The Orans

Any visitor to a Catholic mass will probably tell you that there’s a lot going on – all kinds of prayers and responses, hymns, crossing and hand motions, sitting and standing and kneeling.

Quite honestly, some elements can be unclear for us average Catholics, too. And I wish congregants were better “trained.”

One thing that happens at one point during the mass is the praying of the Our Father. From what I’ve read, in days past the prayer was offered by the priest on behalf of the congregation.

These days, the whole congregation prays together. One thing that’s always bothered me (though I have never really been able to put my finger on why) is how at some churches, many congregants will join hands and/or raise their hands palm upward as they do this.

orans_posture

This morning I came across a couple tweets that illuminated this for me.

So this gesture is apparently called the “Orans Posture.” And although I’m sure there is no ill will (and in most cases probably no willful ignorance either), the practice of the congregation taking this posture during the prayer is poo-pooed in Catholic mass.

There are some very detailed explanations out there to be Googled, but the upshot is that the priest takes the Orans because he is praying on our behalf, and the form of the mass dictates that the congregation not copy the gestures of the priest celebrant.

Good to know.

-Bushi

bushi

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C.S. Lewis on loving and punishing your enemy

Theology ought to be of interest to every well-formed adult. This I contend. Whether or not there be a God or an afterlife and what, if anything, one can do to affect one’s standing in the hereafter – these are supremely important considerations.

And yet, most of us don’t give these concerns much thought. Forget about actual study! Despite counting myself a stout Papist, I too am remiss. Bills to pay, science fiction to read, housework to do! But I’m working on it.

Every so often I revisit C.S. Lewis, my favorite apologist. For a few years now, I’ve had this fat tome sitting on my shelf gathering dust, and it’s got some of his best stuff – Mere Christianity, the Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce, the Problem of Pain, Miracles, a Grief Observed, and the Abolition of Man. I’ve only read the first two (Mere Christianity more than once, though I am ashamed to admit I never retain as much of it as I’d wish).

Grand Tetons

Recently I’ve been making my way once again through it, and periodically posting tidbits on Twitter. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what to snip, when there’s so much wisdom distilled into every chapter.

First, let me just acknowledge – someone pointed out, in disagreeing with one of Lewis’ points in an excerpt that I posted, that he was not a theologian, but an essayist and writer of stories. Although some do call him a lay theologian, that is true! And he would have been quick to admit it. The humility with which Lewis shared his thoughts and ideas about Christianity and faith is admirable. He sprinkled his writings with such comments – admitting that he was by no means a great authority and that he could very well be mistaken on many points. Still, there is a great deal of logic and sense and grace in much of what he says.

It’s with this in mind that I wanted to share a few of his thoughts on charity, forgiveness, and punishment, that particularly moved me.

forgiveness1

It could be that men and societies have always been quite polarized, but in the US many are commenting that they feel especially so today. This rings particularly true when online. I’ve made many friends online, actually. Some of these friendships have grown to become offline, relatively normal relationships. But animosity and hatred thrive and pulsate and fester online. It’s all too easy to hate an avatar or a faceless internet troll; a leftists, an SJW, or maybe an alt-righter or “right wing nutjob.”

But no matter how much we may want to hate these people, and even should we ever have to fight them (I mean real fighting, not this online crusading nonsense), we are called not to hate them. I am glad I read this when I did, because honestly it’s easy to get weighed down in the Internet and Culture Wars. Everything starts to look and feel ugly.

forgiveness2

This is true. I’ve felt it and I’ve seen others who seemed to be falling prey to this.

hate

It sounds rather trite, but hate begets hate.

Now I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious with this. Quite the contrary. Just this past weekend I found myself angry and agitated at certain people and circumstances, and I had to remind myself not to hate, but to try and be more charitable. Getting angry all the time and letting it boil makes one more prone to become angry, in my experience. Something I’ve got to keep working on.

killing

And here Lewis makes an interesting point, and I think one that squares with the idea of the Church Militant (or even “Deus Vult” for you memers!), provided such a posture is not driven by a hatred of people. I did not remember this from my previous readings, and the element of the translational difference between “kill” and “murder” strikes me as quite important.

Fighting is not contrary to Christianity. Nor is killing, even. In some cases a good Christian may even be not only permitted but compelled by his faith to kill, such as in defense of his wife or children or other innocents.

But we must be wary of hate. It’s a cold, dark pit to sink into. There is a power there, but it is not of God.

-Bushi

bushi

 

MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Flash Forward

  • by Gitabushi

An unheralded television show aired on ABC back in 2009.  It was cancelled after just one season in the spring of 2010.  I somehow managed to get a copy of the DVD without knowing anything about it, and my teenage kids and I fell in love with it when we randomly picked it out of the backlog stack and gave it a try.

Premise: The entire world falls unconscious for 137 seconds, for unknown reasons. This causes all sorts of pandemonium, like car crashes, planes falling out of the sky, and other disasters you might expect from such an event.

As the world is coping with the massive loss of life, people begin comparing notes of the dreams they had while unconscious.  In doing so, they discover coincidences that cannot be explained as anything other than visions of a moment six months in the future.  For instance, someone has a vision of being in a meeting with someone they have never met before, but there is enough identifying information from the vision that the other individual can be tracked down. When contact is established, the other individual reveals they had the exact same vision, including the same actions, conversation, etc. Enough visions include looking at a calendar, clock, etc., that the moment of the vision of the future can be established, and all visions with such time-based details all agree with each other.

This causes all sorts of crises, including visions of being intimate with someone not your spouse, dealing with the aftermath of killing someone, discovering that someone you thought was dead is actually still alive.  Worse, perhaps, is the people who do not have visions: the understand rapidly spreads that these people will be dead before the Flash Forward moment.

And as the world is dealing with this realization, the FBI discovers that the event may have been triggered deliberately by unknown, non-government entities. Moreover, closed-circuit television captures at least one person moving during the blackout: the blackout wasn’t, in fact, universal.

Then they discover that you can actually take actions to prevent your vision from coming true, in drastic fashion.

I think you can immediately think of multiple philosophical issues that arise from these various aspects and examples, and the television show doesn’t shy away from exploring them.  My children and I always had plenty to discuss for more than an hour after watching each episode. There were plot twists to discuss, of course, but also the philosophical and psychological ramifications of events and developments.  We had some discussions of fate, comparing/contrasting the actions of those who chose to prevent their future vision and how they did it with those who actually caused their vision to come about via their efforts to avoid it.

Particularly poignant was the relationship between the main protagonist (there are a lot of people you care about in the show) and his wife (also a protagonist) who had a vision of being intimate with a man she didn’t currently know.  At the point of the blackout, they had a strong relationship and were both faithful.  The knowledge of the apparent unfaithfulness did seem to both contribute to it coming about, but also seemed to supply motivation that might help prevent it. Watching the couple struggle through jealousy, guilt, and distress was extremely interesting, and it gave me several launching points for talking to my kids about marriage, love, trust, integrity, desire, dissatisfaction, and proper/improper ways of dealing with marital difficulties.

One person, an FBI agent who would be dead in six months, was engaged to be married.  How does he tell his fiancee he will be dead?  Particularly when her vision is of the wedding ceremony they planned?  How can both their visions be real?

These stories both subvert and play straight the notion of Fate: can it be stopped?  Does fighting it bring it about? The answer to both is Yes, and it seems to conclude that the future is in a box with Schroedinger’s Cat: you don’t know what happens until you get there and open it up. And the story was the better for it.

This is not a television show to binge watch.  Nor is it a show to watch alone.  This is one of the better “what would *I* do if…?” stories I’ve seen.  Watch an episode, and then take a few days to let it sink in, to discuss it with the friends and family you watched it with. Then watch the next episode and have your mind blown.  Rinse and repeat.

The show had declining viewership, and I really don’t see why.  Of course, there were some very depressing points as the season went on, and confusing aspects, and developments we didn’t like.  But we had the whole disc, so it was easy to continue watching.  From that perspective, I guess I could see looking at the next episode coming up and deciding you have better things to do with your time.  It is also true that the episodes were so dense with information that if you missed one, it would be nearly impossible to have any interest or ability to catch up with what was going on.  This was in 2010, so I don’t think there were options to watch the shows online to actually see what you missed.  So I guess I do see why, but I think a bunch of people missed out on an excellent story, and since it resulted in the series being cancelled, I think we are all the poorer for it.

The declining viewership meant the show was cancelled. The season finale was written and filmed before the cancellation, however, and this creates two problems: one, there is a cliffhanger over whether a character survives or not; two, there is a completely new set of intriguing Flash Forward visions, but this time 20 years in the future instead of just 6 months.  I would like to have seen how they handled a 20-year gap.

But the series remains watchable.  For as much love as Firefly got for its single season, I think this is better. The cast is large, and yet you actually know the characters more deeply than on Firefly. Firefly introduces a bunch of elements (particularly regarding River) that change the very nature of the series (making it really all about River); nothing like that happens in Flash Forward. In fact, the season doesn’t just stop, it concludes and wraps up almost all the stories.  It is a pause. It is the end of the first act, but good enough to let you go on with your life without burning questions.  Flash Forward ends like Star Wars: sure, you don’t know what happened to Darth Vader, and the Rebellion hasn’t won, but you get enough of the threads wrapped up that you don’t feel dissatisfied. Firefly is like what you would feel like if they never filmed The Return of the Jedi: imagine never knowing what happened to Han.

So if Firefly can get so much love and attention from just one season, Flash Forward deserves equal treatment.  Find it and watch it.  Let me know if you think I led you wrong.

But my bottom line judgment is: THIS television show is what speculative fiction is and should be: a “What If?” tale that challenges you, teaches you, and still lets you teach yourself.  I can’t imagine watching Flash Forward without growing as a person. And it is also entertaining. What more could you ask?

 

MUST READ SFF: The Monster Men, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • by Gitabushi

I have embarked on an exploration of old Pulp, with designs of writing some pulp stories myself. Where better to start than with Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Having recently finished ERB’s “A Princess of Mars”, and the library term having run out on “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian” by REH, I decided I should read some more Burroughs.  However, I didn’t want to limit myself to Barsoom stories at this time, so I picked up The Monster Men.

monster men

The Monster Men is an intriguing mix of different ideas: the hubris of science, the nature of souls, love and loyalty.  At times, it seems as if ERB was writing in response to Shelley’s “Frankenstein”; at other times, I wondered if he was trying to establish his protagonist as a Christ figure.

In the end, it is none of those, although those elements certainly do play a role.

Lately, I’ve been consumed with the notion of Willing Suspension of Disbelief: it is a prerequisite to enjoying a story. For instance, I can’t get into Star Trek because my expectations for The Next Generation were so high that when they lost me, they ruined my ability to accept any premise from that universe. Likewise, I enjoyed “Orcs!” because the verisimilitude of the GS rank battle, combined with what struck me as a precisely-correct shift of tone from farce to seriousness, convinced me to buy into the premise.

But I hadn’t seen The Two Towers film. As such, when the scenes that parodied that movie played, I wasn’t jarred from the story as anyone who had seen that other film would be.

I could delve into this more deeply with other examples, but the point is: obtaining and maintaining Willing Suspension of Disbelief isn’t something the writer should take for granted.

I very nearly choked on the premise of this story: that man could create life from scratch. Modern Science has only recently mapped the human genome; I don’t care what texts Professor Maxon had available to him, there was no way he was growing humans from scratch.  But I finally decided to swallow the premise (key word: “Willing”) and take the premise at face value.

Before I had completely accepted the premise, however, the book started getting really good.  This occurred at approximately 20% of the way in  (according to my Kindle; page numbers are meaningless when you are reading Kindle e-Book publications). At that point, multiple actors began to reveal their competing goals and techniques for reaching those goals.  What was a relatively simple story suddenly became extremely complex.

From that point on, I had to finish the book to see what would happen. My Disbelief was fully Suspended. There were points were the pacing slowed, but I was already committed to the story and to reading the fates of the various characters.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  Burroughs ends this story extremely well, with a somewhat surprise ending that, at the risk of ruining it for you, he actually fully telegraphed earlier in the book.  Fortunately, he did it in a way you will either not notice, or forget in the ensuing pages of action.  Masterfully done, in fact.

Moreover, Burroughs drops some challenging ideas into the story, particularly regarding the nature of humanity, souls, and morality.  When I say “challenging”, I don’t mean the ideas are complex, novel, or controversial.  I just mean that he raises questions and has the characters consider them; this process compels the reader to actually consider these issues in the hypothetical context. Perhaps the reader is already clear what they think, perhaps it is an entirely new idea; either way, I have to believe the reader is forced to think on the concept.

The novel doesn’t really get preachy, however.  It isn’t a Message story, although it has some Messages in it.  This is how I like my books: don’t beat me over the head with what you think is the Right Way to Think About a Moral Issue.  Just raise the issue and then show me the consequences of people’s decisions and actions.  Make your case.

ERB did, and did it well.  12 hours later, I’m still thinking, “Huh. What if this other character had followed through with that action? It would have been horrible!” To me, thinking about the ramifications of different characters doing different things is the sign of a good story: it means I’ve begun to think about the characters as people, with agency and options. It means I found their decisions and actions to be realistic.

There is some stereotyping that most Social Justice Warriors would probably now denounce as racism.  I wouldn’t, because they are stereotypes that serve the story. Burroughs needed people to act a certain way, and the setting made the racial choices obvious. But I don’t think he reduced the humanity and agency of anyone, and the choices they made were based on realistic cultural influences. Giving a Chinese character a “Your Raundly is Leddy” accent throughout the whole damn book is annoying, but the character itself is treated with the utmost respect.  I see nothing racist about this book at all, although there are indubitably racial elements.  Noticing race isn’t racist in and of itself. This more firmly establishes in my mind the opinion that charges of racism leveled at ERB are undeserved.  My mind can still be changed, but that window is closing.

However, the novel had some other problems.  Mechanically, his writing is sometimes poor: there are run-on sentences, confusing clauses, loss of clarity in who is speaking or acting.

One of the more interesting weaknesses, however, is ERB’s Show-Don’t-Tell problems.  He “tells” way too often.  This would be a much better novel if he showed the reader what he wanted to tell us.  Motivations should be revealed more in dialogue and descriptions of actions, rather than just telling us what someone wanted or meant by their words.  And yet, taking it to another level, his telling the reader about motivations and actions served as showing a deeper level of moral character and integrity of the characters in the story. So I can’t give him a failing grade in that area the way I do mechanics.

Finally, in this book, ERB’s descriptions are rather muted and plain, much like they are in “A Princess of Mars”.  I find myself comparing him to REH with ERB coming out the loser, badly. But to be fair, REH is a master at vivid description, at making you feel you are actually present in a 3D world, so anyone would pale in comparison.  ERB’s descriptions were adequate, so he barely passes here, too.

From now on, I’ll be including a chart that captures my rating of the story based on several aspects.  Here is the chart for ERB’s “The Monster Men”:

Monster Men Radar

The book is public domain and can be downloaded from various online locations. I recommend you do so.  This is a book worth reading!

Democratization of Choice? Can’t Think of a Catchy Title

– By Gitabushi

We are in a very weird time, politically speaking.

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Leftist Spokesmodel is Not Amused by my Unwillingness to Pay for her Birth Control

The Left is moving farther and farther Left. They seem to feel encouraged by their victories in matters like Same Sex Marriage, Govt-funded health care and successful use of the Overton Window to protect their preferred politicians.

At the same time, the Right has had a series of victories that, in the United States at least, leaves conservatives with control of the Supreme Court, the Presidency both halves of Congress, 33 Governorships, and a majority of the state legislatures.  I’ve seen it said that Democrats lost more than 1000 seats during Obama’s terms, if you include state positions.

From another perspective, however, Democrats have won more overall votes than Republicans in the US, it just hasn’t translated into victories because of the way their votes are concentrated in urban areas.

There have been conservative victories in individual gun rights, conservative victories in religious liberty; we’re making some progress in dismantling the Democrat money machine, appear to be ramping up to defund Planned Parenthood (striking a blow for human rights of the most vulnerable), and widespread vote fraud is finally getting attention. (There was no proof of vote fraud previously because Democrat officials had successfully prevented us from looking).

Simultaneously, there is a great realignment, as Democrats doubled down on identity politics, driving moderates into voting GOP, no matter how reluctantly.

The thing is, there’s something else at work here.

Information explosion.

Amazon could not have been successful 30 years ago.  It was impossible to gather the information and present it in a way that people could make informed choices.

Just as the internet and computing power have gathered information and enabled algorithms to help people make better choices in their purchases, these same elements will also enable individuals to make better choices in the government they want.

This, more than anything, will destroy all the Leftist politics that rise from Marxism.

Marxism and its descendants, like Communism, socialism, Progressivism, Feminism, etc., are all predicated on one-size-fits-all governing, with choices given to you by an all-powerful, all-knowing government.  But these isms always fail, too, because a central government can’t do as well as individuals making choices that work bets for them.

However, many aspects of life were easier to implement via government.  I’m sure there are many examples, but right now I’m thinking specifically of education.

With credentialing, standards, infrastructure, payroll, etc., it was just easier to let govt handle education, providing school systems that served local geographic areas.  Economy of scale made it work poorly, but still work.

Vouchers have the potential to cause an education revolution, however.

But linking education dollars to the student rather than to their local school, it opens up the possibility of all sorts of schools opening up in competition to the govt school. It was never cost effective to have more than one school in a small town of 2500 people with, say, 240 in the high school.

With vouchers, though, it becomes cost-effective to have 12 schools of 20 students each, all competing to be the best school so that parents will want their students to attend. Of course, it wouldn’t break down that way.  The most popular school would probably grow (why not capture more of the voucher money?), while less popular schools would probably specialize to try to retain what they could of the voucher income.  So maybe one 100-student school for average students, a military school for discipline problems, a 40-student college prep school offering only AP courses and requiring a test to get in, and two or three Vo-Tech schools focusing on different practical skills for those who least suited for college.

It would have been impossible to organize, staff, and fund this much diversity in a small town before, dealing with all the accreditation and public school dollars.  But the internet and computing power will allow us to Amazonize education, letting parents (or the students themselves) choose the best way to spend their education voucher dollars.

Sure, there will be mistakes, and failures, and bad choices.  Some kids will be worse off in this sort of system. But despite our best efforts and high ideals, students are already being failed and left behind by our current education system. Throwing more money at the current system hasn’t helped…it just sucks up money to no effect. The biggest advantage of the Voucher system will be the innate incentive for schools to fix problems and minimize damage to the students.

Vouchers provide economic incentive and economic freedom to experiment and innovate.

And this will happen in other areas, too. Expect the information revolution to come to Health Care soon. And energy consumption.  Why can’t we have a nationwide grid that allows me to buy energy from Wyoming if they can provide it to me cheaper?  Sure, the power plant in Wyoming can’t push the electrons that far, but energy is somewhat fungible….we should be able to make power companies source-agnostic, and buying electricity should eventually be as competitive as your cellphone service.

The Left is going to collapse. It’s going to be interesting to see what takes its place for the people that *want* to give up their liberty in exchange for security and/or preferential treatment.

My Political View Is Founded on Grasp of Human Nature

I recently got caught up in a huge conversation on Twitter, when a bunch of Progressives tried to shame someone I follow for asking for donations to attend school.

They insisted it was hypocrisy on her part to ask for help, since it betrayed conservative values.  My take was that the principle of Individual Freedom doesn’t preclude conservatives asking for help. She’s free to ask, others are free to help, or not. What would betray conservative values would be complaining about government assistance not being enough to let her be comfortable as she tries to go back to school.  Conservatives can, and do, reward people for trying to improve themselves and their family’s lives.

The essential disconnect in that discussion is the Left thinks the Right is against anyone helping anyone, whereas the Right is actually against the notion of the federal government helping anyone, largely because government “help”  encourages dependence, which doesn’t actually help people at all.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I also don’t like the term “conservative” because most of the societal conservatives were trying to conserve are well and truly dead.  “The Right” doesn’t work all that well, either, because the Left’s Overton Window incorrectly puts Fascism on the Right, and doesn’t recognize that Alt-Right is a Leftist ideology.  This, of course, is based on the idea that the most consistent way to understand the Left and the Right spectra is the Left’s “group/collective rights” versus the Right’s “individual rights.” What I think the Right wants most is to restore our society to the understanding of limited government and expansive individual rights as described by the United States’ Founders and as enshrined in the Constitution as written. Should we call ourselves Restoratives?

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make either.

The conversation proceeded from the discussion of whether accepting help is acceptable for conservatives to other topics, and the most recent and longest-running discussion has been Vouchers and School Choice.

The Progressives are against those, and insist the problem with education in the US is we don’t shovel enough money into the bonfire.

They cite “many studies” that show that Charter Schools don’t work, harp on the failed Charters Schools, and corruption.

I don’t deny those things happen. It seems to me, however, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Sticking with the current system certainly doesn’t ensure every child is well-educated, or that schools don’t fail, or even avoid fraud, waste, and abuse.

No system is perfect. No solution is perfect. The Left uses those imperfections to fight against the Right’s policy, but then uses an entirely different standard of “if it helps just one person” to support the policy they prefer.

If no system is perfect, then how do we decide what solutions to try?

Here, then, is the foundation of my ideology:

Most human attributes distribute along a bell curve.  Height, intelligence, talent, longevity, of course…but the attributes salient to my view are: laziness/industry. Some people work for their ideals, regardless of compensation, but most people work just hard enough to have the quality of life that makes them comfortable.

Discomfort is the source of all change and growth.  People will avoid what makes them uncomfortable, and will choose options that make them more comfortable.

Demand for money and material goods is literally unlimited.  Willingness to work for them is always limited, but distributed along the bell curve, so as population increases, so will income & wealth disparity. But that’s okay, because people have different motivations and different levels of comfort.

Natural consequences from decisions are the best way to teach people to make good decisions. It means people will suffer from bad decisions, which the Left uses to argue the Right is cold-blooded. What they fail to recognize is that shielding people from the natural consequences of their decisions actually creates and extends misery, because it obstructs people from gaining maturity and learning to make better decisions.

Everyone wants to improve their life a little bit. They want to do better and have more money this year than last year, and they want to feel like they can do better this month than last month.  Failing that, they want to hold on to what they currently have.  This is how a temporary government benefit becomes an entrenched, permanent interest.

Competition is always good.  Competition is an incentive for innovation: finding ways to do the same thing faster and/or cheaper, or finding ways to increase the quality while retaining current costs.  Without competition, there is no incentive to cut waste, because everyone wants to retain at least what they already have, right?

Wealth cannot be distributed. Wealth can only be created and destroyed.  This is because wealth is partly an attitude (your minimum requirements for life are less than what you have), and partly a sense of satisfaction from being rewarded adequately for creating value.

Money can be redistributed.  This is how wealth is destroyed.  Receiving money you didn’t earn destroys wealth because you have done nothing to deserve it.  Receiving money you didn’t earn engenders defensiveness, ingratitude, and entitlement.  Receiving money you didn’t earn  reduces the incentive to create value in the world, and is thus corrosive to human spirit.

Moreover, government assistance is set by government policy.  At best, it keeps up with inflation.  It is not designed to let you be better off than previously.  As such, people who depend on govt assistance must turn to other means to improve their life, and too often these other means are fraud or criminal behavior.  Thus, receiving government assistance is an inevitable moral hazard in and of itself, due to human nature.

Government regulation can be (and sometimes clearly is) necessary to ensure competition is fair.  This is because information is not always freely available, and those providing goods and services often have the power to control or manipulate information for their own advantage.  Look no further than the “many studies” that show charter schools don’t work.  Those studies are mostly done by those who have a vested financial and socio-political power interest in keeping the public education system exactly as it is.  The thing is, with the internet and processing power, information is becoming more and more accessible.  For example, many brick-and-mortar store retailers are in financial difficulty because so much is available online.  People were hesitant to purchase highly personal items, like clothing, without trying them first, but information availability has found ways to make this easier to accept, and people are embracing it.  How this works in education is that it should be easier for parents to locate successful charter schools that fit the needs of their family, if more of them exist.  What was once an impossibly-complex problem is now as easy to resolve as Amazon making used books available.

I hope to see a world where even a town of a few thousand has multiple charter schools…instead of one high school of 250 kids, a Voucher system could make it possible to have 5 schools of 50 children each, or even 12 schools of 21 students each, with enrollment at each ebbing and rising according to performance and needs of the parents…maybe some schools doing all their classwork in 2 12-hour day weekends, and others holding classes in the evening instead of the day.  Choice is always a good thing.

We should return to following the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, as written; significant changes to how we do things (like abortion rights, social security, etc.) should only be enacted through Amendments to the US Constitution.  Yes, that makes it much more difficult to make changes than just getting a handful of judges to make a ruling, but that is actually a good thing.  The difference between the Wisdom of Crowds and the Screwups of a Committee are the amount of deliberation and length of processes ideas must survive to become law.

To sum up:

  • Incentives influence behavior
  • Discomfort is a motivator for change and improvement, comfort reinforces staying the same
  • Competition makes everything better
  • People making individual choices will always be better than a central govt picking winners and losers
  • Information proliferation makes it more and more possible to personalize all sorts of services. Schools of one school and one teacher could be cost-effective in a Voucher system
  • Everyone has the right to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. This is the best way to have a mature, independent citizenry
  • Wealth is enjoying at least slightly more comfort than you require, earned by your own efforts.  As such, wealth cannot be distributed
  • Government assistance is inherently morally hazardous
  • The nation needs more Tough Love treatment of citizens from government at all levels, even if that seems cold-blooded. Church and other non-govt organizations are the best way to care for those who fail to make good choices, as the help is not permanent, nor entitled
  • These points are all perfectly in accord with the nation’s Founders, and this is shown by the wording of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

CAN READ SFF: The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson

  • by Gitabushi

I picked this book up from the library at the same time I picked up “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.

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Conan has been okay (that’s a post for another time), but at one point I just didn’t want to start the next story, so I started reading this book.

It instantly drew me in.  It wasn’t a “can’t set it down” book, but I actively wanted to finish it, actively wanted to know what was going to happen, and actively cared about the characters.  That hasn’t been the case very much, lately.

Let me pause a moment to say that I think the book is adequately reviewed both by PC Bushi on this site, and by Jo Walton. I have zero disagreements with anything either of them said.

That said, this still isn’t a must-read book. It is entertaining, and made some interesting points, but it was merely solid, not amazing.

What I liked about the book:

— I think the framing device was perfect. I remembered the opening, and kept it in mind as I read the story, wondering exactly how it was going to end up with the individual reading the book that told the story I was reading.  The revelation of how the individual was reading the book was satisfying as well, although not clever or unexpected.

— I liked how the medieval characters considered themselves the height of civilization and sophistication, and how that played against the trope of superstitious and backward Christians from the Middle Ages.  This, too, was done effectively.  It is interesting, however, to contrast with Robert A. Heinlein’s J. Darlington Smith, a man from earlier times revived from a stasis field in his book “Beyond This Horizon.”

Smith was intelligent, but unable to catch up with modern education because he was simply too far behind. This is plausible, since we learn best as children, and because we learn the state of the art math, science, culture, etc., as a sort of integral mass.  Even a genius from the past would have a difficult time catching up with modern technology because he would have to learn the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis for many of the things we take for granted.  Not to mention having his head crammed full of knowledge and information about technology and societal norms that would no longer be operative and would have to be unlearned or forgotten.

In the High Crusade, however, it is lampshaded by positing a technology so mature that knowledge is less important than merely memorizing which button to press and which dial to turn, and how far.  In fact, this lampshade works pretty well.

Edited to add:

However, I would have liked to see more of the younger adventurers catch on to the alien technology more quickly, and especially see the children grasp it intuitively, but it doesn’t hurt the story that Poul doesn’t make the choice to include this.

— I liked the characters.

— I liked the writing in general.  It was almost comforting to encounter a true writing master again, for the first time in a while.  Every character was described in just enough detail to meet the needs of the story. Technological issues were handwaved just enough to meet the needs of the story without seeming like too much of a dodge. The story progressed well, with excellent pacing. Dialogue was all believable, and perfectly done despite having to represent archaic thought processes and communication. The action was detailed when it needed to be, summarized when appropriate. In short, this book has no flaws I can think of.

— I liked the fact that I didn’t have to wade through the latest diversity fashion archetypes. It was nice to not have some politically-correct notion shoved in my face over and over.  That’s not always the case even in other professional fiction (I’m looking at you, later Cherryh and McMasters-Bujold works), so it was nice.

However, if you have a problem with Christianity, Faith, or traditional roles for men and women, this book is going to trigger you over, and over, and over, and over.  Which is why you should read it, probably: face your fears.

In the end, I can’t put this as a Must Read because I don’t think I’ll ever want to read it again, and I don’t feel the need to add it to my collection.  You should read it, but your life and grasp of Speculative Fiction will be fine even if you don’t.51ylLMuLTCL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_