The Long View: Art: A New History

Paul Johnson is the Howard Zinn of the right. Like Zinn, he is really popular, but also like Zinn Johnson is also willing to bend the facts to tell the story he wants to tell. If you keep that in mind, Johnson's books can be fun and even informative, but he shouldn't be your primary source.

They Didn't Expect Him

They Didn't Expect Him

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose


Art: A New History
By Paul Johnson
HarperCollins, 2003
777 Pages, $39.95
ISBN 0-06-053075-8

 

Yes, it is possible to write a single-volume general history of art, if you narrow the definition and focus on your own enthusiasms. Paul Johnson is best known for his large-scale histories, written in the Burkean tradition of moralizing conservatism. He is also, however, a serious painter himself, and the son of a professional. He suggests that he might have made art his career, but his father warned him that the future would belong to charlatans like Picasso. Actually, what's remarkable about this book is that it's mostly about what the author likes. This is a commendable approach that all conservative cultural critics should emulate, especially with regard to 20th-century material.

You can put only so much into a profusely illustrated 777-page over-size book (with still not nearly enough illustrations, alas!). “Art” here means physical art objects: painting, architecture, and sculpture, in about that order of emphasis, but also mosaic, stained glass, landscaping, and even tattooing and body painting. For the most part, it's Western art; the rest of the world enters in as it affects the art of the West.

The author has his theories; or better, his standards. Art, we learn, is part of the essential human search for order and pattern. The highest art, in Johnson's view, tells the truth about life, which generally means that it is figurative. Still, all art is editing, whether the result is highly formalized or photographically realistic. The healthy norm for art throughout history has been a continuous tension between a canon of technique and the need of individual artists to express themselves. The tension takes the form of long waves, in which generations of complication and refinement alternate with generations of simplicity and “classicism.”

Johnson deplores the modern prejudices against drama in figurative art, and even against mere size. What the Renaissance called “terribilitá” is not so different from what Burke meant by “the sublime.” The author also insists on the reality of “fine art.” Such works can be created only with notable skill. They repay a second look, and many looks thereafter. Indeed, one of the characteristics of fine art is a capacity to delight that outlives its period. In this, as in other ways, it differs from “fashion art,” in which the level of novelty exceeds the level of skill. The effect of fashion art is that whatever capacity it has to please is soon exhausted, thus creating the demand for more fashion art, and yet more. When fashion art crowds out fine art, that is a bad thing.

Johnson moves with due caution through the intimidating specialties of Paleolithic art, the art of the ancient Near East, and into the time of the Greeks and Romans. Then the story begins to deal with known artists and acknowledged masterpieces, mostly sculptures of the human figure. Johnson sadly follows the story of Greco-Roman painting. Little has survived, none of much merit, and there is no reason to suppose that the known lost masterpieces were much better. As for the decline of classical art, all we really learn is that something snapped in the second-century AD. A century later, and emperors were reduced to stripping ornaments from earlier monuments to use on their own memorials.

Johnson emphasizes the continuities between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, both chronological and geographical. The north drove the transition, especially in drawing, more than the Italians have ever been willing to admit. Interesting as all this is, Johnson obviously chafes to get to artists who typically did what he does, which is paint in oils, on canvas (or later, with watercolors). Johnson virtually pounds the table in frustration that artists of the skill of Giotto were still restricted to the fresco, an awkward and notoriously fragile medium. On meeting Caravaggio (1573-1610), there is almost a sigh of relief: at last we are talking about oil painting, with chiaroscuro, dramatic subject matter, and a complete grasp of perspective and lighting. The artist even had a long arrest record. Art had achieved the mature form from which it would not begin to decline until the end of the 19th century.

No sooner was the paint dry on Caravaggio's canvases than the first of a series of classical revivals set in to correct what were seen to be his excesses, a dialectic that continued throughout the long climacteric of art in the West. The chief theater of creativity shifted from Italy (whose cultural life never quite recovered after the decline of papal patronage) to the west and north. Johnson has a merry time explaining how French governmental interference spoilt French academic painting, particularly the relative disparagement of landscapes. The best portraiture in history was, of course, done in the Low Countries, in an unexampled tradition that continued until the economic eclipse of the Netherlands by England. The rise of the private market made that tradition possible. The same pattern manifested itself in architecture in England, where Whig grandees built fine country homes to rival the tawdry splendor of Versailles.

Johnson is keen on 19th century landscape painting, chiefly the American Hudson River School (“Illuminist” is the term that later art criticism prefers for this episode), and he also surveys similar work in the rest of the English-speaking world. However, his nominee for best painting of the century is a disturbing interior scene from Russia: Ilya Repin's “They Did Not Expect Him.” The painting brings the viewer into the story of a man obviously just returning from exile in Siberia to a middle-class home. For my money, though, the one jaw-dropping illustration in the book is John Sargent's “Carnation, Lilly, Lilly, Rose.”

The conjuncture of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and the new treatment of light by Turner marked the great point of flexion in the history of Western art. Turner was trying to implement Goethe's theory of sight as the perception of color rather than of shapes, but he had no intention of moving away from figurative art: quite the opposite. As for the Pre-Raphaelites, they were the first Movement, complete with a manifesto and the will to shock. What surprises now is that they were part of a Christian revival, one that affected all the arts in the 19th century. A string of unintended consequences ensued.

It was in Paris (wouldn't you know?) that things started to go off the rails. The Impressionists were actually a pretty conservative bunch, fine draftsmen for the most part. Like Turner, they thought that the most important aspect of painting was color. They experimented with abstraction as a type of foregrounding. Manet introduced some technical innovations that made painting “faster.” All this was to better represent immediate experience. The real trend, however, was to represent what the artist knew was there, even if that meant abandoning perspective and accurate figure-drawing. So the Cubists increasingly did. Soon, surrealists learned to treat the artwork simply as an object. Both tendencies moved away from representational art. Novelty became easier to produce, and found a ready market. The ignition of the fashion-art engine was lit, and the jumbo jet of imposture took to the sky.

Johnson finds much to commend in the 20th century's fine arts, including all the major representational artists he can find (not an enormous number, really). He is tolerant of abstractionists like Kandinsky, whose work you can enjoy without knowing the theory. Even the theory-minded Mondrian had integrity. For the most part, though, he finds the fine art of the 20th century cynical, ephemeral, and repetitive. The last point is important: the installations and performance art of the last third of the 20th century simply repeated the Dada of the early decades, but without the original humor. Too much 20th-century art was perpetrated by great imposters. The model is Picasso, a manufacturer of fashion objects on an industrial scale. The fine arts at the beginning of the 21st century still suffer from systemic distortions. A cartel of fashion artists, gallery directors, and art dealers contrive to bid up the price of new fashion art and unload it on the galleries. People who sell stock in this way are liable to arrest.

The fashion artists had entertainment value, and even a kind of skill: people who tried to reproduce Jackson Pollock's effects, for instance, generally found that they couldn't. Still, the measure of the century is perhaps this faint damn of Andy Warhol: “He was not so much an artist, for his chief talent was for publicity, as a comment on twentieth-century art, and as such a valuable person, in a way.”

In product design and in architecture, the original impulse of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement had good effects until almost the middle of the 20th century. The Movement itself lasted only a few years, of course, but it begat the Arts & Crafts Movement, which begat Art Nouveau, which was really just an early form of Art Deco. Johnson loves Art Nouveau down to the last futon, and grieves that so much was scrapped by 1950. (The White House was extensively decorated by Tiffany, incidentally, but Theodore Roosevelt got rid of it all: Louis Tiffany, Roosevelt said, had “laid his hands on other men's wives.”) Louis Sullivan's skyscrapers were in this tradition. Sullivan actually laid down the principle that “form follows function,” by which he meant that decoration should relate to the purpose of the building, not that buildings should not be decorated. This philosophy produced several decades of fine buildings, from cathedrals to railway stations. (There has yet to be a fine airport, in Johnson's estimation.)

Unfortunately, by mid-century, Germany had done for architecture what France had done for painting. Walter Gropius, we are told, suffered from a physical handicap that made it impossible for him to manipulate a pencil. He was, however, a master of ideology, most of it wrongheaded. Gropius's Bauhaus sought “a new architecture for the machine age.” This ignored more than a century of experience with industrial design and new materials, much of it as good as building has ever been. Then there was the Bauhaus preference for straight lines over curves, based on the bizarre notion that straight lines were “scientific.” The theories may have been comical (especially when Le Corbusier got hold of them), but the result was the three most dismal decades in architecture since the fall of Rome.

In the age of the “machines for living,” according to Johnson, libraries baked their books, hospitals killed their patients, and the people forced to dwell in the glass-and-concrete boxes showed a marked tendency toward homicide. This assessment is a cartoon, to put it mildly, but certainly the official architecture of the third quarter of the 20th century was often both banal and uncomfortable. Happily, the ice broke in the 1970s. Major buildings were again free to be ugly in an interesting way. Public works, particularly bridges, were often stunning. Johnson looks benignly on the “Lower Frivolity,” the riotous mixture of styles that Las Vegas has come to represent. Such structures are temporary, and they are fun. The problem is the “Higher Frivolity” represented by buildings like Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: they are fun, too, but the joke gets old.

Painting and sculpture are reviving, after decades in which art schools made a point of not teaching their students how to draw. Johnson is sanguine: “Human life is short but the life of art is long and the best is yet to come.” Still, the advances in the art of restoration on which Johnson dwells are not the stuff from which Renaissances are made. Perhaps we are looking toward a period whose work will be chiefly the recovery of the great tradition. If so, this book shows that task will be no small glory.

This review originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of First Things 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Organelle Transplant

Yesterday on Twitter, Razib Khan remarked that he hadn't realized pro-life Christians relate genetics to souls.

Since I wasn't party to the conversation, I have no idea what was said. I have heard things like this however, and it made me go hmmm....

I decided to respond in a blog post, since Twitter sucks for anything moderately complicated.

The bigger context for this is a proposal to treat mitochondrial disease that was approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom. In what seems like an attempt to annoy the maximum number of people possible, this procedure is usually described as a 'three-parent baby'. While there is a germ of truth in this description, you could also call it an organelle transplant, since the intent is to replace defective mitochondria with working ones.

The germ of truth is this: the replacement mitochondria should breed true, because the technique referenced in the article, pronuclear transfer, removes the male and female pronuclei from one fertilized egg [the one with defective mitochondria in the cytoplasm] and moves them to another fertilized egg [whose pronuclei have been removed] with different mitochondria. These new mitochondria are in fact from a third person, and are genetically distinct from the other woman's.

I use organ transplant as a reference point, because a donated organ also contains DNA different from the recipient's. The key difference here is that your donor liver's DNA cannot be passed down to future descendants.

So why does anyone care? People care because 1) pro-life Christians are generally essentialists, meaning that essences or forms [in the Platonic or Aristotelian sense] define what things are, and 2) popular science accounts of genes or DNA usually describe these things as our 'essence' [in the loose popular sense of the word]. Thus our genes probably seem real important to some folks, and tampering with them is tantamount to playing God. I think this is a misunderstanding, albeit a predictable one.

In my opinion, I don't think the fact of getting DNA from a different source matters at all in its own right. One reason is much the same one Razib talks about in his tweet:

Some of our genes are indeed from viruses and stuff. There is a theory that mitochondria were once separate organisms that have become symbiotes. A lot of genes are common to all life on Earth. Strictly considered, a gene is just a way of encoding information about proteins. Any gene that works in some fashion is a real gene, although some clearly work better than others.

The second reason is that I think a lot of pro-life Christians have made a philosophical mistake in conflating the terms we use to talk about people. John Reilly said it, and I just stole it:

A human is an essence (if you don't believe in essences you don't believe in human beings); a homo sapiens is a kind of monkey; and a person is a phenomenon. Perhaps I read too much science fiction, but it is not at all clear to me that every human must necessarily be a homo sapiens. As for person, which is an entity, conscious or otherwise, that you can regard as a "thou," is conflated with the notion of person, as an entity able to respond in law, either directly or through an agent.

Human ≠ homo sapiens. It just ain't. Popular science accounts are correct insofar as homo sapiens is a biological concept, it can be usefully defined using genes. Human is a philosophical concept, moreover one that is dependent on a specific context to really be cogent. I think that at the very least Neanderthals were humans too, and possibly other hominins. Hell, if we were consistent, pygmies might be considered a separate species from homo sapiens, because they split off from other humans 300,000 years ago, which is before the currently defined date of the origin of anatomically modern humans

I have my doubts about the current theories, but that doesn't matter. Human is a status that is in principle independent of lineage. In practice, it isn't, but that is different from saying that they are identical.

Now, what about this mitochondrial replacement therapy? I'm still opposed. The reason has nothing to do with genes. In my philosophical tradition, there are three criteria an act must meet to be considered good:

  1. Right act
  2. Right end
  3. Right circumstances

The techniques in the Wikipedia article all involve IVF, which means creating embryos using harvested eggs and sperm, which has a pretty horrible success rate [10-20%]. That in itself isn't damning, but the way in which unused embryos are discarded [that essentialism again], and the way in which sperm and eggs are collected are objectionable in their own right. Only criterion 2) is met: preventing disease is a very good thing, especially if you can help reduce future occurrences. Anyone who doesn't share my premises about human embryos [if you don't believe in essences, you don't believe in humans], will likely not agree with my objections to IVF, although I do note that even people who are in theory in favor of it tend to find it icky and horrible when they see it.

The Long View 2004-10-04: The First Presidential Debate; The Vatican; EU Accounting

A very pure version of the Red vs. Blue electoral map.

A very pure version of the Red vs. Blue electoral map.

The George W. Bush versus John Kerry election in 2004, as described by John here, is a very interesting foretaste of things to come. Bush is described, accurately in my opinion, as a cheerleader for the war in Iraq launched in 2003, while Kerry was interested in the details but less obviously committed to do whatever it was that needed doing. In retrospect, our subsequent Presidents fit that mold as well; President Obama's Hope and Change, and President Trump's Make America Great Again! themes are both more about allowing people to project their hopes and desires onto a charismatic figure, than a detailed policy brief.

President Obama didn't manage to live up to everyone's expectations, but he remained popular nevertheless. We might expect that Trump's campaign promises will follow a similar path, and perhaps his approval rating as well.


The First Presidential Debate; The Vatican; EU Accounting

Last night, John Kerry and George Bush were trying to do different things. Kerry was trying to start an argument about factual and policy questions related to Iraq. Bush was questioning Kerry's consistency. The theme of Bush's remarks was that nothing is so important in winning a war as the obvious determination of the leadership to win it. He repeated the point so often that he sometimes sounded monomaniacal. Kerry did very well, but he signally failed to sound as determined to win the Iraq War as Bush did. The failure is lethal, I think. Kerry did not dispute that the war should be won; he was less clear about why or how. A tie is not enough when you are 10 points behind.

As a speaker, Kerry was significantly but not embarrassingly better than Bush. (Kerry was, perhaps, aided by a debate format that prevented him from bloviating to his heart's content.) However, Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention was very good, too. The convention helped him not at all, and Gallup suggests that the same pattern is repeating itself:

Prior to the debate, viewers chose Bush over Kerry in handling the Iraq war by 54% to 40%. After the debate, the comparable figures were essentially unchanged, 54% to 43%.
As I have noted before, Kerry's tepid pro-war stance actually discourages a large part of his base. Provided the incumbent seems acceptably competent, it also does nothing to attract people who think that war and security are the most important issues.

I predict that Bush will ace the domestic policy debates, much though I disagree with most of his program. There are no global solutions to the questions involved, and Bush is actually pretty good at MBA stuff.

* * *
On the matter of polls, I was astonished by a result in a parody poll that appeared in The Weekly Standard of October 4, nominally from the Pew Research Center. In an answer to the question "What are you thinking right now?" we learn that 8% of the people were thinking:

If you could have really small elephants as pets, I would totally have one.

How did they know?

* * *
Despite John Paul II's opposition to the Iraq War, the Vatican's current policy is becoming indistinguishable from Washington's. At least, that is one way to take a recent round up in Chiesa of signs and portents of a shift of policy:

The first indication came on September 20. Cardinal Camillo Ruini [president of the Italian bishops' conference] spoke to the permanent council of the Italian bishops' conference, and repeated the duty of the Christian West to "oppose organized terror with the greatest energy and determination, without giving the slightest impression of considering their blackmail and their impositions," and at the same time, to transform into "our principal allies" the elements of the Muslim world that desire liberty and democracy.

The Holy See has become very keen on getting NATO to support Ilad Alawyi's government in Iraq, and specifically to help secure democratic elections in that country. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, put it like this:

The child has been born. It may be illegitimate, but it's here, and it must be reared and educated.

Such assistance would be consistent with either Bush or Kerry's plans for Iraq. The Kerry people might find it embarrassing if it were offered without his intervention.

* * *
On a completely different note, readers are aware that members of the euro-zone now work under fiscal constraints comparable to those of the states of the United States. Most states are forbidden by their own constitutions from running deficits in their operating budgets; euro countries are supposed to keep their deficits under 3% of GDP. However, creative state legislatures in the US have long since learned how to shift their debt off-budget. Europe is now following suit, as Floyd Norris explains in today's New York Times piece, European Budget Games: Why Paris Can Seem to Act Like Albany:

In France, [for instance,] the determination to spend is similar, but the tactics being used would be quite familiar in many a state capital. The government owns the major electric and gas utilities, which face huge pension bills. You might think that would harm the budget, but France has a better idea.
The two utilities will transfer part of their pension obligations to the government, thus making them more attractive to investors. They will pay the government at least 7 billion euros to take on the obligations - and that money will count as revenue for measuring the budget deficit. It is a neat trick to balance a national budget by taking on additional obligations.

This is almost as much fun to think about as the tiny elephants.

An important difference (between America and Europe, not the elephants) is that the balanced-budget requirements are self-imposed by the states. As far as the federal system goes, states can issue all the debt they like, on or off-budget. States without these caps have defaulted in the past, to the surprised consternation of their foreign creditors. The euro restrictions, in contrast, are imposed from the outside.

Once again, we see that the European Union is becoming a system of post-democratic tyranny, mitigated by unenforceability.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-03-17: St. Patrick's Feast Day Edition

No evidence to back idea of learning styles

Steven Pinker [among others] writes a letter to the Guardian against currently fashionable learning styles fads in education. In the post pointing to this, Steve Sailer offers a mild counterpoint based on his position that a lot of "neuroscience" findings are better thought of as something like marketing, a real benefit, but nothing lasting like science should be.

Why so many conservative Christians feel like a persecuted minority

Damon Linker pens a sympathetic and critical take on Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option.

Geoarchaeologist Proposes There Was a “World War Zero”

I first came across this idea on Jerry Pournelle's website as the first dark age. This was a period of steep decline that makes the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire seem minor in comparison. In the first dark age, even the memory of writing was lost. When the Greeks began to rebuild, the fortifications of their predecessors were seen as the work of monsters, rather than men, because no one could conceive of building anything as massive. I had not heard the term 'Luwians' to describe the people of the Anatolian peninsula who may perhaps be the 'Sea People' who overran much of the civilized Eastern Mediterranean in that time.

The Fall of Rome and "The Benedict Option"

I'm not really sympathetic to Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, and a big part of the reason is that his metaphor is a really bad description of what actually happened in the fifth century.

When Public Policy meets Elementary Biology

To go along with Ross Douthat's plan to create a series of immodest proposals to try and shift public policy debates into more useful channels, here is Henry Harpending's take on how we should shift welfare policies to take into account human biology. Henry implied at the end of the post that his suggestion needed amendment to prevent bad consequences, but to my knowledge, Henry never published a followup to this before he died, which is a damn shame.

An Oxford comma changed this court case completely

I've always been a fan of the Oxford comma.

Immigrations and Public Finances in Finland Part I: Realized Fiscal Revenues and Expenditures

Emil Kirkegaard posted this on Twitter. The graph in the source report is astonishing.

Net current transfers without indirect taxes by country of birth in 2011.

Net current transfers without indirect taxes by country of birth in 2011.

Net fiscal effects by country of birth in 2011. Averages for populations aged 20-62 years old.

Net fiscal effects by country of birth in 2011. Averages for populations aged 20-62 years old.

The originating organization is a Finnish anti-immigration group, but the results astonished just about everyone. The methodology is an attempt to account for all taxes, direct and indirect, as well as government spending of all kinds. I'm not sure I would hang my hat on it, but I'm not sure it's wrong either.

Lean In’s Biggest Hurdle: What Most Moms Want

Any attempt at statistical parity in childcare is doomed to failure, because many women actually like having kids and raising them. This isn't to say that every woman wants kids, or that every woman must stay home, but given the option, many women do choose to either work part-time, or leave work entirely for a period of time.

BOOK REVIEW: SEEING LIKE A STATE

I can't improve on SSC's opening paragraph:

Seeing Like A State is the book G.K. Chesterton would have written if he had gone into economic history instead of literature. Since he didn’t, James Scott had to write it a century later. The wait was worth it.

Right or wrong direction: The nation generally

This Reuters poll on whether the nation is generally going in the right direction is pretty striking. Especially if you compare it to this Gallup poll on President Trump's approval ratings.

I naively expected these results would roughly track [keep in mind the timeframes are very different]. They don't at all, which is pretty interesting. 

Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals

I also have a hard time taking complaints about modern animal husbandry seriously.

Reading Log update

I found that my reading log had grown a bit wild and woolly over the last eight years, so I went through and spiffed everything up, adding links to book reviews, and titles and authors on the journal articles that were missing them. It was fun to relive some of my favorite books and articles over the lifetime of this blog. 

Maybe someday I'll add in all of the pre-2008 journal articles I have saved....

The Long View 2004-09-28: How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Most of the attention has been focused on how the Clintons were frustrated in their political ambitions by the election of Donald Trump, but he also easily bested the Bush family. I wouldn't count either family out, especially the Bushes, who have been in this game for a very long time.


How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

 

You really can't improve on headlines like the one above. It's the title of a recent piece in The Guardian, which tells its readers this:

George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany....The debate over Prescott Bush's behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time.

Actually, it must have been bubbling so far under the surface that the reporters who researched it for this article may have discovered that the Earth has a nugget center. But some specifics:

In 1924, [Prescott's] father-in-law, a well-known St Louis investment banker, helped set him up in business in New York with Averill Harriman, the wealthy son of railroad magnate E H Harriman in New York, who had gone into banking...One of the first jobs Walker gave Bush was to manage UBC. Bush was a founding member of the bank and the incorporation documents, which list him as one of seven directors, show he owned one share in UBC worth $125. ...The bank was set up by Harriman and Bush's father-in-law to provide a US bank for the Thyssens, Germany's most powerful industrial family.

The argument that Hitler's rise to power was financed chiefly by German industrialists has been pretty thoroughly refuted. Still, the steel magnate Fritz Thyssen is an example to the contrary. He supported Hitler in the second half of the 1920s, when the Weimar economy was doing fine and the Nazi Party was down on its luck. This had nothing to do with his business relations in the US, which were in any case managed through a Dutch subsidiary.

During the 1920s, it was the policy of the US government to encourage American investment in Germany, in order to keep the various war-reparations schemes afloat. Nonetheless, those unremarkable contacts, and their equally unremarkable continuance into the 1930s, have been God's gift to conspiracy theorists ever since. There is progress, however. Now, there are lawyers:

The two Holocaust survivors suing the US government and the Bush family for a total of $40bn in compensation claim both materially benefited from Auschwitz slave labour during the second world war...The petition to The Hague states: "From April 1944 on, the American Air Force could have destroyed the camp with air raids, as well as the railway bridges and railway lines from Hungary to Auschwitz. The murder of about 400,000 Hungarian Holocaust victims could have been prevented."...The case is built around a January 22 1944 executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt calling on the government to take all measures to rescue the European Jews. The lawyers claim the order was ignored because of pressure brought by a group of big American companies, including BBH, where Prescott Bush was a director.

The wonder thing about "stories" like this one in The Guardian is that it lets you mention "Bush's Nazi colleagues" in paragraph after paragraph, provided you mention the in first one that you mean Prescott, or possibly people who served on the same boards as Prescott.

* * *

All these people overlook the most important 20th-century Bush, by the way: Vannevar Bush, the physicist who is credited with inventing the idea of hypertext, as well as with organizing scientific research for the federal government during and after World War II. I was crushed to discover recently that he was not GWB's uncle, or any other near relation. (Anyone who knows of a relationship, please tell me.)

I also learn that the physicist's name is not as cool as might appear. "Vannevar" looks as if it should be spoken with a fine Viking ring, but in fact it rhymes with "receiver."

* * *

Meanwhile, that Other Spengler who writes for Asia Times has contrived to bring the Culture and the Terror Wars into harmony:

Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, reduced his city's crime rate by applying pressure on petty criminals, such as the "squeegee men", derelicts who cleaned windshields for a tip. The police bore down on marijuana dealers, vandals and other minor offenders they previously ignored, in the correct supposition that they would have information leading to more dangerous criminals. That is the anti-terror strategy of the Department of Homeland Security, which has criminalized not only the terrorists, but also ideological sympathizers of the terrorists as well. That is, the American definition of "terrorist sympathizer" includes not only the local mosque official who took donations for charities associated with Hamas, but also otherwise peaceful men who offer mere ideological justification for jihad, including Islamic scholars of global reputation and job offers at leading universities. It is an unpleasant but efficient policy.

It is sometimes said that Islamicism has no realistic hope of success because, unlike Soviet Communism, it has no native allies in the West. However, as Christopher Hitchens remarked today, that just isn't true:

A few [Kerry supporters] pin a vague hope on the so-called "debates"—which are actually joint press conferences allowing no direct exchange between the candidates—but most are much more cynical. Some really bad news from Iraq, or perhaps Afghanistan, and/or a sudden collapse or crisis in the stock market, and Kerry might yet "turn things around." You have heard it, all right, and perhaps even said it. But you may not have appreciated how depraved are its implications. If you calculate that only a disaster of some kind can save your candidate, then you are in danger of harboring a subliminal need for bad news. And it will show. What else explains the amazingly crude and philistine remarks of that campaign genius Joe Lockhart, commenting on the visit of the new Iraqi prime minister and calling him a "puppet"? Here is the only regional leader who is even trying to hold an election, and he is greeted with an ungenerous sneer.

The roots of treason go deeper than mere electoral politics. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the defense against Islamicism will require the end of the multicultural ideology that made the threat invisible and unmentionable for so long. Elements of the academy and the media are willing to trade the increase in physical danger, which a Kerry victory would obviously bring, for the preservation of their social and cultural status.

The assessment is quite rational, even compelling. Don't expect it to change, no matter what happens on the battlefield.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Starcraft: Evolution Book Review

Starcraft: Evolution
By Timothy Zahn
Del Rey Books, 2016
$28.00; 354 pages
ISBN 9780425284735

In general, I don't read videogame books for the same reason I don't watch videogame movies. With a few exceptions, they all suck. I picked this volume up because Timothy Zahn is one of my favorite authors, and I wanted to see if he could pull off a novel about the real-time strategy (RTS) game Starcraft.

To my pleasant and mild surprise, he did. I say mild, because I figured if anyone could do it, Zahn could. When I saw the book on the shelf, I imagined a pitch:

He could do for Starcraft now what he did for Star Wars in the early 1990s.

I don't have any reason to think anything remotely like this actually occurred, but it was a funny thought. I say pleasant, because I found that I was actually having a hard time putting this book down. 

Even though I am a fan of Starcraft the game, I always found the story a bit confusing and hard to remember. Since most of the dialogue in-game happens in briefing sessions introducing the next mission, this isn't really surprising. Zahn managed to tie everything together into a satisfying narrative, and there was even a handy timeline in the endpapers that cleared some events up for me.

I would be surprised if anyone who wasn't already a fan of either Zahn or Starcraft would pick up this volume. Especially if you hadn't played Starcraft, a lot of context would likely be missing, although I feel that Zahn did a good job salting in backstory. But to miss this book would be a shame, since it was fun to read. This is a solid military sci-fi novel by a good author. Anyone who likes those things should have a decent chance at enjoying this book, even if you don't know what a Firebat is.

My other book reviews

Linkfest 2017-03-10

Why the campus protests at Middlebury matter

C. C. Pecknold argues the position I took last week: the existing political coalitions in the US are breaking up.

The four fallacies of warfare, according to Donald Trump’s new national security advisor

John J. Reilly used to argue for #4 on a regular basis. 

We need more useless knowledge

I don't buy this argument. Most of the examples cited were wartime research projects.

A Different Bargain on Race

Ross Douthat channels Steve Sailer to argue that we should alter the deal.

What if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Had Swapped Genders?

The actors for this nailed the delivery, gestures, and body language of the candidates.

Letter from Secretary Ryan Zinke

I'm glad to see he says he is opposed to the sale of public lands.

American Carnage

This is a harrowing read about the rise of opioid deaths in the US.

Peter Thiel talks fracking and globalization

Thiel credits fracking with a bigger impact than Silicon Valley, which seems about right.

The Ancient Ghost City of Ani

The ruins of an medieval Armenian capital.

F.D.A. Official Under Bush Is Trump’s Choice to Lead Agency

The FDA drug approval process is actually pretty prompt, given what needs to be done. The hard part is getting the necessary evidence to prove your therapy works.

The plot against the Pope

Damian Thompson points out that even some of Pope Francis' supporters seem to hope he will resign.

The Long View 2004-09-24: Jurisdiction, Under God; Niall's Little England; Kerry Defended

I still think John is right that it wouldn't be possible at present for Congress to use it's theoretical authority to define the jurisdiction of the federal courts. In another generation, who knows?


Jurisdiction, Under God; Niall's Little England; Kerry Defended

 

I see that more legislation is in the works to limit judicial review by restricting the jurisdiction of the federal courts. The latest effort along these lines was the passage by the House yesterday of the Pledge Protection Act of 2004, which says in relevant part:

'No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance, as defined in section 4 of title 4, or its recitation.'. The limitation in this section shall not apply to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Why that exclusion of the District of Columbia courts? Probably because Congress is the supreme legislature for the District, and the drafters of the bill want to be able to handle the matter locally.

Bills like this are introduced so that legislators will have something to put on their campaign literature. In this case, the bill lets congressmen say that they have done their bit to control run-away courts. Actually, as readers to this blog know, I fully agree that the practice of judicial review has become untethered, but not in this context. The courts really are authorized by the Constitution to hear cases like this, and a Supreme Court decision that found the Pledge unconstitutional could at least be plausible. In any case, we need not consider the matter again here: the Senate is very unlikely to take up the bill.

By far the more interesting point is this business about limiting review by the courts. The Constitution gives Congress the power to define the jurisdiction of the Courts, but the scope of that power is one of those things that mankind was not meant to know. It's like the Commerce Clause: sane people don't ask the Supreme Court what its limits are. Nonetheless, non-sane people often draft legislation and then vote for it. Many persons of the same sort sit on the federal bench. So, what happens when legislation like this is put to the test in a culture-war context?

Assume, as is likely, that the courts find that the limitation of jurisdiction falls short of some constitutionally mandated minimum. It makes no difference whether that minimum is visible only to the judges; their decision would then be the last word on the books. The legislative and the executive branches would then have to acquiesce, or ignore the most recent interpretation of the law. The latter would be politically impossible.

Some proposed legislation of this sort have bite-back clauses: any judge who tries to pass judgment on a matter that the legislature says is beyond his jurisdiction would be considered to have committed an impeachable offense. That's not good enough, frankly. It is nearly impossible to impeach a federal judge even for ordinary crimes; there is small likelihood of impeaching one on a policy dispute.

No: something must happen automatically if a judge tries to exceed this sort of jurisdictional limitation, and it must not happen to the judge. The law limiting jurisdiction must contain a provision that would require Congress and the president to decide whether a court has exceeded its authority. The sequence might run like this:

A court finds the definition of jurisdiction unconstitutional;

The president is automatically notified;

He has 30 days in which he may decide whether to issue the an executive order declaring the decision a nullity. If he does, it cannot then be published in the official compilations of federal court decisions that can be cited as precedents;

Congress has a further 60 days to overturn the executive order by a simple majority vote;

Any further judicial decisions in derogation of the executive order would be subject to the same review process.

As I said, only non-sane people think about this sort of thing.

* * *

Meanwhile, I see that Niall Ferguson has grown too grand for NYU to be his American connection; he is now a professor of history at Harvard, though still quite a Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. I learn these things from the byline to his recent piece in The SpectatorBritain First, in which he advises Great Britain to throw off the special relationship with the United States, and take up with the Scarlet Woman of Brussels:

Whatever else has gone wrong in Iraq, then, the decision these two men took to overthrow Saddam Hussein has not fatally weakened them at home. It may even have strengthened Mr Bush. Yet the question that continues to trouble me, 18 months after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, remains: What was in it for us? To put it more precisely: in what respect, if any, was and is Britain's support for American policy in our national interest?....

The interests of the United States and the United Kingdom have in fact been divergent for many decades. They were perhaps most perfectly complementary a century ago, when Joseph Chamberlain and others discerned the impossibility of maintaining Britain's Far Eastern empire without American support, and the United States still considered itself a hemispheric power. There was another good reason for Anglo-American partnership by 1917, when it seemed that Britain could not defeat Germany without American financial and military support.....

Mr Blair's fervid Atlanticism therefore marks a discontinuity — a break in the longer-term deterioration of Anglo-American relations....

Mr Bush's tacit imperialism -- so much more resolute than that of his predecessor -- has found its staunchest support in Mr Blair's private faith. On they march, these two Christian soldiers, each with a Bible in one hand and a bazooka in the other...The trouble is that while a majority of Americans are receptive to what might be called a faith-based foreign policy, very few Britons are.

I am a great fan of Niall Ferguson, but sometimes I think that he writes things on a bet. ("You don't believe I'd really go on the BBC and advocate cannibalism for overpopulated countries? A case of Guinness Stout says your wrong!") Quite aside from the fact that the "special relationship" is one of those things that seem to take forever to die, the premise of his argument is wrong.

If it were actually the case that Bush's foreign policy is just an example of forthright imperialism, then it would be true that Britain would have no special reason to support it. Imperialism is just exported nationalism; no country has an interest in supporting another's nationalism. However, the point does not apply here. The world has evolved in such a way that the United States has become a cosmopolitan utility, like the UN, except that the US works. What the US has been doing since 911 is a little like a man manually working the pump on a small boat with a hull breach. Strictly speaking, he is working in his own interests, but he can't save himself without saving the other passengers. Some of the brighter passengers will realize that the relationship is mutual.

Britain could freeload off of this service, as Canada and Germany are content to do. The price of that, of course, is that such countries will be less and less consulted on matters of the first moment.

* * *

Speaking of French delusions, let me first make a defense of John Kerry. Swiftvet John O'Neill recently said about antiwar activist John Kerry's meeting over 30 years ago with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegates to the Paris Peace Talks:

"It would be like an American today meeting with the heads of al Qaeda," said O'Neill.

By no means. Talking with al Qaeda would be like doing a face-to-face interview with the Unabomber when he was still at large. Some people should not be talked to, but shot on sight. (Well, arrested.) If you do not try to help bring them to justice, you are an accomplice. In contrast, the US government found the Communist delegations to the Paris talks fit to treat with. If Kerry was trying to some negotiating on his own, he was arguably committing a felony, but that's another matter.

That said, though, the way that Kerry continues to follow the Vietnam script is becoming eerie. Consider this headline, about the recent visit of the Iraqi prime minister, which I will not trouble to link to:

Kerry: Allawi Abets Bush in Putting on 'Best Face'

Allawi "abets" Bush in making an argument for his own government, does he? It's exactly like the antiwar movement in 1971: nothing but defeat will do.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-09-21: You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I was never able to take Pat Buchanan's critique of the Iraq War seriously because of statements like the one quoted in John's post here. While Buchanan was pretty right about the war overall, I still think the reason Iraq is unstable is that it is full of people who hate each other, for tribal, ethnic, and religious reasons.


You Can't Make This Stuff Up

 

Viewers of the CBS cartoon show, The Evening News with Dan Rather, are aware that the title character is based on the anchorman, Kent Brockman, in the Fox reality show, The Simpsons. Last night's Evening News segment about the National Guard memos was apparently a take-off on an incident in the Deep Space Homer documentary on Fox. An accident with an ant farm on the Space Shuttle caused the misapprehension at Mission Control that the shuttle had been commandeered by giant alien insects. Mr. Brockman promptly surrendered to the insects, and offered his services for the pacification of Earth. When it became apparent that the insects had merely been walking across the lens of the shuttle's cabin camera, the anchorman offered this measured retraction: 

Well, this reporter was... possibly a little hasty earlier and would like to reaffirm his allegiance to this country and its human president. It may not be perfect, but it's the best government we have. For now.

What more could a reasonable man ask for?

* * *

Meanwhile, here in the Third Dimension, or at any rate at New York University, Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, tried to put some distance between his position on Iraq and that of President Bush:

Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious?" Bush's presidential rival said at New York University..."Is he really saying to Americans that if we had known there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is resoundingly no because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."

It is perhaps unfair to take Senator Kerry literally on this, since we now know the intent of the Baathist regime before the invasion, something that one government scarcely ever knows certainly about another. Still, one must remark that we know that Iraq did not have stocks of WMDs (I still think some arsenals will come to light, but let that pass), and that the regime intended to resume its WMD programs as soon as the sanctions were lifted. So, we must imagine a situation in which we knew that Iraq was in substantial compliance with the disarmament directive, so that the sanctions would have to be lifted. We must also suppose that we knew that Iraq would then go into WMD production again. Post-911, would that not be sufficient cause for war?

* * *

Has the political system taken on the prospect that the Terror War could last a generation? One suspects the public understands the matter better by this point:

With fighting in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Iraq (news - web sites) far from over, a Pew Research Center Poll found that 51 percent of voters surveyed said they do worry that Bush, if re-elected, would lead the country into another war..."The Bush administration is on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy and part of that ... is eliminating countries of anti-Western aggression," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank in Washington.

Do they "worry that Bush, if re-elected, would lead the country into another war," or have they grasped that we are involved in a war on many fronts, and are prepared to vote for Bush in the belief that he will wage it more effectively?

Then there is this further signal from Planet Think Tank:

"It's this process of bluster and threat and escalation that could lead to war," said Michael O'Hanlon of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institute. "I don't want to say that the chance of war is particularly high, but I think it would be higher under Bush than under Kerry."

Actually, a little bluster seemed to work very well with the Libyans, and even the Iranians, until the latter realized that the Europeans would be taking the diplomatic lead on nuclear non-proliferation issues.

* * *

Robert Novak had this impish piece in yesterday's Sun-TimesQuick exit from Iraq is likely:

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go...In the Aug. 29 New York Times Magazine, columnist David Brooks wrote an article (''How to Reinvent the GOP'') that is regarded as a neo-con manifesto and not popular with other conservatives...''We need to strengthen nation states,'' Brooks wrote, calling for ''a multilateral nation-building apparatus.'' To chastened Bush officials, that sounds like an invitation to repeat Iraq instead of making sure it never happens again.

Troop levels may well decline next year, but I doubt that this column evinces much insight into the state of debate in the Bush Administration. What we have here is a restatement of the Buchananite view that the nature of foreign regimes, or chaos in foreign countries, cannot be a security question for the United States, so any attempts at regime change or nation-building are mere Wilsonian mettlesomeness.

The reality is much more serious. Regime change now, in Iraq and elsewhere, is the alternative to precautionary nuclear strikes in the future, when we are not sure where a WMD attack in the West came from.

Speaking of Buchananism, I watched The McLaughlin Group last Sunday, for the first time in a long while. I came across it by accident; it was news to me it was still being broadcast. Anyway, there was Pat Buchanan himself, repeating his new slogan, "The cause of instability in Iraq is the presence of American troops."

I suppose you could say that about any war when you are on enemy territory: just withdraw and the fighting will stop. In this case, of course, it is the insurgency that is keeping US forces in Iraqi soil, as the insurgents know very well. The only question that interests them is who will be running the country when the US leaves.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2017-03-03

A Cold War era power plant could save us from ourselves

Thorium reactors are an idea that has been around for a long time. We'd try it if we got desperate.

Top professional performance through psychopathy

Being resistant to the feelings of others can be a good thing, or a bad thing. It depends on what end you put yourself towards.

Socialism is bad

When tradinistas say they want socialism, I have a hard time taking them seriously. Mostly, I just don't know what they really mean. Here, Adam Ozimek points to an essay by Matt Bruenig that helps me figure out what they are talking about. I still can't take them seriously.

USA Today has an excerpt of Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

I'm very excited about this. Thrawn is one of my favorite characters, and it looks like Timothy Zahn has been able to transfer the core of the character into the new Star Wars storyline.

The Islamic world did liberalize — but then came the First World War

Ed West reminds us the Middle East was having quite a bit of success integrating into the wider world during the first episode of globalization in the 19th century. Then we blew it all up. Makes you sympathetic to Edward Said.

The Amazon Rainforest Was Profoundly Changed by Ancient Humans

When I was a kid, the environmentalist narrative was very much about preserving and restoring pristine habitats unsullied by the hand of man. I'm glad to see this starting to change. I was first introduced to the Terra Preta of the Amazon by the now defunct Anthopogene blog. That blog had a number of fantastic articles on archaeological finds that helped to illustrate just how much the world has changed during human history. 

10 things about human evolution (genetics) you should know

Razib's listicle about genetics.

Danish Companies Seek to Hire, but Everyone’s Already Working

The horrors of actual full employment.

The Politics of Retelling Norse Mythology

The claim to being a modern 'pagan' is probably worse cultural appropriation than an author retelling old stories. I've never met a pagan who wasn't just a Christian heretic.

White self-interest is not the same thing as racism

A look at what counts as racist for whom.

Fascism in the White House?

A splash of cold water in the face of the minor panic that ensued when someone noticed that Steve Bannon knew who Julius Evola was.

What We Know About the 92 Million Americans Who Aren’t in the Labor Force

I love a great graph.

The US Special Forces Major who fought in the SS

Larry Thorne aka Lauri Allan Törni is the kind of guy who couldn't sit out a good war. So he fought in Finland against the Soviets, twice, against the Soviets again in Germany, and then in Vietnam against the Communists.

How Uber used secret Greyball tool to deceive authorities worldwide

I'm impressed. This is how big data works in the movies. And apparently in real life sometimes too.

Is there really a war on cops?

Short answer is no. More complicated answer is that the same advances in medical technology that keep the murder rate down in general keep cops alive too [I'm not saying this adjustment would make the trend line go up BTW], and that hostility to the cops certainly seems like it is on the rise. It would be interesting to make a third graph using cops per capita to adjust for changing employment. I have a hunch the long upward trend in the late nineteenth century was due to increasing use of police forces instead of citizen volunteers. However, that data seems to be hard to find.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Explained

I can't wait for my copy to arrive!

The Long View 2004-09-17: Millennials; God; Holy Censorship; Rathergate

John was absolutely right here about the relative influence of C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. Lewis is a big deal to British and American Christians, but Freud was a big deal everywhere.

Let's use Google ngrams to illustrate:

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in American English

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in British English

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in French

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in German


Millennials; God; Holy Censorship; Rathergate

 

I know that watching the WB network just encourages them, but I had to see the premier of John & Bobby, the new series about two present-day teenage brothers, one of whom grows up to be president in the 2040s. The premise smacks of Strauss & Howe's model of history, with the currently maturing Millennial Generation set to become a heroic Civic Generation later in the 21st century. (By the way, if you are looking for S&H sites, see TimePage: very lucid.)

I don't really think this series is a keeper. It's wonderful high-concept, and you don't have to be familiar with the Generations model to understand the premise. (I don't know what influence, if any, Strauss & Howe had on the producers.) However, I question whether the intended audience will appreciate the historical resonance that is supposed to set the show apart from other high-school dramas. If kids wanted to watch the History Channel, they wouldn't be watching the WB. For that matter, perhaps only Boomers will automatically recognize the Kennedy reference in the title.

Also, in the introduction to the first episode, when we see a selection of the presidents between now and the 2040s, why didn't they mention Sideshow Bob?

* * *

Meanwhile, PBS is addressing no less a question than The Problem of God. The four-part series dramatizes a Harvard seminar offered by a Dr. Armand Nicholi, which uses the biographies and writings of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis to explore the relationship of faith and reason. We see excerpts from the seminar, which is conducted with a panel of solid, professional types from various walks of life. They are united only by a common interest in metaphysics (a characteristic that most emphatically includes the guy from Skeptic magazine). Most airtime, however, is taken up with tableaux from the lives of Lewis and Freud, with an overlay narration, or with actors playing Lewis and Freud who quote their works directly into the camera.

There are problems here, aside from the fact that Lewis was never that blissfully plumy, and Freud was not that rabbinical. A major objection is that, fan though I am of C. S. Lewis, it does not seem reasonable to me to cast him as the equal of Sigmund Freud in cultural influence. Lewis's ideas have perhaps aged better, but he is a minor figure. Freud was one of the great factors in the first half of the 20th century.

But a bigger objection is that: Freud is miscast as a proponent of science. He did ordinary neurological research in early life, but that is not what he is famous for. Freudian theory just is not science; it's psychologically astute literature. That is how it achieved a mass audience. Lewis's literary studies were not science either, but his standards of textual analysis were much closer to the scientific method than were Freud's meditations.

Freud was, arguably, a good choice as a proponent of "the scientific worldview," but that worldview is not science. No scientific theory, and certainly no observation, could say that all phenomena have a natural explanation, or that the scientific method is the only way to certain knowledge. One could even argue that the scientific worldview is ultimately incompatible with the scientific enterprise in the long run, because it undermines the Pythagorean assumptions that made science possible.

Monty Python managed the question best. In a skit involving a skeptic and a theologian, the contestants did not debate the existence of God; they fought an exhibition-wresting match about it. The result was that God exists, two falls to a submission.

* * *

Speaking of the wrong way to settle a religious dispute, consider this report:

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Deeming its contents insulting to Christianity, Lebanese authorities have banned "The Da Vinci Code," a novel that has drawn harsh criticism -- and millions of readers -- with its depiction of Jesus Christ marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering a child.

This impulse to censor is not unknown in Western countries, but there it usually takes the form of laws whose primary purpose is to prohibit criticism of Islam. Such measures are very ill-advised. Come the Great Revival, all this impediments to proselytism will be swept away.

* * *

The CBS Memos Scandal has reached the point where only one event could save Dan Rather's reputation, and some Republicans are trying to make sure it happens:

Top Republicans on Wednesday tried to tie the Kerry campaign to disputed documents used by CBS News for a story examining President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas National Guard and called for a congressional investigation.

Show-trial congressional investigations have been undermining the legitimacy of the federal government for thirty years. With the exception of Richard Nixon, they have for the most part served to excite sympathy for their victims.

CBS is clearly in the wrong here. However, the Republican Party still has the power to obscure that fact by demonstrating that it, too, is untainted by principle.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2004-09-15: They Actually Said That

The Donation of Constantine

The Donation of Constantine

It was only two months after this that Dan Rather announced he would resign from CBS. Unfortunately, no one is likely to paint any frescoes about it.

At the end of this post, John engaged in the then novel practice of publicly shaming a company that he felt hadn't treated him well. Given the rather extreme dimensions this practice has taken on in the last thirteen years, John probably would not have approved. He could have repented of it this Lent if he were still with us.


They Actually Said That

 

The CBS National Guard Documents Scandal has reached the point where we can safely say that Dan Rather has squandered any presidential prospects he may have had. Will he resign tonight? One trusts he will say something colorful.

One of the bright spots in this affair is that The New York Times has acted as if it were a regular newspaper. In fact, if you ignore the koan-like headline in today's edition, Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says, the article itself had the most interesting new information of the day. The typist, of course, was the secretary to George Bush's Air National Guard commander, Jerry Killian; she says the documents that CBS has been promoting contain the kind of thing her boss used to say about George Bush, but that the texts themselves just are not formatted like the documents she used to prepare. Killian's son says that her recollection is faulty on Killian's attitude toward Bush. Be that as it may, though, the Times tells us this:

CBS has refused to say how it obtained the documents. But one person at CBS, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed a report in Newsweek that Bill Burkett, a retired National Guard officer who has charged that senior aides to then-Governor Bush had ordered Guard officials to remove damaging information from Mr. Bush's military personnel files, had been a source of the report. This person did not know the exact role he played.

I don't know either, and I refuse to speculate. I mention the matter so I can quote this bit of rhetoric from Mr. Burkett's attorney:

Asked what role Mr. Burkett had in raising questions about Mr. Bush's military service, Mr. Van Os said: "If, hypothetically, Bill Burkett or anyone else, any other individual, had prepared or had typed on a word processor as some of the journalists are presuming, without much evidence, if someone in the year 2004 had prepared on a word processor replicas of documents that they believed had existed in 1972 or 1973 - which Bill Burkett has absolutely not done'' - then, he continued, "what difference would it make?"

That's the kind of thinking that gave us the Donation of Constantine. It was very embarrassing when someone blew the whistle on that one, too.

* * *

Meanwhile, on the Times editorial page, Nicholas D. Kristof had a column entitled Mr. Bush's Glass House. In that piece he tells us, "First, there's reason to be suspicious of some of those CBS documents," thus proving that editorial writers do sometimes know what is in the rest of the newspaper. Then he says, "Second, we shouldn't be distracted by our doubts about the CBS documents." He goes on to point out that George W. Bush obviously got political help getting into the Guard, and that he slacked off in the last two years of his commitment. Mr. Kristof concludes thus:

More than three decades later, that shouldn't be a big deal. What worries me more is the lack of honesty today about that past - and the way Mr. Bush is hurling stones without the self-awareness to realize that he's living in a glass house.

I think that everyone has been clear for some time that the Guard story is not a big deal. What is a big deal is "the lack of honesty today."

* * *

Speaking of outrages exposed, I see that Canada's premier magazine, Saturday Night, has come out in favor of spelling reform for English. At any rate, the September issue has a piece by Gabrielle Bauer, "The Quirky World of Spelling Reform," which treats the subject favorably, and has many nice things to say about the Simplified Spelling Society, of which I have the honor to be a member.

I mention the matter here, not to argue for reform, but to showcase some of the arguments to the contrary. The article dutifully dug up this gem, for instance:

"Then there's the problem of reprinting old texts with new spelling, I can just hear the traditionalists' screams if they get their hands on a volume of Shakespeare's plays rewritten in reformed spelling," says Robert Savage, a professor of educational psychology (and former Briton) at McGill University.

Shakespeare, of course, did not use modern spelling, though many educated people seem to confuse the paperback editions they used in school with the First Folio. But here is an argument that is new to me:

Linda Siegel, a professor and Dorothy C. Lam chair in special education at the University of British Columbia [says] "English spelling may actually be better for struggling readers, because it requires them to use their visual memory right from the start." Given that "many people with dyslexia have stronger visual memories than normal learners, this may not be such a bad thing."

One of the main points of the Saturday Night piece is that research shows that English spelling causes the symptoms of dyslexia to manifest. It builds character, you see.

A minor point: contrary to the article, Robertson Davies was not, as far as I know, an advocate of spelling reform. Rather, he was an orthographic anarchist.

 


From "The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks"
Penguin Books, 1996
Copyright (C) Robertson Davies, 1986
Page 434:

 

 

Dear Miss Hawser:

Your suggestion that a few people in Canada try to revive the lost art of letter-writing is a worthy one, and I am flattered that you should include me in your group. I am grateful for the copy of "The Maple Leaf Letter Writer" which you have sent me, and I have read it with great care. But there is one point on which I disagree with the book, and that is its insistence on absolutely conventional spelling. Although I am myself a fair speller, I have thought for some time that a reasonable amount of personal choice should be allowed in this matter. After all, the passion for spelling according to a dictionary is only about a hundred years old; every writer of any importance before that spelled a few words at least in his own way.

Only the other day I was looking at a book of letters from the seventeenth century, in which one writer expressed himself thus: "As for Mr. A--, I esteem him no better than a Pigg." Consider that word "Pigg." The extra "g" is not strictly necessary, but what power it gives to the word! How pig-like it makes poor Mr. A--! How vivid his swinishness becomes! And look at that capital "P." It seems to enrich the sentence by calling special attention to the most important word.

I am not a spelling reformer. I am a laissez-faire liberal in matters of spelling. I do not care that our present system of spelling wastes time and paper. I firmly believe that both time and paper are of less importance than the perfect expression of the writer's meaning. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a Pedantick Booby.

Yours for orthographicall freedom,
Samuel Marchbanks.

 

And while we are on the subject of Robertson Davies, here is a link to my review of The Cunning Man. Enjoy!


* * *

A final outrage exposed, this one from me.

One of the advantages to having a blog is that you never have to write a letter-to-the-editor again. Another is that you can threaten to embarrass consumer businesses whose performance is not up to your demanding standards. I tried to do the latter today.

I had received an email from Iomega saying that the bar code I had posted to get a rebate on my new backup drive was not the original bar code. I was asked send in that bar code so that Iomega could continue to process the rebate. Instantly, I sent off email, saying that the drive's box had long since been thrown away, and that I would expose online this stratagem so obviously designed to cheat me out of my rebate. I got a message back a few minutes later. If I didn't have the box, all I needed was the serial number on the bottom of the drive.

As we know from Michael Tolkin's The New Age, God will judge us by how we treat customer service personnel.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2004-09-10: Fraud, Prudence, & Treason

Lt. George W. Bush, Texas Air National Guard

Lt. George W. Bush, Texas Air National Guard

Oh for the controversies of only thirteen years ago. W received political favoritism in his National Guard service? I'll take that over the present.

John made a prediction here that became a counterfactual: if Roe v. Wade had been overturned in W's second term, the parties would have exploded and reassembled into new coalitions because the culture war would have been over. We now see the obverse of that; the Left won the Culture War, all the way up to euthanasia in at least some states, and now the coalitions of the last forty years are breaking up and reassembling. To what end, we do not yet know.


Fraud, Prudence, & Treason

 

Does the rapid implosion of CBS's story about President Bush's National Guard Service count as yet another victory for the blogosphere? Maybe, but not in the sense of calling attention to a story that the major media would otherwise have ignored. The allegations that the documents in question might have been forged would have received some attention from competing networks in any event. On the other hand, even The New York Times gave the critiques relatively fair coverage this morning. More interesting was the fact the paper's treatment of the original report, which purported to prove that Bush received political favoritism in connection with his admission to and exit from the Guard, was conspicuous by its understatement: mention on the first page yesterday, but below the fold and on the lower left. Perhaps the editors believed the paper had been burned too often to invest much of its dwindling credibility in these reports.

The real argument against the initial reports is that it is hard to believe any commanding officer would put such things on paper. That's just a presumption, though. It could be overcome by the discovery of an actual document. None of the critiques I have seen of the documents conclusively disprove their authenticity. They do, however, turn the burden of proof back on the documents' proponents. As a matter of psychology if not logic, that burden now includes the documents' initial implausibility.

The wonderful thing about this turn of events for the White House is that the official campaign is spared the indignity of debating the matter at all. That is the work of the blogosphere. The blogosphere makes the documents useless as the basis of a whispering campaign. The Administration's luck goes beyond that: the fact that George Bush obviously received political preference getting into the Guard is now almost undiscussable.

PS: The subject was not worth discussing in the first place, if you ask me. However, if people must discuss it, they should make a distinction between Bush's admission to the National Guard and his discharge. Both the Guard and the active-service military were downsizing when Bush completed his service. I know that, in those days, the military was willing enough to just dispense with ROTC obligations; they did not need the manpower, and could not afford to pay for it. Quite likely the service of many guardsmen just petered out in the way that Bush's apparently did.

* * *

One notes that abortion proponents are making preparations for the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the next four years. Consider this report from LifeNews:

Sponsored by a Planned Parenthood abortion business in San Jose, California, local pro-abortion leaders have put together a task force to monitor the situation and figure out how to respond...Linda Williams, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte, has been meeting with a dozen pro-abortion colleagues. Williams says her task force found that abortion would remain legal in only nine states, including California, if Roe v. Wade fell.

But LifeNews assures us:

While most states banned abortion prior to Roe, many repealed their anti-abortion laws after the Supreme Court's 1973 decision. In about ten others, state Supreme Courts have interpreted privacy provisions in state constitutions to guarantee a sweeping right to abortion.

Would that pro-lifers would make comparable preparations. Let me repeat: in order to defang the argument that repeal would cause national chaos, Congress needs to put a law of repose in place before Roe comes before the Supreme Court again. The law should redefine the matter in terms of medical ethics. The law should specify a few, narrow situations in which abortions will be tolerated, and then require that the licenses of doctors who go beyond these limits will be lifted until they undergo a medical ethics course. That's all that the law can be asked to do, and it's the sort of solution the American people want.

The significance of repeal will extend far beyond the abortion issue. Roe is the centerpiece decision in the line of personal-autonomy cases that underlie the arguments for rights to suicide, sodomy, polygamy, gay marriage, commercial sale of transplant-organs, prostitution, recreational drug use, and other enormities yet unhatched. If Roe goes, that whole line of development simply ends.

Almost as interesting is what repeal would (I'll say "will") do to the political system. The Republican Party remains politically competitive because it has monopolized the defensive side of the culture war. If you don't want to read in the paper some Tuesday morning that the Supreme Court has discovered a right to euthanasia, then you pretty much have to vote Republican. The funding and the key pressure groups that hold the Democratic Party together, on the other hand, ensure that party remains the party of aggression. The cultural left engages in politics with the conscious aim of pushing the right of personal autonomy beyond the limits of human nature. When Roe goes, its organizing power will go with it, and the parties will explode like splitting atoms.

The fragments will be free, for the first time in over thirty years, to seek new combinations. Evangelicals could discover they have more in common with organized labor than either has with the National Organization of Women. Finance capitalists in the Northeast could renew old acquaintance with the extraction entrepreneurs of the Southwest. The recombinations are beyond prediction. Still, almost any outcome would be an improvement on the preceding generation of sullen blockage.

* * *

In its continuing drive to become the Fortean Times of the Catholic press, The New Oxford Review's September issue contains a disturbing critique of George Weigel's column of March 20 in Catholic San FranciscoThe New Oxford Review[NOR] began, as is increasingly its wont, by picking a gratuitous fight:

"'The two great questions before the Republic [Weigel wrote] are, what is freedom...and how shall we defend it'..According to Weigel [said NOR], freedom is not 'a means to satisfy personal ''needs''; rather it is the freedom to do 'the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, as a matter of habit, which is another name for 'virtue'.'"

The link between virtue and habit is, of course, a commonplace of Catholic moral theory. For reasons clearest to NOR's editors, however, NOR chose to read the quotation in this way:

...The problem with Weigel's case is that freedom is not another name for virtue."

After several paragraphs of meaningless invective, however, we find out why the journal launched this latest piece of unpleasantness:

"In 'America, the Beautiful,' there are noble lines saying 'Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.' Unfortunately, those lines are now obsolete. Now America confirms her soul in debauchery..then Weigel asks, how shall we defend freedom? He says that because of 9/11, freedom is under attack. He wants 'war' against the radical muslims. Now, it just so happens that the radical Muslims do not permit abortion or homosexuality. If we bring freedom to the Muslim world, which is what Weigel wants, we will bring with it the freedom to abort, to practice homosexuality, to view pornography...If Weigel really wants virtue, he ought to lighten up on the Muslims. Osama didn't attack the World Trade center just for the fun of it. He did it because of America's financial and military support of Israel..."

As an aside, we may note that everyone who has studied the matter knows that al-Qaeda is much more interested in the control of Saudi Arabia than of Palestine, but let that pass. A more important point is that, whatever radical Muslims think about abortion and homosexuality (and one should not be too sure about the latter), one of the things we know they discountenance in the areas they control is Christianity. This is new, by the way. Islam has a tradition of tolerating Christianity and Judaism in subservient positions. In contrast, in recent years the Arab population of the United States has rapidly expanded precisely because the Arab Christians of the Middle East have had to flee the region.

NOR, and some other religious publications with a pacifist background, seem to entertain just two possibilities when they talk about international affairs. The first is that the United States is God's empire on Earth, with a soteriological role in world history. That idea has few takers. Having rejected their strawman, NOR then proceeds to the alternative that all nations are equally under judgment in this age, and Christians should not identify with their policies.

In reality, there is a middle position. The great issues of history cannot command our ultimate loyalty, but they do present us with situations where we must choose, and give some less than perfect cause our ordinate allegiance. The defense of the West against the Death Cult rightfully requires that allegiance today; to refuse it would be the deepest treason possible in our lifetimes.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-09-08: Death Cult

Here, on the grounds of millenarian movements and apocalyptic expectations, I think John was at his best when describing what Islamic terrorism is. There is a link to esoteric fascism too, the ideology of Tradition. Pray that men such as these don't have their day in the sun.


Death Cult

 

Peter Preston wrote a piece for The Guardian that appeared on September 6, entitled Writing the script for terror. He is incredulous of the idea that the Beslan Massacre was the work of international terrorism. He is also patronizing toward Tom Clancy, which is easy to do, but ill-informed: Clancy's novel, Rainbow Six, described a school hostage taking and the sort of force needed to deal with it, a point worthy of attention. Chiefly, though, he implies that the best way to deal with incidents like Beslan is not to report them, or at least not to report them so prominently:

For the difficult, inescapable thing, watching those pictures, is an eery feeling of manipulation. Somebody planned this and reckoned the cameras would be there....Two bleak things follow. One is that - whether or not it exists on any organised level - we shall gradually come to identify a force called international terrorism, a force defined not by the coordination of its strikes or creeds but by the orchestration of its inhuman propaganda. I manipulate, therefore I exist...The other thing is self-knowledge for media-makers and media-watchers.

Certainly the Islamofascist strategy is based on creating spectacles. However, I don't think that "we shall gradually come to identify a force" behind this propaganda. I think the force has done a pretty good job of identifying itself.

* * *

The strangely ubiquitous David Brooks writes in The New York Times (September 7) about this force:

We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.

This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.

This new phenomenon is just as nightmarish as Brooks suggests. However, if it's a cult, it's a cult without an essential theology. The massacres are apocalyptic, both in the popular sense of indiscriminately destructive, and in the scholarly sense of revealing the insubstantiality of the ordinary world. However, the death cult seems to be only incidentally related to eschatological belief systems. It's a mime, a ritual.

Nonetheless, I think I have some notion of what's going on here. In an e-book, I suggested that the final phase in the life of a great culture is a tendency toward pure destructiveness. I called that "The Terminal Apocalypse," to distinguish it from earlier versions of millenarianism, which are revolutionary and often creative. Of course, this tells us nothing about the subjective state of the people who experience this terminal mood. Brooks suggests this:

It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide.

Maybe, but I would remind readers that people do the worst things for what they imagine to be the best reasons. The terminal apocalypse seems to have something to do with the spiritual autonomy sought by esoteric fascists: neither life nor death, nor the failure of all one's historical hopes, can deflect the adept from his course. He can be killed, but not defeated.

This brings us to the question of how to manage these people. Brooks says:

This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.

It is not true that the followers of the death cult make no demands and cannot be negotiated with. As Anonymous tells us, al-Qaeda fundamentally wants the United States out of the Arabian Peninsula. That could be negotiated. The people who did Beslan want the Russians out of Chechnya. That could be negotiated, too. The problem is that the death cult is what its followers do, not what they want or believe.

Surrender doesn't help. The Russians actually tried that, after Yeltsin's first attempt to subdue Chechnya by force failed. They withdrew, in the expectation that a provisional government would form with which they could do business. What actually happened was that the state in Chechnya disappeared, and the chaos began to spill over into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation. The state similarly disintegrated in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Somalia. The same would be true in Palestine, were it not for subventions from Europe.

The rubble produced by the death cult is contagious. Perhaps it, too, cannot be defeated, but only killed.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Rithmatist Book Review

The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson
Tor Teen 2013
$17.99; 378 pages
ISBN 9780765320322

Ever since a friend recommended Mistborn three years ago, I have been in love with Brandon Sanderson's work. Sanderson's shtick is coming up with really interesting systems of "magic", that are probably really just a kind of technology in a different reality. Unlike ritual magic, which is what you should actually worry about your kids getting into, Sanderson's systems mostly involve the manipulation of physical things in order to unlock a hidden source of power.

For Rithmatists, their power lies in chalk drawings. I didn't get the joke until I was about 2/3rds of the way through the book, but Rithmatics is a pun on the 3 Rs. Rithmatists are a kind of very, very applied mathematician[geometrician?], with the most powerful being the ones who can draw as close to geometrical perfection as possible. For our protagonist, that should have worked out well, since he can draw better than anyone, but he was not gifted with the ability to make chalk drawings come to life, so he spends his time dreaming of a different life, and scheming to learn more about the secretive Rithmatists at his school.

As is typical for Sanderson, you get the backstory in dribs and drabs throughout, with lots of tantalizing hints that will not really get fleshed out until later volumes are written. This world is an alternative Earth, with a United States composed of 50 islands instead of 50 states, and a fun spring-based technology. Rithmatists are an elite within the United Islands, required to spend 10 years fighting the wild chalklings in Nebrask in recompense for their education, and then pensioned for life. However, the threat the chalkings pose has become remote to most, so the privileges and secrecy of the Rithmatists rankle ordinary citizens. I look forward to how this plays out.

This is a boarding-school story, and written for young adults in the best juvenile tradition. Thus we have a young man with great potential who is a bit lost in life, a romantic interest, and an adventure story. Fun to read, and highly recommended.

I also didn't know there was a book trailer for The Rithmatist, which I have included below:

The Rithmatist
By Brandon Sanderson

Death Troopers Book Review

Death Troopers
by Joe Schreiber
LucasBooks, 2009
ISBN: 9780345509628
$7.99; 256 pages

A friend recommended this book to me nearly three years ago. I finally picked up a copy, and it was a blast! Oh, the days when you could throw iconic characters into any situation you wanted! As long as Han doesn't die in the end, you could write just about any kind of story.

Thus we have zombies in spaaaace! And Star Wars! It was a fun and a quick read. For those who like this kind of thing, you are likely to enjoy it as much as I did. Things moved along quickly, sufficient explanations were offered, and our heroes escaped to return to the canonical Star Wars universe. Although I have to think Han might have ended up with PTSD from this one.

My other book reviews

 

The Long View 2004-09-05: My Enthusiasms Prosper

John's enthusiasm for alternative history is arguably going better than spelling reform.

The kind of perfectly pleasant people who have no interest in religion John mentions near the end make me thing of Kipling, who described himself as a Christian God-fearing atheist


My Enthusiasms Prosper

 

Lingva Prismo is a language-related site that is hosted by the German subsidiary of a Swedish PR firm. If you are interested in Esperanto, this might be a good place to start. I mention it here because this month's topic for discussion in the forum is the merits and demerits of spelling reform, one of my own pet projects.

For Germans, this is not the exotic subject it is for English-speakers. German recently implemented a reform that apparently pleased nobody. Compared to English, of course, German spelling is a snap, precisely because the orthography has been systematically reformed several times in the past. (The same is true of almost all European languages.) However, the design and introduction of the most recent German reform seems to have created a case study in how to do it badly. Such misadventures are not without precedent, even in English.

Is a successful reform ever going to happen in English? Yes, eventually. Resistance is futile.

* * *

Speaking of alien projects, everyone with any interest in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was fixated for at least a few hours last week by the report in New Scientist about radio source SHGb02+14a, which passed the initial tests for an artificial transmission. Anyone who follows the subject was also prepared for the disclaimers that the organizations involved in SETI immediately issued. If you would like a quick rundown of the reasons why SHGb02+14a is no more than interesting, take a look at Jay Manifold's A Voyage to Arcturus for September 2. I was particularly interested in this point:

Sam Jones of The Guardian (London) writes (excepts):

The signal has a rapidly fluctuating frequency, which could occur if it was beamed out from a rapidly spinning planet or object, although a planet would have to be rotating nearly 40 times faster than Earth to produce the same drift. A drifting signal would be expected to have a different frequency each time it was detected.

Yet with every observation of SHGbo2+14a, the signal has started off with a frequency of 1420MHz before starting to drift - although this could be connected to the telescope.

That sounds to me like the transient hum that old vacuum-tube radios used to make when you first turned them on, but then what do I know?

The signal is likely to be a product of the equipment, or of some exotic but not intelligent astronomical object. Nonetheless, what struck me about this incident was how persnickety the SETI people are about which signals they find plausible. SETI has its own ideas about how they would make First Contact, and any alien who wants their attention will have to come up to their exacting standards. I have always been readier to believe that we might overhear an extraterrestrial civilization, such as the output from a solar-system-wide version of the GPS, than that we would find a beacon dedicated to First Contact. Our SETI does not plan on creating any such beacon; why should anyone else?

* * *

Further examples of blind dogmatism can be found in the Book Review Section of today's New York Times, where Sam Harris's new book, The End of Faith, was reviewed by Natalie Angier. Harris is a student of neuroscience who thinks that religion is pathological, and Angier is of similar mind. Here are some points she quotes with approbation:

''We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common, we call them 'religious'; otherwise, they are likely to be called 'mad,' 'psychotic' or 'delusional.' '' To cite but one example: ''Jesus Christ -- who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death and rose bodily into the heavens -- can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad?''

The interesting thing about this passage is that the hypothesis it implies, that religion is a form of insanity, has been repeatedly falsified by research. Some degree of religious belief and practice has been shown to be an indication of psychological well-being. Personal experience is consistent with this result. I've known plenty of unpleasant religious people (you know who you are), but the only wild-eyed screaming lunatics I have ever met in this regard are fanatical atheists.

There is another class of perfectly pleasant people with no interest in religion at all, but they have no relevance to the matter.

* * *

I threw away my most recent issue of The Weekly Standard, so I can't tell you who wrote the long piece about Alternate History. (I continue to insist that Alternative History is a better term, because "Alternate" implies just two possibilities, but don't get me started.) However, introductions to the genre are popping up all over, such as the essay by Laura Miller in today's New York Times, entitled Imagine. Why this sudden mainstream interest in a kind of fiction that many people can't stand? The reason seems to be Philip Roth's upcoming novel, The Plot Against America, which should be published in October.

The book's premise is that Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940. What happens thereafter I don't know. No doubt I will have to read the book, particularly if I can cage a copy from the publisher. In fact, if any of the book review editors who read this blog have a spare copy, please pass it along. You know who you are, too.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-02-24

Undocumented Irrigation

Damn. Steve Sailer went and wrote something about SlateStarCodex's Cost Disease post that covers pretty much everything I wanted to write.

The Meaning of Milo

Ross Douthat has a pertinent reflection on how Milo fits into post-religious social conservatism. Ross also predicts Milo will make a comeback, which wouldn't surprise me either. We shall see.

Irish and German Immigration Waves

United States % of population added by year and country of origin

United States % of population added by year and country of origin

Razib Khan retweeted this image from Noah Smith. I agree that this is a powerful and informative graph.

Persistence and Fadeout in the Impacts of Child and Adolescent Interventions

Why you should remain wary of educational innovations.

New Fertility Study Launches

23andMe is looking at the genetics of fertility.

I'm Not a Nazi

Robert VerBruggen has to point out that understanding that eugenics is possible [trivial even] is quite different from thinking you need to sterilize people against their will.

Book Review: Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”

Ross Douthat retweets one of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry's book reviews, further evidence that the Gospels are as credible as any other historical text from the Roman era.

A Beautiful Church for the Poor

Based on a 2009 report by Philip Schwadel, John D. McCarthy, and Hart M. Nelsen, Matthew Schmitz wonders whether the post-Vatican II changes in liturgy have ill-served poor white Americans. This probably should be read alongside Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Not mentioned in the Schmitz article was this fascinating chart about Latino Catholics in America:

Ice, Iron, and Gold Book Review

Vice President Pancho Villa

Vice President Pancho Villa

Ice, Iron, and Gold
by S. M. Stirling
Nightshade Books, 2007
ISBN: 9781597801157
$6.70; 256 pages

Stirling has written some of my favorite books. He co-authored The Prince with Jerry Pournelle, and also wrote some short fiction in the War World series. I tried to read the Draka series, but I just couldn't get into it. The less we speak of Nantucket the better. This volume I picked up in the public library on a whim.

To my surprise, I discovered that this collection of short stories only contained one I had read before. A treat! Of those, three stand out in my mind. The Apotheosis of Martin PadwayCompadres, and The Charge of Lee's Brigade. All three are alternative history, with the mix of soldiering and politics that Stirling is so good at. I also love the way that Stirling can see people with an entirely different set of eyes, and capture their essence in such a way that you can imagine things really could have happened just a little bit differently.

The best example of that is Compadres. Somehow, I feel like it almost could have been, but I don't want to spoil the fun. All I will say is ¡Viva Theodore! ¡Viva America!

My other book reviews

Ice, Iron and Gold
By S. M. Stirling