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Peter S. Bradley "Peter Sean Bradley" RSS Feed (Fresno, California, USA)

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The Interminables
The Interminables
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3.0 out of 5 stars This is a post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, superhero mash-up., July 25, 2016
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This review is from: The Interminables (Kindle Edition)
This is a post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, superhero mash-up. Apparently, sometime in 2010, an ancient evil goddess/wizard, Shokat Anoushak, emerged from her long period of hiding to destroy the cities of the world. How she did this and how many cities she destroyed are not mentioned, but her actions have left the Earth - certainly the eastern half of America - in ruin, with vast sections somehow twisted into other dimensions where magic may work and cultures that were never found on this Earth have made a home.These areas worst of these areas are called "fractures" and the less affected are called "spell scars," and there is one that covers the east coast called the "Big East," another one around the Great Lakes and others dotted across North America.

Also, hidden from the mundane world were "cabals" of human wizards who were working their crafts without attracting attention. When Shokat Anoushak - always both names - attacked the world in the 11 month-long "Wizard War" that fractured the Earth, the cabals rallied to fight her, and were eventually and, literally, inexplicably, able to stop her by immolating Providence, Rhode Island, its inhabitants and Shokat Anoushak and her legions of monsters.

One of those cabals, the "12th Hour," has taken over administrative control over the Big East and two of its operatives, Edmond Templeton, aka the "Hour Thief," and the ghostly and ghastly Dr. Istvan Czern Czernin, the undead embodiment of World War I, are tasked to prevent the smuggling of deadly 'Bernault devices" to the interdicted fortress of Barrio Libertad, a fortress that has emerged mysteriously on the ruins of Providence. Templeton is a wizard with the ability to teleport and magical control over time that he vampirically steals from other people and then can use when he needs to lengthen his life, speed up time for himself and others, and avoid being killed because "his time is not up."

There is a lot of backstory here. I started off with high hopes for this book. I liked the backstory and setting, and I was intrigued by the characters. The author plays the character's intentions and knowledge close to the vest, which made it worthwhile to read the narrative closely for clues about what was going on.

Unfortunately, about half-way through the book, I started getting tired of the characters seeming to know what was going on, but not sharing it with us. Likewise, there were far too many half-started plot threads that went nowhere. For example, Edmond has been racked with grief about the death of his girlfriend Grace, but - lo! - Grace shows up as a comic-book superhero who hasn't bothered to contact him for seven years and is over him. So, what comes of this thread? Absolutely nothing. Grace comes on the scene as a very powerful superhero and kicks some ass and then is kind of a jerk. She is valuable because she provides an entry into Barrio Libertad but that is it. Similarly, there was a meeting between the Triskelion mercenaries and the 12th Hour and Barrio Libertad that goes nowhere. The ending involved copious use of Edmond's time power, but I couldn't figure out what was going on.

The heart of the story is supposed to be the relationship between Edmond and Istvan, but for the most part Edmond was a jerk and Istvan seemed to be carrying some kind of homoerotic infatuation for Edmond, and, then, Edmond would return to being a jerk, to everyone, including himself, as he bore his guilt over everything, and Istvan would periodically pout and yell at Edmond, etc., etc. Frankly, none of the characters were sympathetic as much as I wanted them to be.

Edmond and Istvan had the potential to be interesting characters, and, except for the yelling, bitterness, back-biting and jerkiness, they were. Istvan is a ghost who has somehow become the incarnation of World War I on the "conceptual level." He normally looks like a maimed Austro-Hungarian officer, but when he gets excited, he exudes the smell of mustard gas, become skeletal and manifests barb wire. (Actually, he seems to manifest barb wire most of the time.) I liked the nod to Platonism as the basis of magic. Edmond seems to have adopted a "1920s man about town" costume - opera cape, top hat, tux and tails - although this seems like an unwise outfit for close-contact fighting, or, at least, I kept wondering about how he didn't lose his top hat.

In sum, I liked parts of the book, and was favorably impressed by the beginning, but by the end I had to wonder, "what the hell just happened?"

The Program of the Party of Hitler: The National Socialist German Workers' Party and Its General Conceptions
The Program of the Party of Hitler: The National Socialist German Workers' Party and Its General Conceptions
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The interest of this book is purely for background. It is not a casual or inspirational read or otherwise interesting., July 24, 2016
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The Program of the Party of Hitler

This is a basic primary historical text for studying National Socialism. The author Gottfried Feder was one of the original eight members of the Nazi party prior to Hitler. He was essentially shuffled out of a position of authority in the party, although Hitler lauded Feder as a source of inspiration for some of his thinking.

This book is basically a pamphlet written in 1932 to explain the 25 points of the Nazi program. As such, it is good basic material for obtaining a view of how the Nazis understood themselves.

Interestingly, one of the ways that they understood themselves was absolutely and unqualifiedly anti-semitic:

“No man who feels that he cannot go the whole way with us in the Jewish question, in our fight against high finance, the Dawes Pact and the pauperizing policy, or in any other questions contained in our Program, or is inclined to barter the liberty of the German nation through the League of Nations, the Locarno Pact, by compromise and cowardice, need apply to us; his place is outside the NSDAP.”

Other sources indicate that many Germans felt that the Nazi emphasis on the “Jewish Question” was an eccentricity that the Nazis would move away from when in power. Obviously, as we know, and as Feder is saying, it was not an eccentricity.

Feder also underscores the “social” nature of National Socialism. National Socialism was “socialist” but not Marxist. Even though it was not Marxist, National Socialism hated capitalism in a way that would make an Occupy Wall Street protester happy. Thus, Feder could write:

“Break down the thralldom of interest is our war-cry.


“for one of our Party slogans is "Fight capital and the stock exchange."”

“Usury and profiteering and personal enrichment at the expense and to the injury of the nation shall be punished with death.”

The Nazis were quite serious about usury, it seems.

My interest is in Nazi-Catholic conflict. There is not a lot here on that, but there are a few indications, such as:

“Hitler attacked the black-red system with ever increasing energy and stood forth without a rival as the most powerful leader against all that was meant by “democracy.”


“Adolf Hitler declared then publicly that we were rushing headlong in the direction of inflation, which he had foreseen as the result of the policy of the black-red coalition.”


“The kind of officials, who are at the beck and call of the Reds and the Blacks, will disappear in the coming State; such Party wire-pullers have no use for honor and duty.”

“Black” refers to the Catholic Center Party and “red” refers to the Social Democrat Party. This is a useful reminder that the Catholic Center Party was as much a bete noire of the Nazis as the leftist parties. The alliance of these parties in support of German democracy is the background of this passage:

“It is the corrupting policy of the Center and the Bavarian People's Party which we attack; these lose no opportunity of crying "Church in Danger" except when they are making common cause with the atheistic, God-denying Social Democracy.”

The interest of this book is purely for background. It is not a casual or inspirational read or otherwise interesting.

Southern Gods
Southern Gods
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rural Fantasy - Eldritch Elder Gods Subgenre, July 20, 2016
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This review is from: Southern Gods (Kindle Edition)
Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs

Southern Gods is the second book I’ve read written by the John Horner Jacobs, the first being Jacobs’ well-written alt-hist fantasy The Incorruptibles.

This book has a different setting than Incorruptibles. The setting of that fantasy novel was an alternate Roman Empire that has managed to survive into the 19th century with magic, elves and dwarves. The setting of Southern Gods is our timeline Arkansas circa the late 1940s. The feel of the book is the old antebellum South, still segregated, without air-conditioning, just a little slower and more backward than the rest of the country, and just a little bit of the genteel aristocracy still living in fancy houses in the hinterland.

The focal character of the book is Bull Ingram, recently released from the army after his stint in the south Pacific after World War II. Bull is a very large man and easily adept at violence, so he’s been working as a collector for people in Memphis who need that kind of thing done for them. As a change of pace, he’s given an assignment from one of his clients to look for a missing record company salesman who has been pitching records to black stations in Arkansas. He’s also given the task of seeing if he can’t locate the performer of some very weird music that comes out of Arkansas on pirate radio wave lengths. Along the way, he slowly turns up information about the singer – Honest John Hastur – whose songs seem to possess people. In addition, he is shadowed by something dark and comes to blows with zombies and meets Sarah, a lovely separated woman in a southern Gothic mansion and Franny, her daughter and a rogue Catholic priest with a weird theology. There is also a library in the old house that contains disturbing books, named the Opusculus Noctis and Quanoon al islam, that are filled with unreadable text and hideous images.

The story starts slow, but the intensity climbs until it reaches a fever point of horror. The characters are well-developed and the ending is surprising. The writing is well-crafted. For some the book may seem long, but the pay-off at the end is worth the reader's patience..

A Generation on Trial: U.S.A. v. Alger Hiss
A Generation on Trial: U.S.A. v. Alger Hiss
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The “notable exception” to the “attitude of partisan exhortation that has characterized almost every book written on the case.”, July 20, 2016
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Alistair Cooke, A Generation on Trial: USA v Alger Hiss

This was a surprising and serendipitous discovery. I remember Alistair Cooke as an older man with shockingly white hair who was famous for “Alistair Cooke’s America.” It was quite a surprise to find that this man who I knew for his homage to his adopted country crossed paths with the Alger Hiss perjury trial as a younger man.

This book is worth reading as a stylish and often very humorous account by an outsider of the perplexing and byzantine kabuki theater of American trials. Cooke’s writing is erudite and educated and witty; it is quite refreshing in this era which looks at erudition, education and wit with suspicion. I have a good vocabulary, but I learned words like “talesmen” (meaning ‘jury alternate” although Cooke uses it to mean potential jury member) and “acromegalic” (meaning “abnormal growth of the hands, feet, and face”) and “clamantly” (meaning “forcing itself urgently on the attention.”) Cooke constantly strikes off some great sentences, such as “Then Mr. Murphy shook down his ace” and ‘Literalness was Mr. Murphy’s favorite hunting ground, and patience his most dependable rack” and “After nearly two hours the apostles were chosen” and:

“Either incapable of anger at such absurdities, or disdaining to show it, Hiss sat with his fingers locked and his elbows on the arms of the chair, and to each of Mr. Stryker’s roaring strophes gave out the terse antistrophe: “Of course not,” “Certainly not,” “There certainly is not.””

Cooke’s knowledge of the Hiss case is purely from his participation as an observer at the trial and other court proceedings. He explains:

“This is not, then, a “dope” book. There is nothing here for anyone who wants to learn the inner life of Hiss and Chambers or anything at all about them that was not available in the proceedings of both Trials. I am not qualified to write such a book, since I knew and know none of the principals in the case. It struck me early on, in fact, that this disqualification—which so far as I can gather is unique among the populations of Washington and New York City—might be turned to good account if it could be guarded.”

Ultimately, this is a fair and even-handed book. Allen Weinstein in Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case identifies Cooke’s book as the “notable exception” to the “attitude of partisan exhortation that has characterized almost every book written on the case.” Cooke’s book starts out almost as an apologia for Hiss by explaining to the reader how things were different in the 1930s (than when the book was written in 1950) and many people felt that Communism was the only means of fighting fascism. This explanation is salutary in a sense, since it is useful to put historic events in context - according to Robert Louis Wilkens’ "Every act of historical understanding is an act of empathy." However, I found the argument unpersuasive and ad hoc – in what world is espionage and betrayal of one’s own country justified by such circumstances? Likewise, this argument ignores the historical context that Communism was every bit as evil as fascism.

However, my sense was that by the end of the book, Cooke had largely conceded that Hiss was guilty. Cooke never comes out and says so, but it seems that by the end, there are too many problems with the various claims that Hiss was making, including those documents that Chambers had pulled out of his history as a spy handler. Added to that was the improbable story that Hiss was telling about an annoying boorish deadbeat, who he lent money to, gave a car to, and let into his apartment. By the time that the evidence was in, the assumptions that had to be made to support the theory of Hiss’s innocence had reached monstrous proportions. Thus, on the motion for a new trial, the judge destroyed the defense theory that Chambers had fabricated a typewriter in three months that the defense team’s experts had taken 18 months to fabricate:

“Mr. Lane was making quick intakes of breath to come in and reassure the judge, but Judge Goddard’s voice broke in above him: “Is there any proof?”—he gave an insistent emphasis to the word “any”—“Is there any proof anywhere that Chambers had the skill, the tools, the resources?” The judge’s eyebrows shot up and he bent expectantly over the bench as he appealed again: “Is there any?” Mr. Chester Lane looked up and down: “There is none whatsoever, your Honor.”

But the journey to Cooke’s agnostic conclusion is filled with the confusion of trial testimony, where witnesses prevaricate and shade the truth in the interest of a narrative. Following the testimony about when the Hisses gave their typewriter to the Catletts and what the Catletts did with the typewriter, and when, is confusing in the extreme. Ultimately, the issue becomes a “jump ball” which could go either way. Of course, it did not help – as Weinstein points out – that Mike Catlett was lying his ass off on behalf of Alger Hiss. Cooke treats Mike Catlett’s testimony as a comedic interlude – with definite racist overtones. Mike Catlett becomes a kind of “step’n’fetchit” character. Cooke treats Catlett as a confused and shiftless specimen (“White folks sure ask the darndest questions.”) Cooke did not have access to the FBI and Hiss defense attorneys’ files, which showed that Catlett was lying for Hiss. Weinstein’s inside information clears up a lot of the conundrums that appear in this book, but I think it may be better to read this book first in order to become invested in the answers that are provided in the Weinstein book.

After Whittaker Chamber’s Witness (Cold War Classics), this is an excellent next step in learning about the Hiss case and Communism during the 1930s and 1940s.

Witness (Cold War Classics)
Witness (Cold War Classics)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hiss v Chambers may not be the first example of this kind of politics, but it seems to have set the mold for the next 80 years., July 3, 2016
The Alger Hiss case has always been a part of my background knowledge, but nothing more than that. I graduated from High School in 1977. I remember my history teacher sharing an anti-HUAC chant that he participated in during the 1950s. I knew that Whittaker Chambers was a seedy, homosexual, drunken psycho and that Nixon was involved in some kind of publicity seeking chicanery. I also knew that the question of whether Hiss was wrongfully convicted of perjury was a divisive issue and that – after I left high school – evidence emerged that Hiss was undoubtedly guilty.

After reading Witness by Whittaker Chambers, I wonder how I formed the impression that Chambers was an untrustworthy, seedy compulsive liar. Or rather I marvel at the power of disinformation to reach out across decades and to poison minds with smear and slander.

It is odd to me now that I knew things that were problematic. I think I knew that Chambers was a senior editor at Time magazine, but I never wondered how he managed to make the jump from underground Communist to leading journalist while being such a loathsome and incompetent human being. It seems that he must have had something going for him. Likewise, I knew that he was involved with National Review at its inception and that many of the writers of National Review held him in high esteem, and, yet, my sense that Chambers was a man I would not want to be in the same room with remained intact.

This book is therefore a revelation and a fascinating window into the Communist underground of the twenties and thirties.

The book has an odd structure for memoirs, but it is a structure that makes sense from the standpoint of telling a topical story to people who wanted the “sexy bits.” The book starts with a long first chapter where Chambers recounts both his break with the Communist underground and his activities in that underground, including his involvement with Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White. The book then moves back in time to Chambers’ boyhood and brings him up to the point where he enters the Communist underground. Having caught up to the beginning of the first chapter, third part of the book follows Chambers years after leaving the Communist Party, his employment at Time magazine, and his subsequently becoming embroiled in the Hiss case (the “Case.”)

Chambers was born in 1901. His family life was miserable. His father was cold and a philanderer. His mother was frustrated by not belonging to the wealthy classes, which she had inhabited in her youth. Chambers favorite book was Les Miserables, and he was particularly enamored of the character of the Bishop of Digne, which he felt was a foreshadowing of his attraction to Communism and its love of the poor. When he graduated from school, he left home and spent three months doing physical labor in Washington DC and then used the money he had earned to travel to New Orleans. When the money ran out, he contacted his parents and got money to return home. He then went to Columbia University, where he became enmeshed in socialist politics. When he was 25 he joined the Communist Party and worked on the Daily Worker as a reporter and editor. In 1932, Chambers was moved to the Communist underground where worked under “party names,” including “Carl.” His job in the underground was to act as a courier for information that other underground Communists in government had to provide to Russia. (Chambers was actually working for the Soviet espionage service.)

Chambers hold virtually nothing back from his memoirs when it comes to self-accusation, except his homosexual affairs, which he disclosed to J. Edgar Hoover. However, I never felt that I got enough information to understand Chambers’ motivations. Chambers claimed that he was motivated to join the Communist Party because of “the great world crisis” as to which only the Communist Party had a plan, but he never tells us what this crisis was or what plan the Communist party had. (Later he does mention a trip through Europe immediately after the end of World War I and his observation of the poverty and damage caused by war but it isn’t clear what the greater crisis was – nationalism? War?) Likewise, throughout the book, Chambers clearly romanticizes the working class or the working man. He looks back fondly on his period in Washington DC where he worked with men of all kinds of races and nationalities and languages and tells a story about how he was helped in getting his first job by a conspiracy of proletarians. This seems to have been his one experience with physical labor, and, typical of leftwingers in love with the proletariat, he had the resources to end his adventure with a phone call, and then go to college.

The other interesting feature is the Columbia connection. Chambers met a class of people who were able to help him throughout his life. He got his job with Time after 6 years of being underground through a Columbia friend, and he was able to provide for himself and his family as a German-French translator. (Chambers was the translator of “Bambi”, of all things. With an internet search of newspaper databases you can see numerous references to Chambers being the translator of various books.)

Chambers’ disengagement from Communism came in part from the Stalinist purges which caught up his friends and comrades. In addition, he claims that he came to doubt the materialistic philosophy of Communism. This passage is particularly effective:

“But I date my break from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear— those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.”

In 1939, motivated by the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Chambers attempted to report to the United States government the truth of Communist penetration into government. His report was taken by Adolf Berle, who was an Assistant Secretary of State. Berle did nothing with the report:

“In August, 1948, Adolf A. Berle testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities not long after my original testimony about Alger Hiss and the Ware Group. The former Assistant Secretary of State could no longer clearly recall my conversation with him almost a decade before. His memory had grown dim on a number of points. He believed, for example, that I had described to him a Marxist study group whose members were not Communists. In any case, he had been unable to take seriously, in 1939, any “idea that the Hiss boys and Nat Witt were going to take over the Government.”

Chambers’ constant theme is that he was a reluctant witness. I found his many efforts to limit Hiss’s exposure to the consequences of his actions totally inexplicable. At every occasion, Chambers soft-peddled the accusations against Hiss. Chambers committed perjury in denying that espionage had occurred before one grand jury. He did not bring up the espionage information to the HUAC committee. He would not have produced the documentary evidence he secreted at the time of his break if Hiss’s attorney in the libel action brought by Hiss against Chambers had not goaded him into it. Even then, Chambers withheld microfilm (which he did turn over to the HUAC committee.)

Chambers constantly expresses his concern about being an “informer.” His memoirs go on ad nauseam about his mental torture at being an informer, but simultaneously he goes on about the importance of being a witness and the need to expose Communism. Chambers explains that he is concerned about mercy and so proportions his goal of exposing Communism to his desire to protect Hiss and his former comrades from the worst results of their conduct.

I admit that I don’t get it. Chambers was being called a liar and a fraud by a person who had shown himself to be a disloyal psychopath (the willingness of Hiss to shamelessly fabricate lies on the spot that contradicted prior lies is impressive in its being totally unmoored from normal human abilities.) An editorial from 1953 that I read makes the point that perhaps we who have not been in the Communist underground and separated ourselves from a totalizing faith like Communism may not be in a position to understand:

“Because of Chambers’ own compulsive desire to confess, all because we do have so much information concerning him, his motivations, his mysticism and his other-worldly attitudes, we must take him on his own terms. They are not our terms. But we must, I feel, believe that mingled with his desire to make a clean breast of his offenses and to injure the Soviet cause in America was a sort of odd saintliness; a wish not to visit upon a former friend and associate the full odium of his crimes, not, as he says, to destroy Hiss.” (Cincinnati Inquirer 7/1/53 Forrest Davis Editorial.)

Davis makes a fair point about knowing so much about Chambers and knowing nothing about Hiss. We have biographical details about Hiss, but nothing that explains his betrayal and pathological deceitfulness. After all, it wasn’t like Hiss could ever write a memoir explaining his motivations.

As a practicing attorney, I was amazed at how much of a liar Hiss clearly was. His testimony was classically evasive and he was a horrible witness in his egotism and condescension. He seemed to be operating on the premise that since all of his friends despised the HUAC, all he had to do was show the HUAC the same derision directly that he heard from his friends in cocktail parties and all would be fine. However, to someone who is not in his Amen corner, he was anything but an innocent person. An innocent person would have answered simply and directly and not have needed the evasions. An innocent person can be allowed one or two mistakes, but Hiss went from not knowing Chambers to identifying him as George Crosley, from saying that he sold Crosley a car to saying he gave him the “use of” the car when it was obvious that documents contradicted him, from claiming that Crosley was a mere boarder to saying that Crosley was running a “deep con” on him.

We now know that there were Communist spies in the American government, but why is that surprising? Wouldn’t we expect that the Soviets would place agents in our government? I would hope that we had spies in their government.

What is surprising is the unwillingness of the American government of the 1930s and 1940s to do anything about them when they were exposed. Chambers reported Hiss in 1939. The FBI had been reporting Hiss for ten years prior to 1948. Yet, President Truman described the Hiss case as a “red-herring” and Hiss was able to trot out the Secretary of State and Supreme Court Justices to vouch for his integrity. A reasonable person could look at the facts and see a cover-up. Moreover, there was a class bias in this cover-up: the right sorts of people with the right connections were being coddled and protected because of their connections. It was the outsiders – the Californian Nixon – who were blowing the whistle.

In reading this book I was struck by how much this seemed like modern politics. This review is written a few weeks after a Muslim Democrat shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando. The Department of Justice initially refused to release the audio of the shooter proclaiming his allegiance to Islamic terrorism (ISIS at this point) and then released with the pledge omitted and the word “Allah” changed to “God.” In the 1940s, the government line was that Communists were really not a problem; today it is that Islamic terrorism is not a problem. In both cases, the average person has to wonder, “what the heck is going on?” After which, the wondering gives rise to conspiratorial implications, which are then described as “paranoid” and “psychotic.”

Likewise, with the Hiss case, we see the politics of personal destruction, as Chambers is vilified as insane and a drunk and a deadbeat. Chambers was “psychologized” to explain his behavior and the slander was never retracted. Even today we see the same thing as Trump or his reporters are “psychologized,” while Hillary Clinton, who has to be a fascinating case study in neurosis based on the nastiness and cruelty that is reported about her, is left alone.

Hiss v Chambers may not be the first example of this kind of politics, but it seems to have set the mold for the next 80 years.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2016 11:15 AM PDT

It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies
It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies
by Mary Eberstadt
Edition: Hardcover
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What should be done? Keep pitching. Point out the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of secularists engaged in "soft persecution.", June 25, 2016
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Mary Eberstadt is a first-rate writer with keen insight and an ability to clearly communicate the facts underlying the issue she is addressing. Her classic article in First Things (November, 2009) on how the Catholic sex-abuse scandal retarded the growing acceptance of pedophilia in American culture - "How Pedophilia Lost its Cool" - is a prime example of seeing a major point that everyone else has missed in the morass of facts and following up on the insight with something that everyone else has missed and following up on that insight with a merciless attention to those facts.

In this book, Eberstadt examines the modern "Kulturkampf." She canvasses the news of the last few years - often times including vignettes from a few months ago, albeit because of the publication date she barely missed the sorry proof of her thesis of the last few weeks, during which Christians have been paradoxically blamed for the mass murder of gays committed by a Muslim terrorist, registered as a Democrat, who may have been gay, if early news reports are accurate. Eberstadt provides example after example of the cultural shift in rhetoric and conduct that has resulted in Christians being shunned or treated as subversives in America. She provides examples of believing Christians being kept out of university programs because of their Christian culture and of careers destroyed because of Christian expression and of individual and public discrimination against Christians and their association because of their religion. She points out that these same examples would have been unthinkable if the word "Christian" was replaced by "gay" or "Muslim."

Eberstadt properly calls this "soft persecution" - as opposed to the "hard persecution" suffered by Christians in the Mid-east. However, "soft persecution" is a big deal. Most of the history of persecution involves "soft persecution." Catholics in England were persecuted "softly" by having taxes imposed on them when they didn't go to the Church of England. Islam has moved generations of Christians into Islam by treating Christians as dhimmis. Soft persecution works.

Eberstadt's unifying thesis for this cultural shift is that the sexual revolution has created a new "faith" with its own dogmas and doctrines. Members of the new faith may not recognize themselves as having a faith, but their conduct - harsh, shrill, threatened, looking for heretics, excommunicating offenders, ritualized shaming - are recognizable as the actions of people who are defending a faith commitment rather than a public policy. I think that Eberstadt made her case in this regard. I had not looked at this issue in this way before, but it has an explanatory power for the insanely threatened and emotional reactions I've observed when I get into Facebook debates with secularists, who escalate to name-calling in zero time.

For those of us who are still trying to occupy the public square, and defend traditional Christian values, and, perhaps, shame secularists for the hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance that their position entails, Eberstadt's book is a great resource. In the wake of the 2016 Orlando Muslim terrorist attack, secular atheists have unearthed videos of one or two hyperliteralist fundamentalist Protestant pastors who preach sermons that refer to the victims as sodomites who deserve to be dead. This is certainly uncharitable and ugly speech, but it remains speech, and speech totally unrelated to the mass murder. Nonetheless, secularists are cheering that Paypal has eliminated the hyperliteralists accounts and the landlord has evicted them. In response to this, my questions about the traditional liberal value of defending the rights of people to engage in speech, when all they are doing is engaging in speech, is met with the "explanation" that bigots don't deserve rights.

This is a discussion that I am having today.

It is the Eberstadt book in a microcosm.

In response I have quoted this from the Eberstadt book:

"In August 2012, a gunman entered the office building in downtown Washington, D.C., that houses the Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian organization dedicated to traditional moral teaching. By his own account, available on video, he was alerted by secular progressive “watchdog” groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, that painted the FRC as a “hate group.” The shooter explained that this made him intend to kill as many of its members as he could, as he later told the FBI. 1 In the event, he fired at and hit a security guard, who disarmed him before his dream of mass murder could be fulfilled."

Eberstadt, Mary. It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies (Kindle Locations 1361-1366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I have asked whether - in light of the principle they are espousing with respect to the hyperliteralists - they would support similar treatment to the SPLC.

I have received no answer except some assertions that I must be politically aligned with the hyperliteralist Protestant pastor nutjob.

One of the interesting things, however, is that while the SPLC "incitement" - I don't think the SPLC "incited" this shooter anymore than any other shooter was "incited" by political speech - is a great case for getting secularists to think about whether they always hold the moral high-ground, I would have forgotten it if I hadn't just read it in the Eberstadt book. Why is that? Is it because the narrative of our age pays more attention to "rightwing violence" than "leftwing violence," so that this example required a special effort to remember before it was sent to the "memory hole"?

A nit that I will pick with Eberstadt is that in her fairly encyclopedic listing of outrageous smears against Catholics, she forgot to mention how the San Francisco City Council passed a resolution declaring the Catholic Bishop of San Francisco to be subversive of San Francisco's values of tolerance and diversity because he shut down the Catholic adoption program rather than violate Catholic teachings about placing children in the households of homosexual couples. This decision was actually upheld by the Ninth Circuit. It would have seemed to be a great example to add to her list, but, again, this news story, which would have been national news if it had been done to a Muslim in Texas, never got news attention, and has slipped down the memory hole.

Weird, that.

I found her conclusion to be the weakest part of her book. Eberstadt looks at the history of hysteria and notes that hysteria dies down when the hysterics have had enough. She therefore calls on the secularists to stop using terms like "hater" and "bigot" and to return to the values of respecting the rights of others to speak as a safeguard for them when their ideas fall out of favor.

OK...maybe....but I think that this is different. The previous examples occurred in Christian cultures, which had values like "do unto others" and "the Good Samaritan" and "shame" and an adherence to neutral principles and logic. Is it the case that this new civilization - Post-Christian, and what I call Civilization 3.0 - has those values? The evidence suggests that this is not the case. My experience with individualists suggests that this is not the case: they are absolutely unembarrassed to tell me that discrimination only occurs when their sacred cows are offended, and they seem unable to understand that their bete noirs can ever be discriminated against.

I am currently reading Witness (Cold War Classics), which has caused me to reflect that Eberstadt's description of where we are could be a straight line projection of what Chambers was describing as where the Communist party was in the 1920s and 1930s, including "Communist marriage" - which was based on the agreement of the parties to act as if they were married - and the double-think and the definition of justice as "what is good for our side." I think that those values have largely won through their incorporation into the sexual revolution. If that is the case, an appeal to the better angels of secularist nature is not going to be effective.

What should be done? Keep pitching. Point out the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of secularists engaged in "soft persecution." It may not make you loved, but Christians have been promised a return for being hated and vilified "for my name's sake."
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2016 9:22 PM PDT

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5.0 out of 5 stars This is an unusual book of apologetics., June 19, 2016
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This is an unusual book of apologetics.

There are other "correspondence-style" books that consist of the exchange of correspondence between believer and non-believer, or between varieties of non-believers. Such books used to consist of exchanges of letters, but e-mails have taken over. What these books have in common is that they are published with the agreement of both sides and the "form" of the exchange is only in the background.

This book is far different from the norm. In this book, the reader sees only one side of the exchange, that of the believer, the non-believer's side being omitted out of a respect for his privacy. This format makes the presentation "choppy" and sometimes requires the interpolation of information from subsequent emails to make sense of the topics referenced in prior emails. This "choppy" reading experience is common to anyone with experience reading another person's email chain (as a lawyer, I know this experience), and there are times when I really, really wished I could see what the non-believer had written.

The book is also unusual in being a kind of roman a clef. The author insists that this is a real email exchange with a real atheist doyen. She calls the atheist Lord Randolph Court-Wright, Marquis of Alnwick, "Rand" for short, and offers clues to his identity - English, tall, good-looking, on television - which are tempting clues. (She also provides interludes with her friend, an actress who - maybe - accepted the role of DA in Batman.).) Take the clues at face value..or not.

The book opens with the author sending a long email upbraiding "Rand" for things he said as part of a Bill Moyers' presentation. Moyers had introduced Rand as a "skeptic," but, as is typical of the modern variety of "skeptic, Goska observes “ were as dogmatic in your atheism as a Monty Python parody of a pope.” Goska challenges Rand with the fact that Western science has always been braided with religious Commitment. Goska also challenges Rand’s manhood by arguing that his commitment to atheism may just have a lot to do with being a sexual and social loser in the high school hierarchy. (She also mentions Jung’s “synchronicity” in her first email, which will come back in a later email.)

Goska, or the character in her book - I honestly could not tell if these emails were entirely bona fide or invented - is surprised – shocked! mortified! – when Rand responds.

One of the interesting features of the modern internet age is how the mythic/legendary figures that we never used to interact with suddenly pop up on the internet as real human beings with real feelings. As an Amazon reviewer, I know how it feels when the living person who bled and fought to put their thoughts and feeling into a text reaches out to critique my critique of their work.

The email conversation then takes off in the usual direction that emails conversations take – everywhere, i.e., the existence of God, the problem of evil, the meaning of life, etc.

Goska is not in any sense a trained Christian apologist, and I suspect that she has absolutely no desire to be a Christian apologist in any formal sense. She is, however, a thinking person and a Catholic and she has thought about the great questions from her life experience as reflected through the prism of lived Catholicism. This makes her presentation substantially different from the normal “debates” that these kinds of books take. Most of her arguments do not fall in the great patterns of apologetic arguments, which may be why Rand probably found countering her arguments baffling (and she is not afraid of simply telling Rand that his arguments are nonsense, which must have been a new experience for him.) For example, in what I thought was the best part of the book, after Rand raised the atheist’s chestnut of the “problem of evil” – which they can milk for all its emotional worth – Goska appealed to her own experience of suffering – and that of people she knows – to turn the emotional appeal around on him:

“Atheists like you say that you can’t believe in God because there is so much suffering in the world. That’s imperialism. You presume to speak for others, others who do not want you to speak for them. You start with the Holocaust. Fair enough. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who rescued Jews. Not only was she still a Christian after her imprisonment in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, she prayed for, and received, God’s gift of forgiveness when one of the cruelest camp guards approached her after the war. Oswald Rufeisen, a Jewish survivor, became a monk. Elie Weisel, who survived Auschwitz, believes.”

Atheists point to suffering from the outside, not the inside. We all do. We look at a person who has been crippled and we wonder how he could live that way because we can’t imagine ourselves living that way, but people do get crippled and they find joy and love – and, yes, even value – in their life as it exists. Atheists are good at expressing the horror of suffering, but they may not understand suffering from their privileged outsider perspective.

As someone who lives in the inner city and teaches the disadvantaged, and because of her own health care issues, Goska appreciates the significance of analyzing suffering from the inside. That perspective allows one of the best paragraphs on the subject I have ever read:

“Ninety percent of the suffering people I know choose, not to work their way out of the Hell to which fate has condemned them, but to upholster it. My students, my friends, visibly, actively choose to exacerbate the most hated features of their lives. Dating an abusive man? Heck, why not up the ante and get pregnant by him. Working a dead-end job? Here’s a great idea – start drinking. That will really improve things. Lost everything in a flood, fire, war, and brokenhearted over that? A suggestion – don’t, whatever you do, move on; don’t enjoy the present moment. Cling to your memories of what is gone, and your sense of yourself as a victim.”

I know a lot of people who suffer because they are in the business of “upholstering” their own private Hell. (This is not a question of blaming individuals; it is a question of recognizing human nature.)

Goska also makes the common sense observation:

“It wasn’t suffering per se that made me a better person. It was my response to it. I had two choices: to be sucked under, to become a monster from which my best self would recoil, or to strive to keep my head above water. As best as I was able, I chose the latter – I strove. I approached every feature of my suffering: loneliness, pain, paralysis, despair, terror, rage, waste, poverty, as an obstacle on a course I was running for my own spiritual growth in the eyes of God – and, nobody else. That choice is what made all the difference.”

Atheists, of course, argue that God could have done it different – he could have made self-improvement a matter of scoring well on tests or something equally trite, which never answers the question of whether this would actually end suffering; perhaps, the new standard of suffering would be “failing a test.”

Atheists don’t answer the problem of suffering so much as make suffering meaningless. A Christian – specifically, a Catholic Christian – accepts that the reason God uses suffering is not known to us presently but accepts that God must have a good reason for it, particularly since He suffered in his humanity in the Passion and the Crucifixion. In my own time of suffering, I discovered Pope John II’s Salvifici Dolores, in particular this passage:

“8. In itself human suffering constitutes as it were a specific "world" which exists together with man, which appears in him and passes, and sometimes does not pass, but which consolidates itself and becomes deeply rooted in him. This world of suffering, divided into many, very many subjects, exists as it were "in dispersion". Every individual, through personal suffering, constitutes not only a small part of that a world", but at the same time" that world" is present in him as a finite and unrepeatable entity. Parallel with this, however, is the interhuman and social dimension. The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity. People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering. Thus, although the world of suffering exists "in dispersion", at the same time it contains within itself a. singular challenge to communion and solidarity.”


“29. Following the parable of the Gospel, we could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one's "I" on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer. The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and actions. The person who is a " neighbour" cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another: this in the name of fundamental human solidarity, still more in the name of love of neighbour. He must "stop", "sympathize", just like the Samaritan of the Gospel parable. The parable in itself expresses a deeply Christian truth, but one that at the same time is very universally human.”

An atheist might hand-waive about the evolutionary significance of “compassion,” but confining it to a purely material world is a challenge.

And this is what happens to Rand when he is forced to explain to a suffering person why that suffering person should not end her suffering by suicide – he fails and lapses back into the numinous. Goska responds:

“ME: You can use all the big words you want, Rand. I’ve got a thesaurus, same as you. But if you boil it down and put it in plain English, there is NOTHING materialist about your argument. You are chickening out and adopting the stance of a believer in a transcendent reality. “Precious,” “sacred,” “the dignity of the human person” – did you think I would not notice that you lifted that phrase straight from the Vatican? “a whole which transcends” – you even use the word!!! – “the sum of its parts.” “Spirit” !!! Oh, Mister Man, you are in a world of trouble. The Vocabulary Police levy WEIGHTY fines when an atheist uses the word “spirit.””

I have always felt that atheists should be fined when they use words like “progress” in the sense of achieving a “better” state closer to some “goal” since there can be no such thing in atheism.

This exchange rang true for me. Atheists – at least the modern “New” variety – are deconstructionists. Their game consists of shifting the burden and announcing how they don’t find evidence persuasive, actually they refuse to consider evidence as “evidence.” Their intellectual muscles have atrophied, but they don’t know it because they can smuggle in Christian concepts into their arguments as if those concepts didn’t have a Christian substructure. In fact, Goska gets an admission from Rand that would never happen in a formal setting:

“He caved in and confessed that, yes, he doesn’t know how to craft a purely materialist defense of the value of human life – we had been talking about that – and then he changed, jumped, from one tone to another.”

On which point, I found Goska’s points about God to be eminently satisfying to my Catholic sensibilities (honed as they are by decades of reading Aquinas). Here is one:

“On the other hand, I don’t believe in a God who, the moment you cast your lot in with him, or read that bestseller about the power of positive thoughts, makes you happy, pretty, and rich. I do believe that there is a supernatural entity who can make you feel 100 % better instantaneously, and his name is Satan. Feeling angry? Smash in someone’s face. In pain? Inject heroin. Poor? Steal. All sins provide quite the rush. Nine out of ten hedonists and ten out of ten cowards recommend Satan as their deity of choice.”

Everyone suffers; Christ suffered; deal with it.

Another one:

“The students in my folklore classes read myths from various cultures, and, especially if they’re also reading authors like you, they dismiss all myths with a wave of the hand and a comment like, “It’s all the same nonsense.” It isn’t all the same and it isn’t all nonsense. These verses communicate the unique identity of the Judeo-Christian God. Our God is not Ba‘al or Tiamat or Apollo or Allah. Our God is the Word – logos – truth and reason.

The village Hinduism I knew was typified by stories in which a not particularly good or even observant man accidentally engaged in an act that was similar to worship, and reaped rewards thereby. One example: the village drunk got lost in the forest and began to cry over his fate. His tears wet the exposed tip of a Shiva lingam, most of which was buried underground. The man didn’t see it, had no intention of worshiping, and was not conscious of weeping on a lingam, but his tears were close enough to the libations a pious person would spill that Shiva rewarded the man anyway. A tale: a Brahmin leaves his wife for a prostitute, kills his parents, and eats taboo foods. One day he accidentally overhears a sermon about Shiva. When he dies, the god of death comes to carry him off to deserved punishment for all of his heinous crimes, but Shiva intervenes and takes the sinner to Mount Kailas, close to heaven. The moral is very blunt: all that matters to the gods is that they get what they want – worship – by hook or by crook.”

The slogan “Our God is not Ba‘al or Tiamat or Apollo or Allah. Our God is the Word – logos – truth and reason” is one that I want to memorize.

Obviously, I am doing extended quotations because there is so much of this book that I want to remember.

A frustrating part of the book was the weird prurient romanticism of the book. Anyone who has been involved in internet dating should have been able to recognize the signs from the first email. The flirtatiousness that turned into what seems to have been an obscene letter at the end. Goska clearly identified where Rand was coming from in her first letter – a frustrated wannabe Casanova who now has the notoriety and can live out his teenage fantasies….but so ineptly. The flirtation went both ways and even developed to the extent of the two planning to meet in Paris, when Rand suddenly discovers that he and his wife – previously a heartless, alienating bitch – “can work things out.” As a person with not an insignificant amount of experience in internet dating – and having listened to women talk about their internet dating experiences – this is such a cliché that I don’t understand how Goska could not have seen it coming from the second email.

I found this part of the book “weak,” but – hey! – if it is real life, and this part seems like real life, then one of the doyens of atheism is a “macher” and a “perv,” which shouldn’t be surprising because notwithstanding the “Mr. Spock” air of logical detachment that they want to exude, we can see in the real life antics of Richard Carrier and Michael Shermer, that at heart, they are still the lonely teenage boys with acne who never got to date the prom queen.

This is an unusual book of apologetics. It is worth reading. It’s also fun, apart from the pervy creep factor of the famous atheist engaging in what looks like “grooming behavior.”

Father Junipero Serra: Man of Progress or Controversy
Father Junipero Serra: Man of Progress or Controversy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Basic outline of Serra's life., June 12, 2016
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This is a very short biography of Junipero Serra. The content is decent, but basic. The length of the text is maybe 10 pages. It would be decent as a source for a term paper, or the general outlines of Serra's life, but don't expect anything deep or insightful.

Cancelled Sci Fi TV: 1949 to 2015: The Ultimate Guide to Cancelled Science Fiction and Fantasy TV Shows
Cancelled Sci Fi TV: 1949 to 2015: The Ultimate Guide to Cancelled Science Fiction and Fantasy TV Shows
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5.0 out of 5 stars A trip down memory lane., June 12, 2016
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This book provides a nice synopsis of all those shows you vaguely remember.

Remember, for example, Land of the Giants?

"Land of the Giants Aired: ABC, 1968-70, 2 Seasons Totaling 51 Episodes

Premiere: September 22, 1968

Premise: A group of humans on a sub-orbital flight pass through a dimension doorway and find themselves stranded on a planet similar to our own but whose inhabitants are twelve times taller. They attempt to return to Earth while also avoiding the people of the planet, many of whom have nefarious plans for “the little people”.

How about Planet of the Apes?

"Planet of the Apes Aired: CBS, 1974, 1 Season Totaling 14 Episodes

Premiere: September 13, 1974

Premise: This small screen continuation of the Planet of the Apes franchise followed two humans from the past that go through a time warp and crash-land on a future Earth run by apes. They then team up with the chimpanzee Galen to avoid capture in this world that does not allow humans to run free.

Developed By: Anthony Wilson

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper, James Naughton

Cancellation: This series was originally scheduled to air on Tuesday nights but was moved to Fridays instead where it performed poorly in the ratings. Because of its high production costs and low Nielsen numbers, it was cancelled after its short, half-season run.

Interesting Fact: Rod Serling wrote the original pilot episode to the series (though the final version was much changed from his script) and he also wrote the original script for the first Planet of the Apes movie."

And on it goes.

A trip down memory lane.

The Devil's Detective: A Novel
The Devil's Detective: A Novel
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5.0 out of 5 stars This story is a murder mystery during the reception of a foreign embassy, June 12, 2016
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Thomas Fool is an "Information Man" in Hell. Hell seems to be a large city - think Los Angeles in size - bounded by a wall. On one side of the wall, in one area, perhaps, there is the ocean of Limbo, where souls are fished out and enfleshed and sent on to Hell proper. Once in Hell, enfleshed souls are assigned to work in factories or brothels. Fool was assigned to be one of a small number - 9 at first, but now 3 - of the Information Men who mostly don't investigate the murders that occur in Hell.

I spend most of the book wondering why Hell would care. I also spent most of the book wondering about the economics of Hell. What were they making in those factories, for example? Why are there trains? Why not just have the damned souls sleep in the factories? Why are there bars in Hell?

This is a most un-Hellish Hell.

I was intrigued, but also more than a little bit concerned. A lot of urban fantasy writers soften up their demons. They make them more likeable and personable and approachable, which seems odd. Likewise, Hell gets softened until it is just another place, rather than the epitome of a place. I don't like this humanizing of demons, but, on the other hand, if we make demons and angels truly other and as far from us as we are from a dog, where does that leave the story?

Apparently, Hell has not always been this way. Until some time in the not too distant past, Hell had lakes of fire and torture racks, and no Information Men.

This story is a murder mystery during the reception of a foreign embassy. The embassy is from Heaven. The angels Adam and Balthasar are in Hell to promote a handful of randomly-selected damned souls to Heaven. During the embassy, the body of a male prostitute who services demons is found. His soul has been removed. Fool follows the clues, somewhat woodenly, and begins to develop a belief in his mission. Because he has a gun and is willing to use it on demons, he attracts the attention of Hell's bureaucracy and the adulation of human souls.

There are other puzzles in the story. Who is the Man of Plants and Flowers and how did he transform from a damned human soul into what he is? Why are demons worried about him? Why are there even plants in Hell?

More desouled bodies accumulate as Fool continues his investigation. Ultimately, he follows the clues to the end, and, although I was a few steps ahead, I found the resolution satisfying. I particularly liked the ending and the vision of the Hell that is coming.

The writing was competent and occasionally profound. Apparently, I am not the only one who got tired of Fool's mental lamentation calling himself "stupid Fool" or "pitiable Fool" or whatever, but anyone who has been depressed knows how such voices can take over, and there ought to be no more depressing a place than Hell. I am interested in reading the next instalment and sees what develops.

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