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Thursday, December 31, 2015
Books of the year: 2015
Here are my picks for the best books of 2015
, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't
the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read
last twelvemonth. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from
the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear
in alphabetical order by their author's surname.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Reading List: Land Of Promise
- Rawles, James Wesley.
Land Of Promise.
Moyie Springs, ID: Liberty Paradigm Press, 2015.
The author is the founder of the
Web site, a massive and essential resource for those
interested in preparing for uncertain times. His
How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (July 2011)
Tools for Survival (February 2015)
are packed with practical information for people who wish
to ride out natural disasters all the way to serious
off-grid self-sufficiency. His series of five novels
which began with
Patriots (December 2008)
illustrates the skills needed to survive by people
in a variety of circumstances after an economic
and societal collapse. The present book is the first
of a new series of novels, unrelated
to the first, providing a hopeful view of how free people
might opt out of a world where totalitarianism and
religious persecution is on the march.
By the mid 21st century trends already evident today have
continued along their disheartening trajectories. The
world's major trading currencies have collapsed in the
aftermath of runaway money creation, and the world now
uses the NEuro, a replacement for the Euro which is
issued only in electronic form, making tax avoidance
extremely difficult. As for the United States, “The
nation was saddled by trillions of NEuros in debt that
would take several generations to repay, it was mired
in bureaucracy and over-regulation, the nation had
become a moral cesspool, and civil liberties were just
A catastrophically infectious and lethal variant of Ebola has
emerged in the Congo, killing 60% of the population of
Africa (mostly in the sub-Saharan region) and reducing world
population by 15%.
A “Thirdist” movement has swept the Islamic
world, bringing Sunni and Shia into an uneasy alliance
behind the recently-proclaimed Caliphate now calling
itself the World Islamic State (WIS). In Western
Europe, low fertility among the original population
and large-scale immigration of more fecund Muslims is
contributing to a demographic transition bringing
some countries close to the tipping point of Islamic
domination. The Roman Catholic church has signed the
so-called “Quiet Minarets Agreement” with
the WIS, which promised to refrain from advocating
sharia law or political subjugation in Europe for 99
years. After that (or before, given the doctrine of
in Islam), nobody knows what will happen.
In many countries around the world, Christians are beginning
to feel themselves caught in a pincer movement between radical
Islam on the one side and radical secularism/atheism on the
other, with the more perspicacious among them beginning to
think of getting out of societies becoming ever more actively
hostile. Some majority Catholic countries have already
declared themselves sanctuaries for their co-religionists, and
other nations have done the same for Eastern Orthodox and Coptic
Christians. Protestant Christians and Messianic Jews have no
sanctuary, and are increasingly persecuted.
A small group of people working at a high-powered mergers and
acquisitions firm in newly-independent Scotland begin to
explore doing something about this. They sketch out
a plan to approach the governments of South Sudan and Kenya,
both of which have long-standing claims to the
a barren territory of around 14,000 square kilometres
(about ⅔ the size of Israel)
with almost no indigenous population. With both claimants
to the territory majority Christian countries, the planners hope to
persuade them that jointly ceding the land for a new
Christian nation will enable them to settle this
troublesome dispute in a way which will increase the
prestige of both. Further, developing the region into a
prosperous land that can defend itself will shore up both
countries against the advances of WIS and its allies.
With some trepidation, they approach Harry Heston, founder and boss of
their firm, a self-made billionaire known for his Christian
belief and libertarian views (he and his company got out of the
United States to free Scotland while it was still possible).
Heston, whose fortune was built on his instinctive ability to
evaluate business plans, hears the pitch and decides to commit
one billion NEuros from his own funds to the project, contingent
on milestones being met, and to invite other wealthy business
associates to participate.
So begins the story of founding the Ilemi Republic, not just a
sanctuary for Christians and Messianic Jews, but a prototype
21st century libertarian society with “zero
taxes, zero import duties, and zero
license fees.” Defence will be by a citizen militia with a
tiny professional cadre. The founders believe such a society will
be a magnet to highly-productive and hard-working people from
around the world weary of slaving more than half their lives to
support the tyrants and bureaucrats which afflict them.
As the story unfolds, the reader is treated to what amounts to
a worked example of setting up a new nation, encompassing diplomacy,
economics, infrastructure, recruiting settlers, dealing equitably
with the (very small) indigenous and nomadic population,
money and banking, energy and transportation resources,
keeping the domestic peace and defending the nation, and the
minimalist government and the constitutional structure designed to
keep it that way. The founders anticipate that their sanctuary
nation will be subjected to the same international opprobrium
and obstruction which Israel suffers (although the Ilemi Republic
will not be surrounded by potential enemies), and plans must
You'll sometimes hear claims that Christian social conservatism
and libertarianism are incompatible beliefs which will inevitably
come into conflict with one another. In this novel the author
argues that the kind of moral code by which devout Christians
live is a prerequisite for the individual liberty and lack of
state meddling so cherished by libertarians. The Ilemi Republic
also finds itself the home of hard-edged, more secular libertarians,
who get along with everybody else because they all agree on
preserving their liberty and independence.
This is the first in a series of novels planned by the author
which he calls the “Counter-Caliphate Chronicles”.
I have long dreamed of a realistic story of establishing a
libertarian refuge from encroaching tyranny, and even envisioned
it as being situated in a lightly-populated region of Africa.
The author has delivered that story, and I am eagerly anticipating
seeing it develop in future novels.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
New: Clash of Ideologies: Communism, Islam, and the West
Western politicians say, “We're not at war with Islam.”
But Islam is more than a just a religion. Its scriptures specify a
political system, civil and criminal law, economics and trade, laws of
war, and other matters which other major religions leave to civil
authority, and some of these policy prescriptions conflict with
of Ideologies: Communism, Islam, and the West
whether the West should treat these aspects of Islam as an ideology,
like communism, fundamentally incompatible with its values, and
how best to confront it.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Reading List: Rocket Ranch
- Ward, Jonathan H.
Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2015.
Many books have been written about Project Apollo, with
a large number devoted to the lunar and Skylab missions,
the Saturn booster rockets which launched them, the Apollo
spacecraft, and the people involved in the program. But
none of the Apollo missions could have left the Earth without
the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida
where the launch vehicle and space hardware were integrated,
checked out, fuelled, and launched. In many ways, those
facilities were more elaborate and complicated than the
booster and spacecraft, and were just as essential in
achieving the record of success in Saturn and
Apollo/Saturn launches. NASA's 1978 official history
of KSC Apollo operations,
on-line for free),
is a highly recommended examination of the design
decisions, architecture, management, and operation
of the launch site, but it doesn't delve into the
nitty-gritty of how the system actually
The present book, subtitled “The Nuts and Bolts
of the Apollo Moon Program at Kennedy Space Center”
provides that detail. The author's research involved reviewing
more than 1200 original documents and interviewing more
than 70 people, most veterans of the Apollo era at KSC
(many now elderly). One thread that ran through the interviews
is that, to a man (and almost all are men), despite what they
had done afterward, they recalled their work on Apollo, however
exhausting the pace and formidable the challenges, as a high
point in their careers. After completing his research, Ward
realised he was looking at a 700 page book.
His publisher counselled that such a massive tome
would be forbidding to many readers. He decided to separate
the description of the KSC hardware (this volume) and the
operations leading up to a launch (described in the companion
Countdown to a Moon Launch,
which I will review in the future).
The Apollo/Saturn lunar flight vehicle was, at the time, the most complex
machine ever built by humans. It contained three rocket stages
(all built by different contractors), a control computer, and
two separate spacecraft: the command/service modules and lunar module,
each of which had their own rocket engines, control thrusters,
guidance computers, and life support systems for the crew. From
the moment this “stack” left the ground, everything had
to work. While there were redundant systems in case of some
in-flight failures, loss of any major component would mean the
mission would be unsuccessful, even if the crew returned safely
In order to guarantee this success, every component in the
booster and spacecraft had to be tested and re-tested, from the
time it arrived at KSC until the final countdown and launch.
Nothing could be overlooked, and there were written procedures
which were followed for everything, with documentation of each
step and quality inspectors overseeing it all. The volume of
paperwork was monumental (a common joke at the time was that
no mission could launch until the paperwork weighed more than
the vehicle on the launch pad), but the sheer complexity
exceeded the capabilities of even the massive workforce and
unlimited budget of Project Apollo. KSC responded by
pioneering the use of computers to check out the spacecraft
and launcher at every step in the assembly and launch process.
Although a breakthrough at the time, the capacity of these
computers is laughable today. The computer used to check out
the Apollo spacecraft had 24,576 words of memory when it
was installed in 1964, and programmers had to jump through
hoops and resort to ever more clever tricks to shoehorn the
test procedures into the limited memory. Eventually, after
two years, approval was obtained to buy an additional 24,000
words of memory for the test computers, at a cost of almost
half a million 2015 dollars.
You've probably seen pictures of the KSC firing room during
Apollo countdowns. The launch director looked out over a
sea of around 450 consoles, each devoted to one aspect of
the vehicle (for example, console BA25, “Second stage
propellant utilization”), each manned by an engineer
in a white shirt and narrow tie. These consoles were connected
into audio “nets”, arranged in a hierarchy
paralleling the management structure. For example,
if the engineer at console BA25 observed something outside
acceptable limits, he would report it on the second stage
propulsion net. The second stage manager would then raise the
issue on the launch vehicle net. If it was a no-go item, it
would then be bumped up to the flight director loop where a
hold would be placed on the countdown. If this wasn't complicated
enough, most critical parameters were monitored by launch
vehicle and spacecraft checkout computers, which could
automatically halt the countdown if a parameter exceeded
limits. Most of those hundreds of consoles had dozens of
switches, indicator lights, meters, and sometimes video
displays, and all of them had to be individually wired to
patchboards which connected them to the control computers or,
in some cases, directly to the launch hardware. And every one
of those wires had to have a pull ticket for its installation,
and inspection, and an individual test and re-test that it was
functioning properly. Oh, and there were three
firing rooms, identically equipped. During a launch, two
would be active and staffed: one as a primary, the other as
The level of detail here is just fantastic and may be overwhelming
if not taken in small doses. Did you know, for example, that in
the base of the Saturn V launch platform there was an air conditioned
room with the RCA 110A computer which checked out the booster? The
Saturn V first stage engines were about 30 metres from this
delicate machine. How did they keep it from being pulverised
when the rocket lifted off? Springs.
Assembled vehicles were transported from the Vehicle Assembly
Building to the launch pad by an enormous crawler. The crawler
was operated by a crew of 14, including firemen stationed
near the diesel engines. Originally, there was an automatic
fire suppression system, but after it accidentally triggered
and dumped a quarter ton of fire suppression powder into one
of the engines during a test, it was replaced with firemen. How
did they keep the launcher level as it climbed up the ramp to
the pad? They had two pipes filled with mercury which ran diagonally
across the crawler platform between each pair of corners. These
connected to a sight glass which indicated to the operator if the
platform wasn't level. Then the operator would adjust jacking
cylinders on the corners to restore the platform to level—while
it was rolling.
I can provide only a few glimpses of the wealth of fascinating
minutæ on all aspects of KSC facilities and operations
described here. Drawing on his more than 300 hours of
interviews, the author frequently allows veterans of the
program to speak in their own words, giving a sense of what
it was like to be there, then, the rationale for why
things were done the way they were, and to relate anecdotes
about when things didn't go as planned.
It has been said that one of the most difficult things NASA did
in Project Apollo was to make it look easy. Even space buffs
who have devoured dozens of books about Apollo may be startled
by the sheer magnitude of what was accomplished in designing,
building, checking out, and operating the KSC facilities
described in this book, especially considering in how few years
it all was done and the primitive state of some of the technologies
available at the time (particularly computers and electronics).
This book and its companion volume are eye-openers, and only
reinforce what a technological triumph Apollo was.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Reading List: The Miskatonic Manuscript
- Suprynowicz, Vin.
The Miskatonic Manuscript.
Pahrump, NV: Mountain Media, 2015.
ASIN: B0197R4TGW. ISBN 978-0-9670259-5-7.
The author is a veteran newspaperman and was arguably the most libertarian
writer in the mainstream media during his long career with the
Las Vegas Review-Journal (a collection of his essays
has been published as
Send In The Waco Killers).
He earlier turned his hand to
fiction in 2005's The Black Arrow (May 2005),
a delightful libertarian superhero fantasy. In
The Testament of James (February 2015)
we met Matthew Hunter, owner of a used book shop in Providence,
Rhode Island, and Chantal Stevens, a woman with military combat
experience who has come to help out in the shop and, over time,
becomes romantically involved with Matthew. Since their last
adventure, Matthew and Chantal, their reputation (or notoriety) as players in
the international rare books game bolstered by the Testament
of James, have gone on to discover a Conan Doyle manuscript
for a missing Sherlock Holmes adventure, which sold at auction for
more than a million dollars.
The present book begins with the sentencing of Windsor Annesley,
scion of a prominent Providence family and president of the Church of
Cthulhu, which regards the use of consciousness-expanding
plant substances as its sacraments, who has been railroaded
in a “War on Drugs” prosecution, to three consecutive
life sentences without possibility of parole. Annesley, unbowed
and defiant, responds,
You are at war with us? Then we are at war with you.
A condition of war has existed, and will continue to exist,
until you surrender without condition, or until every drug
judge, including you, … and every drug prosecutor, and
every drug cop is dead. So have I said it. So shall it be.
Shortly after the sentencing, Windsor Annesley's younger brother,
Worthington (“Worthy”) meets with Matthew and
the bookstore crew (including, of course, the feline contingent)
to discuss a rumoured
H. P. Lovecraft
notebook, “The Miskatonic Manuscript”, which Lovecraft
alluded to in correspondence but which has never been found. At the
time, Lovecraft was visiting Worthy's great-uncle, Henry Annesley, who
was conducting curious experiments aimed at seeing things beyond the
range of human perception. It was right after this period that
Lovecraft wrote his breakthrough story
Beyond”. Worthy suspects that the story was based upon
Henry Annesley's experiments, which may have opened a technological
path to the other worlds described in Lovecraft's fiction and
explored by Church of Cthulhu members through their sacraments.
After discussing the odd career of Lovecraft, Worthy offers a handsome
finder's fee to Matthew for the notebook. Matthew accepts. The game,
on the leisurely time scale of the rare book world, is afoot. And
finally, the manuscript is located.
And now things start to get weird—very
weird—Lovecraft weird. A mysterious gadget arrives
with instructions to plug it into a computer. Impossible crimes.
Glowing orbs. Secret laboratories. Native American shamans.
Vortices. Big hungry things with sharp teeth. Matthew and Chantal
find themselves on an adventure as risky and lurid as those on the
Golden Age pulp science fiction shelves of the bookstore.
Along with the adventure (in which a hero cat, Tabbyhunter, plays a
key part), there are insightful quotes about the millennia
humans have explored alternative realities through the use of
plants placed on the Earth for that purpose by Nature's God, and
the folly of those who would try to criminalise that human right
through a coercive War on Drugs. The book concludes with a teaser
for the next adventure, which I eagerly await. The full text of
H. P. Lovecraft's “From Beyond” is included; if you've
read the story before, you'll look at it an another light after reading
this superb novel. End notes provide citations to items
you might think fictional until you discover the extent
to which we're living in the Crazy Years.
Drug warriors, law 'n order fundamentalists, prudes, and those whose
consciousness has never dared to broach the terrifying “what
if” there's something more than we usually see out there may
find this novel offensive or even dangerous. Libertarians, the
adventurous, and lovers of a great yarn will delight in it. The cover
art is racy, even by the standards of pulp, but completely faithful to
The link above is to the
Kindle edition, which is available
from Amazon. The hardcover, in a limited edition of 650
copies, numbered and signed by the author, is
from the publisher via AbeBooks.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Reading List: Astérix: Le Papyrus de César
- Ferri, Jean-Yves and Didier Conrad.
Astérix: Le Papyrus de César.
Vanves, France: Editions Albert René, 2015.
The publication of Julius Cæsar's
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
(Commentaries on the Gallic War) (August 2007) made a sensation
in Rome and amplified the already exalted reputation of Cæsar.
Unknown before now, the original manuscript included a chapter which
candidly recounted the Roman army's failure to conquer the Gauls of
Armorique, home of the fierce warrior Astérix, his
inseparable companion Obélix, and the rest of the villagers
whose adventures have been chronicled in the thirty-five volumes
preceding this one. On the advice of his editor, Bonus Promoplus,
Cæsar agrees to remove the chapter chronicling his one reverse
from the document which has come down the centuries to us.
Unfortunately for Promoplus, one of his scribes, Bigdata, flees with a copy
of the suppressed chapter and delivers it to Doublepolémix,
notorious Gallic activist and colporteur
sans frontières, who makes the journey to the village
of the irréductibles in Armorique.
The Roman Empire, always eager to exploit new technology, has moved
beyond the slow diffusion of news by scrolls to newsmongers like
Rézowifix, embracing wireless communication. A network of Urgent
Delivery Pigeons, operated by pigeon masters like Antivirus, is
able to quickly transmit short messages anywhere in the Empire.
Unfortunately, like the
protocol, messages do not always arrive at the destination
nor in the sequence sent….
When news of the missing manuscript reaches Rome, Prompolus
mounts an expedition to Gaul to recover it before it can damage
the reputation of Cæsar and his own career. With battle imminent,
the Gauls resort to Druid technology to back up the manuscript.
The story unfolds with the actions, twists, and turns one
expects from Astérix, and a satisfying conclusion.
This album is, at this writing, the number one best-selling book at
Sunday, December 6, 2015
New: Islam and Political Freedom
Is Islam compatible with political freedom? Using data from the Pew Research Center
and Freedom House
, Islam and Political Freedom
explores whether there is a correlation between the percentage of Muslim population of a country and whether it is ranked as “Free”, “Partly Free”, or “Not Free” based upon political and civil rights.