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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel Now Online
The nineteenth installment in the Tom Swift adventures, Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel
, is now posted in the Tom Swift and His Pocket Library
collection. As usual, HTML
, PDA eReader, and plain ASCII text editions suitable for reading off- or online are available.
With war raging in Europe, but the United States still on the sidelines, Tom, Mr. Wakefield “bless my detonator” Damon, and the giant Koku are off to Peru, where Tom's mighty blasting powder will come to the aid of the Titus brothers in pushing a railroad tunnel through the formidable obstacle of the Andes. En route to Lima, they make the acquaintance of the curious Professor Swyington Bumper who is off to the Andes to seek the fabled lost city of Pelone. They decide to team up, and before long are involved in danger and intrigue as a competitor seeks to sabotage the tunnel project, inducing its Indian labourers to go on “hit”, as they put it—strike. Anti-human environmentalists may risk cranial detonation when they read how Tom deals with a condor which tries to abduct a baby. On the job site, we meet Tim Sullivan, the Irish foreman, who treats the reader to an abundance of Irish dialect. As this is a Tom Swift book, all ends well and is neatly wrapped up in twenty-five chapters, with Tom heading home and looking forward to new inventions and adventures.
With the posting of this book, only six public domain Tom Swift novels remain, so this project, which began in 2004, is heading into the home stretch. When all twenty-five books are complete, I'll go back and update the earlier ones to the production standards (XHTML Strict, Unicode text entities, etc.) of recent postings.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Reading List: Protect and Defend
- Flynn, Vince.
Protect and Defend.
New York: Pocket Books, 2007.
This is the eighth novel in the
(warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers)
series. I usually wait a month or two between reading installments
in this thriller saga, but since I'd devoured the previous
volume, Act of Treason, earlier this
month on an airline trip which went seriously awry, I decided
to bend the rules and read its successor on the second attempt
to make the same trip. This time both the journey and the novel were
The story begins with Mitch Rapp cleaning up some unfinished
business from Act of Treason, then transitions
into an a thriller whose premises may play out in the headlines
in the near future. When Iran's covert nuclear weapons facility
is destroyed under mysterious circumstances, all of the players
in the game, both in Iran and around the world, try to figure out
what happened, who was responsible, and how they can turn events to
their own advantage. Fanatic factions within the Iranian power
structure see an opportunity to launch a proxy terror offensive
against Israel and the United States, while those aware of the
vulnerability of their country to retaliation for any attack
upon those nations try to damp down the flames. The new U.S.
president decides to use a back channel to approach the Iranian
pragmatists with a deal to put an end to the decades-long
standoff and reestablish formal relations between the nations,
and dispatches the CIA director to a covert meeting with her peer, the
chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
But word of the meeting makes its way to the radical
factions in Iran, and things go horribly wrong. It is then up
to Mitch Rapp and his small team, working against the clock,
to puzzle out what happened, who is responsible, and how to
If you haven't read the earlier Mitch Rapp novels, you'll miss
some of the context, particularly in the events of the first
few chapters, but this won't detract in any way from your enjoyment
of the story. Personally, I'd read (and I'm reading) the novels
in order, but they are sufficiently stand-alone (particularly after
the first few) that there's no problem getting into the series at
any point. Vince Flynn's novels are always about the action and
the characters, not preachy policy polemics. Nonetheless, one gets
a sense that the strategy presented here is how the author's
brain trust would like to see a confident and unapologetic West
address the Iranian conundrum.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Reading List: Vulcan 607
- White, Rowland.
London: Corgi Books, 2006.
The Avro Vulcan bomber
was the backbone of Britain's nuclear deterrent from the 1950s until the end
of the 1960s, when ballistic missile submarines assumed the primary
deterrent mission. Vulcans remained in service thereafter as tactical nuclear
weapons delivery platforms in support of NATO forces. In 1982, the aging
Vulcan force was months from retirement when Argentina occupied the
Falkland Islands, and Britain summoned all of its armed services to
mount a response. The Royal Navy launched a strike force, but given the
distance (about 8000 miles from Britain to the Falklands) it would take
about two weeks to arrive. The Royal Air Force surveyed their assets and
concluded that only the Vulcan, supported by the
Handley Page Victor,
a bomber converted to an aerial refueling tanker, would permit it to
project power to such a distant theatre.
But there were difficulties—lots of them. First of all, the
Vulcan had been dedicated to the nuclear mission for decades: none of the
crews had experience dropping conventional bombs, and the bomb bay racks
to dispense them had to be hunted down in scrap yards. No Vulcan had performed
aerial refueling since 1971, since its missions were assumed to be short range
tactical sorties, and the refueling hardware had been stoppered. Crews were
sent out to find and remove refueling probes from museum specimens to install on
the bombers chosen for the mission. Simply navigating to a tiny island in the
southern hemisphere in this pre-GPS era was a challenge—Vulcan crews had
been trained to navigate by radar returns from the terrain, and there was
no terrain whatsoever between their launch point on Ascension
Island and landfall in the Falklands, so boffins figured out how to adapt
navigation gear from obsolete
to the Vulcan and make it work. The Vulcan had no modern electronic
countermeasures (ECM), rendering it vulnerable to Argentinian
anti-aircraft defences, so an ECM pod from another aircraft was grafted
onto its wing, fastening to a hardpoint which had never been used by a
Vulcan. Finding it, and thereby knowing where to drill the holes required
dismantling the wing of another Vulcan.
If the preparations were remarkable, especially since they were thrown together
in just a few weeks, the mission plan was audacious—so much so that one
expects it would have been rejected as absurd if proposed as the plot of a
James Bond film. Executing the mission to bomb the airfield on the Falkland
Islands would involve two Vulcan bombers, one
marine patrol aircraft,
thirteen Victor tankers, nineteen refuelings (including Victor to Victor and
Victor to Vulcan), 1.5 million pounds of fuel, and ninety aircrew. And all of
these resources, assembled and deployed in a single mission, managed to put
just one crater in the airstrip in the Falkland Islands, denying it to
Argentine fast jets, but allowing
C-130 transports to
continue to operate from it.
From a training, armament, improvisation, and logistics standpoint
this was a remarkable achievement, and the author argues that its
consequences, direct and indirect, effectively took the Argentine fast
air fighter force and navy out of the conflict, and hence paved the
way for the British
reconquista of the islands. Today
it seems quaint; you'd just launch a few cruise missiles at the airfield,
cratering it and spreading
munitions and that would be that, without risking a single airman. But
they didn't have that option then, and so they did their best with what was
available, and this epic story recounts how they pulled it off with hardware
on the edge of retirement, re-purposed for a mission its designers never
imagined, mounted with a plan with no margin for error, on a schedule nobody
could have imagined absent wartime exigency. This is a tale of the Vulcan
mission; if you're looking for a comprehensive account of the Falklands War,
you'll have to
look elsewhere. The Vulcan raid on the Falklands
was one of those extraordinary grand gestures, like the
on Japan, which cast a longer shadow in history than their direct
consequences implied. After the Vulcan raid, nobody doubted the resolve
of Britain, and the resulting drawback of the Argentine forces almost
certainly reduced the cost of retaking the islands from the invader.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Reading List: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
- Austen, Jane and Seth Grahame-Smith.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2009.
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
is the quintessential British Regency era novel of manners. Originally
published in 1813, it has been endlessly adapted to the stage, film,
and television, and has been a staple of English literature classes
from the Victorian era through post-post-modern de-deconstructionist
decadence. What generations of litterateurs missed, however, is its
fundamental shortcoming: there aren't any zombies in it!
That's where the present volume comes in.
This work preserves 85% of Jane Austen's original text and names
her as the primary author (hey, if you can't have a dead author
in a zombie novel, where can you?), but enhances the
original story with “ultraviolent zombie mayhem”
seamlessly woven into the narrative. Now, some may consider
this a travesty and desecration of a literary masterwork, but
look at this way: if F-14s are cool and tyrannosaurs are cool,
imagine how cool
would be? Adopting this
approach allows one to properly appreciate what has been done here.
The novel is set in an early 19th century England
afflicted for five and fifty years with the “strange plague” that causes the
dead to rise and stagger across the countryside alone or in packs,
seeking to kill and devour the succulent brains of the living.
Any scratch inflicted by one of these creatures (variously referred
to as “unmentionables”, “sorry stricken”,
“manky dreadfuls”, “Satan's armies”, “undead”, or
simply “zombies”) can infect the living with the
grievous affliction and transform them into another compulsive cranium
cruncher. The five Bennet sisters have been sent by their
father to be trained in the deadly arts by masters in
China and have returned a formidable fighting force, sworn
by blood oath to the Crown to defend Hertfordshire against the
zombie peril until the time of their marriage. There is nothing
their loquacious and rather ditzy mother wants more than to see
her five daughters find suitable matches, and she fears their
celebrated combat credentials and lack of fortune will deter
the wealthy and refined suitors she imagines for them. The
central story is the contentious relations and blossoming romance
between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a high-born zombie killer
extraordinaire whose stand-offish manner is initially interpreted as
arrogance and disdain for the humble Bennets. Can such fierce
and proud killers find love and embark upon a life fighting alongside
one another in monster murdering matrimony?
The following brief extracts give a sense of what you're getting into
when you pick up this book. None are really plot spoilers, but I've
put them into a spoiler block nonetheless because some folks might
want to encounter these passages in context to fully enjoy the roller
coaster ride between the refined and the riotous.
The novel concludes with zombies still stalking England; all attempts
to find a serum, including Lady Catherine's, having failed, and
without hope for a negotiated end to hostilities. Successful
diplomacy requires not only good will but brains. Zombies do not have
brains; they eat them. So life goes on, and those who find married
bliss must undertake to instruct their progeny in the deadly arts
which defend the best parts of life from the darkness.
The book includes a “Reader's Discussion Guide”
ideal for classroom and book club exploration of themes
raised in the novel. For example:
- From a corner of the room, Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth
and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie
after zombie as they went. He knew of only one other
woman in Great Britain who wielded a dagger with such skill,
such grace, and deadly accuracy.
By the time the girls reached the walls of the assembly
hall, the last of the unmentionables lay still.
Apart from the attack, the evening altogether passed off
pleasantly for the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen
her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield
party. … (Chapter 3)
- Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon communicated the chief
of all this, heard it in silent indignation. Her heart
was divided between concern for her sister, and thoughts
of going immediately to town and dispensing the lot of
“My dear Jane!” exclaimed Elizabeth,
“you are too good. Your sweetness and
disinterestedness are really angelic; you wish to think
all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak of
killing anybody for any reason! …”
- But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was
more difficult to understand. It could not be for
society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes
together without opening his lips; and when he did speak,
it seemed the effect of necessity rather than choice.
He seldom appeared really animated, even at the sight of
Mrs. Collins gnawing upon her own hand. What remained
of Charlotte would liked to have believed this change
the effect of love, and the object of that love her
friend Eliza. She watched him whenever they were at
Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without
much success, for her thoughts often wandered to other
subjects, such as the warm, succulent sensation of biting
into a fresh brain. …
In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned
her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison
the most pleasant man; he certainly admired her, and his
situation in life was most eligible; but to counterbalance
these advantages, Mr. Darcy had a considerably larger head,
and thus, more brains to feast upon. (Chapter 32)
- “When they all removed to Brighton, therefore, you
had no reason, I suppose, to believe them fond of each other?”
“Not the slightest. I can remember no symptom of affection
on either side, other than her carving his name into her midriff
with a dagger; but this was customary with Lydia. …”
- He scarcely needed an invitation to stay for supper; and before
he went away, an engagement was formed, chiefly through his own
and Mrs. Bennet's means, for his coming next morning to shoot
the first autumn zombies with her husband. (Chapter 55)
- You may as well call it impertinence. It was very little
else. The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference,
of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women
who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for
your approbation alone. I roused, and interested
you because I was so unlike them. I knew the joy
of standing over a vanquished foe; of painting my face and
arms with their blood, yet warm, and screaming to the
heavens—begging, nay daring, God to send me more enemies
to kill. The gentle ladies who so assiduously courted you knew
nothing of this joy, and therefore, could never offer you true
happiness. … (Chapter 60)
10. Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute
addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a
shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the
hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and
social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what
this novel might be without the violent zombie mayhem?
Of course this is going to be made into a movie—patience!
A comic book edition,
set of postcards, and a
2011 wall calendar ideal for holiday giving
Here is a chart
which will help you sort out the relationships among the many characters in
both Jane Austen's original novel and this one.
While this is a parody, whilst reading it I couldn't help but recall
Herman Kahn's parable of the lions in
New York City. Humans are almost infinitely adaptable and
can come to consider almost any situation normal once they've
gotten used to it. In this novel zombies are something
one lives with as one of the afflictions of mortal life like
tuberculosis and crabgrass, and it is perfectly normal for young ladies
to become warriors because that's what circumstances require. It gives
one pause to think how many things we've all come to consider
unremarkable in our own lives might be deemed bizarre and/or
repellent from the perspective of those of another epoch or
observing from a different cultural perspective.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Reading List: The Rockets and Missiles of White Sands Proving Ground, 1945-1958
- Kennedy, Gregory P.
The Rockets and Missiles of White Sands Proving Ground, 1945–1958.
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2009.
Southern New Mexico has been a centre of American
rocketry from its origin to the present day. After being chased
out of Massachusetts due to his inventions' proclivity for
making ear-shattering detonations and starting fires, Robert
Goddard moved his liquid fuel rocket research to a site near
Roswell, New Mexico in 1930 and continued to launch increasingly
advanced rockets from that site until 1943, when he left to
do war work for the Navy. Faced with the need for a range to test
the missiles developed during World War II, in February 1945
the U.S. Army acquired a site stretching 100 miles north
from the Texas-New Mexico border near El Paso
and 41 miles east-west at the widest point, designated
the “White Sands Proving Ground”: taking its name
from the gypsum sands found in the region, also
home to the
Sands National Monument.
Although established before the end of the war to test U.S. missiles,
the first large rockets launched at the site were captured German
V-2s (December 2002), with the first
launched (unsuccessfully) in April 1946. Over the next six years, around
seventy V-2s lifted off from White Sands, using the V-2's massive (for
the time) one ton payload capacity to carry a wide variety of
scientific instruments into the upper atmosphere and the edge of
space. In the
project, the V-2 was used as the
booster for the world's first two stage liquid rocket, with its
second stage attaining an altitude of 248 miles:
higher than some satellites orbit today (it did not, of course, attain anything
near orbital velocity, and quickly fell back to Earth).
Simultaneously with launches of the V-2, U.S. rocketeers arrived at White
Sands to test their designs—almost every U.S. missile of the 1940s
and 1950s made its first flight there. These included research
rockets such as
in 1948, it remained in service until 1985 with a total of
1037 launched); the
anti-aircraft missiles; and a variety of tactical missiles including
the unguided (!) nuclear-tipped
White Sands in the forties and fifties was truly the Wild West of
rocketry. Even by the standards of
fighter aircraft development
in the epoch, this was by guess and by gosh engineering in its purest
incarnation. Consider Viking 8, which broke loose
from the launch pad during a static test when hold-down fittings
failed, and was allowed to fly to 20,000 feet to see what would happen
(p. 97). Or Viking 10, whose engine exploded
on the launch pad and then threatened a massive explosion because
leaking fuel was causing the tankage to crumple as it left a vacuum.
An intrepid rocketeer was sent out of the blockhouse with a carbine to
shoot a hole in the top of the fuel tank and allow air to enter
(p. 100)—problem solved! (The rocket was rebuilt and later
flew successfully.) Then there was the time they ran out of 90%
hydrogen peroxide and were told the first Viking launch
would have to be delayed for two weeks until a new shipment could
arrive by rail. Can't have that! So two engineers drove a drum of
the highly volatile and corrosive substance in the back of a station
wagon from Buffalo, New York to White Sands to meet the launch deadline
(p. 79). In the Nike program, people worried about
whether its aniline fuel would be sufficiently available under
tactical conditions, so they tried using gasoline as fuel
instead—BOOM! Nope, guess not (p. 132).
With all this “innovation” going on, they needed
a suitable place from which to observe it, so the pyramid-shaped
blockhouse had reinforced concrete walls ten feet thick with a roof
27 feet thick at the peak. This was designed to withstand a direct
impact from a V-2 falling from an altitude of 100 miles. “Once
the rockets are up, who cares
they come down?”
And the pace of rockets going up was absolutely frenetic, almost
inconceivable by the standards of today's hangar queens and
launch pad prima donnas (some years ago, a booster which sat on the
pad for more than a year was nicknamed the “civil servant”:
it won't work and you can't fire it). By contrast, a single
development program, the Loki
anti-aircraft missile, conducted a total of 2282 launches at
White Sands in 1953 and 1954 (p. 115)—that's an average of more
than three a day, counting weekends and holidays!
The book concludes in 1958 when White Sands Proving Ground became
White Sands Missile Range (scary
pop-up at this link),
which remains a centre of rocket development and testing to this
day. With the advent of NASA and massively funded, long-term
military procurement programs, much of the cut, try, and run like
Hell days of rocketry came to a close; this book covers that
period which, if not a golden age, was a heck of a lot of fun for
engineers who enjoy making loud noises and punching holes in
The book is gorgeous, printed on glossy paper, with hundreds of
illustrations. I noted no typographical or factual errors.
A complete list of all U.S. V-2, WAC Corporal, and Viking
launches is given in appendices at the end.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Air Sharing Falls to Earth
I have previously mentioned
my fondness for the iPhone application Air Sharing
, which allows you to upload files in a variety of formats to an iPhone directly from a Web browser running on any platform, then access them from the phone. I have been using this on an almost daily basis for over a year to transfer MP3 files of podcasts to the iPhone so I can listen to them on my daily walks. Transferring the files this way avoids the whole runaround of having to import them into iTunes, then synchronise the phone with the iTunes library (and then, when you're done with them, having to manually delete them). Also, you can upload files to the iPhone from any machine with a Web browser able to connect to the phone with WiFi—you're not restricted to uploading from the machine with your iTunes library; this is extremely handy when travelling with a laptop or netbook which doesn't run iTunes.
Well, for folks who faithfully install updates released through the Apple Application Store, all of this came to an end on May 4th, 2010, when Avatron released Air Sharing v2.2 (6482). This “upgrade” completely wrecks
the application as a means of uploading and listening to MP3 files. In earlier releases, you would simply tap on the MP3 file in the browser and a player screen would appear. You could then press the Sleep/Wake button on the top of the phone to turn off and lock the display, and the audio file would continue to play. If an incoming call arrived, the audio would mute and the ring tone begin to play, whereupon you could click the pick-up button on the headset microphone to answer the call. When you clicked again to end the call, the audio would resume right where you left off. The only irritation was that if you left the playback screen (for example to use another application), it would forget the position and restart from the beginning when you returned to the audio file, but this was tolerable once you were aware of it.
After the update, however, all of this is history. You can still upload MP3 files, to be sure, but when you play them a new, more cluttered, player screen appears. If you press the Sleep/Wake button, the audio now halts
, which means the only way to listen to it is to leave the screen on. Running the backlight all the time chews through the battery at a prodigious rate. Whereas before an hour's listening to audio barely made a dent in the charge, now it consumes about 20% of available capacity. Further, since the touch screen remains active, the slightest inadvertent tap can reset your position in the file, blast your ears with maximum volume or mute the audio, or send you to another file entirely. Carrying the iPhone in your pocket means you must never allow anything to touch the screen lest this happen.
Now, when a call comes in, you still hear the ring tone and can answer it as before,
but when you end the call it doesn't resume the audio. You have to wake up the phone and press the play button, and when you do it starts from the beginning
, losing your place in the audio file. And every now and then the audio just quits and the phone goes to sleep, requiring you to dig it out and wake up the phone (this latter may be due to some sleep setting or other, but it never happened before). Finally, upon reaching the end of an MP3 file, the player now automatically starts the next file in the directory. This may make sense for an iPod playlist, but not for an application like this—why assume the next file in alphabetical order is the one the user wishes to listen to next or, for that matter, that the user wants anything to start automatically when the present file is done?
Put all of this together and you have an application become completely useless for the purpose for which I've been happily employing it for more than a year. I consequently hereby retract my recommendation of this product. If you've bought the program in the past and, like me, been burned by this update, you might consider “downgrading” (which in this case is an upgrade) to an earlier, functional release. If you have backups of your /Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications
, simply find the earlier version of the application in your backups (it will be named Air Sharing.ipa
, possibly with a number appended to the name) and restore it to your iPhone with this downgrade procedure
. If you don't have backups, well this is why you should! If not, look in the Trash folder; you may get lucky and find an older version of Air Sharing there. In any case, be sure to make backup copies of all versions you find so you can restore a working release in the future should you need to do so.
Note that the process of downgrading to an earlier release will delete all files you've uploaded to the iPhone with Air Sharing. If you don't have copies of these files on your computers, be sure to download them from the iPhone before you begin the downgrade process so you'll be able to restore them when you're done.
I have replaced the most recent release with version 2.1.3 (4793), and after reconfiguring it and restoring uploaded files, it's working fine for me. Of course, I'll have to be careful from now on not to use the “Update All” button in the Application Store lest I once again end up with the new worthless version.
I have been in touch with Avatron, who assure me that these problems are all software bugs in the v2.2 release, not intentional design changes. They should be fixed in a forthcoming release; I will post an update when that release is available. (2010-05-11 12:07 UTC)
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Reading List: Act of Treason
- Flynn, Vince.
Act of Treason.
New York: Pocket Books, 2006.
This is the seventh novel in the
(warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers)
series. I packed this thriller as an “airplane book”
on a recent trip. The novel was far more successful than the
journey, which ended up as a 12 hour round trip from Switzerland
to England and back when my onward flight was cancelled thanks
to an unexpected belch from
By the time I got home, I was already more than 350 pages into the 467
page paperback, and I finished it over the next two days. Like all
Vince Flynn books, this is a page turner, although this time there's
less action and more puzzling out of shadowy connections.
The book begins with a terrorist attack on the motorcade of a
presidential candidate who, then trailing in the polls, is swept
into office on a sympathy vote. Now, just before the
inauguration of the new administration, Rapp captures
the perpetrator of the attack and, as he and CIA director
Irene Kennedy start to follow the trail of those who ordered
the strike, begin to suspect what may be a plot that will shake the
U.S. to its foundations and undermine the legitimacy of its
government. Under a tight deadline as inauguration day approaches,
Rapp and Kennedy have to find out the facts and take direct action
to avert calamity.
Characters from earlier books in the series appear here,
and references to events which occurred earlier in the timeline
are made, but this book works perfectly fine as a stand-alone
novel—you can pick up the Mitch Rapp saga here and miss
little or nothing (although there will, inevitably, be spoilers
for events in the earlier books).
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Hmmm...this doesn't look good
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Reading List: The Coming Insurrection
- Invisible Committee, The.
The Coming Insurrection.
Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press,  2009.
I have not paid much attention to the
protesters who seem to pop up at gatherings of international political
and economic leaders, for example at the
Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999 and the
Genoa G8 Summit in 2001.
In large part this is because I have more interesting things with which to occupy
my time, but also because, despite saturation media coverage of such events,
I was unable to understand the agenda of the protesters, apart from smashing
windows and hurling epithets and improvised projectiles at the organs of state
security. I understand what they're opposed to, but couldn't for the
life of me intuit what policies would prevail if they had their way. Still, as
they are often described as “anarchists”, I, as a flaming anarchist
myself, could not help but be intrigued by those so identified in the legacy media
as taking the struggle to the street.
This book, written by an anonymous group of authors, has been hailed as the
manifesto of this movement, so I hoped that reading it would provide some
insight into what it was all about. My hope was in vain. The writing
is so incoherent and the prose so impenetrable that I closed it with no more
knowledge of the philosophy and programme of its authors than when I opened
it. My general perception of the “anti-globalisation” movement was
one of intellectual nonentities spewing inchoate rage at the “system”
which produces the wealth that allows them to live their slacker lives and
flit from protest to protest around the globe. Well, if this is their
manifesto, then indeed that's all there is to it. The text is nearly impossible
to decipher, being written in a dialect of no known language. Many paragraphs
begin with an unsubstantiated and often absurd assertion, then follow it with
successive verb-free sentence fragments which seem to be intended to reinforce
the assertion. I suppose that if you read it as a speech before a mass assembly
of fanatics who cheer whenever they hear one of their trigger words it may work,
but one would expect savvy intellectuals to discern the difference in media and
adapt accordingly. Whenever the authors get backed into an irreconcilable
logical corner, they just drop an F-bomb and start another paragraph.
These are people so clueless that I'll have to coin a new word for those I've been
all these many years. As far as I can figure out, they assume
that they can trash the infrastructure of the “system”, and all of
the necessities of their day to day urban life will continue to flow to them
thanks to the magic responsible for that today. These “anarchists”
reject the “exploitation” of work—after all, who needs to work?
“Aside from welfare, there are various benefits, disability money,
accumulated student aid, subsidies drawn off fictitious childbirths, all kinds
of trafficking, and so many other means that arise with every mutation of
control.” (p. 103) Go anarchism! Death to the state,
as long as the checks keep coming! In fact, it is almost certain that the effete
would-be philosophes who set crayon (and I don't
mean the French word for “pencil”) to paper to produce this
work will be among the first wave of those to fall in the great die-off
starting between 72 and 96 hours after that event towards which they so sincerely strive:
the grid going down. Want to know what I'm talking about? Turn off the water main
where it enters your house and see what happens in the next three days if you
assume you can't go anywhere else where the water is on. It's way too late to
learn about “rooftop vegetable gardens” when the just-in-time
underpinnings which sustain modern life come to a sudden halt. Urban intellectuals
may excel at publishing blows against the empire, but when the system actually
goes down, bet on rural rednecks to be the survivors. Of course, as far as
I can figure out what these people want, it may be that Homo sapiens
returns to his roots—namely digging for roots and grubs with a pointed stick.
Perhaps rather than flying off to the next G-20 meeting to fight the future, they
should spend a week in one of the third world paradises where people still
live that way and try it out for themselves.
The full text of the book is available online in
Lest you think the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a beacon
of rationality and intelligence in a world going dark, it is their
university press which distributes this book.