The Hundred Best Novels

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

The Times Literary Supplement dug up this old list — from 1898 — of the hundred best novels:

  1. Don Quixote – 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes
  2. The Holy War – 1682 – John Bunyan
  3. Gil Blas – 1715 – Alain René le Sage
  4. Robinson Crusoe – 1719 – Daniel Defoe
  5. Gulliver’s Travels – 1726 – Jonathan Swift
  6. Roderick Random – 1748 – Tobias Smollett
  7. Clarissa – 1749 – Samuel Richardson
  8. Tom Jones – 1749 – Henry Fielding
  9. Candide – 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire
  10. Rasselas – 1759 – Samuel Johnson
  11. The Castle of Otranto – 1764 – Horace Walpole
  12. The Vicar of Wakefield – 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith
  13. The Old English Baron – 1777 – Clara Reeve
  14. Evelina – 1778 – Fanny Burney
  15. Vathek – 1787 – William Beckford
  16. The Mysteries of Udolpho – 1794 – Ann Radcliffe
  17. Caleb Williams – 1794 – William Godwin
  18. The Wild Irish Girl – 1806 – Lady Morgan
  19. Corinne – 1810 – Madame de Stael
  20. The Scottish Chiefs – 1810 – Jane Porter
  21. The Absentee – 1812 – Maria Edgeworth
  22. Pride and Prejudice – 1813 – Jane Austen
  23. Headlong Hall – 1816 – Thomas Love Peacock
  24. Frankenstein – 1818 – Mary Shelley
  25. Marriage – 1818 – Susan Ferrier
  26. The Ayrshire Legatees – 1820 – John Galt
  27. Valerius – 1821 – John Gibson Lockhart
  28. Wilhelm Meister – 1821 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  29. Kenilworth – 1821 – Sir Walter Scott
  30. Bracebridge Hall – 1822 – Washington Irving
  31. The Epicurean – 1822 – Thomas Moore
  32. The Adventures of Hajji Baba – 1824 – James Morier (“usually reckoned his best”)
  33. The Betrothed – 1825 – Alessandro Manzoni
  34. Lichtenstein – 1826 – Wilhelm Hauff
  35. The Last of the Mohicans – 1826 – Fenimore Cooper
  36. The Collegians – 1828 – Gerald Griffin
  37. The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch – 1828 – David M. Moir
  38. Richelieu – 1829 – G. P. R. James (the “first and best” novel by the “doyen of historical novelists”)
  39. Tom Cringle’s Log – 1833 – Michael Scott
  40. Mr. Midshipman Easy – 1834 – Frederick Marryat
  41. Le Père Goriot – 1835 – Honoré de Balzac
  42. Rory O’More – 1836 – Samuel Lover (another first novel, inspired by one of the author’s own ballads)
  43. Jack Brag – 1837 – Theodore Hook
  44. Fardorougha the Miser – 1839 – William Carleton (“a grim study of avarice and Catholic family life. Critics consider it the author’s finest achievement”)
  45. Valentine Vox – 1840 – Henry Cockton (yet another first novel)
  46. Old St. Paul’s – 1841 – Harrison Ainsworth
  47. Ten Thousand a Year – 1841 – Samuel Warren (“immensely successful”)
  48. Susan Hopley – 1841 – Catherine Crowe (“the story of a resourceful servant who solves a mysterious crime”)
  49. Charles O’Malley – 1841 – Charles Lever
  50. The Last of the Barons – 1843 – Bulwer Lytton
  51. Consuelo – 1844 – George Sand
  52. Amy Herbert – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell
  53. Adventures of Mr. Ledbury – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell
  54. Sybil – 1845 – Lord Beaconsfield (a. k. a. Benjamin Disraeli)
  55. The Three Musketeers – 1845 – Alexandre Dumas
  56. The Wandering Jew – 1845 – Eugène Sue
  57. Emilia Wyndham – 1846 – Anne Marsh
  58. The Romance of War – 1846 – James Grant (“the narrative of the 92nd Highlanders’ contribution from the Peninsular campaign to Waterloo”)
  59. Vanity Fair – 1847 – W. M. Thackeray
  60. Jane Eyre – 1847 – Charlotte Brontë
  61. Wuthering Heights – 1847 – Emily Brontë
  62. The Vale of Cedars – 1848 – Grace Aguilar
  63. David Copperfield – 1849 – Charles Dickens
  64. The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell – 1850 – Anne Manning (“written in a pastiche seventeenth-century style and printed with the old-fashioned typography and page layout for which there was a vogue at the period . . .”)
  65. The Scarlet Letter – 1850 – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  66. Frank Fairleigh – 1850 – Francis Smedley (“Smedley specialised in fiction that is hearty and active, with a strong line in boisterous college escapades and adventurous esquestrian exploits”)
  67. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – 1851 – H. B. Stowe
  68. The Wide Wide World – 1851 – Susan Warner (Elizabeth Wetherell)
  69. Nathalie – 1851 – Julia Kavanagh
  70. Ruth – 1853 – Elizabeth Gaskell
  71. The Lamplighter – 1854 – Maria Susanna Cummins
  72. Dr. Antonio – 1855 – Giovanni Ruffini
  73. Westward Ho! – 1855 – Charles Kingsley
  74. Debit and Credit (Soll und Haben) – 1855 – Gustav Freytag
  75. Tom Brown’s School-Days – 1856 – Thomas Hughes
  76. Barchester Towers – 1857 – Anthony Trollope
  77. John Halifax, Gentleman – 1857 – Dinah Mulock (a. k. a. Dinah Craik; “the best-known Victorian fable of Smilesian self-improvement”)
  78. Ekkehard – 1857 – Viktor von Scheffel
  79. Elsie Venner – 1859 – O. W. Holmes
  80. The Woman in White – 1860 – Wilkie Collins
  81. The Cloister and the Hearth – 1861 – Charles Reade
  82. Ravenshoe – 1861 – Henry Kingsley (“There is much confusion in the plot to do with changelings and frustrated inheritance” in this successful novel by Charles Kingsley’s younger brother, the “black sheep” of a “highly respectable” family)
  83. Fathers and Sons – 1861 – Ivan Turgenieff
  84. Silas Marner – 1861 – George Eliot
  85. Les Misérables – 1862 – Victor Hugo
  86. Salammbô – 1862 – Gustave Flaubert
  87. Salem Chapel – 1862 – Margaret Oliphant
  88. The Channings – 1862 – Ellen Wood (a. k. a. Mrs Henry Wood)
  89. Lost and Saved – 1863 – The Hon. Mrs. Norton
  90. The Schönberg-Cotta Family – 1863 – Elizabeth Charles
  91. Uncle Silas – 1864 – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  92. Barbara’s History – 1864 – Amelia B. Edwards (“Confusingly for bibliographers, she was related to Matilda Betham-Edwards and possibly to Annie Edward(e)s . . .”)
  93. Sweet Anne Page – 1868 – Mortimer Collins
  94. Crime and Punishment – 1868 – Feodor Dostoieffsky
  95. Fromont Junior – 1874 – Alphonse Daudet
  96. Marmorne – 1877 – P. G. Hamerton (“written under the pseudonym Adolphus Segrave”)
  97. Black but Comely – 1879 – G. J. Whyte-Melville
  98. The Master of Ballantrae – 1889 – R. L. Stevenson
  99. Reuben Sachs – 1889 – Amy Levy
  100. News from Nowhere – 1891 – William Morris

What stands out to many people is how few of those novels are recognizable today. What stands out to me is how many of those novels are bad genre fiction — bad, but influential.

Target and Amazon

Friday, November 29th, 2013

I’m not surprised that 62% of Target’s shoppers also visit Amazon, but I am surprised that more Target shoppers visit Wal-Mart. I thought there was an invisible cultural line between Target and Wal-Mart. If you shop at Target, you don’t shop at Wal-Mart — unless you’re that one weird Target shopper who also needs ammo.

Anyway, Target is trying to learn some of Amazon’s tricks:

Target’s Internet sales are puny—less than 2% of its $73 billion in total sales last year. By comparison, Amazon’s North America sales rose 30% last year to $35 billion, most of it in categories of goods that Target also sells. Meanwhile, traffic to Target’s stores, as evidenced by its overall transaction count, has fallen for three straight quarters.


In an effort to catch up, Target this year is spending about as much of its $2.3 billion U.S. capital budget on improving its technology, developing mobile apps and modernizing its supply chain as it is on opening and remodeling stores. Next year, the company will spend more on those investments than on stores, an acknowledgment that future growth will increasingly depend on digital sales.


Adding food helped Target get more everyday trips and better match what Wal-Mart stores offered, and the Red Card, which offers discounts, now accounts for more than 20% of purchases and is growing ahead of expectations. The Canada push had a rocky start with fewer repeat shoppers than expected, and Target now expects profits will take longer to come.

“It was a very aggressive agenda, and it has stretched us and tested us,” Mr. Steinhafel said.

Like other retailers that have confronted the Amazon threat, Target sees its physical stores as an asset that the strictly online retailer doesn’t have. For instance, Target is trying to boost sales of baby equipment by adding employees to aid customers, something Target has tested in Chicago and is rolling out to more markets. The company is also putting in so-called beauty concierges to push cosmetics, and it is expanding these to 300 stores by year’s end.

Both moves appear to be aimed at boosting sales for two profitable categories that have migrated to the web, Kantar Retail’s Leon Nicholas said.

Some of Target’s responses fall short of Amazon, which could make it hard to stem the loss of customers. Its subscription service only covers baby supplies, far fewer than Amazon’s Subscribe & Save, which also offers deeper discounts based on how many items are in a scheduled order. Target does plan to expand its subscriptions to offer limited selections of coffee, personal care products, paper towels and toilet paper by the end of the year.

Target also is letting its customers retrieve online orders at any one of its 1,800 U.S. stores starting this holiday season, much like Amazon’s package pickup program at lockers in 7-Eleven convenience stores. But having in-store pickups is something other brick-and-mortar retailers have been doing for years and some, like Wal-Mart and Home Depot Inc., have carved out space in their stores. Target has dedicated space for pickups in only a handful of locations.

Polymath or Monopath

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Increasing specialization has led us away from becoming polymaths and instead toward becoming monopaths:

It means a person with a narrow mind, a one-track brain, a bore, a super-specialist, an expert with no other interests — in other words, the role-model of choice in the Western world.


Ever since the beginning of the industrial era, we have known both the benefits and the drawbacks of dividing jobs into ever smaller and more tedious ones. Riches must be balanced against boredom and misery. But as long as a boring job retains an element of physicality, one can find a rhythm, entering a ‘flow’ state wherein time passes easily and the hard labour is followed by a sense of accomplishment. In Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur (1962) there is a marvellous description of Neal Cassady working like a demon, changing tyres in a tyre shop and finding himself uplifted rather than diminished by the work. Industrialism tends toward monopathy because of the growth of divided labour, but it is only when the physical element is removed that the real problems begin. When the body remains still and the mind is forced to do something repetitive, the human inside us rebels.

The average job now is done by someone who is stationary in front of some kind of screen. Someone who has just one overriding interest is tunnel-visioned, a bore, but also a specialist, an expert. Welcome to the monopathic world, a place where only the single-minded can thrive.

Proscribed Areas

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

In the warming-up days of a Frontier campaign, John Masters says, the rules and regulations governing their actions were irksome in the extreme:

The troubled area was delimited and called the ‘proscribed area.’ Outside the prescribed area we might not take any action at all until shot at. Inside it we might not fire at any band of less than ten men unless they were (a) armed and (b) off a path. These were dangerous conditions in a country where arms can be concealed close to flowing clothes, and where paths are tracks invisible from a hundred yards. One day in this war, after a minor shooting affray, my company caught a young Pathan wandering along a goat track that led away from the recent fight. He was admiring the scenery and looked very innocent, but he had a rifle tucked inside his robes. We inspected him closely and found four empty places in his otherwise full cartridge belt, and the chamber and barrel of his rifle were dirty. Had had not had time to clean it. It was a moral and legal certainty that he had taken part in the fight and my subadar, a bloodthirsty little man named Naule, wanted to shoot him on the spot — or rather, after a small exercise in legalism. He urged me to let the young man go and, when he was a hundred yards off, fire a bullet past his ear. He would jump for cover off the goat track and would then be off a path, armed, and in a proscribed area — in brief, lawful game. I was sorry that I had to say no to this suggestion, and I still don’t know why I did. I was here to kill Pathan and look after my company, and this would have been a step towards both aims. But I sent the prisoner back under guard to the adjutant at battalion headquarters, who in turn would pass him on to the Political Agent for further questioning.

That evening I heard the sequel.  The adjutant ordered the armourers to inspect his rifle again.  Under pretence of examining it they took the weapon in a vice and secretly bent the barrel a fraction of an inch, not enough to notice but enough to cause an explosion and perhaps blow the young man’s hand off next time he fired.  They did this because they knew the young man would shortly be delivered to the politicals and, like all soldiers, they were not sure which side the politicals were on.

Jerry Miculek Carving a Turkey

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Jerry Miculek carves a turkey — his way:

OK, guys, as you can see, this is my trusty .460 Weatherby. I bought it years ago anticipating having trouble with rhinoceroses in the garden. The rhinos never came, so I had to find other ways to entertain myself with this package. So, Thanksgiving was rolling around, there was a turkey available, so I figured, well, this would sliced and dice a turkey pretty good.

An Elusive and Mobile Enemy

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

An army exists to advance by force — or the threat of force — civil policies that cannot be advanced by civil methods, John Masters reminds us:

The Government of India’s Frontier policy was always the same — the quickest possible re-establishment of tranquility. The army’s immediate task to achieve this invariable object depended on the circumstances of the particular trouble. It might be to break up the big armed bands, or lashkars, with which a tribe was defying the government. It might be to force the tribe to recall a lashkar of theirs that had gone over the border and was raising hell in Afghanistan. It might be to build a road, an airfield, or a new Scout fort in a hitherto inaccessible area, and so destroy the usefulness of that section as a refuge for outlaws and trouble makers. It might be to capture an important ringleader and arrest his personal followers — though the army was singularly unsuited to such a role.


The core of our problem in the army was to force battle on an elusive and mobile enemy. The enemy, while he retained any common sense, tried to avoid battle and instead fight us with pinpricking hit-and-run tactics. We had light automatic guns, howitzers, armoured cars, tanks, and aircraft. The Pathan had none of these things, yet when he tried to even up the disparity, and cumbered himself with stolen automatics or home-made artillery, he suffered heavily, because they constituted impediments, things that were difficult to move but were worth defending. And when he stayed and defended something, whether a gun or a village, we trapped him and pulverized him. When he flitted and sniped, rushed and ran away, we felt as if we were using a crowbar to swat wasps.

Even so, the scales were not so heavily loaded as it appears, for we fought with one hand behind our backs. We were usually denied a soldier’s greatest weapon — aggression, the first shot. Again the government remembered its object, the re-establishment of tranquillity, and reminded us that there would be no tranquillity among these proud and fierce people, however quickly we forced them into mere surrender, if we fought our campaign on unnecessarily ruthless lines. In ‘normal’ warfare armies bomb cities and destroy the enemy food supply without compunction, but we had to be careful not to harm women and children if we could help it, and we could not shoot on suspicion, only on certainty, and we could not damage fruit trees or destroy water channels.

Solzhenitsyn Spots the Cathedral

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was invited to give Harvard University’s 1978 commencement address, which he entitled “A World Split Apart”. In it, Solzhenitsyn spots Moldbug’s “Cathedral”:

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within Western countries, exceeding that of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has voted Western journalists into their positions of power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the totalitarian East with its rigorously unified press: One discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole (the spirit of the time), generally accepted patterns of judgment, and maybe common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Unrestrained freedom exists for the press, but not for readership, because newspapers mostly transmit in a forceful and emphatic way those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and that general trend.

Without any censorship in the West, fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously separated from those that are not fashionable, and the latter, without ever being forbidden have little chance of finding their way into periodicals or books or being heard in colleges. Your scholars are free in the legal sense, but they are hemmed in by the idols of the prevailing fad. There is no open violence, as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to accommodate mass standards frequently prevents the most independent-minded persons from contributing to public life and gives rise to dangerous herd instincts that block dangerous herd development.

In America, I have received letters from highly intelligent persons — maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but the country cannot hear him because the media will not provide him with a forum. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to a blindness which is perilous in our dynamic era. An example is the self-deluding interpretation of the state of affairs in the contemporary world that functions as a sort of petrified armor around people’s minds, to such a degree that human voices from seventeen countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will be broken only by the inexorable crowbar of events.

As Nick B. Steves notes, Solzhenitsyn spoke a little too plainly.

Challenging the double standard on violence

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Gun-nut Tim challenges the double standard on violence:

Americans voraciously consume media content that is absolutely loaded with violence, and openly discuss this content in polite society all the time. Not long ago I was involved in a conversation where a few of the people wandered into the topic of a TV show called “Game of Thrones”, a series I’ve never seen, and particularly one episode of the series colloquially referred to as “The Red Wedding”. These people described, in excruciating detail, a scene of blood-soaked murder and mayhem all the way down to the sounds made when one character had her throat cut.

These same people get visibly uncomfortable any time the words “self defense” even come up. When I briefly and very generally described an officer involved shooting that an aquaintence had been involved in some time ago, they spoke as if the acquaintance must be some sort of moral degenerate or psychopath for actually stating that he had no intention of dying alone the day he was assaulted by a man wanted for murder.

I don’t get it. They’ll watch portrayals of violence on screen with relish and glee, never missing an episode of a show that almost fetishizes real acts of violence against largely undeserving people that have made the headlines. Yet if somebody mentions actually putting a bullet in one of the monsters who is causing all sorts of mayhem for real in a legitimate act of self defense, suddenly there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth?

It reminds me of a time when I was at a function with a girlfriend and someone in the group of her friends mentioned that I was an occasional hunter with the same look on their face a baby gets the first time they taste a lemon. One particularly smarmy dude in the group whom I had pretty much despised from the getgo due to personality flaws so big they could probably be seen from space, decided to announce that anyone who took pleasure in the death of an animal was some sort of psychopath. I noticed he was attempting this passive-aggressive callout in between bites of a steak while wearing a leather belt, expensive leather shoes, and carrying an expensive leather man-purse he’d picked up on a European trip. I don’t really do passive aggressive. I’m more aggressive-aggressive, and when presented with this nonsense I decided to (figuratively) choke him on his A1 flavored hypocrisy. I pointed out that someone who was crowing about a mouth full of critter dead at someone else’s hand probably didn’t have any real cause to feel morally superior to the guy who actually kills the critter himself before eating it.

Our culture seems intent on denying some basic realities of the world. People who will watch hours of blood soaked mayhem on TV for entertainment will turn right around and allege that violence never solves anything when the subject of self defense comes up. They’ll follow the exploits of serial killers and madmen with fascination but if a police officer or ordinary citizen fires on such a person and doesn’t seem to be much bothered by having done so, somehow the good guy is the monster? Hundreds or thousands can be killed by lifestyle criminals with long records of unjustified violence and it draws no notice, but if somebody actually shoots one of those perpetrators mid-act a bunch of people want to wring their hands and fret over vigilantism.

Gasht or Barampta

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

North Waziristan exemplified the British system along the Northwest Frontier in the 1930s:

The Political Agent, North Waziristan, had his headquarters near the middle of his area, at Miranshah, where there were a fort and an airfield. He lived inside the fort, where also were the headquarters of the Tochi Scouts. The Scouts also held a few small Beau Geste forts scattered around the country, each garrisoned by perhaps two hundred and fifty Pathan officers and scouts, and one British officer. The Scouts’ only armament was rifles and a few immobile machine-guns for defence of the forts.

Once or twice a week each post commander would leave a part of his force inside the fort and take the rest out on patrol. If the patrol had no particular purpose it was called a gasht; but if it was specifically punitive in purpose — in which case the Political Agent would usually accompany it — it was called by the delightfully onomatopoeic name of barampta. Gasht or barampta, the Scouts covered enormous distances at high speeds. Each man carried thirty or fifty rounds of ammunition, a water bottle, a bag of raisins, a few disks of unleavened bread, and a lump or two of coarse sugar. The whole party, numbering perhaps one hundred and eighty, shared the burden of the heavy baggage — four stretchers and a basket of carrier pigeons. The gashts swept along the ridges and past the loopholed towers, loping ceaselessly on at five miles an hour, and returned after a circuit of twenty-five or thirty-five miles to their fort. The baramptas pounced before dawn on some fortress village withing fifteen miles of their post, arrested the startled headman, and whisked him lightfoot to headquarters, there to explain just what hand the young men of his village had taken in last week’s mail robbery, and why he had not come on his own in answer to several polite summonses.

Scouts on the move were a magnificent sight. The British officers were indistinguishable from the men — all brown as berries, all wearing khaki turbans, grey shirts, flapping loose outside khaki shorts, stockings, and nailed sandals. The Pathans — in uniform or out, fighting on one side or the other — are rangy, hawk-nosed, and seem to be made of whipcord and steel. British officers of Scouts had hard work at first to keep up, but in time they all developed astounding endurance and matched it with an equally astounding ability in drinking and revelling. Several famous mountaineers, including the great Peter Oliver of Everest, had served with Scouts at one time or another. The only people who could outmarch Scouts, and then only on roads, were Mountain Artillery moving with their guns and their huge Missouri mules. (On manoeuvres in 1939 one mountain battery covered seventy-three miles in twenty-three hours at a steady pounding trot; the men hung on to the mule saddlery or to the stirrups of the few horses.)

When a situation passed beyond the power of the Scouts to control it the army emerged from its posts in tribal territory and lumbered into action under the direction of the Political Agents and their boss, the local Resident. Sometimes even this was not enough, and then the Resident whistled up still more soldiers from the nearby garrison towns in India proper — Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Kohat, and the rest — and a full-scale Frontier war was on.

In the last stage the Resident handed over his civil powers to the army commander.  This amounted to martial law.  All the politicals took one pace sideways and one pace backward and, instead of telling their military opposite numbers what to do, assumed a knowledgeable air and advised them of the probable political effects of the action they intended to take.  But this happened only when violence was so widespread and so clearly out of hand that the problem was not to calm the tribes but to restore conditions in which the politicals could begin to think what was the best way of doing so.

That’s from chapter 17 of John Masters’ Bugles and a Tiger.

MOOCs Are Largely Reaching Privileged Learners

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Most people who take massive open online courses — surprise! — already hold a degree from a traditional institution. Or, as The Chronicle of Higher Education puts it, MOOCs are largely reaching privileged learners:

The paper is based on a survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 courses offered by Penn professors on the Coursera platform. The findings — among the first from outside researchers, rather than MOOC providers — reinforce the truism that most people who take MOOCs are already well educated.

The Penn researchers sent the survey to students who had registered for a MOOC and viewed at least one video lecture. More than 80 percent of the respondents had a two- or four-year degree, and 44 percent had some graduate education.

The pattern was true not only of MOOC students in the United States but also learners in other countries. In some foreign countries where MOOCs are popular, such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa, “80 percent of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well educated 6 percent of the population,” according to the paper.

In other developing countries, about 80 percent of the MOOC students surveyed already held college degrees — a number staggeringly out of proportion with the share of degree holders in the general population.

“The individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most — those without access to higher education in developing countries — are underrepresented among the early adopters,” write the paper’s six authors.

It’s the strangest thing…

Videogames Become a Spectator Sport

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Videogames are increasingly becoming spectator sports — which I find baffling:

On any given day, Jayson Love fires up a personal computer from his Billings, Mont., home and starts his job — playing videogames in front of an audience of thousands.

The 33-year-old hosts a Web show called “MANvsGAME,” in which he broadcasts his live gameplay on the site Twitch. Between advertising and subscribers paying $5 per month to watch his video stream, he says it is possible he’ll earn more than $100,000 next year.

It’s not that I can’t conceive of a game worth watching rather than playing, but I haven’t seen one yet. Of course, I’m one of those weirdos who’d rather play a sport than watch it, too.

Arguments Along the Northwest Frontier

Monday, November 25th, 2013

John Masters describes the Northwest Frontier and the “arguments” available to the civil government:

On November 25th, 1936, the Frontier, which had been simmering since the Mohmand Campaign of 1934–35, suddenly exploded. The first incident in what was to develop into the biggest campaign since 1919 took place at Biche Kaskai in Waziristan, where Waziri tribesmen ambushed the Bannu Brigade on a carefully laid, well-concealed, and boldly executed plan. The brigade suffered one hundred and thirty casualties and lost many arms and much ammunition. The tribesmen, elated by the early success, went on to higher things. The rallying point of tribal hostility was a man called the Faqir of Ipi, a man who still in 1955 occasionally hits the headlines, as he is currently the leader of the movement to form a separate Pathan country, to be called Pakhtunistan.

Waziristan contains two great and well-armed tribes, the Mahsuds in the south and the Wazirs in the north. The whole area, which is about the size of Wales, had been fairly quiet since the big campaigns of 1919–1923, but many young men had grown up who had not fought in the old battles and were eager to take up their national pastime of war and emulate the feats of their elders.

At a time when several sections of the Wazirs were complaining of other grievances a Wazir abducted a young Hindu girl from Bannu, on the edge of tribal territory, and forcibly converted her to Islam. The political authorities had to exert all their power to get the girl back and return her to her parents. This recovery of the girl from the arms of Islam aroused the strongest feelings among the fanatically Moslem Wazirs, who began whispering, when shouting, the magic word Jehad! Affairs moved steadily towards an explosion through all those on the government side tried as hard as they could within limits set by policy, justice, and the bands of history to avoid war. But wa it had to be, war it was, and the guns — ultima ratio regis, a king’s last argument — poured into Waziristan in increasing numbers.

The first arguments were the normal methods of diplomacy — persuasion, conferences, minor bribery, rewards, and threats. The civil government’s second argument was the khassadar system. A khassadar was a local tribesman who wore an armband labelled ‘K,” but was otherwise indistinguishable in his dirty grey or black cotton from any other tribesman. He received a small pay and sat on hill-tops near his village with the task of shooting at disaffected or excitable friends who tried to kill soldiers and rob convoys. The tribesmen were reluctant to shoot at khassadars for fear of becoming engaged in a blood feud. Unfortunately the khassadars were equally reluctant to fire on their naughty fellows for precisely the same reason. Furthermore, all khassadars seemed to be permanently in a temper about pay or promotion, and a high proportion of the stray shots fired at the army in Waziristan was fired by peevish khassadars. We thought they were an unmitigated nuisance, but they were probably a necessary step in the development of local responsibility for law and order, and we had to put up with them.

The third argument was the militia, or Scouts, or levies — they had many names. The whole length of tribal territory, from Gilgit in the north to Mekran in the south, was patrolled by the volunteers of these highly disciplined corps. They were armed, but their pay came from civil funds, not from the army budget, and they were under the control of the local political authorities, not of the military commander-in-chief. In ordinary times they could keep the peace because they were light-armed and fast and because they were themselves Pathans, usually from another part of the Frontier. Their officers were British officers of the Indian Army (or Indians holding King’s Commissions) who were lent or seconded to them for three- or four-year tours of duty. The various corps had romantic titles, romantic crests, and romantic tasks: the Gilgit Scouts, with their ibex-horn badge and the duty of patrolling the Karakorams and the Pamirs on the verges of China and Russia; the Chitral Scouts, circling always within sight of Tirachmir’s 25,230-foot cone on the edge of the Wakhan, the Afghan panhandle; the old Khyber Rifles; the Kurram Militia, safe in a nest of anxious Shia Moslems among hostile surrounding Sunni Moslems; in Waziristan, the two biggest and most warlike corps of all, the Tochi Scouts and the South Waziristan Scouts; farther south again, the Zhob Militia; and last, patrolling the deserts that run down to the Indian Ocean, the Mekran Levies.

That’s from chapter 17 of Bugles and a Tiger.

Before They Pass Away

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Photographer Jimmy Nelson has captured images of dozens of secluded cultures around the world before they pass away:

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Just Another Way

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Have you ever noticed, Steve Sailer asks, that basically everything you are supposed to believe in these days — feminism, diversity, etc. — turns out in practice to just be another way for hot babes, rich guys, super salesmen, cunning financiers, telegenic self-promoters, and charismatic politicians to get even more money and power?

Shifting the Goalposts at Gettysburg

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a magnificent and heartfelt oratory, China Hand says:

It is also a determined piece of goalpost shifting designed to cope with the fact that Lincoln’s Civil War was a bloody, improvised botch that he rescued by abandoning the positions that had won him the Presidency…

…and by redefining not only that war, but all American wars to come.

Both sides expected a short war, as always:

The only administration figure in the North who seemed to have a firm grasp of what was going on was Winfield Scott, an extremely capable but by 1860 superannuated general who had performed with distinction in the War of 1812 and brilliantly in the Mexican War of 1846. He looked at the Union’s untrained armies with disdain and proposed that they be carefully drilled and deployed as part of a three-year navy-based strategy to choke the CSA with an Atlantic/Caribbean/Mississippi River blockade.

This cautious protracted war strategy was anathema to Lincoln’s political team, setting the stage for four years of ineffectual butchery on a truly modern scale.

The Emancipation Proclamation made a negotiated settlement based on the status quo ante impossible:

Instead of letting the South go to seek its own destiny, the United States was committed to destroying it militarily and politically, and undertaking a long exercise of reconstruction in the south—what we now call “nation-building”—that today has still not achieved the seamless and productive political and cultural union of north and south.

And in order to justify a war whose aims were, by any close reading of the constitution as it stood in 1862, unconstitutional and opposed by a vast majority of voters (in a peacetime environment, opposition to emancipation was something that most northern as well as southern whites happily endorsed), it was necessary to stretch the law to its breaking point…and justify the carnage because, well, “Freedom”—an excuse that Lincoln’s successors, including both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have both been most happy to invoke.


Today, the Civil War is regarded as the United States’ first “good war”. It has to be. Because it was America’s bloodiest and least legal war. Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain or justify. And I believe that’s why the Civil War remains a lodestone for American politicians, patriots, and warbirds and the Gettysburg Address is a sacred text. Because if we can justify and exalt the Civil War and its 600,000 dead, we can justify and exalt any war.

When the moral claims are absolute, there are few limits on the bullets, bombs, falsehoods, and lawbending and lawbreaking employed to achieve them—even if the actual victories for freedom are as partial, equivocal, and fleeting as they turned out to be in places like Iraq and Libya.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)