We the People

I’ve always loved this song. Seriously — crank the bass for best effect. Beware; it can get dusty when the bell rings.

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Belgrade, 1926

Eric Ambler’s A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS (1939) is one of my favorite novels, for the noir atmospherics alone.

(That I number more than one fellow as casually amoral and exotic as Dmitrios Makropoulos among my professional colleagues just adds relish to each rereading.)

Hitchcock’s writer Robert Arthur anthologized the ninth chapter “Belgrade, 1926” as a stand-alone short story, and it remains as near-perfect a piece of short suspense fiction as I could want. Seek it out.

An excerpt:

I don’t know much about these things, but apparently one does not have to lay a couple of hundred miles’ worth of mines to make a two-hundred-mile wide corridor of sea impassible. One just lays one or two small fields without letting one’s enemy know just where. It is necessary, then, for them to find out the positions of those minefields.

That, then, was G.’s job in Belgrade. Italian agents found out about the minefields. G., the expert spy, was commissioned to do the real work of discovering where they were to be laid, without — a most important point this — without letting the Yugoslavs find out that he had done so. If they did find out, of course, they would promptly change the positions.

In that last part of his task G. failed. The reason for his failure was Dimitrios.

It has always seemed to me that a spy’s job must be an extraordinarily difficult one. What I mean is this. If I were sent to Belgrade by the British Government with orders to get hold of the details of a secret mine-laying project for the Straits of Otranto, I should not even know where to start. Supposing I knew, as G. knew, that the details were recorded by means of markings on a navigational chart of the Straits. Very well. How many copies of the chart are kept? I would not know. Where are they kept? I would not know. I might reasonably suppose that at least one copy would be kept somewhere in the Ministry of Marine, but the Ministry of Marine is a large place. Moreover, the chart will almost certainly be under lock and key. And even if, as seems unlikely, I were able to find in which room it is kept and how to get to it, how should I set about obtaining a copy of it without letting the Yugoslavs know that I had done so?

When I tell you that within a month of his arrival in Belgrade, G. had not only found out where a copy of the chart was kept, but had also made up his mind how he was going to copy that copy without the Yugoslavs knowing, you will see that he is entitled to describe himself as competent.

How did he do it? What ingenious manoevre, what subtle trick made it possible? I shall try to break the news gently.

Posing as a German, the representative of an optical instrument-maker in Dresden, he struck up an acquaintance with a clerk in the Submarine Defence Department (which dealt with submarine nets, booms, mine-laying and mine-sweeping) of the Ministry of Marine!

Pitiful, wasn’t it! The amazing thing is that he himself regards it as a very astute move. His sense of humour is quite paralyzed.

Posted in Evil walks the earth, Kewel!, Useful Idiots | Leave a comment

UPS’ drone army

This is a very interesting chart from a very interesting article about surprise and first-strike capability. Also, nanoexplosives. (!!) Emphasis mine.

This brings us to another area where U.S. systems are outranged: ground vehicles. Researchers at the University of Virginia successfully 3D printed a drone body in one day. By snapping in place an electric motor, two batteries, and an Android cell phone, they made a fully autonomous drone that could carry 1.5 pounds approximately 50 kilometers — six times the range of the U.S. Hellfire missile. In 2014, it took about 31 hours to print and assemble the drone at a total cost of about $800. Since then printers have become over 100 times faster and will get faster still. UPS currently plans a 1,000 printer plant, which at today’s printing speeds could potentially print 100,000 drones a day. The limitation is no longer the printing but the assembly and shipment of the finished products. Both processes can be automated with robots. In the near future, drones could be produced at a rate exceeding many types of ammunition — and often for less per round. A swarm of tens of thousands of autonomous but non-coordinating drones is clearly possible. Armed with small explosive loads, these drones could score mobility kills on all non-armored vehicles and even damage thin-skinned armor. Such an attack will bring an armored brigade to a rapid halt due to lack of fuel.

Posted in Armageddon, Life in the Atomic Age, The Government is Not Your Friend | Leave a comment

Orville Bierkle’s War Diary

Somehow it seems I haven’t posted a direct link to of Sergeant Orville A. Bierkle’s Korean War diary here — thought I had, but can’t find any such post. So here is the link. If I can figure out how to upload the PDF file here, I’ll do that too.

The war diary, provided by the sergeant’s daughter, gives provenance to his remarkable revolver, showing conclusively that it was used by him in the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, and that he brought it back with him to the United States, where it eventually made its way to me. And most importantly, don’t forget to read the thread.

Posted in Have Gun, Will Travel, Heroes, Comrades and Brothers | Leave a comment

Sokath, His Eyes Opened

This Monmouth poll yesterday deserved to receive more attention than it did:

Majority believe ‘deep state’ manipulates U.S. policies. “The majority of the country believes a group of unelected government and military officials secretly manipulate national policy, according to a Monmouth Poll released Monday….”

Let’s understand what is going on here: the overwhelming majority of the American people, having lived through half a century of declines in faith in virtually every American institution – the Congress, the courts, the cops, the church, the media, the National Football League – now believe that one of the most important institutions we have to protect us, the security and intelligence forces that are supposed to ward off threats, have now been turned against them. And not even one out of five Americans believes this invasion of privacy is usually justified – instead, they believe not just that they are being monitored, and not only do they believe this practice is near-constant, but they also belive that this monitoring is typically baseless and unnecessary.

–Ben Domenech, in this morning’s Transom newsletter. Emphasis mine.

Posted in The Government is Not Your Friend | 1 Comment

L’Estro Armonico (and, tangentially, Gene Simmons)

Nowadays you can find even obscure pieces of classical music but a click away on YouTube (such as the Wolf’s Glen scene from Weber’s Der Freischuetz, I mean, that’s amazing really).   In the past, music majors such as my high-school choir teacher and Juilliard alum David Pool would have to dig through a Schwann catalog to find vinyl pressings or tapes of obscure-but-required pieces for their studies, generally recorded by equally obscure ensembles.

Pool used to joke that as a result of all this, he and and his Juilliard classmate Charles Emerson Winchester III had between them the most extensive collection of recorded works by the Chamber Society of Lower East Cleveland.

For my part, as a starving young student I amassed my trove of classical records by signing up repeatedly for Columbia House and Musical Heritage Society “introductory memberships” (“9 albums for 1 cent”), which taught me valuable life lessons about reading the fine print and how to outscam the scammers.

Happily, I also encountered all sorts of relatively obscure treasures, and Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico performed by I Solisti Veneti became my favorite. The other day on YouTube I found this version I may decide I like even better. An excellent listen, and a great introduction to the joys of classical music for the novice or any metalhead — especially with the bass cranked through the roof.

The Red Priest was a genius and a notorious musical icon of his day, composing for royalty, delighting in crossdressing genderplay in his operas, and maintaining the sort of lifestyle that got him, a man of the cloth, barred from entering a city because of his sexcapades. Were he alive today, one suspects an interview with him would sound an awful lot like this.

That's a Mona Lisa smile if I ever saw one

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There Shall Be No Darkness

Twelve years ago I cited James Blish’s “There Shall Be No Darkness” as the best werewolf short fiction bar none, but unlike the quite unrelated Lovecraftian tale “Than Curse The Darkness,” I couldn’t find TSBND online to post or excerpt here.

Now that’s changed. Full text at the link; the story begins at page 6. I’ve excerpted the first third of the novella in images below the fold, as well, to whet your appetite.

I love everything about this story: the drawing-room mystery in the donjon-like Scottish manor house, melting the Mexican silver into slugs in a kitchen crucible, the “American T-47” automatic rifles, obviously M-16 analogues (circa 1952, mind) — or perhaps they were meant to be the AK-47, “discovered” by the West in ’53. And of course the delightful endocrinology angle. The miracle of the internet means single movements of obscure pieces like “the Wolf’s Glen scene from von Weber’s Der Freischuetz” can enhance the mood, and references such as “that panel on the Isenheim Altar that showed the Temptation of St. Anthony” can be, well, referenced. It is the thinking man’s werewolf story.

And of course, the tale can also be enjoyed as a parable with all sorts of meaning in the light of the global cultural, political, or institutional destabilization of your choice. I like thinking of the character Foote as representing the cranky artiste types found in each century; sensitive to the zeitgeist, they presciently warn the elites of the coming danger, but are no more than impotent voyeurs as events progress and it all comes crashing down anyway.

A few nights ago, with the wind howling in a rare California thunder-and-hailstorm, I decided to reread TSBND in front of a roaring fire, with a glass of Ardbeg Uigeadail and a nice Davidoff cigar. The addition of von Weber’s weird piece made for a spooky backdrop indeed; happily my Kit Gun’s still snug in its case somewhere nearby.


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Posted in Enjoy the Decline, Have Gun, Will Travel | Leave a comment

Still Enjoying the Decline

Just a reminder of what I’m about nowadays; the sentiment’s still quite the same as when I quoted this Irish fellow.

As he seems to have taken his own advice and is off doing better things with his life than blogging, I’ll take the liberty to paste the entirety for reference as this thing accelerates.

You Fucking People Make Me Sick

So it be a damp enough day in de local boozer with the telly on and nigh on every cunt is that little bit langers. It’s a family gathering of sorts. Just a couple of pints and whatnot. So yeah, everybody is chatting away about this and that and ruggers and then, quick as a flash, the Cyprus thing comes up on the news. First I’ve heard of it. So I put my whiskey down. I edge towards the box and listen in to get the jist of what is going on. Turns out there is a fucking “tax” on deposits. I’m shocked, clearly. Clearly, these German cunts aint all sunshine and gravy en aw. So, amidst the fact that the EU did something more reminiscent of Soviet fucking Russia just there, the fact that Putin and friends are bleedin fuming away because Cyprus is a dirty moolah Russian oligarch sex party, and the simple, brutal point that if this is happening in Cyprus, it can happen here, I look around and try to get a reaction. Not a damn thing. Barely a whimper. Like I be saying, langers, just langers like. Lads and laddies get back to it thereafter, and suddenly I’m pounding back shots like no one’s business.

Later on, they have a feature on your one, eh, whats her name? The good looking lassie who is hitting the wall and married to Prince William of Beta? Yeah, well she got her heel stuck in an iron grate in this St Patrick’s Day presentation thing, and there was this big curfuffle and it was all amusing and shit. Every fiend in the pub got a good laugh out of it and the coldness set in. You fucking cunts. You blatantly ignore, the fact that a dubious organization went into another FUCKING COUNTRY’S SET OF BANKS, and skimmed the cream off of the top. Then some lassie gets her stiletto caught up and it is epic lozzlzlzlzlzlzlzlzlols for the whole family. Seeya later ye daft gobshites! All you sniveling lefties are more concerned with a bunch of lassies winning the grand slam. Bread and circuses? Corn and porn ken, corn and porn.
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Posted in Armageddon, By Ourselves, For Ourselves, Enjoy the Decline | 3 Comments

Within living memory we had a fairly uniform standard of living

I’d sort of intuitively remembered experiencing this, perhaps from my own observations while moving across the country as a kid more than most military brats:

Today, the story of America is largely the story of two economies – rural and urban. It was not always this way. The antitrust movement of the 1940s not only targeted giant firms, but was also an attempt to weaken regional centers that had amassed too much power. This largely worked and, by the mid 1970’s, there was a fairly uniform American standard of living – being middle class in the Mideast was pretty much the same as middle class in New England. However, in the 1980s, many of the policies that helped ensure this balance between regions was neglected or reversed.

Emphasis mine. I’d not seen that concept (rising inequality, yadda yadda) stated quite that way before.

The quote’s from this very interesting article on Jonathan Tepper’s blog; hat tip to Arnold Kling for pointing him out.

Posted in The Economic Way of Thinking | 1 Comment

RIP Stephen Hawking

Steve Hsu has a nice post about Hawking, with good links to Roger Penrose’s obit and some reminiscences of Hsu’s personal encounters with the great man and his staff. (How many people can say they’ve carried Stephen Hawking?)

Hsu recalls the late-80s Hawking postulate about radiation being emitted from black holes — which would seem impossible by definition. I never knew the physics but remember very well reading an essay in a Baen sf and popular-science anthology (titled, I think, “BLACK HOLES!”) and the remarkable essay within citing Hawking for the statement (delivered, I am sure, with his wicked grin) that his theory meant Cthulhu was as likely to emerge from a black hole as anything else. Which almost made me switch my major (I was at UC Berkeley at the time) from Poli Sci and History to Astronomy. Almost.

RIP, Mr. Hawking, it was a thrill to have experience these decades of existence knowing  you were in them.

Posted in Heroes, Comrades and Brothers | 2 Comments