature of the webcast is that it breaks the episodes down into segments of four or five minutes, easily viewable at odd moments during the day. Also, if your boss catches you watching it, you can claim to be doing research.

* * *

The revisionist view of the English Reformation is perhaps best known from Eamon Duffy's study, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, Second Edition His thesis, I gather, was that the Reformation in England was deeply and persistently unpopular; it was implemented by force from above. That's a plausible idea, and to some extent it is no doubt true, but it is the kind of point that is easy to exaggerate. I was recently given, as a gift, a book that looked like it should have been an answer to the revisionists: The Anti-Christ`s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England. The principal author is Peter Lake of Princeton, with contributions from Michael Questier of Oxford. One gleans from the book that there was such a thing as popular protestantism, but that it should not be conflated with puritanism. The title comes from Ben Jonson's play, The Alchemist, in which a puritan deacon rebukes a dandy with the words "Thou look'st like Antichrist in that lewd hat!" The joke is on the puritan, but that does not make Jonson a catholic, Roman or otherwise. The book attempts to trace popular protestantism through the "true crime" chapbooks about notorious murders, the relationship of these stories to the stage, the apologetic literature (Roman Catholic and Protestant), with the heaviest emphasis on the theatre. The book points again and again to instances in which the theater, and even the prisons, were not so much channels through which the state imposed its will as places of contestation.

All this should have been fascinating, but in fact The Antichrist's Lewd Hat is unreadable. It's uncanny: I actually got through a great deal of text, much of it quite interesting text, but I never seemed to be making any progress. Lake is not a bad writer (Questier's contribution is hard to single out). Certainly he does not suffer from Lit-Crit Speak: he rather dislikes theory, except for Bakhtin. Nonetheless, this objectively long book (upwards of 700 pages) seemed to get longer with the reading. The problem is that Lake is one of those scholars who likes to explain the history of his research, rather than what he discovered. Such a historical narrative tends to develop a receding eschaton. The reader loses hope of ever reaching the end, or indeed the point of the section he is reading. I finally just dipped into it here and there, but with a miserably short index and a cryptic Table of Contents the book does not lend itself to browsing, either.

The unreadability of The Antichrist's Lewd Hat book is a shame, since there is so much useful material locked inaccessibly inside it. A different format might have produced a happier result. If an author likes to explain the progress of his work, then let him publish his researches in journal form, in which he explains what he read each day and recounts the illuminating conversations he had. Maybe he should try casting the book as a dialogue, perhaps with a dense undergrowth of footnotes.

Editors are supposed to look out for their authors, but that is precisely what Yale University Press did not do for Lake. Here we have a fine idea for a book ruined by a degree of editorial neglect that sinks to the level of malice.

* * *

On a happier note, students of esoteric fascism will be pleased to learn that this dark subject now has its own blog: The Black Sun (Hat tip to HH.) By its own account, the blog highlights:

Researches in the history of the occult, the esoteric and theosophical movements, the Volkische and Ariosophical sects and cults, secret societies, magical orders, rune magicians, the cosmic, free energy, techno-occult and avantgarde technology undergounds and the occult roots of Nazism in Germany, 1900 - 1945

What exactly does free energy have to do with all this?

* * *

Meanwhile, the cruel Spengler at Asia Times has this to say about the abdication of France, and indeed the European Union in general, from taking any actual steps to implement the cease fire in Lebanon that Europe pressed the United Nations to declare:

Like W S Gilbert's cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe's prospective peacekeepers have decided that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one". Europe's serious exercise in peacekeeping led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, when Dutch soldiers turned over Muslims in their charge to Serb death squads.

France offers no more than 200 engineers to join the peacekeeping force that the United Nations Security Council has mandated as a buffer on the Israeli-Lebanese border. ...A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. ...From this we should conclude that the so-called "international community" is an empty construct.

Again with the progeny.

In any case, it's not strictly true that the "international community" is a Potemkin Global Village, even in the sense of being able to deliver peacekeeping troops. There are lots of men under arms around the world. The problem is that UN armies of late have had a tendency to pillage the regions to which they are deployed, and to run away when shot at.

Earth is a shabby planet.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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House of Blades Book Review

House of Blades
by Will Wight
Hidden Gnome Publishing (June 1, 2013)
294 pages
ASIN: B00D52X58Y

Another gem from Will Wight, whose book Unsouled I was pointed toward by a friend earlier this year. House of Blades is another juvenile novel, by which I mean a story about a boy learning to be a man that is mildly didactic, and not unduly graphic about either violence or sex. Realism about either violence or sex that imparts caution and understanding without sparking prurient interest earns bonus points.

If I had to liken this book to another, purely on a Gestalt insight, it would be like The Name of Wind, if it were less rambling and self-indulgent. However, there really is a lot that is rather unlike Patrick Rothfuss' well-known book, so let's get into that.

One of the things I love most about Wight's work is his pacing. Mysteries abound in his works, layered deeply from the very first. Yet, you are always learning something new. I am happy that Wight was able to keep the same basic kind of story in the two series I have now read, yet they are different enough in setting and characters to be worth reading in sequence. The Traveler's Gate series has a pan-European, almost D&D type setting, although it kind of feels like the Japanese take you get on European fantasy in Berserk.

 Definitely not Simon, son of Kalman

Definitely not Simon, son of Kalman

 Also not Simon, but he has a bigass sword too

Also not Simon, but he has a bigass sword too

While Simon is the character of greatest interest to me, this book does actually benefit from having multiple point-of-view characters. Simon's frenemies, Alin and Leah, are different enough from him that seeing things through their eyes on occasion gives the story more depth. While Simon is destined for great things, he obviously also knows nothing about the wider world, or exactly why the world he lives in is in the mess it is in. I look forward to discovering those things myself.

Simon's journey of self-discovery is also part of my enjoyment of the book, because this is the kind of book I would like to point my children towards as they gain the ability to read for themselves. Struggle and doubt, followed by accomplishment [shepherded by well-meaning hardasses] is the kind of thing they should be prepared for.

My other book reviews

Other books by Will Wight

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

Linkfest 2018-05-19: Revenge of the Stats

It has been a long since I did one of these, but they were always popular, so I'm bringing it back.

In particular, it was an article by Megan McArdle in the Washington Post, "Democrats are about to have to pay up", that sent me down a rabbit hole of tax policy and fiscal capacity

 Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

I've thought about this subject before, because of a local flood control project which is ruinously expensive for a small town like mine, but it is also required for economic growth and risk mitigation. We have to go, hat in hand, to Congress to ask for $100M to complete this project, because it exceeds the fiscal capacity of the city to pay for that unassisted.

How we subsidize suburbia

I hadn't know some of the mortgage underwriting bits of this.

The Other "Subsidized Housing": Federal Aid to Suburbanization

A more detailed look at the specific Federal laws in question.

The Long View 2006-08-18: The Endings of Various Epochs

 Iron Dome system in use  By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

Iron Dome system in use

By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

I learned a lot reading Matti Friedman's Pumpkinflowers, once I finally got around to it [it sat in my to-read pile for two years]. The suicide bombings started shortly after the Lebanese occupation was over, and then the security checkpoints installed to stop the bombers led to missile attacks. Currently, the Iron Dome system helps to mitigate the damage done by such things. This is in fact the bullet-hitting-a-bullet thing that SDI naysayers always insisted couldn't be done, and probably benefited from that particular R&D expense by the US. Also, the Israelis are assholes to their neighbors.

John also talks here about the impact of gas prices on suburban and exurban America. Even at $3/gallon and more the result has been, not much. I think we could gain some benefits from denser development, but the truth is cars are freedom and convenience, and Americans are still among the richest people in the world, and we can afford the gasoline. But I should talk, I work 5 minutes from my house.


The Endings of Various Epochs

 

The missile barrages on Israel began in earnest after the West Bank Wall made frequent suicide-bombings impossible. But suppose this story means what it implies?

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, ... The system at issue, called Skyguard, is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. and based on a tactical high-energy laser the company co-developed with the Israeli army in the 1990s. ... Company officials told reporters July 12 they were awaiting a show of interest from Israel to kick off an export-license request for the updated system.

Deprived of the ballistic option, the jihad against Israel would have to find some other tactic. If Israel proper is largely invulnerable, then perhaps Israel's commercial and academic contacts in the West would be targeted. Heretofore, this has been attempted with boycotts organized by fellow travelers, but the jihad requires photogenic rubble.

In any case, even the partially successful public use of these defensive weapons would mark a change of epoch. There are psychological and professional explanations for opposition to missile defense. One reason for the opposition is that the increasingly gray eminences of the Cold War cling to strategic deterrence as the one aspect of the Cold War world that never went away. Very soon, though, it will be hard to assert that MAD is part of the permanent structure of the universe.

* * *

Speaking of the end of an epoch, could it really be that rising gas prices will kill the suburbs?

There's even talk of crude hitting $100 per barrel -- or 10 times what it sold for in the summer of 2005.

Once the realization soaks into the American consciousness that high-cost gas is here to stay, Gabriel predicts, those high commute prices will pull more homeowners -- even young families -- to live in central cities and create a push for more public transportation. ... But with the cost of gas hovering around $3 per gallon on average in the U.S., it's worth considering whether a shorter commute would pay for the incremental cost of a more expensive in-city home.... Assuming a full-time job, $3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs $646.15 a month, or $7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator.... Moving closer to work boosts your house-buying power. Everything else being equal, a 10-mile, roundtrip commute costs just $1,550.76 yearly -- saving about $6,200 per year, or $517 monthly. That can add about $80,000 to the total amount of a mortgage loan, says one Chicago lender. The rule of thumb: Each $250 a month you can free up for mortgage payments equals roughly $40,000 more you can borrow at current rates (using the recent national average of 6.5%), says David Kasprisin, district sales manager for National City Mortgage Co. in Chicago.

Might I remark that, before there were suburbs, there were many small towns? These were relatively densely built places where people both lived and worked and did not commute to. I don't doubt that the older core cities will benefit from higher fuel costs, but other things will be happening in addition to the abandonment of the more ridiculous suburban housing tracts.

* * *

Every Wednesday morning the first thing I look at online (after checking for credible death threats in my email) is The Onion. I can't say that i have ever had trouble telling an Onion headline from the headline of a real news story. Still, reading The Onion and then reading the real news does create a certain amount of disorientation. Look at this list of Onion headlines and headlines from non-satirical sources:

Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

Blues Musician To U.N.: 'Yemen Done Me Wrong'

Casino Has Great Night

Exit Interview Goes Well

Comedian Confesses To Killing Them Out There

Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand's DVD Collection

JonBenet suspect was 'threat', ex-wife said

Judge orders halt to NSA wiretap program

Lebanese troops deploy in Hezbollah heartland

No compromise on sovereignty: PM

I don't know about you, but I can't stop looking for the joke even when I know there isn't one.

* * *

Mark Twain once observed that wherever the early French explorers of North America went, they always brought a Jesuit to explain Hell to the savages. In rather the same spirit, Mark Steyn has been traveling through Australia, on what he says "I like to think of as my 'Head for the hills! It’s the end of the world!' tour.” The Australian recently published he text of one of his harangues under the title Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate, in which he shared with his audience his familiar concerns about the jihad and Western demography. He makes all good points, but again, I would suggest that he is extrapolating trends whose very direness ensure that they will reverse. Towards the end, he adds this useful point:

....But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are:

i) Demographic decline;
ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state;
iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

I would not lengthen that list, but the factors he mentions are facets of larger phenomena. The US immigration crisis (which might be defined as the transformation of the whole country into a border town) is in some ways the same crisis as Europe's; certainly both have a demographic foundation. The anti-natalist project of the past 50 years is just one manifestation of a deep cultural dysfunction that shows up in the oddest places: future histories may categorize the whole gay episode (1850-2050?) as just another reflection of it. Actually, among the pathological symptoms I would also include libertarianism, survivalism, and every account of the state as an evil that must be overcome rather than a precious and fragile tradition that must be cultivated, like classical music.

Finally, let me note that "exhaustion" is not something that civilizations do, at least according to the sunlit and tranquil philosophy of Oswald Spengler. The future is not Mad Max, but the Glass Bead Game. These present troubles are sent to us to get us moving in that direction.

* * *

Spelling Reform Note: The Soundspel edition of Philip Dru: Administraetor is available through Lulu.com. I get no money from its sale, and neither does the American Literacy Council. Buy the book only if you are really interested in spelling reform.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-08-15: Spelling, Genealogy, Lebanon, Tradition, Ham

In the mid 2000s, John Reilly often defended President George W. Bush, for partisan reasons. I have to hold him to account for this. However, I do try to balance it out with things like his assessment of the capacity of Islamic transnational movements to found a state:

Transnationalism has a stratosphere, a troposphere, a sea level, and even an ocean floor. Islamist transnationalism flows through those murky depths, to which it is specially adapted. In part for that reason, it is not so much incompetent as incapable. The things it can do, such as blowing up airplanes and running neighborhood medical clinics, it can do very well. What it can't do, no more than a shark can tap dance, is provide decent civil administration for a territory, or even a legal environment predictable enough for a market economy to operate above the level of small shops. The acme of its political role is to refrain from destroying the state structures of societies that serve as its hosts. Even then, it's a debilitating parasite.
Thus, simply by nature of what it is, Islamism cannot "win," in the sense of destroying and replacing an adversary, or forcing a defeated opponent to do its will. It has no organ with which to receive a surrender. Deprived of the pressure of an external enemy, it bursts into factional fighting.

As an assessment of ISIS, this is spot on, ten years before it even existed. The ability to predict what will happen is the only yardstick that should matter in things like this.


Spelling, Genealogy, Lebanon, Tradition, Ham

 

Why did spelling reform miscarry in the early 20th century? If we may believe these videos. it was because the movement was supported by prominent persons such as Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie. Roosevelt politicized the issue with his order to the Government Printing Office, and Carnegie was suspected of plotting to make a fortune in textbook publishing once a reform was underway. If the Gates Foundation offered us at the American Literacy Council a large grant, I might argue to turn it down. Unless the money could be delivered in brown paper-bags, of course.

Incidentally, I am working on reprints of various public-domain texts using Soundspel, the teaching orthography that the ALC software uses. Here is the cover art for the first experiment. More details soon.

pdafront.jpg

* * *

Genealogy is bunk, at least for purposes of disclosing the secret noble bloodlines so beloved by conspiracy theorists. The Washington Post explains the obvious:

Even without a documented connection to a notable forebear, experts say, the odds are virtually 100 percent that every person on Earth is descended from one royal personage or another...It works the other way, too. Anybody who had children more than a few hundred years ago is likely to have millions of descendants today, quite a few of them famous.

Everyone of Western European extraction is about equally related to Charlemagne. Maybe everyone, everywhere, is somehow related to Mohammed and Gengis Khan.

At the eschaton, of course, we will all be famous or infamous.

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn waxes apocalyptic about the eclipse of the sovereign state:

Lebanon is a sovereign state. It has an executive and a military. But its military has less sophisticated weaponry than Hezbollah and its executive wields less authority over its jurisdiction than Hezbollah. In the old days, the Lebanese government would have fallen and Hezbollah would have formally supplanted the state. But non-state actors like the Hezbollah crowd and al-Qaida have no interest in graduating to statehood. They've got bigger fish to fry. If you're interested in establishing a global caliphate, getting a U.N. seat and an Olympic team only gets in the way. ...And that indifference to the state can be contagious. ...What if entire populations are being transformed into "non-state actors"? Not terrorists, by any means, but at the very minimum entirely indifferent to the state of which they're nominally citizens....Hence that statistic: Seven percent of British Muslims consider their primary identity to be British, 81 percent consider it to be Muslim....Modern multicultural man disdains to be bound by the nation state, too; he prides himself on being un citoyen du monde. The difference is that, for Western do-gooders, it's mostly a pose:...Absent a determination to throttle the ideology, we're about to witness the unraveling of the world.

I take his point, but I question whether the de-nationalization of the world's transnationalists is just a mere pose. I am echoing Patrick Kennon in this regard. Certainly it is the case that the Davos People don't want to live under a universal caliphate, or even to stay at the sort of hotels that cater to people who might have inclinations along those lines.

Transnationalism has a stratosphere, a troposphere, a sea level, and even an ocean floor. Islamist transnationalism flows through those murky depths, to which it is specially adapted. In part for that reason, it is not so much incompetent as incapable. The things it can do, such as blowing up airplanes and running neighborhood medical clinics, it can do very well. What it can't do, no more than a shark can tap dance, is provide decent civil administration for a territory, or even a legal environment predictable enough for a market economy to operate above the level of small shops. The acme of its political role is to refrain from destroying the state structures of societies that serve as its hosts. Even then, it's a debilitating parasite.

Thus, simply by nature of what it is, Islamism cannot "win," in the sense of destroying and replacing an adversary, or forcing a defeated opponent to do its will. It has no organ with which to receive a surrender. Deprived of the pressure of an external enemy, it bursts into factional fighting.

* * *

Was President Bush correct yesterday when he characterized the cease fire in Lebanon as a victory for Israel, or possibly in the war against terror? Perhaps he was right in the sense that Hezbollah's Lebanese hosts will no longer willingly acquiesce in actions by Hezbollah that threaten to bring Israeli retaliation. On the other hand, tactically, the war turned out to be a fair fight. The prospect of another fair fight makes the threat of retaliation less credible.

* * *

What does Tradition have to say about Israel? Very little good, to judge from Voxnr a French-language site where Yockey and Evola make merry with Islamists and Eurasianists. Actually, one of the more moderate pieces, in that it does not advocate the immediate extermination of Israel and everyone in it, comes from Alexander Dugin (aka Alexandre Dougine). In the brief essay Palestine et Tradition, notre solution, Dugin praises President Putin for reasserting Russia's historical interest in the Levant (remember the Russian proposal for an immediate cease fire?). He also characterizes Israel as laicist and fundamentally illegitimate. Nonetheless, he also notes that, under the Traditional divine monarchy of the Ottoman Empire, the three confessional millets of Christian, Jew, and Muslim were able to live in Palestine without too much friction. He notes with approval the growing theological dimension among the Muslim enemies of Israel, but also remarks with hope on the increasingly Orthodox nature of Israel. Surely peace would come if Palestine were reconstituted as a Traditional land.

Is it over-extrapolating to say that Dugin is implying that what Palestine really needs is to become a Russian protectorate?

* * *

Not everything traditional is creepy (well, not lethally creepy) as we see from this description (hat tip to First Things) of that continuing institution, The Dunmow Flitch:

A common claim of the origin of the Dunmow Flitch dates back to 1104 and the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow, founded by Lady Juga Baynard. Lord of the Manor, Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and begged blessing of the Prior a year and a day after marriage. The Prior, impressed by their devotion bestowed upon them a Flitch of Bacon. Upon revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.

The priory that once conducted the Flitch trials has long since lapsed, and so has the interest of the local aristocrats who conducted the trials thereafter. The trials are still held, however, with volunteer married couples trying to prove to a jury their faithfulness; opposing counsel represents the owner of the flitch.

This Flitch business immediately reminded me of the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, about a policeman who investigates a Scottish island where human sacrifice is a beloved local custom. It's an odd film, essentially a horror story with no gore, and indeed little direct depiction of the supernatural. A remake starring Nicholas Cage will soon be playing in a theatre near you.

The story has been relocated to the coast of Maine. My blood runs cold already.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-08-09: Qinshihuangdi; Republican versus Conservative; Bernard Lewis; Mark Steyn

 Qin Shi Huang  By Unknown - Yuan, Zhongyi. China's terracotta army and the First Emperor's mausoleum: the art and culture of Qin Shihuang's underground palace. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931907-68-2 (p.140), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364539

Qin Shi Huang

By Unknown - Yuan, Zhongyi. China's terracotta army and the First Emperor's mausoleum: the art and culture of Qin Shihuang's underground palace. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931907-68-2 (p.140), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364539

When I was younger, I was much taken with the wild, Indiana Jones-style tales of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Alas, they are likely fables, but a young man can dream.

Also, the zingers just keep coming. Anyone who has ever had a run-in with an overzealous HOA can probably understand what John is getting at here. HOAs are extremely powerful within their small domain.

Readers will note that Steyn is really complaining about unresponsive, bureaucratic government. If by "big" you mean "affecting a large portion of everyday life," then no form of government is quite so large as the sort of busybody town-meeting government that the Puritans introduced to New England. This kind of government, and not the bureaucratic state, is government at its most powerful.

Qinshihuangdi; Republican versus Conservative; Bernard Lewis; Mark Steyn

 

Even for ancient Chinese history, this is not really news:

According to a news report from China, DNA analysis indicates that at least one of the workers who constructed the tomb of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, was in fact of west Eurasian ancestry.

What I find far more interesting is the preface to this question:

People are familiar with Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (260-210 B.C., r. 247-221 B.C.), in large part because of his army of terra-cotta warriors. Chinese archaeologists have refrained from excavating the emperor's tomb, so where was the "worker" found?

The delay in opening the tomb has now extended over decades. Historical accounts say that the tomb is ingeniously booby-trapped, so it would be difficult to reach the chamber where the emperor's sarcophagous floats on a pool of mercury. However, it is impossible to believe that these difficulties could not be overcome with modern tools and techniques. I want that tomb opened. I want it opened right now.

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The gap between conservatism and the Republican Party widens, for reasons we may infer from this comment by Stephen Webb in yesterday's First Things:

Why do so many people these days sound like conservatives but still insist they are liberals? I recently had a conversation with a female lawyer who spoke as if she had just finished reading Oswald Spengler. When she learned that I was a college professor, she unleashed a torrent of vitriol against leftist academics. She knew more about the high-handed politics, the corrupting conformism, and the stifling relativism of humanities professors than any dean in America would be willing to admit to knowing. When the subject of the media came up, she understood instinctively that most journalists are out of touch with Middle America, and she had nothing positive to say about Hillary Clinton’s blatantly ingratiating turn toward a softer, more moderate rhetoric...OK, I said, I’ve told you why I think you are a conservative. Now you tell me why you think you are a liberal. At that point, a string of vehement blathering about how horrible Bush is came out of her like a broken doll whose string had been pulled one too many times.

The piece goes on about what being cool meant in the 1970s, but the explanation could stop with the irresponsibility of the Republican Party. One cannot take seriously a party that lowers taxes during a world war, and at a time when the economy is growing fast enough that the Fed raises interest rates quarter after quarter to prevent inflation. (I know the Fed did not raise rates yesterday; what will fiscal policy be if the economy slows and inflation increases?) And then, frankly, there are the limitations of George Bush. He is by no means a stupid man. If his foreign policy has a flaw, it is not excessive simplicity but over subtlety. The problem is that he is not the man to explain it. He was nominated because his party did not expect a complicated future and everyone appreciated his ability to campaign on a small number of easily comprehensible domestic issues. The choice over John McCain was a costly mistake.

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Bernard Lewis predicts doomsday for August 22. At any rate, The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an opinion piece by him in which he drew attention to the possible role of Shia eschatology in the Middle East. The full piece is now available here. I excerpt for your convenience:

During the Cold War, both sides possessed weapons of mass destruction, but neither side used them, deterred by what was known as MAD...[these]... constraints, the same fear of mutual assured destruction [would not] restrain a nuclear-armed Iran from using such weapons against the U.S. or against Israel...[because]...[t]here is a radical difference ...[in]...the apocalyptic worldview of Iran's present rulers. ...Even in the past it was clear that terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam had no compunction in slaughtering large numbers of fellow Muslims. ...The phrase "Allah will know his own" is usually used to explain such apparently callous unconcern...A direct attack on the U.S., though possible, is less likely in the immediate future. Israel is a nearer ...an attack that wipes out Israel would almost certainly wipe out the Palestinians too...an attack would evoke a devastating reprisal from Israel against Iran...The first of these possible deterrents might well be of concern to the Palestinians--but not apparently to their fanatical champions in the Iranian government. The second deterrent--the threat of direct retaliation on Iran--is...weakened by the suicide or martyrdom complex ...Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that [the endtime] is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. ...Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). ...[there is no direct evidence that the Iranians plan any such thing, but]...[f]or people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.

Very well, but could the assurance "we will tell you by the 27th of Rajab" be the equivalent of "we will tell you by Labor Day"? There may be no more to this than the accusations that the Bush Administration is try to provoke the Rapture.

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Mark Steyn is now annoying the Australians in person, as we see from this transcript of the talkshow Counterpoint:

[Mark Steyn] I mean, basically in Europe, once the state takes care of every issue of life, from childcare to healthcare to looking after your elderly parents to giving you six weeks paid vacation a year, 30-hour work weeks...what have you got to worry about? You are basically the world's wrinkliest teenagers, you are left to go down to the record store and pick out your record collection, everything else is taken care of by the state. That's not a healthy principle on which to build society.

Michael Duffy: Is that one of the reasons you're a conservative or why you support smaller government?

Mark Steyn: Yes, I think big government is a national security issue. I live in the great state of New Hampshire in the United States which has...basically money is raised and spent at town level, so if you've got a budgetary overspend, it's generally your neighbour that's overspending, he's listed in the phone book so you can call him up at home and shout at him. And I think there's a lot to be said for small government precisely for that reason; it's accountable. And the minute you get this big, bloated government...

Readers will note that Steyn is really complaining about unresponsive, bureaucratic government. If by "big" you mean "affecting a large portion of everyday life," then no form of government is quite so large as the sort of busybody town-meeting government that the Puritans introduced to New England. This kind of government, and not the bureaucratic state, is government at its most powerful.

Note too that this power can be for good or ill. The oppressiveness of totalitarian societies is effected chiefly through the work unit and the block committee; the secret police are just a carapace.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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