Sunday, August 13, 2006

Irony Is Dead

Peace, love and AK-47s. You have to admire this level of unselfconsciousnes, it approaches a state of satori. The sword that does not seek to cut itself, the eye that does not seek to see itself, indeed....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Some writing from an old project....

....that I'm starting to revive. This was originally posted at soc.hist.what-if a few years ago. Comments welcome, as I think it needs some rewriting.


The Endless March of Folly, pt.0, Fin-de-Siècle

"Our little hour, -- how short it is
When Love with dew-eyed loveliness
Raises her lips for ours to kiss
And dies within our first caress.
Youth flickers out like wind-blown flame,
Sweets of to-day to-morrow sour,
For Time and Death, relentless, claim
Our little hour.
Our little hour, -- how short a time
To wage our wars, to fan our hates,
To take our fill of armoured crime,
To troop our banners, storm the gates.
Blood on the sword, our eyes blood-red,
Blind in our puny reign of power,
Do we forget how soon is sped
Our little hour?" - Leslie Coulson, "--But a Short Time to Live."

"You say you want
Diamonds on a ring of gold
You say you want
Your story to remain untold
But all the promises we make
From the cradle to the grave
When all I want is you" – U2, "All I Want Is You"


The pain in Durjaya's abdomen subsided and he allowed himself to take
a ragged breath. It was getting worse. That he could tell this was
particularly remarkable to him, as the rest of his body had been
aching for two days. It was a remorseless background of pain that a
week before he would have believed would soon render him insensate.

/Maybe the Anglicans are right/ He had always thought that a Hell
without hope of reprieve or term would quickly become just another
sensation, but his every movement put the lie to that idea. /Maybe
it's just that I still have a chance. Maybe 30 miles to Lac Fitri?
Surely not that far. There has to be somebody making a stand between
here and there/

A deeper part of him was not as sure. He'd seen some Egyptians
running after…whatever it was the French had done to them. /To _us_,
no point in being aloof, we're all in the same boat now/ Then the
thought of a boat sitting in the middle of the Sahel made him grin.
He pulled out his aid kit and changed the dressing over the back of
his right hand, which erased the grin, and replaced the kit in his
pack. With some effort, Durjaya Rao, scion of the House of Jamkhandi,
lifted himself off the ground and began again to walk to the
northeast, oblivious to the wind and the dust and the sand, which
drove like a rain against his face.


"No, I _do not_ understand." He was sure that Sapna understood
perfectly well, that this was merely a vain hope on her part that
something new would appear on examining the situation for the 50th
time, like a gift from Ganesha. Would that the Remover of Obstacles
took pity on them, but Durjaya held to his father's oft-stated belief
that the Gods helped those who helped themselves.

"Sapna, my sweetness, you know as well as I that this is the key.
Think of the children, think of London." He hoped that mention of the
Great City would mollify her, as it had in the past, but this time it
was not to be.

"I _am_ thinking of the children, you, you…you are their father! No
pretty city will make up for your loss if you disappear in Anatolia.
Anatolia! The Turks! What have you lost there?"

Durjaya replied calmly. Calmness always wore her down. "Not
Anatolia, if we're going to be precise, my dear one. I'm not supposed
to talk about it, but…Egypt."

"Egypt, then! What have you lost in Egypt, what has _anybody_ lost in
Egypt, that you should be torn from your family again?"

"They need me, Sapna. And we need the Bonus. We're within
forty-thousand [1] pounds of the stake we need to join Sanjay. It
will only involve advice. One year at the worst, and then we will
have the City. The children will have it. No more worries, no more
danger, a life as good as one can have in this world. A good public
school, no limit to what they can achieve. A chance to be something
more than just another wog." He grimaced at the last word, and Sapna

"Is that what this is about, you fool? You aren't concerned about
them, this is about _you_. You think you're proving something, but
it's just the disregard you have for yourself, for all of us!" At
this, she began to cry.

A damnable weapon, he thought. But an effective one, and the old
cycle played itself out again. He approached her and brought her
close to him, stroking her hair.

"Even if it were true, would that be such a horror, Sapna? The
Jamkhandi are not an unimportant family. Am I wrong to hope that
someday I might walk in the City and hold my head up? That men might
at the least acknowledge me as their equal?" Unspoken was the
qualifier, _British_ men.

Sapna looked up at him. "Damn your father. _Damn_ him." Durjaya's
face took on a stern look at this, but he knew he had spoken those
words within the theater of him mind more times than he cared to
admit. The Old Man was hard. Their holdings _in_ Jamkhandi were few,
by this late date, and the princes many. But the Old Man was smart,
and hard. A business factoring shipments coming in from Britain and
the Americas, built from nearly nothing.

But the Old Man was not
satisfied to raise effete bourgeois Princes, no. He'd learned the
lesson the British had so happily taught, and put great effort into
molding his breed. Nine sons, and each of them with barely a penny at
his majority. They were expected to strive, to make their way in the
world, to return to the House of Jamkhandi as worthy partners rather
than the spoiled sons of a rich man.

The Old Man had been surprised when he said he was joining the
Commonwealth's Army after his degree. The pay was not _poor_, really,
but nothing one expected to become a wealthy man from. But Durjaya
knew where his talents lay, and he had a plan. And truth be told,
surprising the Old Man had been worth something itself, he who was
_never_ surprised, least of all by his children.

Service on the Frontier had been exciting at times, but not
particularly lucrative. But there was where Durjaya had honed his
skills, there and later at the War Ministry's staff at Bangalore. Not
infantry or tractors, nothing so exotic. Logistics. And there
Durjaya's talents shone, rising fast through the ranks on the basis of
ability. And then an unexpected payoff. Lieutenant-Colonel Scindia
had taken notice of him, and arranged a quiet meeting with agents of
the Committee for Imperial Defense. The work with the team of
specialists in Canton had been a matter of months, and the Bonus for
Detached Duty, Overseas [2] nearly a year's pay. Durjaya was
exceptionally talented, and exceptionally talented men were always in
short supply in an Empire spread out over a quarter of the globe and
always in competition with the City for the cream of Britain's crop.

The second project, in Southern Africa (Bangweulu Province, to be
precise), had been a bit hairier. Real shooting, there, the French
were playing for keeps around the lake-lands. But it had been more
lucrative still, and the day when Durjaya might have the stake to join
his brother Sanjay's branch of the business in the City drew closer.
Buy-in with Sanjay, and their lives were set. The business was
lucrative and made for those with specialized knowledge and
connections. And it would return him to the Old Man's fold, and as an
equal now, not a child.

"We have to do it, Sapna. I have to do it. Our future is at stake."
She looked up at him and her face took on a cast that made him think
she was about to start crying again. "Oh, Durjaya, my love, that is
exactly what I fear."


The cramps and the nausea subsided, and once again Durjaya was able to

/I need more water, soon. Moving at night is no longer an option, I
need more mileage out of my hours/ He remembered that one shouldn't
move during the day, but he couldn't quite remember why. /Gods, I'm
tired/ Only 2 quarts left after two days, and he'd loaded up as best
he could before abandoning the OS. Until now, he had hidden during
the day, fairly certain that the French would act as the French always
did and try to penetrate the line shallowly and then turn to hit a
flank, leaving him safe. /If I keep moving, I can be to Fitri before
they ever even try to push up our axis of advance. What _was_ our
axis of advance, anyway./

He considered this and decided that if they did so, the French were
fools. They had surely blown a gap large enough to drive half the
armies in creation through, and Durjaya was certain that a bold
commander could have pushed to Fitri in two days. /But the fellow who
was opposite us wasn't all that bold. He'll come in and then turn/
Or so he hoped.

/The rifle has to go/ Extra weight, and he didn't really think he'd
run into the French now, anyway. Besides, he'd never been a
particularly good shot. Shooting wasn't what he was here for. He
stared at the rifle, which seemed..fuzzy..somehow, and thought. /What
was I here for?/ He tried to remember…


Durjaya looked around him. /Quite a collection/ Numerous Britons,
both Home Island and from overseas. Plenty of Dominion types, as well
(and not a few Indian Commonwealth officers, which filled him with
some pride.) A couple of Cantonese, even. And the fellow down by the
corner appeared, if Durjaya remembered correctly, to be in an
_American_ uniform. Quite a collection, indeed.

The officers were seated around the auditorium, quietly talking with
their nearest neighbors or sipping tea and examining their folders,
when a stiffening of the two Sergeants by the door signaled them to
stand. As the Brigadier came in, the entire room snapped to attention
and rendered a sharp salute.

"At your ease, gentlemen. Please be seated." As they did so, he
strode to the front of the room and stood behind the podium. A
Captain with a large stack of files proceeded to sit at the table to
his left. The lights dimmed a bit.

"Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Brigadier Hackworth, which you
may have surmised if you have taken the time to look over some of the
opening materials. While I'm quite sure you are all aware of your
basic reason for being here, it has proven useful in the past to give
a quick overview of the situation as part of the opening phase of the
orientation. Just to make sure that we are all reading from the same
page of the book, so to speak."

"You have all been assembled here in London for the purpose of joining
the Committee for Imperial Defense's proposed military mission to the
Ottoman province of Greater Egypt, tentatively code-named "Green
Knight". The reasons said mission has been proposed are numerous and
varied, but most boil down to one factor: the Dons are going to lose."
He then stepped to his right. As he did so, a combined
relief/political projection of the upper two-thirds of the African
continent appeared on the wall-screen behind the spot where he had

"As most of you are no doubt well aware, the Imperial Government of
His Majesty Charles V, in keeping with its legal claim to have
succeeded to Portuguese territorial claims north of the Congo River at
the Union of Crowns, declared war on the Communal Republic of the
Congo nearly a year and a half ago, and launched its Angolan Army
across said river. As you are also no doubt well aware, they are
failing. Their own General Staff, in fact, estimates that they will
not be able to continue operations beyond the New Year."

Durjaya was aware, via both professional and public sources of news,
that things were not going swimmingly in the Congo campaign, but this
was the first time he had heard a member of His Majesty's government
put things in such bleak terms. The initial assumption worldwide had
been that the hyper-efficient, hyper-patriotic Spanish Army of Angola
would sweep aside the Congolese in a rapid campaign. Current popular
opinion placed the failure of the SAA to do so on covert and
not-so-covert assistance from the Republic's sponsors, the Commune,
but still assumed that the Spanish would prevail given time.
"I am not embarrassed to say that there is some controversy in
Imperial Staff circles as to the precise reasons for this state of
affairs, but a consensus seems to be forming that at least part of the
blame lies in the unfortunate habit of the Spanish to fight in much
the same manner as do the bulls their matadors so regularly kill, that
is, straight-ahead. There is only so much "elan, valor y el amor del
rey" can do against well-emplaced heavy machineguns. Their training
and equipment also seems to have been better suited for the more open
terrain of coastal Angola than what the have encountered across the
river. The expense, in the end, is proving to be somewhat larger than
was expected, and beyond the Spanish Crown's ability to sustain. Some
of you may have noticed the recent steady rise in the yield on Iberian
Consols at the Exchange?" Eyebrow's raised, he scanned the audience.
Turning back, he looked at the map, scowled slightly, cleared his
throat and continued.

"Be that as it may, it is the awkward position this places Britain and
the Empire in that brings us together today. While the cooperation
and consultation demonstrated by our Spanish friends prior to this
adventure may have left …something to be desired…" There were
scattered chuckles at this; Whitehall had seemed almost as surprised
as the Congolese, not to mention Paris. "…and while it is not of
vital interest to the British Empire that the southern portion of the
CRC be joined to Carlos V's possessions at the moment, however
rightful his claim may be, what is of vital importance to the Empire
is that one of Britain's closest allies on the Continent not be seen
to collapse ignominiously while engaged with a third-rate Commune
puppet-state. Ours is a strong but brittle system, gentlemen, and at
its base is trust that the Empire will support her allies through
thick and thin."

As the projection switched off, he stepped back to the podium.
"_However_, it is _not_ in the Empire's interests to become directly,
or at least visibly, involved in the Congo. To begin with, Commune
troops are being deployed farther forward towards the line even as we
speak. We have good reason to believe that French air-pilots are
already engaged in sorties on behalf of the CRC. Direct engagement is
out of the question. As for "advice", our Spanish friends have proven
to be slow studies over the last six months, still tied to certain
conceptions of how a war must be fought." Another scowl, there.
"The CID has, however, come up with another option. This, gentlemen,
is where you come in. In keeping with the CID's tradition of quiet
military missions to the Empire's allies, you are all , with the
permission of the Porte[3], to be seconded to the Sultan's Shakane[4]
Army of the Ottoman Province of Greater Egypt. The Porte and Khedive,
with generous support from the Imperial Treasury, have agreed to
declare war on the Central African Republic and take action pursuant
no later than six months hence."

A bit of surprise at this was evident in the room, though not nearly
as much as would have been in a room of civilians. Durjaya guessed
that most of the men in the auditorium, like himself, had served
previously at least once in such a capacity. Though what the CID
seemed to be proposing here was of an unprecedented magnitude, to say
the least.

The Brigadier continued. "Yes, gentlemen, the scale of what we intend
to do places it in a new realm. Direct involvement in the Congo is
out of the question, but a short and distractive war to the north
should place enough pressure on the Commune to allow our Spanish
friends some room to maneuver. The Khedive's administration is also
strongly on-board, having eyed such a move for some time, but having
been unwilling to move without our support." [5] "The mission, should
you choose to continue after the next two weeks of briefings and
preparation, will involve taking the Khedive's rather rag-a-bag forces
[6] and turning them into something capable of going on the offensive.
Do not delude yourselves that you face a simple task, gentlemen. The
Khedive's army is diverse, with recruits from places as dissimilar as
Alexandria's Muslim slums and Nubia's Coptic farms taking his piaster,
and not a one of them with recent experience. The funds will be
available, the equipment ready to be purchased and the bodies ready to
be trained, but you have six months, perhaps a bit more or perhaps a
bit less, and your target will not be an easy one."

He stepped away from the podium again, and this time a projection of
the northern third of Africa appeared, Egypt and the CAR highlighted.
/Nothing but sand/

The Brigadier went on. "You will, of course, not be operating as
British or Imperial citizens." He looked out into the audience. "A
few of you aren't, to begin with. All of you will receive, courtesies
of the Porte, Ottoman citizenship and a reasonable story to explain
your existence."

A few more chuckles, now, and many heads turned to look at the two
Cantonese Colonels, who were sporting wide grins.

"Yes, well, I believe Intelligence has come up with _something_ for
everybody, I will not vouch for its plausibility. In any case,
gentlemen, this covers our quick overview." The lights brightened.
"Your folders lay out much of the basics in greater detail, and also
direct you to your personalized briefings and classes, which will
begin immediately after a short break. My adjutant, Captain Smythe,
is in possession of more individualized materials which he will
distribute momentarily. Good luck to you, gentlemen, and may I
express my most profound pleasure at the opportunity to work with such
an assemblage of experts and talents. I sincerely hope that you will
choose to remain with us on this great endeavor, and I will remind you
in parting that the Empire needs you. The opening briefing is at an
end, please see the Captain on your way out. Dismissed."

At this, the room came to its feet and rendered another salute. The
Brigadier returned it, gathered his notes and proceeded to the door.
As he left, Durjaya realized that he felt a mixture of excitement and
dread not unlike the night prior to his wedding. /Great times, these
are, that a man might be given a field such as this to express his
abilities/ Sapna would be proud.


/The water's almost gone/ For a moment, this surprised Durjaya.
Eight quarts should have gotten him through, it was only 50 miles.
But he considered how much he was losing from the sickness in his
bowels and the surprise faded. /How did a pathocyte [7] get into the
supply?/ He had retained personal responsibility for the sanitization
system, considering it to be the greatest hazard facing the taskforce.
Also, the last morning's travel during daylight had surely gotten him
close enough to Fitri, but it had cost a great deal of his supply.
/Why haven't I run into a patrol, where are the patrols?/

He opened his eyes and looked out from under the outcrop. No wind this
afternoon, but the gravel and dust seemed almost to bake in the direct
sun. /No point in moving now, I'll wait for dusk/ And it was so
difficult to keep his eyes open, at least when the pain wasn't bad.
He looked at the back of his right hand. The dressing needed to be
changed again, but the fact that the redness and swelling seemed to be
spreading up his forearm bothered him more than the burn. There was a
blister forming up near his elbow. /Later, I'll do it later. I need
to rest/


Durjaya wiped the back of his hand across his brow again. Even under
a tarp and out of the direct sunlight, the temperature was already
becoming alarmingly high. Thank the Gods the winds were low today.
Bokoro was, he was certain, the Hell of one religion or another. He
wished they'd kept it to themselves.

"Gentlemen, efficiency is of the utmost importance at this juncture.
That is why I'm here to stress the critical nature of the situation.
I don't need to remind you that we are sitting at the end of a
logistical chain nearly a hundred miles long. Our dominance of the
air has allowed us to maintain a reasonable rate of through-put to
date, but there is no guarantee that this will obtain going forward as
we push farther into CAR territory. Every shipment must be made to
count. The Marshal does not want to see a capacity utilization rate
of less than 75% going forward, and that is a _base_ figure. Shipment
of logistics packages _must_ be cleared through the supply battalion
HQs, direct shipment at field battalion request results in
duplication, a lack of convoying, lack of coordination with air-assets
and wasted petrol. And waste enough petrol and nobody will get a
delivery of anything, and the jig will be up."

He was about to refer to a diagram of the proper flow of a supply
request when a buzzing noise distracted the officers of First
Brigade's Supply Battalion and the divisional supply staff. Durjaya
turned and saw some of the officers near the edge of the tarp poking
their heads out and looking skywards. He stepped over and took a look
himself. Approaching the airspace of the OS [8] were two, no, three
airfoils. What was perhaps a med-cap bomber [9] flanked by two
escorts. As they got closer, guns from the local anti-airfoil
artillery units began to open up. Recalling the daily Brigade
staff-briefing, Durjaya was not overly impressed by the flight.
Intelligence had claimed that the Commune air-arm (well, the CAR
air-arm, but the distinction seemed to be fading) had started a major
push in the early hours of the day to secure local (if temporary)
air-control. As no build-up of bombers had been detected, the purpose
of it was likely a reconnaissance-in-force. Still, intelligence
killed as surely as bullets. He hoped that the last thing the
daguerreotypists saw was an Egyptian pursuit airfoil gunning for the
bomber's belly. The guns certainly weren't going to get it.

Determined not to lose his audience, he stepped back to the board and
chided the Egyptian supply officers. "_Gentlemen_, nothing much to
see, unless you're hoping the Communards will send a nice picture home
to your mothers and wives." In reality, some of the men he was
haranguing were his equals or even out-ranked him, but the
specifications of "Green Knight" allowed a Lieutenant-Colonel to
operate effectively at field-grade. The Gods knew he would never have
let the formal head of divisional logistics deliver one of these
briefings, the man was barely qualified to tie his own shoelaces.
Keeping him out of trouble was proving to be a job itself, but
"Brigadier General Bahadur Shah" was managing. He had been surprised
to discover that the CID had a sense of humor.

Turning back to the diagram board, he gestured to the first
decision-box and began to make a point when there was a quick flash of
blue light behind him. His immediate thought was that somebody had
just taken a picture of the back of his head, and he turned to object.
As he did so, he heard swearing in Arabic and saw the slice of sky
not hidden by the tarp turning black. His cheeks became hot. He
clearly heard one Colonel say "Yibnal kelb" in a strangely quiet voice
and then all sound was drowned out by a roaring the likes of which he
had never heard before. He saw the mess tent not 40 feet from them
rip from its mooring lines and then…blackness.

When he awoke, it was not to daylight. At least not the daylight he
had known since coming to Africa. The sky was gray. He felt a great
weight upon him, pushed at it and realized with a start that it was a
body. He heard screaming and tried to lift his head. This effort was
rewarded immediately with a shooting pain across his back and neck,
and he abandoned it. After a few moments and a deep breath, he pushed
the body off to the side and used his elbows to prop himself up.

What he saw was difficult to make sense of. Everything in his field
of vision had been flattened, an entire bustling divisional
headquarters and all that was beyond. All he could make out were
heaps of things near the ground, burning, and screaming and moaning.
And then he saw the pillar of smoke, rising like a great black arm
reaching to the sky. The first coherent thought in his head took him
back to his childhood.

/ sri bhagavan uvaca
kalo ‘smi lokaksayakrt pravrdho
lokan samahartum iha pravrttah
rte ‘pi tvam na bhavisyanti sarve
ye ‘vasthitah pratyanikesu yodhah / [10]

He sat there for what seemed like an eternity. Then the pain and the
screaming began to penetrate and some semblance of purposeful thought
returned. He resolved to stop looking at the cloud. He levered
himself to a sitting position, back and neck still protesting, and
then stood upright. He thought his left ankle might be sprained,
certainly something in his left shoulder was not right, and his right
hand and arm had begun to take on a nasty reddish cast. Beyond this,
he felt functional. This was nothing short of a miracle, as nothing
that had been near him before (how long before, minutes, hours?) was
standing. No human being, certainly. The man that had pinned him
down, a major from the First Brigade, was at least recognizable.
Looking around, he realized many of the others weren't. Uniforms were
smoldering, some looked like they been hit by large-caliber rounds,
nothing moved. /Oh, Vishnu, preserver! The debris…it must have been
like a typhoon/ How he had survived at all was a mystery, and he did
not care to contemplate it too closely. He felt a cough come on,
spit, saw blood.

/What _did_ this? That _airfoil_? Impossible/ He would have bet his
life that the bomber (he thought it had been a four-engined number)
could not have taken flight with more than 7 tons of munitions. What
he saw around him was not the work of 7 tons of explosives, it was the
work of an army of demons.

Then it came to him that the French were probably coming. /There's
nothing left of divisional HQ, probably not much of Brigade
headquarters, either/ He wondered if there was much left of the
Brigade. /The President of the Commune's Executive Council could
probably saunter in here on his own, were he of a mind/ As far as
Durjaya could tell, he was the only man left standing in the vicinity.
He began to check the bodies close to him, hoping against hope he
might find somebody who was merely unconscious and collecting the
canteens and magazines of the dead into nearby piles. As he had
surmised, the members of his audience were dead. Moving around the
burning remains of the OS, he began to find wounded men by heading
towards the sounds of moaning. He began to avoid the screamers, after
seeing what was left of the first two he found. He'd pumped merciful
dosages of painkillers into them, but decided he didn't have enough
time to continue in that manner. With those sorts of burns, it was
likely none of them would last very long, anyway.

Most of the moaners were too bad to move, as well. He managed to find
one fellow, a Fusilier Hussein, who seemed intact but was pinned by a
knocked-over drag-cart that looked like a giant child's discarded toy,
and managed by way of painful effort to lever it high enough for
Hussein to extract himself. They proceeded to gather as many of the
wounded as possible in a central area, collecting canteens and
magazines as they went. They found no other able-bodied troops, and
Durjaya suspected that anybody who could had run. He even spotted a
couple of figures headed north in the distance. He wasn't sure he
blamed them, the vision of the cloud kept forcing its way into his
mind's eye at every opportunity. Finally, he reckoned (his watch had
died) that they had done what they could. If it was French troops
that rolled through the former OS, the wounded might be better off
than he and Hussein. On the other hand, if it were CAR troops that
exploited…whatever it was that had been done to them…he thought trying
to get back to stable lines would be the best possible course. The
Africans had taken to shooting attempted surrenders lately, from what
they could tell. Desperation, he supposed.

He and Hussein left the wounded with most of the food, water and
ammunition. Taking them with was impossibility, as it appeared that
all of the drags and tractors in the vicinity now refused even to
start. Many looked like they would never make it passed another hour,
much less a fifty-mile march. He ordered Hussein to go heavy on the
water, and then with a final look at the slowly dissipating clouds
they began to march northeast. By dusk, Hussein began to vomit.
Later that night, Durjaya was alone.


Durjaya opened an eye. /I'm still here? I thought I'd left, already/
He had planned to, anyway. Wait until dusk killed the winds and the
heat, summon up the strength to replace the gauze on his right arm and
then off for the last 10 miles to Lac Fitri. He _thought_ he'd left.
/Maybe I was dreaming/ This managed to amuse him, as he would never
have considered a dream about marching to be anything other than a
nightmare before…before this.

/I must do something about my arm/ He couldn't feel very much pain
from the burn, anymore. An odd burn, he didn't recall it having been
burned right after the OS had been destroyed. Just a little redness.
He remembered that it had been silhouetted against the board when the
French had set off whatever it was. /Like somebody was taking a
picture/ Perhaps the rest of him had been in shadow.

It was certainly not just a little red, now. His nails had turned
bluish, and he could see the skin of his forearm above to gauze
blistering. /No time like the present/ As gentle as he attempted to
be, bits of necrotic skin came away with the old gauze. His right
hand and forearm, freed from the gauze, were a swollen, blistered mass
that had taken on an unnatural bluish tint. He spread more salve over
the burn and then wrapped it in new gauze, wincing as occasional bolts
of pain would penetrate the merciful numbness.

/There. Now I must resume moving/ But he was still tired. /Perhaps
five more minutes, to recuperate from changing the wrappings/
"I wouldn't recommend it, sir."

Durjaya turned his aching he left, and saw Fusilier Hussein lying on
back, chest soaked in vomit.

"As you said, sir, five minutes may be the difference between life a
death. I suggest we get moving towards Fitri again."

Durjaya was not sure what to say. At length, he opened his mouth and
spoke. "Fusilier, aren't you dead?"

"Nonsense", replied the Old Man. "I'm not dead, and neither are you.
Not as of yet, anyway. Dilly-dally here any longer and you may well
be, though. On your feet, soldier!"

Brigadier Oakwood looked angry. Or was that one of his AIC
instructors? The face was difficult to make out, now that dusk was
stealing away the light. But perhaps he was right, whoever he was.
The temperature had dropped briskly with nightfall, it was chilly
enough to make Durjaya shiver. Perfect night for a nice walk.

Sapna took his hand. He stood up and they began to walk. As they
performed the Laja Homum [11], Durjaya could not help but notice the
gleam in his bride's eyes. He'd been apprehensive, an arranged
marriage was not the way modern people did things. But she was more
than he could have hoped for, bright and pretty and, best of all, it
seemed she was interested in him as well. As he intoned the vows, he
thought he might mean them, at that. Happiness was within reach. He
squeezed her hand and she smiled.

"Hurry home, my love. The arrangements are made, the passages are
bought, when next we meet it shall be in London!" She began to twirl,
and Durjaya danced with her. But he was tired, and the dancing only
made him more so, and his stomach was not well.

/I must sit down and rest. Just ten more minutes and then off to
London/ So he lowered himself to the cushions and closed his eyes,
visions of his dancing bride persisting behind his lids.
/It's going to be a nice life/




"Killed in Action - News has been received by Mrs S. Jamkhandi, of 17
Victor Street, of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Durjaya Rao
Jamkhandi (36), who has been killed in a training accident while on
detached-duty as an observer with the Ottoman Army in the mountains of
Kurdistan. He joined the Army of the Indian Commonwealth immediately
after receiving his degree from the Imperial University at Delhi. He
was well known as a rising star at the Logistics Arm of the
Commonwealth War Ministry, and was a force to be reckoned with in the
football field, having played for Imperial University United and
various unit-related clubs. He is also survived by two sons, Balram
and Madhav, and one daughter, Neerja."


Bernard Guerrero

Thoughts? Comments? Please feel free to tear this one apart, I'm not
adverse to retcons if they increase plausibility.

[1] The Empire has, for reasons which will become clear in other
episodes, suffered from a somewhat more inflationary environment than

[2] Given the British Empire's perennial man-power shortfalls due to
its extensive commitments, those with exceptional talents are often
seconded to those places where their talents are most in demand.
Being an enlightened organization, the CID uses more carrot than
stick, particularly as it would like to use said talented individuals
for as long as possible.

[3] Well, really with the permission of the Khedive, who is operating
with the permission of Assembly of Notables, who are in the pockets of
the business interests of Cairo and Alexandria, particularly the
cotton-barons, who…well, you get the picture.
[4] Imperial, as opposed to Humayoun, or Royal

[5] Internal power politics, no doubt. The territory in question is
fairly worthless in and of itself.

[6] Not really that bad, but not up to British standards

[7] Bacterium or "germ", the development of bacterial theory having
taken a somewhat different and earlier path in ATL.

[8] Operations Station, currently comprised of Headquarters Company,
3rd Humayoun Infantry Division of Alexandria, Mechanized, and the
nearby Headquarters Company of the Division's First Brigade,
consolidating after the recent push down to Bokoro

[9] Think, say, an HP Halifax

[10] Bhagavad-Gita, 11.32, sans all the funky accent marks that Google
will never pick up correctly. And yes, he's remembering the lines you
think he's remembering…

[11] Part of the Hindu wedding ceremony, in which the bride and groom
walk around the sacred fire and vow to lead a life of righteousness,
prosperity and happiness

A minor experiment!

I have in mind a survey, which mirrors some recent research. I’d ask you to not try and Google up the paper in question until after you answer if you’re not already familiar with it. There aren’t any “correct” answers, but I’d rather you didn’t have the researchers’ conclusions already in mind when you answer. Some of the questions are from the original and some are my own. Any defects are mine alone, not the original researchers’.

You can reply to the survey by e-mailing me at or posting an answer right here. I promise not to name names and keep everything confidential. I also promise to publish the results within a few days of the last data being collected.

There are 16 questions. The first 15 all involve a base question, and you just rank how important you find the 15 factors to be from 1 to 6. 1=not relevant at all, 6=always relevant and extremely important. The last question is slightly different, and asks you to rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 7 (1=extremely “conservative”, 7=extremely “liberal”)

As an added bonus, you could help to one-up the original researchers and take the test at and report where your coordinates are. I think that could be more useful than the original 1 to 7 ranking. BTW, I’m only posting this here and to, but feel free to cross-post this elsewhere. I can’t guarantee I’ll get the results from other sites done within a week, but I will do them, regardless. Anyway, here goes, and thank you for your help.


“When you decide whether something is right or wrong, to what extent are the following considerations relevant to your thinking?”

1•The benefits from the activity accrued unevenly to the participants
2•Whether or not someone was harmed
3•The activity involved makes you feel physically queasy
4•Whether or not the people involved were of the same rank
5•Whether or not someone did something disgusting
6•The activity increased or decreased our unity
7•Whether or not someone acted unfairly
8•The person acting was cruel
9•How close you were to the people affected
10•The activity was frowned upon by authority
11•The person acting was compassionate
12•Whether or not someone betrayed his or her group
13•Whether or not the actor was duty-bound
14•The activity involved was base or vulgar
15•Whether or not everybody involved got a fair share

16 – Please rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 7
(1=extremely “conservative”, 7=extremely “liberal”)

17 - The Political Compass, if you dare!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

CNOOC, Krugman, Bayer, Property and Force

"If it were up to me, I'd block the Chinese bid for Unocal." - Paul Krugman

"Property is theft". So claimed Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right of Government. While his anarchism has sunk to the level of a bad joke told too often by silly children, as with the Marxism he influenced, he did hit on one very basic point in the above quote.

Alas, it's one that manages to be missed by Paul Krugman, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Representative Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) and nearly every politician who deigns to comment (read: pose) on the issue.

The fact is, property = control. The most a caveman stuck in Hobbes' "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short" natural state can "own" is what he can survey or hide from the surveillance of others. And that maximum is in no way guaranteed, since it also requires that he be able to apply force more effectively than those he might run into.

The actual state of nature was likely a bit better, since we can surmise that mankind evolved within a social context not unlike that of the great apes, with extended family groups perhaps as large as 100. A built-in possession-enforcement mechanism thus likely existed, with a given group defending group possessions against other groups and probably enforcing internal rules for the use of resources within the group. Property rights, in other words. Rights not dependent on line-of-sight and happening to have the biggest club-arm on the ground at any given instant. The same model has been elaborated extensively, but still underlies modern property systems. At base, property-rights still rely on the ultimate arbiter of force. Leaving aside whether you or I own something, or the details of what we might be allowed to own or how we might transfer said ownership, the basic idea is that the social system guarantees said claims outside of the sphere of our personal sight and power, and that the social system is capable of doing so because it disposes of more power and sight that any individual or sub-group.

This means that property is meaningless without said social guarantee. I can claim title to a house, you can claim title to a house, the winner in court or the halls of bureaucracy gets the backing of the state. Not always timely backing, as House of Sand and Fog reminds us, but it is there, either implicit or explicit. And it can be taken away. I have a notion that I can lay claim to some nifty beach-front real-estate in Havana and Cienfuegos. I can back it up with paperwork, eye-witnesses (for the moment), documents (if they aren't long burnt), local neighborhood history and the like. But the social system that obtains in those parts today says otherwise, and there the matter rests.

So what does this have to do with modern power-politics and CNOOC's bid for Unocal? The historical link lies via the Bayer Corporation. Bayer was a chemicals giant at the turn of the last century, with extensive overseas holdings, including some in the U.S. Come U.S. entry into WW1, one can only imagine the consternation. What of coal-tar dye-stuffs? What of Aspirin? What shall our boys Over There do, since surely the perfidious Huns will refuse to sell us their goods Over Here? The answer, of course, was that we took them. Expropriated. Ripped-off. Grab, and there wasn't even any Smash required as prep work. Bayer held real property, patents and machinery in the U.S., but those holdings, as with all property, relied entirely on Bayer being a part of the social fabric of the U.S. And come war-time, all things German were unceremoniously ripped out of that fabric. They had and then the next day they had not, right up to their brand name. I doubt the guys in the factory even noticed.

The same, of course, applies to the current bid for Unocal by CNOOC. There has been much hemming and hawing about the sneaky Chi-Coms and their attempts to snatch our valuable assets out from under our noses. And oil, no less! And in a time of rising prices! (Rising because said same Chi-Coms are using a heck of a lot more of the stuff making us Star Wars Episode 3 Action Figures and toilet plungers, but I digress.) Here's Krugman again, comparing to the old "The Japanese Are Coming!" panic of the 80s:

"The more important difference from Japan's investment is that China, unlike Japan, really does seem to be emerging as America's strategic rival and a competitor for scarce resources - which makes last week's other big Chinese offer more than just a business proposition...

Unocal sounds, in other words, like exactly the kind of company the Chinese government might want to control if it envisions a sort of "great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.) So the Unocal story gains extra resonance from the latest surge in oil prices."

He's being a bone-head, of course. But this time I can't just blame him, because every pol anywhere near this issue is echoing him. It's still boneheaded, though, for precisely the same reasons that anybody who was worried about Bayer in 1917 was being boneheaded. Approximately half of Unocal's assets are in Asia. Were war to ever come between the U.S.A. and the P.R.C. (let's hope not), those assets will belong to whomever gets there firstest with the mostest, and legalisms be damned. Because at the opening of hostilities, the global fabric that currently binds our two states together to some extent will be ripped apart, and neither side will be worrying particularly much about what foreign (or even domestic) shareholders are thinking. Those assets are currently Unocal's because the U.S. was so successful in propagating a global trade regime in the post-WW2 world that allowed firms to safely hold foreign assets (in the non-Soviet world, at least) underneath legal systems that, if not uniformly identical the one obtaining in the U.S, at least afforded similar protections to property. But come the war, the social/legal interconnection will cease to exist. Think of this as the opposite of Norman Angell's "Great Illusion" Angell argued that economic and financial interconnectedness had made war terribly costly (true) and unlikely (false). I argue that war, where sovereign states see their vital interests and perhaps survival at stake, they will simply sweep aside that interconnectedness, as they have always done.

But isn't this a terrible mistake, you ask? Expropriation must perforce damage the social fabric and so scare investors silly. Who will invest in the U.S. if we're found to do such things? The same folks who invested in us after we expropriated Bayer (and many others), obviously. A state that has a reputation as a general and recurrent expropriator will surely scare off international capital. A state that does so as a targeted assault against a mortal foe in the midst of a titanic struggle will scare off investors for precisely as long as hostilities are on, and only from belligerents (probably not allowed to invest by their home state, anyway) and neutrals who stand a chance of becoming belligerents. Any other view would lead to logical conclusions like "U.S investors would clearly not have purchased British war bonds during WW2, because the Brits expropriated Nazi property." Don't be ridiculous. War trumps social fabric. The same, BTW, applies to their current purchases of U.S. Treasuries. In the midst of a shooting war, they would surely quit buying. But in the midst of a shooting war, what else would you expect them to do? Finance widgets for us? Finance guns for us? No, we'd return to tried and true methods laid out in "A Free Nation, Deep In Debt".

No, in this case Krugman has managed to shred his last vestiges of economic and historical thought in order to don the clothes of the hysterical protectionist and the political shill. And our political class is happy to help him out, because saying you want to hang onto oil company assets makes good press right now, if nothing more.

BTW, in case anybody is wondering, my position in PTR leads me to hope that he succeeds. Yes, succeeds. Because the Chinese management of CNOOC is making the blunder of noisily buying assets in an already overpriced market. I'd much rather they hung on to the cash, from a shareholder's perspective. C'est la vive.

Link to original Tacitus post

Saturday, January 28, 2006

War, Terrorism and Strategic Threats - I

A recent comment elsewhere on Tacitus spurred me to write this. To quote GT, "But unless they get nukes terrorists are simply not that big a deal. They are not a strategic threat like the Nazis or the USSR."

A point worthy of thought and debate, I think, and it actually ties into a few other themes we've explored here recently, not least the war in Iraq and Kierkegaard's claim that traditional war is "over".

We'll define a "strategic" threat as an existential one, in the sense that it threatens something vital to our system or our system's entire existence. This definition requires that two conditions be met:

  1. The group or system or event must dispose of enough destructive or coercive power with respect to us that it qualifies as such a threat.

  2. It must be likely, either in a stochastic sense or, in the case of human threats, in terms of their interest in causing such coercion or destruction.

The Sun going supernova does not qualify. It meets condition 1), but is highly unlikely and so doesn't meet 2). Conventional terrorism doesn't qualify. It meets condition 2), having been a commonplace for decades (centuries, if we broaden the definition enough) but doesn't meet condition 1) insofar as a handful of people with handguns and grenades, with no further force multipliers, cannot force a group of people 280 million strong to do anything, much less kill them all. The modern U.K. does not qualify, because although it disposes of enough nuclear weaponry to meet hurdle 1), it does not seem predisposed to destroy us on the basis of ideology. (Neither do the French, though I'm sure they'd like to push us around a little and get rid of Hollywood. But I digress.) In this sense, the Third Reich and the USSR qualified because they were uniquely dangerous collections of power during their eras.

The Nazis (and Imperial Japanese), while not yet capable in the 1940s of threatening the United States in an existential way, were clearly bent on arrogating to themselves enough power (either by conventional or technological means) to do so and were having a great deal of success in that direction. They thus met condition 1) in a projective rather than immediate way. As to condition 2), both states found our way of life, relative wealth and implicit threat towards their existence intolerable, and would doubtless have wiped us of the map in an instant if they could.

The USSR, after the era of the latter two had passed, grew into a strategic threat itself. It more clearly disposed of the necessary power to seriously damage, coerce or destroy us, due to its possession of nuclear and biological armaments, and so easily met condition 1). It also found our way of life and relative wealth fairly intolerable, and our existence a threat in and of itself. Perhaps due to their lack of a racialist ideology, they would, in my estimation, rather have coerced or subverted us rather than destroyed us outright, but I have no doubt that a Soviet premier disposing of a magic "destroy the Americans" button would have pushed it if coercion didn't appear to be working. So they also met condition 2). MAD, in fact, can be seen as a way of trying to neutralize a strategic threat by increasing the pain associated with 2) in a mostly-rational threat, as opposed to the traditional way of dealing with threats, which is eliminating condition 1).

I'd argue that, as we progress in to 21st century, smaller and smaller groups become capable of meeting the definition of a strategic threat. The change isn't in condition 2), as there have always been and likely always will be people that dislike our system or feel threatened enough by its existence to want to see us gone. However, the large collections of industrial power required in the 19th and 20th centuries are no longer necessary. Due to the increasing availability of power (I mean actual energy) and technology to leverage the physical and mental abilities of a single human being, ever smaller groups of humans can cause ever larger amounts of disruption and damage.

In 1942, you needed access to an industrial plant to make a really big bomb. This meant a great deal of money to pay for expensive materials, factory time, etc. It meant paying for the time of specialists in chemistry and/or ordnance, specialists that were relatively rare and consequently expensive themselves. It meant managing to put these things together without arousing the ire of the state machinery, which tended to dispose of vast resources as compared to the individual and jealously guarded it prerogatives. You also needed access to a delivery system, which in and of itself implied cash, since big trucks, boats and particularly aircraft were difficult to find just lying around. By 1995, all you needed was a cheap Ryder Truck rental, $1000 or so of commercially (and easily) available fertilizer, a small amount of equally available Tovex & Primadet, cheap and easy to obtain diesel fuel, a rudimentary but effective grasp of the technological advance known as "shaped-charge explosives", and some volunteer labor from a friend who, thanks to other advances, has ridiculous amounts of spare time available.

By 2015, who knows? If Ray Kurzweil is correct, not much. Consider what you could do with cheap energy, on-line access to the Library of Congress and one of Charlie Stross' "cornucopia machines". One fellow who, in his madness, might have early on gotten an idea of what was going on is Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber". To quote from his rambling "manifesto", "The system is currently engaged in a desperate struggle to overcome certain problems that threaten its survival, among which the problems of human behavior are the most important. If the system succeeds in acquiring sufficient control over human behavior quickly enough, it will probably survive. Otherwise it will break down. We think the issue will most likely be resolved within the next several decades, say 40 to 100 years." Of course, our Professor -Verloc-wannabe, "hedgehog" that he is, got any number of things wrong. He does, however, seem to have gotten one big thing right, that is, that modern industrial society is running into problems concerning individual autonomy. Modern society grants the individual ever-increasing power, but that individual empowerment is itself a threat both to others and to the system as a working whole. This is why, to my mind, GT's formulation above is incorrect. Terrorists are, in a way that would have been impossible 50 or 100 years ago, a "strategic" threat.

More to come....

Bernard Guerrero

Link to original Tacitus.

It's the end of the world as we know it...

..and I feel fine!

Yep, Hamas appears to have kicked Fatah's butt, capturing perhaps 57% of the seats up for grabs. And I am, frankly, happy about it. Sure, they're a bunch of terroristic murderers. But this being the ME, one can hardly hold that against them. It's practically de rigueur for a claim of leadership in the region. What I really despise about them is, of course, what they stand for.

That said, I'm still happy they're going to be in power. To be honest, I wish they'd picked up even more seats. Those that don't misunderstand, I think, both the nature of democracy and how useful it can be to both us and the Israelis when applied to a problem like the Palestinian one. Ultimately, the Palestinians have to date been insulated, in a psychological sense, from their desires. Whatever aspirations they may have (whether we care for them or not), the average Palestinian-on-the-street has been able to say, in all honesty, that he didn't have much control over what was happening. He may dislike Israel, he may want to do business with Israel, he may want to push the Jews into the sea, he may want to build coastal resorts for them, but his desires were moot. He could reason, throw political tantrums, threaten, march or beg, and the result was pre-ordained by his PLO masters, masters set in place mostly by historical accident.

This was both painful and yet psychologically comfortable for him. Painful because it meant that he had to deal with massive corruption and violence from a position of humiliating helplessness, comfortable because it meant that whatever went wrong, it could be blamed on outside forces. You can picture him saying, with a fatalistic air, "What can I do about it?"

Well, now he's in charge. For good or ill, he is an active participant in what comes next, and fatalistic posturing is no longer a viable option. "But he's elected a bunch of murderous terrorists!", you cry. "How can this end well?!" It can and will, from my perspective, because the one real virtue of democracy is that it is a workable feedback system. Note that sanctions against dictatorial regimes never seem to have any real lasting impact on their characteristics: Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Zimbabwe, the list of failures goes on and on. Why? Because the regime doesn't care. It doesn't have to. As long as it can preserve an internal monopoly on force and keep itself from being invaded, the bandits at the top can continue to extract a pretty decent living and a nice measure of personal power from the rest. Sanctions (and most other efforts) directed at a dictatorship are like telling a guy in a car that's being towed that he has to make a right turn. You can cajole, bribe, threaten or hit, but it's basically out of his hands where the whole machine is going to go.

So we come to democracy. Democracy doesn't make people smarter, or nicer, or selfless, or anything else. As Robert Heinlein noted through the voice of Lazarus Long, "Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?"

No, the beauty of democracy is that it produces stable outcomes because the voter, by definition, buys into the legitimacy of the outcome. You may or may not get your fondest wish when you vote, but win or lose you are much less likely to say "It's out of my hands." If you are unhappy with the ultimate outcomes, you will switch your vote. Power has thus been given to the folks who are actually affected by policies. This works whether the policies their representatives select are good or bad. If they're to the electorate's liking, the representatives will be re-elected. If they're not, they'll be booted out and, in extreme cases, wholly discredited.

So I say, more power to Hamas. They appear to embody more of what the average Palestinian on the street actually wants (both good and ill, from my perspective), and that can only redound to the good as the feedback mechanism kicks in. Maybe they'll clean up corruption. That's good. Maybe they'll refuse to make peace and step up attacks against Israel. That's bad in the very short run, but good when a feedback mechanism is in place. Because ultimately, in a physical sense, Israel holds most of the cards, so it can only be to the good when the average Palestinian is confronted with the very immediate (and very painful) results of his own freely cast vote. When the Israelis get ticked off at a Hamas-sponsored mass-murder and decide to blow the hell out of a few Hamas-voting communities, Achmed-on-the-street will be confronted with a real choice for perhaps the first time in his life. He'll either make peace or escalate until his very physical existence becomes untenable. And so the feedback mechanism will work its magic. Thesis, antithesis, catharsis, kaboom.

Link to original Tacitus posting.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Bear Mountain, 2001 Posted by Hello