Jackals moved north because wolves were eradicated

February 21st, 2019

Jackals now vastly outnumber wolves in Europe:

Smaller than North American coyotes, the golden jackal weighs an average 20 pounds. It is native to the Middle East and southern Asia, ranging as far east as Thailand and inhabiting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The species arrived at the southern edge of Central and Eastern Europe about 8,000 years ago, fossil evidence suggests, and started to expand slowly in the 19th century. But the current boom really began in the 1950s and has accelerated over the past 20 years.

Jackals are one of the least studied canine predators. Like wolves and coyotes, jackals have family-based packs, but the groups tend to be smaller, with four to six animals, while wolf packs may include 15 animals.

A monogamous pair of jackals forms the core of a pack; the young may stay with the parents, or leave to establish their own packs.

Jackals are not as prominent in tales and proverbs as some other animals, although there’s an old quote, variously attributed, that it is better to live like a lion for a day than a jackal for 100 years. Hemingway described “personal columnists” as jackals, which no doubt refers to their scavenging habits.

Jackals did have one moment of past glory. The Egyptian god Anubis was sometimes said to have a jackal’s head. That claim to fame has been lost: The North African animal that may have inspired the sculptures of Anubis has been reclassified as the African wolf.

Golden Jackal in Croatia

Substantial populations of jackals now live in a number of European countries, including Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, Italy, and above all, Bulgaria, which has the largest population.

Jackal wanderers — or advance scouts — have been found in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Scientists think jackals began to move north because wolves were targeted for eradication, particularly in the Balkans. That opened a door, since jackals seem to avoid areas well populated by wolves.

[...]

The jackals’ expansion is a huge natural experiment, similar to but more surprising than the spread of coyotes in North America. Coyotes were well established in the West and Southwest before they started arriving in the Northeast and Southeast, and lately in Mexico.

Not knowing Englishmen, they had not expected trouble

February 20th, 2019

I’ve mentioned Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade before, and it recently came up in a comment thread, so I finally bought a (digital) copy and read it. The premise is that advanced aliens land on Earth, prepared to awe the locals, but the locals are a medieval English army, preparing to go to war. They rush the ship and slaughter the crew — save one blue-skinned prisoner:

Soldiers were trained to react when such things happened, not to think. The bow of Red John sang. The foremost demon lurched off the ramp with a cloth-yard arrow through him. I saw him cough blood and die. As if the one shot had touched off a hundred, the air was suddenly gray with whistling shafts. The three other demons toppled, so thickly studded with arrows they might have been popinjays at a contest. “They can be slain!” bawled Sir Roger. “Haro! St. George for merry England!” And he spurred his horse straight up the gangway.

[...]

The crew of the ship numbered about a hundred, but few carried weapons. We later found all manner of devices stored in the holds, but the invaders had relied on creating a panic. Not knowing Englishmen, they had not expected trouble. The ship’s artillery was ready to use, but of no value once we were inside.

Later, when the English army takes the captured ship to an alien-controlled planet, they see the same tactical flaws:

The trouble of the Wersgorix was that they had gone too far. They had made combat on the ground obsolete, and were ill trained, ill equipped, when it happened. True, they possessed fire-beams, as well as force shields to stop those same fire-beams. But they had never thought to lay down caltrops.

[...]

Yet it was scarcely fair. They had no body armor. Their only weapon for such close-in fighting was a knife attached to the muzzle of the handgun, to make a most awkward spear… or the gun itself, clubbed.

Further, the aliens don’t realize how primitive their opponents really are:

Now all the Wersgorix know about us is that we have suddenly come from nowhere and — if Branithar’s boasts be true — done what no other host has ever achieved: taken one of their strongholds! Would you not move warily, were you their constable?

In fact, the aliens struggle to accept just how brash their English foes are:

They could be a punitive expedition, I suppose. For reasons of military secrecy, they could have used one of our own ships and kept their most potent weapons in reserve. It doesn’t make sense. But neither does it make sense that barbarians would blandly tell the most powerful realm in the known universe to surrender its autonomy. Unless it’s mere bluster.

My 50th-anniversary edition opens with multiple introductions. In the first introduction, by Poul’s daughter, Astrid Anderson Bear, she mentions that the story was published as a novel in 1961 and lost the Hugo award to A Canticle for Leibowitz. I have to agree with her assessment: no shame there. (Incidentally, Canticle is not available for Kindle. My mass-market paperback is already yellowing. It seems like the kind of book that needs an acid-free paper edition — maybe the library-bound one?) Astrid goes on to describe her father’s interest in the Middle Ages:

A few years later, in May of 1966, Diana Paxson hosted friends and acquaintances at a small medieval-style tourney in her backyard, about a mile from the Grove Street house. That small gathering became known as the First Tourney, from which sprang the Society for Creative Anachronism, now a world-wide organization with tourneys and events happening most weeks, year-round. [...] And my father was an early and enthusiastic member, earning a knighthood for his fighting and additional awards for his poetry, and spent many happy hours in what is called the Current Middle Ages.

In another introduction, David Drake notes that the thoughtful core of the book is that technology is not intelligence — before he shares some fun “Easter eggs” in Anderson’s work:

It was rare for a magazine to run two stories under the same author’s name in an issue: the novelette was credited to Winston P. Sanders, a pseudonym that Poul used a number of times. The name is a joke. If you’ve read Winnie-the-Pooh, you may recall that Winnie is living “under the name of Sanders.” [...] Notice the name of the monk telling the story: Brother Parvus, a church name which he tells us he took from his nickname as a layman. So: his nickname was Little. He also tells us that he was a younger son of Wat Brown. Very coyly Poul has told us that the novel is by Little Brown, a very upmarket Boston publisher who most certainly did not publish The High Crusade or anything else by Poul Anderson until quite late in his life.

Another key point of the story is that primitive institutions, like feudalism, serve a purpose and have their strengths:

Yet this realm, in theory a republic of freemen, was in practice a worse tyranny than mankind has known, even in Nero’s infamous day.

[...]

The Wersgorix had no special affection for their birthplace; they acknowledged no immediate ties of kinship or duty. As a result, each individual had no one to stand between him and the all-powerful central government.

[...]

In England, when King John grew overweening, he clashed both with ancient law and with vested local interests; so the barons curbed him and thereby wrote another word or two of liberty for all Englishmen.

[...]

The Wersgor were a lickspittle race, unable to protest any arbitrary decree of a superior. “Promotion according to merit” meant only “promotion according to one’s usefulness to the imperial ministers.”

[...]

The Wersgorix had similar weapons, of course, but less determination to use them.

[...]

But the Wersgorix were not a knightly folk. They were more prudent and forethoughtful than we. It cost them dearly.

[...]

Indeed, this race had been supreme among the stars so long that only their soldiers now had occasion to develop a manly contempt for death.

[...]

[W]hile the engines of war may change through the centuries, rivalry and intrigue look no subtler out here than at home.

[...]

Where it comes to intrigue, I’m no master of it myself, no Italian. But the star-folk are like children.

[...]

Well, on Earth there’ve been many nations and lords for many centuries, all at odds with each other, under a feudal system nigh too complicated to remember.

[...]

On our Earth, we’ve perforce learned all the knavery there is to know.

[...]

“They know so little about the detection and use of traitors out here,” he remarked to me, “that I can buy this fellow for less than an Italian city. Our allies never attempted this, for they imagined that the Wersgor nation must be as solid as their own. Yet isn’t it logic, that so vast a sprawl of estates, separated by days and weeks of travel, must in many ways resemble a European country? Though even more corruptible—”

[...]

I was thinking that the Wersgor type of government commands no fealty.

[...]

As I said before, the collapse of Wersgorixan was not unlike the collapse of Rome, and similar problems found a similar answer. His advantage lay in having that answer ready to hand, the experience of many Terrestrial centuries.

[...]

Their central government had always been a distant thing to them, a mere collector of taxes and enforcer of arbitrary laws.

[...]

Many a blueskin found his imagination captured by our rich ceremonial and by a government of individual nobles whom he could meet face to face.

[...]

Having little military tradition of their own, the Jairs, Ashenkoghli, and Pr?*tans did not realize how those cruel years welded bonds of loyalty between native peasants and English aristocrats.

This might make good reading for any high-tech force sent off to a primitive land.

What, in all this world, could bring the greatest happiness?

February 19th, 2019

Just as John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian was popularizing this bit of wisdom, Jerry Pournelle included it in his preface to There Will Be War:

There was once recorded a remarkable conversation between Genghis Khan and one of his soldiers. The Kha Khan asked a guard officer what, in all this world, could bring the greatest happiness. “The open steppe, a clear day, and a swift horse,” said the officer. “And a falcon at your wrist to start up the hares.” “Not so,” replied the Khan. “To crush your enemy, to possess his wife as he watches, to see enemies fall at your feet. To take their horses and goods and hear the lamentations of their women. That is best.”

Openly questioning Neovictorian’s Sanity

February 18th, 2019

I recently read Neovictorian’s Sanity. The novel is, in a sense, didactic. It purports to explain how the world really works. For instance, our narrator — and presumably our author — remembers researching the Virginia Tech shooting, where one panicked student kept repeating that “It’s okay, they’re coming, they’re coming to help us!”:

Lesson number one is, They are not fucking coming.

Our hero, Cal — who, rather ironically, goes to Stanford, not Berkeley — finds himself recruited by a “good” conspiracy (the Network, or the Outfit) to fight the “bad” conspiracy (the Order).

The “good” conspiracy seems to be based on — I kid you not — a thinly disguised version of L. Ron Hubbard and his Dianetics — in this case, Heights, the new novel by Phillip Duke, announced in Analog Science Fiction, June, 1974, which grows into the ReHumanism movement.

Cal learns a lot from the Network, as these excerpts suggest:

  • Karsten taught that history wasn’t facts, or trends, causes, war and politics, Great Men or the power of the polis; history was a method of wisdom, the deep contemplation of which enriched understanding of men, women and societies. History revealed the gold and the dross of human behavior, and enabled more effective action in every area of life.
  • For instance, we know about a number of Soviet spies that were caught, working on the Manhattan project and secret military projects and the US delegations to Bretton Woods and the United Nations. But what about the ones that were never caught? I suspect a few spies spent entire careers undercover, retired well and died comfortably in their homes in the Virginia countryside.
  • The perfect crime isn’t the crime you get away with, it’s the crime that no one knows has even been committed.
  • “The ‘unseen,’ Mr. Black, might even be a group, an organization of sorts, but one that is silent. How would we know what effect such a group has had or is having on history? We know a good deal about Templars, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, the Black Hand and so on, but what if there are other groups around, that are operating in a shadow so complete that they might as well not exist?”
  • “Don’t show your cards”
  • “Do you ever get a feeling Cal, maybe you have since you were 12, 13, maybe even younger a feeling that you were almost like an alien observing earth from a distance, that your friends and family were often strange and stupid that everyone’s just acting acting acting all the time?”
  • “Do you feel that if it was necessary and right you could physically stop someone who was doing something bad and wrong, hurting innocent people, starting a war, threatening to use nuclear weapons, something like that?”
  • And put something in there that the herd will think is innocuous, and only the aliens will understand.
  • It’s your future actions and choices and accomplishments that influenced what happened today. Physics works both directions in time — you might consider that.
  • The Outer Church and the Inner Church. It’s universal, everyone from the Greeks and their Mysteries to the Templars and the Masons and the German dueling societies and the Ivy League fraternities use some variation on it.
  • “Because social science is just a branch of the Order, and its purpose is to keep the mass fat, dumb and happy, so the Order can continue to be the Order.” “The Big Order or the Real Order?”
  • Do nothing for one breath. Do nothing, then assess, then take charge.

What Neovictorian really has to answer for is his young protagonist’s decision to carry a 1911 with two seven-round mags.

Anyway, as I read, I like to note interesting words (or phrases) I don’t see every day:

  • peripatetic – traveling from place to place, in particular working or based in various places for relatively short period
  • gloaming – twilight; dusk.
  • so mote it be – “So mote it be” is a ritual phrase used by Freemasons, in Rosicrucianism, and more recently by Neopagans. It means “so may it be”, “so it is required”, or “so must it be”, and may be said at the end of a prayer in a similar way to “amen”.
  • contuberium – The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries, the equivalent of a modern squad. The men within the contubernium were known as contubernales. Ten contubernia were grouped into a centuria.

Again, the book is didactic, and that means it works in references to other recommended books:

In his afterword, he explicitly mentions his favorite authors:

In some rough chronological order they include Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout always makes me cry.

The late William Patterson Jr.’s fine biography of Heinlein, In Dialogue With His Century, recounts several “mystical” experiences Heinlein had as a boy. I had a few, as well.

Was the term “GEV” just a mistake?

February 17th, 2019

Back in 1977, Steve Jackson Games came out with a sci-fi wargame named after the giant cybernetic tank central to its futuristic setting, the Ogre. Other units included infantry, artillery, and highly mobile hovercraft — known in the game as GEVs, or Ground Effect Vehicles.

Years later I learned that a ground effect vehicle is not a hovercraft, or air cushion vehicle, but a winged airplane, designed to use the wing-in-ground-effect — the reduction in drag experienced by an aircraft as it approaches a height approximately twice a wingspan’s length off the ground (or other level surface such as the sea).

Winchell Chung, who runs the Atomic Rockets website and goes by the handle of Nyrath, did the original art for the game, and I recently asked him, was the term “GEV” just a mistake? Or were they not meant to be air-cushion vehicles (ACVs) originally?

He wasn’t sure, but he made three points:

  1. The draft rules described units as armored hovercraft. Not aircraft. Fast moving ground units. They were called GEVs.
  2. I vaguely remember reading that GEM [for Ground Effect Machine] was a synonym for hovercraft, and I assumed GEV was a variant.
  3. I used a Popular Mechanics cover as inspiration.

Popular Mechanics Tiger Sharks of the Vietnam Swamps

He swapped out the propeller in the back with twin jet turbine engines and made the skirt look armor plated:

Winchell Chungs GEV 1 Winchell Chungs GEV 2 Winchell Chungs GEV 3

Then he sent a trial drawing to Steve Jackson, who added his comments in red:

Winchell Chungs GEV with Steve Jackson's Comments

The THOR system is composed of a thousand or more cheap satellites

February 17th, 2019

If you drop something dense and aerodynamic from high enough up, it will hit the ground really, really hard — maybe hard enough to qualify as a kinetic bombardment weapon:

During the Vietnam War, the US used what it called “Lazy Dog” bombs. These were simply solid-steel pieces, less than 2 inches long, fitted with fins.

There was no explosive: They were simply dropped by the hundreds from planes flying above Vietnam.

Lazy Dog projectiles (aka “kinetic bombardment”) could reach speeds of up to 500 mph as they fell to the ground and could penetrate 9 inches of concrete after being dropped from as little as 3,000 feet.

If you drop a telephone pole-sized (20′×1′) tungsten cylinder from orbit, the 9-ton “rod from God” should hit at Mach 10, with the kinetic energy equivalent to 11.5 tons of TNT (or 7.2 tons of dynamite).

Robin Hanson recently mentioned such “rods from God,” and I just happened to be reading There Will Be War, which includes Jerry Pournelle’s “original” 1981 description of Project THOR, which describes something subtly different — a barrage of 20-pound projectiles made of tungsten, less than an inch in diameter and three or four feet long, traveling at Mach 23:

One of the most difficult security missions which the United States must accomplish is the protection of our interests around the globe. Incidents like the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo have demonstrated our weakness in not being able to respond quickly and authoritatively in remote locations. Our only solution to this problem so far has been the naval carrier task force. Carrier-based aircraft can project military force to protect our citizens and allies in remote regions of the world. Unfortunately, the high cost and vulnerability of nuclear carriers and their required aircraft and support fleets make them an unattractive solution.

[...]

To balance the force of gravity, a satellite two hundred miles above the surface must travel at a speed of seventeen thousand five hundred miles per hour. At this speed, the satellite travels around the Earth once every ninety minutes. With a hundred satellites in orbits near this altitude and traveling in random orbital inclinations, one of the satellites will pass over any given location on Earth every thirty minutes. With a thousand satellites, the timing between satellites overhead is less than ten minutes. The basic physics of orbital motion gives us our global coverage; it also gives us the weapon. The extremely high velocity of a satellite in orbit gives it a tremendous amount of kinetic energy. If a one pound object moving at orbital velocity ran into a stationary target, the energy released in the impact will be the equivalent of exploding almost ten pounds of TNT.

[...]

The THOR system is composed of a thousand or more cheap satellites, each made up of a bundle of projectiles, guidance and communications electronics, and a simple rocket engine.

[...]

The result is spectacular: a bundle of tens or hundreds of twenty pound projectiles streak down at four miles per second to strike targets with the explosive equivalent of two hundred pound bombs each.

[...]

Even if an enemy were to detonate one or more nuclear devices in space in an attempt to destroy THOR, there are a thousand or more widely scattered satellites he must destroy. Because the satellites are at different altitudes and have different orbital inclinations, any holes produced in the global coverage by a nuclear explosion are filled in after several hours by the orbital motions of the satellites.

[...]

The satellite can be cocooned in foam, which would be difficult to detect with radar anyway and could be shaped to make detection even more difficult (stealth satellites!).

[...]

The foam would insulate the satellite against the heat and shock of nuclear explosions or laser beams.

[...]

The jet of metal particles produced when a shaped charge warhead detonates is traveling at about the same velocity as a THOR projectile when striking a target.

[...]

The jet of metal from the TOW warhead weighs only a fraction of an ounce; a THOR projectile weighs over twenty pounds!

[...]

If the projectile were composed of an outer shell with sand-sized particles inside, it could be designed to explode and disperse the particles just before impact. The metal particles would instantly vaporize, with the resulting shock wave flattening troops, aircraft, or other targets much like the fuel-air explosive bombs presently in service.

[...]

The advantages of the THOR weapon system are its low cost, global coverage, quick reaction time, and survivability.

[...]

To de-orbit the projectiles and bring them down at an angle of thirty degrees from vertical requires almost as much energy as was required to orbit the projectiles initially, and requires a large quantity of propellant for each THOR satellite.

[...]

The individual THOR satellites are most vulnerable while the de-orbit propulsion burn is taking place, when a rocket exhaust plume is a bright beacon marking the location of the satellite for possible destruction by enemy laser weapon satellites. Two solutions are a cold gas propulsion system (high weight of propellant required) or a very fast propulsion impulse which ends before the laser weapon could be brought to bear on the THOR satellite.

[...]

With the Global Positioning System navigation satellite network in operation, each satellite could passively receive its own location in space to a very high accuracy while doing nothing to reveal its own position.

[...]

Communication by laser beams, which are extremely narrow and almost impossible to intercept, may be possible if the position of each of the thousand or more THOR satellites can be calculated accurately enough to hit the desired satellite.

[...]

The projectile could be protected by an ablative nose tip which would vaporize and carry off the heat from atmospheric friction during the few seconds of atmospheric passage.

[...]

The high speed of the projectile through the atmosphere near the ground where the density of the air is highest would produce a luminous bow shock wave directly in front of the missile. Penetrating such a layer might be a problem, but high frequency radio waves, infrared light, visible light, or ultraviolet light might be effective for targeting. A visible light sensor might have a window covered with a filter which passes light of a wavelength which is not emitted by the ionized air in the shockwave.

The real point of the system, as he points out, is that it could quickly (and cheaply) hit any target, anywhere on earth — which seemed really, really useful, a few months later, when HMS Sheffield succumbed to a French-made Exocet missile in the Falklands. Of course, getting tungsten rods up into space is only economical once you have frequent launches of your newfangled space shuttle.

The clinging death

February 16th, 2019

In Jack London’s White Fang, the wolf-dog goes through an ugly episode under the ownership of the ironically nicknamed Beauty Smith, an ugly man, inside and out:

At irregular intervals, whenever a fight could be arranged, he was taken out of his cage and led off into the woods a few miles from town.  Usually this occurred at night, so as to avoid interference from the mounted police of the Territory.  After a few hours of waiting, when daylight had come, the audience and the dog with which he was to fight arrived.  In this manner it came about that he fought all sizes and breeds of dogs.  It was a savage land, the men were savage, and the fights were usually to the death.

Since White Fang continued to fight, it is obvious that it was the other dogs that died.  He never knew defeat.  His early training, when he fought with Lip-lip and the whole puppy-pack, stood him in good stead.  There was the tenacity with which he clung to the earth.  No dog could make him lose his footing.  This was the favourite trick of the wolf breeds — to rush in upon him, either directly or with an unexpected swerve, in the hope of striking his shoulder and overthrowing him.  Mackenzie hounds, Eskimo and Labrador dogs, huskies and Malemutes — all tried it on him, and all failed.  He was never known to lose his footing.  Men told this to one another, and looked each time to see it happen; but White Fang always disappointed them.

Then there was his lightning quickness.  It gave him a tremendous advantage over his antagonists.  No matter what their fighting experience, they had never encountered a dog that moved so swiftly as he.  Also to be reckoned with, was the immediateness of his attack.  The average dog was accustomed to the preliminaries of snarling and bristling and growling, and the average dog was knocked off his feet and finished before he had begun to fight or recovered from his surprise.  So often did this happen, that it became the custom to hold White Fang until the other dog went through its preliminaries, was good and ready, and even made the first attack.

But greatest of all the advantages in White Fang’s favour, was his experience.  He knew more about fighting than did any of the dogs that faced him.  He had fought more fights, knew how to meet more tricks and methods, and had more tricks himself, while his own method was scarcely to be improved upon.

As the time went by, he had fewer and fewer fights.  Men despaired of matching him with an equal, and Beauty Smith was compelled to pit wolves against him.  These were trapped by the Indians for the purpose, and a fight between White Fang and a wolf was always sure to draw a crowd.  Once, a full-grown female lynx was secured, and this time White Fang fought for his life.  Her quickness matched his; her ferocity equalled his; while he fought with his fangs alone, and she fought with her sharp-clawed feet as well.

But after the lynx, all fighting ceased for White Fang.  There were no more animals with which to fight — at least, there was none considered worthy of fighting with him.  So he remained on exhibition until spring, when one Tim Keenan, a faro-dealer, arrived in the land.  With him came the first bull-dog that had ever entered the Klondike.  That this dog and White Fang should come together was inevitable, and for a week the anticipated fight was the mainspring of conversation in certain quarters of the town.

Then comes the clinging death:

Beauty Smith slipped the chain from his neck and stepped back.

For once White Fang did not make an immediate attack. He stood still, ears pricked forward, alert and curious, surveying the strange animal that faced him. He had never seen such a dog before. Tim Keenan shoved the bull-dog forward with a muttered “Go to it.” The animal waddled toward the centre of the circle, short and squat and ungainly. He came to a stop and blinked across at White Fang.

There were cries from the crowd of, “Go to him, Cherokee! Sick ’m, Cherokee! Eat ’m up!”

But Cherokee did not seem anxious to fight. He turned his head and blinked at the men who shouted, at the same time wagging his stump of a tail good-naturedly. He was not afraid, but merely lazy. Besides, it did not seem to him that it was intended he should fight with the dog he saw before him. He was not used to fighting with that kind of dog, and he was waiting for them to bring on the real dog.

Tim Keenan stepped in and bent over Cherokee, fondling him on both sides of the shoulders with hands that rubbed against the grain of the hair and that made slight, pushing-forward movements. These were so many suggestions. Also, their effect was irritating, for Cherokee began to growl, very softly, deep down in his throat. There was a correspondence in rhythm between the growls and the movements of the man’s hands. The growl rose in the throat with the culmination of each forward-pushing movement, and ebbed down to start up afresh with the beginning of the next movement. The end of each movement was the accent of the rhythm, the movement ending abruptly and the growling rising with a jerk.

This was not without its effect on White Fang. The hair began to rise on his neck and across the shoulders. Tim Keenan gave a final shove forward and stepped back again. As the impetus that carried Cherokee forward died down, he continued to go forward of his own volition, in a swift, bow-legged run. Then White Fang struck. A cry of startled admiration went up. He had covered the distance and gone in more like a cat than a dog; and with the same cat-like swiftness he had slashed with his fangs and leaped clear.

The bull-dog was bleeding back of one ear from a rip in his thick neck. He gave no sign, did not even snarl, but turned and followed after White Fang. The display on both sides, the quickness of the one and the steadiness of the other, had excited the partisan spirit of the crowd, and the men were making new bets and increasing original bets. Again, and yet again, White Fang sprang in, slashed, and got away untouched, and still his strange foe followed after him, without too great haste, not slowly, but deliberately and determinedly, in a businesslike sort of way. There was purpose in his method — something for him to do that he was intent upon doing and from which nothing could distract him.

His whole demeanour, every action, was stamped with this purpose. It puzzled White Fang. Never had he seen such a dog. It had no hair protection. It was soft, and bled easily. There was no thick mat of fur to baffle White Fang’s teeth as they were often baffled by dogs of his own breed. Each time that his teeth struck they sank easily into the yielding flesh, while the animal did not seem able to defend itself. Another disconcerting thing was that it made no outcry, such as he had been accustomed to with the other dogs he had fought. Beyond a growl or a grunt, the dog took its punishment silently. And never did it flag in its pursuit of him.

Not that Cherokee was slow. He could turn and whirl swiftly enough, but White Fang was never there. Cherokee was puzzled, too. He had never fought before with a dog with which he could not close. The desire to close had always been mutual. But here was a dog that kept at a distance, dancing and dodging here and there and all about. And when it did get its teeth into him, it did not hold on but let go instantly and darted away again.

But White Fang could not get at the soft underside of the throat. The bull-dog stood too short, while its massive jaws were an added protection. White Fang darted in and out unscathed, while Cherokee’s wounds increased. Both sides of his neck and head were ripped and slashed. He bled freely, but showed no signs of being disconcerted. He continued his plodding pursuit, though once, for the moment baffled, he came to a full stop and blinked at the men who looked on, at the same time wagging his stump of a tail as an expression of his willingness to fight.

In that moment White Fang was in upon him and out, in passing ripping his trimmed remnant of an ear. With a slight manifestation of anger, Cherokee took up the pursuit again, running on the inside of the circle White Fang was making, and striving to fasten his deadly grip on White Fang’s throat. The bull-dog missed by a hair’s-breadth, and cries of praise went up as White Fang doubled suddenly out of danger in the opposite direction.

The time went by. White Fang still danced on, dodging and doubling, leaping in and out, and ever inflicting damage. And still the bull-dog, with grim certitude, toiled after him. Sooner or later he would accomplish his purpose, get the grip that would win the battle. In the meantime, he accepted all the punishment the other could deal him. His tufts of ears had become tassels, his neck and shoulders were slashed in a score of places, and his very lips were cut and bleeding — all from these lightning snaps that were beyond his foreseeing and guarding.

Time and again White Fang had attempted to knock Cherokee off his feet; but the difference in their height was too great. Cherokee was too squat, too close to the ground. White Fang tried the trick once too often. The chance came in one of his quick doublings and counter-circlings. He caught Cherokee with head turned away as he whirled more slowly. His shoulder was exposed. White Fang drove in upon it: but his own shoulder was high above, while he struck with such force that his momentum carried him on across over the other’s body. For the first time in his fighting history, men saw White Fang lose his footing. His body turned a half-somersault in the air, and he would have landed on his back had he not twisted, catlike, still in the air, in the effort to bring his feet to the earth. As it was, he struck heavily on his side. The next instant he was on his feet, but in that instant Cherokee’s teeth closed on his throat.

It was not a good grip, being too low down toward the chest; but Cherokee held on. White Fang sprang to his feet and tore wildly around, trying to shake off the bull-dog’s body. It made him frantic, this clinging, dragging weight. It bound his movements, restricted his freedom. It was like the trap, and all his instinct resented it and revolted against it. It was a mad revolt. For several minutes he was to all intents insane. The basic life that was in him took charge of him. The will to exist of his body surged over him. He was dominated by this mere flesh-love of life. All intelligence was gone. It was as though he had no brain. His reason was unseated by the blind yearning of the flesh to exist and move, at all hazards to move, to continue to move, for movement was the expression of its existence.

Round and round he went, whirling and turning and reversing, trying to shake off the fifty-pound weight that dragged at his throat. The bull-dog did little but keep his grip. Sometimes, and rarely, he managed to get his feet to the earth and for a moment to brace himself against White Fang. But the next moment his footing would be lost and he would be dragging around in the whirl of one of White Fang’s mad gyrations. Cherokee identified himself with his instinct. He knew that he was doing the right thing by holding on, and there came to him certain blissful thrills of satisfaction. At such moments he even closed his eyes and allowed his body to be hurled hither and thither, willy-nilly, careless of any hurt that might thereby come to it. That did not count. The grip was the thing, and the grip he kept.

White Fang ceased only when he had tired himself out. He could do nothing, and he could not understand. Never, in all his fighting, had this thing happened. The dogs he had fought with did not fight that way. With them it was snap and slash and get away, snap and slash and get away. He lay partly on his side, panting for breath. Cherokee still holding his grip, urged against him, trying to get him over entirely on his side. White Fang resisted, and he could feel the jaws shifting their grip, slightly relaxing and coming together again in a chewing movement. Each shift brought the grip closer to his throat. The bull-dog’s method was to hold what he had, and when opportunity favoured to work in for more. Opportunity favoured when White Fang remained quiet. When White Fang struggled, Cherokee was content merely to hold on.

The bulging back of Cherokee’s neck was the only portion of his body that White Fang’s teeth could reach. He got hold toward the base where the neck comes out from the shoulders; but he did not know the chewing method of fighting, nor were his jaws adapted to it. He spasmodically ripped and tore with his fangs for a space. Then a change in their position diverted him. The bull-dog had managed to roll him over on his back, and still hanging on to his throat, was on top of him. Like a cat, White Fang bowed his hind-quarters in, and, with the feet digging into his enemy’s abdomen above him, he began to claw with long tearing-strokes. Cherokee might well have been disembowelled had he not quickly pivoted on his grip and got his body off of White Fang’s and at right angles to it.

There was no escaping that grip. It was like Fate itself, and as inexorable. Slowly it shifted up along the jugular. All that saved White Fang from death was the loose skin of his neck and the thick fur that covered it. This served to form a large roll in Cherokee’s mouth, the fur of which well-nigh defied his teeth. But bit by bit, whenever the chance offered, he was getting more of the loose skin and fur in his mouth. The result was that he was slowly throttling White Fang. The latter’s breath was drawn with greater and greater difficulty as the moments went by.

It began to look as though the battle were over. The backers of Cherokee waxed jubilant and offered ridiculous odds. White Fang’s backers were correspondingly depressed, and refused bets of ten to one and twenty to one, though one man was rash enough to close a wager of fifty to one. This man was Beauty Smith. He took a step into the ring and pointed his finger at White Fang. Then he began to laugh derisively and scornfully. This produced the desired effect. White Fang went wild with rage. He called up his reserves of strength, and gained his feet. As he struggled around the ring, the fifty pounds of his foe ever dragging on his throat, his anger passed on into panic. The basic life of him dominated him again, and his intelligence fled before the will of his flesh to live. Round and round and back again, stumbling and falling and rising, even uprearing at times on his hind-legs and lifting his foe clear of the earth, he struggled vainly to shake off the clinging death.

At last he fell, toppling backward, exhausted; and the bull-dog promptly shifted his grip, getting in closer, mangling more and more of the fur-folded flesh, throttling White Fang more severely than ever. Shouts of applause went up for the victor, and there were many cries of “Cherokee!” “Cherokee!” To this Cherokee responded by vigorous wagging of the stump of his tail. But the clamour of approval did not distract him. There was no sympathetic relation between his tail and his massive jaws. The one might wag, but the others held their terrible grip on White Fang’s throat.

I don’t think London would’ve been too surprised by those early UFCs.

USS Hornet discovered on ocean floor

February 15th, 2019

The USS Hornet has been discovered on the ocean floor:

The vampire is consumption in human form

February 14th, 2019

The vampire is consumption in human form:

“Peter Plogojowitz…died…and had been buried…within a week, nine people, both old and young, died also…while they were yet alive…Plogojowitz…(came) to them in their sleep, laid himself on them…so that they would give up the ghost… They exhumed…(his) body…which was completely fresh…hair…nails…had grown on him; the old skin…had peeled …a fresh new one had emerged under it…I saw some fresh blood in his mouth…he had sucked from the people killed by him…(we) sharpened a stake…as he was pierced…much blood, completely fresh, flowed… through his…mouth.” (1725)

Tuberculosis was a disease of antiquity with a unique nom de guerre — consumption — and helped give impetus to the vampire myth. The ancient and universal presence of “bloodsuckers” will be chronicled from early times of recorded human existence.

In Western culture, ancient Greeks called their mythological bloodsuckers Lamia. The Libyan princess Lamia had an illicit love affair with Zeus. Hera, the wife whom Zeus spurned, killed all of Lamia’s children and drove Lamia into exile. The tale — told by Aristophanes (446–386 B.C.E.) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) — described how Lamia sought revenge by sucking the lifeblood of babies. In the second century B.C.E., a manuscript fragment by Titinus suggested garlic hung around the neck of children would protect them from Lamia.

After the arrival of Christianity, undead demons were accommodated by the new religion and were renamed Vrykolakas, roaming undead beings afflicting humanity. Many cultures followed with Albanians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Croatians, Hungarians, Serbians, and Russians naming their ethnic vampires. In fact, it was the Walachian prince, Vlad Tepes (the Impaler, 1431–1476), who was Bram Stokers’ model for Dracula. The German schrattl, or shroud-eater, was thought to rise from the grave spreading disease. The presence of mythic undead creatures populated Native North and South American cultures. In the 13th and 14th centuries undead Icelandic beings were added to other myths and called Grettirs.

Although it has been opined that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” the vampire myth brought cultural extremes together. Chinese jiangshi were corpses of those drowned, hung, or victims of suicide returning to drain humans of their life force. The Japanese and culture of India described similar undead blood suckers. As fatal communicable diseases and death were universal — and otherwise inexplicable — so were naïve myths of vampires. Myths would evolve into metaphors as well.

“…the body swells…Discoloured natural fluids and liquefied tissues are made frothy by gas and some exude from the natural orifices, forced out by the increasing pressure in the body cavities… eyes bulge… little wonder that Bacon was convinced that purposeful dynamic spirits wrought this awful change.”

“Blood migrates…in the course of decomposition…the gases in the abdomen increase in pressure…and are forced upwards and decomposing blood escapes from the mouth and nostrils.”

In 1739, Austrians occupying Serbia and Walachia investigated reports of a gruesome local custom: Exhuming dead bodies and re-killing them. The practice was a consequence of their ignorance of natural processes of bodily decomposition. During decomposition intestinal bacterial gas flows through blood vessels and tissues pushing blood stained fluids through the nose and mouth. Seven days after death, cadaveric skin loosens, the top layer sheds off in sheets in a process called skin slippage.

At a 1732 exhumation it was written, “They dug up Arnod Paole forty days after his death…and they found…fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears; that the shirt (was) completely bloody…the skin, had fallen off…he was a true vampire, they drove a stake through his heart.” The presence of blood after death was interpreted as a sign of reanimated life — albeit at someone else’s expense. In the context of consumption, the visible confluence of paleness and hemoptysis lent credence to postmortem appearances suggesting life after death. That perception would be further fueled by ignorance regarding the transmission of infectious diseases.

“The Vampire is consumption in human form, embodying an evil that slowly and secretly drains the life from its victims.”

“For as long as what caused tuberculosis was not understood…tuberculosis was thought to be an insidious, implacable theft of a life…Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acute enough to be feared will be felt to be morally…contagious.”

– Susan Sontag

Prior to the Germ Theory, from the time of Aristotle, miasmas — or currents of contaminated air circulated by winds — were considered the cause of communicable diseases. As a result, continued connections between consumption and the vampire myth persisted into the late Nineteenth Century.

“Mercy died, apparently of tuberculosis, in January 1892…Mercy was a vampire…Mercy’s brother Edwin was a strapping young man of 18…in 1891 Mercy and Edwin both became ill… the boy went off to Colorado, where he recovered. His sister (Mercy) eventually was carried to her grave by the illness…Edwin returned still in weak health…why was such a strong man’s life draining away? Why had the same thing happened to Mercy only a few months before…nothing less terrible than a vampire was sucking their children’s blood and taking their lives with it…to their infinite horror, Mercy’s body, which had blood and seemed unnaturally preserved, with color still in the cheeks…(They) removed the corpse’s heart and burned it on a rock.”

Consumption — the captain of all these men of death — was chosen and persisted as a metaphor for vampirism. Charles Dickens wrote, that for individuals with tuberculosis, “life and death are so strangely blended that death takes the “glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death” (Nicholas Nickleby). Dickens and others who witnessed victims of consumption — precariously hovering between life and death — recognized the stigma:

“The emaciated figure strikes one with terror; the forehead covered with drops of sweat; the cheeks painted with a livid crimson, the eyes sunk; the little fat that raised them in their orbits entirely wasted; the pulse quick and tremulous; the nails long, bending over the ends of the fingers; the palms of the hands dry and painfully hot to the touch; the breath offensive, quick and laborious, and the cough so incessant as scarce to allow the wretched sufferer time to tell his complaints.”

Science, ascendant in the late Nineteenth, early twentieth century identified Mycobacterium tuberculosis as the agent of tuberculosis. Science also shed light on bodily decomposition after death. The cure of tuberculosis would follow and the myth and metaphors surrounding tuberculosis would disappear.

Almost a vampire story, but with dogs

February 14th, 2019

I recently listened to an audiobook version of Jack London’s White Fang and was surprised by how much the opening chapters resemble a horror story:

The pale light of the short sunless day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry arose on the still air. It soared upward with a swift rush, till it reached its topmost note, where it persisted, palpitant and tense, and then slowly died away. It might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness. The front man turned his head until his eyes met the eyes of the man behind. And then, across the narrow oblong box, each nodded to the other.

A second cry arose, piercing the silence with needle-like shrillness. Both men located the sound. It was to the rear, somewhere in the snow expanse they had just traversed. A third and answering cry arose, also to the rear and to the left of the second cry.

“They’re after us, Bill,” said the man at the front.

His voice sounded hoarse and unreal, and he had spoken with apparent effort.

“Meat is scarce,” answered his comrade. “I ain’t seen a rabbit sign for days.”

Thereafter they spoke no more, though their ears were keen for the hunting-cries that continued to rise behind them.

At the fall of darkness they swung the dogs into a cluster of spruce trees on the edge of the waterway and made a camp. The coffin, at the side of the fire, served for seat and table. The wolf-dogs, clustered on the far side of the fire, snarled and bickered among themselves, but evinced no inclination to stray off into the darkness.

“Seems to me, Henry, they’re stayin’ remarkable close to camp,” Bill commented.

Henry, squatting over the fire and settling the pot of coffee with a piece of ice, nodded. Nor did he speak till he had taken his seat on the coffin and begun to eat.

“They know where their hides is safe,” he said. “They’d sooner eat grub than be grub. They’re pretty wise, them dogs.”

Bill shook his head. “Oh, I don’t know.”

His comrade looked at him curiously. “First time I ever heard you say anything about their not bein’ wise.”

“Henry,” said the other, munching with deliberation the beans he was eating, “did you happen to notice the way them dogs kicked up when I was a-feedin’ ’em?”

“They did cut up more’n usual,” Henry acknowledged.

“How many dogs ’ve we got, Henry?”

“Six.”

“Well, Henry . . . ” Bill stopped for a moment, in order that his words might gain greater significance. “As I was sayin’, Henry, we’ve got six dogs. I took six fish out of the bag. I gave one fish to each dog, an’, Henry, I was one fish short.”

“You counted wrong.”

“We’ve got six dogs,” the other reiterated dispassionately. “I took out six fish. One Ear didn’t get no fish. I came back to the bag afterward an’ got ’m his fish.”

“We’ve only got six dogs,” Henry said.

“Henry,” Bill went on. “I won’t say they was all dogs, but there was seven of ’m that got fish.”

Henry stopped eating to glance across the fire and count the dogs.

“There’s only six now,” he said.

“I saw the other one run off across the snow,” Bill announced with cool positiveness. “I saw seven.”

Henry looked at him commiseratingly, and said, “I’ll be almighty glad when this trip’s over.”

Go ahead and read the first three chapters. They’re their own short story — almost a vampire story, but with dogs.

Moderation in war is imbecility

February 13th, 2019

It would be not just stupid, Paul Fussell argues, but would betray a lamentable want of human experience to expect soldiers to be very sensitive humanitarians:

The Glenn Grays of this world need to have their attention directed to the testimony of those who know, like, say, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, who said, “Moderation in war is imbecility,” or Sir Arthur Harris, director of the admittedly wicked aerial-bombing campaign designed, as Churchill put it, to “de-house” the German civilian population, who observed that “War is immoral,” or our own General W. T. Sherman: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” Lord Louis Mountbatten, trying to say something sensible about the dropping of the A-bomb, came up only with “War is crazy.” Or rather, it requires choices among crazinesses. “It would seem even more crazy,” he went on, “if we were to have more casualties on our side to save the Japanese.” One of the unpleasant facts for anyone in the ground armies during the war was that you had to become pro tern a subordinate of the very uncivilian George S. Patton and respond somehow to his unremitting insistence that you embrace his view of things. But in one of his effusions he was right, and his observation tends to suggest the experimental dubiousness of the concept of “just wars.” “War is not a contest with gloves,” he perceived. “It is resorted to only when laws, which are rules, have failed.” Soldiers being like that, only the barest decencies should be expected of them. They did not start the war, except in the terrible sense hinted at in Frederic Manning’s observation based on his front-line experience in the Great War: “War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.” Knowing that unflattering truth by experience, soldiers have every motive for wanting a war stopped, by any means.

The great vice of the Greeks was extrapolation

February 13th, 2019

I recently read Ignition!, by John D. Clark, and I found it an odd mix of fun, opinionated bits and dry chemistry:

“Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don’t mean garden-variety crazy or a merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.”

“It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water — with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals — steel, copper, aluminium, etc. — because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

“If your propellants flow into the chamber and ignite immediately, you’re in business. But if they flow in, collect in a puddle, and then ignite, you have an explosion which generally demolishes the engine and its immediate surroundings. The accepted euphemism for this sequence of events is a ‘hard start.’”

“Their guess turned out to be right, but one is reminded of E. T. Bell’s remark that the great vice of the Greeks was not sodomy but extrapolation.”

“…a molecule with one reducing (fuel) end and one oxidizing end, separated by a pair of firmly crossed fingers, is an invitation to disaster.”

“I looked around and signaled to my own gang, and we started backing away gently, like so many cats with wet feet.”

“And there is one disconcerting thing about working with a computer — it’s likely to talk back to you. You make some tiny mistake in your FORTRAN language — putting a letter in the wrong column, say, or omitting a comma — and the 360 comes to a screeching halt and prints out rude remarks, like “ILLEGAL FORMAT,” or “UNKNOWN PROBLEM,” or, if the man who wrote the program was really feeling nasty that morning, “WHAT’S THE MATTER STUPID? CAN’T YOU READ?” Everyone who uses a computer frequently has had, from time to time, a mad desire to attack the precocious abacus with an axe.”

He experienced the war at Division level

February 12th, 2019

Commenter Bruce thought that Glenn Gray’s The Warriors quietly disappeared after Paul Fussell tore it apart:

These troops who cried and cheered with relief [at the dropping of the atomic bomb] or who sat stunned by the weight of their experience are very different from the high-minded, guilt- ridden GIs we’re told about by J. Glenn Gray in his sensitive book The Warriors. During the war in Europe Gray was an interrogator in the Army Counterintelligence Corps, and in that capacity he experienced the war at Division level. There’s no denying that Gray’s outlook on everything was admirably noble, elevated, and responsible. After the war he became a much-admired professor of philosophy at Colorado College and an esteemed editor of Heidegger. But The Warriors, his meditation on the moral and psychological dimensions of modern soldiering, gives every sign of error occasioned by remoteness from experience. Division headquarters is miles — miles — behind the line where soldiers experience terror and madness and relieve those pressures by crazy brutality and sadism. Indeed, unless they actually encountered the enemy during the war, most “soldiers” have very little idea what “combat” was like. As William Manchester says, “All who wore uniforms are called veterans, but more than 90 percent of them are as uninformed about the killing zones as those on the home front.” Manchester’s fellow marine E. B. Sledge thoughtfully and responsibly invokes the terms drastically and totally to underline the differences in experience between front and rear, and not even the far rear, but the close rear. “Our code of conduct toward the enemy,” he notes, “differed drastically from that prevailing back at the division CP.” (He’s describing gold-tooth extraction from still-living Japanese.) Again he writes: “We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines…,” even, he would insist, to men as intelligent and sensitive as Glenn Gray, who missed seeing with his own eyes Sledge’s marine friends sliding under fire down a shell-pocked ridge slimy with mud and liquid dysentery shit into the maggoty Japanese and USMC corpses at the bottom, vomiting as the maggots burrowed into their own foul clothing. “We didn’t talk about such things,” says Sledge. “They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans…. Nor do authors normally write about such vileness; unless they have seen it with their own eyes, it is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.” And Sledge has added a comment on such experience and the insulation provided by even a short distance: “Often people just behind our rifle companies couldn’t understand what we knew.” Glenn Gray was not in a rifle company, or even just behind one. “When the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came,” he asks us to believe, “many an American soldier felt shocked and ashamed.” Shocked, OK, but why ashamed? Because we’d destroyed civilians? We’d been doing that for years, in raids on Hamburg and Berlin and Cologne and Frankfurt and Mannheim and Dresden, and Tokyo, and besides, the two A-bombs wiped out 10,000 Japanese troops, not often thought of now, John Hersey’s kindly physicians and Jesuit priests being more touching. If around division headquarters some of the people Gray talked to felt ashamed, down in the rifle companies no one did, despite Gray’s assertions. “The combat soldier,” he says,

knew better than did Americans at home what those bombs meant in suffering and injustice. The man of conscience realized intuitively that the vast majority of Japanese in both cities were no more, if no less, guilty of the war than were his own parents, sisters, or brothers.

I find this canting nonsense. The purpose of the bombs was not to “punish” people but to stop the war. To intensify the shame Gray insists we feel, he seems willing to fiddle the facts. The Hiroshima bomb, he says, was dropped “without any warning.” But actually, two days before, 720,000 leaflets were dropped on the city urging everyone to get out and indicating that the place was going to be (as the Potsdam Declaration had promised) obliterated. Of course few left.

Experience whispers that the pity is not that we used the bomb to end the Japanese war but that it wasn’t ready in time to end the German one.

They also can appear at the top of search results

February 12th, 2019

To build a big line of exclusive products, Amazon is having other brands do most of the work:

The online retail giant is asking consumer-goods companies to create brands exclusively for Amazon after finding that developing them on its own is too costly and time-consuming, according to people familiar with the strategy.

Equal sweeteners and nutrition brand GNC are among the first to launch products through an accelerator program Amazon launched last year to outsource the work. Mattress maker Tuft & Needle also recently created a new brand called Nod exclusively for Amazon.

[...]

In exchange, brands get help launching their products on Amazon.com, faster customer feedback when testing new products, marketing support and revenue from the sales. They also can appear at the top of search results — a big draw, given Amazon’s platform lists an estimated 550 million items.

[...]

Amazon, on its own, also has been quietly growing the number of its in-house brands in recent years. Analysts estimate they now have more than 100. Those include the more obvious AmazonBasics brand, which makes everything from suitcases to batteries; the Happy Belly brand of foods; and the Mama Bear baby products brand. Amazon sometimes promotes its own brands higher in search results, like “Amazon’s Choice” and sponsored items, or default results in voice searches using Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.

[...]

Amazon is increasingly important for consumer product manufacturers. It now accounts for roughly half of all sales online, according to eMarketer.

Dune does neither

February 11th, 2019

T. Greer recently mentioned Professor Brian Smith’s syllabus for POLS 334-01, The Politics of Science Fiction, which lists these books as required reading:

Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games, Orbit Books, ISBN: 0316005401
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, Tor Books, ISBN: 0812550706
J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books), ISBN: 0803270763
F.A. Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume I: Rules and Order, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0226320863
Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Orb Books, ISBN: 0312863551
Frank Herbert, Dune, Ace Books, ISBN: 0441172717
Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Harper Classics, ISBN: 006051275X
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Harper Collins, ISBN: 0060652942
James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, ISBN: 0300078153

Smith also requires students to read the prologue to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and sections 125-169 in The Gay Science (or The Joyful Wisdom).

Smith’s discussion questions often pit one text against another:

  • What hope does Nietzsche place in the coming of the Overman? What obstacles does Nietzsche suggest stand in the way of the change the Overman might bring to the world?
  • Consider the links between the Bene Gesserit plan to create the Kwisatz Haderach described in the Appendix and Nietzsche’s ideal of the Overman.
  • How do the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit appear to differ in their quest for human perfection? Why does the emergence of hierarchies based on the cultivation of extreme human talent lead back to the sort of aristocracy this novel depicts?
  • Why does it matter to Lewis that the authors of The Green Book undermine the idea that moral judgments reflect reason and emotion? What political importance does he think this has? Is Thufir Hawat an example of the sort of “chestless” person Lewis describes in the chapter?
  • How might someone following the literary and moral sensibility that Lewis fears might take root read the events of the novel to this point? The Harkonnen plot relies on the exploitation of the Atreides’ characters as much or more than it does on brute force. In what ways does their understanding rely on an understanding of the virtues Lewis suggests we need?
  • Consider Lewis’ arguments about what leads human beings to sacrifice themselves for a cause. How does this relate to the Fremen? To what degree have the Bene Gesserit and others in the novel embraced the quest for mastery Lewis describes near the end of the chapter?
  • What are the major moral features of Fremen society?
  • How does the Bene Gesserit plot to manipulate religion explain the Fremen response to Paul and Jessica?
  • What does it suggest to you that the Bene Gesserit never really articulated a reason they wanted to create the Kwisatz Haderach?
  • Lewis argues that efforts to “see through” first principles actually result in less understanding of our world than analyses that presuppose the existence of a natural law. Does this help us understand the Harkonnen’s myriad failures throughout the book in any way?
  • To what degree does Paul Muad’dib transcend the efforts of others to control him? In what significant ways do Lewis’ warnings about danger of scientific control over human life resonate in the novel? How does this seemingly differ from Herbert’s intent in writing?

I didn’t take to Dune initially, but it really stuck with me. T. Greer is not a fan:

Just don’t think Dune is that interesting in the questions it poses or deep in the answers it hints at. Really good science fiction tends to excel in the 1st; enduring literature excels in the last. Dune does neither.