Must Read, er, Book!

  • by Gitabushi

At one point, I estimated that about 40% of my political opinion came from Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.  He’s pretty smart, he’s a Law Perfessor, he’s a libertarian, he’s a musician with synesthesia.  Not exactly dumb.

Another 20% came from Jim Geraghty.  Maybe another 10% came from Jonah Goldberg.

What I mean is, they summed up conservative thought in a pithy sentence that condensed a bunch of concepts into an easily-applied touchpoint.

For example, Glenn Reynolds is credited for Reynold’s Law:

“Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”

He also was the first place I saw that explained some of the confusing policy decisions from government as “Less opportunity for graft.”  Which makes perfect sense, when you think about it.

Geraghty and Goldberg have fallen in my esteem.  I think neither really grasped the Trump phenomenon.  At the very least, neither grasped it as well as Glenn Reynolds did.

And, full disclosure, I was NeverTrump until about 3 November.  I really considered voting for Hillary Clinton, I hated Trump that much.  But I have been pleasantly surprised…much of the explanation for that is here:

All of this is to explain why I really think you should purchase and read his latest book:

The Judiciary’s Class War


Full disclosure: I don’t think I’ve *ever* finished a non-fiction book before.  I usually get the idea of what they are saying, get bored, and stop.

Not this book.

It *is* pretty short, but it is chock full of ideas.  I found it stimulating my thought throughout, whether in the introduction, thesis, explanation, application, or conclusion.

It really explains the Front Row vs Back Row mentality that characterizes the current political realignment.  If you want to be ready for what happens next, you should read this book.

I think it well worth your time, and well worth your money.





Dimmer Switch

– by Gitabushi
It’s the little things that strike you at the strangest times.
You’d think awareness of the Event would have permeated to my core, but when driving at night, I still have my hand poised to click off my brights, should I see other headlights approaching.
No other headlights will approach.
Photo courtesy of Getty Stock Images
Well, okay, I don’t *know* that. I’m here. That at least implies the potential existence of others.
I think. I think, therefore I am.
Were none of the other 7 billion-plus thinking when it happened?
I dunno, I was never a philosopher.
Except now I think I am.
What do I have to do now, except think?
I think back to when she once said, “I love you!”
It took months, years even, until I realized that what she meant by it was, “I depend on you!”
When I said it, I meant “I want to keep having fun with you forever!”
Same words.
Totally different meanings.
Both assuming the other felt and meant the same as their own.
And probably smug of me to think I had stumbled on some unique insight.
No wonder mankind killed itself off.
My attempt at rigging an autopilot worked fine, as did the conversion that let my Mazda 929 run on biomass.
I don’t really know how I came up with them. I seem to be thinking more clearly, and several magnitudes faster since everyone died.
But I still drive the car myself. It feels more…mundane.
Things that once puzzled me now seem obvious.
Details that seemed random now fit together to form unified wholes.
I can predict the weather accurately out to several weeks almost as soon as I enter a new region, just from the little clues of light, stirred grasses, and cloud volume.
There was a jocular theory on a website that had tried to codify all the various tropes in fiction: Conservation of Ninja
The idea was that in the climax of first movie/book/book section, the hero would fight a single ninja, and would struggle, but would eventually win.
Later in the same story/series, the hero would fight multiple, and defeat them with relative ease.
This led to the conclusion that there was merely one unified whole of ninja ability.
When concentrated in one individual, that person was nigh-invulnerable.
When the numbers of ninja multiplied, however, they became laughingstocks, nearly Keystone Cops in incompetence.
Is this true for human intelligence?
The movie Idiocracy posited that we were breeding for stupidity.
What if population *is* stupidity?
In the beginning, there was God.
He knew all, and was All Powerful.
Did He, in creating Man, divide His intelligence, part out His omniscience, divide His ability?
Am I now God?
Or are there others who still share Humanity’s Intelligence with me?
I must find them.
We must procreate.
The burden of sharing my thoughts with only myself is simply too much.
…my hand still hovers over the dimmer switch.

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.


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.




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.


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.


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


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.


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.





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!