The Long View 2007-06-25: The Holy Grail; The Precautionary Principle; Cryptozoology; The Collapse of Europe Conference; The Costs of the Immigration Bill

John J. Reilly RIP

John J. Reilly RIP

When I republish one of John J. Reilly’s The Long View blog posts, I usually try to find some parallel in current events, or link his comments into his greater oeuvre. But, sometimes this is a struggle. This post has been.

In retrospect, John’s blogging was less interesting sub species aeternitatis, which probably shouldn’t be too surprising. His essays and book reviews, on the other, have held up well with time, and persistently are the most searched for and linked to items.

The best things I get out of the blog posts are a reflection on what the recent past was really like. It is easy to forget, for example, how many people really enthusiastically supported the Iraq War in 2003, all over the American political spectrum. Since this is somewhat embarrassing in retrospect, many of those people don’t choose to talk about it. I also reflect on how someone like John can both be embroiled in nakedly partisan controversies, and also capable penetrating insights that are of interest when mere current events have faded into just obscurity.

The Holy Grail; The Precautionary Principle; Cryptozoology; The Collapse of Europe Conference; The Costs of the Immigration Bill

The appalling thing about the Quest of the Holy Grail is not that it is futile, but how often it succeeds. I would not be surprised if this investigation produced an artifact of some sort:

An archaeologist has sparked a Da Vinci Code-style hunt for the Holy Grail after claiming ancient records show it is buried under a 6th century church in Rome...Alfredo Barbagallo, an Italian archaeologist, claims that it is buried in a chapel-like room underneath the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, one of the seven churches which Christian pilgrims used to visit when they came to Rome...The catacombs where Mr Barbagallo believes the cup to [be] buried come under the authority of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.

A spokesman said: "We are aware of the reports and a few weeks ago made an initial investigation of the area with the possibility of opening the catacombs up but as yet no decision has been made."

Actually, there has never been a lack of churches that had a chalice among their relics that was claimed to be the cup used at the Last Supper. As Richard Barber notes, there was never much effort in medieval times to tie these objects to the Grail legends. In fact, the identification of "the Grail" with the cup of the Last Supper was a relatively late development of the story, and more characteristic of the western than the eastern versions. The Church was not hostile to the Grail traditions. It just took no notice of them.

* * *

Fair weather is the most ominous, or so we may judge from this report that "Lightning kills man beneath cloudless sky":

A Dade landscaper died after being struck by an unusual type of lightning that's stronger, hotter, lasts longer and strikes from clear skies..Experts said Canales was killed by a weather phenomenon fittingly called a ''bolt from the blue'' or ''dry lightning'' because it falls from clear, blue skies. ...The fair -weather bolts pack a bigger, deadlier punch and form differently.

Most lightning bolts carry a negative charge, but ''bolts from the blue'' have a positive charge, carry as much as 10 times the current, are hotter and last longer.

The bolts normally travel horizontally away from the storm and reach farther than typical lightning, then curve to the ground.

Aside from affording a limitless supply of dread, why is this interesting? Because it is the perfect context in which to apply The Precautionary Principle:

[Dan Dixon, a meteorologist] said protecting yourself from such unexpected lightning is difficult.

"They are very unpredictable and very dangerous. We urge people to stay indoors even if you hear thunder only faintly in the distance,'' Dixon said. "If you're close enough to hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning."

As Garrison Keillor once put it: "It's never too early to barricade yourself in your basement and lie face down on the concrete floor."

* * *

Should you be in need of more speculative terrors, do not neglect the Centre for Fortean Zoology. These guys seem to be having too much fun. The hunt for the Mongolian Deathworms, available on the Centre's video page, is a classic of its kind. The search for the black pumas of Southern Illinois is recorded only in stills, but stills of beautiful country.

On the other hand, I don't think the cicadas the Centre investigated count as Fortean insects. They are just very ugly. And noisy.

* * *

The Collapse of Europe Conference went off without the roof falling in. As readers will recall, the conference was held at:

Pepperdine University and sponsored by the American Freedom Alliance, the Council for Democracy and Tolerance, and the university's school of public policy.

Mark Steyn did his Maple Leaf Savonarola routine, to the great satisfaction of all present. Note that the conference was not simply an occasion of lamentation. The participants seem to have been equally concerned with finding a way to recoup the situation:

Hugh Hewitt, the host of a syndicated radio talk show, a law professor and a contributor to, said a variety of steps need to be taken. Among them, Americans should support nonprofits working to alleviate problems in Europe, and Christians should think of the continent as a place where missionary work is needed, he said.

But what Gospel shall we preach to the savages? The question is not rhetorical.

* * *

Could this really be a new thought? Only now, it seems, are the Congressional Republicans suggesting to the White House that the Administration's immigration bill is exacting a cost on other issues:

Conservative leaders among House Republicans say that President Bush's upcoming showdown with them on immigration could threaten support for the Iraq war as well as for the president's other top policy goals.

There would be some cost to the Administration if the bill is defeated, but the Republican Party would be unlikely to survive its passage. I don't mean just that key Republican constituencies would be offended and look elsewhere for a political home. I mean that the bill would cause an immediate, visible, and intolerable police crisis, first at the border, and then nationwide. It's not just that there would be an increased flow of new arrivals; there would also be no point in enforcing the existing residency laws domestically, since everyone will be presumptively legal.

Both parties would get the blame for the visible collapse of public order, but the Republican Party would melt.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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