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

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors  Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2481294

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors

Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2481294

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


Saecula, Bismarck & Lincoln, House of Lords

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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

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

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

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

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


Human Nature, Human Rights, Iranian Motives, Goodbye Bees

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

So long, thanks for all the gardens?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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

Charles Darwin  By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

Charles Darwin

By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

Population and Ideology

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

There is something to that.

* * *

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

May I ask what the editors think they are about?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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

Council of Trent, painting in the Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio, Trento  By Laurom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8465486

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

By Laurom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8465486

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

You can't make this stuff up.

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

The conversation

The conversation

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

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


Global Warming and Conversation Stoppers

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

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

More argument; less chatter.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we go to the IPCC's 3rd Assessment Report, we find: section 6.11.2.2 Cosmic rays and clouds. There we are told that there is no proven mechanism whereby cosmic rays produce clouds, and that the relationship of cloud cover to atmospheric temperature is also problematical.

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

* * *

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

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The Long View: The Enemy at Home

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

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

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

Still funny

Still funny


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just how is this different from surrender?

End

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

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

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


Several Small Matters and a Large One

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

A small sample of the high-temperature superconductor  BSCCO -2223.  By James Slezak, Cornell Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=864046

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

By James Slezak, Cornell Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=864046

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

And what is Microsoft doing about it??

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

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

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

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rugs should be richly textured; prose should be lucid.


Various Book Reviews, and That Cranky Spengler

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-03-02: Restoration; McCain; Solar Warming

Detail from The Vision of the Cross by assistants of Raphael, depicting the vision of the cross and the Greek writing "Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα" in the sky, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  By http://www.christusrex.org/www1/stanzas/0-Raphael.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=931511

Detail from The Vision of the Cross by assistants of Raphael, depicting the vision of the cross and the Greek writing "Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα" in the sky, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

By http://www.christusrex.org/www1/stanzas/0-Raphael.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=931511

I still remember reading this post, and the associated First Things article, because it was where I learned that Episcopalians of the early American era shunned public display of the cross. It was much later I learned that the cross wasn’t a symbol of Christians in general until about the fourth century AD or so. Until the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the symbolism was a little too fresh.


Restoration; McCain; Solar Warming

My condominium association is tormented day and night by the municipal Historic Preservation Commission. They make us take down things on the facade of the buildings that are necessary for safety or security; they refuse to let us make necessary improvements or even repairs, because there is no way to do than at reasonable cost that would be consistent with the condition of the buildings in 1930.

The condominium consists of two slum apartment buildings that were restored at the end of the 1980s; the restoration was possible only because the Historic Preservation Commission had not yet been established. So, I know from personal experience that there is more to sane restoration than historical fidelity. Even so, however, I am not sure what to make of this restoration controversy to which Meredith Henne at First Things brings our attention:

In October of 2006, William & Mary’s new college president, Gene R. Nichol, ordered the altar cross removed from the university’s colonial-era Wren Chapel. His goal was to make the chapel “less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to . . . visitors of all faiths.” The eighteen-inch-high brass cross, a gift from neighboring Bruton Parish Church in the 1930s, had been on display unless guests using the chapel requested its removal, according to previous policy....For more than two hundred of its 274 years, a cross was not displayed on the Wren Chapel’s communion table. Episcopal chapels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shunned crosses as “popish” trappings....This dilemma, faced by the staff at William & Mary, is a standard consideration in historical restoration projects. “Historically accurate” architecture often means that a building or interior reflects the time of founding or origin, the point at which the most illustrious tenant resided there, or the years when a particularly significant event occurred.

The fatuous multiculturalism that seems to have been the real reason for the removal of the cross needs to be combatted. However, it seems to me that a chapel that was not built with a cross in mind probably should not add one later: the room will lack a proper focus for it.

* * *

John McCain has been openly running for president in 2008 for some time. However, his latest announcement to that effect, this time on late-night television, did not go well:

Republican presidential contender John McCain...a staunch backer of the Iraq war but critic of how President Bush has waged it, said U.S. lives had been "wasted" in the four-year-old conflict...McCain, who repeated his assertion that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq rather than withdrawing early, made the "wasted" remark after confirming to Letterman what has been clear for at least a year or more — that he's in the running for the 2008 Republican nomination.

And what can one say of the prospects of a candidacy that has been discountenanced by such great statesfolk as former-senator Rick Santorum:

“The only one I wouldn't support is McCain,” Santorum said during an interview in his office at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where he is a senior fellow.

“I don’t agree with him on hardly any issues,’’ Santorum said. “I don’t think he has the temperament and leadership ability to move the country in the right direction.”

Let him whose tongue has never been tied in public cast the first stone at the ambiguity of "don't agree...on hardly any..." The disturbing thing about that remark is this "anyone but" business. That smacks too much of the saying on the French Right during the 1930s about the socialist premier: "Better Hitler than Blum." Actually, it also sounds like a saying from the final generation of the Byzantine Empire: "Better the sultan's turban than the pope's tiara."

Even McCain's great supporter, Peggy Noonan, had some rather obituary comments today about McCain's candidacy:

But Americans don't elect résumés, they elect men. Here some aspects of Mr. McCain's highly individualistic nature hurt him. He is funny, quick, brave, colorful. He is emotional, has a temper, carries grudges, harbors resentments. If the latter set of traits were not true, the former set would have won the Washington political establishment. As it is he has a portion of it, but many were hired, for money, as political advisers. This is a traditional, but at this point old-fashioned, way to spend money.

Better the family retainers of the Bushes, I suppose, than the humorless (and usually idealess) governments-in-waiting that tend to collect around ambitious senators. McCain did not need those people in 2000, and neither did Bill Clinton in 1992. Both McCain and Hillary Clinton need them now because, though they both have fans, neither has enthusiasts.

Noonan puts her finger on what I think is the key to McCain's popularity:

I suspect Mr. McCain knew no one could question his life, that it showed who he was, and so he could do what he wanted in terms of policy and not jeopardize his support.

That was certainly my attitude in 2000, when I endorsed Senator McCain here. On that page I explained that I did not much care about his views on campaign-finance reform. If he had any ideas about education, I would have been content if he kept them to himself. As for why I did support him, my views may not have been prescient, but they do seem to have been relevant to subsequent events:

It is not enough just to examine each foreign affairs and defense issue as it comes up. Policy has to be set within a larger understanding of how the world works and of the position of the United States in the society of nations. John McCain has this understanding. He knows and respects the existing system of international institutions within which the United States must operate. He is familiar with the military, and can be trusted not to work it to death or to use it as a theater for the prosecution of the culture wars. More intangibly, he has a sense of geopolitics, of how one area of the world affects another. These are not the sort of qualifications that pollsters are looking for in 2000, but they are what the American president needs.

Would happy birds now be chirping in every tree if McCain had been elected in 2000? Perhaps not. McCain, like Colin Powell, belong to the conciliatory generation that lies between the Babyboomers and Gen-xers. They are given to compromise through the elaboration of new procedures: a fine instinct, most of the time, but they are less likely than Babyboomers to see when discontinuity with the past is necessary. The McCain Administration would have invaded Iraq after 911. We should recall that McCain was the neocon favorite, the apple of the eye of The Weekly Standard; George Bush was the anti-interventionist alternative. Nonetheless, I suspect that the McCain occupation policy would not have been as Wilsonian as Bush's. Rather, there would have been a rapid installation of a neo-Baathist regime. The US, withdrawing quickly to a few small bases, would have turned a blind eye to how that regime secured its position. Iran and the human-rights industry would have been outraged. By now, the American electorate would be asking if the war had been worth the effort.

Would some things have been different? Yes. We can be certain that the McCain Administration would not have confined its case for the war to a monotone repetition of the "weapons of mass destruction" talking-point. The federal budget would be balanced again by now. However, the collapse of immigration control would have been even worse. Similarly with the healthcare system: McCain's instinct would have been to bolster a system that should be dismantled. In a way, the Bush Administration's neglect has been better than that.

And what about 2008? McCain is my default candidate. However, I don't see how anyone now running could be elected.

* * *

Global warming is not confined to Earth, as many commentators (including me) have observed. In any case, here's the idea again. Instapundit reports that National Geographic reports that one Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, reports:

[T]he Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

"The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said. Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

Maybe, though I had understood that the most recent climate models had been corrected for changes in solar output. In any case, even if all the changes in global temperature were explicable from astronomical causes, that does not let us completely off the hook. A warmer world means endangered beachfront property and shifting agricultural regions. The difference is that there would be less we could do alter the climate ourselves.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Twentieth Century The History of the World, 1901 to 2000 By J.M. Roberts

VNV Nation – Automatic

VNV Nation – Automatic

If I could pick a musical representation of the twentieth century, it might be VNV Nation’s album, Automatic. Ronan Harris has an ability to write lyrics that distill things to their essence, and the essence of this album is the twentieth century’s technological progress and scientific optimism. This isn’t the whole story of course, but we have plenty of pop culture about the nasty things. It is nice to remember the good parts too.

As for the book review, I didn’t actually get much out of it, probably because John J. Reilly didn’t either.

Here are the best two bits;

Roberts is probably correct that it is too early to write a history of the 20th century per se. It is also possible that my expectations for any book on this topic would be too novelistic, formed in large part from a century's worth of speculative writing about the future. Nonetheless, I cannot help but reflect that the century all those science fiction writers were so keen to describe is over, and what do we have to show for it? Maybe the narrative coherence of H.G. Wells's "Things to Come" is too much to expect of any history book.


There are three great stories that can be written involving the 20th century, only two of which could have been told as soon as the year 2000. One might be called "Grey's Twilight," after the British foreign minister who remarked, as the First World War broke out, that the lights were going out all over Europe. That story came to an end with the fall of communism in 1989. Another story might be The Decisive Lifetime. The theme in that period, running from roughly 1860 to 1945, would be about the triumph of liberalism within western civilization. The third story is about the place of the 20th century within modernity as a whole.


Twentieth Century
The History of the World, 1901 to 2000
By J.M. Roberts

Viking (Penguin Putnam), 1999
US$39.95, 905 pages
ISBN: 0-670-88456-1

Back in the 20th century, the US Department of Agriculture sometimes used to distribute slabs of surplus butter to old people. (I know this because, one way and another, my family came into possession of more than one of them. We had a large family, and they did us for a month.) These slabs were about the same size as this block of a book. They also had the same creamy, undifferentiated texture as its prose. Other similarities are that the butter and the book were both probably well meant, but neither was very nutritious.

J.M. (John Morris) Roberts is a former Warden of Oxford's Merton College. As his recent History of the World and History of Europe prove, he is neither a stupid man nor a bad writer. He reminds us on more than one occasion that it is really too early to be writing a history of the 20th century, since we will not have anything like a usable perspective for generations to come. (He also labored under the handicap that by no stretch of the imagination could the century be said to have been over by the time the book went to press, though he gets high marks for recording events quite late into 1999.) Certainly his "Twentieth Century" is very readable, and often insightful. Its failings are two: it is oddly factless, and it is too cautious about connecting the dots to make a sustained narrative.

Roberts is predictably good when he discusses ordinary diplomatic history. He notes, acutely, that the historiographical fashion for "history from below" has little application to the final years before the First World War, since the outbreak of the war really was the work of Europe's foreign ministries and general staffs. Regarding that war, Roberts suggests that the outcome of the Dardanelles campaign, when the Allies failed to take Constantinople and so relieve Russia through the Black Sea, was the decisive event of the whole century. It was largely for that reason that both the Czarist and the ephemeral social-democratic Kerensky regimes in Russia collapsed, to be followed by 70 years of Bolshevism. Without the menace and lure of the Soviet Union, it is hard to see how either fascism or the Second World War could have occurred in anything like the forms they did, much less the Cold War.

There are two great trends that Roberts sees as characteristic of the 20th century. The first was the end of European history as a largely autonomous story. In 1901, most of the world was ruled by white people from a small number of European capitals. Within fifty years, this was no longer the case, and Europe itself was divided between two power-blocks whose centers lay outside it. (As always, Roberts cannot quite decide whether Russia is a European country, but then neither can the Russians.) The century as a whole, Roberts notes, falls rather neatly into two halves defined by this "end of European history." The most important thing about the 20th century, however, is that it was the time when all the planet's local histories finally merged into a universal history. This is new, and it is reason enough to accord the period something like the sense of unique importance that the people who lived in it claimed for themselves at the time.

The previous two paragraphs give you all the conceptual structure that "Twentieth Century" has. This might have provided the backbone for a good, extended essay. In fact, there are several good essays in "Twentieth Century" that can stand on their own. What they cannot do is stand together. Far too much of the book is page after page of dateless explanations about trends in economics or Chinese politics or what not. There are memorable truisms, such as, "To extend the idea of what is possible is to change the way people think as well as the way they act," and "What this means for organized religion, except that it means something, is almost impossible to say." Writing like this might be understandable in a book with a title like "Neanderthal Culture: 300,000 to 100,000 BC." To use this level of abstraction is writing about a carnival of a century, especially when you have lived through most of it yourself, is to indulge an unnecessary austerity.

Judging from this book, there don't seem to have been many people in the 20th century. There were no interesting ones, aside from Winston Churchill. The names of usual-suspect politicians are given, as well as, awkwardly, those of a small circle of scientists. That just about exhausts 20th century biography. As far as I can tell, there were no artists or philosophers after 1901. There were also no influential philosophical ideas, except for the great gasbags of Marxism and Freudianism and Darwinism. It may or may not be significant that the century seems to have had a singular dearth of notable historians.

Even within his narrow parameters, Roberts has odd notions about who merits a mention. Maybe only American chauvinism makes me wonder how anyone could write an essay on the origins of rocket technology and not mention Robert Goddard. It is simply mystifying, however, to read an extended discussion of the influence of Cuban Marxism in Latin America, a discussion that, moreover, alludes to the failed Bolivian insurgency in the 1960s, and still not find any mention of Che Guevara, who died in the Bolivian uprising.

Roberts is probably correct that it is too early to write a history of the 20th century per se. It is also possible that my expectations for any book on this topic would be too novelistic, formed in large part from a century's worth of speculative writing about the future. Nonetheless, I cannot help but reflect that the century all those science fiction writers were so keen to describe is over, and what do we have to show for it? Maybe the narrative coherence of H.G. Wells's "Things to Come" is too much to expect of any history book. Still, surely something along the lines of Paul Johnson's "Modern Times" is not too much to ask for? (The original edition, which covered only the 1920s to the 1980s, is still the best.)

There are three great stories that can be written involving the 20th century, only two of which could have been told as soon as the year 2000. One might be called "Grey's Twilight," after the British foreign minister who remarked, as the First World War broke out, that the lights were going out all over Europe. That story came to an end with the fall of communism in 1989. Another story might be The Decisive Lifetime. The theme in that period, running from roughly 1860 to 1945, would be about the triumph of liberalism within western civilization. The third story is about the place of the 20th century within modernity as a whole. That story may not be writable for another 100 years, though publishers may well be tempted to jump the gun so as to get it on the market first.

Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-02-27: The Bush & Jesus Dynasties; D'Souza's Consistency; Big Easy Eloi

Dinesh D’Souza’s reputation hasn’t improved in the last twelve years, but I am intrigued by John’s comment here that now makes me think D’Souza was a populist ahead of the curve.


The Bush & Jesus Dynasties; D'Souza's Consistency; Big Easy Eloi

Hostile reviews of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home continue to pour in, including this one by Scott W. Johnson, which appears in the March New Criterion and in today's Opinion Journal:

Whatever [D'Souza's] earlier attainments, he established himself as a writer of substance with his 1991 book "Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus," a critique of political correctness and multiculturalism...."The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11"--Mr. D'Souza's new book--is something else entirely. The book works a strange metamorphosis. Whereas "Illiberal Education" and "The End of Racism" proved Mr. D'Souza a precocious commentator and gifted polemicist, the new book is crude and sophomoric. Worse than its sophomoric treatment of serious issues is its presentation of a blinkered and politically correct version of the Muslim world. It is a presentation that the young Mr. D'Souza would have scorned. It is as though, having arrived on the scene as Franz Kafka, he has turned himself into Gregor Samsa.

I find fault with the book on critical points, too, but I disagree that The Enemy at Home is discontinuous with Illiberal Education. Rather the opposite: The Enemy at Home simply applies to the international arena the domestic culture-war analysis of Illiberal Education. This is not an idea that libertarian-conservatives find congenial.

* * *

Nobody wants Jeb Bush to get the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Certainly Quin Hillyer of The American Spectator does not want that, as he tells us in this piece, which is not a Jeb-candidacy trial balloon about how Jeb could be nominated. The gist of it is that the redesign of the primary schedule to decide the nomination early could have a perverse effect:

RATHER THAN PROVIDING UNSTOPPABLE momentum to any one candidate, in other words, the widespread voting on Feb. 5 could serve to keep all three "major" candidates and even a couple of minor ones alive. Nobody could claim a mandate, the vitriol would continue to grow, and the dissatisfaction already being..voiced by conservatives might take on pandemic proportions...Meanwhile, a number of states may have qualifying dates for candidates or delegates that post-date Feb. 5. Nine states still won't vote until May. A white night with a big enough name could conceivably jump in the race, sweep all the later contests, and lay claim to be the candidate of consensus and unity. Think of another president's brother, Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and you get the idea...BUT WHY WOULD HE RUN when the name Bush is so unpopular these days?...Perhaps because a lot can change in a year. ...In actuality, though, 2008 may be the best year possible to overcome the argument against dynasties. After all, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, the anti-dynasticism argument will cut both ways. What better time for Jeb Bush to argue that a political inheritance should not be a disqualifier than when his opponent's entire career as an elected official is seen as a political inheritance?

I rarely quote Dick Morris, but I thought he had a point when he said over the weekend that we are already paying the price of dynastic politics, in which people achieve high office because their family ties have made their names familiar and provided them with political alliances they did not have to make themselves. The electorate is aware of this. I doubt that Senator Clinton can overcome the presumption against dynasty. I am sure that Jeb could not, even were he so inclined. Nonetheless, his name continues to be mentioned.

Of course, it is true that a lot can change in a year. If any of the changes are good, especially in Iraq, the one thing we can be sure of is that President Bush will not get credit for them. General Petraeus might, however. And just what is his party affiliation?

* * *

Here's a tale of Eloi and Morlocks, cruelly told by Mark Steyn:

This was the story of Paul Gailiunas, raised in Edmonton, and his wife Helen Hill, whom he met at Harvard. On January 4th, at their home in the Big Easy's Faubourg Marigny neighbourhood, Ms. Hill was shot and killed, and Dr. Gailiunas was wounded by four bullets while shielding their two-year-old son. The couple had moved to New Orleans from Dalhousie in 2001 because the doctor, according to the Globe, "wanted to work in a Third World environment." His wife was a filmmaker who showed her work at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. Dr. Gailiunas also has his artistic side, as a vocalist and guitarist with a band called the New Orleans Troublemakers. According to the paper, "his lyrics explore universal health care, flag burning and early anarchist Emma Goldman." One gets the strong impression the doctor was in favour of all three...[A]lthough the population has halved, the number of murders in the city each month has stayed pretty much the same. Which means, in effect, the murder rate has doubled. ...Some suggest the National Guard be sent in, or that the Justice Department take over the city's police department. But it's hard to believe Dr. Gailiunas or his late wife would have endorsed such proposals. They ran a charitable enterprise called "Food Not Bombs," and Ms. Hill led "filmmaking bees" in agitprop documentary production.

I rather doubt that there is an essential connection between bohemian neighborhoods and high crime. Such connection as there is comes from the fact that bad neighborhoods have low-cost housing for artists to starve in. In the case of New Orleans, however, it has become an article of faith in progressive circles that jazz will never be the same again until every slum is rebuilt, down to the shot-out streetlights in the public housing projects.

* * *

This year's Easter Hoax is a listless enterprise. You can see for yourself Cameron and Jacobovici's case for having found the burial cave of the Jesus Family: go to the website of the Discovery Channel. Again, we are dealing here with an archeological find, made in 1980, of an unremarkable tomb in Jerusalem containing one of several ossuaries known to archeology inscribed "Jesus Son of Joseph." The tomb also contained several other inscribed ossuaries, some with names one might expect to find in the tomb of Jesus's family, and some with names there would be no reason to expect: it lacks several names one would expect to find. Cameron presents a statistical estimate that the particular set of names in the tomb had a likelihood of 600-to-1 of occurring by chance. No doubt that's true, but it would also be true of other combinations of names, and in fact there is nothing particularly suggestive in the set at issue here.

So what has changed since the tomb was discovered in 1980? The Da Vinci Code was published. Still, this is the kind of stunt about which one may not neglect to state the obvious, one element of which was well put by Mark Goldblatt in The New York Post:

Cameron and Jacobovici will mortally offend many Christians. Some critics will personally vilify them, while others question their motives and integrity.

But prominent Christian clergymen won't issue any death warrants, and the Vatican won't call upon "all believing Christians" to avenge the insult. Neither Cameron nor Jacobovici will have to spend the next decade or so in hiding.

Now imagine if they'd gone after Mohammad instead of Jesus . . .

Actually, there is an Islamic angle that is not hypothetical. The Islamic view of Jesus is of just another prophet, whose bones one might well expect to find in a tomb. Indeed, there is more than one "tomb of Jesus" in the Islamic world. We may expect the Cameron and Jacobovici film to become a feature of Islamic evangelization.

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The Long View 2007-02-23: Goracle Redux; War & Sovereignty; Dan Brown Copycat

heedthegoracle.jpg

This is an interesting idea.

The serious long-term point here is that debellicized states (states that have lost the capacity to wage war) are renouncing a key feature of modern sovereignty: not the right to self-defense, but the right to be consulted about the use of force elsewhere.

If anything, the intervening twelve years have seen a decrease in debellicization, since the world has mostly gotten to be a less stable and friendly place.


Goracle Redux; War & Sovereignty; Dan Brown Copycat

The ecoSanity site on whose credibility I cast aspersions yesterday has reappeared, again displaying its Heed the Goracle banner:

.

There now: what could be fairer than that?

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn has some cutting things to say about the withdrawal of Coalition troops from Iraq:

Thus, even for reliable allies with capable militaries, the political price of marching into battle alongside the Great Satan is steep and getting steeper. This does not bode well for the general health of the planet. When the wilier Democrats berate Bush for not maintaining an adequate military, they have a sort of crude point, albeit not the one they think they're making: if the time, money and energy expended in getting pseudo-allies to make pseudo-contributions were to be spent instead on the Vermont National Guard, you'd get more troops more quickly with more capability. Yet for wealthy countries to deny Washington even the figleaf of token multilateralism is, in the end, to gamble with their own futures....[Australian Prime Minister] Howard is perhaps the last Western leader to understand this.

In this connection Pat Buchanan counsels the shortest way with dissenters:

Only the Americans are going deeper in. Aussies excepted, the "coalition of the willing" is no longer willing..... There is a larger meaning to all this, and Americans must come to terms with it. NATO is packing it in as a world power. NATO is little more than a U.S. guarantee to pull Europe's chestnuts out of the fire if Europeans encounter a fight they cannot handle, like an insurgency in Bosnia or Kosovo. NATO has one breadwinner, and 25 dependents. ...This isn't an alliance. This isn't a partnership. Time to split the blanket. If they won't defend themselves, let them, as weaker nations have done to stronger states down through the ages, pay tribute.

Well, perhaps he does not exactly counsel this. Buchanan wants the whole post-World War II alliance system dismantled. Making NATO a tribute-levying organization would just break it up all the sooner. (Also, perhaps, like many Americans, he never took on board the fact that Japan and the NATO countries cover all or most of the costs of the American bases on their territories.)

The serious long-term point here is that debellicized states (states that have lost the capacity to wage war) are renouncing a key feature of modern sovereignty: not the right to self-defense, but the right to be consulted about the use of force elsewhere.

* * *

Just in time for Lent, wouldn't you know, a documentary is about to be broadcast called The Burial Cave of Jesus:

The cave in which Jesus Christ was buried has been found in Jerusalem, claim the makers of a new documentary film. ...Jointly produced by Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and Oscar winning director James Cameron, the film tells the exciting and tortuous story of the archeological discovery.

The story starts in 1980 in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood, with the discovery of a 2,000 year old cave containing ten coffins. Six of the ten coffins were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son - the filmmakers claim).

The team of Jacobovici and Cameron are no strangers to edgy Biblical speculation. In this case, though, the evidence is less than overwhelming:

But the senior Israeli archaeologist who thoroughly researched the tombs after their discovery, and at the time deciphered the inscriptions, cast serious doubt on it.

"It's a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever," Professor Amos Kloner, who had published the findings of his research in the Israeli periodical Atiqot in 1996, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Friday.

"The names that are found on the tombs are names that are similar to the names of the family of Jesus," he conceded.

"But those were the most common names found among Jews in the first centuries BCE and CE," he added.

Will Time magazine make this their Easter Week cover story? I would not bet against it.

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The Long View 2007-02-22: Dry Jovians; Goracle; Endless Things

Spitzer Space Telescope  By NASA/JPL-Caltech - http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/3072-SIRTF-Spitzer-Rendered-against-an-Infrared-100-Micron-Sky, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85585

Spitzer Space Telescope

By NASA/JPL-Caltech - http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/3072-SIRTF-Spitzer-Rendered-against-an-Infrared-100-Micron-Sky, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85585

I too would like to find some way to colonize space, but damned if I know how to make it economically possible. Tech billionaires are making it possible to reach space more cheaply, but it still isn’t clear what people could do in orbit or on other astronomical bodies that would be useful.


Dry Jovians; Goracle; Endless Things

How is manned space exploration different from astronomical space exploration? The chief difference so far seems to be that the only things the manned flights discover are appalling design flaws in the spacecraft, while space-based astronomy is always coming up with scientific surprises. A good example of the latter is the recent report, based on results from the Spitzer Space Telescope, that the atmospheres of two superhot, Jovian, extrasolar planets have no detectable water:

The discovery was also in keeping with the history of planets orbiting other stars, or extrasolar planets, which has been nothing but a series of surprises over the last 10 years as planetary systems out there have so far looked nothing like our own. Alan Boss, a theorist at the Carnegie Institution who was not involved in the work, said: “This is a field where observers are leading the way. The scorecard should read, ‘Observers 200, Theorists 0.’ ”

Indeed, these results are an insult to the new scientific method, which is more about tweaking computer models than uncovering mere facts. But be that as it may, these discoveries are yet another illustration of the fact we are in space for two reasons. One is scientific exploration; the other is a public works program that should be, ultimately, aimed at human settlement.

I am not one of those people who think that only private entrepreneurs have a role to play in the development of space. However, I do think that there should be two, separate, federal agencies to manage these different functions. They need different hardware and they have distinct constituencies.

* * *

Evil spambots have been making ever bolder attacks on this site's forum. Deleting them has become a daily chore. Therefore, I would like to thank Clan Orb for making public an easily accessible list of the ISPs of those damnable entities that have been banned from its own forum. Clan Orb is a World of Warcraft site. I can't say that I am greatly familiar with WoW, but I admire the graphics.

* * *

The notion that climate-change environmentalism is a religion has become so common that even the newspapers have heard of it. At any rate, the Globe & Mail has:

They came in their hundreds to hear him speak, and even those left standing outside the crowded hall would not be deterred from lingering in the proximity of the Baptist prophet from Tennessee.

It wasn't any old-time religion that drew these believers to Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, but a concept they feel is every bit as crucial to humanity -- global warming -- that made them want to get close to Al Gore, the impassioned former U.S. vice-president, as he delivered his now famous Inconvenient Truth about climate change.

Like many a bygone leader who happened along at a key moment in history, Mr. Gore -- who has been sounding the environmental warning bell for years -- has suddenly inspired the kind of faith and fervour in others that he insists will be needed to overcome such a monumental problem.

"From my perspective, it is a form of religion," said Bruce Crofts, 69, as he held a banner aloft for the East Toronto Climate Action Group amid a lively prelecture crowd outside the old hall....Across the driveway in front of the hall, a large banner exhorted the crowd to "Heed the Goracle." Belonging to a fledgling group called ecoSanity, it was still there hours later, as Mr. Gore enjoyed a reception at the adjacent Simcoe Hall and the dispersing crowd voiced its praise.

We pass over in silence the anomaly of god-fearing conservatives using the word "religion" as a term of invective. We do not, however, pass over the term, "The Goracle," which sounds too good to be true for the political opponents of global-warming activism. Here is the sign mentioned in the story above; it links to the ecoSanity website:

This had been an
image of the 
"Heed the Goracle" 
banner mentioned above, 
but it has 
been removed, 
along with the 
ecoSanity site on 
which it was
posted

Were we dealing here with agents-provocateurs? My suspicions only increased when I came across this review by John A. Baden at the Acton Institute of Eco-Sanity, by Joseph L. Blast, Peter J. Hill, & Richard C. Rue:

In addition to providing brief but reasonably complete treatments of the various "crisis of the month-club" events, Eco-Sanity helps unmask the attorneys, MBAs and "scientists" who posture as selfless defenders of the public interest. These opportunists use the perceived importance and legitimacy of their mission as a cloak to conceal the pursuit of personal gain. Decency and the canons of science are ignored as laws and politics are twisted for private ends.

Perhaps I should have confined myself to the latest scientific method by simply speculating about the elegances suggested by the data. However, I spoiled a perfectly good conspiracy theory by emailing ecoSanity about whether they had any connection with the book of similar name. Here is their reply (I delete the name of the writer, though I don't think he would mind being mentioned):

Thanks for writing! Nope, no connection. However, we did become aware of the existence of the book after the name occurred to us and we began the title search process. As it was the only match we found and written a good while ago, we proceeded to embrace it. And we have not read the book, just summaries, etc. We're an impassioned, Grassroots effort that also does a lot of volunteer work with Greenpeace in Toronto and we're working hard (with little funds) to get phase one of the full website up in a couple of weeks. Please don't hesitate to be in touch further about this or any other concerns you may have. Hope you feel supportive.

Frankly, I don't think I would be all that supportive, but they do seem to be on the up-and-up [or so I thought until the site disappeared a few hours after I mentioned it]. That does have a downside from their point of view, however, since it means that ill-disposed persons may now use "Goracle" in good conscience. [The matter has grown ambiguous.]

* * *

Fans of John Crowley will have noted that my site now has a review of his upcoming novel, Endless things, the conclusion of the Aegypt series. (I had been told the publication date was May; now the publisher is talking about June.) In any case, interested parties may order now, if they are so inclined. Note, too, that the other three volumes in the series are soon to be reissued.

Fans will also be interested to learn that the author has his own blog, Crowley Crow.

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The Long View 2007-02-20: The Deluge; School Stories; Hyperinflation; Murtha Plan

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell

This blog post from 2007 is kind of eerie in how it could almost be current:

  • Cardinal Pell

  • Harry Potter

  • The implosion of Venezula

Apparently nothing new ever happens.


The Deluge; School Stories; Hyperinflation; Murtha Plan

Disturbed by charges in the press of religious obscurantism in connection with global warming, George Cardinal Pell of Sydney had some cutting remarks of his own about the cult of climate change:

What we were seeing from the doomsayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria -- semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition...I'm deeply sceptical about man-made catastrophic global warming, but still open to further evidence...I would be surprised if industrial pollution and carbon emissions had no ill-effects at all...But enough is enough...We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history -- for example, the ice ages and Noah's flood, when human causation could only have been negligible.

Actually, Genesis says that it was precisely human misbehavior that occasioned the Flood, though the narrative suggests that the causation was final rather than efficient. However, is that so different from the rhetoric of the Climate Cult? (I am more convinced of global warming than the cardinal appears to be, but yes, the idea has spawned a cult with dynamics independent of the science.) Civilization is in danger, we are told, because the human race has been bad. The excessive production of CO2 is just one of the manifestations of the badness of capitalist industrialism, or something. The big difference is that the cultists propose to save God the trouble of promulgating a new Covenant by correcting the badness themselves.

* * *

Just how conservative of genre is the Harry Potter series? It is conservative to a high degree, if you believe Mark Steyn:

Contemplating the rise of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the top of the hit parade six months ahead of publication, those of us toiling in the literary foothills can only marvel. Who would have thought an English boarding-school story would be the global hit of the 21st century? ...

Hogwarts is certainly a boarding school (a VoTech school, as more than one commentator has noted), but is it really like the boarding schools of juvenile fiction? I think it makes a difference that Hogwarts is co-ed, which was true of none of the classic stories. Stories and screenplays about traditional boarding schools are still written, of course, but they tend to be murder-mysteries.

On the other hand, Steyn suggests that the key element is the setting and not the demographics of the characters.

Rather, as J. K. Rowling is only the latest to demonstrate, boarding school is the perfect structure for almost any narrative: it enables you to create a self-contained world free of parents, with its own codes and conventions, yet constrained in both place (a world that ends at the school grounds) and time (a three-term year instantly divides your story into the perfect three-act play).

To be a really perfect setting, the school has to be snowed in.

* * *

Speaking of traditions, the implosion of Venezuela is following a scenario that has become venerable:

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez's plan to curb inflation by lopping three zeros from the currency may backfire because the move fails to address production bottlenecks that are pushing prices higher, economists said. ...The annual inflation rate rose to 18.4 percent last month, the highest in Latin America, from 10.4 percent in May...

Government officials blame private businesses and citizens who buy dollars outside government channels for accelerating inflation. Chavez said those found guilty of "hoarding" and "speculating" may receive prison terms of two-to-six years.

And a bit more:

Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country's expanding price controls....The economy grew by more than 10 percent last year...Entering a supermarket here is a bizarre experience. Shelves are fully stocked with Scotch whiskey, Argentine wines and imported cheeses like brie and Camembert, but basic staples like black beans and desirable cuts of beef like sirloin are often absent. Customers, even those in the government's own Mercal chain of subsidized grocery stores, are left with choices like pork neck bones, rabbit and unusual cuts of lamb.

20% inflation is annoying but manageable. However, when you get to 60%, it becomes difficult for private persons to plan because it is no longer clear what prices mean. However, when you get to the zero-lopping stage and begin to criminalize retail, the situation is usually terminal: you are on your way to hyperinflation.

The question is how the Venezuelan government has managed to make such a hash of the situation. Russia and Saudi Arabia are petrolist states, too, but at least they have reasonably sound currencies.

* * *

But what does Mark Steyn think of the recent antiwar resolutions in Congress? Not much, it would appear:

So "the Murtha plan" is to deny the president the possibility of victory while making sure Democrats don't have to share the blame for the defeat. But of course he's a great American! He's a patriot! He supports the troops! He doesn't support them in the mission, but he'd like them to continue failing at it for a couple more years. As John Kerry wondered during Vietnam, how do you ask a soldier to be the last man to die for a mistake? By nominally "fully funding" a war you don't believe in but "limiting his ability to use the money." Or as the endearingly honest anti-war group MoveCongress.org put it, in an e-mail preview of an exclusive interview with the wise old Murtha:

"Chairman Murtha will describe his strategy for not only limiting the deployment of troops to Iraq but undermining other aspects of the president's foreign and national security policy."

What struck me about the debates in both Houses of Congress was that the proponents of the resolutions did not seem to understand that they were not just handicapping the diplomacy of the United States; they were also putting themselves in physical danger. There was, for instance, a fairly direct connection between the precipitous American withdrawal from Somalia in 1993 and the attacks on US targets on September 11, 2001. However the matter appeared from the United States, the withdrawal was read in the Middle East as evidence that the United States was fairly easy to intimidate; it made sense to raise the stakes with an assault on the American mainland. The US Capitol building seems to have survived that attack by accident. If the Murtha Plan has its intended effect, it's not likely to survive the next one.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-02-16: 911 & the Failure of Imagination; Warmed-Over Cold War; The Fate of the Unworthy

2007 was about the point when even John J. Reilly started to get tired of the administration of President George W. Bush.


911 & the Failure of Imagination; Warmed-Over Cold War; The Fate of the Unworthy

There is more than one history of the world, as John Crowley never tires of reminding his readers. This comes through very strongly in an excellent review by James Meek in The London Review of Books of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida’s Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. The book was published last year. I have not read it, but apparently I should have. Anyone interested can order it here. This is how the review ends:

Long before [911], the US intelligence establishment (together with the British) deafened itself to revolutionary Islam’s loud message that it intended to change the world. Two prevailing narratives – of the West v. Soviet Communism, and of Israel v. the Arab world – overwhelmed understanding of another emerging one, in which most of Europe and most of America, together with the Soviet bloc and the secular intelligentsia of developing countries, were on the same side. Although this is not what it explicitly sets out to do, Wright’s book supports the conclusion that the direct struggle between revolutionary, counter-Enlightenment Islam and the post-Enlightenment world began some time before the Cold War ended – specifically, in 1979. That was the year of Iran’s revolution, in which, significantly, Islamic revolutionaries overcame not only the pro-American Shah but also their leftist counterparts; the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to protect its leftist regime against Islamic rebels; and the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was seized by a band of Islamic fundamentalists. It took Saudi forces more than two weeks to overcome the four to five hundred insurgents involved, who had demanded that Saudi Arabia isolate itself culturally and politically from the West, remove the royal family, expel all Westerners and stop selling oil to the US. Before the battle ended, women among the insurgents shot the faces off their dead male comrades to stop them being recognised. It was the first fortnight of the new Islamic year, the year 1400, the dawn of Islam’s 15th century. The rest of the world was still operating according to a different calendar.

Actually, an Arabist explained to me the significance of 1400 AH well before 911, as well as the fact that century years are often felt to be pregnant with meaning in Islamic culture in a way that Christian century-years typically have not been. My recollection is that I then turned the discussion to the eschatology of Tim McVeigh.

What I gather from this review is that the proposals for disengagement and accommodation made by people as different as Patrick Buchanan and Michael Scheuer are not so much misguided as irrelevant. Surrender is impossible, not because the terms would be so onerous, but because they are incomprehensible.

* * *

More than one old Cold Warrior felt rejuvenated by Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent performance at the Wehrkunde (Defense Study) Conference in Munich, an annual event for NATO diplomats to which the Russian president had been invited as a further step in the integration of Europe. Tod Lindberg of The Washington Times has this account of what Putin actually accomplished:

He clearly relished the platform, and with a little prelude in which he said he welcomed the opportunity to speak without "excessive politeness," he launched zestily into a denunciation of the United States and the Atlantic alliance... by the time he finished, an audience that was largely prepared, [despite] misgivings [about civil liberties in Russia], to welcome him warmly and to embrace his unprecedented accession to participation in the Western security dialogue was instead knocked back and reeling....[it] brought a troubled partnership back together, not in opposition to him, but in support of common values that he quite flamboyantly doesn't share.

The Realist School of foreign policy is composed of people who yearn for diplomacy to be about ordinary big-power deterence again; they want the UN to be taken seriously as the chief public forum (though not the ultimate arbiter) of international disputes; they never want to hear the terms "religion" and "geopolitics" in the same sentence again. The Realists are not delusional; there really are aspects of the international system that can still be thought of in this way. Events like the Wehrkunde Conference must give them hope that reality is reasserting itself. I fear, though, that the conference may have been rather like the funeral of Edward VII in 1910: a fine display of monarchy at the last moment before the institution was revealed to be an anachronism.

* * *

Speaking of anachronisms, Mark Steyn might agree with the view that the American political class has joined their number:

[Hugh Hewitt]:...Let’s turn to the debate in Congress. First of all, the news this afternoon, Mark Steyn, is that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was wounded, his name is Abu Ayub al-Masri, and his second in command, Abu Adawa al-Majahami was killed today. Muqtada al Sadr has bugged out to Iran, and the security situation in Baghdad appears to be calming.

[Mark Steyn]: Well you know, this is the stuff that matters if you’re in Iraq. The President gets no credit for it over here, because the war has in effect departed the physical constraints of Iraq, and is essentially now being waged for political considerations in Washington. And no news is good news, and sadder news is badder news, basically. I mean, the New York Times had this ludicrous piece yesterday arguing that the departure of Muqtada al Sadr for Iran could leave a power vacuum in Iraq that would be filled by even more extreme forces.

As I have said before, no outcome in Iraq will be counted as a success by the mainstream media and elements of the political class if the Bush Administration would get the credit for it. If the situation in Iraq finally crystalizes in a positive way, the issue will be methodically forgotten.

In any case, Steyn has further harsh words: :

This is simply a political class that is unworthy of a serious power. And it is difficult to see how this idea of discussing Iraq as if it’s some kind of board game about…it’s like the McGuffin in a Hitchcock movie, it’s merely the pretext for a lot of domestic political positioning. It’s not. It’s a real country, and it’s a real war, and it ought to be discussed in those terms.

If they are unworthy of it, then they will lose it. Already, I think, they have jumped the shark. The problem is that President Bush jumped the shark long since, with the attempted appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. He will not benefit from Congress's impending discomfiture, or even from his government's increasingly effective diplomacy.

I would not have thought it possible, but the late Bush Administration is starting to look like the crepuscular last two years of the Hoover Administration.

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The Long View 2007-02-14: Happy Non-Existence; Who Lost Britain; AH Mag; The Longer Boom; Carl Sagan; God & Logos

otherwise.jpg

I would have definitely read this magazine.


Happy Non-Existence; Who Lost Britain; AH Mag; The Longer Boom; Carl Sagan; God & Logos


This study may have implications as unnerving as a trapdoor, if you think about it:

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is the worst country in the industrialized world in which to be a child, the United Nations Children's Fund ( UNICEF) said on Wednesday...Britain lagged behind on key measures of poverty and deprivation, happiness, relationships, and risky or bad behavior, the study showed.

It scored a little better for education but languished in the bottom third for all other measures, giving it the lowest overall placing, along with the United States.

Children's happiness was rated highest in northern Europe, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark leading the list. ...The study found there was no consistent relationship between a country's wealth, as measured in gross domestic product per capita, and a child's quality of life.

The Czech Republic, for example, achieved a higher overall ranking than economically wealthier France....

Colette Marshall, UK director of charity Save the Children...said "drastic action," including an injection of 4.5 billion pounds, was needed to meet a government target of halving the number of children in poverty by 2010.

I am as opposed to neglecting children as the next guy is, but may I point out that this ranking of child welfare correlates inversely with fertility rates? It does not do so perfectly: France has a somewhat higher fertility rate than Britain does, for instance. Nonetheless, the countries singled out for the best treatment of children all seem to be on a glide-path to extinction. Could it be that one effect of "halving the number of children in poverty" would be halving the number of children?

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn has broadened his area of concern to include the zombie menace. "Who lost Britain?" Indeed.

* * *

Is the United States no longer a status quo power? That is one way to read this assessment from Spengler at Asia Times:

Some years ago I suggested that option theory offered insights into geopolitics. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the spoiler, seeking advantage from instability, while the United States sought to maintain stability. In financial parlance, the Russians were long volatility; they stood to exercise their political options opportunistically, and the more chaotic and uncertain the state of the world, the better for Moscow. For the past 20 years, though, it is Washington that is long volatility; in the absence of a contending superpower, instability frightens all contending parties into seeking help from Washington. The more unstable and uncertain the world, the stronger the position of the United States. Whether or not the US recognizes this is beside the point; the fact that President George W Bush has made a dog's breakfast of Iraq makes America's world position stronger.

If so, then what are we to make of these further observations?

A friend in financial markets observes that the world appears to be safer than at any time on record, judging by the cost of insurance against economic disaster...

Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard observes that world markets anticipated the outbreak of neither World War I nor II.

This is just another example of the return of the Long Boom mentality. Regarding the most recent Davos meeting, for instance, Richard Landes quotes a report on the many meetings about climate change, but notes this:

And apparently, no one mentioned global Jihad, which puts “real war” in the shade for its wide range of fronts and tactics.

The Eloi never know what the Morlochs are up to, until dinner time.

* * *

Sometimes I think it would be more fun to publish a little magazine than to write articles for one, but look at the kind of ideas I come up with. [see the post header for JJR’s magazine cover -BE]

* * *

I was always a great fan of Carl Sagan. I was never put of by his occasional effusions of agnosticism. Like many agnostics of high general intelligence, he did not realize that he did not know enough theology to make a serious critique of it. Unfortunately, his widow has seen fit to publish a compendium of this weakest aspect of his legacy:

“The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God” (Penguin). The book is based on a series of lectures exploring the boundary between science and religion that Dr. Sagan gave in Glasgow in 1985, and it was edited by Ann Druyan, his widow and collaborator....

It was Ms. Druyan’s impatience with religious fundamentalism that led her to resurrect Dr. Sagan’s lectures, which were part of the Gifford Lectures, a prestigious series about natural theology that has been going on since the 19th century.....

Ever the questioner, Dr. Sagan asks at one point in his lectures why the God of the Scriptures seems to betray no apparent knowledge of the wider universe that “He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is” allegedly created. Why not a commandment, for instance, that thou shalt not exceed the speed of light? Or why not engrave the Ten Commandments on the Moon in such a way that they would not be discovered until now, à la the slab in “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

There are many reasons why religious people in recent decades have tried to edit the physical science taught in the schools, but one of the chief reasons was the efforts of popular-science writers to present their own metaphysical views as the results of modern science. Creationism is nonsense, but no greater nonsense than Stephen Jay Gould's postmodern biology.

The late Cold War did not always see Sagan at his best. His Nuclear Winter hypothesis has not held up very well, either.

* * *

Vox Day does know enough theology to rise to the level of refutable error, or so I would characterize this exercise in walking the plank:

If I am correct that my God is the Creator God, that we are all his creations, then killing every child under two on the planet is no more inherently significant than a programmer unilaterally wiping out his AI-bots in a game universe. He alone has the right to define right and wrong, and as the Biblical example of King Saul and the Amalekites demonstrates, He has occasionally deemed it a moral duty to wipe out a people.

The argument about whether God is arbitrary is not new, but it is currently topical. Benedict XVI took the other side of the question in the Regensburg Address:

Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the [logos]". This is the very word used by the [Byzantine] emperor [Manuel II]: God acts, [su 'n logos], with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.

Actually, I am inclined to think that Benedict is wrong when he says that the rationality of the logos is incompatible with violence under any circumstances. (And yes, anyone can disagree with the address, since Benedict was speaking as a speculative theologian, not ex cathedra.) However, the point is that reason belongs to the divine substance; it is not a mere creation of the divine.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-02-09: Steyn on D'Souza; Hillary v. Rudolph; Climate Crimes; Mystery History

Mette Frederiksen, attacking immigration from the Left

Mette Frederiksen, attacking immigration from the Left

It is a real pity that John J. Reilly didn’t live long enough to see President Trump. As a longtime Jersey resident, I’m sure he would have had opinions. Here is a funny bit on Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton:

My own suspicion is that Senator Clinton's candidacy is a media artifact that will disintegrate on take-off; about that we will see. As for Rudolph Giuliani, I am pretty sure that he is too much the New York exotic to succeed nationally. Certainly he is an unusually bad fit for the Republican Party.

Rudolph Giuliani did not save New York City singlehandedly, but he was the most effective big-city mayor during the second half of the 20th century. However, the sort of infrastructure and institutional collapse that Giuliani set himself to reverse is precisely the sort of thing that the post-Reagan Republican Party is designed not to see. Today, on the national level, both the unravelling of the health-insurance system and the loss of control of the borders are issues of the sort that New York City faced when Giuliani became mayor, and both health care and immigration are losers for the Republicans. Why is this? Because the expensive, labor-intensive, highly detailed governance that Giuliani provided is what is needed to address those issues, and that sort of governance has been declared impossible by modern conservatism.

What appeal the Trump campaign in 2016 had was achieved by making inarticulate noises in the direction of what John suggested here: pick a couple of issues that could be popular and propose a big government solution. Populist-style campaigns all over the Western world have been going in this direction. Some of them are more successful than others.


Steyn on D'Souza; Hillary v. Rudolph; Climate Crimes; Mystery History

Mark Steyn has reviewed Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home. The remarks that I quote here more or less match some observations in my own review of that book, which I promise readers will see as soon as I am at liberty to post it. In any case, Steyn here takes issue with the proposition that the Islamists were incited to attack the United States by recent American debaucheries:

Where I part company is in his belief that this will make any difference to the war on terror. In what feels like a slightly dishonest passage, the author devotes considerable space to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual progenitor of what passes for modern Islamist “thought”. “Qutb became fiercely anti-American after living in the United States,” writes D’Souza without once mentioning where or when this occurred: New York in the disco era? San Francisco in the summer of love? No. It was 1949 – the year when America’s lascivious debauched popular culture produced Doris Day, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and South Pacific. ...The reality is that Islam sees our decadence not as a threat but as an opportunity. For the west to reverse the gains of the cultural left would not endear us to Islam but would make us better suited to resisting its depredations. We should reject Britney because she’s rubbish not as a geopolitical strategy.

D'Souza's argument has the most force in the context of the use of transnational institutions to impose a cultural revolution for which there is no global consensus. Nonetheless, I think that the more transgressive features of American popular culture really are a strategic liability.

* * *

Speaking of things that children should not see, Peggy Noonan's latest column meditates on the prospect that the 2008 presidential race will be between Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate and Rudolph Giuliani as the republican. Given that choice, Noonan clearly prefers the latter:

But it is significant that in Mrs. Clinton's case, for the past 30 years, from 1978 through 2007--which is to say throughout most, almost all, of her adulthood--her view of America, and of American life, came through the tinted window of a limousine. (Now the view is, mostly, through the tinted window of an SUV.)

From first lady of Arkansas through first lady of the United States to U.S. senator, her life has been eased and cosseted by staff--by aides, drivers, cooks, Secret Service, etc. Her life has been lived within a motorcade. And so she didn't have to worry about crime, the cost of things, the culture. Status incubates. Rudy Giuliani was fighting a deterioration she didn't have to face. That's a big difference. It's the difference between the New Yorker in the subway and the Wall Street titan in the town car.

My own suspicion is that Senator Clinton's candidacy is a media artifact that will disintegrate on take-off; about that we will see. As for Rudolph Giuliani, I am pretty sure that he is too much the New York exotic to succeed nationally. Certainly he is an unusually bad fit for the Republican Party.

Rudolph Giuliani did not save New York City singlehandedly, but he was the most effective big-city mayor during the second half of the 20th century. However, the sort of infrastructure and institutional collapse that Giuliani set himself to reverse is precisely the sort of thing that the post-Reagan Republican Party is designed not to see. Today, on the national level, both the unravelling of the health-insurance system and the loss of control of the borders are issues of the sort that New York City faced when Giuliani became mayor, and both health care and immigration are losers for the Republicans. Why is this? Because the expensive, labor-intensive, highly detailed governance that Giuliani provided is what is needed to address those issues, and that sort of governance has been declared impossible by modern conservatism.

* * *

What fun the era of Climate Dread promises to be, if we may judge by this retort from Jonah Goldberg to Ellen Goodman:

[Stupid, illogical, disgusting] are just some of the words that come to mind from this passage by Ellen Goodman:

I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.

No, Ellen. Let's not just say that. Denying that the industrialized mass-murder of millions actually happened isn't really quite the same thing as refusing to believe global warming is real....I know people who don't believe global warming is happening and let me just say they aren't the same people and to equate them with Holocaust deniers is a reprehensible attempt to dehumanize opponents in an argument.

It is a mistake to attribute the collapse in the last few weeks of all political resistance to the idea of anthropogenic global warming to the triumph of pseudoscience among the elites. For one thing, the science is not all that pseudo; the burden of proof really has flipped. The interesting point, though, is that global warming is popular, in the sense that people find the idea intuitive. In that it resembles global nuclear war, which was blowing up Earth and many other planets in science fiction for decades before the politicians finally bowed to popular demand and built the necessary infrastructure.

Nonetheless, I view these events with a measure of frustration. As I have no doubt mentioned before, in the late 1980s I tried to sell the management of Warren, Gorham & Lamont on a new publication dedicated to reporting on new laws and regulations related to climate change. The audience would have been local environmental agencies and the environmental bar. The reporter would have covered debates on the subject at the national and international levels, of course, but until laws were passed at those levels, the reporter would focus on local environmental initiatives, with a view to encouraging the standardization of local regulation. I acknowledged that this was all a little speculative at the time, but the market was certain to grow, and it would be an advantage to be first in the field. The weather itself would sell it for us.

That reporter was a good idea. It was just 20 years too early, if indeed it is not too early still. This has been typical of my experience of prescience. People are often right about what will happen, eventually. Getting the clock-time right is another matter. Perhaps it's one of those quantum-nonlocality things: you can send information as fast as you like, provided it doesn't mean anything.

* * *

And why am I waxing mystical? I just finished reading a review copy of Endless Things, the final book in John Crowley's Aegypt series. Actually, I just finished a review; that is another which I am not at the moment at liberty to upload. Until I can, here are some thoughts from a Crowley character on historical causality. They occur to him in Prague in 1969, as he looks up at the window from which the famous Defenestration of Prague occurred in 1618, and from which a Czech patriot was martyred in 1948:

Defenestration. Kraft looked up with the others. It was as though the sources of certain events lay not in their antecedent causes but in mirror or shadow events that lay far in the past or in the future; as though by chance a secret lever on a clockwork could be pressed that made it go after being long still, or as though a wind blowing up in one age could tear off leaves from trees and bring down steeples in another.

Is this helpful? Possibly not, but it's a lot of fun.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-02-07: Islamic Reformation; Pro-Natalist Irony; Kakutani on D'Souza

A less relaxed blogger might explain in angry detail that reproduction is only the central circle in the Ven diagram of the human model of marriage. The next layer is regulation of the co-existence of men and women, the next layer is the care of the elderly, and the last the transfer of property between generations. However, it almost is not worth making these points: Darwin will judge between the viability of those societies that favor gendered over gender-neutral models of marriage and those that do not.

I’ve always appreciated John J. Reilly’s point that marriage is an anthropological institution as much as a legal one. Natural marriage doesn’t require a ceremony or a license to come into being, which explains why Scandinavians don’t get married as much anymore, but you don’t see much change otherwise. They are in fact married, and act like it in terms of raising children and forming households, they are just skipping the ceremony and the paperwork. It is the behavior that matters, a stable orbit into which human beings can fall in a number of ways.

The state has its own reasons for regulating marriage, mostly related to stability and taxation and population growth. John referred to this as a pre-constitutional function of government, this is something any state has to do, because it is a state. Aristotle talked about this at length.

One of the greatest projects of the twentieth century was to find a way to lower the birthrate. Everyone who was anyone thought about it, and it looks like it actually worked!

Whether this was in fact a good idea is another matter. How this program interacted with the quite unplanned mechanism of the demographic transition is not well-explored, but it at least conceivable that the birth rate would have fallen regardless, given that it started to go down long before the middle of the twentieth century in America and Western Europe.

The Baby Boom post-WWII was a genuine departure from trend, which probably explains the reaction at the time. But the birth rate had been declining for a century, at least. At this point, we do seem to have hit some kind of floor.


Islamic Reformation; Pro-Natalist Irony; Kakutani on D'Souza

The hypothesis of an Islamic Reformation continues to surface, as we see in the current Newsweek piece by Fareed Zakaria:

For those in the West asking when Islam will have its Reformation, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the process appears to have begun. The bad news is it's been marked by calumny, hatred and bloody violence. In this way it mirrors the Reformation itself, which we now remember in a highly sanitized way. During that era, Christians of differing sects massacred each other as they fought to own the true interpretation of their religion. No analogy is exact, but something similar seems to be happening within Islam. Here the divide is between the Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the Muslim world, and the Shiites, who represent most of the other 15 percent.

The author notes that Al Qaeda as originally conceived was supposed to be indifferent to the Shia-Sunni divide. However, the radical Sunnis where Al Qaeda was able use violence also happened to have traditions of anti-Shiism, thus giving Al Qaeda's enterprise an unintended sectarian spin.

The trouble for Al Qaeda is that as a practical matter, loathing Shiites works in only a few places: principally Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some parts of the gulf....

These emerging divisions weaken Al Qaeda, but they will help most Muslims only if this story ends as the Reformation did. What is currently a war of sects must become a war of ideas. First, Islam must make space for differing views about what makes a good Muslim. Then it will be able to take the next step and accept the diversity among religions, each true in its own way.

The Reformation model does not really fit. There are some liturgical and ecclesial differences between Sunni and Shia, but the differences are more like those between Protestant denominations than between Rome and Luther. As I have perhaps already said once too often, in many ways Islam is a Reformation. Certainly with regard to the sort of tolerance that the author proposes as a goal, Islam has been there, done that, got the T-shirt. In fact, what we are seeing now is the combustion of that old consensus.

The conflict within Islam today is morbid in a way that the Western Reformation was not. At least as far as I know, there is no struggle of competing lines of doctrinal development, or a competition of views about the nature of reality and how the world should work. Essentially, oil money has provided the energy to put fossils in collision. Fossils can be very tough, but they are fundamentally brittle. Watch.

* * *

Here's a bit of irony waiting to happen. It comes to us from Washington State:

OLYMPIA, Wash. - An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled...“For many years, social conservatives have claimed that marriage exists solely for the purpose of procreation ... The time has come for these conservatives to be dosed with their own medicine," said WA-DOMA organizer Gregory Gadow in a printed statement.

A less relaxed blogger might explain in angry detail that reproduction is only the central circle in the Ven diagram of the human model of marriage. The next layer is regulation of the co-existence of men and women, the next layer is the care of the elderly, and the last the transfer of property between generations. However, it almost is not worth making these points: Darwin will judge between the viability of those societies that favor gendered over gender-neutral models of marriage and those that do not.

The interesting thing about this initiative is that we are in the last few years when it will immediately be perceived as a joke. There are below-replacement-level birthrate societies in Europe and East Asia, and even some depopulating states in the United States, that really should be considering pro-natalist schemes at least this radical, if not this stupid. It's a good bet that they soon will.

* * *

I hope soon to be able to publish a thorough response to Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home. Until then, though, let us amuse ourselves by considering the spluttering outrage that the book has elicited, not least on the part of The New York Times's own Michiko Kakutani:

It’s a nasty stewpot of intellectually untenable premises and irresponsible speculation that frequently reads like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of the crackpot right...

[D'Souza says] that “the left is the primary reason for Islamic anti-Americanism as well as the anti-Americanism of other traditional cultures around the world” because “liberals defend and promote values that are controversial in America and deeply revolting to people in traditional societies, especially in the Muslim world.”

He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer and the terrorism analyst Peter Bergen who have cited, as Mr. bin Laden’s chief grievances against America, the continued presence of American troops on the Arabian peninsula ...He similarly denounces liberals for promoting ideas like women’s rights around the world: this meddling, he argues, angers Muslims who see such foreign forms of liberation as undermining their religion and traditional family values. But he praises the Bush administration for trying to export democracy to Iraq....

Actually, D'Souza does address Steuer's assessment of the motivations of Al Qaeda, and does not wholly disagree. In fact, D'Souza often sounds rather like Steuer, and I think that is one of the problems with the book. In any case, Kakutani continues:

In the course of this book, Mr. D’Souza rages against the separation of church and state in American public life, and denounces what he calls “Secular Warriors” who are “trying to eradicate every public trace of the religious and moral values that most of the world lives by.” He contends that freedom in America “has come to be defined by its grossest abuses” and complains that in movies and television shows, “the white businessman in the suit is usually the villain,” “prostitutes are always portrayed more favorably and decently than anyone who criticizes them” and “homosexuals are typically presented as good-looking and charming, and unappealing features of the gay lifestyle are either ignored or presented in an amusing light.”

In this shrill, slipshod book, Mr. D’Souza often sounds as if he has a lot in common with those radical Middle Eastern mullahs who are eager to subject daily life to religious strictures and want to curtail individuals’ freedoms and civil liberties.

The book is indeed partisan, but by no means slipshod. As for the assertion that D'Souza is trying to accommodate the mullahs, all I can say is that those Times writers are just as sharp as a tack.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Future of Peace and Justice in the Global Village

C. S. Lewis famously made much the same argument in the Abolition of Man that McFaul makes here: the ethical systems of most world religions are strikingly similar, no matter how incompatible their ultimate claims about reality are.

An interesting aside here is if you look at the ethnographic literature, which typically doesn’t weight by the number of people who possess a particular culture, you will find much greater diversity of ethical systems. The number of people involved is often as few as thousands, rather than millions or billions which is what you get when you look at world religions.

Peter Kreeft took that idea and ran with it in his book Ecumenical Jihad, but John J. Reilly was skeptical of grand alliances between religions in the manner that Kreeft and McFaul describe.


The Future of Peace and Justice in the Global Village : The Role of the World Religions in the 21st Century
By Thomas R. McFaul
$49.95, Approx. 310 pp.
Praeger Publishers, 10/30/2006
ISBN: 0275993132

The hypothesis that the whole world is on a glide path toward a post-religious future is no longer accepted uncritically. Having gotten that far, however, political scientists have little notion what role religion will play in a world whose component parts seem fated to react with each other ever more intimately. Thomas R. McFaul, Professor of Ethics and Religious Studies Emeritus at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois (and author of Transformation Ethics) tries in this book to sketch the religious topography of the world and suggest ways that its main religious components might contribute to the harmonization of a more united world, or at least help to prevent a world of perpetual sectarian strife.

The author’s argument is essentially that of John Rawls: the most likely way to achieve concord is by prescinding from questions of worldview or theology and by focusing on those elements of the world’s ethical traditions that are compatible with the categorical imperative. He comes to this conclusion after an analysis of what he takes to be the seven major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism in the Asian group; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism in the Middle Eastern group. These faiths simply do not have compatible views on God, the afterlife, or the ontological status of their scriptures. He also rejects the proposal that the religions could easily unite transcendentally, at the level of religious experience. Even if the wordless apprehension of the divine is the same for mystics of all faiths, they eventually have to talk about what they have experienced, and then the fist-fights start. In contrast, standards of decent behavior are remarkably similar around the world whether people justify them in terms of the will of God or the need to avoid bad karma. Variations on the Golden Rule, the author argues, are very close to being universal.

The author would settle provisionally for a world of religious pluralism, but expects a near-term future of exclusivity, in which religious groups seek to divinize war and the state. His preference, however, is for a world in which the great religions reinterpret their traditions in such a way as to withdraw their claims to exclusive truth. He expounds at length on the different ways the Asian and Middle Eastern groups might do this, but the common theme is the need for an acknowledgment that none of theses faiths exhausts the truth and all of them are moving toward it. Only unity, or the prospect of unity, would really conduce to a stable world. In the long run, we are told, the tolerance necessary for pluralism is unacceptable, because tolerance can protect oppression.

Resistance is useless, particularly in the case of gender relations. The author purports to be in search of common ground among the great religions. However, when he finds one such common patch in the fact that no religious tradition treats men and women identically, he immediately digs up the patch and paves it over with gender equality. Similarly, it will be necessary for the ancient faiths in most cases to abandon their assumption that certain social institutions are “in the nature of things.” The state itself, of course, would have to be secular.

This book is a useful and interesting exercise. It is also good evidence, if any more were needed, that the one place that a Rawlsian reformation will not lead is to peace.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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