Guns, Germs and Steel – A Book Review

“Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond is an extremely interesting book about what factors might be responsible for the varied trajectories that technological progress has taken in different times and places and by different peoples around the world.

Diamond reviews the history of the two most advanced civilizations found on Eurasia, namely the Far Eastern Kingdom of China and the Euro-Middle Eastern complex of cultures that succeeded from the Sumerians.  He catalogs the series innovations that occurred since the end of the Last Ice Age that catapulted humanity from the Stone Age to the Space Age in the space of 13,000 years.  Now this sounds like a long time but compare it to the hundreds of thousands of years in which the only progress was advances in stone spearhead technology.

Next, we are walked through the other civilizations that existed around the world.  We meet the new world cultures in mesoamerica and the andes.  We follow the Austronesians as they go from Taiwan to every island between Madagascar and Easter Island.  We meet the various peoples inhabiting sub-Saharan.  And we meet the Australian aborigines and the inhabitants of the New Guinea highlands.  And we watch as these primitive cultures collide with the modern Europeans.  And we see how the Guns, Germs and Steel of the title decimate these primitive cultures.

And finally, Diamond explains how the vicissitudes of geography are completely responsible for the difference between Albert Einstein and Yali the genius of the New Guinea highlands.  Apparently we are all exactly the same.  I know this because Mr. Diamond repeats it liberally throughout the text just in case you aren’t paying close attention.

And I will admit that many of the points are very persuasive.  It is quite interesting how the Austronesian people developed along entirely different technological trajectories depending on what were the resources of the various islands they ended up on.  So, those that ended up on New Zealand or Hawaii were able to progress to agricultural societies while those on wretched dots of land like the Chatham Islands barely clung to life as hunter gatherers.  And the great advantages of inhabitants of Eurasia are fairly convincing.  Being able to borrow from civilizations in all directions around you surely helped the people of Europe to advance rapidly.  But when at the end of the book he hunts for a reason as to why European culture was able to outperform the Chinese and other Asian cultures in the colonial period he rather weakly claims that the comparative isolation of Europe due to the fragmentation into peninsulas and islands was the reason.  To me this seems to be a case of blowing hot and cold.  Or possibly the Doctrine of the Three Bears.  This place is too isolated, this place is not isolated enough but this place is isolated just right!  Seems a bit weak.

Well anyway, I learned a good bit about early human civilization.  I also found out that the modern Japanese came from the Korean people.  But I’m not sure I really believe that the Australian Aborigines are really that close to their own space program.  But Mr Diamond thinks they are.  Good luck with that.

It’s a good book and highly interesting.  I recommend it if you can ignore the virtue signaling.

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a mathematician and securities trader who also waxes philosophical.  The last of his books that I am reading is entitled “The Bed of Procrustes.”  Now the title alone would guarantee I would want to know about it.  In Greek Mythology, Procrustes is one of those idiosyncratic monsters that the Hero, such as Heracles or as in this case Theseus must conquer in order to eliminate Chaos and promote civilization or something like that.  Freud made much soup from this sort of thing.

So, Procrustes had a bed that he let travelers sleep on at night.  The catch was that if the sleeper was shorter than the bed then Procrustes would stretch him to the correct size.  And if the sleeper was longer than the bed then he would trim him down to fit.  According to the story up until Theseus arrived the bed-sleeper length optimization procedure had been 100% fatal to the “sleeper.”  And when Theseus shows up he turns the tables (more furniture!) on Procrustes and performs a bed fitting exercise on him.

Taleb is using the metaphor of Procrustes Bed to represent how often in life humans look at situations from the wrong point of view.  And he returns to one of the oldest formats to address his subject, the aphorism or proverb or wise saying.

The Bed of Procrustes is one hundred and fifty-six pages long.  His other books like the “Black Swan” are four or five times as long.  His next book will be written on the back of a match book cover.  I approve of this trend.

I’ve started reading them.  Some of them are pretty good.  I’m comparing them to those other aphoristic writers Solomon, Confucious and Robert A. Heinlein (through the agency of his alter ego Lazarus Long).  The emphasis is different.  Taleb is talking about life from the point of view of a savvy operator not a philosopher or a saint.  He has more in common with Lazarus Long.  But there are many interesting observations and some of them are original in some aspect.  When I finish reading Procrustes Bed and do some comparison to his peers I’ll probably have more to say, but one thing that occurs to me is to put out a regular quote of the day (week?) from someone.  I’m sure it will make me appear wiser.  Here’s the first one:

“What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.”

Shakespeare has Polonius declare that brevity is the soul of wit.  Polonius is a windbag so you have to wonder whether Old Will believed this statement or not.  But I find that, many times, less is decidedly more, especially when you’re under the gun to fit in blog posting into a busy day.  I see that many bloggers churn out a couple of thousand words in a post.  I like to put up about five hundred or so (and sometimes less).  I know everybody is busy nowadays and I don’t want to impose so let’s stop right here.

A Murder of Manatees by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction Book Review

As noted earlier, Larry Correia has published a second installment of his Tom Stranger stories (A Murder of Manatees: The Further Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent[Audiobook] By: Larry Correia, Adam Baldwin, Audible Studios Sold By: Audible).

I have to admit.  This is a guilty pleasure.  The stories, such as they are, border on the ridiculous.  The plot is just an excuse to allow Tom Stranger and his friends and enemies to interact in an adventure that resembles science fiction in the same way that the old 1960s Batman tv series resembles Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.

But I don’t care.  It’s fun.  Correia fills his little two-hour audiobook with good natured jabs at himself, modern politics, culture and the conventions of pulp science fiction.  There’s never any doubt that Tom and his associates will provide quality, excellent customer service and that the bad guys will get their comeuppance.

And we can also be assured that Adam Baldwin will continue to find ways of voice portraying whatever ridiculous characters Larry invents, no matter whether it’s a bubble gum snapping android from the Jersey Shore or a hard-tweeting U.S. President on the battle field of the Mar-a-Lago golf course.  Having only previously known Adam Baldwin’s acting skills from Full Metal Jacket, Firefly and Chuck I wasn’t prepared for his wonderfully hammy touch to this kind of goofy material.  He absolutely makes the most of the story and its characters.

I just finished it today and I enjoyed every silly second of it.  Bravo Larry and bravo Adam.  I only wish there were more.  And what I really wish is that Hollywood would wake up and make the Monster Hunter saga into a movie series (either tv or big screen).  And I think Adam Baldwin would be a natural as Agent Franks.

But that’s a rant for another day.  Meanwhile if you like goofy tongue in cheek pulp sci-fi or you’re a fan of Larry Correia or Adam Baldwin then I highly recommend A Murder of Manatees.  You could think of plenty of worse ways to spend two hours.

For Any Fans of Larry Correia’s Tom Stranger Audibook He’s Come Out With Another.

Adam Baldwin (Firefly’s Jane Cobb and Chuck’s Colonel John Casey) narrates the continuing adventures of Tom Stranger, the most service oriented interdimensional insurance agent you’ll ever meet.   I’m a fan of Larry’s Monster Hunter series and I always like stuff that has Adam Baldwin in it.  And the fact that he’s right-wing guy doesn’t hurt either.

I haven’t listened this one yet but the first one was very entertaining, very funny.  And Adam does a very good job covering all the voices.  Of course I’d prefer if Baldwin could be playing one of Larry’s Monster Hunter characters (Agent Franks?) in a movie version.  But I’ll take what I can get.

So I don’t know if this second one would benefit from listening to the first one, first.  So I recommend getting them in order.

Tom Stranger 2: A Murder of Manatees AVAILABLE NOW!

Vox Day’s Alt-Hero Gambit

Vox Day is an intriguing figure.  He is literally putting his money where his mouth is.  His right-wing entrepreneurial activities include (among other things) commercial endeavors in book publishing, video games and now comic books.  In just a few years he has impacted the cloistered and SJW infested world of the Hugo awards and spread the gospel of confronting social justice thugs with his books on SJWs.

His latest venture is the comic book kickstarter that garnered a quarter of a million dollars and has allowed him to hire some of the best talent from the pre-SJW converged past of DC Comics. (Chuck Dixon, the creator of Bane and Frank Fosco, a talented artist who has worked for DC and Marvel).  The effort will involve several separate imprints.  One imprint is called Alt-Hero and is explicitly aimed at combatting the politically correct conventions of modern SJW converged Marvel Comics with in-your-face right-wing heroes.  In addition, there is an imprint called Avalon which will be an entirely original work of Chuck Dixon chronicling the super heroes in his imagined city Avalon.  Dixon has said that Vox has given him free rein to create the Avalon universe according to his own creative vision.  And that is why I am very excited about this venture.

As I have stated previously, I’m in no way, shape or form a comic book enthusiast.  But I recognize how employing talented creators to work without the disabling effects of politically motivated orthodoxies has the potential of attracting the customers who have walked away from comics because of these very problems.  That is exactly what needs to be tried.  If it succeeds even on a limited basis it can act as a template for other areas of the culture that are currently strangulating under leftist control.  Vox’s Castalia House publishing business produces fiction and non-fiction that is unaffected by politically correct ideology.  I’ve enjoyed a number of these books.  And even though I don’t follow comics I did enjoy the Bane character in the third Batman movie (Dark Knight Rising).  He was wonderfully evil and an amazing agent of chaos.  I have to assume that Mr. Dixon has some amusing things to share in this Avalon story line so I intend to try it out when it becomes available.

My larger point is that Vox is demonstrating what needs to be done.  Look at the niches the converged industries provide for a right-wing alternative and give it a try.  The internet is the great leveler of all things entrepreneurial.  If you can imagine a thing that has a market you can market it there.  I’ll add Alt-Hero and Avalon to my list of Right-Wing Businesses.

Vox is an enormously polarizing figure.  But he is a trailblazer for anyone on the right who wants to be part of the solution to the vacuum that is all that’s left of right-wing cultural institutions.  Don’t like left wing news, then blog.  Don’t like the left-wing NYT Best Seller’s List, then patronize right wing publishers and authors.  Don’t want your kids to have to read about or go see a movie about gay Spiderman or transsexual Thor, then maybe buy a few of Vox’s comics for them instead.  To be consistent, I guess I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is.  Comic books?  Who woulda thunk it?

Legionnaire (Galaxy’s Edge) (Volume 1) by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole – A Science Fiction Book Review

I read one of Nick Cole’s earlier books (CTRL ALT Revolt!) last year and liked it.  So, when I heard he was involved in a mil-sf series I figured I’d check it out.  It turns out it’s a dual authorship arrangement with Jason Anspach.  I ordered it (I like to read books on paper) and read it last week.

I like well-written mil-sf.  This is well-written.  The story chronicles an elite military unit involved in a supposedly routine diplomatic mission that devolves into a catastrophe.  It melds the feel of modern American military in the middle east (ala Black Hawk Down) with lineage going back to Rudyard Kipling’s India stories and translates it into a futuristic landscape of alien creatures, energy weapons and space cruisers.  But the technology is definitely beside the point.  The story is the camaraderie of men attempting to complete their mission and keep each other alive in an environment where bureaucratic amateur officers are just as dangerous as the enemy.

The protagonist (first person narrative for the most part) is an NCO in the “Legion.”  Through his eyes we see his comrades display various strengths and weaknesses and we observe the “regular army” that are combined with the legionnaires on this mission attempting to adapt to a combat role they are unprepared for.  And we observe non-combatants and the alien inhabitants of this planet at the “galaxy’s edge.”

If you like military science fiction you’ll probably like this book.  If you even just like war stories you might like this book.  It is volume one of a series but this book is sort of a stand-alone story.  The series chronicles the saga of the Galactic Republic through the eyes of the Legion as an elite force cleaning up the messes being perpetrated by an increasingly autocratic state over its subject worlds at the periphery of the galaxy.  Basically, it sounds like the Roman Republic devolving into the Roman Empire.  Or is it the American Republic?

As you can probably guess from my comparison with Black Hawk Down, it’s not a happily ever after kind of tale.  It’s a down beat story but if you like mil-sf then that’s probably no surprise.  If not be warned.

So, here’s my opinion.  This is a good stand-alone story.  The story develops and the action and the sub-plots unfold in natural way.  The characters are interesting and have enough development to allow you to cheer and boo the appropriate actors.  I can definitely recommend it.  For me the question is do I go forward with a longer series?  From what I understand the individual books are separated in time.  They document the history of this galactic civilization.  Implicitly this means none of the characters will carry over to the next book.  Can the authors generate enough new people to populate the series?  I think I’ll try the next book in the series and see how that works out.  I’ll report back on the next installment when I do.

Vox Day’s SJWs Always Double Down – A Book Review

If you’ve never heard of Vox Day then most probably you haven’t been following science fiction and fantasy over the last few years.  This is probably highlighted from the caption at the top of the cover of this book that quotes the Wall Street Journal as saying about Vox that he is, “The Most Despised Man in Science Fiction.”  And on one side of a partisan divide that is completely true.  But on the other side of that line he is a folk hero or maybe folk-devil.

For those who do not know him suffice it to say that he has been very active in the various campaigns by the alt-right (or some subset of it) against the forces of the SJW converged establishment.  He has been active in the campaigns against SJWs in Gamer-Gate, Puppy-Gate, Trump’s Election and lately in his launching of Alt-Hero to counter the SJW convergence of comic books.  He’s also an editor of his publishing company Castalia House.

In addition to his science fiction and fantasy books Vox has written several books on the culture wars.  To my mind the two most interesting are his “SJWs Always …..” books.  Let me clarify.  His first of these was the ground-breaking “SJWs Always Lie.”  Now he has added “SJWs Always Double Down.”  These titles are drawn from Vox’s “Three Laws of SJWs”

  1. SJWs Always Lie
  2. SJWs Always Double Down
  3. SJWs Always Project

The laws succinctly describe the behaviors to expect from SJWs.  The books are manuals on how SJWs behave and how you should and shouldn’t react to them.  I called the first one ground breaking and that’s no exaggeration.  They reveal the direction and progression of SJW encroachment and attack on normal people and normal institutions.  It was lavishly filled with examples that Vox drew from his own experiences and from things ripped from the headlines.  It was grim but valuable information.

With the publication of the second book, “SJWs Always Double Down,” Vox continues the lessons.  Once again, he illustrates his points with anecdotes from his experience and the real world.  And he brings us up to date on the latest events in the Gamer-Gate, Puppy Gate, Milo’s tour, the Trump Election saga and now the comic book wars.

For some one who has been involved in some of these events (albeit much more peripherally and much less actively than someone like Vox) I find his insights and background information pretty interesting stuff.  But just as with the first book, the more important aspect of the book is as a practical handbook of what to expect from SJW encroachment on every aspect of modern life.  Raising awareness of these problems and giving you practical advice and examples of successful tactics is literally priceless.

There may be some parts of this book that you won’t be interested in.  For instance, if you do not intend to debate SJWs you may be completely uninterested in the Aristotelian categories of rhetoric and their application in debate.  But if you are interested in keeping your job then the information on SJW tactics in the work place will be very interesting.

Full disclosure, Vox is on the far right in his politics and beliefs.  His beliefs may be completely incompatible with your own.  If that means you cannot read his book then that’s that.  But honestly, just because I’m much more of a moderate than Vox Day, I still recognize the validity of the observations he makes about SJWs and many other aspects of today’s various cultural crises.  His early recognition of Donald Trump’s viability as a candidate and his amazing abilities as a practical politician indicate that Vox is astute.  I believe you ignore his information to your own detriment.

And dammit some of his jokes are comedy gold.  Anyone who can see his insertion(!) of “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” into the Hugo Awards as a nomination for Best Short Story and not laugh out loud has a heart of stone.

I say that Vox’s SJW books are a national treasure for all on the right.  Highly, highly recommended.

Greg Bear’s Hardfought – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hat tip to Tom (one of our most active site denizens) for recommending this story.  I knew of Greg Bear but when he was most popular my reading habit was curtailed due to SYFMS (struggling young family man syndrome).  After reading Hardfought I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mr. Bear’s stuff.

Hardfought has a pretty complex structure and several important plot elements are intentionally obscured.  This makes the beginning of the story confusing.  But hang in there.  It builds to a good effect.  Because of the structure of the story I can’t go into much detail of the plot without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say that this is a very interesting take on human-alien war.  I liked the way Bear uses the details of stellar evolution (lack of heavier elements in first generation star populations) to define the contrast between the human and alien characteristics.  The human characters appear strange to the reader.  Their environment and social structures are very unusual and so it takes a little bit of plot revelation to start to put their behaviors into context.  The alien protagonist’s behavior and motivation are intentionally inhuman but his interactions with his own species and with humans highlights several traits that make him useful to the resolution of the story.

The story is a meditation on the consequences of total war or war to extermination.  I think it is asking whether survival at any cost actually is surviving.  If what is left of you at the end is unrecognizable did you actually survive?  And I don’t think Bear is answering the question.  He is just illustrating the end of the trajectory.  It is obvious to the reader what has been lost but everyone gets to decide if the price is too high.

A very interesting read.  I’ll have to look through Bear’s other stuff and see what else I should try.  Thanks again Tom.

Hat Tip to Vox Day –  Build Your Own Platforms

Vox Day has a very good post that links to a very, very interesting series of articles on Breitbart

Vox is, as most of you probably know, an incredibly polarizing figure on the cultural front.  His public face is intentionally as antagonistic and “triggering” to the lefties as it can be.  He has staked out a position that thrives on conflict with the left.  And he is pointing the direction for a Reconquista of the cultural institutions.  To that end he has begun some commercial ventures that take advantage of the space that the left has produced by restricting what kind of books, video games and comic books are “allowable.”  His Castalia House publications produces mainstream fiction and some non-fiction that could never be published in the current left-wing publishing establishment.  In the last week or so, he has begun a kickstarter campaign to fund comic books that feature some very well-known comic book authors and artists who have been gray-listed by Marvel and DC for not being sufficiently trans-friendly or for actually having fun in their comics.  I read that he has already topped $200,000 in funding so I can only imagine that a beginning is being made toward a commercial product.  Excellent.  Even though I’m not much of a comic book guy, I could see buying a graphic novel or two if the product was interesting enough.  Kudos to Vox for making it happen.  If you are a comicophile (made up word!) then keep an eye out for his Alt★Hero comics.  But even if comic books don’t happen to be your thing, you can only admire someone who is doing something to reverse the scourge of leftist encroachment into all aspects of life.

Bravo Vox.  Bravo Breitbart.

Thucydides, Again!

When someone is looking for an example he usually goes to his favorite source. So, a religious man goes to the Bible. A patriot might consult the Founding Fathers. I suppose a Hip-Hopper would quote Jay-Z. Me, I’m a classics nerd, so I go back to Athens and Rome.

Thucydides’ history is mostly very dry but there are a few passages that resonate even down to our time. Corcyra was the name of an island now known as Corfu in the Ionian Sea. When the Athenians and the Spartans were dueling for the supremacy of Fifth Century Hellas, Corcyra became a proxy in the battle between democracy and aristocracy. The two parties alternated in escalating the violence and ruthlessness when either had the upper hand. The description of the revolution in Corcyra concludes with a discussion of how partisanship became completely radicalized.

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In short, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was lacking was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations sought not the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition to overthrow them; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.”

When I first read this many years ago I immediately thought, he’s talking about propaganda. A party line to rouse the true believers. But recently I started thinking about how this relates to our world. These people were living through bloody revolution. The recent version (well, relatively) would be the French Revolution. Here two factions of countrymen devolve into fratricidal foes. By the end, all humanity is stripped away and any atrocity can be rationalized into a necessary and in fact patriotic act.

The point is once you have decided that the genie is out of the bottle it becomes a matter of existential necessity to neutralize your enemy without possibility of recovery. Because after each side gets the upper hand the level of violence is increased by an order of magnitude. At some point it is decided, by one side or both, that it’s reached the point of no return and the only recourse is annihilation. That is the nature of civil wars. Rwanda and Yugoslavia are multicultural versions and therefore even worse.

The terms Thucydides used above are surprisingly familiar. They sound a great deal like the pundits on both sides. Hell, sometimes I sound like that. The good news is we are nowhere near Corcyra’s state of affairs. But we are already working our way down the path. The first salvos have been fired. First came Occupy Wall Street, then BLM. Now we are seeing the Antifa grow into a threat. Some on the right are attempting to answer this challenge. Clashes have already cost lives. If this is allowed to escalate it will. When the government’s control of violence weakens partisans will appear to fill the vacuum. This is extraordinarily dangerous. And it is where I see the slippery slope to serious unrest. An America, where ordinary citizens feel threatened by partisan mobs, will no longer enjoy the inherent stability it has for the last hundred years.

Now some say that open strife is inevitable. I currently don’t believe that. I fear it but I am not convinced of its inevitability. I think our current problems stem from an anti-American bias adopted by large swaths of the population that displays itself in anti-white policies. I include in this category affirmative action laws, attacks on traditional cultural institutions like religion, tolerance and even encouragement of illegal immigration and the promulgation of outrageous practices such as recognizing aberrant behaviors as normal and the encouragement by schools and media of speech codes targeting traditional cultural mores and beliefs.

I believe if these practices were ended it would go a long way toward stabilizing and improving the situation in this country. That is my belief and my hope. I would far prefer to believe that, than to think we are fated to follow Corcyra’s fate. Just to finish the story, when the Corcyran democratic faction finally achieved total control, they massacred their enemies to the last man and sold the women as slaves. The only ones who survived were the ones who had fled the island and never looked back. Not such a happy ending. Let’s see if we can sidestep that.