A Kind of Security Blanket

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

The strongest clue that someone is planning a mass killing, Randall Collins argues, is a ritualized hidden arsenal:

Most of the characteristics of mass killers — low status isolates, bully victims, school failures, gun owners, players of violent games, even persons who talk or write about fantasies of revenge — are far too widespread in the population to accurately predict who will actually perpetrate a massacre. A much stronger clue, I suggest, is amassing an arsenal of weapons, which become the center of an obsessive ritual; the arsenal is not just a practical step towards the massacre, but has a motivating effect that deepens the spiral of clandestine plotting into a private world impervious to normal social restraints and moral feelings.

School shooters and other rampage killers generally amass an arsenal of weapons, bringing far more to the shooting site than they actually use or need. Michael Carneal brought a total of 8 guns, wrapped up in a unwieldy bundle as well as in his backpack: a 30-30 rifle, four .22 caliber rifles, 2 shotguns, and a pistol, and a many boxes of ammunition; but he used only the pistol. The pair of 11- and 13-year old boys who killed 5 and wounded 10 on a school playground in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1998 carried 7 pistols, 3 rifles, and a large amount of ammunition, of which they fired 30 shots.

The two shooters at Columbine HS carried a semi-automatic handgun, a carbine, two sawed-off shotguns, and almost 100 home-made bombs; they fired 96 shots from the carbine, 55 from the handgun, and 25 from one of the shotguns; their magazines held 240 rounds, of which they still had about 100 rounds, plus 90 of the bombs, when they committed suicide. In the first 20 minutes of their rampage, they killed 13 students and teachers and wounded 21. Then their emotional energy seemed to run out — they even laughed sardonically that the thrill of killing was gone. They left 34 students unharmed out of 56 who were hiding under desks in the school library, and merely taunted other students while they wandered the halls firing aimless shots, before shooting themselves 25 minutes later, synchronizing their last action with a chant: “One, two, three!”

Holmes, the Aurora killer, carried a shotgun, an automated assault rifle, and 2 handguns; previously he spent 4 months amassing equipment in his apartment, including multiple ammunition magazines and 6000 rounds, of which he used only a small part. He also constructed 30 explosives out of aerial fireworks, refilling them with chemicals, a task that must have taken many days.

Brievik had 4 guns, 2 of which he took to the island. He spent two years acquiring the weapons, since guns are hard to get in Europe, and Norwegian regulations are strict. Nevertheless he persevered through the official steps for a hunting license and undergoing training at a police-approved shooting club to get a pistol permit. To create a massive car bomb (which he used in the first phase of his attack, at a government building in Oslo), he spent several years acquiring a remote farm as a front for buying fertilizer and chemicals. He was busy in his hidden backstage, video-game training, writing propaganda, and making a fake police uniform and identification. On the island, he used his police persona to assemble the youths, ostensibly to announce precautions, before starting to shoot them at close range. He brought over 400 rounds with him, fired 186, and still had over half remaining after fatally shooting 67 persons and wounding 33. He too seemed to waver towards the end of his 70-minute shooting spree, making several phone calls offering to give himself up (at 40 minutes and 60 minutes), but then resuming shooting until the police finally arrived.

The stockpile of weapons is symbolic overkill. These guns are for showing off — both to intimidate others, but mainly to impress oneself. They are the sacred objects of the private backstage cult that builds up the rampager’s obsessive motivation to the massacre. Once at the sticking point their emotional energy never seems to carry them far enough to use all their weapons. Whether they bring all their weapons to the massacre or not, their primary significance has been during the build-up; i.e. the guns they bring are from the focus of their cult activities — they are a kind of security blanket.

To be clear about the diagnosis: I am not saying that anyone who collects guns is a potential mass killer. The crucial signs are: first, the guns are kept secret, part of a deep backstage. In contrast, most gun owners are quite open about them; they may be involved in a cult of guns but it is a public cult, visible as a political stance, or a well-advertized pastime such as hunting or target shooting. (Abigail Kohn, Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures.) It is the hidden arsenal that is dangerous — psychologically dangerous. Second, the rampage killer amasses a large, unrealistic collection of weapons as far as their actual use is concerned. This symbolic aspect sets them off from other kinds of criminal users of guns.

Everything Frightens Americans

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Everything frightens Americans, Fred Reed notes:

The United States has become a nation of weak, pampered, easily frightened, helpless milquetoasts who have never caught a fish, fired a gun, chopped a log, hitchhiked across the country, or been in a schoolyard fight. If their cat dies, they call a grief therapist.


Saturday, October 31st, 2015

I’ve written a surprising amount about Halloween over the years:

Preschool Bad

Friday, October 30th, 2015

The most extensive and careful study of preschool to date shows a slightly negative effect in the longer term:

By the end of kindergarten, the control children had caught up to the TN?VPK [preschool] children and there were no longer significant differences between them on any achievement measures. The same result was obtained at the end of first grade using both composite achievement measures.

In second grade, however, the groups began to diverge with the TN?VPK children scoring lower than the control children on most of the measures. The differences were significant on both achievement composite measures and on the math subtests.

This more or less supports Arnold Kling’s null hypothesis that educational interventions make no difference.

Feedback Considered Harmful

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Feedback can be harmful to learning, rather than helpful, when it’s simplistic:

Research shows the effects of feedback on learning are not always positive — and can even be negative. Our team collected and compared existing studies that looked at different methods for providing feedback in digital learning tools in order to find out which feedback methods actually improve student learning.

Digital tools, such as Improve, often give simple correct/incorrect messages to students, usually marking the answers with a tick or a cross. Research shows this kind of feedback is not effective.

Half of the studies that examined this kind of correct/incorrect feedback found that students who did not receive any feedback actually performed better than those who had received feedback.


One-third of the studies examined showed that students did not learn from being given the correct answer. Those students are more likely to disengage from the task as they can mindlessly click until they answer the task correctly without learning anything.

Appendix N Survey Complete

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

In the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, Gary Gygax included an Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, and old-school gamer Jeffro has gone back and read everything in it — and drawn some odd conclusions:

Tolkien’s ascendancy was not inevitable. It’s really a fluke that he even became the template for the modern fantasy epic.

A half dozen authors would have easily been considered on par with Tolkien in the seventies.

On the one hand, Tolkien’s work is peerless; nothing else compares. On the other hand, I am a bit surprised that it took off with a semi-popular audience.

Of course, what really took off was Tolkienesque fantasy:

Our concept of “Tolkienesque” fantasy has little to do with Tolkien’s actual work. Likewise, the “Lovecraftian” stories and games of today have little to do with what Lovecraft actually wrote. Our concepts of swords and sorcery have had the “weird” elements removed from them for the most part. Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.

Modern fantasy writers have read a lot of modern fantasy. The early fantasy writers read history and legends.

Times have changed:

Entire genres have been all but eliminated. The majority of the Appendix N list falls under either planetary romance, science fantasy, or weird fiction. Most people’s readings of AD&D and OD&D are done without a familiarity of these genres.

Science fiction and fantasy were much more related up through the seventies. Several Appendix N authors did top notch work in both genres. Some did work that could be classified as neither.

It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.

Modern fandom is now divorced from its past in a way that would be completely alien to game designers in the seventies. They had no problem synthesizing elements from classics, grandmasters of the thirties, and new wave authors.

Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly [homogenized] in comparison to them.

The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.

Nerdy protagonists like Harry Potter or Barry Allen from the new Flash TV series are an extremely recent phenomenon. Even a new wave proto-goth like Elric was a ladies’ man.

“Nice guys” like Harry Dresden were pretty well absent from the science fiction and fantasy scene from 1910 to 1977.

The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.

Tolkien and Lewis were not outliers. Writers ranging from Poul Anderson to Lord Dunsany and C. L. Moore wrote fantasy from a more or less Christian viewpoint. The shift to a largely post-Christian culture has marked an end of their approach to science fiction and fantasy.

Schooling, not Learning

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you want to find children who lack education today, the place to find them is in school:

That’s because nearly all children are in school. That’s the good news. Governments have built schools and hired teachers. Parents have seen that schooling is key to their child’s future and are sending their children to school. There has been more progress made in expanding schooling since the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 acknowledged education as a basic right than in all previous human history.

But the bad news is that hundreds of millions of children are starting school, going day after day, year after year, but not really learning. One study found that almost three-quarters of a recent cohort of youth in Zambia were innumerate and six of 10 illiterate. But only 7% of these youth had not attended school. In fact, half of those who were innumerate and a third who were illiterate had not just started school but completed grade 6. These children were being schooled but not educated. Schooling without learning is just time served. Unfortunately, Zambia is far from alone in having schooling without adequate education.

The cumulative results of international and national assessments around the world have led to a widespread recognition that, while there are disadvantaged groups still excluded from schooling, there is a global learning crisis of children already in school.

This is all terribly surprisingly to people who learned a lot in school and kept going back for more.

In India, for example, the government made a major commitment to finance elementary education. Central government spending on elementary education increased 11-fold between 2001 and 2013. Over the same period, assessments show the percentage of children in grade five who could read or do simple subtraction declined.

In Indonesia, a major commitment to increasing teachers’ salaries has led to more than $4bn in additional spending a year – but a rigorous evaluation shows almost exactly zero learning gain from students taught by the more highly paid teachers.

What a U.S.-Russian War in Syria Would Look Like

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Joe Pappalardo imagines what a U.S.-Russian war in Syria would look like:

The escalation begins with a strategic sacrifice. Russian helicopters in Syria are loaded with fuel drums and flown on a flight profile that mirrors a barrel bomb mission. The Raptors take the bait, immolate the Russians in midair, and give the Kremlin a talking point about “slain Russian troops.” Now it can say the Americans fired first and cast its next steps as self-defense.

The Moskva‘s radar spots the tankers easily as they make racetrack patterns in the sky. The refueling aircraft are 135 feet long and have virtually no defenses. They fly without escorts. The Russians wait until fate deals them a good hand—one aerial refueler from Greece is heading back to its base, over the Mediterranean. Another is loitering near Aleppo, tanking U.S. fighters. All are within range of the Moskva‘s 48N6E2 missiles.

The Med is crowded with warships. The United States has four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers off the Syrian coast, and part of their job is to shadow Russian warships. They’ve followed miles behind as the Moskva creeps along the coastline, north of their new airbase in Latakia.

And when the pair of SAMs rise from the Moskva, the crew on the bridge knows this war has entered a new, scary phase. They go into combat alert and radio to their base in Rota, Spain. By the time the news reaches commanders, the refueling aircraft are obliterated, the eight crew members onboard killed instantly.

Any tankers readying for takeoff are held on their tarmacs. Combat sorties are canceled. Airborne fighters and bombers are ordered to return to airbases. One fighter runs dry and flames out on the way and the pilots eject into Kurdish territory.

The Air Force operates more than 400 KC-135s, so in theory, losing two should not cripple an air campaign. Yet the threat alone keeps them grounded. And with tankers grounded, very few missions to support anti-ISIS and anti-Assad forces can proceed. (B-1 bombers flying from Turkey still operate over northeastern Syria, but only out of the range of the Moskva’s missiles.)

While Russia claims its right to self-defense and takes to the world stage claiming its “limited actions” are meant to deescalate the conflict in Syria, Pentagon planners are preparing a response within hours. The humiliation of the attack and forced cessation of combat missions are just too great.

Orders are passed to the American guided missile destroyers. The Mediterranean is about to erupt.

On the Spring Valley High Incident

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Education Realist shares his thoughs on the Spring Valley High incident:

So the Spring Valley High School incident is yet another case of a teenager treating a cop like a teacher. This is, as always, a terrible idea.


Reports say that the student initiated the event by refusing to turn over a cell phone — also offered up is refusal to stop chewing gum, which I find unlikely. However, it’s clear the student was refusing several direct orders that began with the teacher and moved up through the administrator and the cop.

Defiance is a big deal in high school. It must not be tolerated. Tolerating open defiance is what leads to hopelessness, to out of control classrooms, to kids wandering around the halls, to screaming fights on a routine basis. Some teachers care about dress code, others about swearing, still others get bothered by tardies. But most teachers enforce, and most administrators support, a strong, absolute bulwark against outright defiance as an essential discipline element.

Let me put it this way: an angry student tells me to f*** off or worse, I’m likely to shrug it off if peace is restored. Get an apology later when things have settled. But if that student refuses to hand me a cell phone, or change seats, or put food away, I tell him he’ll be removed from class if he doesn’t comply. No compliance, I call the supervisor and have the kid removed. Instantly. Not something I spend more than 30 seconds of class time on, including writing up a referral.

At that point, the student will occasionally leave the classroom without waiting for the supervisor, which changes the charge from “defiance” to “leaving class without permission”. The rest of the time the supervisor comes, the kid leaves, comes back the next day, and next time I tell them to do something, they do it. Overwhelmingly, though, the kids just hand me the phone, put away the food, change seatswhen I ask, every so often pleading for a second chance which every so often I give. Otherwise, the incident is over. Just today I had three phones in my pocket for just one class, and four lunches on the table that had to wait until advisory was over because I don’t like eating in my classroom.

We have a school resource officer (SRO), but I’d call a supervisor for defiance, and I’ve never heard of a kid refusing to go with a supervisor. If there was a refusal, at a certain point the supervisor would call an administrator, and it’s conceivable, I guess, that the administrator could authorize the SRO to step in. So assuming I couldn’t have talked this student down, I would have done what the teacher did, and called for someone else to take over — and long after I did something that should have been no big deal, this catastrophe could conceivably have happened.

I ask you, readers, to consider the recalcitrance required to defy three or four levels of authority, to hold up a class for at least 10-15 minutes, to refuse even to leave the classroom to discuss whatever outrage the student feels warrants this level of disruption.

Then I ask you to consider what would happen if students constantly defied orders (couched as requests, of course) to turn over a cell phone, or change seats, or stop combing their hair, or put the food away. If every time a student defied an order, a long drawn-out battle going through three levels of authority ensued. School would rapidly become unmanageable.

So you have two choices at that point: let madness prevail, or be unflinching with open defiance. Students have to understand that defiance is worse than compliance, that once defiance has occurred, complying with a supervisor is a step up from being turned over to an administrator, which is way, way better than being turned over to a cop. (Note that all of this assumes that the parents aren’t a fear factor.)

Some schools can’t avoid the insanity. Their students simply don’t fear the outcomes enough, and unlike charters, they are bound by federal and state laws to educate all children. If the schools suspend too many kids, the feds will come in and force you into a voluntary agreement. This is when desperate times lead to desperate measures like restorative justice, where each incident leads to an endless yammer about feeeeeeeeelings as teachers play therapist and tell their kids to circle up.

Vivos Indiana Underground Survival Shelter

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

The Vivos Indiana underground survival shelter is a nuclear-hardened, luxury shelter — conveniently “located within a one-day drive from anywhere in the Midwest and the Eastern seaboard of America”:

Built during the Cold War to withstand a 20 megaton blast, within just a few miles, this impervious underground complex accommodates up to 80 people, for a minimum of one year of fully autonomous survival, without needing to return to the surface.

Like a very comfortable 4-Star hotel, this massive shelter is tastefully and comfortably furnished and decorated, completely outfitted, fully stocked with food, toiletries, linens, medical supplies, a one year supply of fuel, a deep water well, NBC filtration systems, geothermal heating and cooling, bedroom suites, full size showers and bathrooms, a theater area, dining area, lounge area, exercise equipment, kennels, a garden area for fresh vegetables, laundry area, abundant storage areas, ATV’s, bicycles, tools, a workshop, security devices; and, just about everything else that may be needed to ride out virtually any catastrophic event. You only need to bring your personal clothing and medications. We’ve thought of everything else!

Far from any known nuclear targets, this shelter is also strategically located a safe distance away from the New Madrid fault line, the Mississippi River, and all oceans that might cause submersion as a result of a tsunami-type event. The site is also surrounded by excellent farming, fishing, hunting and water resources.

Vice magazine takes a look and, naturally, hates what it sees:

In the 90s, [Robert Vicino] took up selling shares in villas in swanky spots like Aspen and the South of France. It was the idea of fractional ownership that got him thinking about a long-coveted dream of his to build survival bunkers where people of means could escape Armageddon in comfort. In 2007, just before the financial crash, he decided to give it a go.

His timing was impeccable. Since 2013, the country has minted 1.6 million new millionaires , and there are an estimated 3 million-plus preppers in the US. It stands to reason those groups overlap, especially since in these divided political times, many of the rich are concerned with their money’s security: what threatens it, how to hang on to it, and above all, what happens when the have-nots get tired of not having it. (Witness the infamous 2014 Wall Street Journal letter to the editor that compared America to Nazi Germany and the wealthy to the Jews.) Vicino warns that the rich need to be ready for a scenario that will “turn Suzy Homemaker into a gun-wielding predator.” As he asked me, without any apparent irony, “Do you really want to fight off all the zombies, the predators, the gangs, the militias, whatever else is roaming the streets to get what you got?”

It’s a good time to be in a fear-based industry. Public comments from some of the planet’s richest people reveal a strain of paranoia about insurrection. At the last annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, observers noticed elites growing more alarmed about the possibility of social unrest. Last year, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer published an open letter to his “Fellow Zillionaires” in Politico Magazine that summed up the growing worry among the wealthy: “What do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks.”

This matches what Vicino hears. “They’re going to Patagonia, they’re going to remote locations of the world,” he says. “Their reasoning is more to be insulated from a revolution, rebellion, anarchy, or whatever, following an economic collapse.”

The affluent have always spent money on things that they feel will help them hold onto what they have. But the rise of businesses like Vicino’s points to a convergence of social and political trends that has become a toxic brew of inequality, paranoia, and extreme individualism.

This raises the question of what you should do to prepare for the worst, since I doubt a luxury timeshare in Indiana is the answer for most of us.

A Slow-Motion, Ever-Evolving Riot

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Perhaps we should see the school-shooting epidemic as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot:

What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right? Granovetter took riots as one of his main examples, because a riot is a case of destructive violence that involves a great number of otherwise quite normal people who would not usually be disposed to violence.

Most previous explanations had focussed on explaining how someone’s beliefs might be altered in the moment. An early theory was that a crowd cast a kind of intoxicating spell over its participants. Then the argument shifted to the idea that rioters might be rational actors: maybe at the moment a riot was beginning people changed their beliefs. They saw what was at stake and recalculated their estimations of the costs and benefits of taking part.

But Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds — which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero — instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that — and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

Granovetter was most taken by the situations in which people did things for social reasons that went against everything they believed as individuals. “Most did not think it ‘right’ to commit illegal acts or even particularly want to do so,” he wrote, about the findings of a study of delinquent boys. “But group interaction was such that none could admit this without loss of status; in our terms, their threshold for stealing cars is low because daring masculine acts bring status, and reluctance to join, once others have, carries the high cost of being labeled a sissy.” You can’t just look at an individual’s norms and motives. You need to look at the group.

His argument has a second implication. We misleadingly use the word “copycat” to describe contagious behavior — implying that new participants in an epidemic act in a manner identical to the source of their infection. But rioters are not homogeneous. If a riot evolves as it spreads, starting with the hotheaded rock thrower and ending with the upstanding citizen, then rioters are a profoundly heterogeneous group.

Finally, Granovetter’s model suggests that riots are sometimes more than spontaneous outbursts. If they evolve, it means they have depth and length and a history. Granovetter thought that the threshold hypothesis could be used to describe everything from elections to strikes, and even matters as prosaic as how people decide it’s time to leave a party. He was writing in 1978, long before teen-age boys made a habit of wandering through their high schools with assault rifles. But what if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is to go back and use the Granovetterian model — to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?


But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

Russia’s Desert Storm Moment in Syria

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Russia is having its Desert Storm moment in Syria:

The near-daily release of Russian fighter cockpit videos and missiles being launched from Russian ships in the Caspian Sea is making millions of Russians feel proud and strong.

By This Axe I Rule!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Robert E. Howard’s first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was a rewrite of a Kull story he failed to sell, and James LaFond finds the differences remarkable:

The story was written just as America groaned under the fall of its economy, felled, in Howard’s view, by crooked bankers and politicians, who were given free reign to do evil by the very State that was supposedly there to protect the people.

The Kull character has a steady sidekick named Brule the Spear-Slayer, a Pict who is from a rival tribe of barbarians. Kull is allied against the corrupt forces of civilization with Brule, who has been tricked into leaving the king in his hour of need. Howard’s general literary theme that barbarism [remaining spiritually outside the political construct] is a superior ethical state to civilization, is laid as a foundation in the person of these two characters, who evolve into Conan, and who serve as the basis for Howard’s most intense barbarian character, Bran Mak Morn, discussed later in this book.

In 1929, almost immediately after the stock market crash, Howard’s writing drew inspiration from his perception that his nation’s economy had been brought down by the unseen hands of nefarious bankers and other conspirators. Kull is a fascistic outsider, a regicide, a chieftain of barbarian mercenaries who rips the crown from the head a corrupt king just after slaying him with his own hands. This element was kept in the Conan character. However, three key elements of Kull were — forgive me — culled from the persona template in the formation of Conan:

1. Kull is a committed bachelor and has no time for women, where Conan is an extreme womanizer, making him more salable.

2. Kull suffers from melancholies and depressions, something that is stated as a facet of Conan’s personality in the poetic preamble to the series “Oh Prince,” but not evident in his plot-driven behavior and outgoing personality.

3. While, like Conan, Kull is unable to fathom the logic of civilized ways and is not good with high cunning or political skullduggery, unlike Conan, once king, he does not accept civilized laws.

The plot of By This Axe I Rule! revolves around a band of conspirators isolating and attacking the king in his bed chamber. [...] The subplot, which rises to displace the main plot and take the focus of the story away from a king’s life or death struggle at midnight, and which was ruthlessly scrubbed from the second Conan version of the tale, in order to get a sale, tells us much about the editorial constraints Howard worked under.

This element is a love story, the story of a nobleman and a slave girl who wish to marry, not for the nobleman to buy the girl from her owner, who happens to be one of the conspirators. The young nobleman appeals to the king to sanctify the marriage, which is barred by Valusian law and tradition. The barbarian king, seeing that this man is in love, and having had no experience with love himself, feels pity for him and appeals to the chief counselor of the realm, who brings forth a stone tablet upon which the unbreakable and unchangeable law is written, and denies the king’s request.

Next we are introduced to the suffering slave girl who weeps in her master’s garden:

“In the midst of this pastoral quietude, a little slave girl lay with her face between her soft white arms, and wept as if her little heart would break. The bird sang but she was deaf; the brook caller her but she was dumb; the sun shone but she was blind — all the universe was a black void in which pain and tears were real.”

A kind, giant stranger, seemingly like a tiger, came to the little girl in the garden and spoke with her, seeming interested in her woes. She then discovered that he was the king, and that he was as much a slave as her, both of them hating the laws of civilization:

“After all, little one, the king is only a slave like yourself, locked with heavier chains.”

The girl, understanding now that she had belly ached to the king about his inability to help her and her lover, ran off.

Later that night Kull is attacked, and nearly prevails, in the brutal fight with his assassins, which spares not a drop of gore. Just as the last conspirator is about to finish him off he is slain by the young nobleman, whose girlfriend had overheard her master conspiring against the king when she ran off. As the palace awakes to tend to the kings needs and rich ladies and gentlemen scamper about uselessly, Kull demands that the law keeper bring the sacred law tablet forward. When he announces that he wishes to sanction the marriage of this noble and this slave the courtiers are aghast and refuse to condone it.

During the course of the battle his sword was shattered and he had torn an ancient heavy axe from the wall and smashed and cleaved his foes with that. He was now so armed. The axe symbolized the common man, the barbarian, not the noble symbolized by the sword, the queen of weapons. The axe was also the symbol of justice in ancient Rome, a fact of which Howard was well aware.

Kull, in a psychotic rage, more unhinged than any Howard character ever was, then gave a speech as to the vile nature of laws and tradition, stating that the best man should make the decision — and in so doing must have sounded more like Hitler than any fictional American hero ever has. He then raises the axe and smashes the tablets of the laws to bits, declaring, “By this axe I rule!”


Kull was Howard’s editorially unforgivable character.

South Carolina Toddler Shoots Grandmother in Car

Monday, October 26th, 2015

A two-year-old South Carolina boy found a gun in the car he was riding in and shot his grandmother in the back:

According to police, officers were called to the 1100-block of Stanley Drive Sunday afternoon around 1:24 p.m.

Officers met with a woman who says she picked up her great-nephew and was driving him around, with his grandmother in the passenger seat.

While she was driving, the young boy found a .357 revolver in the pouch on the back of the passenger seat. He then accidentally shot his 40-year-old grandmother through the passenger seat.


“It was in a pouch behind the passenger seat, somehow the child reached in and got ahold of it, that’s something our detectives are working on today,” Bollinger said.

Who would leave a loaded revolver in the pouch behind the passenger seat? With a little boy back there?

I don’t know, but I will note that the 40-year-old grandmother was in the passenger seat of an orange Camaro — and the two-year-old, in the moving car, apparently was not in a car seat, or belted-in, for that matter. Hmm…

Naturally Boing Boing illustrates the problem of toddlers shooting people with photos of middle-class white children receiving responsible gun-safety training, like this girl holding an airsoft pistol, with her finger off the trigger:

A man shows a girl how to hold an airsoft gun during the NRA Youth Day at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

Commons, War, Suicide

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Curt Doolittle offers his thoughts on republics, monarchies, and democracies:

A republic is an excellent means of producing commons. A monarchy an excellent means of conducting war. And a democracy an excellent means of fooling the people into suicide.