Linkfest 2017-04-14

Brazil, like many Latin American countries, has a color spectrum instead a color line, the result of not having anything like a one-drop rule defining who is black and who is not. This has interesting implications if you also want to have a binary white/black affirmative action program.

Noah Smith looks at the failures of macroeconomic models.

This is the kind of thing Razib Khan calls being a 'star-man', the result of genetic success. I am a bit non-plussed by the assertion in the article that Lindbergh was being untrue to his eugenic principles by fathering children with women who had difficulty walking due to a childhood illness. Susceptibility to infectious disease has some genetic component, but it is largely random, and so often has little impact on genetic fitness. I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of thing was more obvious to Lindbergh. On the other hand, maybe he was just a horndog.

The Library of Congress has a list of books that helped shape American culture. This is a pretty good list, and it seems about right to me. It is also much, much funnier if you read the list annotated with intersectional Pokemon points by Steve Sailer. Intersectionality is largely about status, which is also about class, which proponents would like you not to think about.

Joel Kotkin looks at the disenfranchisement and poverty of rural California.

A recent look at the research on whether videogames cause violence. [short answer, still no.]

A very clever bit of work in making a localizable font for displaying characters in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages.

Michael Anton AKA Publius Decius Mus makes an argument for a Trumpian foreign policy [one that arguably better instantiates Trump's campaign rhetoric than his actual behavior as President].

You need to be a well-educated Westerner to be surprised by this. Almost everyone else in the world is massively ethnocentric, and only cares about people like them. Notable exception, Nelson Mandela, fellow recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who blew people up and spent years in prison for it, negotiated a political compromise that preserved the power of whites in South Africa.

Tyler Cowen riffs on Shashi Tharoor's book Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India. Some of the claims of Tharoor's book are a little odd, like that deindustrialization was a British policy in eighteenth-century India. I'm not sure traditional artisans count as "industry".

The Long View: Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection

Ross Douthat pointed out today that atheism, as such, isn't particularly rational. For most of recorded history, gnosticism has been the preferred alternative for intellectuals to classical monotheism or paganism. The argument that God is evil is a far stronger one than that God doesn't exist.

Also, this paragraph:



The short answer to this view is that apocalypse and gnosis usually go together. Certainly they did in Zoroastrianism, the apparent source of much of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic. It is common in religious systems for eschatology to be expressed on both the personal and the universal level. In other words, the fate of the world and the fate of individual human souls tend to follow parallel patterns, and Gnostic theology is no different. Manicheanism, for instance, had a particularly elaborate cosmology describing how the divine substance was trapped in the world of matter, forming the secret core of human souls. The hope Manicheanism offered was that someday this divine essence will all be finally released in a terminal conflagration. Details vary among Gnostic systems, but they generally hold that the creation of the world shattered God. History and the world will end when the fragments are reassembled. Often this takes the form of the reintegration of the Primal Adam, the cosmic giant whose fragments are our souls. While this aspect of gnosis can also be taken metaphorically, the fact is that Gnostic millenarianism has not been at all rare in history.

is the best summary of End of Evangelion I've ever seen. Far better than this psychoanalytic take [Freud was a fraud, dammit].

Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection
By Harold Bloom
Riverhead Books (G.P.Putnam's Sons), 1996
$24.95, pp. 255
ISBN: 1-57322-045-0


Getting Over the End of the World


Harold Bloom, perhaps, needs no introduction. A professor at both Yale and New York University, he is primarily a Shakespearean scholar who in recent years has taken an interest in religious questions in general and American religion in particular. This book is a personal spiritual meditation. Though quite devoid of index, footnotes or bibliography, it is well-informed, and the author is good about citing his sources. In fact, the book has something of the appeal of G.K. Chesterton’s historical works: the author relies on a modest selection of books with which many of his readers are probably familiar, so the argument is not intimidating. Reading it, you will learn a great deal about Sufism, Kabbalah and those aspects of popular culture that seem to be influenced by the impending turn of the millennium. You will, however, learn less about millennial anticipation than you might have hoped. The lack is not an oversight: apocalypse is a kind of spirituality that holds little appeal for Bloom. While this preference is of course his privilege, it does mean that, like the mainline churches which prefer to take these things metaphorically, his understanding of the spiritual state of today’s millennial America has a major blind spot.

Bloom's subject is his experience of "gnosis," the secret knowledge that is at once self-knowledge and cosmic revelation. The book's method is a review of different kinds of gnosis. Bloom has much to say about "Gnosticism" properly so-called, which was the religion of heretical Christians and Jews in the early centuries of the Christian era. (It would be churlish to put "heretical" in quotations marks here. The word, after all, was coined with the Gnostics in mind.) He is also concerned with contemporary popular spiritual enthusiasms. We hear a lot about the fascination with angels, dreams, near-death experiences and intimations of the end of the age that take up so much shelf-space in bookstores these days. Bloom is at pains to show that these sentimental phenomena in fact are part of a long Gnostic tradition that has engaged some of the finest minds of every age.

This aspect of the book is perhaps something of a patriotic exercise, since Bloom reached the conclusion in his study, "The American Religion," that America is a fundamentally Gnostic country, whose most characteristic religious product is the Church of Latter Day Saints. Bloom’s conclusions struck many people familiar with the professed theologies of America’s major denominations as a trifle eccentric, but he was scarcely the first commentator to claim that the people in the pews actually believe somthing quite different from what their ministers learned at the seminary. Besides, Tolstoy thought much the same thing as Bloom about the place of the Mormons in American culture, so who will debate the point?

Bloom is perfectly justified in complaining that the angels in particular have been shamefully misrepresented in America today. In the popular literature of angels, they appear as a species of superhero. They friendly folks just like you and me, except they are gifted with extraordinary powers to make themselves helpful, especially to people in life-threatening situations. Angels in art have been as cute as puppies for so long that the popular mind has wholly lost contact with the terrifying entities of Ezechiel’s vision. Bloom seeks to reacquaint us with these images, particularly as they have survived in Kabbalah and in Sufi speculation. He is much concerned with Metatron, the Angel of America, variously thought to be the Enoch of Genesis and the secret soul of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. His treatment of Metatron never quite rises to that of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in their novel, “Good Omens,” who describe him as, “The Voice of God. But not the ‘voice’ of God. A[n] entity in its own right. Rather like a presidential spokesman.” Nevertheless, it is good to see some hint of the true depths of angelic theology make available to the general public.

While “Omens of Millennium” is not without its entertaining aspects for people who do not regularly follow New Age phenomena, Bloom does seek to promote a serious spiritual agenda. The central insight of gnosis (at least if you believe Hans Jonas, as Bloom does without reservation) is the alienage of man from this world. We are strangers to both matter and history. Bloom despairs of theodicy. Considered with an objective secular eye, the world is at best a theater of the absurd and at worst a torture chamber. If there is a god responsible for this world, then that god is a monster or a fool. And in fact, for just shy of two millennia, Gnostics of various persuasions have said that the god of conventional religion was just such an incompetent creator. The consolation of gnosis is that there is a perfect reality beyond the reality of the senses, and a God unsullied by the creation of the world we know. The fiery angels, the prophetic dreams, the visions of an afterlife that make up much of the occult corpus are images of that true reality. They move in a middle realm, connecting the temporal and the eternal, ready to guide human beings desperate enough to seek the secret knowledge that gives mastery over them.

The people take these images literally. They believe they will not die, or that the resurrection is an event that will take place in the future. They believe that spiritual entities wholly distinct from themselves love them and care for them. They wait, sometimes with anxiety and sometimes with hope, for the transformation of this world. The Gnostic elite, in contrast, knows that these things are symbols. They understand that there is something in themselves that was never created, and so can never die. They can learn to use the images of the mid-world to approach these fundamental things, but without investing them with an independent reality. They need neither hope nor faith: they know, and their salvation is already achieved.

All of this sounds wonderfully austere. It allows for an aesthetic spirituality that avoids the twin perils of dead-between-the-ears materialism and vulgar supernaturalism. It is, one supposes, this sort of sensibility that accounts for the popularity of chant as elevator music. Neither is this spirituality without formidable literary exponents. Robertson Davies, for instance, suffused his fiction for decades with a genial Gnostic glow, marred only occasionally by a flash of contempt for the “peanut god” of the masses. Of even greater interest to Bloom, perhaps, would be the fiction of John Crowley. His recent novel, “Love and Sleep,” is entitled with the esoteric terms for the forces by which the truly divine is imprisoned in the world of matter. The story even treats in large part of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, Bloom’s special province. If gnosis as such still seems to have a relatively small audience, this could be reasonably ascribed to its very nature as a philosophy for a spiritual elite. The problem with Bloom’s particular take on gnosticism, however, is that it is not only alien to sentimental popular religion, it is also alien to the esoteric forms gnosis has taken throughout history.

Bloom believes that gnosis appears when apocalyptic fails. This is what he believes happened in Judaism around the time of Jesus. By that point, Palestine had been bubbling with literal millenarianism for two centuries. Generation after generation looked for the imminent divine chastisement of Israel’s enemies and the establishment of a messianic kingdom. This universal regime would endure for an age of the world that, thanks to the Book of Revelation, finally came to be called “the millennium.” The dead would rise, the poor would be comforted, and the wicked would be infallibly punished. It was the stubborn refusal of these things to happen that prompted the strong spirits of those days to consider whether they may not have been looking for these things on the wrong level of reality. They were not arbitrary fantasies; they spoke to the heart in a way that mere history could not. Rather, they were images of realties beyond what this dark world could ever support. This was true also of the image of the apocalypse, in which this world comes to the end it so richly deserves. Apocalypse properly understood is not prophecy, but an assessment that put this world in its place. More important, it pointed to the greater reality that lay eternally beyond the world. Bloom hints that this process of ontological etherealization is in fact the explanation for Christianity itself, since he suspects that Jesus himself was a Gnostic whose subtle teachings were grossly misinterpreted by the irascible apostle Paul.

The short answer to this view is that apocalypse and gnosis usually go together. Certainly they did in Zoroastrianism, the apparent source of much of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic. It is common in religious systems for eschatology to be expressed on both the personal and the universal level. In other words, the fate of the world and the fate of individual human souls tend to follow parallel patterns, and Gnostic theology is no different. Manicheanism, for instance, had a particularly elaborate cosmology describing how the divine substance was trapped in the world of matter, forming the secret core of human souls. The hope Manicheanism offered was that someday this divine essence will all be finally released in a terminal conflagration. Details vary among Gnostic systems, but they generally hold that the creation of the world shattered God. History and the world will end when the fragments are reassembled. Often this takes the form of the reintegration of the Primal Adam, the cosmic giant whose fragments are our souls. While this aspect of gnosis can also be taken metaphorically, the fact is that Gnostic millenarianism has not been at all rare in history.

One of the impediments to understanding apocalyptic is the secular superstition, perhaps best exemplified by E.J. Hobsbawm’s book “Primitive Rebels,” that millenarianism is essentially a form of naive social revolution. Thus, one would expect people with an apocalyptic turn of mind to be ill-educated and poor. Bloom is therefore at something of a loss to explain the ineradicable streak of millenarianism in American culture, a streak found not least among comfortable middle class people who worship in suburban churches with picture windows. His confusion is unnecessary. Indeed, once could argue that the persistence of American millenarianism is some evidence for his thesis that America is a Gnostic country, since gnosticism is precisely the context in which apocalyptic flourishes among the world’s elites.

Sufi-influenced Islamic rulers, from the Old Man of the Mountain to last Pahlevi Shah of Iran, have a long tradition of ascribing eschatological significance to their reigns. Kabbalah has an explosive messianic tradition that has strongly influenced Jewish history more than once, most recently in the ferment among the Lubavitchers of Brooklyn. (The tradition is itself part of an intricate system of cosmic cycles and world ages, in which more or less of the Torah is made manifest.) Regarding Christian Europe, Norman Cohn has made a special study of the Heresy of the Free Spirit, which from the 13th century forward offered Gnostic illumination to the educated of the West in a package that came with the hope of an imminent new age of the spirit. As Bloom knows, the Renaissance and early modern era, and not least Elizabethan England, was rife with hermeticists like Giordano Bruno who divided their time between political intrigue and their own occult apotheosis. The gentlemanly lodge-politics of the pre-revolutionary 18th century made a firm connection between hermetic theory and the hope of revolution (as well as providing endless entertainment for conspiracy buffs who think that secret societies like the Bavarian Illuminati are somehow immortal). Whatever else can be said about gnosis, it is clearly not hostile to apocalyptic thinking.

In the light of this history, it is hard to accept Bloom’s complacent assertion that gnosis bears no guilt because it has never been in power. It has frequently been in power, though rarely under its own name. There is even a good argument to be made that the Nazi regime was fundamentally Gnostic. Certainly Otto Wagoner, one of Hitler’s early confidants, made note of his master’s admiration for the Cathars, those martyrs of the Gnostic tradition. Some segments of the SS even cultivated Vedanta. For that matter, as Robert Wistrich argued in “Hitler’s Apocalypse,” the regime’s chief aim was the expungement of the Judeo-Christian God from history. Marcion, the ancient heresiarch who rejected the Old Testament as the work of the evil demiurge, might have been pleased.

Is there a logical connection between gnosis and apocalyptic? Of course. Apocalypses come in various flavors. Some are hopeful, some are fearful, some are actually conservative. There is also an apocalypse of loathing, of contempt and hatred for the world and its history. We can clearly see such a mood in societies that nearly destroy themselves, such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or sixteenth century Mexico, but to a smaller degree it has also informed less extreme revolutions and upheavals throughout history. Gnosis has much in common with this mood. Gnostics at best seek to be reconciled with the world. Some seek to purify themselves of it. Others look forward to its destruction in a grossly literal fashion. More than a few, it seems, have been willing to help the process along.

Finally, at the risk of making a churlish comment about what after all is supposed to be a personal spiritual statement, one might question the credentials of gnosis to be the treasured possession of a true spiritual elite. Bloom mentions at one point that C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” is one of his least favorite books. One may be forgiven for wondering whether this antipathy arises because even a cursory acquaintance with Lewis’s writings show him to have been a Gnostic who eventually grew out of it. (If you want a popular description of serious angels, no book but Lewis’s novel “That Hideous Strength” comes to mind.) As St. Augustine’s “Confessions” illustrates, gnosis may be a stage in spiritual maturity, but it has not been the final destination for many of the finest spirits. Bloom seems to think that his version of gnosis has a great future in the next century, after people tire of their current millennial enthusiasms. Perhaps some form of spirituality has a great future, but it is unlikely to be the one he has in mind.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the February 1997 issue of First Things magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View: Cthuluism and the Cold War

Despite John's protests, I think this is pretty funny, and disturbingly topical.

Cthuluism and the Cold War



Some of the references in this parody are admittedly obscure. You have not only to know a bit about Lovecraft's fiction, you also have to be familiar with public affairs programming on the US Public Broadcasting System. It also helps to be up on the latest (circa 1998) twist of Cold War revisionism. Even then, of course, you may also have to be pretty easy to amuse to find any of it funny.

Well, here goes anyway. Happy Halloween!

Any resemblance between living persons and the dead is deeply regretted.


"Welcome to the Bob Lerner News Hour. I'm your host, Bob Lerner. That's why I am telling you this.

"Tonight, our main story is something else you have probably already seen done to death on CNN: new revelations about the role of Cthuluism in American politics during the Cold War. Our guests tonight are Dr. Timothy Turnip, professor of Comparative Eschatology and author of the widely banned `McCarthy versus the Starry Wisdom Party,' and Charles Dexter Ward, publisher of `The Burrower,' a journal of disturbing political opinion."

LERNER: "Good evening, Dr. Turnip; good evening, Mr. Ward."

TURNIP: "I've been waiting for years to get on this show. What happened to the smart host?"

WARD: "Loser."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip, can you tell us about the significance of the recently declassified sections of the Venona Codex?"

TURNIP: "The Codex proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that people like Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were in fact in league with unspeakable evil throughout the 1930s and `40s. We not only have names and dates, we even have Henry Wallace's fingerprints on the Silver Key."

LERNER: "And Mr. Ward, what do you have to say to that?"

WARD: "Highly mephitic, I say. This is pure American triumphalism. Maybe 100 million people have been consumed since the Old Ones returned in 1917, but that is no reason to condemn as a traitor everyone who ever attended an invocation of the Crawling Chaos. We are talking about the fundamental legitimacy of progressive politics here."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip?"

TURNIP: "Throughout the 20th century, the term `progressive' has been the silken mask of the High Priest Not to be Described. It's people like the readers of `The Burrower' who became pacifists when the Ribbentrop-Nyarlathotep Pact was signed, but suddenly changed their minds when Hitler invaded Leng."

WARD: "This is McCarthyism of the most eldritch kind. In the 1930s, no one but the Starry Wisdom Party was doing anything in this country about racial equality and the condition of working people. That's what the Cthuluist tradition is really about."

TURNIP: "If you read the Party platform from those years, you will see that what 'equality' meant to Cthuluists was that all non-initiates were equally tasty. As for the condition of workers, you know perfectly well that the old CIO demanded that the membership surrender their souls on election day."

LERNER: "Gentlemen, please. To change the subject slightly, it is often said today that the only place that Cthuluism still finds adherents is on college campuses. Mr. Ward, would you agree with that?"

WARD: "That is a squamous calumny on multiculturalism. There are indeed a few campuses today where gender equity and anthropophagy are actively promoted by the administration, but the reality is that most institutions of higher education in this country are highly reactionary. To this day, in fact, a few colleges refuse to hire faculty who cannot tolerate direct sunlight. But doubtless this situation pleases Dr. Turnip and his neoconservative friends at Miskatonic University."

TURNIP: "The real fact of the matter is that our universities have been taken over by Black Diaper Babies."

WARD: "You know, it's people like you who see a zoog under every bed."

TURNIP: "There usually are zoogs under my bed; it's people like you who send them."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip, isn't what you say a little extreme? Aren't you free at Miskatonic University to write and teach whatever you want about the influence of the Starry Wisdom Party?"

TURNIP: "Let me begin by saying that Dean Golder at Miskatonic has done a very good job of keeping the more obviously non-human applicants out of the tenure track, at least in the liberal arts. And it is also true that, nationally, the number of undergraduates who are inexplicably dismembered on Lammas Night has fallen to its lowest level since the late `60s. Nevertheless, the situation only grows worse and worse. Spontaneous deliquescence is now a protected condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Literature survey courses used to start with 'Moby Dick.' Now they start with 'The Pnakotic Manuscripts.' There's postmodernism for you. Most of these ideas are simply imported from France, where Cthulu always had a large following."

LERNER: "That brings us to an important point. Is it really fair to identify French postmodernism completely with Cthuluism?"

TURNIP: "Well, Michel Foucault did die by being torn in pieces by a nightgaunt over the Boulevard Saint Germain."

WARD: "Excuse me, but I think it is simply bigotry to invoke the tragic circumstances of Foucault's death as a way to discredit his ideas. It expresses contempt for the thousands of people who suffer similar afflictions everywhere in the world today."

LERNER: "Point taken, Mr. Ward. Let me bring this discussion to a close by asking you both about the significance of the events of 1989. Do you think that the fall of the Gate in that year permanently discredited Cthuluism as a viable intellectual option, or do you think that the Old Ones might be objects of worship again? Dr. Turnip?"

TURNIP: "I believe that the Starry Wisdom Party will continue to be discredited. The Shadow may grow again, but it will have to take a different form.

LERNER: "Mr. Ward?"

WARD: "If you knock down a Gate, you not only make a way for yourself to go out, you make a way for what is on the other side to come in. `That is not dead which can eternal lie; the struggle continues.'"

LERNER: "And there we must end it. Gentlemen, good night."

TURNIP: "What does Michael Beschloss know that I don't know, eh?."

LERNER: "YOG, yes, well, good evening."

Copyright © 1998 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

The Long View: The Coming Age of Cathedrals

Times Square in 1978

Times Square in 1978

In 2014 I speculated that John Reilly probably knew Richard Landes, because of their common interests. I managed to miss this essay of John's where he talked about meeting with Landes in New York City. I'm not sure how, since I referenced the ideas here in a couple of talks I gave at my local Catholic parish on millennialism

This essay is also an interesting point of contact with my unreleased review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. By 2004, New York City had begun to decisively move away from the archetype of Gotham City that it had been embodying ever since the 1970s[popularly referred to as the Sixties, this trend really started about 1968 and peaked in 1973]. The fate of Times Square is a synedoche for the city as a whole. The only time I have been to Times Square was in 1998, on a school trip, and it was less seedy than in 1978, but far less clean than John saw it in 2004, or the sanitized version we have now.

The story of how that happened is a fascinating one, and it illuminates the curious nature of American politics at present. But that is a story for another post.

I really like Richard Landes' theory that millennialism is embarrassing to most educated Westerners, while also being absolutely fascinating to almost everyone, even the people who find it embarrassing. John takes that idea here, and links it up with a great many other ideas that he often featured on his blog, and produces a truly great essay on how the idea of historical progress fits in to the broader cultural trends of the West.

Written in 1997, this essay is more optimistic than it would have been in 2017. In 1997, the United States was in the middle of an economic boom, had no serious rivals, and had not yet been humbled by 9/11. An interesting twist to 2017 is that the optimism of 1997 really did manage to leave out a number of Americans from the increasing prosperity, but since they were largely concentrated in the declining industrial heartland, the hidden losers of the dotcom boom, the coastal elites largely ignored them. This was likely helped by a very robust late 90s stock market. Pensions were generally pretty strong then.

For all that, John had enough historical depth to know that good times don't last forever.

The Coming Age of Cathedrals


by John J. Reilly


I rarely have occasion to walk through Times Square in Manhattan. My visits to the city usually have to do with business to the east or south. That was why, when I walked through the area one morning in the summer of 1996 on one of my even rarer visits to Lincoln Center, I was taken aback by how much the place had improved since the last time I saw it. It was still noisy and crowded (it is hard to imagine that location in the city being otherwise), but the area was clean. The facades and many of the buildings were new. If any of the stores specialized in pornography, they were discrete about it. Shabby persons did not wait under the eaves of storefronts to offer goods and services to passersby. There was a cop or security guard on every other corner.

If the dark, dystopic film "Bladerunner" is the popular image of the future American city, then here was a city that was evolving in a different direction. It was not just Times Square, of course. The reason you see few politicians trekking to the South Bronx these days is that the burned-out neighborhoods that provided such dramatic photo opportunities for several election cycles have been substantially torn down and rebuilt. Actually, good news like this seems to crop up more and more these days, in areas ranging from medicine to crime statistics. Like many of the people who pass through Times Square each day, I generally just note the improvement and continue on my way. That morning, however, I was going to a meeting that gave me reason to consider such things in a broader context.

I was in Manhattan to speak to one Richard Landes, a medievalist from Boston University and an authority on the year 1000. With each year's calendar getting closer to the double-millennium figure, this previously obscure subject is becoming increasingly topical. It is already fashionable to attribute this or that event to "millennial fever." (In a way, that is what I am going to do here.) Anyway, we were meeting to talk about several of the academic projects that are in the works in connection with the upcoming turn of the millennium.

Landes is something of a revisionist. Like many revisionists who seek to overturn the accepted wisdom on a subject, his new interpretation is a dialectical synthesis that strongly resembles the view of the matter which preceded the accepted wisdom he is revising. For reasons which I trust I will be able to make clear, his ideas about the 11th century may have a great deal to do with the once and future Times Square.

It was perhaps the nineteenth[-century] historian, Jules Michelet, who was most responsible for popularizing the idea of the "terrors of the year 1000." You can find contemporary, or nearly contemporary, chronicles of the period which describe the people of Western Europe as living in a agony of apocalyptic expectation. There are accounts of civil disturbances, of grotesque acts of mass public repentance, of popular prophets and their crazed followers. All in all, Michelet made the turn of the millennium sound like the sixteenth century on particularly bad day. By the beginning of the twentieth century, historians realized there was something fishy about this picture. For one thing, while these accounts turn up in some historical literature from the period, they do not dominate it. More generally, Western Europe in the decades following the year 1000 really did not act like a society that was paralyzed by fear of the imminent end of the world, or that was disappointed by the failure of its eschatological schedule.

The 11th century was the time when the great cathedrals began to go up and the crusades were launched, following decades of increasing contact with Byzantium and the Levant. Western Christendom in those decades was an expanding, curious, inventive society. To that extent, it did resemble the Western Europe of the sixteenth century. However, this earlier age of discovery and change was not characterized by the dark disasters of the century that followed Columbus and Luther. This perhaps is the chief reason why for nearly a hundred years historians have generally believed that the "terrors of the year 1000" existed largely in the minds of the nineteenth century Romantics.

Well, maybe not. Landes and other medievalists are taking a third look at the primary sources, and finding both more and less in them than did their predecessors. It is true that nothing happened around the beginning of the second millennium on the order of the Peasants' Revolt in sixteenth Germany. (For purposes of eschatological anxiety, by the way, the millennium did not turn in an instant. The year 1033, for instance, was at least as good a year for the Second Coming in the minds of apocalyptic literalists as was the year 1000.) On the other hand, it is not hard to find discussion about questions of universal eschatology in the writings of the period. Evidence of popular interest in these questions is fragmentary, but it is there. More accessible is the scholarly debate which arose about when the age might be expected to end.

Landes believes he detects a degree of censorship among the writers of the period in favor Augustine's model of history. Whatever else might be said of Augustine's ideas about the end of the world, certainly they tended to downplay the catastrophic and revolutionary. (Violent, popular endtime belief is sometimes characterized as "millenarian," to be distinguished from the less dramatic "millennialism" with which Augustine is often associated.) Augustine, in most interpretations of him, preserved the events of the Endtime depicted in Revelation and the Prophets as literal expectations for the indefinite future. However, his system (to the extent he had one) was very wary of any attempts to discern eschatological significance in the events of secular history.

The medieval Latin Church, in its eschatology as in so much else, was at least nominally Augustinian. The Church around the year 1000, however, dealt in two ways with what probably was perceived to be a crisis of apocalyptic expectation. The immediate response was to deal with millenarianism on its own terms. The more long-term and more important response, however, was to transform apocalyptic into theodicy.

The proper Augustinian reaction to millenarian enthusiasm, particularly to enthusiasm sparked by calendrical considerations, is to declare the time of the end to be unknowable. What many of the authorities around the year 1000 did, however, was to quibble about chronology. Thus, accepting for the sake of argument the old thesis that the world would last 6,000 years, they answered doom-mongers with estimates for the age of the world that put the beginning of the seventh millennium a comfortable distance into the future. Such arguments were not always wholly convincing on their merits, and they did have the disadvantage of leaving time bombs for later Augustinians. (The excitement about the year 1000 was perhaps a time bomb planted by Augustine himself.) Be that as it may, such arguments sufficed for the immediate occasion, and they probably did contribute to the pacification of millenarian sentiment, especially among the lower clergy.

On the other hand, there is a great deal more to Augustinian eschatology than the suppression of other people's enthusiasms. Augustine is sometimes called "the father of progress." This view can be exaggerated, as it was perhaps in Robert Nisbet's "History of the Idea of Progress." Certainly St. Augustine's ideas about the future bore little resemblance to those of, say, the Fabian socialists. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said for the proposition that his model of time is the basic template on which more specific ideas about history can form, of which progress is simply one instance.

Augustine freed time from the constriction of an imminent eschaton, thereby making history a theater of grace and will. Augustinian history need not be progressive, but it can be. In fact, it has a predilection to be under certain circumstances. The Augustinian view of time is not unique in being linear or in its suspicion of revolutionary enthusiasm. Neo-Confucianism, for instance, has these characteristics. For that matter, Neo-Confucian historiographers, like Landes's turn-of-the-millennium ecclesiastics, did indeed tend to de-emphasize or mischaracterize popular millenarian movements. What makes Augustinianism different is its ability to impart meaning to favorable historical trends.

Although the idea of historical progress has received more than its share of derision in recent years, the fact is that many facets of history, and even whole historical eras, really are progressive. The statistics on population growth and economic output in certain parts of the world often rise steadily for a long time. New arts and sciences appear and are perfected over the course of a few centuries. These things were almost as true of the Hellenistic Age as they were of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet notoriously the ancients were without an idea of progress, despite the fact that at least part of their history was progressive by any measure. Other fortunate times and places have suffered from a similar lack of imagination.

Was Western Christendom at the turn of the first millennium the first society to take steps toward giving historical meaning to "progress," to great social enterprises terminating only at a horizon of unguessable distance? Naturally, the classical nineteenth-century idea of progress is no more medieval than it is Hellenistic or Neo-Confucian. However, the cathedrals and the crusades may stand as symbols for a wider cultural assumption that social development can be a moral enterprise, perhaps even a morally necessary enterprise. Such a conviction would be far less deterministic than, for instance, the theology of the Social Gospel. Socially progressive Christianity in this century has demanded progress from history. Augustine merely hoped for it. Perhaps he did not hope for very much, just that the Vandals would go away and that future emperors would be more edifying. Nevertheless, he hoped with good reason.

Whatever the validity of these reflections with respect to the 11th century, certainly this interpretation of Augustine is alive and well and being expounded from the Throne of St. Peter. John Paul II's 1994 encyclical on the celebration of the coming turn of the millennium, "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," can hardly be described as a millenarian document. Nevertheless, it looks forward to the turn of the century as far more than a peculiarly obvious occasion for historical commemoration. For reasons which are perhaps intuitive, the Pope anticipates that the beginning of the next millennium will be a time of novel significance in the history of salvation. The encyclical puts the Second Vatican Council into perspective as a providential event whose true significance was to prepare for this new era. The specifics of the document are concerned with how the Church should ready herself to take advantage of these coming opportunities.

If in fact the next century is another time of constructive hope, future historians who attend to such things will probably see this transformation as in part a reaction to the dark images of the future that have prevailed since the 1960s. While the `60s were a time of exhilaration for the young, we should not forget that one of the tenets of the Counter Culture of that era was the coming collapse of civilization. William Irwin Thompson perhaps best captured the mood of the period in his still-interesting book, "At the Edge of History" (1971). Visiting the Esalen Institute retreat center in the summer of 1967, he learned that the end of civilization was not only expected by hippies of nearby San Francisco, it was devoutly hoped for. Many of the people attending Esalen with him that summer, who like himself would soon become prominent figures in the nascent New Age movement, were of similar if subtler mind. They were less likely than the hippies to put their faith in predictions of world-changing earthquakes or in the public arrival of the flying saucers. Instead, they anticipated salutary effects from the breakdown of American society from more conventional causes. After an era of "broken-back" technocracy, they expected a new spiritual age to emerge. The immediate future did not turn out the way that the budding opinion-makers of those years anticipated, but as with so much else about the Counter Culture, their view of the future became a popular orthodoxy.

The hope for a new spiritual age has waxed and waned, but the expectation of a future with a broken back has shown a quarter century of resilience. Examples of it can be found from before the 1970s, of course. It is related to "post apocalypse" stories, tales built around the idea of a new barbarism that arises after some great catastrophe, usually a world war. H.G. Wells's novel "The Shape of Things to Come" (1933) may be the classic of the genre, despite the fact it antedates the invention of nuclear weapons (which were another one of Wells's ideas, but that is another story). However, while many of these stories, including Wells's, are about the rebuilding of civilization, the broken-back future is about civilization's progressive darkening. It depicts a society in which social chaos often continues to exist with high technology. Among its prominent literary exponents is Doris Lessing, in such novels as "Memoirs of a Survivor" and "Shikasta." It achieved a somewhat cultish respectability in the work of J.G. Ballard. It appeared in the short novels by John Crowley, notably "Engine Summer." As for cinema, we find it in films from "Soylent Green" to the appallingly-influential "Blade Runner." The influence of the "Mad Max" series has, of course, long been inescapable. In fact, in recent years it has become difficult to find fictional presentations of the near future that do not feature decaying cities, a ruthless ruling class, economic collapse and impending ecological catastrophe.

These images have effects beyond the arts. They informed, though of course they did not determine, a great deal of the social and economic thought of the last twenty years. The "declinist" school of geopolitics, most notably associated with Paul Kennedy's provocative book "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," sometimes seemed to depict a future for America more than a little like the shabby International Style cities of the "Max Headroom" television series. On a more serious level of ethical reflection, John Lukacs' "The End of the Twentieth Century" anticipated a new dark age, in which ethnic nationalisms clash in the twilight like street gangs with national anthems. This image of the geopolitical future is not original with Lukacs. It is close to being the consensus view of the post-Cold War world.

One might be tempted to see these motifs as simply reflections of America as it changed during the Reagan Administration, but they antedate the Reagan years. It is, indeed, quite likely that they affected the way those years were reported. Certainly they affect the way America is perceived by its public officials at this writing. Charles Lane, writing recently in "The New Republic," describes how a group of staffers from the Clinton White House met for a briefing by a German economist to get some international perspective on U.S. economic policy. They had come expecting a lecture on the comparative disadvantages of slovenly American work habits and the lack of coherent U.S. industrial policy. They quickly became highly disoriented. The economist lamented the way things are done in his own country. He came close to depicting the United States as a Shangri-La of job growth and technological innovation. The staffers were at a loss to know what to say.

America is not Shangri-La, nor likely to become such a place anytime soon. However, it is also no longer the country in desperate need of restructuring that it was in 1976. At various levels, the realization that this is the case is gradually seeping into elite opinion. It is, perhaps, even affecting public administration, as projects like the renovation of Times Square illustrate. If you expect Mad Max to rule the future, then you are unsurprised by the decay of public places and disinclined to do much about it. What is perhaps most interesting about America culture today is the revulsion, sometimes inarticulate but with increasing clarity, against the assumption of a dark future.

Regarding the material side of things, the case for a merry beginning to the next millennium was recently put by the economist (and senator's nephew) Michael Moynihan in "The Coming American Renaissance." Even if the title is over-optimistic, nevertheless it is useful to have a handy compendium of good news that is only gradually becoming reportable.

Economics is not everything, of course. If you want a positive image for American society as a whole in the next century, you could do much worse than to consult William Strauss and Neil Howe's "Generations." It appeared in 1991, and it apparently has something of cult. It stays in print for good reason, since its anachronistic forecasts of declining crime rates and rising academic performance have proven remarkably accurate.

The book is another attempt to interpret American history as a recurring sequence of generational psychologies. The elder and younger Arthur Schlesingers tried this with a model using two types of generation, whereas Strauss and Howe use four. The latters' thesis owes its popularity in large part to its description of Generation X as a set of demographic cohorts fated to be misfits and tragic heroes. They are like the Lost Generation of the 1920s, and thus more noble than the be-ringed and be-whiskered zombies they appear to be at first sight. The Xers, it seems, are destined to be the parents of a new "civic" generation, one that could accomplish works of daring and organization in the next century as great as those accomplished by the "civic" generation that began to come of age about 1940. They will be the sort of people who could colonize Mars, create universal peace and end poverty. They will have their faults, just as the World War II generation did. Still, any future they would create would be more in the spirit of the 11th century than in that of "Bladerunner." One hopes that at least the lighting will be brighter than in the film.

Attempts to predict the future are best kept to the briefest of outlines, unless you want to afford amusement to people who live in the future you attempt to describe. Certainly these reflections have been at a sufficiently high level of abstraction to protect them from disconfirmation by grubby facts. All I am suggesting, really, is that if the turn of second millennium is significantly similar to the turn of the first, then we should look for a dynamic century of hope and progress on many levels. On the other hand, these reflections have also been too specific, since they referred mostly to the United States. A millennial future would involve the whole West as well, since all our civilization runs to some degree on the same historical clock.

Many people make a point of ignoring the current pope, including some who work in the same building as he does. In this case, however, I wonder whether he may not have sniffed a change in the eschatological wind. We live at the end of a chaotic interlude. That it was going to end should not have surprised us: few conditions are so ephemeral as chaos. Order always reasserts itself, whether in international politics or in personal mores. This insight is likely to be a commonplace of the other side of what John Paul II calls the "Holy Door" of the year 2000.


Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: What If the Second Temple Had Survived AD 70?

A fun bit of alternative history exploring the likely impact of the survival of the Second Temple upon the religion and politics of the Middle East.

What If the Second Temple Had Survived AD 70?


This note takes issue with Donald Harman Akenson's recent book, "Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds." You can find my review of the book by clicking here

--John J. Reilly




Akenson's governing assumption is that the key event that created Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism was the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in AD 70. Actually, he holds that there never was such a thing as non-rabbinical Judaism. Akenson uses the words "Judahism" to refer to the religion of Yahweh that existed in Palestine between the end of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BC and the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. This was a religion of very many sects, which often had little in common and sometimes were mutually hostile.

One growing sect after about AD 30 was the Jesus Faith. Another was the closely related (and therefore antagonistic) movement known to us as the Pharisaism. (Akenson makes the interesting observation that we know of just two self-proclaimed Pharisees. One was St. Paul, the other was Flavius Josephus, the turncoat author of "The Jewish War.") Like the rest of Judahism, these two groups greatly revered the Temple, and their religious practice was closely connected with it. According to Akenson, it was only the destruction of the Temple that made it possible for them to become separate religions. They then set themselves to replace the physical temple with mental temples. Thus, the Christian scriptures came to refer to Jesus as the Temple, while the rabbis came to equate studying the rituals that had been performed in the Temple with actually conducting them.

The year AD 70 (well, the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-73) is a comforting landmark to historians of religion. God alone knows precisely when Jesus was born or what the Sadducees really believed. For scholars of religion to study the first century, they must interpret and reinterpret partisan texts of ambiguous provenance, all while living in terror that someone will blow their beautiful theories to smithereens. (As, indeed, they themselves plan to do to the theories of their colleagues.) For the Jewish War, in contrast, they have vivid first person accounts and sober descriptions by the standard historians of the second century. Scholars are greatly tempted to attribute decisive significance to this event for the perfectly understandable reason that they happen to know a lot about it.

The problem is that the fall of the Temple need not have been decisive for the history of either Christianity or Judaism.

The case of Christianity need not detain us. It is possible that the whole of the "Jesus Faith" was reconfigured after AD 70 to show that it had always been independent of its homeland. Maybe all that the earliest Jesus People wanted was to add a little filigree about the Messiah to their Temple-based religious practice. Perhaps the entire canon of the New Testament grossly misrepresents both the life of Jesus and the careers of the Apostles, particularly that of St. Paul. Well, maybe. The problem with this sort of argument is like the problem with the argument that God created the world in 4004 BC, fossils and all, to look as if it were billions of years old. The fact is that the texts of the New Testament say what they say. They do not suggest that the Temple was central to the concerns of the earliest Christians, or even to Jesus himself. If the New Testament is judged to be wholly misleading on this matter, then fancy can wander freely. However, the result will have nothing to do with history.

With Judaism, the matter is more complicated. The Mishnah, the code of the "oral law," does consist in large part of loving recollection of the structure of the Temple and the rites performed there. Prayers for the reconstruction of the Temple featured in public and private devotions for centuries. These observations, however, do not address the question of whether this preoccupation could not have developed had the Temple not been destroyed.

The obvious analogy is Islam. Like Judaism before AD 70, Islam has a ritual center, in Mecca. It has a legal tradition, the Sharia, which resembles the Babylonian Talmud in seeking to be completely comprehensive both of secular life and religious practice. It has a Book, the Koran, which like the Torah is held to be a special, textual revelation from God. If anything, the Koran is even more insistent on the importance of the ritual center at Mecca than is the Jewish canon about Jerusalem, since the Koran enjoins Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca if they possibly can.

Something else that Judaism and Islam have in common is that their adherents have been spread out all over the world for a very long time. This was true of Judaism (let us forget this "Judahism" hypothesis) even during the period of the Second Temple. This is not the kind of thing you would normally expect of a cult tied to a particular place, which is what is usually meant by a "temple religion." The religion of the Classical world, like that of much of the Far East today, is built around the particular shrines of local gods. Grand abstractions like "Zeus" or "Shiva" are really for poets. The piety of the practitioners of these cults is always local. They worship the god of one temple because he is the god of where they live. If they travel, then naturally they worship the gods of the places through which they pass. To do otherwise would seem nonsensical.

In contrast, what Judaism and Islam, as well as Christianity and some forms of Buddhism, have in common is that they are fairly portable. You can find God wherever you are, and if a holy book directs your attention to a sacred site on the far side of the world, then the site's sacredness comes from the book and not the other way around. This is true today in the case of Islam, even though a ritual center is an important part of its theology. It also has been true of Judaism since the Babylonian Captivity. The term for this is monotheism, and it has more to do with how a religion works than do the details of its ritual dimension.

That said, though, it is hard to imagine that the destruction of the Second Temple did not have some effect on the evolution of Judaism. Here is what might have happened if the Angel of Death had passed over the Temple in AD 70.

It is not difficult to imagine a history in which the Temple survives. The Roman-Jewish War was also a civil war. The contenders actually held different parts of the Second Temple and fought each other as the Romans invested the place. Supposedly, the Pharisees were not really very keen on rebelling against Rome in the first place. That is why many of them were expelled from Jerusalem by the zealots. One of their leaders, Yohanan ben Zakkai, then made a deal with the Emperor Vespasian to allow Yohanan to found the academy at Jamnia, where the Mishnah began to be composed. Suppose that, instead of abandoning Jerusalem, the Pharisees had contrived to gain control of the Temple complex, or some large fraction of it. They might then have negotiated with the Romans to, in effect, trade Jerusalem for the Temple by holding the later against the rebels. Though much of the city might have been destroyed in the Roman assault, still the Temple would have been spared.

Thereafter, the Temple would have continued to function as a ritual center as before, but with some differences. For instance, immediately after the rebellion was put down, the Temple would have found itself in the odd position of being a huge religious center without much of a surrounding population. The Temple would have been in small danger of being abandoned: Jews from all over the world came to visit and sent donations. Doubtless Jerusalem would have been rebuilt, as it had been before. Still, activity in the Temple would have begun to shift away from ritual and toward scholarship, particularly if the Pharisees were running the place. This would have accelerated trends that had long existed in Judaism.

Even before Babylonian Captivity, the prophets complained that God was less impressed by offerings in the Temple than by, say, the fair treatment of tenant farmers and the even administration of justice. The ethical dimension to Judaism would certainly have continued to develop, whether there was a temple or not. There is also some reason to suppose that the ritual practiced at the Temple might have begun to change dramatically.

We have to remember that, when we talk about ritual in this context, was are talking about animal sacrifice. This, of course, was typical of temples throughout the ancient world: they were abattoirs. The difference was that the Jerusalem Temple was huge, one of the wonders of the world, and to some extent it must have been a terrifying place. While this assessment may seem to be the projection of modern delicacies onto ancient people, there is some evidence otherwise. Noted Jewish authorities, including Maimonides himself, have argued that animal sacrifice was a brutal practice that God sought first to restrict and then to eliminate. Also, for what it is worth, we should remember that the other major religious survivor of first-century Palestine, Christianity, dropped the practice of animal sacrifice from the first. (This was the case even though Christianity, too, retained the basic texts on the subject in its Old Testament.)

Ironically, the emphasis given to the old rituals in the Mishnah and the Talmuds was due precisely to the abruptness with which they were cut off. In the normal course of events, one suspects, temple sacrifice would have become rarer and more symbolic, until eventually no actual animals were killed at all. As it was, though, all the early rabbis were left with were memories to record, which they did with great thoroughness.

We must therefore imagine the Temple continuing to function through late antiquity, becoming all the while less like a Classical temple and more like an academy. There was one more major Jewish revolt in Palestine, the Bar Kochba rebellion of the 130s. It is entirely possible that the continued existence of the Temple would have defused this uprising. That rebellion is famous in the study of Messianic millenarianism. (Bar Kochba was called the Messiah, though he may not have claimed the title for himself.) However, richly endowed religious foundations usually take a dim view of militant endtime movements, as the history of the Catholic Church illustrates.

Even if the influence of the conservative Temple failed to prevent the outbreak, the existence of the Temple would still have altered matters. It is likely that the Temple authorities would have stood aloof from the rebellion. Jerusalem might have been declared an open city, or it might actually have resisted Bar Kochba in the name of Rome. Even if the insurgents gained control of Jerusalem for a period, in this case the Romans would have had no reason to destroy the city or the temple when they reconquered the country. Unlike the situation in AD 70, there would have been a normative form of Judaism, one more concerned with the affairs of the spirit than with those of this world. The Romans would have made haste to reestablish this orthodoxy in its chief center as soon as they could. This would have been the quickest way to restore peace. After all, this was pretty much what the Emperor Vespasian did with Rabbi Yohanan.

By the time Christianity became the Imperial religion in the fourth century, it is quite likely that Jerusalem would have been a university town, like Athens or Alexandria. Like them, it would have had increasing trouble with the Imperial government's wildly gyrating religious policies. In the fifth century, these resulted in the closing of the academies in Palestine in which the Jerusalem Talmud was composed. In 529, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed even the Academy at Athens. It would thus be reasonable to suppose that, sometime in those centuries, the Temple would have been converted into a church, and the associated schools into seminaries.

In the seventh century, with the appearance of Islam, the role of Jerusalem in world history would have become considerably different. It is conceivable that the attraction of Jerusalem, with the Temple intact, might have preempted the choice of Mecca as the center of Muslim worship. (Mohammed prayed to Jerusalem for a time, even without the Temple.) This would have had considerable consequences for the development of later Islamic civilization. Neither Mecca nor Medina are suitable points from which to administer a great empire. They are too isolated, too small, and they depend on local resources that are too thin. To a lesser extent, the same is also true of Jerusalem. As the Ummayid and Abbasid Dynasties realized, Damascus or Baghdad was far preferable. However, if Jerusalem had been the goal of the Haj, with the Temple now the holiest of Mosques, it was close enough to the Mediterranean's major trade routes that it could have continued its role as a center of learning. Jerusalem is wrongly placed to be a large city. With the Temple, however, it would never have become a backwater.

In later centuries, Jerusalem would have been captured and lost by the Crusaders, patronized and abused by the Turks. Its political history might not have been dramatically different from that in our own world. The biggest difference would have come in the 20th century. In 1900, Palestine was a relatively lightly populated country. Its cities, including Jerusalem, were of mainly historical interest. Had the Temple been the center of Islam, however, these things would not have been the case. Certainly the enterprise of Zionism would have been inconceivable. Jews might well have had easy access to the Temple by the second half of the 20th century. Christians have been able to hold services in the Hagia Sofia under the Turkish Republic, to take a comparable case. Nevertheless, we must consider the possibility that one consequence of the preservation of the Temple in the first century might have been the non-existence of Israel in the twentieth.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds

Textual analysis and criticism of religious texts was a real innovation in the mid-nineteenth century. However, historical criticism of the Bible and the Talmud exhibits the amusing spectacle, as work has slowly progressed, of converging on something very much like the traditional account.

Surpassing Wonder:
The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds
by Donald Harman Akenson
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998
658 Pages, $35.00
ISBN 0-15-100418-8


Few areas of academic endeavor are so in need of public debunking as are biblical studies. The physicist Richard Feynman coined the term "Cargo Cult science" to refer to literary speculation that tries to steal the authority of the physical sciences by using some of their vocabulary and format. Much the same relationship holds between such enterprises as the Jesus Seminar and the methods of serious historians. In this book, Donald Akenson, a noted scholar of Celtic studies, uses his own discipline's perspectives on textual analysis to critique the modern treatment of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the less well-known evolution of the rabbinical literature that was created during the five centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. This is merely by the way, since the primary purpose of "Surpassing Wonder" is to set out Akenson's own theory of a "grammar of invention" that supposedly governed the evolution of all this vast body of material.

The result is a book that is valuable for its general insights, and especially for its history of the tradition that led to the Babylonian Talmud. Still, though the author makes light of postmodern analytical methods, nevertheless "Surpassing Wonder" is willfully tendentious in a way that is characteristic of postmodernism. The author flips back and forth between the assertion that "all we have is a text" and appeals to questionable historical reconstructions, all the time drawing analogies from dated popular science. Akenson succeeds in clearing away some learned nonsense, but the effect is sometimes like that of a critique of "recovered memory" therapy made by an intelligent astrologer.

"Surpassing Wonder" begins with a bold hypothesis. According to Akenson, the first nine books in the Bible (excluding Ruth and counting First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings as one each) were composed as a unified whole. The work may even have had a single editor, who would have lived among the exiles in Babylon in the sixth century BC, after the destruction of the First Temple. The Genesis-Kings unity was based on material deriving from the Temple writings of the now-destroyed Kingdom of Judah, and of course the editor did not imagine that his compilation was in any way innovative. This, in fact, is the first rule of the "grammar of invention" that Akenson describes: novelty is never admitted. Still, the result was substantially new, if for no other reason than that it suppressed other traditions that existed before the Babylonian Exile.

For one thing, Genesis-Kings established that the religion of the People of God would be a monotheism centered on Yahweh. (This point was not altogether clear in the strand of documents coming from the northern Kingdom of Israel, whose name for the divine was "elohim," a plural.) The work ensured that this religion would not be just a temple religion, but one centered on a single Temple and the ritual performed there. (This point, too, had not been clear, since Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem had never been able to entirely suppress all other centers of ritual sacrifice.) It established the notion of the various covenants with God, first with Noah, then with Abraham, then with Moses. It also established the notion of history as a theodicy governed by the results of breaking these covenants. Finally, it did all this by being very conservative of its sources. The Bible is filled with "doublets" of text that tell somewhat different stories about the same thing. Thus, famously, there are two creation stories in Genesis, and they are not obviously consistent. Consistent or not, all the narratives in Genesis-Kings routinely echo each other: covenant with covenant, punishment with punishment, prophet with prophet.

The "grammar of invention" of which Akenson speaks consists of just these themes and these methods of presenting them, repeated and transformed throughout the thousand years after the completion of Genesis-Kings. Literatures grew up speaking this grammar, and so produced works that later could be incorporated into carefully constructed canons. While not wholly original, the notion that the Bible and its associated literatures are essentially a riff on a few basic measures has a lot to recommend it. As a method of historical investigation, however, it does have certain pitfalls.

Akenson describes the religion of the ancient Davidic kingdom as "Yahwehism," and asserts that its beliefs and practices are simply unknowable. During the Babylonian Exile a new religion arose, "Judahism," that both composed the Genesis-Kings unity and was shaped by it. It was Judahism that returned to Palestine with the small band of enthusiasts who built a new Temple. Then another cloud of unknowing descends on the religious condition of the People of God until AD 70, when Judahism is succeeded by "Judaism" and Christianity.

Here we see the problem: this hypothesis that the literature is "invented" from a stock of traditional elements leads to a kind of dispensationalism. (I suppose Foucault might have called these periods "epistemes.") The invention of a text serves to consume all the information that went into it, leaving us with a textual wall through which no image of the more distant past can penetrate. Time and again in this book, Akenson concludes some demonstration of the irretrievability of the history of Judaism and Christianity with the injunction to admire the "surpassing wonder" of the literary construct that blocks our view. There is something a little fishy about all this.

Most of these little fishies live in the "Pool of Siloam," which is Akenson's term for Palestine in the period from the Maccabean revolt of 167 BC to the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. During the first half of this period, the "Judahist" commonwealth was more or less free of foreign political control. In the second half, the area was more and more ruled by Rome, either directly or through allied kings. The period was politically chaotic, to put it mildly, and, as is often the case in such situations, it was also culturally creative. This was the period in which there was a great efflorescence of religious literature, much though not all of it apocalyptic in nature. The Pool of Siloam swarmed with sects and philosophies that were more or less violent, pious, or merely bizarre. Some of their literature was recovered during this century in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Akenson makes the interesting observation that, on the whole, this material rather confirms the significance of the apocryphal literature that we had already possessed, such as the "Books of Enoch." He also deplores the lazy habit of attributing all this material to the Essenes.

Akenson compares the late Second Temple era to the "Cambrian Explosion," the period about 540 million years ago when, suddenly, a vast variety of multicellular organisms appeared. There were some earlier, but the fossil record suggests a real acceleration in the pace of evolution early in this era. At the end of the Cambrian, these creatures were almost all destroyed in one of the mass extinctions that punctuate Earth's history. Akenson similarly likens this catastrophe to the destruction of the Second Temple. The Romans, he says, effectively sterilized the Pool of Siloam, leaving only a few surviving sects to make their way in a wider world. In Stephen Jay Gould's account of the late Cambrian die-off, given in "It's a Wonderful Life," the few survivors of the catastrophe were selected wholly at random, thus ensuring that the nature of life on Earth after the disaster was quite different from life before it. Akenson tries to make a similar argument for Judaism and Christianity, but his heart clearly is not in it. This is just as well, since Gould's thesis has been pretty well refuted.

Clearly, Pharisaism, which evolved into rabbinical Judaism, as well as Christianity, were pre-adapted to live in a world without a Temple. Neither was it an "accident" that some of the principle figures in these sects were not in Jerusalem when the Romans destroyed it. It was precisely because the religious practices of these groups were relatively independent of the Temple that they could set down roots in distant locales. One perhaps perverse effect of "Surpassing Wonder" may be to make some readers wonder whether AD 70 was very important at all.

It really is not true that the post-Exilic religion of the People of God was a "temple religion" in the same sense as was the religion of the reign of Solomon. Solomon's Temple was where the people worked who composed the primary components of the documents that became Akenson's Genesis-Kings unity. The writings were auxiliary to the cult. The Second Temple, in contrast, was built to conform to the books that the exiles brought with them from Babylon. Akenson, apparently thinking himself a naughty fellow for making the suggestion, calls the Temple an "icon" for a religion that supposedly had none. In reality, it was more like a textual illustration. Akenson tells us in great detail about how the rabbinical survivors of Roman Palestine constructed a "temple of the mind" in the Mishnah and the commentaries on it, so that study about the Temple could substitute for worship in it. However, he also notes that imaginary Temples are features of the Dead Sea Scrolls literature, so the discontinuity of AD 70 was not total. Did the existence of Mecca prevent the composition of the Muslim Sharia?

Similarly, Akenson's tub-thumping insistence that it is absolutely, positively established that none of the Gospels "in their present form" could have been written before AD 70 arouses the suspicion that he is chiefly concerned to wall off the dispensations before and after that year with the impenetrable text of the evangelists. In fact, this assertion about dating backfires on some of his other arguments. According to Akenson, so perfectly did the "inventors" of the Gospels make use of material from the Old Testament that there is almost nothing that Jesus says or does in the New Testament that cannot be attributed to literary construction. (The exceptions are the Virgin Birth and the bodily Resurrection, ideas that Akenson considers inexplicable literary blemishes.)

Now, the texts that Akenson (and most modern scholars) rely on to date all the Gospels after AD 70 are apparent predictions by Jesus in his apocalyptic discourses of the destruction of the Temple. The problem is that these references, particularly in Mark and Matthew, closely echo the description of the desecration of the Temple in the Book of Daniel. They are not different in kind from similar remarks in Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians, which is generally thought to have been written a good ten years before the Temple was destroyed. (II Thessalonians is not on Akenson's short list of epistles certain to have been written by Paul, though I gather that is an unusual position these days.) Thus, these "predictions" could easily be the sort of literary inventions that Akenson so loves, something that could have been written at any time after the middle of the second century BC. Akenson will have none of it, however. The problem is not theological. The problem is Akenson's apparent horror at the prospect that an ancient text might tell him something about history he did not already know.

In some ways, Akenson's textualism works better with the rabbinical material, most of which does not purport to be historical. The Mishnah, the code of the "oral law" that was probably compiled by AD 200, was apparently designed to be memorized, and may not have been collected together in written form until the second millennium. Akenson is familiar with the mnemonic devices that the Celts used in the early centuries AD for their legends and legal codes, and it seems to him that the rabbis used much the same methods.

Akenson describes the later chief works of the rabbinical literature, the Tosefta, the Sifra, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, as essentially attempts to tame the inflexible Mishnah. All but Sifra, which comments on the text of Leviticus, qualify and expand on the Mishnah and follow its structure. The Talmuds quote great slabs of it, along with commentaries and comments on the commentaries. Since the Babylonian Talmud, the last of these great works, was probably finished about AD 600, we have the odd spectacle of direct quotations from a book that was not entirely written down yet. Well, sentence structure in ancient Hebrew, as in modern Irish, goes verb + subject + object, so maybe it was indeed grammar that made a secondary question of establishing precisely the matter under discussion.

Regardless of the criticisms I make here, "Surpassing Wonder" is a very amusing book. There is something to be said for any work that uses a biography of baseball manager Casey Stengel ("oracle and miracle worker") as a model for how a gospel might be written. There are 100 pages of chatty but informative footnotes. There are four major appendices, one of which, "Modern Scholarship and the Quest for the Historical Yeshua," would be a good candidate for expansion into a small book. Still, "Surpassing Wonder" should be consulted with caution. This is one book where it pays to check the citations.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View 2004-10-25: Halloween Activities; Bad Book; Good Movie; Bad Software

I also hated Catcher in the Rye, I was glad to find that someone else did.

Halloween Activities; Bad Book; Good Movie; Bad Software


Here's a conference you might want to attend this Halloween:

Marseille, France (PRWEB) October 14, 2004: ICCF-11: The 11th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (Formerly the International Conference on Cold Fusion)...will gather on October 31, in Marseille, France, to present scientific research, exchange ideas, and debate this most controversial and engaging field of research...The worldwide cold fusion community [is] awaiting a conclusion from the U.S. Department of Energy's review of the field...

As are we all, no doubt, but when are we going to find out whether this alleged effect can be scaled up?

* * *

Even with cold fusion, there are some things you should not do on October 31:

CHURCHILL, MANITOBA -- Polar bear and seal costumes are definite Halloween no-nos in this northern Manitoba town. Costume selection takes on unique significance in the Churchill area, as Halloween coincides with the bears' migration to the ice. Seal costumes are especially worrisome, as seals are the polar bears' natural source of food on the ice. Officials fear the costumes could attract the unwanted attention of hungry bears. "I've never seen a kid dressed up as a seal -- but the message would be don't dress up as a polar bear or a seal," said conservation official Richard Romaniuk.

Readers will adapt this warning to their local fauna.

* * *

When I was 14, I found a dog-eared copy of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. I well remember settling down to read the first page, and then the second. Then I tossed the book aside, because the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, was such a jerk that nothing he did or said was going to be of much interest. I did read the book many years later, and confirmed my initial impression. I was recently pleased to find that my reaction as a youth was not unique:

Washington Post, Tuesday, October 19, 2004: J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracelessly

I shared Caulfield's contempt for "phonies" as well as his sense of being different and his loneliness, but he seemed to me just about as phony as those he criticized as well as an unregenerate whiner and egotist. It was easy enough to identify with his adolescent angst, but his puerile attitudinizing was something else altogether....

Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as "a symbol of purity and sensitivity" (as "The Oxford Companion to American Literature" puts it) when he's merely self-regarding and callow? Why do English teachers, whose responsibility is to teach good writing, repeatedly and reflexively require students to read a book as badly written as this one?

The "why" here is clear enough: it is more important to start kids reading fiction than to trouble overmuch about what they read at first. This is the reason for the promotion of the Harry Potter books. The difference is that the Potter books are good.

* * *

Over the weekend, I viewed the film The Day after Tomorrow. That's the one about global warming triggering a new ice age, all in the space of a week. As disaster movies go, this one is pretty good. It's supposed to be a commercial for global-warming anxiety, and maybe it is. Happily, it has so little to do with science, even speculative science, that you can just accept the flooding and freezing of New York City in the same spirit that you accept rampaging dinosaurs and giant monkeys lowering the quality of life in the same locale. An odd thing is that you also have to forget whatever you happen to know about the neighborhood of the 42nd Street Manhattan Library. There's a perfectly good restaurant attached to the rear of the building; people trapped there by a blizzard would have been in small danger of starving.

In any case, since the movie was released earlier this year, the state of Florida has been through the sort of unprecedented meteorological disaster that the film contemplates. The chief result of that seems to have been an increase in the popularity of Governor Jeb Bush, because of his management of the emergency. That had the collateral effect of increasing the reelection chances of his brother, George. As any ecologist in a disaster movie can tell you, the most important consequences are often unexpected.

* * *

My one problem with the movie, which I saw on DVD on my PC, was the glitchy and intrusive player-software, Hotllama. It made a great fuss about installing itself. It's one of those players that try to force users to go online, and it demanded demographic information and an email address before it would let me see the movie. Once it was installed, there followed 45 minutes of crashes and freezes (computer crashes and freezes: I could not open to the section of the disk that would let me see the damn freezes in the movie). Finally, I found an inconspicuous "Configure" option, from which I enabled some obscure script. The film then played, but the audio was out-of-sync with the video for most of it.

My assessment of Hotllama is best summed up by this passage from Lovecraft's The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath:

These latter [idols] did not, despite their material, invite either appropriation or long inspection; and Carter took the trouble to hammer five of them into very small pieces.

In other words, I used GoBack to remove the abomination from my harddrive.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric

William Miller

William Miller

In case anyone needs help with the terminology of millennial studies, I have a glossary in my lecture notes.

Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric
by Stephen D. O'Leary
Oxford University Press, 1994
314 Pages, US$19.95
ISBN 0-19-512125-2


The study of millennialism did not begin with the build up to the year 2000. Theologians, sociologists and anthropologists had been writing for decades (in the case of the theologians, for centuries) about the end of the world and about the ways that people react to that prospect. After a long period of subcultural obscurity, the subject again came to the notice of the general public in the 1980s, and a flurry of academic and journalistic treatments appeared in the 1990s. Among the most theoretically ambitious was this book by Stephen O'Leary, Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" attempts nothing less than a "general theory" for millennial studies, one that could help relate the many disciplines that have dealt with one aspect or other of the Last Things. The book develops the theory through a detailed examination of two familiar episodes of apocalyptic thinking in American history, the Millerite Movement that culminated in the "Great Disappointment of 1844," and the return of date-setting premillennialism that began, very approximately, with the publication of Hal Lindsay's "Late Great Planet Earth" in 1973.

The theory is useful, though the book does share some of the defects of late 20th-century literary studies. (I hope never to see the words "rhetor" and "topoi" again.) The historical exposition is gripping, and the author's insights are essential to anyone interested in the field.

"Apocalyptic" is really a term for a genre of biblical and apocryphal literature that flourished in the Near East around the beginning of the Christian era. It deals with a class of ideas that are part of the broader category of eschatology, the study of the final or ultimate things. The latter also includes questions addressed by philosophy, cosmology, anthropology and other disciplines. The aspect of eschatology that usually attracts the most interest, however, is the study of what societies do with apocalyptic literature, particularly with the prophetic books of Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and the Book of Revelation in the New.

The most conspicuous social manifestations of apocalyptic ideas are often called "millenarian" or "millennial," with reference to the thousand-year reign of the Saints, or "Millennium," mentioned in Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation. (To put an extraordinarily complicated matter quickly, "millenarian" usually refers to violent or even revolutionary expectations for the future, while "millennial," a more general term, can also refer to hopes for gradual improvement as history nears its end.) Though not all eschatological systems, not even all models of history, necessarily have a moral dimension, O'Leary deals with apocalypse as a solution to the problem of theodicy, of how God can permit evil to exist in the world. Essentially, the apocalyptic solution is that God will not permit evil indefinitely, and in the final accounting, all the suffering in history will have been justified.

There is a considerable literature that attempts to explain all or most millennial activity in terms of some single sociological or psychological cause. Class conflict was an early contender, but equally plausible cases have been put for millennial activity as a delayed reaction to disaster, or as a reaction to modernization, or as a manifestation of one kind of mass psychological pathology or another. "Arguing the Apocalypse" starts with the sensible observation that there is no obvious single cause underlying all the millennial activity in the world, but that there is quite a lot of similarity in the way that people talk about it. The beginning of wisdom in the understanding of millennial behavior, in fact, is the appreciation of the fact that apocalyptic rhetoric is persuasive. By examining millennial activity from the perspective of rhetoric, O'Leary is able to look at texts, the "rhetor" who expounds the text and the rhetor's audience as an interactive system.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" amplifies the long-standing thesis that apocalyptic is essentially a form of drama. (This is particularly the case with the Book of Revelation, which looks for all the world like a classical Greek play; it even has a chorus.) Now drama, according to Aristotle, comes in two flavors. There is tragedy, which features good and evil characters who proceed to an inevitable catastrophe. Dramatic plots tend to be about how sin is met with revenge. Comedy, on the other hand, is about foolish or mistaken characters who stumble into a happy ending. Error is cured by enlightenment, eventuating in reconciliation.

The Book of Revelation has both tragic and comedic strands: the Beast and his followers prosper mightily in this profane age but meet with everlasting punishment on the last day, while the sufferings that the Saints endure in this age are all set right at the end. These tragic and comedic strands also appear in the history of millennial movements, often as pure types.

According to O'Leary, the topics (that's "topoi" to you, partner) on which apocalyptic rhetors engage audiences are "evil," "time" and "authority." There is some reason to suppose that, for the earliest Christians, the evil that faced them was the malice of the devil working through the powers of the Roman Empire. The time when the evil would be amended was very near, and the authority for these propositions was the direct prophecy of the apostolic generation and then of texts ascribed to them. This type of apocalyptic is often associated with "premillennialism," the belief that the Second Coming will occur before the Millennium. Premillennialists are often profoundly pessimistic about the future, which scripture says will be filled with disaster and persecution in the days prior to the Second Coming. Postmillennialism, in contrast, is the belief that the time of the Second Coming will not occur until the end of the Millennium, during which period the church will have gradually rid the world of natural evil. The "authority" invoked by postmillennialists tends to be a metaphorical interpretation of scripture at the service of pragmatism. This distinction between pre- and postmillennialism roughly corresponds to the tragic and comedic "frames" that Aristotle proposed. (St. Augustine was a comedian? Wonders never cease.)

The Second Great Awakening, a generation of reform and revival that characterized the first few decades of the nineteenth century in the United States, produced just about every possible form of millennial activity. It's earlier phase, however, was predominantly postmillennial in theology. This Awakening was associated with a variety of reform movements, from the abolition of slavery to the prohibition of alcohol. These movements were attended by acute religious fervor. When some of the reform movements made little or no progress even after years of mass rallies and evangelism, however, some members of the generation of the Awakening began to doubt whether real reform was possible in the current world. The result was a turn toward premillennialism, manifested most spectacularly in the Millerite Movement and the Great Disappointment of 1844.

William Miller was a respectable farmer in Upstate New York who came to believe, probably about 1830, that the Second Coming would occur around 1843. A diligent amateur student of scripture, his authority was arithmetic, as applied to the complex prophetic number system of the Old Testament prophets and the Book of Revelation. The transparency and reasonable tone of his argument seized the imagination of a large fraction of the public.

Respectable and learned ministers from many denominations either embraced Millerite ideas wholeheartedly or expressed sympathy for them. (Miller himself was an influential voice rather than a prophet in the movement. Indeed, the date of the Great Disappointment, October 22, 1844, was not set by Miller, but welled up out of the movement.) Publications with large circulations sprang up to spread the doctrine, and the mass meetings used to promote the reform movements of the earlier phase of the Awakening were put to new uses. As O'Leary notes, all this activity was not intended solely to persuade people. Proselytism was supposed to be one of the features of the latter days. By proselytizing, the Millerites were not just telling people about the apocalypse; they were enacting it.

The Disappointment itself was dealt with in various ways. The kernel of the Millerite movement decided that the event actually foretold by Miller's computations was an event in Heaven that prepared for the earthly Second Coming at some imprecise point in the future. Many went on to found the Adventist movement. Other Millerites threw themselves into the Abolitionist movement. O'Leary reports that the fiasco of 1844 ensured that, for a long time to come, only the most marginal rhetors would dare set a specific, near-term apocalyptic date. However, we should also note that the turn to premillennialism evidenced by Millerism survived the Great Disappointment, at least in evangelical circles. After the end of the Civil War, the historical pessimism associated with premillennialism was one of the factors that induced evangelicals to recuse themselves as much as possible from public life and practical politics.

There are many reasons why evangelical Christianity returned as a public force in the last quarter of the 20th century. One of the chief reasons, as O'Leary notes, was that history was making their worldview more plausible. The Jews really had returned to Israel, something that evangelical eschatologists had been talking about for over a century. Furthermore, the invention of the atomic bomb made the apocalypse something that everyone could believe in, one way or another. Indeed, not only did premillennialism again challenge the implicitly postmillennial "civic religion" of the United States, but apocalyptic date-setting came back, too.

O'Leary is at pains to emphasize the differences between Millerism and the brand of apocalypticism that Hal Lindsey promoted in his fantastically popular books that began with "The Late, Great Planet Earth." Their scenarios were different, for one thing. Although the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture of the Saints existed in the 1830s, it was not incorporated into Millerism, and did not really become important until after the Civil War. Lindsey's future, in contrast, contains both the prospect of another world war and a pretribulation rapture of the Saints to Heaven that would save believers the trouble of living through the final struggle. The difference that chiefly impresses O'Leary is that, granted their premises, the logic of "The Late Great Planet Earth" is much shakier than that of William Miller and his followers.

Lindsey's warrant for starting the countdown to the end is the assurance given by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse that "this generation" would see the fulfillment of all apocalyptic prophecy. In Lindsey's model of history, the machinery of salvation paused when the Jews failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Salvation history started up again only when Israel was founded in 1948. (This approach is called "dispensationalism," as opposed to the Millerite "historicism.") "This generation," therefore, refers to the people who were alive in 1948. In his earlier work, Lindsey made bold to wax more specific. Alleging that a biblical generation is about 40 years, he speculated that 1988 would be a reasonable date for the rapture to occur, followed by seven years of tribulation, and then the Second Coming.

Even granting the greatest deference to scripture, these interpretations are not obvious. That was not the case with the Millerite computations: they may not have been correct, but were reasonably clear. Furthermore, Miller and his colleagues invited criticism and answered their critics in print, something that Hal Lindsey never did. Nonetheless, while Millerism was extinguished in a bit over a decade, the apocalyptic revival of which Lindsey was so conspicuous a part is not completely extinct, even after 30 years. This is partly because Lindsey's system was tentative enough to avoid outright disconfirmation, even after the end of the 20th century. A factor that was at least as important, perhaps, was that evangelicalism has gained a measure of cultural acceptance, and even political power.

O'Leary devotes an interesting chapter to the conservative revival of the 1980s, and particularly to the eschatological aspects of the Reagan Administration. This period posed a problem for apocalypse-minded conservatives. Not only was the clock running out on the best-known estimate for the rapture, but evangelicals now needed a theory that would justify them in helping to reform a society that was doomed in several senses of the word. In O'Leary's nomenclature, they needed to move from the tragic frame to the comic frame. To a limited degree, this is what they did.

In his later books, Hal Lindsey held out the hope that conservatives could keep America out of the hands of the Antichrist right up to the rapture, if they all pitched in to aid the process of conservative reform. This was an exhortation to his readers to become tragic heroes, united in the last stand against the forces of darkness. Ronald Reagan became, in effect, "President of the Last Days" for some of his supporters. Like his medieval type, the mythical Emperor of the Last Days, his reign ensured present safety, while in no way compromising the inevitability of apocalypse in the more distant future.

Televangelist Pat Robertson went even further in his serious though failed bid for the White House. He stopped making premillennialist predictions of doom entirely, and began to speak about the future with the sunny optimism of a postmillennial preacher of the early Second Great Awakening. The strategy did not lessen the suspicion in which the press held him, though it did cause his erstwhile supporters to suspect him of backsliding on doomsday. Still, what did not work for Pat Robertson may work in other contexts.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" ends with a meditation on just what we are supposed to do with the apocalypse. There is obviously no getting rid of it. O'Leary suggests that the best course would be to seek to keep it in the comic frame. The idea seems to be that the apocalypse can be permanently tamed by turning it into the ever-receding horizon on the road of progress. People might still dread impending disaster, but they would not think some final disaster to be inevitable, and so would not be tempted to historical fatalism.

While there is something to be said for this strategy, we should keep in mind that the comic frame is not coextensive with postmillennialism, or St. Augustine's amillennialism. Even if the images of disaster and judgment in the Book of Revelation are taken as metaphors whose application is never exhausted by any particular event in history, that does not mean that ultimate questions are not posed by historical events. To take the most obvious example, even if all persecutions are types of an ultimate persecution by Antichrist that never arrives, martyrs throughout history have nevertheless been killed just as dead as the hypothetical Tribulation Saints are supposed to be. To make the apocalypse immanent or episodic does not lower the stakes. The opposite, rather. This is the real meaning of the saying of Franz Kafka that O'Leary quotes: "Only our concept of Time makes it possible to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name. In reality it is a summary court in perpetual session."

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: The Great Disappointment of 1844

John maintained the HTML for his website by hand. I also starting making webpages in the late nineties, and that was just how you did it. As such, he had indexes by topic for his major interests, for example eschatology. I debated recreating these for a long time, but I finally decided to do it because a few items slipped though the cracks of the blog-centric chronological method I had been using to repost John's writings.

This also gives me an opportunity to escape the tedium of John's topical political blog posts from twelve years ago. While nothing looks more dated than old scifi movies, old political controversy is an especial trial to read.

Thus, let us move on to this short book review of a book that never existed, combining John's interests in eschatology and alternative history into one!

The Great Disappointment of 1844
by John de Patmos
Misketonic University Press, 2001
567 Pages, US$30
ISBN: 0-7388-2356-2

This item is Alternative History.

The Second Coming did not actually occur in 1844.

The Great Disappointment is a real hisrorical term, however.

Look under Eschatology for the review of Arguing the Apocalypse.


The Millerite Movement and its sequel are, for obvious reasons, the most studied manifestations of mass millennialism since the New Testament period itself. Indeed, so carefully has this grand finale of America's "Second Great Awakening" been examined that one may wonder whether there is anything new for historians to say. Certainly the author of the present study does not aspire to novelty. Rather, "The Great Disappointment of 1844" performs the invaluable service of sifting through the last generation of scholarship on the subject to provide a narrative that is both readable and current.

The optimism of America in the early decades of the 19th century was reflected in the "postmillennial" view of history that underlay the great outbreak of religious revival and social reform that we know as the Second Great Awakening. Postmillennialism, as all students of eschatology know, was the doctrine that the Second Coming of Christ would occur at the end of the thousand year reign of the Saints, the Millennium foretold by Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation. The implication was that the Saints would themselves put the world in order in preparation for the great event.

The Second Great Awakening was in fact characterized by a high level of political and cultural engagement by Christians. The reform movements of the time, from Abolitionism to Women's Suffrage to the Prohibition of Alcohol, began as aspects of postmillennial religious revival. While some progress was made on these fronts, the failure of the reform movements to remake society as a whole caused many persons to despair of the possibility that the world could be perfected purely by human efforts. The time was ripe for a return of premillennialism, the doctrine that the Second Coming would inaugurate rather than conclude the Millennial kingdom, which would then develop under divine guidance.

The name that became inextricably linked with the triumph of premillennialism was William Miller, a respectable farmer and keen amateur student of scripture living in northern New York State. His reexamination of the dating of people and events in the Bible, set alongside certain familiar interpretations of the complex prophetic number systems of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, convinced him that the Second Coming would occur around the year 1843. Though his analysis was multi-layered, a key feature of his logic was a demonstration that a proper calculation of the generations mentioned in the Old Testament showed that Bishop Ussher, who had famously announced that the world had been created in 4004 BC, had in fact underestimated the age of the world by a good 150 years. Thus, the six-thousandth year of the world would occur in the first half of the 19th century. Then would begin the "Seventh Day of Creation," a concept long associated with the Millennium.

William Miller was not the first student of scripture to set a near-term date for the Parousia. Still, he was a little unusual in the transparency of his argument and his willingness to engage critics. Miller was never the "prophet" of Millerism; his authority was arithmetic, not personal revelation. It was possible to disagree with his calculations, and many people did. Still, the argument was of such a nature that it could not be merely dismissed; it had to be refuted.

William Miller reached his conclusions about the dating of the Second Coming about 1830. He soon began to disseminate them in print and, more diffidently, on speaking tours. His message took on a life of its own, becoming the template for an interdenominational network of evangelists and publications. People abandoned their ordinary affairs to propagate the gospel of the last days, often giving away their property or neglecting to plant their fields. The precise date for the great event, October 22, 1844, did not come from Miller, or indeed from any of the leading figures of the movement. Rather, it appeared among the mass of believers, who overwhelmingly gave it immediate acceptance.

Of course, as we now know, the prediction was correct. The study of the Parousia Event of 1844 naturally overshadows the Millerite Movement (as it does the contemporary Taiping and Babist movements). However, the Days of the Presence required the creation of a new historiographical discipline, which the present study only briefly outlines. The Millerite story picks up when coherent documentation again begins to become available in January of 1845.

Against the unsettled economic and cultural landscape of the early Millennial world, Millerism presents the not unfamiliar spectacle of a movement destroyed by its own success. The ironic details are well known. Even historical survey courses devote some attention to accounts of the attempts by exasperated Millerites to regain control of property that they had given away, sometimes by arguing in court that they had been temporarily insane during the months leading up to the Advent. Far more important, however, was the fact that Millerism, and premillennial Christianity in general, had nothing to say to the Millennium.

The movement had come into existence as a reaction to the theory that Christians, as Christians, had a duty to leaven the world. Premillennialists had consciously recoiled from the labor of formulating a social philosophy, or even a coherent political program. The Millerite Movement had been entirely about chronology. Though the train left at the expected time, the premillennialists found that they had no idea where they were going.

This vacuum at the heart of post-Millerite evangelicalism had profound implications for the role of religion in the English-speaking world during the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a commonplace among historians that the great events of those years, the US Civil War and the First and Second World Wars, were to a greater or lesser extent "Wars of Armageddon," fought by societies for reasons that were essentially millenarian. All the great social movements of the period were also informed by the millennialist "Social Gospel." However, though evangelicals took part as individuals in the general historical process, they did not engage the great issues on a soteriological level. It was only in the last quarter of the 20th century that they began to emerge from the isolation of the denominational subcultures into which they had retreated. The end of the long alienation of a large a fraction of Christianity can only be applauded.

We will never cease to experience the influence of the events of 1844. Even the completion of the current Sabbatical Millennium will not nullify the process that began with the Parousia of that year. However, there are stories within that greater story, some of the saddest of which deal with the disappointment occasioned by the fulfillment of prophecy. Those stories can have an ending. Thus, though the historical debates may go on, we may hope that the long afterlife of Millerism is at last drawing to a close.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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The Long View: Altscript

I have shared John's ideas on spelling reform before, but the content doesn't seem to have migrated well through the last website architecture update.

I am taking this as an opportunity to create topical indexes for John's work that will be featured in the top navigation bar.



Altscript in a Nutshel

The Sownds ov Inglish, Leter bi Leter

Jenerel Noats

A Breef History ov Altscript

The Alternativ Admirel (Robert A. Heinleins uther lyf)


The Altscript spelling reform proposal first burst upon the unsuspecting world in the autumn of 1997. Actually, the system is the connecting feature of two stories that I wrote about that time and posted to the Alternative History newsgroups. (You can get to the rest of my Alternative History material by clickng here.)

The Alternative History buffs (we need a name for ourselves) liked the Heinlein story well enough, and readers accepted the idea that the stories were written in the orthography of a world where English spelling reform had succeeded in the 20th century. However, if the stories sparked any great revival of popular interest in the rationalization of English spelling, I have not heard about it.

Looking at Altscript a year later, I am appalled at the number of bugs in the system. In addition, my knowledge of English phonology has increased in the meanwhile, so it now seems to me that some of my transcriptions were naive. Still, I remain convinced of the basic principle of the system, which is that a new spelling for English should be continuous with the old.

I had considered fixing the system and retranscribing the stories, but decided against it. I may someday fix Altscript, but the stories were written in the first version, and so I will keep the archived stories here. After all, they are the whole of Altscript literature so far!

Altscript in a Nutshel

Thair hav ben meny propoazels to reform the speling ov Inglish sinss the 18tth sentiury. The list ov peepl hw hav mayd them raynjes frum Benjamin Franklin to Theodore Roosevelt (yess, reely) to Anthony Burgess. Altho the very iidia sownds straynj tw moast Inglish-speekers, in fact it is norml for Uiropian languejes tw reform thair speling sistems evry fiu decayds. It is Inglish that is od in never having experiensed a tthero howscleening.

Altscript is a litl uniuzhiuel among reform sceems in tw respects. Ferst, it is a compleet, nw sistem ov ryting, not a partial rationelyzaytion lyk that introdwsed intw American speling bi the lexicografer Noah Webster in the 19tth sentiury. Second, it is also suppoazed tw be imediatly reedabl bi eneewun familier witth traditionl Inglish speling. Thiss meens, for instanss, that it uizes the traditionl Inglish qualitees ov the vowels, and prezervs a fiu comun leter combinaytions. It also meens that thair ar meny mor rwls tthan wood be needed meerly tw descryb Inglish speech foneticly. Altscript is indeed fonetic, but it acheevs thiss bi tayking familier Inglish speling conventions and uzing them consistently. Thuss, meny Altscript spelings look the saym as traditionl spelings, som look lyk familier misspelings, and som hav tw be decoaded frum the begining. That is wat thiss payj is heer tw help U dw.


The Sownds ov Inglish, Leter bi Leter

Spelings in Traditionl Ortthografy ar in brakets [brackets].



Normely as in "at" [at] or "father" [father].
The combinaytion "ai" is as in "air" [air].
The combinaytion "ay" is as in "day" [day] 
The combinaytion "aw" is as in "awl" [awl, all] 
The initial form "al" (as in "Altscript") is in moast reejunl pronunsiaytions a short "aw," foloaed bi an /l/. 
Wair the "a" befor an "l" has the valiu ov the "a" in "at," the silabl stands aloan (the niknaym "Al" [Al]) or is foloaed bi a hyfen, as in "al-cemy" [alchemy].



Always "b" as in "be" [be].



Bi itself, always a hard sownd, as in "comand" [command] or "reject" [reject]. 
It is normely uized eether initialy or witthin a silabl.
It is uized at the end ov a silabl oanly as part ov the combinaytion "-cl," as in "particl" [particle], and in the combinaytion "-ic," as in "sonic" [sonic]. 
The combinaytion "ch" is as in "cheef" [chief].



Thiss is normely "d" as in "deep" [deep]. 
A fynl "-ed," the mark of the past tenss, can hav wun of tthree valius: For werds ending in "c," "f," "k," "p," "s," "tth," or "x," the ending "-ed" = /t/ as in "paked" [packed],"mised" [missed], and so on.
For werds ending in vowels or in "b," "g," "j," "l," "m," "n," "r," "th," "v" or "z.," the ending "-ed" = /d/, as in "baged" [bagged], "slamed" [slammed], and so on.
For werds ending in "d" or "t," the ending "-ed" = /ed/, as in "moalded" [molded], "bated" [batted], and so on.



Thiss is the cach-awl vowel, fownd in "get" [get], "fer" [fur, fir], "berth" [berth, birth] and so on. 
The combinaytion "ee" expreses the naym valiu ov "e," as in "deep" [deep]. 
The leter "e" also has its naym valiu at the ends ov monosibels, such as "me" [me], "she" [she], "fle" [flea] and "te" [tea].



Always "f" as in "ferst" [first].



Normely "g" as in "good." The leter ocers in the combinaytion "gu," as in "anguish" [anguish]. 
It also ocers in the combinaytion "ing," as in "sing" [sing].



Bi itself, thiss is always "h" as in "hat" [hat].
The leter is also uized in the combinaytions "ch" "th" "tth."



The norml valiu ov thiss letr is as in "bit" [bit]. 
It is uized to reprezent a short "ee" sownd in serten vowel combinaytions, such as "peeriod" [period] and "enunsiayt" [enunciate]. 
Thiss leter has its naym valiu when standing aloan. When capitelyzed, it is the first persen singiuler. In lower cayss, it is the orgen ov syt (the plurel ov "i" [eye] is "ys" [eyes]). It has its naym valiu at the end ov a werd, as in "bi" [by], and at the begining, wen it is dubeled, as in "iironic" [ironic]. 
It is is uized in the combinaytions "ui" (uized oanly initialy) and "iu," in boatth cayses tw indicayt a glyd befor a long "u." 
It can be uized tw indicayt a glyd eneewair but initialy.



Always "j" as in "joy."



Thiss leter is uized tw reprezent a hard "c" sownd at the end ov silabels, as in "mayk" [make].
It is uized even when the werd chanjes, as wen "mayk" becoms "mayks" [makes] and "mayking" [making].
It is uized in the combinaytion "nk," as in "drink" [drink].



Normely "l" as in "look" [look]. It also sugjests a short diptthong wen uized initialy in "al," as in "altho."
Wen it ocers at the end ov a werd in combinaytions such as "simpl" [simple], "posibl" [possible] or "litl" [little], the vowel is not expressed. However, the vowel must be expresed after uther vowel sownds and the letrs "r" and "l." (Thus, the spelings "vowel" [vowel] and "jenerel" [jenerel] rathr than "vowl" and "jenerl.") 
Also, the vowel must be expresed wen the "l" is no longer final, so that "norml" [normal] becoms "normely" [normally].



Always "m" as in "mop"



Normely "n" as in "no." It ocers in the combinaytion "nk," as in "blank" [blank] and in the combinaytion "ing," as in "sing" [sing].



Thiss is moast comunly uized to represent an indistinct sound, as in "got" [got]. 
At the end ov a werd it has its naym valiu, wich is utherwyz expresded witth the combinaytion "oa," as in "moat" [moat]. 
The combinaytion "oo" is as in "good" [good]. 
In the combinaytion "or" it can sugjest a short diptthong lyk the "aw" in "awl" [awl].
The combinaytion "ow" is as in "now" [now]. 
The combinaytion "oy" is as in "joy" [joy].



Always "p" as in "pay."



Uized oanly in the combinaytion "qu," as in "quandry."



Normely "r" as in "red," subject tw reejunl variaytions.



Thiss is "s" as in "sit" wen uized at the begining ov a werd or internely. At the end ov a werd it is pronownsed /z/, unles it foloas "c" "f" "p" "t," in wich cayss it is pronownsed /s/. 
Wen a gramaticl ending is aded tw a werd ending in an "s" that is pronownsed /z/, the "s" then becoms a "z." Thuss, "caws" [cause] becoms "cawzes" [causes]. 
The combinaytion "ss," uized oanly at the end ov a werd, is always pronownsed as in "hiss" [hiss]. Wen an ending is aded to such a werd, the "ss" is shortened to "s." Thus, "buss" [bus] becoms "buses" [buses]. 
The combinaytion "sh" is as in "wash" [wash].



Bi itself thiss is always "t" as in "top" [top]. 
The combinaytion "th" is as in "the" [the]. 
The combinaytion "tth" is as in "tthin" [thin]. 
The combinaytions "tion" and "tial" expres hoal silabels, as in "ignition" [ignition] and "initial" [initial]. 
The combinaytion "tiur" is often pronoansed "cher," as in "pictiur" [picture], but is also pronoansed "tiwr."



Thiss is normely an indistinct vowel, as in "uther" [other] and "buk" [buck]. 
In iisolaytion, it is capitelyzed and given its naym valiu as the secund persen, "U" [you]. 
Wen its naym valiu is expresed initialy, it is riten witth the combinaytion "ui," as in "uinit" [unit]. 
Wen its naym valiu is expresed in anuther poztion, it is riten "iu" as in "valiu" [value]. It also ocers in the combinaytion "gu," as in "anguish" [anguish].



Always "v" as in "vecter" [vector].



Thiss is normely a consonent, as in "way." 
It inclwds the initial sownd ov such werds as "wen" [when], "wair" [where], and "wi" [why].
It is also a vowel, as "bwt" [boot] and "hws" [whose]. 
The leter ocers in the combinaytions "aw" and "ow."



Thiss is always "x" as in "execiutiv" [executiv]. 
It never ocers initialy, and it is never uized tw expres an oableek form ov a werd. Thuss, the third persen singiuler ov the prezent tenss ov "pek" [peck] is "peks" [pecks], not "pex."



Uized intialy, thiss is a consonent, as in "yeer" [yeer]. 
Uized meedialy, it expreses the diptthong witth the naym valiu ov "i," as in "ryt" [right, rite, write]. 
As a fynl leter, it is the equivalent ov "ee," as in "liberty." 
It also ocers in the combinaytions "ay" and "oy." 
Wen a gramaticl ending is aded tw a werd utherwyz ending in "y," the "y" is replaysed bi "ee." Thuss, "remedy" [remedy] becoms "remedeed" [remedied] or "remedees" [remedies] or "remedeeing."



Always "z" as in "zip."


Jenerel Noats:

Hyfens shood be uized tw separayt leters that wood utherwyz be ambigiuus. Thuss, "swing" = [swing], "sw-ing" = [suing].


Hyfens can be uized tw indicayt departiur frum the norml paterns ov stres. Thuss, the nown "recerd" [record] and the verb "re-cord" [record].

A Breef History ov Altscript

Thiss simpl, consistent ryting sistem has ben the standerd for the Inglish languej sinss the 1940s. It replaysed TO (Traditionl Ortthografy), a colorful but hyly irregiuler speling sistem dayting frum rufly the midl ov the 18tth sentiury. "Altscript," as the naym ("Alternativ Script") implys, was ferst introdwsed on a wyd scayl as an alternativ sistem tw be uized in tandem witth TO in the scwls, prymarely as ayd tw baysic literasy. However, its propoanents had always intended that it eventiuely becom the norml riten vehicl for the languej. Somwat tw thair serpryz, thiss goal was acheeved in a singl jeneraytion. Twday, wyl TO is eezily reedabl bi ediucayted inglishspeekers, the oalder sistem is uized oanly among relijuss secterians and serten reactionery biurocrats.

Altho disatisfaction witth the irregularitees ov TO had becom wydspred in the inglishspeeking werld bi the last quarter ov the 19th-sentiury, practicl reform began oanly in 1906, during the secund term ov Uinyted Stayts prezident Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, long an adherent ov speling reform, in that yeer directed the US Printing Ofiss tw begin uizing a list ov 300 rationalyzed spelings in awl government documents. Stymeed in uther directions after his eventful ferst term, he increesingly seezed on ortthografic reform as a simbolic ishiu for "Progresiv" politics in the Uinyted Stayts. Roosevelts iidentificaytion witth the caws continiued after his exit frum the prezidensy in 1908. He was elected chairmen ov the Internationl Speling Sosyety in 1910, and he saw tw it that reform was part ov the platform ov the Nationl Progresiv ("Bul Mwss") Party during his run for a ttherd term for the prezidensy in 1912. Indeed, it is comunly mayntayned that the owtrayj oaver his asasinaytion bi a TO fanatic in Milwawky, Wisconsin, was the singl graytest factr in ashuring the reform of Inglish speling in the first haf ov the 20th sentiury.

Altho Altscript met witth considerabl initial resistenss in evry part ov the inglishspeeking werld, it imeediatly enlisted the suport ov serten grwps that eventiuely enshured its universl axeptenss. In the US, it was adopted by the Democratic Party during the prezidential election in 1920. Altho the Democrats lost nationely, Altscript was swn beeing incorporayted intw the curricula of moast loacl scwl districts under Democratic control. Mor importent, advertyzers quicly apreshiated the ability ov a novl but eezily lejibl script tw cach the atention ov conswmers, wyl nwzpaypers adopted the speling habits ov thair advertyzers in incrementl steps. The rezult was that, bi the mid-1930s, eeven the moast conservativ book publishers in the US uized Altscipt for som ov thair list. In Grayt Briten in the 1920s, Altscript becaym a fayverit caws ov the moderet Left, but gayned popiuler axeptenss oanly sloaly. Even wair it enjoyed public suport, the hyly sentrelyzed naytiur ov the ediucaytionl sistem inhibited its adoption bi loacl atthoritees. On a nationl levl, it did not begin tw garner ofitial recognition until the Secund Werld War.

The ferst cuntrees tw comit themselvs ofitialy tw compleet Altscript reform wer Nw Zeelend (1928) and Awstraylia (1930), tho in boatth cases witth long implementaytion peeriods. Despyt meny impediments, Altscript was the moast wydly uized form ov ryting in awl mayjr inglishspeeking sosyetees bi 1950, tho TO continiued tw be tawt as an adjunct tw literatiur corses.

Altscript oaed its relativly rapid suxess tw tw facters. The ferst was that it is desynedly conservativ ov TO. Its oanly reel graficl inovaytion is the uiss ov "tth" for the initial sownd in "tthin" (TO thin). It retayns the historic Inglish valius ov the vowels. It also ceeps som traditionl spelings ov hwl silabels, such as "tion" and "tial," rathr than devyz nw conventions. The uiss ov a singl "s" at the end ov a werd tw represent a /z/ sownd (exept after "c" "f" "p" "t," when it is an /s/) is mayntayned and regiuleryzed. Similerly, the ending "ed" as the syn ov the past tenss was retayned, sinss its pronunsiaytion as /t/, /d/ or /ed/ foloas a consistent patern instinctiv tw the naytiv speeker.

The secend reezen wi Altscript suxeeded was that TO was indefensibl. Tho a grayt delyt for persens witth a filolojicl bent, the traditionl speling ov Inglish was cumbersom tw no perpuss. Uizers cood not relyably spel werds thay cood pronownss, or pronownss werds thay cood spel. Wyl Inglish ortthografy at its werst never poazed dificultees quyt as grayv as thoaz poazed bi idiografic scripts, nevertheless it terned wat shood hav ben wun ov lyfs solwtions into wun ov its problems.

The Alternativ Admirel

Frum the Obitiuerees ov the Nw York Tyms


May 9, 1988


Robert Anson Heinlein, former prezident ov the Uinyted Stayts and wunss the yungest Fleet Admirel in the history ov modern warfair, dyed yesterday, May 8, 1988, at his estayt "Bonny Doon" in Santa Cruz, California. He was 80 yeers oald. The caws ov detth was complicaytions asoasiated witth cronic emfizeema. "The Admirel," as he continiued tw be noan eeven during his yeers in the Wyt Howss, is reported tw hav dyed peesfuly in his sleep during a morning nap.


Mr. Heinlein was born in the town ov Butler, in Bayts Cownty, Miswry, on Jiuli 7, 1907. He was the therd ov the seven children ov Rex Ivar Heinlein and Bam Lyle Heinlein. The famly swn mwved tw Kanzass Sity, Miswry. Thair Robert attended the public scwls, gradiuayting frum Sentrel Hi Scwl in 1924. After studeeing for wun yeer at Kanzass Sity Comiunity Colej, in 1925 he entered the US Nayvl Academy at Annapolis. He was comitioned an ofiser in 1929 and embarked on a meetioric career that wood last just 20 yeers.


In the smawl and underfunded interwar Nayvy, the yung Heinlein saw dwty on a variety ov ships and at moast mayjer US bayses. He swn gayned a repiutaytion for his grasp ov syentific problems and his oapeness tward teknolojicl inoavaytion. His ferst expoazhiur tw public scrwtiny caym in1934, during the Congretionl investigaytion ov the cripling exploazhun aboard his ship the USS Roper. Liutenent Heinlein was credited witth discovering the desyn flaw in the ships ventilaytion sistem that had criayted daynjerus consentraytions ov metthayn in the forwerd magazeen. For moast ov his career, however, he was involved witth his ferst lov, nayvl aviaytion.


Mr. Heinlein had meny difrenses witth the Roosevelt Administraytion. He was, for instenss, a voacl advocayt ov rearmament at a tym wen the Depretion-era government stil looked tw the militery budjet for oportiunitees tw cut expenses. He also upoazed the Administraytion on cultiurel ishius, noatably the introduction ov Altscript into the armed forses, wich at the tym he regarded as a Comiunist ploy. Tw the extent his supeeriers wood permit, he lobeed for syentific reseerch intw advansed raydar and intw atomic power for uiss on submareens and cariers. Altho the government shoaed litl intrest in atomic enerjy until the 1940s, Heinlein did mateeriely ayd in the development ov the oaver-the-horyzon raydar sistems that wood prwv desysiv in the Pasific war. Thees aktivitees, wich often had politicl oavertoans, did not neseserily advanss his career. Nevertheless, in 1940 Heinlein acheeved the rank ov Liutenent Comander. He was serving on the carier USS Lexington wen the Japanees ataked Perl Harber on Desember 7, 1941.


The desysiv tern in Robert Heinlein's lyf caym on May 4, 1942, wen a US nayvl task forss, inclwding the cariers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown, encowntered a larjer Japanees forss in the Corel Se. Fawt entyrly witth aviaytion, thiss was the ferst nayvl batl in history in wich serfiss ships did not fyr a shot. Erly in the morning ov May 4, befor eether syd was awair ov the prezenss ov the uther, a lost and owt-ov-fiul Japanees dyv-bomer syted the Lexington. It scored a direct hit on the carier's coning tower, crashing into the oation imeediatly thairafter, witthowt mayking contact witth its bayss. At that tym, the task forses comander, Reer Admirel Frank J. Fletcher, was hoalding a confrenss aboard the Lexington witth the seenier ofisers ov the hoal grwp. Awl the partisipents wer kiled. Heinlein, hw was beloa deks oaverseeing the mayntenenss ov his preshuss airborn raydar arays, hapened tw be the moast seenior ov the ofisers left in the task forss.


The extent tw wich the partial Al-lyed victory in the Batl ov the Corel Se can be atribiuted tw Heinlein was much debayted then and sinss. Heinlein himself always claymed that his oanly objectiv on aswming comand was the preservaytion ov the grwp. Nevertheless, befor boatth syds witthdrw, the US task forss did suxeed in sinking wun carier wyl sufering oanly moderet damej tw the Lexington and the Yorktown. Heinlein was aclaymed a heero, and advansed tthree grayds tw Reer Admirel.


During the Batle ov Midway frum Jiun 3 tw Jiun 6, 1942, Heinlein comanded wun ov the tw task forses under Admirel Raymond A. Spruance. Thanks in larj part tw the raydar sistems that Heinlein had promoated for meny yeers, six Japanese cariers wer destroyed, along witth awl the mayjer serfiss ships in the Japanees fleet. (The USS Yorktown, however, was so seveerly damejed that it did not se serviss agen until its deployment in the Mediteraynian in 1943.) Heinlein also comanded wun ov the grwps that protected the Al-lyed landings in the Solomon Iislends in Awgest, 1942. In the seerees of haf-a-dozen engayjments that history noas as the Batl ov the Solomon Iislends, the Japanees sufered such hevy loses as tw playss the defenss ov the hoam iislends in dowt. After thiss engayjment, during wich U.S. forses sufered relativly lyt damej, Heinlein was promoated a ful Admirel.


Heinlein was oaverawl comander ov the Al-lyed forses that partisipayted in the Batl ov the Filipeen Se on Desember 25, 1942. Thiss engayjment, during wich the Japanees fleet-in-beeing was destroyed, esentialy ended the war in the Pasific. Bi Janiuery 10, 1943, Admirel Isoroku Yamamoto, hw had planed the atak on Perl Harber but upoazed it as a mater ov polisy, replased Tojo as premeer. Admirel Heinlein axepted surender frum Yamamoto aboard the USS Lexington in Tokio Bay on Janiuery 20. (Yamamoto was kiled in an unexplayned airplayn crash on April that has ben wydly atribiuted tw fanaticl Japanees ofisers.) Asyd frum ociupaytion forses, the US armed forses in the Pasific wer then deployed tw the Uiropian tthiater.


Hoalding the rairly-bestoaed rayting ov Fleet Admirel, Heinlein was thioreticly comander ov US nayvl forses in boath the Mediteraynian and the Nortth Atlantic, tho in fact he spent moast ov the last yeer ov the war in stratejic consultaytion witth the British government. It was larjly tthrough his erjing that the American government baked Prym Minister Winston Churchills propoazl tw liberayt Uigoaslavia in layt 1943. He was also a propoanent ov the "two front" stratejy for the liberaytion ov Franss, argiuing that the nwtrality ov the Vichy rejeem was simply a Nazi fasod. In eny cayss, tthanks larjly tw the freeing up ov Al-lyed forses mayd posibl bi the end ov the Pasific war, the amfibius Al-lied landings on the French Riviera and the Bay ov Biscay in Febrwery ov 1944 imeediatly mayd the Jermen pozition in western Uirop untenabl. Heinlein was among the Al-lyed comanders prezent at the serender ov the Jermen government by Provizhunl Chanseler Albert Speer on Jiuli 20, 1944.


At the begining ov 1945, Heinlein was appoynted Nayvy Cheef ov Staf, a pozition he continiued tw hoald under the Truman Administraytion. In that ofiss, his cheef consern was tw se that reserch and development projects begun during the war wer continiued in peestym. It was larjly thanks tw his eforts that a prototyp nwclier devyss was tested in May ov 1945, tho the wepun was cept a secret for another seven yeers. His moast controvertial reseerch doctrin was tw fayver the development ov roket playns and hi-speed aircraft oaver balistic misiles, argiuing that the later wer a teknolojicl deadend.


Resyning in 1949 after 20 yeers in the Nayvy, Heinlein becaym involved witth sevrel ayviaytion-relayted start-up companees. He also began werk on his wydly-aclaymed awtobyografy, "Tramp Royel," wich eventiuely encompased six voliums published between 1960 and 1975. Disterbed bi the unwilingness ov eether party tw react tw the Soviet invayzhun ov nwtrel Poalend in 1950, Heinlein ran in 1952 as the prezidential candidayt ov the nw Tayk Yor Cuntry Bak Party. Handily defeeting boath Democrat Adlai Stevenson and Republican John Dewey, Heinlein was the ferst candidayt ov a ttherd party ever tw win a prezidential elektion. However, the Tayk Yor Cuntry Bak Party never wun mor than a handful ov seets in Congress, and Prezident Heinlein was reelected in 1956 as a Republican.


The cheef acomplishment ov the Heinlein Administraytion was the contaynment ov Chynees-Soviet Comiunism, a feet he acheeved in part by reveeling the existenss ov a smawl American nwclier wepuns stokpyl. Relaxing much ov the economic regiulaytion that had carakteryzed the Roosevelt and Truman yeers, he nevertheless suported hiuj public werks projects, noatably the nationl hyway and bulet-trayn sistems. His government vigerusly suported the sivl ryts mwvment in the 1950s, despyt the damej that thiss did tw Republican elektorel prospects in the Sowtth. The tw mayjer sivl ryts bils ov his Administraytion, pased in 1953 and 1957, esentially ended raytialy-baysed government aktivity in the Uinyted Stayts at boatth the locl and federel levels.


On the negativ syd, the Heinlein yeers ar often fawlted for a nationl mwd ov bland self-congratiulaytion. Heinlein himself was often denownsed (not hoaly aciuratly) as a filisteen hws reeding was confyned tw teknicl jernels and syenss fiction. His eforts tw reestablish the goald standerd ar uizhely syted as the caws ov the seveer economic resetion ov 1956-57. Mor seeriusly, the intelijenss servises ov the Uinyted Stayts operayted during his Administraytion witth litl regard for sivl libertees, often witth the prezident's vigerus suport. However, the asasinaytion ov Fidel Castro, provizhunl premeer ov a nw government in Ciuba during Heinleins last days in ofiss, has never ben directly tyed tw eny act bi Prezident Heinlein persenely.


After his yeers in the Wyt Howss, Heinlein roat sevrel werks ov fiction and history wyl stil compoazing the later voliums ov his memwas. Among thees wer "Metthwzelas Children" (1961), a history ov the Maysonic Order, "The Pupet Masters" (1963), wich explayned the tactics ov American Comiunists, and "Starship Trwpers," a wel-regarded pikar-esk novl that descrybed the adventiurs ov a shipful ov entertayners asyned tw amius the trwps during the Secend Werld War.


Perhaps the cheef interest ov Heinlein in his later yeers, however, was his doged promoation ov the comertial aplications ov spayssflyt. The ferst American satelyt lawnch, frum a maned hypersonic suborbitl craft, did not ocer until 1970. Thiss was a good fyv yeers after the Soviet Uinion lawnched its ferst Sputnik in 1965, uizing a simpl roket. Heinlein was often blaymed for thiss delay, tho he defended himself by poynting tw the vastly lower expenss per ceelo ov puting the American satelyt into orbit. In eny cayss, peepl aktiuely engayjed in the spayss industry did not hoald the longer development peeriod agenst him. Wen the ferst lwner bayss held elections in 1980, Heinlein was elected Onerery Mayer ov Lwner Sity. Heinleins unsawt candidasy beet that ov syenss ryter Arthur C. Clarke by wun voat. Clarke then tthretened a "cw." Thiss was dwly careed owt bi his partizans at the bayses next Nw Yeer's Eev party, wen thay stoal Heinleins pictiur frum the mayn dyning airia and replayssed it witth a larjer wun of Clarke. Aniuelly alternayting cws becaym a locl tradition.


Heinlein refiused tw be drawn into speciulaytion abowt the historicl significenss ov his career. Regarding his prezidensy, he aserted that his oanly reel objectiv was the saym as wen he becaym comander ov the Lexington: tw prezerv the comand he had ben given. It is cleer frum his awtobyografy that he was prowdest ov his tym in the Nayvy, particiulerly the erly days wen he was just a jiunier ofiser. Robert Heinlein is servyved bi Virginia, his wyf ov 30 yeers. Tho witthowt children ov his own, he is nevertheless also servyved by inwmerabl desendents.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Theodore Roosevelt's Letter to the Government Printing Office


A minor mystery attends this document. Public Printer Charles Stillings says in the Government Printing Office directive of September 4, 1906, that the spelling changes are being made pursuant to "Executive order." Histories that mention Roosevelt's spelling initiative usually say that the president issued an executive order for this purpose on August 27, 1906. However, "executive order" is a term of art. Executive orders are the ordinary means that presidents use to carry out the duties of their office. They are numbered sequentially. Since the middle of the 20th century they have been systematically codified. However, no such executive order appears in the list of presidential documents issued by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 or in any other year. The letter below may be a simple letter of transmittal.

The text here is widely available in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Volume V: The Big Stick 1905-1907; edited by Elting E. Morison, John M Blum, Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., and Sylvia Rice; Havard University Press, 1952; pages 389-390. Note that this collection of letters does not include the list of reformed spellings. The list of spellings may be found, along with the text of the president's letter, in the Government Printing Office document of September 4 mentioned above. That document is available on mircofiche at major federal documents repositories. The series is US Executive Branch Documents, 1789-1909: no. GP102-27.1, GP102-27.2). The material includes copies of the Circulars of the Simplified Spelling Board mentioned in the president's letter.

Theodore Roosevelt's Letter to the Government Printing Office

Oyster Bay, August 27, 1906


To Charles Arthur Stillings

My dear Mr. Stillings: I enclose herewith copies of certain circulars of the Simplified Spelling Board, which can be obtained free from the Board at No. 1 Madison Avenue, New York City. Please hereafter direct that in all Government publications of the executive departments the three hundred words enumerated in Circular No. 5 shall be spelled as therein set forth. If anyone asks the reason for the action, refer him to Circulars 3, 4 and 6 as issued by the Spelling Board. Most of the criticism of the proposed step is evidently made in entire ignorance of what the step is, no less than in entire ignorance of the very moderate and common-sense views as to the purposes to be achieved, which views as so excellently set forth in the circulars to which I have referred.

There is not the slightest intention to do anything revolutionary or initiate any far-reaching policy. The purpose simply is for the Government, instead of lagging behind popular sentiment, to advance abreast of it and at the same time abreast of the views of the ablest and most practical educators of our time as well as the most profound scholars–men of the stamp of Professor Lounsbury. If the slightest changes in the spelling of the three hundred words proposed wholly or partially meet popular approval, then the changes will become permanent without any reference to what officials or individual private citizens may feel; if they do not ultimately meet with popular approval they will be dropt, and that is all there is about it. They represent nothing in the world but a very slight extension of the unconscious movement which has made agricultural implement makers write "plow" instead of "plough"; which has made most Americans write "honor" without the somewhat absurd, superfluous "u"; and which is even now making people write "program" without the "me"–just as all people who speak English now write "bat," "set," "dim," "sum," and "fish" instead of the Elizabethan "batte," "sette," "dimme," "summe," and "fysshe"; which makes us write "public," "almanac," "era," "fantasy," and "wagon," instead of the "publick," "almanack," "aera," "phantasy," and "waggon" of our great-grandfathers. It is not an attack of the language of Shakespeare and Milton, because it is in some instances a going back to the forms they used, and in others merely the extension of changes which, as regards other words, have taken place since their time. It is not an attempt to do anything far-reaching or sudden or violent; or indeed anything very great at all. It is merely an attempt to cast what sleight weight can properly be cast on the side of the popular forces which are endeavoring to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic.

Sincerely yours

Charles Stillings observed in his directive of September 4, 1906 that 153 of the words on the Simplified Spelling Board's proposed list were already preferred by the Government Printing Office. Of the rest, 49 were not preferred but had been used when the authority that ordered the printing requested it. We should note that many of the New Spellings simply canonized American as distinguished from British usage.

Using the spellchecker in the 2003 edition of Word set for American English, the software rejected approximately 106 of the New Spellings. Of these, the largest class were forms like "affixt" and "transgrest." In contrast, the spellchecker rejected 178 of the Old Spellings. Note that, because of the inclusion of variants, there are a few more Old Spellings than New.

The List

Old Spellings








anapaest, anapæst 

anaemic, anæmia 

anaesthesia, anæsthesia 

anaesthetic, anæsthetic 



apothegm, apophthegm 



archaeology, archæology 

























chimaera, chimæra 








coaeval, coæval 

























diaeresis, diæresis 
















oecumenical, œcumenical 

aedile, ædile 

aegis, ægis 


encyclopaedia, encyclopædia 



Aeolian, æolian 

aeon, æon 



aera, æra 

oesophagus, œsophagus 

aesthetic, æsthetic 

aesthetics, æsthetics 

aestivate, æstivate 

aether, æther 

aetiology, ætiology 




























haematin, hæmatin 



homoeopathy, homœopathy 


























manœuver, manœuvre 



mediaeval, mediæval 




















orthopaedic, orthopædic 

palaeography, palæography 

palaeolithic, palæolithic 

palaeontology, palæontology 

palaeozoic, palæozoic 







paedobaptist, pædobaptist 

phoenix, phœnix 

phaenomenon, phænomenon 







praenomen, prænomen 



preterite, præterite 

praetermit, prætermit 

primaeval, primæval 







quaestor, quæstor 




















scimitar, cimeter, etc 
















subpoena, subpœna 











teasel, teasle, teazle 



though, tho' 

thorough, thoro' 



through, thro', thro 

























New Spellings














































































































































































































practise, v. & n. 





























































































T.R.: The Last Romantic
By H. W. Brands
This note is derived from H.W. Brand's, T.R.: The Last Romantic, pp. 555-558.

The History

Now Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, was a great reformer. In his first four-year term (3 1/2, actually, since he assumed office after the assassination of President McKinley), he reformed the railroads, he reformed the meatpacking industry, he even reformed the rules for American football. In his second term, perhaps having run out of more obvious things to reform, he turned his attention to English spelling.

Why did Roosevelt do this? It is often mentioned in this regard that Roosevelt was a notoriously poor speller. This in itself was probably the result of the fact he had never spent any time in a conventional academic environment before he entered Harvard. He had poor health as a child and rich parents, so he was educated by tutors, who perhaps were not interested in the type of drills that constitute schooling for less-favored children. More important, though, was that Roosevelt was very language-conscious. He spoke the major modern languages and read the ancient ones. He was also a prolific author on most things under the sun. He was therefore unusually likely to be annoyed by traditional English spelling, since he struggled with it daily and knew that there were alternatives.

The result was that he issued a directive to the Government Printing Office to adopt a list of 300 reformed spellings recommended by the Simplified Spelling Board. He further directed that his report to Congress for 1906 be printed and distributed in the reformed system. Had this order stuck, most federal documents would have been issued in a slightly reformed style starting in 1907. Many of the proposed spellings were obscure scientific terms, and the changes the Simplified Spelling Board recommended did not reflect any general system of reformed spelling. Nonetheless, had the president's order been carried out, a precedent for reform would have been set.

What happened, though, was that Congress went ballistic. A big part of the problem was just that Roosevelt had tried to implement the reform by executive fiat. He had not even tried to get Congressional support for the measure. Although Roosevelt had been successful in Congress during his first term, his success was based on his ability to scare the Right with what the Left supposedly wanted to do, and vice versa. Opposition to spelling reform was one thing they could all actually agree on. Another factor, of course, was that nowhere in the Constitution is there any grant of power to the president to oversee orthography. For that matter, neither is any such power granted to the federal government as a whole.

The upshot was that Congress passed a joint resolution expressing its disapproval of the executive action. The Supreme Court refused on its own authority to use the reformed spellings. Perhaps more surprisingly, in view of Roosevelt's popularity and of the fact that spelling reform was not an unfamiliar idea in those days, the major national newspapers were uniformly derisive. The New York Times, for instance, said that it would treat any reformed spellings issuing from the federal government as misspellings and correct them. Finally, Roosevelt just rescinded the directive. Ironically, many of the recommended changes were already current and most became preferred spellings over time..

As was shown by the fuss that arose in Germany in the 1990s when the government tried to implement a quite minor spelling reform, this can be what happens when a democracy tries to reform orthography.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-04-07

A really fun map, and as the article reluctantly notes, not especially credulous about the tall tales travelers shared.

I've linked stories on Uber's evil genius before. This seems to be their attempt to make Hari Seldon real. The New York Times article includes spiffy simulations.

An intriguing look at what kept the Romans, so very advanced in some ways, from an industrial revolution.

Father Matthew Schneider defends oil pipelines from a Catholic point of view.

I'm not surprised, but I've also known some truly gifted scam artists.

A fun interactive map that lets you see where people live.

A labor union associated think tank argues that free trade lowered wages in Mexico.

Noah Smith defends Case and Deaton.

James Miller interviews Greg Cochran, part 1. A wide-ranging conversation, covering Less Wrong, microbiology, federal funding, and free speech. Well worth a listen. [I helped fund this.]

Greg Cochran points out the flaws and misunderstandings in Cordelia Fine's new book. [I also helped fund this.]

Hollywood accounting is pretty shady. I wish Shearer the best of luck.

Damon Linker points out that about as many people die from alcohol overdose as heroin overdose in the US, and the overall rate of alcohol problems mirrors the rate of things like depression: about 1 in 3 over a lifetime.

Kevin Drum has a chart of the rates of death by drug overdose from selected periods and causes that dovetails nicely with Linker.

Ireland's population still hasn't recovered from the combination of famine and mass emigration in the mid-nineteenth century.

  • Crime rate in the US

This chart comes from US Census Bureau data, and the paper containing it seems to be this: J. A. Miron, 1999. "Violence and the U.S. prohibitions of drugs and alcohol," American Law and Economics Association, vol 1(1), pages 78-114. I am intensely curious about the very low homicide rate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Particularly since it differs from other charts of the same thing, for example this one from Steven Pinker's Better Angels.

The solution seems to be that a 1995 article in Demography contains a model of homicide data that has been widely used to estimate missing data. Why do we need a model you ask? Because the data from the period didn't include everywhere in the United States. Not being an expert, the model seems reasonable, but don't forget it is a model.

Eckberg, D. L.  1995. “Estimates of Early 20th-Century U.S. Homicide Rates,” Demography.

I've stumbled on the same dataset twice now. The Tuskegee Institute started keeping track of lynchings in 1892. The data only goes back to 1882, which is the year the Chicago Tribune started keeping numbers. The NAACP also started collecting numbers in 1912. You can see in the chart the point when lynching stopped being just a kind of frontier justice, and started being a way to terrorize black Americans. If data existed for the entire 19th century, I think this trend would be even more clear. Data in EXCEL here.

A post on the reddit for Slatestarcodex questioning the qualifications of Emil Kirkegaard, whom I'm linked several times. I think most of the points made by the anonymous poster are reasonable, and also wrong in Kirkegaard's case.

Emil Kirkegaard's response.

Ross Douthat argues that we should just go all the way to true Imperialism. A position that I endorse. S. M. Stirling gives a notable fictional example of how an actual empire, a universal state, can be genuinely multicultural. Also, the Hapsburgs.

The Comic Art of War Book Review

The Comic Art of War
by Christina M. Knopf
McFarland and Company, 2015
$39.95; 252 pages
ISBN 9780786498352

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

Another textbook from my to-read pile, this one a detailed academic study of military cartoons, both official propaganda and the kind guys doodle to relieve stress or boredom.

I enjoyed flipping through and looking at the pictures, but this isn't a book I am interested in reading.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2004-10-18: Alternative Realities

This bit here about whichever party in the US happens to be out of power pretends that the party that won the last election is doomed and and mired in corruption and scandal has been the pattern since at least 1992. Since politicians often are involved and scandal and corruption, it does have a way of partially coming true every so often.

Alternative Realities


The New York Times endorsed Senator Kerry for president yesterday, and ran some revealing hit-pieces to celebrate the event. The most amusing, though not perhaps for the reasons he intended, was film reviewer Frank Rich's essay, Will We Need a New 'All the President's Men'? The title explains the thesis. Having taken on board the possibility that, through some defect of the electoral system, George Bush might get a second term, Rich has chosen the Nixon Administration as the paradigm for the future. The Left was quite as adamant about denying the legitimacy of the Nixon Administration as the Right was about denying the legitimacy of Clinton's. The difference was that the Left got their man, and the pattern has become an archetype: meta-scandal, not so much about malfeasance as about denying the malfeasance; resignation; a lost war. To a certain kind of mind, the drill is perfectly clear, and we will be hearing much more about it in the coming months and years.

As for a remake of the wonderful old Robert Redford -- Dustin Hoffman film, however, I fear that Rich will be disappointed. He might be better advised to get a digital version of the film and redub parts of it with dialogue that fit his current antipathies. I am still waiting for someone to do that with Fahrenheit 911.

* * *

An altogether creepier offering from the Times was in the Sunday Magazine. In a longish story entitled Without a Doubt, Ron Suskind contrived to present President Bush's religious beliefs as a delusion that drives all his policies:

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that ''if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.'' The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

''Just in the past few months,'' Bartlett said, ''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'' Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . .

Actually, as nasty propaganda lines go, this one is probably not as repugnant as the "lunatic in the White House" campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964, which recruited practicing psychologists to publicly diagnose Goldwater as clinically insane. But note the shriveling of the audience: clinical psychology is public and, at least in principle, can provide the terms of an argument open to everyone, whereas the percentage of the population that regards evangelical Christianity as a damning association for a public figure probably is not much greater than the readership of the Times. This is more futile than preaching to the choir; publications like the Times are now reduced to preaching to choir directors.

* * *

On a somewhat different note: over the weekend, I viewed the film, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Talk about high concept. Anyone can film a story that, like Groundhog Day, involves an ever-repeating sequence of events. This story manages to embrace Nietzsche's Eternal Return.

For those whose undergraduate memories have been erased, recall that the Eternal Return was premised on a somewhat fishy cosmology, in which time is infinite, and all events repeat themselves an infinite number of times. Nietzsche proposed that we embrace the ineradicable past as a dramatic spectacle, including our blunders. That is pretty much what the characters in Eternal Sunshine do, when they realize that they have had their memories of each other clinically erased, and that they will just make the same mistakes with each other again.

The interesting thing is that they are not, like Nietzsche's ideal audience, despairing tyrants who wonder in old age whether they should have executed quite so many people. The characters live in unfashionable parts of Long Island, in cramped and shabby circumstances. I can't recall the last film that showed the rabbit-hutch dimensions of a typical modern medical clinic. There could be no greater irony than if a philosophy intended for supermen became a fashion in popular psychology.

* * *

Perhaps the opposite of the Eternal Return is the notion that the past might be malleable. The series Star Trek: Enterprise used just such an Alternative History premise for its two-part season premier, Storm Front. In those episodes, the crew of Captain Archer's Enterprise are sent back in time to the 1940s, where they find the Nazis occupying New England and the Middle Atlantic states. The Nazis are being aided by marooned time-traveling aliens, who need the Nazis' help to build a machine to send them back to the 29th century.

Probably there are too many moving parts here. Space travel stories and time travel stories don't really mix, at least not in a continuing series of episodes, since the ability to control the past tends to overwhelm all other types of narrative causality. Be that as it may, what really annoyed me about Storm Front was that the point of divergence in the timeline was an assassination of Lenin in 1916. Because of this, we are told, Russia did not become Communist. Hitler therefor did not consider Russia a threat, and so he was able to concentrate on the West.

What do they teach in screenwriter school these days? Hitler did not invade the Soviet Union because he thought it was a threat. He invaded the Soviet Union because he believed it to be inherently weak, and he found that weakness provocative. We know this because he said so. He was also planning on a war with the United States, but that was to take place after the conquest of the East.

The strange thing about AH is that, sometimes, you can settle a question about an alternative timeline by using documentary evidence.

* * *

With all this mendacity in the world, how are we to distinguish truth from falsehood? Perhaps soon we will be able to hire a ringer, if we believe this AP story by Randolph E. Schmid, 'Truth Wizards' Know Lie When They Hear It:

WASHINGTON - A word to the wise: Be careful who you're telling lies. There's an elite group of people who don't need to see Pinocchio's nose grow, but can pick up on subtle signs that they're not hearing the truth.

While most folks don't notice those flickers of falsehood, psychology professor Maureen O'Sullivan has found a few who can find the fibbers nearly every time.

Of 13,000 people tested for the ability to detect deception, "[psychology professor Maureen O'Sullivan of the University of San Francisco and her colleagues] found 31, who we call wizards, who are usually able to tell whether the person is lying, whether the lie is about an opinion, how someone is feeling or about a theft," she said... Asked whether the wizards could be used in real-life situations, she said that has been suggested but there are no formal programs to use them currently. And she cautioned that even the best of them is not 100 percent accurate.

In Frank Herbert's Dune, I did not mind the superluminal travel, or the prescience, and I positively warmed to the giant worms. The one thing that did strike me as implausible was the Truthsayers. Go figure.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-10-14: The Third Debate & the Unmentionable Elephants in the Room

I always found John's stance on immigration pretty reasonable. I think this is a pretty good summary, in John's own words:

...almost every other domestic problem they discussed was a product of continuously high levels of immigration: downward pressure on wages; rising income inequality; the growing percentage of people without health insurance; persistently failing schools: all are products of an open demographic structure in which, no matter how many newly arrived poor people make their way up the economic ladder, there are always more behind them.
One can only repeat that the movement to end large-scale immigration for a few decades should not be mistaken for hostility to immigrants. The US can handle any finite number. Once the intake is under control, the status of illegals can be regularized in an orderly and humane fashion. Until then, however, we have a political system in which the Republican Party does not want to control immigration, because of the cheap labor, and the Democrats don't want to control it, because they have given up on the current electorate and hope to replace it with a new one.

The Third Debate & the Unmentionable Elephants in the Room


Understand: I am a strong supporter of the president, and I intend to vote for him on November 2.

When the third presidential debate ended last night, I thought: "That's it: Bush lost the election." Kerry had him dead to rights on his nonsensical notion of diverting Social Security payments to private investment accounts. The president had no alternative to Kerry's rather well thought out health-care initiatives. Bush kept changing the subject to education, but without saying anything interesting or relevant. And he repeatedly mentioned "Pell Grants." I have only a foggy notion what a Pell Grant is. Nothing Bush said about them clarified the matter.

Then there was the sickly sweet closing statement. Bush minced for the camera, smiled his saccharine smile, and asked the people to vote for him. He did not look like a presidential candidate; he looked like a poster child for some genetic neurological deficiency.

Well, you must imagine my surprise this morning. No one thinks that Bush walked away with the debate, but there seems general consensus that he was human and lucid. Kerry, in contrast, is criticized for being cold and self-contradictory. It really is true: Bush understands the mechanics of social-welfare programs quite well. Moreover, they visibly engage his enthusiasm. It is not clear that Senator Kerry has any enthusiasms, except perhaps for France, a country he goes out of his way not to mention by name.

I actually predicted that Bush would ace the domestic debates. That more or less happened, but I still don't believe it.

* * *

The candidates discussed immigration, though without greatly differentiating themselves. Both assume the continuation of high immigration levels. The only question they see is how to legally accommodate the large portion of it that now occurs illegally. In fact, of course, almost every other domestic problem they discussed was a product of continuously high levels of immigration: downward pressure on wages; rising income inequality; the growing percentage of people without health insurance; persistently failing schools: all are products of an open demographic structure in which, no matter how many newly arrived poor people make their way up the economic ladder, there are always more behind them.

This thought has occurred to others, as we learn from the kausfiles:

A couple of decades ago I read an article--by Norman Podhoretz, I think--that clued me in to the overriding importance of broken families when it came to explaining poverty statistics. Years later, Podhoretz's thesis became conventional wisdom. Now Robert Samuelson has written a similar column explaining that "the increase in poverty in recent decades stems mainly from immigration."

One can only repeat that the movement to end large-scale immigration for a few decades should not be mistaken for hostility to immigrants. The US can handle any finite number. Once the intake is under control, the status of illegals can be regularized in an orderly and humane fashion. Until then, however, we have a political system in which the Republican Party does not want to control immigration, because of the cheap labor, and the Democrats don't want to control it, because they have given up on the current electorate and hope to replace it with a new one.

This is all for 2008. One should note that Europe will be talking about the same thing at the same time.

* * *

There was little mention of foreign policy in last night's debate. However, in none of the debates, and indeed in none of the recent issues of the foreign-policy magazines, did anyone say something as important as what Mark Steyn wrote just before the last debate occurred:

Until recently we thought of ‘asymmetrical warfare’ as something the natives did with machetes against the colonialist occupier. But in fact the roles have been reversed. These days, your average Western power -- Germany, Canada, Belgium -- is utterly incapable of projecting conventional military might to, say, Saudi Arabia or the Pakistani tribal lands.

If you need a reason to vote against John Kerry, it is that he would make that asymmetry total and permanent.

* * *

Speaking of terrorist threats, readers are no doubt familiar with the new marionette-thriller-trouble-making movie, Team America: World Police. The chief villain, I gather, is the Dear Leader of the People's Democratic Republic of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.

Comrade Kim spent the early phase of the Iraq War hiding in underground bunkers, because he thought he was next. Comrade Kim has nuclear weapons and prototype ICBMs. Comrade Kim is known to be a film buff.

The North Korean news agency website is here. I see no reaction to the film. Not yet.

* * *

Here's a new bit of nastiness, reported by Drudge: DNC ELECTION MANUAL: CHARGE VOTER INTIMIDATION, EVEN IF NONE EXISTS (capitalization in original). This caught my eye, because I happened to hear part of The Brian Lehrer show on WNYC this morning. He was interviewing a representative of an activist law firm that was, in effect, challenging the election returns before the voting starts.

Forgive me for forgetting the name of the attorney and his firm. In any case, he stated without evidence or even plausible conjecture that the Republicans are planning to steal the election. Such assertions are Sorelian myths, not descriptions of the world. To use a less fancy term, they are The Party Line. When that term first came into use, it referred to the Communist Party. Now it refers to the Democratic Party.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 — 1922 Book Review

The Zimmerman Telegram

The Zimmerman Telegram

The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 — 1922
by Jamie Bisher
McFarland and Company, 2016
$29.95; 358 pages
ISBN 9780786433506

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

I requested this book because I find the subject of espionage interesting, and because the famous Zimmerman telegram would fall within the scope of this book. I ended up getting something a bit different than I expected.

By different, I do not mean bad. Jamie Bisher compiled an amazing work of history, with tons of photographs and an intricately detailed analysis of events. However, this means at 353 pages of triple-column text, I got more than I bargained for. Unfortunately, what I was looking for is a far more general and high-level history. 

Browsing the text gives me confidence that Bisher did a fine job. If I were an academic in this field, this volume would doubtless be a valuable resource. For the general interest reader, you will probably end up just staring at the book for almost a year like I did.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2004-10-04: Debate 2; Kerry Undermined; Ant-Zionist Email; The Derivative Dead


In retrospect, Kerry seems to have done fine as Secretary of State. Perhaps John's 2004 assessment of his foreign policy skills was incorrect. I do like the phrase with which John starts his post.

Debate 2; Kerry Undermined; Ant-Zionist Email; The Derivative Dead


I have just three points about Friday's townhall-style debate between President Alfred E. Newman and Senator Nyarlathotep:

(1) Bush had it within his power to sew up the foreign-policy element of the campaign once and for all. When Kerry lamented that the Blix inspections of Iraq had not been allowed to continue, Bush came back and said, "But that was Saddam's plan: to deceive the inspectors!" Actually, anyone familiar with the final WMD report from Iraq knew that Saddam's plan was to make sure the UN inspectors found there were no WMD stocks, and then go back into production when the sanctions were lifted as a result of their report. In effect, Kerry's position is that Iraq should have been allowed to resume WMD production, once the international process had been completed.

I am pretty sure that Bush almost said that, but declined at the last moment to stray too far from his prepared points. The mistake was not fatal, but he could have turned a narrow win into a resounding victory.

(2) Bush conceded the pro-science argument about embryonic stem-cell research to Kerry. He did this despite a well-informed question from the audience, which pointed out that somatic stem cells actually are much more promising. Bush should have mentioned the rejection problem associated with unrelated embryonic stem cells, and suggested that singling out embryonic stem cells as a panacea is a cruel hoax.

(3) Bush made a bit of a fool of himself in the first debate by emphasizing how hard his job was. Kerry seems to create much the same impression by saying, "I have a plan."

By the way, I have a new, campaign-related animation online[NB: this page wasn't crawled and I have no copy]. It is no challenge to JibJab, but at least it has no pictures of New Jersey politicians in diapers.

* * *

Has someone hacked into the New York Times and entered anti-Kerry propaganda? I have rarely seen such damning pieces about the senator as the two that appear in today's edition. The lesser of the two is on the frontpage: Wealth of Others Helped to Shape Kerry's Life, by Robert F. Worth. The burden of that article is that, though Kerry's own parents were merely well-to-do, his extended family dwelt in picturesquely situated castles to which he was often invited as a boy. Now that he is married to Theresa Heinz, of course, he lives in unexampled opulence.

At another time, people might view these details and say, "What a lucky guy!" When you are running for president, however, you want people to think of you what tactful Russians said of themselves after the Bolshevik Revolution: "My father was a factory worker, and my mother was two peasants!"

More serious is the article in the Times Sunday magazine, Kerry's Undeclared War, by Matt Bai. It's a about Kerry's foreign policy, but the reporter's account of Kerry as a person are not reassuring, particularly for a candidate who is campaigning in large part for a chance to use his diplomatic skills. For instance:

Those who saw Kerry that morning [of 911] recall mainly that he was furious, an emotion, those close to him say, that comes easily to him in times of trial.

What the reporter himself saw of Kerry was no better:

A row of Evian water bottles had been thoughtfully placed on a nearby table. Kerry frowned.

''Can we get any of my water?'' he asked Stephanie Cutter, his communications director, who dutifully scurried from the room. I asked Kerry, out of sheer curiosity, what he didn't like about Evian.

''I hate that stuff,'' Kerry explained to me. ''They pack it full of minerals.''

''What kind of water do you drink?'' I asked, trying to make conversation.

''Plain old American water,'' he said.

''You mean tap water?''

''No,'' Kerry replied deliberately. He seemed now to sense some kind of trap.

The substance of the piece is not wholly to Kerry's discredit. The reporter points out that, in the 1990s, Kerry was advocating enhancements of the laws against international money laundering that were blocked in the Republican Congress, and which became law only when the USA Patriot Act was passed. Still, the final assessment is damnation by faint praise:

[Kerry's] aversion to Big Think has resulted in one of the campaign's oddities: it is Bush, the man vilified by liberals as intellectually vapid, who has emerged as the de facto visionary in the campaign, trying to impose some long-term thematic order on a dangerous and disorderly world, while Kerry carves the globe into a series of discrete problems with specific solutions...

And he may well be right, despite the ridicule from Cheney and others, when he says that a multinational, law-enforcement-like approach can be more effective in fighting terrorists. But his less lofty vision might have seemed more satisfying -- and would have been easier to talk about in a political campaign -- in a world where the twin towers still stood.

* * *

Readers may have heard of an odd piece of email propaganda aimed at undercutting Evangelical support for President Bush. Some evil server finally sent me a copy. It purports to come from "Charles E. Carlson," which a hasty glance may render as "Chuck Colson," the evangelical activist. The email contains observations like this:

It is also not generally understood by evangelicals that what fires them to think and vote as a bloc is that, like robots, they have been conditioned to accept the state of Israel as a world power by an aggressive movement that was launched almost a hundred years ago--World Zionism-and that this conditioning has diverted them from their true path into one that serves Israel, not Jesus.

The point of origin is given as The URL was not working when I tried it.

* * *

Last night, I viewed Godsend, one of those modest but high-quality horror-flicks that the Canadians do so well now that they have lost the hang of hockey. I suspect the screenplay originally had a simple, original premise: a boy who was killed in an accident is cloned by his grieving parents; the cloned boy begins to be haunted by, in effect, his own ghost when he reaches the age when his prototype died.

Apparently that was too simple. The movie has it that the evil scientist who did the cloning spliced some DNA from his own dead, psychopathic son, into the new boy. For some reason, this nasty streak begins to express itself only when the cloned boy reaches the age when his primary prototype died. Go figure.

We are back with Igor stealing the wrong brain from the medical school. That detail was absent from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Could we not lose it again?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-10-05: Art & Empire

In the years since this was written, the shifting of politics from a left/right axis to a globalist/nationalist axis has continued. 

In the last paragraph, John noted that the attempt of the US to continue to function as a sovereign nation in the Great Power/Treaty of Westphalia sense probably wouldn't work, since only the US was capable of really doing that at the time. In the years since, I think we have seen an increasing attempt by other nations to do just that. Most of these players are still the "Great Powers" of the twentieth century, the parties to the Second World War.

By NuclearVacuum - File:BlankMap-World6.svgi, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By NuclearVacuum - File:BlankMap-World6.svgi, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it was common on the American Right to make fun of the French, but then as now the French continue to project power into it's former colonies and current overseas departments. The United Kingdom does the same.

Art & Empire

I see that the candidates for the American presidency are still up to their tomfoolery. I will, of course, make further remarks on the matter in the future, but the fact is that the Kerry Campaign is impervious to good luck. Is there really much more to say?

* * *

Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine had an article by Arthur Lubow in its October 3 issue on a really important subject:

Defined for so long as the arbiter and guardian of progressive art, [New York's Museum of Modern Art, a.k.a. "MOMA"] reopens on Nov. 20 -- its 75th birthday -- at a time when even its own curators no longer believe that art progresses like science.

This insight is not new. However, the institutions that have supported modern art for a century were designed with a teleological view of cultural history.

[Alfred H. Barr Jr. was MOMA's director at its founding in 1929.] The who is credited or vilified as the Great Codifier is Barr's successor at managing the collection, William Rubin. Unlike Barr, Rubin -- who was chief curator of P&S for 20 years -- had few scruples about sidelining work that he deemed minor. Along with many art scholars of the time, he had been heavily influenced by the critic Clement Greenberg, a lapsed Marxist who transposed his old political faith (in the inexorable evolution of capitalist society toward socialism) into a formalist canon marked by a similarly inevitable progress (from the Post-Impressionism of Cézanne to the Cubism of Braque and Picasso and onward to the Abstract Expressionism of Pollock, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still). Although Barr also had an evolutionary way of thinking, he conscientiously kept his mind open. Because he was operating at a time when modernism was still fresh, that was easier to do. Under Rubin, the creed became dogma. Cerebral and increasingly abstract art was the mainstream, and the subordinate currents, if shown, were to be displayed off to the side.

The rhetoric of arts funding continues to speak in terms of novelty and exploration. And there is no consensus on a substitute language:

The concept of modernism is famously difficult to define. Unquestionably, though, one of the basic tenets of modernist art is a subordination of the putative subject matter (the person in a portrait or the mountain in a landscape) to the peculiarities of the medium (the application of paint to a flat canvas or the relationship between a sculpture and its pedestal). For MOMA to present its modernist masterpieces thematically was as shocking to some as it would be if the Catholic Church were to classify its relics by blood type.

Perhaps I have read The Glass Bead Game too many times, but I wonder that anyone should find this turn of events surprising. The interesting question is whether anything like the 20th-century art industry will long survive in the 21st. No doubt fashion objects will continue to be produced. They will not command anything like the residual religious deference that art commanded early in the modern era.

* * *

Along with art, the international system is continuing its transition from modernity, as we see in John O'Sullivan's piece in The New Criterion of October 2004, Gulliver's travails: The U.S. in the post-Cold-War world.

One of the pleasures of global political theory is that the subject's colorful nomenclature proliferates almost as fast as nuclear weapons. O'Sullivan gives us a brief vocabulary drill:

Kenneth Minogue calls this structure of governance "Acronymia" after the UNOs and NGOs that constitute it. He credits the present author with giving the name "Olympians," after the gods of Antiquity, to those who administer it. Ancient gods used to "kill us for their sport," but modern Olympians are content to regulate and preach at us. John Fonte has defined the common ideology they preach as "transnational progressivism": national sovereignty and the nation-state are disappearing in favor of a new structure of international organizations and rules that goes by the slippery name of "global governance."

O'Sullivan's premise is not entirely novel. After the Cold War, the United States was like the unconscious Gulliver on the beach of Lilliput. Gulliver was systematically tied down by the Lilliputians as he slept. Similarly, for a decade the US was being entwined in the devices and conventions of the transnationalists. Then, on 911, the US woke up. The purpose of O'Sullivan's article is to assess the situation during the Iraq War, which is not going frictionlessly:

Here was where the Tranzis began to make a comeback from their slide into irrelevance after September 11. The rest of the world wanted to see the sole remaining superpower subject to some other authority when it intervened elsewhere. As a practical matter the United States was unable to confer legitimacy upon its own actions. But the Tranzis are partly in the business of conferring it on international actions from their various legal, charitable, and political perches in Acronymia.

To this I would remark that the tranzi attempt to commandeer the situation has not gone frictionlessly, either. The Olympians can shower all the legitimacy they please upon their favorites: the fact remains that their edicts have no effect in areas without the basic police and administrative machinery that, so far, only states can provide. The tranzis are aware of this, which explains the amount of hope they place in the model tranzi institution, the European Union:

If, however, a giant inhabitant of Brobdingnag were to come to [the Lilliputians'] assistance, Gulliver would be defeated. Can the Tranzis hope for similar assistance?...If the United States is to defeat the terrorists in war or the Tranzis in international politics, it will have to take on the E.U. first. It is likely that this clash will occur most substantially over the war on terror.

This looks like a recipe for a low-intensity civil war within the West:

If, however, Mr. [Mark] Steyn is right in his pessimism -- and that's the way to bet -- then the United States will face a difficult future as a military superpower continually frustrated in middling matters by the resistance of international bodies. Europe and America will divide into two separate civilizations -- the Anglosphere (minus England, plus India) and the Holy Secular Empire -- uncomfortably housing a growing Muslim minority. Even in America, liberal democracy will be gradually transformed into a politically correct judicial oligarchy on Tranzi lines.

That might be a plausible future, if the transnational machinery worked. However, as we see in the UN's reaction to the genocide in Dafur, global governance remains what Kurt Vonnegut called a "granfalloon." And as O'Sullivan points out, "American" attitudes toward security issues are not hard to find in Europe. Similarly, tranzi notions have long been at home in the US. If there is convergence, it may not be to a tranzi Omega Point:

But there is another possibility rooted in the fact that the first reactions of most people to a violent but distant revolution are generally appeasing -- vide the reactions of almost everyone except Burke and Churchill to the French and Nazi revolutions respectively. Only when it becomes clear that the terrorists’ aims are limitless and that nobody is safe does opinion turn harsher and more realistic.

I can only repeat that what has been going on since the end of the Cold War is the search for the focus of legitimacy within the international system. The US insistence on sovereignty in its 19th-century Great Power form is not going to work, since the US is the only power in the world capable of functioning in that fashion. On the other hand, Acronymia unites hypocrisy with incompetence most wonderfully. The synthesis of this dialectic, when it occurs, is going to have to combine legitimacy with capability.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise Book Review

Pelagius, thorn in the side of the Umayyads

Pelagius, thorn in the side of the Umayyads

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise
by Dario Fernandez-Morera
ISI Press 2016
$29.95; 358 pages
ISBN 978161017095

It has been quite a while since I've read a proper work of non-fiction in book form. I tend to get all of my non-fiction reading as journal articles, blogs that usually reference journal articles, or international consensus standards. Thus my book reading tends toward fiction as a palate-cleanser and method of winding down.

However, I saw this one on the shelf at my local public library, and I just had to take a look. One of the most fun things about reading is way one can make connections between all of the different things on my mind. Here, I found a perfect alignment between Stirling's Ice, Iron, and Gold, the Way of St. James, and Islamic millennial movements like the Almohads. I love it when everything comes together.

Fernandez-Morera has written a rather polemical book. I don't mean this as a criticism; I rather like polemical books, as long as the author can make a case. Fernandez-Morera can indeed make a case that in popular Western culture, Islamic Spain has been consistently presented as something that it was not. As evidence of this, Fernandez-Morera starts each chapter with a quotation from a well-known person or persons claiming it was a paradise of tolerance between different religions and ethnicities. These quotations are generally pulled from other works of popular history, although in at least two cases, Carly Fiorina and Barack Obama, the setting was a political speech. Whatever specialists might say in their journals, I think this is the popular conception.

The rest of each chapter is devoted to listing counterexamples to this myth of tolerance, focusing on broad topics such as Jihad, women, Jews, or Christians. Here, I am a little less convinced that Fernandez-Morera has made his case. While I do think the broad outlines of what Fernandez-Morera says are broadly true, I can find some examples of analytical overreach. For example, the colonial practice of renaming places in order to assert control comes up in several chapters. Broadly, this is correct, but footnote 119 in Chapter 1 says:

Ironically, the word Istanbul, used to eliminate the memory of the politically and religiously charged Constantinople, arises from the conquerors' mispronounciation of the Greek phrase εις τήν πόλι "eesteen pohlee" or "To the Polis!"—that is, "to the CIty!", or "to Constantinople!"

That is certainly one interpretation. Another is that the invading Turks ended up calling the city the exact same thing the locals had been calling it for 1,000 years: "the City". In a strange twist, this ended up confirming my prior belief that any idea labeling itself as "colonialism" is probably dumb. [although I am open to alternative explanations]

I also suspect some exaggeration by exclusion in the chapter on the Jews. While I appreciate the important context that Jews were used by the invading Muslims as a counter to the initially more numerous Catholics, the Jews themselves seem to have enjoyed the wealth and status that resulted, at least until the more literal-minded Almoravids and Almohads showed up and ruined the party.

On the gripping hand, I wept for the Visigoth culture of Spain that was destroyed by the invading Berber armies. All that remains now is a few ruins, and the Mozarabic rite of the Catholic Church. If you want a flavor for what might have been, then L. Sprague de Camp's classic Lest Darkness Fall imagines a world in which the Visigoths weren't destroyed [albeit helped by a visitor from the future].

I ultimately found this an interesting book, but probably one I remain cautious about. I am not really familiar with the popular historical literature that Fernandez-Morera is reacting against, and I suspect that the book would probably seem far more reasonable in light of the many foolish assertions made on this subject. Considered in isolation, I think many of the things said are narrowly true, and perhaps broadly a bit misleading, but that is very context dependent. I think this book is worth a read as a counterweight to far more seriously flawed popular histories of Islamic Spain.

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