Oct 30

Great War II

Donald Sensing has suggested that it may have been a bad thing that
the Allies won the First World War, and sketched
an alternate history
. Stephen Green has replied.

Donald, I buy your scenario in the West (Germans go home, keeping
Alsace-Lorraine) but I think Steve is right that your take on German
war aims in the East was too benign. What we’d have been looking at here
is a continuation of the Age of Imperialism, which in our history was
finished off by the exhaustion of the victors after WWI and WWII.

Steve writes:

The situation in 1915 Europe would have been 1942 all over again,
but with one important difference: The United States would never have
gotten involved, never mobilized, and never had the opportunity to get
used to the idea of acting like a Great Power.

Right enough. Let’s carry this forward. As Donald has pointed
out, the drive on Paris revealed serious problems in Germany’s C3 and
infrastructure. There would have been a pause of, I think, about six
to eight years while the Germans consolidated their gains and built up
their road and rail net. Their most serious internal problem in the
short term would have been sporadic anti-German revolts in the eastern
client states.

Meanwhile, after the defeat of the Allies, isolationist sentiment
in the U.S. would have become stronger in the U.S. than it was
in our history. The Wilsonian “War Party” and anyone associated with
them would be completely discredited. American ethnic Germans who in our
history were finished off as a coherent political force by WWII, would
have gained more clout. President Lindbergh, maybe?

With the U.S. neutralized, the big fault line in geopolitics would
have been the British Empire versus the German Reich. One important
thing that would probably *not* have changed would have been the
development of Italian Fascism — but it wouldn’t have taken root in
Germany without the post-Versailles disaster.

The Tsarist regime in Russia was on its last legs. But Germany,
as victory, would have been in a position to turn on its agent
Lenin and back the White Russians just enough to keep Kerensky’s
govenment in power (but not enough for them to actually end the
simmering civil war).

About 1922 or so, the line-up might have looked like this: The
British Empire and a weakened, fractious Russia against a more
powerful Imperial Germany allied with Italy, Austria-Hungary, and the
Ottomans. But there’s something wrong with this picture; it ignores
geopolitical rivalries within the Central Powers themselves. So,
remembering the British grand strategy of sea control and alliances of
convenience with land powers, I’m going to suggest that England’s
course would be to snuggle up to the Ottomans and pry them loose from
the Axis. This would have made sense to the Ottomans, too; they
would want to constrain the rising power of Germany and Austria,
and I can imagine the British Foreign Office handing them back
southern Persia as a sweetener.

So the next confrontation would open with an Anglo-Russian-Turkish
alliance against a Germano-Austro-Italian one. France, even more seriously
mired in defeatism than in our history, would hardly be a player. The
U.S. would be neutral, possibly with a slight pro-German tilt.

Before general war broke out there would probably have been a
pattern of escalating friction on the imperial margins. Germany
would probably have flexed its muscles in Africa, first. Another
leading indicator would be the size of the German fleet. With no
Treaty of Washington in 1921, a serious naval arms race among
Germany, England and Japan would have been pretty much inevitable.

Imperial Japan would have been in a much stronger position than
historically, as well. With Russia weaker and the U.S. isolationist,
her main rival for influence in the Pacific would be the British. So
she would likely wind up on the Axis side, expanding onto the Asian
mainland even more agressively than in our timeline.

So the eequivalent of World War Two would have have been a bigger
and bloodier clash of empires.

UPDATE: Somebody commenting on VodkaPundit’s blog said:

Take your scenario a little further. With France as the
crippled defeated party, internal French politics mirror what
historically happened in Germany. I think you get the rise of French
fascists, who in turn blame French Jews for a “stab in the back”
(Dreyfus redux). The Holocaust has a Gallic flavor. Instead of
Teutonic efficiency, you get spontaneous mass killings by “citizen’s
commitees”. Horrendous to ponder, but anti-semitism is not an
exclusively German trait.

Very plausible. I can take this further still: on their way to
power the French Fascists have an ugly, low-level civil war with
conservative royalists that resembles the Spanish Civil War in our
timeline, except in this one Germany backs the royalists. The Spanish
Civil War itself happens more or less on schedule, but plays out
completely differently, too. Kerensky’s Russians would have had
neither the means nor the motivation to intervene that Stalin did, but
the Germans might very well have still backed Franco in restoring the
Spanish monarchy against the anarchists. So the likely outcome there
was Franco taking power sooner, probably as a generalissimo under a
weak Spanish king in Germany’s orbit, glaring across the Pyrenees
at France.

Where this is leading is that in Great War II, the France that
joins the allies is Fascist…

FURTHER UPDATE: With Bolshevism dead in Russia, the beau ideal of
the world’s anti-monarchist left becomes not “scientific socialism”
but anarcho-syndicalism on the Spanish model. At the extreme end this
movement fuses with what’s left of 19th-century romantic nihilism. As
a result, terrorism becomes an important tool of the fringe left
decades before the analogous development in our 1960s.

The British Labor Party turns increasingly syndicalist; in reaction,
British Tories increasingly link arms with French and other fascist
movements, which in this timeline are often genuinely reactionary
rather than being Marxism with a nationalist/racialist paint job.

In the U.S., trade unions also increasingly turn syndicalist and
anti-German. American conservatives tend to line up with the Bund and
the Kaiser; when Great War II breaks out in 1923. American industrialists
sell weapons to the German Empire. After a bitterly-fought election
in 1924 U.S. policy begins to tilt pro-British, but the change is
slow because many Americans are revolted by Fascist France.

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Oct 29

What Planet does Naomi Wolf Live On?

Naomi Wolf’s essay The Porn Myth strongly suggests that she lives on some other planet. It has been pretty well fisked over at Haight Speech and elsewhere. But so far, all of the people I’ve seen shredding it are women.

Perhaps this is because it’s politically incorrect for us panting, grunting persons-of-testicle to trash-talk a feminist icon like Ms. Wolf or say anything nice about porn. But here at Armed and Dangerous, we are fearless — and, more to the point, we have cleverly prepared our ground by having previously written an essay entitled Why does porn got to hurt so bad? in which we analyzed in detail why most porn is so intensely ugly.

So I’m going to say a few words about Ms. Wolf’s viewing-with-alarm, speaking as a man. A man who is quite in touch with his own desires, thank you, and has studied (yes, I mean studied) the effects of porn on his libido with some care.

In brief, my response to Ms. Wolf is: Haw haw haw har har hee hee hyuck *snort* giggle. Ma’am, you clearly have no freaking idea what you are talking about.

You show a young woman who makes herself sexually available but has trouble attracting the interest of a young man away from porn, and I’ll show you a young man who is either homosexual or stone dead.

Well, OK, I can imagine one exception. If the young woman in question is hideously deformed, the can’t-compete-with-porn insecurity you describe might be justified. But in general, it’s safe to predict that an offer of pussy from any woman who is not aggressively ugly will easily outbid the young man’s hand for the attention of his penis.

This is so not because young men are in any way enlightened, but because they are fizzing with hormones and instincts that are designed for the express purpose of inducing them to fuck…you know…women. Lots of them. Young men are not noted for being excessively discriminating in this regard. A biologist would explain this as r-type strategy — since his energy investment in reproduction is low, promiscuity is optimal.

Show me a young woman who thinks she can’t compete with porn for a man’s attention and I’ll show you one of two things. Either (a), she’s having galloping insecurity for some other reason and doesn’t notice that the man enjoys having sex with real women a hell of a lot more than he enjoys porn, or (b) she’s not having sex with that man.

There is one truth buried, oblique and nearly invisible, in Ms. Wolf’s informants’ reports. Sex with a real woman trumps porn, but porn trumps women who dangle sex in front of men and don’t deliver. Again, this has nothing to do with enlightenment, and whether the dangling is a deliberate tease, a product of inhibition, or simple ineptness at the courtship dance doesn’t matter much either. The most relevant causal fact is that young men get erections a lot, and when they get erections, having an orgasm tends to move to the top of the to-do-list and stay there.

Ms. Wolf, here is some simple advice you can give any woman who thinks she can’t compete with porn. First item on the checklist: is she fucking him? If the answer is “no”, then I regret to inform you that her grounds for complaint against the fact that he likes to jack off while looking at or thinking about pictures of porn babes are nil. Zip. Zero. You might as well try resenting water for flowing downhill.

On the other hand, if she is fucking him, he is not going to swap that for feelthy pixels. Trust me on this. I have a penis. I’ve been fucking women for nearly thirty years, and not once was I even remotely tempted to trade an actual roll in the hay for a fantasy image and my hand. Not even as a confused adolescent, and not even with the ones who were, relatively speaking, lousy in bed.

Any woman who thinks this is happening is evading a problem with the relationship, not with his sexual response. By pointing at porn, she is giving herself leave to ignore real issues. Like: am I joyful in bed? This has nothing to do with facials or Brazilian wax jobs — and, actually, as much to do with the capacity to receive pleasure from that man’s touch as the capacity to give him pleasure.

Here’s another secret about most men, most of the time: given a choice between a buff “porn-worthy” chick with a drawerful of sex toys who’s grudging or unresponsive in bed, or a plain jane with rudimentary technique who orgasms easily and generously, plain jane is the one we’re going to go back to. Again, this has a sound basis in evolutionary bio; orgasm is a sperm-retention behavior that increases the probability of conception, so an orgasming woman is saying pre-verbally “I want your child!”.

Having delivered a smackdown on Ms. Wolf’s silly thesis, I will now thump a number of her critics. Pretty much all of them report this exchange:

“Why have sex right away?” a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.”

“Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?”

“Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

Several of the fiskings I’ve read avoid Ms. Wolf’s dim-bulbed ascription of that response to the insidious effects of porn only by writing off the kid as a callow, ignorant doofus. By doing so, they miss his point as completely as she did.

In fact, the kid is right. There is no mystery to sex. The mystery is in the stuff that is modulated onto sex like a signal onto a carrier wave, Relationships. Love. Intimacy. Mysticism. What this wise child is saying is that he wants to get the purely sexual tension out of the way so that he can get to the mystery.

Shame on Ms. Wolf for being in such a swivet about porn that she failed to notice this. But a greater shame on her fiskers, who had no single axe to grind and time for reflection — and thus, not even a bad excuse for their lack of perception.

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Oct 27

Stupid Like A Fox

For the kind of articulate extrovert who tends to go into politics or the
media, it can be very difficult to believe that a stumble-tongued,
inarticulate man can be other than an idiot. As an articulate extrovert
myself, I’ve had to struggle with this. Like most of our media and
chattering classes, my instinct too was to write George W. Bush as an
idiot who had stumbled into the Presidency through no merit of his own.

Events have forced me to nearly the opposite conclusion. George W. Bush
is no idiot. In fact, he now appears to me to be an extremely cunning man
who makes repeated and effective use of his opponents’ inability to take
him seriously.

Over and over again we’ve seen the pattern. Bush says he’s gaing
to do something. Opponents rant and rave and scream about what an
idiot he is. Amidst all the name-calling, an effective opposition
fails to materialize. When the smoke clears, events unfold pretty
much according to the Bush script.

It’s pretty much been that way on every issue bigger than judicial
nominations. Now, mind you, in this essay I’m not going to express
or even imply a judgment about whether or should be that way.
What I’m trying to point out is that even the U.N. has pretty much
ended up dancing Bush’s tune. All of the Franco/German/Russian talk
of thwarting that mad cowboy has come to this in the end: U.S, troops
in control of Iraq, Saddam gone, and the U.N. formally committed by
resolution to support the U.S. reconstruction without either a timeline
or any U.N. authority over Iraq.

Once or twice could be luck. But Bush keeps doing this.
He is such an effective political operator that his opponents find
that their ability to block him has quietly vanished while they
weren’t looking. The pathological rage now endemic in Democratic
circles is fueled by impotence. They know they were suckered,
swindled, had somehow, but they can’t pin down why or how the
majority voters stopped listening. Bad enough to have Reagan pound
the crap out of them — they thought he was an idiot too, but at
least they could console themselves that he was a glib idiot.
Being shellacked by a Republican who sounds like a moron behind a
microphone is more than their blood pressure can take.

Well, Democrats, I’ve got news for you. Bush is using your rage to
make you into idiots. I think, early in his political
career, he somehow learned how to push this button reliably, and has
been sucker-punching his opponents ever since. Clever of him —
but then, as I belatedly realized when I was thinking this through. he
has to be brighter than he looks. The dude flew fighter
planes! Simpletons can’t do that; the Air Force screens pilots for
intelligence because it has to.

Want to stop Bush? Then, Mr. J. Random Democrat, call Dubya evil if
you want — but accept that, on his record, he is pretty damn
bright. Stop screaming, take his brains seriously, and outsmart him.
That is, if you can.

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Oct 21

Attack of the Malaysian Moonbats

Today, a bunch of prominent warbloggers were hit by a
denial-of-service attack apparently orchestrated by a bunch of
comically incompetent al-Qaeda affiliates in Malaysia — and
I wasn’t a target.

I’d ask what I’ve been doing wrong with my life that I missed out
on the honor of being personally targeted by Osama’s fuckwit brigade.
But alas, I know full well wherein I failed. This is what I get for
going on hiatus for months to finish my book and put multiple spokes
in the wheels of SCO. I didn’t maintain the momentum I had in
2002/early-2003, and fell off the moonbats’ radar.

To all of you who were targeted — Internet Hagannah, InstaPundit,
Steve denBeste, Charles Johnson, and others: you have my respect and
my thanks for what you do every day. The war against terror is a war
of ideas as well as bullets. You do great service by unflinchingly
exposing the lies of the terror network and its apologists in the
West. The Malaysian Moonbats, in recognizing this, have paid you
greater tribute than I can.

Hmmm. Maybe I ought to update the Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto.
Think that’d piss ‘em off enough that they’s try to DDOS me?

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Oct 20

Why Howard Dean Won’t Get My Vote

After a previous post in which I called for the Democratic Party to
walk the pro-firearms walk if it wanted to stop alienating freedom-loving
independents like me, I was asked in comments what I think of Howard Dean
— who, it is alleged, has an A++ rating from the NRA.

OK, I like the fact that Dean is pro-gun. In this, and in other
ways, he’s sane on subjects where Democrats are generally insane. But
it is almost certain I will not vote for him. Because the next
President of the U.S. must have a strategic vision for fighting the
threat of Islamist terror and WMDs, and Dean has no such vision.

Note that I am not saying the next president must have George
Bush’s strategic vision — and don’t bother with the
Bush-is-an-idiot, it’s-all his-handlers routine; Bush has routinely
outsmarted people who underestimated him and as long as they delude
themselves that he’s a moron, it will be easier for him to continue
doing so. But there must be some strategic vision, some
sense of realpolitik. Dean ain’t got it.

In fact, nobody on the list of Democratic presidential hopefuls
appears to have any sense of the strategic stakes or possibilities,
with the possible exception of Joe Lieberman. And supposing there
were, no aspirant with a sane national-security program could make it
through the gauntlet of the primaries to the general election.

And why? Because the Democratic Party apparatus has been captured by
interest groups who are incapable of taking the war we are in seriously.

I’m not actually talking about the inmates of the asylum that is
today’s loony left: the retread Marxists, the po-mo academics, the
anti-globalization crowd — what conservatives call with some
justification the Blame-America-First brigades. Expecting anything
but toxic babble from these people was always doomed. No, the trouble
is that the Democratic interest groups that aren’t outright
insane have no way to fit an anti-terror strategy into their model of
how to do politics.

How can feminists, gays, or the various skin-color cliques in the
racial-problem industry cope? For these groups, politics is all about
identity and grievance and maybe who gets the biggest slice in the
next round of redistributing the domestic wealth — they’ve
actually lost the very *concept* of the ‘national interest’, and are no
more capable of grappling with the implications of 9/11 than they
would be of speaking Sumerian.

Or the people who are *really* calling the shots in the Democratic
Party — trial lawyers and the public-employee unions. (Forget
labor in general. The Democrats stopped listening to the AFL-CIO
about a nanosecond after it became clear that the private-sector
unions could no longer keep most of their people from voting
Republican.) Again, nothing about their relationship to the political
game gives them anywhere to stand in foreign policy.

The Republicans don’t have this problem. All of their major
factions have commitments that don’t stop at the water’s edge. The
so-called “national-greatness conservatives”, the ideological
free-traders, small business, big business, the Christian Right, even
the Buchananite isolationalists — they may disagree violently on
what the national interest is, but at least there is a place in their
normal discourse about politics where they know that concept
fits.

Not so most of the the Democrat pressure groups — which means
that the terms of internal Democratic debate about foreign policy are
being set by the loony left, because the people some of my warblogger
colleagues call “barking idiotarian moonbats” are the only ones in the
Democratic Party who actually care! They’re the only Democrats
with a world-view that involves thinking about the rest of the world
as anything other than a passive backdrop for domestic politics.

(I’m actually convinced that the reason most Democratic politicians
suck up to the U.N. and the French so assiduously is that following
“international opinion” relieves them of the intolerable burden of
having to think about foreign policy.)

Thus, Dean. Mostly a mainstream Democrat in that what he really wants to
do is ignore foreign-policy issues — but the only way he’s found
to mobilize the angry-Left cadres who matter so much in the primaries
is to bark like a moonbat.

That won’t get my vote.

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Oct 19

Hey, DLC, Rethinking Is Not Enough

The Democratic Party is getting hip to the fact that advocating gun bans loses them elections. Way to go, Dems! For a crowd widely touted in the media as the best and brightest, it has taken you far too long to wake up.

But there is still a weird feeling of unreality about the exercise. It seems to be mostly about spin rather than substance, mostly about making people believe that Democrats have reformed on this issue without actual reform.

Various bloggers have waxed acidulous about this, but nobody has stepped up and said, explicitly, what the Democrats’ problem is and how to fix it. So. DLC honchos, you talk about being reality therapy for the rest of the party. Here is reality.

I am one of the independent, swing voters that could have won you the 2000 election. I do not consider myself a conservative, nor do I vote the Republican ticket.

I believe that the Founding Fathers of the United States bequeathed to me as a member of the unincorporated militia (that is, all citizens capable of bearing arms) the responsibility to remain armed and vigilant against both foreign enemies of my nation and domestic tyrants.

I am one of the people who will almost never vote for a Democrat, because I believe the Democratic Party wants to trash the Second Amendment, confiscate my guns, and destroy the balance of power between citizens and government that was intended by the framers of the Constitution.

I do not really trust either major political party on this issue, but whereas Republicans have less than sterling credibility, Democrats have negative credibility. That is, experience strongly suggests that when Democrats are quiet about firearms policy, they are concealing an anti-gun rather than a pro-gun agenda. Their silence is a lie.

Democratic pollster Mark Penn says “The formula for Democrats is to say that they support the Second Amendment, but that they want tough laws that close loopholes”. Be aware that I will interpret any Democrat talking about “tough laws that close loopholes” as an anti-gun agenda being pursued by stealth and deception.

If the Democrats want my vote, it is not sufficient for the Democratic merely to refrain from pushing more firearms restrictions. The Democratic leadership must explicitly recognize the Second Amendment as a guarantee of an individual right, explicitly repudiate the gun-grabbers in their ranks, and make the abolition of firearms restrictions part of their formal agenda.

Negative credibility means you have a ways to go before you can even get to zero. Want my vote, and that of millions of independent gun owners like me? Start earning it with pro-gun action, not just talk…because if you don’t, those millions of independents will have no realistic option but the Republicans, and the already serious decline of the national Democratic party may well become terminal.

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Oct 17

Planets of Adventure

Bless Jim Baen, who at times seems determined to reprint the entire
Golden Age midlist of SF. for he has given us a good thick anthology of
some of the best stories of Murray Leinster — a writer once counted
among science-fiction’s reliable best, but since unfairly forgotten.

I come away from Planets of Adventure (pb, Baen 2002,
ISBN 0-7434-7162-8) with a renewed appreciation of something I have
long known. When John W. Campbell and Robert Heinlein invented modern
SF after 1938, Campbell perforce had to train a new crop of writers to
produce it. Very few writers with established careers were able to
meet Campbell’s standards.

Murray Leinster (born Wil F. Jenkins) was one of a very few
exceptions — and one of only two (with Jack Williamson) who
actually managed to produce better work after Campbell than before
him, rather than merely imitating previous pulp successes on a grander
scale (as did, for example, the now-unreadable Edmond Hamilton and the
still-enjoyable E.E. “Doc” Smith).

For this alone Leinster deserves more attention from the historians
and critics of SF than he usually gets. I, personally, was ready to
rediscover him because I had fond childhood memories of reading his work
from the 1950s and early 1960s when it was not too difficult to find
in the used bookstores of ten years later.

One of my sentimental favorites was the Med Service
series, tales of a doctor making interstellar house calls to solve
ingeniously constructed medical puzzles. I was delighted when Baen
Books printed a Med Service omnibus a few months ago — but it is
after reading Planets of Adventure that I am truly
impressed with Leinster’s achievement.

The first story, The Forgotten Planet is a fixup
novel assembled from three novellas, published respectively in 1920,
1921, and 1953. The rest of the stories were published in the decade
after 1947, the last quite coincidentally in the year I was born. In these
stories we get a fine view in miniature both of SF’s pre-Campbellian past
and the most fertile period of the Campbellian Golden Age.

The first section of The Forgotten Planet, written
in 1920, is deeply primitive. It’s a dark thalamic adventure of
regressed humans battling lethal fungi and giant insects in a fetid
alien ecology. The only touches we can recognize as SFnal are a
framing story Leinster added after the fact, in the early 1950s, which
make the humands descendents of a crashed starliner — in origin, the story
had been set on a far-future Earth. One feature of the original
repays notice; Leinster referred to climate change via a
carbon-dioxide greenhouse effect caused by burning fossil fuels. In
1920!

The end of The Forgotten Planet, as rewritten at
the beginning of the 1950s, reads very differently. The stranded
primitives, having struggled up on their own to barbarian status, are
accidentally rediscovered by interstellar civilization. This is not
merely a different story than Leinster had begun to write thirty
years earlier, it is written in a profoundly different way, suffused
with plucky optimism and cool efficiency. The protagonist, Burl,
began the action as a a Joseph-Campbellian mythic hero; he ends
it as the archetype of the John-Campbellian competent man, bestriding
both his own world and that of his advanced galactic kindred with an
ease that disconcerts the latter.

In the next section, The Planet Explorer, Leinster
demonstrates a flawless command of the Campbellian idiom. These
stories, written in 1955-56, are classic planetary-puzzle pieces of
the sort that filled the pages of Astounding magazine.
The protagonist solves life-threatening problems posed by conditions
on alien worlds. These were intelligent stories when they were
written and they’re still intelligent today. One of them won a Hugo
in 1956. Aside from a slight stiffness in the language, they read
remarkably well.

And we’re in for another surprise. The next story,
Anthropological Note, dates from 1957. In it, Leinster
captures perfectly the tone and style of the first post-Campbellian
wave in SF, the social-science SF of the mid-to-late 1950s and
pre-New-Wave 1960s. Truly this story could have been written by Fred
Pohl or C.M. Kornbluth. The wry tone, the anthropologizing, and the
not-so-subtle satirical edge are all there.

The story following that, Scrimshaw, is a creepy and
dark little mood piece that manages to anticipate the New Wave of the
mid-1960s by ten years. The rest of the anthology (Assignment
on Pasik
, Regulations and The Skit-Tree
Planet
) is mostly filler, workmanlike enough stuff from the
late 1940s obviously written to pay bills. These stories are still
readable, but of no special interest other than as a demonstration of
consistent competence.

And there you have it. In these stories Leinster manages, with so
little effort that you won’t be aware of it unless you’re looking, to
span four eras of SF and meet all their demands with unobtrusive
efficiency. I am unable to think of anyone else in the history of the
field who can quite match that.

This observation is more interesting because Leinster was
essentially a hack writer. Besides the SF, he churned out reams of
pulp fiction — formulaic Westerns, hard-boiled detective stories,
jungle adventures — during a career that begain in 1917 and
ended only with his death in 1975. It appears that the last thing he
wrote was a Perry Rhodan novel which I have not read but
which almost certainly stank to high heaven.

His SF, though, was not mere hack-work, or at least not
usually mere hack-work. He was a genuine innovator in the
form who invented the parallel-world story in 1934 and the
first-contact story in 1945. It is impossible to read Leinster
without sensing that to him, constructing Campbellian puzzle stories
was a delight, and probably the closest approach to art for art’s sake
that he ever allowed himself. Certainly in Exploration
Team
, the story that won him the 1956 Hugo, one gets the sense
that Leinster is using the story to think through some issues that are
important to him — and they are not trivial issues, even
today.

But for all that he helped invent some of SF’s central tropes,
Leinster never quite became an SF writer of the first rank. He was a
solid midlist presence — the comparisons that leap to mind are
his rough contemporaries James Schmitz and Ross Rocklynne. His novels
tended to be uninspired; his best work (including the genre-defining
First Contact and the hilarious and rather prescient
A Logic Named Joe) was in short-story form.

What Murray Leinster does show us is that SF was as liberating for him as
for his readers — that even a hack writer could take from SF the
challenge and the invitation to be intelligent, and give back
something a bit better than he might have written otherwise. I never
got to ask him, but I strongly suspect that Wil F. Jenkins would be
prefer to be remembered for the SF more than for anything else he
wrote.

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Oct 15

Toxic Christianity, round two

In the October 15th Best of the Web, James
Taranto asks:

So let’s see if we have this straight: The head of the Anglican
Church is telling us that the wanton murder of thousands of innocent
people [by Palestinian terrorists] is a sign of “serious moral goals,”
while the liberation of millions [of Iraqis] from one of the world’s
most vicious dictatorships is, as he has put it, “immoral and
illegal.”

Is this really what Christianity is all about?

Well, since you asked…yes, indeed it is.

To understand why, you first have to confront what Dr. Rowan
Williams is actually doing. He is aligning himself with Islamic
terrorists against individual Christians and against the liberation of
Iraq from an Islamizing dictator by a predominantly Christian
nation.

Now, why would the head of the second most prestigious of all
Christian denominations do that? What is it in Christianity that
could make him so confident in the morality of this position? What is
it about the U.S.’s actions that make it so threatening?

A clue to the problem is that though the U.S. is demographically a
mostly Christian nation, the effect of U.S. cultural hegemony is a
secularizing one. American popular culture severs the bonds of fear
and ignorance that hold people unquestioningly to their ancestral
relgions. The American vision of each individual as an autonomous
being who derives his rights from his humanness, from the simple fact
of his capacity to assert them, is deadly antithetical to any
religious tradition that vests moral authority in a transcendant
God.

The Founding Fathers of the U.S. understood this antipathy full
well. The pro-forma nods towards the distant god of the Deists in the
Declaration of Independence and U.S. Consitution failed to conceal the
fact that the Founding Fathers were freethinkers, agnostics and
atheists almost to a man. As George Washington and John Adams
explained to the Knights of Malta in 1787 “The United States is in no
way founded upon the Christian religion”. It could not have been so
founded without a fatal conflict with its aspiration to be a nation of
freedom.

The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be dismissed as a fringe figure
as some are (incorrectly) wont to do of Pat Robertson. His enmity
towards the U.S.’s anti-terror strategy, his willingness to line up
with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden after no more than a pro-forma
disclaimer of terrorist means, proceeds directly from this fundamental
conflict. It is diagnostic of a deep sickness, an abiding evil in the
heart of Christianity itself — the exaltation of obedience, the
denial that humans can have any worth other than through the
condescension of God.

Nietzsche called this one correctly. Christianity, which purports
to be the religion of love, is only sporadically anything of the kind.
It is primarily a religion of slavery and submission. Christian
individualism, when it exists at all, is legitimized only by obedience
to God. In a Christian worldview there is always someone to be
obeyed, whether visible cleric or invisible Nobodaddy. You must
submit; the only argument is about to whom your obedience is owed, and
what humans under what circumstances may transmit the orders of God.
Without that sinew of obedience the entire world-view
disintegrates.

To a Christian cleric, a properly terrified and obedient Muslim is
less of a threat than a person who has rejected the God of the
Abrahamic faiths. The Muslim is still within the system of
submission. Only a handful of symbols separate him from the Christian;
the basic program is the same. Therefore, from the point of view of
the operators of the religious obedience machine that is Anglicanism
(or almost any other Christian denomination) Osama bin Laden is a more
natural ally than any freethinker.

Am I accusing Dr. Rowan Williams of being part of a conscious
totalitarian conspiracy? No; he is something far more dangerous
— a leading figure in an unconscious totalitarian
conspiracy, one which denies its own nature just effectively enough to
fool others as well. That conspiracy encompasses every tyrant
who has ever told human beings that their path to happiness lay
in the exaltation of some authority, whether God or the State.

It is in this context that Dr. Williams’s statement makes perfect
and consistent sense. For him, better a thousand terrorist acts than
even one human being waking up to discover that he need not after all
fear the wrath of God.

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Oct 14

Mohammed was a Christian

In a recent blog entry I mentioned that Islam appears to have begun life
as a mildly schismatic Christian sect. In the comments on that entry someone
called for sources. Here is what I know about this:

(First, a note on my general background: I am neither a Christian
nor a Moslem, and in fact consider those two religions #3 and #4 in
the Most Toxic Ideologies Of All Time sweepstakes, after Communism and
Naziism. I have therefore studied the history of Christianity and
Islam fairly closely, basically on the know-your-enemies principle.)

There is a scholar somewhere in Germany using the alias Christoph
Luxenberg. He has published a book called Die syro-aramaeische
Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der
Quränsprache
. He uses a pseudonym because he thinks many
Moslems will want to kill him when they find out about it. In this
he is undoubtedly correct.

What Luxenberg has done is applied the same methods of philology
and linguistics to the Qur’an that were applied to the Christian Bible
beginning in the mid-19th century. I have not read the book itself as
I have no German, but when I read several summaries of its conclusions
I was struck by the sense they made of some odd facts I had picked up
over the years. Such as the datum that there is a Christian monastery
in the Sinai which received a special immunity, apparently from
Mohammed himself, under terms its abbots have kept mum about for 1400
years. And the curious resemblance (you have to have read both the
Qur’an and some odd Christian sources to notice, but I have) between
the rhetoric of the Qur’an and that of a now-forgotten group of
Christian ‘heretics’ called Monophysites who were particularly strong
in the Syria and Arabia of Mohammed’s time. And the fact that early
Muslims knelt to pray towards Jerusalem, not Mecca.

You can read this
scholarly review
for more. Another discussion, which was written
before Luxenberg but is particularly telling on the evidence that Islam
did not emerge as a separate faith until well after Mohammed’s death,
is at this
atheist site
. I’ll give you a summary of the high points, some of
which the reviewers (though not the atheists) tiptoe around.

Islam, the Qur’an, and classical Arabic all formed in a
cosmopolitan culture of Syrio-Aramaic-speaking Arabs. The religious
tradition that went with that language was Christian; in fact, the
very word “Qur’an” probably derived from “queryana”, a Syrio-Aramaic
term for a kind of Christian liturgical text. The variant spelling
“qur’an” for that word is attested.

Mohammed was probably a Christian of a Nestorian or Monophysite
stripe, and the Qur’an originally intended as a commentary or gloss on
the Syriac recension of the Christian Bible. The surah or section of
the Qur’an that Moslems believe is the oldest contains an exhortation
to take the Christian Eucharist.

In fact, it is almost certain that the concept of an Islamic
identity separate from Syriac Christianity did not develop in
Mohammed’s lifetime; there are hints that it was a political creation
of the Caliphate, constructed soon after Mohammed’s death by the
Caliph ‘Othman. Notably, he had burned all recensions of the sayings
of Mohammed other than the one prepared under his control.

Many textual difficulties in the Qur’an vanish once it is realized
that a lot of the words in it are fossilized Aramaic. Luxenberg
wanders deep into technical philology here and you have to know a lot
of details about early Semitic writing systems, including the fact
that they didn’t record vowels. (I know enough to smell that
Luxenberg has a hell of a strong case.) But the upshot is that you
can go to Syrio-Aramaic vocabularies and extract clear readings from
many passages that are maddeningly obscure if you’re running under the
assumption that they are written in the vocabulary of later
Arabic.

Remember the brief rash of news stories about “72 virgins” actually
meaning “72 white grapes”? That was Luxenberg reading the Qur’an in
its original Syrio-Aramaic-derived vocabulary.

Islamic scholars of the Qur’an lost the knowledge of the Qur’an’s
Aramaic origins shortly after ‘Othman’s book-burning. There are hints
of it in the oldest hadith (traditional saying of Mohammed) but the
hints don’t make any sense until you do the philology, at which point
they snap into focus and startle the crap out of you. The traditional
Islamic accounts of the Qur’an’s origins are are best confused, and at
worst pure inventions of the Umaiyyad propaganda machine that was
busily turning Mohammed’s reform of Syriac Christianity into a new
religion as the basis for empire

One entertaining detail I didn’t discover until I did my
fact-checking for this essay is that Catholic theologians have been
claiming Mohammed was a renegade Nestorian, or something like, for
about a thousand years. It also turns out that there are
scholar-priests in odd corners of the Christian world (notably among
Maronites in Lebanon) who had pieces of Luxenberg’s exegesis all
along, but lacked the philological training to put them together.
Now it turns out they were right. Who knew?

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Oct 08

Nuke ‘em for Christ

Pat Robertson, the same paragon of Christian virtue who has opined
in the past that Wiccans like me should be burned alive the way they
used to in the good old days, just created an interesting dilemma for
me by suggesting that the State
Department should be nuked
.

As a pagan anarchist, I’m completely uninterested in being
considered a paragon of Christian virtue. So I can admit to feeling a
sneaking sympathy with Robertson’s modest proposal. I mean, it
wouldn’t just be nuking the government, it would be nuking one of the
more repulsive parts of same. The BATF and DEA are certainly a
greater threat to liberty and happiness, but watching the Foggy Bottom
crowd compete to see who can pander most abjectly to “international
opinion” and a succession of enemies from the old Soviet Union to the
France of today has been pretty nauseating.

But no. I have my own standards of virtue, and they don’t quite
stretch to vaporizing Foggy Bottom. Innocents (that is, persons who
are not causally implicated in the government’s normal practices of
coercion and fraud) could be harmed. Cleaning staff, visiting
children, that sort of thing. Shocking bad form to whack them, don’t
you know.

Now. Seriously. I’ve taken some flak in the past for implying that
Christianity is just as vile and violence-prone a religion as Islam.
Pat Robertson has made this point for me before and doubtless will again.
Because, like Osama bin Laden, he really believes. He pays
attention to all the bits of the Bible and doctrine and history that
most so-called ‘Christians’ edit out — a maneuver that
makes them better human beings, but worse Christians.

Christianity is sold as a “religion of love” but that is just as
bogus as calling Islam a “religion of peace”. What is far more
important and fundamental to both is eschatological dualism, which
Islam inherited through Mohammed’s roots in Monophysite Christianity.
(What? You didn’t know that Islam started life as a mildly schismatic
Christian sect? Yes, it’s true.)

“Eschatological dualism” is fancy theologist-speak for the belief
that history consists of a titanic struggle between God and the Devil,
which will culminate at the end of time with a great sorting out — godly
obedient people to Heaven, sinners to Hell. Eschatological dualism
is the root of the “Kill them all, God will know his own” attitude that
has always been rather more characteristic of both religions than “peace”
or “love”. Pat and Osama, brothers under the skin, are squarely in that
grand old tradition.

Christianity, fortunately for all of us, has become quite decadent
and weak these last 400 years or so — Robertson merely dreams of
smiting the Devil’s minions with Godly fire, rather than actually
incinerating 3000 people on a fine autumn morning. But it may take
another 400 before Christianity withers away sufficiently that my
descendants need not fear being burned at the stake by a charismatic
looney-tune like Robertson. Islam, 600 years younger, will probably
remain deadly for rather longer.

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Oct 04

No Flies On The U.S.

In his recent article Flypaper:
A Strategy Unfolds
, Andrew Sullivan trots out some confirming
evidence for the theory that the U.S. is pursuing a “flypaper
strategy” in Iraq — encouraging the Islamist terror
network to fight American soldiers there so they won’t be attacking
American civilians here.

Mr. Sullivan’s analysis is plausible. Plausible enough that my reaction
to the article, especially the last paragraph in which he urges Bush to
articulate the strategy as a way of scoring domestic political points. was:
“OK, you’ve demonstrated your cleverness. Now would you kindly
zip your lip before you undermine the strategy?”

The leaders of the Islamist terror network are certainly evil and
arguably insane (if only in the general way that all religious
believers are insane) but they’re not stupid. If the
President of the United States got on network T.V. and yelled
“We have a flypaper strategy! We’re encouraging all the world’s
nut-jobs to attack us in Iraq so they won’t attack us in the
U.S.”, just what do you suppose would be the result?

Would our favorite murderous ragheads nod agreeably, say
“Peachy, we’ll play your game and keep attacking you where you
think you’re strongest?” Or would they bend all their efforts
to ginning up another mass-murder in the U.S. just to prove they can
do it and the flypaper isn’t working?

For anyone to talk about a flypaper strategy in public is
irresponsible. For Sullivan to urge that Bush should cop to it in
public in order to one-up his domestic opponents is beyond
irresponsible into idiotic and feckless. The President of the
U.S. would be profoundly derelict in his duty if he courted lethal
danger to American civilians by doing any such thing.

I’m normally a fan of Andrew Sullivan. His writing is witty if
occasionally a bit febrile, and he is clear-eyed on a handful of
subjects that normally induce rectocranial inversion in conservatives.
But today he should be ashamed of himself. He has engaged in the
exact same error he has excoriated in others, which is treating
the rest of the world as a mere backdrop to domestic American
political feuds.

And I have some advice for him: Mr. Sullivan, next time you feel
the urge to be clever in public, do us all a favor and ask yourself
how many innocent lives you might be endangering by running your
mouth. If the answer is more than zero, shut up!

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Oct 01

If Guns Are Outlawed, Outlaws Will Use Crossbows

This
happened about 15 minutes from where I live:

Police in West Chester are looking for an assailant they believe used
a crossbow to shoot a pedestrian from a passing SUV.

The victim, a restaurant worker who was walking home along High
Street early Sunday morning, was shot in the stomach with a 16-inch
hunting arrow. He was released Wednesday from the University of
Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Benito Vargas told police he was at the corner of High and Barnard
Streets at about 1 a.m. when he saw the white SUV’s driver-side window
slide down, revealing the front part a crossbow just inside. Seconds
later, he was lying on the ground.

[...]

“This thing would be silent. You wouldn’t hear any noise,” West
Chester Detective Thomas Yarnall said. [...] Yarnall said the
shooting appeared random [...]

Gives a whole old meaning to the phrase “looking for a quarrel”,
which in fact, originally referred to a crossbow bolt.

UPDATE:(Well, maybe. Some etymologists think the noun quarrel and verb quarrel have
separate origins.)

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