Every stuffed friend is a characteristic of PTSD

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

A. A. Milne served as a lieutenant in the Great War, was wounded at the Somme, and then finished the war writing propaganda back in England. He went on to write an anti-war book, Peace with Honour, and may have suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder — mistaking buzzing bees for bullets and popping balloons for gunshots:

It’s been theorized by Dr. Sarah Shea that Milne wrote into each character of Winnie-the-Pooh a different psychological disorder. While only A. A. Milne could tell us for certain, Dr. Shea’s theory seems pointed in the right direction, but may be a little too impersonal. After all, the book was written specifically for one child, by name, and features the stuffed animals that the boy loved.

It’s more likely, in my opinion, that the stories were a way for Milne to explain his own post-traumatic stress to his six-year-old son. Every stuffed friend in the Hundred Acre Woods is a child-friendly representation of a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. Piglet is paranoia, Eeyore is depression, Tigger is impulsive behaviors, Rabbit is perfectionism-caused aggression, Owl is memory loss, and Kanga & Roo represent over-protection. This leaves Winnie, who Alan wrote in for himself as Christopher Robin’s guide through the Hundred Acre Woods — his father’s mind.

Lothar Zogg counts to 10

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

On James Earl Jones’ birthday yesterday, the Muppet History Twitter account remarked that he was Sesame Street’s first celebrity guest, which sent me down a rabbit hole:

In 1969, Jones participated in making test films for the children’s education series Sesame Street; these shorts, combined with animated segments, were shown to groups of children to gauge the effectiveness of the then-groundbreaking Sesame Street format. As cited by production notes included in the DVD release Sesame Street: Old School 1969–1974, the short that had the greatest impact with test audiences was one showing bald-headed Jones counting slowly to ten. This and other segments featuring Jones were eventually aired as part of the Sesame Street series itself when it debuted later in 1969 and Jones is often cited as the first celebrity guest on that series, although a segment with Carol Burnett was the first to actually be broadcast.

Jones is a famous movie star now, but what had he been in when they filmed these segments in 1969? Two movies: Dr. Strangelove and The Comedians. I’m assuming the Sesame Street crowd knew him from his stage work.

For the 40th anniversary of Dr. Strangelove, Jones looked back:

Kubrick based his initial script on “Red Alert,” a tense thriller about the possibility of an accidental nuclear war written by the British author Peter George. When Stanley came to New York to scout George C. Scott for the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, George happened to be playing in “The Merchant of Venice” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. So was I. Stanley recruited George, and given that Kubrick wanted to make the film’s B-52 crew multiethnic, he took me too. It was my first movie role.

As the script evolved, Kubrick decided to bring in the renowned “bad boy” Terry Southern to rework the film as a satire. Among many other changes, an entirely new character was added to the story — the eponymous Dr. Strangelove (initially called Von Klutz). Southern and Kubrick gave all the characters comic-book names. Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Quintin became Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Slim Pickens now played Maj. T.J. “King” Kong. Keenan Wynn was Col. “Bat” Guano, and George was Gen. “Buck” Turgidson. Of course, Peter Sellers took on three roles: Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, a British Exchange Officer; Dr. Strangelove himself; and U.S. President Merkin Muffley.

My character, the B-52′s bombardier Lt. Lothar Zogg, took his name from Mandrake the Magician’s sidekick, a black and bald-headed man who provided Mandrake with muscle power when prestidigitation failed. In the original script, the bombardier’s role included pointed questioning of the authenticity of Gen. Ripper’s command-orders to nuke Russia. But as “Dr. Strangelove” evolved into a satire, Zogg’s voice of reason shrank to essentially a single question: “Sir, do you think this might be some kind of loyalty test or security check?”

In spite of having been stripped of the lines that made the role attractive to me in the first place, I felt very fortunate to be working with Kubrick, one of the most brilliant and innovative directors of our time.

I had to look up Mandrake the Magician and his supporting cast:

Mandrake the Magician was a syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom). Mandrake began publication on June 11, 1934. Phil Davis soon took over as the strip’s illustrator, while Falk continued to script. The strip was distributed by King Features Syndicate.

Mandrake, along with the Phantom Magician in Mel Graff’s The Adventures of Patsy, is regarded by comics historians as the first superhero of comics, such as comics historian Don Markstein, who writes, “Some people say Mandrake the Magician, who started in 1934, was comics’ first superhero.”

[...]

Lothar is Mandrake’s best friend and crimefighting companion, whom Mandrake first met during his travels in Africa. Lothar was the Prince of the Seven Nations, a mighty federation of jungle tribes but forbore becoming king to followed Mandrake on his world travels. Lothar is often referred to as “the strongest man in the world”, with the exception of Hojo — Mandrake’s chef and secret chief of Inter Intel. Lothar is invulnerable to any weapon forged by man, impervious to heat and cold, and possesses the stamina of a thousand men. He also cannot be harmed by magic directly (such as by fire bolts, force bolts, or spell incantations). He can easily lift an elephant by one hand. One of the first African crimefighting heroes ever to appear in comics, Lothar’s début alongside Mandrake was in the 1934 inaugural daily strip. In the beginning, Lothar spoke poor English and wore a fez, short pants, and a leopard skin. In a 1935 work by King Features Syndicate, Lothar is referred to as Mandrake’s “giant black slave.” When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965, Lothar spoke correct English and his clothing changed, although he often wore shirts with leopard-skin patterns.

What they need to do is die

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

I was not expecting to stumble across a GQ video of Jocko Willink breaking down combat scenes from movies:

Every time a reader reads to the end of a 3,000-page book, the author earns almost 14 dollars

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Self-published romance is no joke:

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

This has led to some unscrupulous practices:

Book stuffing is a term that encompasses a wide range of methods for taking advantage of the Kindle Unlimited revenue structure. In Kindle Unlimited, readers pay $9.99 a month to read as many books as they want that are available through the KU program. This includes both popular mainstream titles like the Harry Potter series and self-published romances put out by authors like Crescent and Hopkins. Authors are paid according to pages read, creating incentives to produce massively inflated and strangely structured books. The more pages Amazon thinks have been read, the more money an author receives.

The per-page payment model was actually an attempt to crack down on a previous strategy of capitalizing on Kindle mechanics. When Kindle Unlimited was first introduced, authors were paid a flat fee per book that readers “borrowed” through the program. “Those of a kind of a black hat mindset saw the opportunity,” says David Gaughran, a blogger who has been following the phenomenon of book stuffing since 2016. “They started producing these eight-page books … very short, like recipe books, how to lose weight, no-carb diet, whatever.”

Readers, as it turned out, hated checking out books and later finding out that the books were really pamphlets. Shortly thereafter, Amazon rolled out the next iteration of Kindle Unlimited — authors would now be paid per page read.

Many self-publishers, says Gaughran, moved on to producing books that were thousands of pages long. Some of the books would include multiple translations into several languages — all run through Google Translate. Others would include junk HTML code. These methods — blatant violations of the terms of services — weren’t tolerated. Books were removed and authors were banned.

It’s not clear if these early book-stuffers moved onto the self-publishing romance scene, or if some of the self-publishing romance authors began to pick up on these tricks. Either way, book stuffing plagues the romance genre on Kindle Unlimited, with titles that come in at 2000 or even 3000 pages (the maximum page length for a Kindle Unlimited book). That’s approximately the length of Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace.

Book stuffing is particularly controversial because Amazon pays authors from a single communal pot. In other words, Kindle Unlimited is a zero-sum game. The more one author gets from Kindle Unlimited, the less the other authors get.

The romance authors Willink was discovering didn’t go in for clumsy stuffings of automatic translations or HTML cruft; rather, they stuffed their books with ghostwritten content or repackaged, previously published material. In the latter case, the author will bait readers with promises of fresh content, like a new novella, at the end of the book.

Every time a reader reads to the end of a 3,000-page book, the author earns almost 14 dollars. For titles that break into the top of the Kindle Unlimited charts, this trick can generate a fortune.

Of course, you might be wondering if any readers actually read through all 3000 pages. But authors deploy a host of tricks in service of gathering page reads — from big fonts and wide spacing to a “link back.” Some authors would place a link at the very front of the book, to sign up to a mailing list. The link would take them to the back of the book, thus counting all pages read. It’s not clear whether any of this actually works. A spokesperson for Amazon told The Verge that Amazon uses a standardized page count that won’t take big fonts or wide spacing into account. A June blog post by the Kindle Direct Publishing Team assured authors that the KENPC system (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) recorded pages read with “high precision” and that the company was constantly working to improve its “fidelity.”

Neovictorian’s Reality

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

When I reviewed Neovictorian’s first novel, Sanity, I noted that it is, in a sense, didactic; it purports to explain how the world really works. With a title like Reality, I expect his second novel to do the same.

He thanks a few folks by name and then “a few fine people who prefer to remain in the shadows.” I had to read all the way through the first line of the prologue before I saw my own shadowy influence.

Neovictorian Reality Prologue

If you don’t immediately spot it, read to the end of this old post.

Respectable enough to be invited to all the dances

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

The genteel poverty of the Little Women in her book — respectable enough to be invited to all the dances, but too broke to be the belles of the ball — reflects the remarkable upbringing of Louisa May Alcott, Steve Sailer expains:

Back before Mark Twain, American literature was kind of a who-you-know business, and the Alcotts knew everybody who was anybody in the author industry. Ralph Waldo Emerson lent her family the money to buy their house in Concord, Henry David Thoreau told them it was haunted, and they eventually sold it to Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Considered a genius by America’s leading intellectuals, Louisa’s improvident father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was a figure out of a Mencius Moldbug essay about how WASPs are the real communists.

As Louisa recounted in her satire Transcendental Wild Oats, in the summer of 1841 her father founded a utopian commune called Fruitlands whose inmates were required to eat a vegan diet and not wear cotton (because it was picked by slaves), leather, or wool (because dumb brutes could not consent to be exploited). They could only wear linen, which was pleasant in summer, but not, as it turned out, in winter.

Nor could these animal rights activists employ beasts of burden to pull their plow. By December, with starvation held back only by Mrs. Alcott’s ceaseless labors, Mr. Alcott called the whole thing off.

Louisa was a more sensible soul than her father and enjoyed making money off her writing. So she eventually gave in when her publisher asked her to write a book for girls, even though she complained that she only identified with boys. In her semiautobiographical Little Women, the girls’ father is much improved upon by being rewritten as a beloved paterfamilias who is far away serving as a chaplain in the Union Army.

Does this mean that Hollywood movies actually reduce crime?

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Bryan Caplan discusses the social conservatism of Hollywood:

The message of all this cinema: Follow the path of bourgeois virtue.  Work hard, keep the peace, abstain from alcohol, have very few sexual partners, and keep your whole family far away from anyone who lives otherwise.  Think about how many fictional characters would have lived longer if they never set foot in a bar.

Is this the message the writers intend to send?  Unlikely.  Instead, they try to create engrossing stories — and end up weaving morality tales.

[...]

Does this mean that Hollywood movies actually reduce crime? I doubt it. The viewers most in need of lessons in bourgeois virtue are probably too impulsive to reflect on the moral of the story. They’re captivated instead by the gunplay and machismo. Yet if you’re paying attention, the moral of these stories remains: Unless your parents are criminals, listen to your parents.

Today would have been Isaac Asimov’s 100th birthday

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Today would have been Isaac Asimov‘s 100th birthday. It should come as no surprise that “Asimov” has popped up here quite a few times over the years.

Impious imps of the devil

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

I had always assumed the word impious was pronounced just like the un-negated root pious, but with an im prepended. While listening to Nelson Runger’s narration of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, I heard him pronounce it im-pee-uhs, and, sure enough, that’s the preferred pronunciation.

This pronunciation conjures the image of a mischievous imp, which has its own odd, unrelated etymology:

The Old English noun impa meant a young shoot or scion of a plant or tree, and later came to mean the scion of a noble house, or a child in general. Starting in the 16th century, it was often used in expressions like “imps of serpents”, “imp of hell”, “imp of the devil”, and so on; and by the 17th century, it came to mean a small demon, a familiar of a witch.

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

A few years ago I mentioned Empire of the Summer Moon, when Scott Alexander reviewed it, and then I finally bought it a couple months ago, but I haven’t read it yet. It turns out Joe Rogan mentioned it himself recently and sent sales of the audiobook through the roof:

Incidentally, I recently listened to the audiobook version of Blood Meridian, which also deals with Comanches, and I was sorely disappointed.

Anyone With a Scanner & Associates

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

The Far Side finally has a home on the Internet, and its creator has penned this letter about how it came about:

Hard to believe.

It’s been close to 25 years since I decided to retire my trusty Rapidograph X500, with added Comfort Grip, Turbo Flow, and Steadycow. (I especially loved that last option.) That was a nice pen. We went places. But just around the time the two of us were emerging from our adventure down one rabbit hole, another one suddenly loomed.

Back then, the Internet was a cute little Internet-ling, its cold, digital eyes just starting to open. The first website (I just looked this up) debuted only a couple years prior to my retirement, Google came along several years later, and Facebook was launched a full decade after I had drawn my last cow. Meaning, like most of my generation, I was pretty much clueless about this new technology that was on the rise. Hell, I was still marveling at the wonders of my electric pencil sharpener. (I splurged.)

But as the digital world gathered speed, I was as excited as most of us who lived outside the tech world (and back then, as a cartoonist, you couldn’t get much further outside of tech unless maybe you were a coal miner) and were seeing all these amazing tools unfold. Tools to help us better communicate, write, explore, and learn. (Of course, soon to be adding hack, steal, exploit, deceive, bully, and maybe destroy democracy, but hey, what’re a few wrinkles? We’ll figure this out. Or not.) Naively, I now realize, I never once foresaw any connection between this emergent technology and my cartoons. I had spent years drawing The Far Side for (real) newspapers, which segued into (real) books and (real) calendars. These, as some of you may recall, were rather quaint, three-dimensional objects that could also double as flyswatters. What did the Internet have to do with me? Cue the scary music.

Okay, “scary” might be a little melodramatic, but years ago, when I slowly started realizing I had a second publisher and distributor of my work, known as Anyone With a Scanner & Associates, I did find it unsettling enough to write an open letter to “whom it may concern,” explaining — best as I could — why I preferred that the people doing this would kindly refrain. I won’t rehash it all here, but my powers of persuasion had at least some impact, and many of my fans were very understanding and responsive. Maybe it takes a warped mind to understand a warped mind. (No, seriously, my thanks to those who removed my cartoons willingly, or even begrudgingly.)

So fast-forward to today, and hey, look! I’m writing another letter! This time, though, I’m writing to say something I never thought I would: Welcome to The Far Side website! Guess I’ve got some ’splainin’ to do.

Your strength grows but your options become ever more limited

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

P.W. Singer’s Ghost Fleet — co-written with August Cole — describes itself as a novel of the next World War. The story starts three years after Dhahran:

When the nuke — well, more technically, the radiological dirty bomb — went off, it made the Saudi house of cards fall down. Between Dhahran glowing and the fights over who comes in after the Al Saud family, the world economy’s still reeling from the hub of the global oil industry effectively going offline.

The renewed push toward alternative energy sources has caused more conflict than cooperation:

Technologies like solar and deep-cycle batteries depend on rare-earth materials, rare being the operative word.

The old Chinese Communist Party has been replaced:

When the world economy cratered after Dhahran, the old Chinese Communist Party couldn’t keep things humming. Their big mistake was calling in the military to put down the urban workers’ riots, thinking that the troops would do their dirty work for them, just like back in ’89. They failed to factor in that a new generation of more professional military and business elite saw the problem differently than they did. Turned out the new guard viewed the nepotism and corruption of those ‘little princes’ who had just inherited their power as a bigger threat to China’s stability than the rioters. They booted them out, and instead you’ve got a Directorate regime that’s more popular and more competent than the previous government, and technocratic to the extreme. The business magnates and the military have divided up rule and roles. Capitalism and nationalism working hand in hand, rather than the old contradictions they had back in the Communist days.

The Americans face a classic problem:

How do you police an empire when you’ve got a shrinking economy relative to the world’s and a population no longer so excited to meet those old commitments?

Neither the Chinese nor the Americans have fought a major war since the 1940s. But they wouldn’t go to war with a major trading partner, would they?

Well, who was Britain’s biggest trading partner before World War One? Germany. Or if you prefer World War Two as a comparison, Germany’s biggest trading partners just before the war were the very neighbors it soon invaded, while the U.S. was Japan’s.

A Chinese admiral explains their situation:

Indeed, the Americans had an apt phrase to describe a situation like ours, where your strength grows but your options become ever more limited: Manifest Destiny.

Destiny drives you forward but ties your hands. Indeed, their own great naval thinker Alfred Thayer Mahan foretold how their rise to great power gave them no choice. As their economy and then their military began to grow to world status, he told his people that, whether they liked it or not, “Americans must now begin to look outward. The growing production of the country demands it.”

[...]

America’s rise came first with its ensuring control of its home waters and then extending its global economic presence. And then the country had no choice but to assume its new responsibilities, including protecting the system from the powers of the past that would threaten it. I mentioned their thinker Mahan. Soon after he laid out the new demands upon the United States, war with Spain followed, as you remember, and the Americans reached across the Pacific, thousands of miles beyond their home waters, extending to the Philippines, patrolling not just our ports but even our very rivers.

The mightiest German noble who ever lived has his work to do

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

A while back Neovictorian shared a list of five books he loved as a kid. The fourth book was The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenhiem. The story takes place just before the Great War, when a dissolute English aristocrat meets up in Africa with an old schoolmate, a not-at-all dissolute German who had come to England for his education years before. They were lookalikes then, but their divergent lifestyles have left their marks:

“The difference between us,” Von Ragastein pronounced, “is something which is inculcated into the youth of our country and which is not inculcated into yours. In England, with a little money, a little birth, your young men expect to find the world a playground for sport, a garden for loves. The mightiest German noble who ever lived has his work to do. It is work which makes fibre, which gives balance to life.”

When the dissolute Englishman returns to England, he seems a new man.

I was immediately reminded of Ian Flemging’s third James Bond novel, published in 1955, Moonraker, which features an English rocket scientist who returned from World War 2 badly scarred from a car-bomb attack by German saboteurs — working for the infamous Otto Skorzeny.

The best hard science fiction he’d read in decades is a techno-thriller

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

Travis Corcoran (The Powers of the Earth) recently called Daniel Suarez’s Delta V the ”best hard science fiction [he'd] read in decades,” and I replied that ”You need to dip your toes into the thriller genre to get hard science fiction.” Since I listened to the audiobook version of Delta V, I have no quotes to share, but I can add that another techno-thriller bordering on hard science fiction is P.W. Singer’s Ghost Fleet.

Marvin was never named in the original shorts

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

I didn’t realize that Marvin the Martian was never named in the original shorts:

He was referred to as the Commander of Flying Saucer X-2 in The Hasty Hare in 1952. However, in 1979, once the character attracted merchandising interest, the name “Marvin” was selected for The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie.

Isn’t that lovely?

I also failed to realize that his Roman armor was meant to evoke Mars, the god.

This makes me very angry, very angry indeed.