Predators Rant/Review

Script writing has degenerated to such a degree in Hollywood that plots are no longer necessary. The original predator involved a jungle showdown between an alien from outer space and gun wielding folks as end state, right? Well the entire premise of Predators is predicated on an absurd deus ex machina: rather than go through the effort of establishing a reason for the cast, setting and plot to exist, the cast is virtually teleported into a jungle with predators immediately and without explanation. I am not arguing that action movies should be Shakespeare, but Predator had a number of interesting and compelling plot points: the supposedly missing cabinet minister, a CIA cover-up, false flag operations, the whole subplot involving the rebels (clearly modeled to reflect US relations in South America during the 19870s and 80s) and a general climate of military realism. Even the reason why the cast of the original Predator has to trek through the jungle rather than be magically saved by a helicopter pick up makes sound sense: the first chopper sent in was shot down by a heat seeking missile, and the LZ is too hot. They can’t make subsequent contact with friendly forces because as we might recall command has established a small window by which to talk to the special forces team in order to avoid interdiction by potentially listening enemy forces. This makes sense from a military perspective, and grants the film a plausible reasoning for throwing the cast into a horror/sci fi scenario.

In Predators, there is 0 exposition. The cast is literally thrown into the jungle with only the flimsiest of implied explanations. The cast of characters find themselves parachuting from the sky, apparently not knowing how or where they got there. As there is no connection between the characters whatsoever, or a reason for the plot existing, the film comes off of as a sort of fanboy’s eroticism and an exercise in violence masturbation – a “plot” so simple that it cannot rightly be called a plot and might as well been cooked up by a 12 year old kid having a daydream.

“Guys I totally just got the coolest idea, just like, take 10 guys and their in a jungle with predators.”

* * *

This leads me to my next point – the characters themselves. They consist of a series of racist caricatures, evoked to explain their nature materially and without nuance. We have the crazed, hillbilly, tattooed, cussin’, death row guy who loves knives and having fist fights for no reason, the African tribesman who speaks primitively and has done “barbaric” things, the meditating, katana wielding, Japanese samurai, the smarmy Mexican drug dealer,  the Russian (who is identical to the Russians from the 80s),  the Hispanic hot girl who is tough and knowing, the effeminate, white collar, geeky scientist who spews out random scientific facts and the magical negro, Laurence Fishburne. Adrian Brody is perhaps the worst lead in recent memory – his horrible attempt at speaking like a tough guy (think Christian Bale) and imitating manliness and arete is painful and nauseating to watch. His womanlike hipster looks and overcompensating weapon don’t help matters. He is as much of a man as Pee Wee Herman and shames the memory of Ahnuld.

Aside from the DP – a note on the character development and drama. There is none. One of the most depressing scenes is when the scientist literally abandons the Commie and makes no efforts to save him (mere seconds after the latter saved the former). This is to say nothing of the fact that an on screen friendship is alluded to. The scientist takes 0 time to reflect on what has just happened, or the fact that he made no effort to save his new friend (who was not in a hopeless situation by any means – about 10 meters away from the gun toting cast). Does the scientist alert the cast that the Commie is about to be murdered? Of course not, he just keeps running. Excellent character drama in Predators.

The film also represents a serious degeneration in the conception of hero. The protagonist does such heroic antics as:

1. Leading a group of less experienced fighters into what is clearly an ambush in order to gain intelligence about his enemy.

2. Abandoning two members of his party because one of them is injured and the other refuses to simply boobytrap the wounded one and leave him for dead.

3. Signaling the predators to his location in order to free himself from a trap, simultaneously leading to the deaths of most of his party.

4. Torturing a captured prisoner.

5. Making an alliance and then betraying his ally by not aiding him in a decisive battle.

…and generally using those following him as tools in order to save himself.

Inspiring stuff.

* * *

It seems as if every movie coming out of Hollywood, and most creations of society in general, are nothing more than mere pastiche of good memory. All one needs to do to make a movie nowadays is to remake something worthwhile, as if simply the memory of the artifact will overcome the flaws of the new production. Indeed, the American psyche appears unwilling and unable to process new concepts, ideas and mythology and instead has become reliant on a stream of imitation and reinvention. As with the Freidberg and Seltzer films, the American public is seemingly entertained just by recalling something, anything, they can remember. Freidberg and Seltzer just take pop culture references and play them back to the audience, this is somehow funny, while Predators invokes scenes and music from the original Predator, and this is somehow invigorating. And while the events they plagiarize had essence, the recreation is soulless and absurd.

Take the scene from Predators in which the samurai sacrifices himself Billy style. In the original film Billy was a member of a special forces team which had existed for years, and some members had been traveling together for decades, working in Vietnam together. The members of the team respect and love each other. Each loss if a terrible catastrophe, although the team soldiers on in military style in order to complete the task. Billy’s sacrifice can be interpreted as an act of honor to aid and preserve his friends. It is also in line with his spiritual roots – he considers himself to be a warrior, and after sensing the predator by subtle intuition throughout the film, challenges his opponent to a showdown out of frustration. The director even had the dignity of not making the Billy stand into a gimmicky fight scene – we used our imagination to fill in the blanks (remember when everything didn’t have to be vulgarly and explicitly displayed?), and everyone was OK with that.

This scene is shamelessly reproduced in Predators. The katana wielding samurai replaces Billy, stripping his clothes in the same way, revealing a back full of traditional Japanese tattoos. Even the same music is used in the scene. Cue the fanboy eroticism: “Oh gee, I wanted to see Billy fight the predator, so gay!” Cue the 5 minute sword fight between a Predator and the samurai. Except this time around the samurai had no previous indication of being a warrior (other than racist stereotyping) and has no relationship with any of the other characters. He also had no evident frustration with the predator, and has no other apparent motives for committing what is almost assuredly going to be suicide. While early in the film another character, the African savage, detects the predator for a moment with his intuition as Billy once did, this character is killed early on the film, and has no relation to the samurai. Such trash.

* * *

Don’t watch this.


The End of a Cycle – “Ride the Tiger”


A man after my own heart, I came to the same conclusions after reading Hesiod and the Mahabharata. While for most of my teenage years I exhausted myself with futile efforts to reform a world of chaos around me – through a constant effort to speak the truth and live virtuously, a living reproach to the disorder – I realize now that the best stratagem to remain healthy and sane in such a world is to ride it to its extinction. Indeed, bracing against such a change is not wise action for a Stoic. It is the behavior of a dog pulling against a firm leash. Better to go with the stream. Yet, not to be changed by the stream, or to stop living beautifully.


From Julius Evola:

The idea just mentioned refers to a perspective that does not really enter into the argument of this book, because it is not concerned with inner, personal behavior, but with outer circumstances; not with present-day reality, but with an unpredictable future upon which one’s own conduct should in no wise depend.

This is a perspective already alluded to, which sees that the present time may, in the last analysis, be a transitional epoch. I will say only a little about it before approaching our principal problem. The reference point here is given by the traditional doctrine of cycles and by the idea that the present epoch, with all its typical phenomena, corresponds to the terminal phase of a cycle.

The phrase chosen as the title of this book, “ride the tiger,” may serve as a transition between what has been said hitherto, and this other order of ideas. The phrase is a Far Eastern saying, expressing the idea that if one succeeds in riding a tiger, not only does one avoid having it leap on one, but if one can keep one’s seat and not fall off, one may eventually get the better of it. Those who are interested may be reminded of a similar theme found in the schools of traditional wisdom, such as the “ox-herding” episodes of Japanese Zen; while in classical antiquity there is a parallel in the trials of Mithras, who lets himself be dragged by the bull and will not let go until the animal stops, whereupon Mithras kills it.

This symbolism is applicable at various levels. First, it can refer to a line of conduct in the interior, personal life; then to the appropriate attitude in the face of critical, historical, and collective situations. In the latter case, we are interested in the relation of the symbol to the doctrine of cycles, with regard to both the general structure of history and the particular aspect of it that refers to the sequence of the “Four Ages.” This is a teaching that, as I have shown elsewhere, (1) bears identical traits in the East and in the ancient West. (Giambattista Vico simply caught an echo of it.)

In the classical world, it was presented in terms of humanity’s progressive descent from the Golden Age to what Hesiod called the Iron Age. In the corresponding Hindu teaching, the final age is called the Kali Yuga (Dark Age). Its essential quality is emphatically said to be a climate of dissolution, in which all the forces–individual and collective, material, psychic, and spiritual–that were previously held in check by a higher law and by influences of a superior order pass into a state of freedom and chaos. The texts of Tantra have a striking image for this situation, saying that it is the time when Kali is “wide awake.” Kali is a female divinity symbolizing the elementary, primordial forces of the world and of life, but in her “lower” aspects she is also presented as a goddess of sex and orgiastic rites. In previous ages she was “sleeping,” that is, latent in the latter aspects, but in the Dark Age she is said to be completely awake and active. (2)

Everything points to the fact that exactly this situation has been reached in recent times, having for its epicenter the civilization and society of the West, from which it has rapidly spread over the whole planet. It is not too forced an interpretation to link this with the fact that the present epoch stands under the zodiacal sign of Aquarius, the waters in which everything turns to a fluid and formless state. Thus predictions made many centuries ago–for these ideas go back that far–appear strangely timely today. One finds here an analogy to what I have said above regarding the problem of what attitude is proper to the final age, associated here with riding the tiger.

In fact, the texts that discuss the Kali Yuga and the Age of Kali also declare that the norms of life, valid during epochs in which divine forces were more or less alive and active, must be considered as cancelled in the final age. During the latter there lives an essentially different human type who is incapable of following the ancient precepts. Not only that, but because of the different historical and even planetary circumstances, such precepts, even if followed, would not yield the same results. For this reason, different norms apply, and the rule of secrecy is lifted from certain truths, a certain ethic, and particular “rites” to which the rule previously applied on account of their dangerous character and because they contravened the forms of a normal existence, regulated by the sacred tradition. No one can fail to see the significance of this convergence of views. In this as in other points, my ideas, far from having a personal and contingent character, as essentially linked to perspectives already known to the world of Tradition, when abnormal situations in general were foreseen and analyzed.

We shall now examine the principle of “riding the tiger” as applied to the external world and the total environment. Its significance can be stated as follows: When a cycle of civilization is reaching its end, it is difficult to achieve anything by resisting it and by directly opposing the forces in motion. The current is too strong; one would be overwhelmed. The essential thing is not to let oneself be impressed by the omnipotence and apparent triumph of the forces of the epoch. These forces, devoid of connection with any higher principle, are in fact on a short chain. One should not become fixated on the present and on things at hand, but keep in view the conditions that may come about in the future. Thus the principle to follow could be that of letting the forces and processes of this epoch take their own course, while keeping oneself firm and ready to intervene when “the tiger, which cannot leap on the person riding it, is tired of running.” The Christian injunction “Resist not evil” may have a similar meaning, if taken in a very particular way. One abandons direct action and retreats to a more external position.

The perspective offered by the doctrine of cyclical laws is implicit here. When one cycle closes, another begins, and the point at which a given process reachers its extreme is also the point at which it turns in the opposite direction. But there is still the problem of continuity between the two cycles. To use an image from Hoffmansthal, the positive solution would be that of a meeting between those who have been able to stay awake through the long night, and those who may appear the next morning. But one cannot be sure of this happening. It is impossible to foresee with certainty how, and on what plane, there can be any continuity between the cycle that is nearing its end and the next one. Therefore the line of conduct to be followed in the present epoch must have an autonomous character and an immanent, individual value. I mean to say that the attraction of positive prospects, more or less short-term, should not play an important part in it. They might be entirely lacking right up to the end of the cycle, and the possibilities offered by a new movement beyond the zero point might concern others coming after us, who may have held equally firm without awaiting any direct results or exterior changes.

Before leaving this topic and resuming my principal argument, it may be useful to mention another point connected to cyclical laws. This concerns the relationship between Western civilization and other civilizations, especially those of the East. Among those who have recognized the crisis of the modern world, and who have also abandoned the idea that modern civilization is the civilization par excellence, the zenith and measure of all others, some have turned their eyes to the East. They see there, to a certain degree, a traditional and spiritual orientation to life that has long ceased to exist in the West as the basis for the effective organization of the various realms of existence. They have even wondered whether the East might furnish useful reference points for a revival and reintegration of the West.

It is important to have a clear view of the domain to which such a proposition might apply. If it is simply a matter of doctrines and “intellectual” contacts, the attempt is legitimate. But one should take note that valid examples and points of reference are to be found, at least partially, in our own traditional past, without having to turn to non-European civilizations. Not much is to be gained by any of this, however. It would be a matter of conversations at a high level between isolated individuals, cultivators of metaphysical systems. If one is more concerned with real influences that have a powerful effect on existence, one should have no illusions about them. The East itself is now following in our footsteps, ever more subject to the ideas and influences that have led us to the point at which we find ourselves, “modernizing” itself and adopting our own secular and materialistic forms of life. What is still left of Eastern traditions and character is steadily losing ground and becoming marginalized. The liquidation of “colonialism” and the material independence that Eastern peoples are acquiring vis-á-vis Europe are closely accompanied by an ever more blatant subjection to the ideas, the mores, and the “advanced” and “progressive” mentality of the West.

Based on the doctrine of cycles, it may be that anything of value from the point of view of a man of Tradition, either in the East or elsewhere, concerns a residual legacy that survives, up to a point, not because it belongs to areas that are truly untouched by the principle of decline, but merely because this process is still in an early phase there. For such civilizations it is only a matter of time before they find themselves at the same point as ourselves, knowing the same problems and the same phenomena of dissolution under the sign of “progress” and modernity. The tempo may even be much faster in the East. We have the example of China, which in two decades has traveled the whole way from an imperial, traditional civilization to a materialistic and atheist communist regime–a journey that the Europeans took centuries to accomplish.

Outside the circles of scholars and specialists in metaphysical disciplines, the “myth of the East” is therefore a fallacy. “The desert encroaches”: there is no other civilization that can serve as support; we have to face our problems alone. The only prospect offered us as a counterpart of the cyclical laws, and that only hypothetical, is that the process of decline of the Dark Age has first reached its terminal phases with us in the West. Therefore it is not impossible that we would also be the first to pass the zero point, in a period in which the other civilizations, entering later into the same current, would find themselves more or less in our current state, having abandoned–“superseded”–what they still offer today in the way of superior values and traditional forms of existence that attract us. The consequence would be a reversal of roles. The West, having reached the point beyond the negative limit, would be qualified to assume a new function of guidance or command, very different from the material, techno-industrial leadership that it wielded in the past, which, once it collapsed, resulted only in a general leveling.

This rapid overview of general prospects and problems may have been useful to some readers, but I shall not dwell further on these matters. As I have said, what interests us here is the field of personal life; and from that point of view, in defining the attitude to be taken toward certain experiences and processes of today, having consequences different from what they appear to have for practically all our contemporaries, we need to establish autonomous positions, independent of anything the future may or may not bring.


Something about Evola’s words reminds me of a note from the Prince :

[Spent the afternoon] with these boors playing cards or dice; we quarrel over farthings. When evening comes I return to the house and go into my study. Before I enter I take off my rough mud-stained country dress. I put on my royal and curial robes and thus fittingly attired I enter into the assembly of men of old times. Welcomed by them I feed upon that food which is my true nourishment, and which has made me what I am. I dare to talk with them, and ask them the reason for their actions. Of their kindness they answer me. I no longer fear poverty or death.


Why I play pen and paper games

I had some narrative plan in mind yesterday but today i’m just going to blurt out why I enjoy and play pen and paper games. Why? I lost interest in writing a treatise on my history with pen and paper games.

Why I play pen and paper games:

1. I get to experiment with and experience the themes from the classics, as well as examine ethical theories through the laboratory of character.

2. I love to immerse myself in the material, especially in regards to conducting extensive research, developing vocabularies, etymology and ethnographic sketching. It can be catnip for historians and scholarly types.

3. Socializing in a creative, clean, mentally stimulating environment.

4. Creating compelling stories and especially seeing my literary concepts be improved and matured by the actions of my players. I have always been greatly compelled by the epic hero, indo-european mythology and symbolism, the great keystone texts of humanity;  running pen and paper games is a way of authoring a story in a way that I am most familiar with. I simply enjoy writing, and although I keep my pen and paper writings to high standards, I still need a vacation from my scholarly duties, an opportunity to do “fun stuff.”

5. The process of preparing materials for games is itself motivating and can be quite fun: trying your hand at cartography and publishing is always interesting. I feel most happy when I am actively using my mind, either at play (tabletop games) or in my professional life (studying and philosophizing). The process can help you keep sharp mentally if you hold your work at extremely high standards.

6. Its gratifying to entertain your friends for a night, and to see your imaginative creations be well received.

7. As a player (and not perhaps a referee), it’s simply fun to roleplay a persona other than yourself. This is especially true if you strictly divide your personality from the character in play, and hold that character to a rigid code of conduct in appreciation of the game setting and laws. This is to say nothing of the perpetual joy of discovery and adventure within a well crafted game world.


Reflections on pen and paper games

I recently watched The Dungeon Masters (2008) on a whim, hoping to gain some insight on the lives and styles of other pen and paper game referees. The movie turned out to be a work of exploitation. The documentary featured obviously edited (and later I would learn, forced) conversations arranged in such a fashion as to suggest that the subjects were highly dysfunctional people. It is implied by pernicious editing that the social anxieties and failings of the subjects can be attributed to their pen and paper hobbies. I am not writing today to review the film however, but to speak on the topics which it compelled me to contemplate. Why do I play pen and paper games, and what do I “get out” of it? In essence I would like to speak to the topics The Dungeon Masters may have posed in a more ethical and less sensational documentary.

I first got into pen and paper games after playing Baldur’s Gate, a computer game bound by the rule set of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition. I had spoken of my interest in the game at school, which I do to this day still consider one of the finest games ever produced, and a friend referred me to a fellow who actually lived down the block, Ian. Ian supposedly had books which would allow you to play a game like Baldur’s Gate, but with pen and paper. I can’t recall how I tracked him down, I think he walked home from school the same route I did. I introduced myself and eventually we came acquaintances. He explained the basic concept of the game, an interactive oral story telling coop bound by a complex system of rules, and I was instantly enraptured. I thought Ian was so cool, because he happened to know about these sort of games, although he wanted little to do with me because I was several years younger than him. Interacting with middle schoolers while in high school was considered a social stigma, apparently even for a D&D nerd, but I was finally able to convince him to tell me his Everquest server, and I ran into him in that “digital world” a few times. This was all a general scheme by myself and my friend Thom to borrow his player’s handbook. Eventually I took the leap and asked him if I could borrow the book he so fiercely defended as his prized possession. He refused, but after a few more weeks of nagging he finally relented, and I got my hands on a pristine condition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition Player’s Handbook (PHB).

Due to school obligations we were unable to dive into the book the week it was loaned to us, and soon Ian demanded his precious back. I painfully surrendered the tome I had been unable to explore, but just from a few quick glances I was determined to try playing this game. So what to do when you are poor, not much liked by your parents and without gaming gear? Use the Baldur’s Gate game manual of course! Our first foray into D&D was informed by such a manual, which included a very truncated version of the PHB and explained much of the basic D&D game mechanics. It did not however have a THAC0 chart printed in it, so me and Thom reasoned that the natural way to determine one of the most important character statistics in the game was to randomly roll it when you first created your character, and to keep that number forever. Hence our first wizard, Brandon the Necromancer, played by, you guessed it, Brandon – had a THAc0 of 6, while our fighter had an 18 or something. The Baldur’s Gate manual soon became the holy primer on D&D matters and we attempted to use it as a source book, making up rules for whatever gaps it did not cover.

I also knew by reading the few pages of the PHB I had been able to before it was returned and by recalling Ian’s description of the gameplay, that one of the players was supposed to be a “dungeon master,” or supreme referee who created and handled the game world the players interacted with. A natural strategy game player and storyteller, I immediately took up this job. Somehow I managed to create adventures without use of the critical Monstrous Manual (MM), which includes statistics and information on introducing fantasy creatures into your games, or Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), which teaches you how to actually run games. I recall spending an afternoon at my friend Steve’s house. Me and Thom had specifically gone over there to introduce the idea of D&D to Steve, to sell him on it, so that we could get our first game going. I made my pitch like a salesman while we hung out in the pool and discussed manhunt and pro wrestling. Steve reluctantly gave it a “sure” and off we went. Also included in the first game was Ryan. Other first group gamers were Brandon and Jeremy.

The first game was a great moment in my life – combining awe, pure fun and imagination. I had managed to get back the PHB from Ian for the day so we could “roll up” characters. But we still made characters the “Baldur’s Gate way” and totally fucked up our character stats. Regardless, my players became obsessed with buying random animals from the PHB’s equipment section, as they found they all had at least sixty to one hundred gold, and small critters like chickens and goats cost mere copper and silver pieces.  The first party had traveling with it approximately sixty chickens, which they used to disarm traps, the messy way. The animal retinue also included a spider money trained to do “DX suck it” named Shawn Michaels and a pot belly pig named Bam Bam Bigelow. The first adventure we played was one that I found online, “ADND Fast-Play” by Jeff Grubb. The first time we played it I followed the instructions by the numbers but as is the nature of D&D, ran into a number of unexpected reactions by my players. This I instantly recognized was the beauty of this game, the ability to do “anything” without it being simply a cheesy game of make-believe. You could create events with verisimilitude and gravity, and greatly entertain yourself and others while doing it. The first game was filled with a nearly endless wall of laughter, as the hopeless animals were sent to their death against the nasties of the dungeon. I even threw in some random encounters, including a wounded and defenseless phoenix (I expected the players to save and nurse back to health), which was slain by the party and made them instantly rich. By that point I had bought a Monstrous Manual, but had no idea of how to use it.

For the next few months we played the same scenario over and over again. Each time I changed it somewhat, until eventually it transformed into a campaign setting. As we eventually spent our hard won Christmas and Birthday dollars on D&D books, I learned about the Forgotten Realms setting, and my campaign eventually turned out to be taking place in a part of Faerun. I always stayed close to what I knew – Baldur’s Gate, in those early years. While I first took the game to be canon for the city of Baldur’s Gate and environs, I eventually became more creative and experimental as I matured into a capable and well liked Dungeon Master. Me and my friends got so into D&D we would play it sometimes three or four days after school. In the next part of this blog I’ll talk about whats so compelling about the game and why I played it, then and now.


108 defilements

I should really find the time to audit myself with this list one of these days. Until then, memory will serve as a guide.

capriciousness (unaccountable changes of mood or behavior)
censoriousness (being severely critical of others)
desire for fame
dipsomania (alcoholism characterized by intermittent bouts of craving)
eagerness for power
effrontery (insolent or impertenent behavior)
garrulity (tediously talking about trivial matters)
greed for money
imperiousness (assuming power or authority without justification)
imposture (pretending to be someone else in order to deceive)
intransigence (unwilling or refusing to change one’s views or to agree about something)
lack of comprehension
prodigality (spending money or using resources freely and recklessly)
rapacity (being aggressively greedy or grasping)
sexual lust
violent temper


Eleven lessons of War

Robert S. McNamara’s lessons of war:

We and you ought not pull on the ends of a rope in which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence.


1. Empathize with your enemy

“We must try to put ourselves inside their skin, and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts which lie behind their decisions and their actions”

McNamara gives two examples – winning the Cuban Missile Crisis by understanding Khrushchev’s need to appear as the savior of Cuba, and analyzing the failure of the Vietnam War as a misunderstanding of the enemy’s intent and scheme. While the Vietnamese saw the war as a civil war, a struggle for independence, and considered themselves free of Chinese and Russian influence, the US perceived the war as a domino effect of Communism, a Cold War thesis. This latter thesis colored US strategic and political actions, which ultimately proved to be ineffective.

2. Rationality will not save us

McNamara argues that human fallibility can lead to terrible destruction – one man endorses the deployment of nuclear weapons. It might be wiser to temper power of such magnitude with proportionality (#5) and support of allies with comparable values (#8).

3. There’s something beyond one’s self

Wise and virtuous leaders must be accountable to the greater society. A leader must be a philosopher. Actions taken must be in the interest of the common good.

4. Maximize efficiency

Analyze performance and redress operational guidelines to better achieve objectives. Loss of force and effect must be accounted for. Clearly defined objectives are necessary for victory.

5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war

“[I]n order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way. LeMay’s answer would be clearly ‘Yes’ . . . Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.”

6. Get the data

With #4, the idea is to adopt an analytical rather than political approach to strategy. Why do certain circumstances, events and phenomena occur? What is the ultimate effect of our strategies, especially in regard to losses? Contingencies and modifications must be effected in order to achieve success.

7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong

McNamara cites the Gulf of Tonkin events, as well as misunderstanding the essential nature of the conflict in Vietnam (see #1). As an aside, clearly this has major applications for contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; while the Taliban are a nationalist group which seeks to establish a Pashtun state, US politicians claim to be fighting global Islamist group Al Qaeda (source), even though the latter are not represented in Afghanistan in any appreciable way. As with Vietnam, this misunderstanding of conflict leads to ineffective and self-defeating strategies.

8. Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning

McNamara argues that if other nations with comparable values do not support your cause – you may have dubious moral or political grounding.  Accordingly, strategies and political objectives must be re-examined in order do what is right.

9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil

An invocation to Machiavelli – McNamara questions whether it was immoral to fire bomb Japan and kill millions of civilians, considering that tens of thousands of American lives were spared from a bloody invasion. Leaders must be willing to do what is necessary (no matter the cruelty) in order to preserve the society and to benefit the public good.

10. Never say never

11. You can’t change human nature

Rationality and reason has limits. Temper power with council.

“We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don’t know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There’s a wonderful phrase: ‘the fog of war.’ What ‘the fog of war’ means is: war is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.”


D&D: A Retrospective on Last Year’s Campaign Part II

Download the full archive of documents, including maps and original writings, here.

Random selections from my notes from last year’s pen and paper adventures:

The death and rebirth of Bestla the dryad…

[ Bestla you feel a sickness coming over you, a drop of blood drops from your eye and stains the white snow red ]

[ Over the weeks you proceed south through frozen [forests/fields describe] ]

[ Bestla  you realize that you are nearing the glade of Angantyr. It is a few hours to the west, in a secluded glade. You hid the great tree by animating the others and walling him into a place where decades before a brush fire had passed through and formed a clearing. The thought of his closeness warms your heart. ]

[ Suddenly, trembling waves of pain pass through your body, your eyes begin to leak blood and the skin takes on a blackish, sickly shade. The leaves and saplings growing from your body wilt and begin to fall off and you fall to the snow, which takes on a black puddle of decaying matter. ]

[ It is then that you realize that your treehusband is under attack ]

[ she is able to move, although weak, must save tree or gg]

[ Beyond the first layer of trees something is clearly amiss: The trees here are dead, their hulking forms are stripped of bark, and black lichens cover their trunks, eating away. The snow here is thinned and mixed with a sludge of rotting leaves, creating a putrid stench. Coming from deep within the forest is an echoing howl of pain which rattles the brittle trees ]

[As you proceed deeper toward the glade, you see things moving in the corner of your eye. Dark things. Shadows. An arm. Feet. Whispers fill the forest. Scratching across wood. Far across the way, shrouded by dozens of dead trees, the mahir which you encountered in Alesia stands in an opening ]

The roots have twisted and mashed together to create a tunnel into the glade, and some of them ooze blood. Moonlight is slipping through gaps between the roots, dimly lighting the forest floor. The vines are too close together to make out what exactly lies beyond the path, but you can see there is an endless ocean of roots beyond. Bestla recognizes those roots as Angantyr’s.

A vibrant, green root, two feet wide, shoots up in front of the tree in the shape of a handlebar. Standing atop it is the mahir, with a great axe in his hands. A few housemen are huddled under this root, as if tied together, still alive.

“Ash man…Crown…If not… the tree spirit…this old one… your men…. snuffed”

[ Bestla disintegrates, leaving behind a pile of twigs, leaves, soiled wood fragments and a dark green acorn. ]



The dock-alfar, or dark elves, are similar to drow in abilities and appearance. They live beneath the earth and shun the llght. Unlike drow, the dock-alfar are not quite as malicious or evil. They are neutral to evil in behavior, in general preferring to remain out of human affairs. They do not use javelins or crossbows of any type, carry adamantine maces, use poison, or have any of the cultural particulars of drow. The dock-alfar live in underground communities organized much like normal human communities. Like the dverge, dock-alfar tend to only be encountered in the loneliest of mountain regions. So infrequently are they seen that humans consider them more legend than fact.

Sweartlogian “the dark lodge” is an underground dark elf city located in the south eastern arm of the forests south of Alesia, right before the Centaur lands. There are some hills there, covered by forest, set into which is a magically runed door made of black stone. At 3 AM the door may be opened by a knock spell, but the entrance is heavily guarded, and intruders are killed on sight. You traveled there a few hundred years ago to collect supplies for your barrow, as the dark elves trade with the dverge, dwarf-like creatures, who are known for their magical crafts. You will be welcomed into the city (the huldufolk can speak their language) but you will have to explain why the humans are present or they will be killed.

The elves of Sweartlogian were used as mercenaries by the Imperials during the Wind Age in an attempt to counter the Ascomani magics. In this campaign their king Valdemaran was slain and the elves have since remained underground, although the vast quantities of wealth they won during the war have made them a powerful polity in the underworld. Valdemaran’s wife Maija is now queen, and is known as a powerful druidess.

You are brought into the city of Sweartlogian by your dark elf guides who walk with a strange, quick gait. After passing for about twenty or thirty feet through the corridor you enter into a massive limestone cavern which contains the city. Sweartlogian looks surprisingly like the Ascomanni hamlets on the surface, comprised of long houses detailed with knotwork, runes and gilding. They are nearly identical except in one regard: the lodges of the dark elves are constructed of a black stone, and the houses of the surface are wood. The city is comprised of a random ordering of such lodges, not unlike hakonsfjord, and the pathways, a bare rock, are meticulously clean. The cavern is warmer than the freezing surface, but not by much, and no hearths are visible.

“Welcome back Andvari, it has been some time. Why do you endanger my people by bringing ash men here? The last time we made oaths with their troublesome kind, my love was lost. They might very well bring the easterners here as they continue to run from their past”

“I will bring back the one you love if you bring back mine. His body has lied in state all these centuries, for this opportunity. I sense a power on your person that might restore his breath”

[ she wants raise dead scroll, party can try to explain  that he cant be raised etc or give scroll away foolishly and she will cast tree on bestla ]

On The Rebirth and Death of Forest Spirits…

When dryads and other forest spirits are slain their souls do not immediately leave the middle realm, but instead drift into a seed or acorn left behind in the dead body. Once this acorn settles in new soil, it will grow into a tree and the consciousness of the previous spirit is lost. Alternatively, if the acorn cannot find soil to inhabit, it will rot within 3 weeks and the spirit will be lost forever.

If the priest spell Tree is cast upon the acorn/seed, the spirit may:

  1. Decide to release itself and die
  2. Transform into a tree automatically without having to grow naturally.
  3. Decide to return with its consciousness in a random natural form  (reincarnation)
  4. It may be raised from the dead, in which case if it was severed from its husbandtree, it will die again.

A centaur ambush…

[describe emerging from forest to the north, describe you can see the fires from the centaur camps far on the horizon, miles away]

[ This section of river has only nominally thawed, will not be able to walk across. ]

[Will need to make rafts or something to ford]

[ While deploying across river, centaur rides up demanding all valuables, if no, attack from all angles ]

To Leptus…

Eahlmund enters first and takes off his helmet, hailing the king and calling back to your company: “This is the expedition of Angvard, son of Hygelac, come from Alesia.”

[ Over the past few years I was forced to mobilize the army here on a nearly constant basis in order to defend myself against the raids from Alesia. Accordingly, the centaurs in the countryside became bolder and seized upon our weakness, raiding with abandon. As I could not divide my forces, nor hire enough mercenaries to keep them at bay, I was forced to pay a hefty tribute in order to buy a peace with them. As it is, if I were to dispatch my forces to join with Alesia to act as a bulwark against the ancient ones, my kingdom would fall. I beg you, using the powers bestowed to you by our god, to sally forth and slay the leader of the centaurs, for if he were to fall, the rest would scatter. ]

[ His name is Tyrfing, and his camp lies just a week north of here. ]

War against the centaurs…

“The camp itself is said to hold fifteen families or so, and is surrounded by a ring of spikes and other obstacles, so that others of their race will stiffen against it. They will most likely have their animals in stockades outside the camp perimeter, as they hate the sight of other races. The inner patrol ring should be keeping watch there.”

Suddenly, you hear chanting in the tongue of the centaurs on the air and the wind picks up, whipping your faces and knocking you to and fro. Several of you fall over and become stuck waist high in the snow, a numbness afflicting the limbs.

Far ahead hundreds of feet you can make out the image of a patrol of centaurs. One of them is in front, chanting into the wind with outstretched arms. He appears to be screaming to heaven, looking wildly up at the gray sky. … Far to the east a mountain is moving toward you at tremendous speed, a colossal wall of ice and snow.

Andvari and Cruniac:

You have escaped the grey waste and Fulmaegen is bounding through the air away from the mountains surrounding the portal. Soon you come onto the Leptian plain. Fulmaegen’s light causes the snow to twinkle all around. It has been 5 days since you departed Leptus to descend into the underworld.


I send you my greetings. I hope the diplomatic convoy we abandoned in your territory was well worth the effort of chasing down? Some say they carried a large tribute in silver and gold to Alesia. Some coin to turn the final clans to your favor.



So it is agreed, the last clan has pledged alliegance? March after they are taken care of, I will kill the old man when your hoard comes within sight of the north towers. With no one to lead the defense, I will station what men I have on the south wall. Attack from the north, the gate will be open, I have paid the guards there well. When you are inside, my brothers will heroically die in the defense of the city. I am holding you to your vow centaur: two kings of the south, not one.


[ Escape somehow ]

[ Describe return journey ]

[Return to Leptus at dusk]

[ If come through north gate or visible from north gate, Eahlmund is gone, informed by guards that they were returning, king is dead with a slit throat in his bed chamber ]

[If come in concealed some how: Return by nightfall, the manor is quiet, Eahlmund is quietly talking with with the king in the great hall, the two of them are alone. “I will need you to remember your duties my son, for the road ahead will be rough, and you will be lord of this realm soon enough. The High King has returned, but we must prepare for war against the ancient enemy. These are the times that try men’s souls…”


D&D: A Retrospective on Last Year’s Campaign Part I

Download the full archive of documents, including maps and original writings, here.

Random selections from my notes from last year’s pen and paper adventures:

From the campaign introduction text…

Ritual binds our people together, and most importantly, our men to the chieftain. In the Symbel ritual, a great hall is filled with the members of the band, who pledge oaths to the strongman, give speeches, exchange gifts and drink from his mead horn. This marries the housemen to the chief, as a man to a descendant of Aurvandil. In this fashion the housemen of a chief are not only soldiers, or mercenaries waiting for riches, but partake in a sacred promise bound by their honor and blood. It is this sort of ritual which we now find ourselves in…

Few return from the forest, and those that do are so terrified from what they have seen that they often cannot speak. It is said that this plague of monsters, beings once thought to be only legend, is our punishment for the slaughter we inflicted upon the land.

All you remember is being woken to the sound of ethereal sirens and scratching days ago. Your mind was for a time a trap, and you were violently awoken from the warm embrace of Angantyr by this racket. After some time you were able to temper your thoughts to calm by praying to the great antlered lord, Cern. The forest is being defiled and you are roused from your sleep to preserve it.

From the first scenario…

It is the height of summer, the month of Sólmánuður, the customary time of year in which the Ascomanni take to the various rivers of the vale to war against neighbors in bloody contests; The frost of winter has thawed, and the mud that followed in spring rains has now formed solid under foot, granting an opportunity for the longships to fly.

Your company has returned to the hamlet, your home of Hakonsfjord, demoralized and battered, solemnly carrying the dead. The bodies were washed and perfumed, and the chieftan loaded onto a ship, loaded with much of the treasures of his life, his armaments and his dogs, which will follow him to the afterlife. The boat rocks to and fro, white capped surf beating her bow. A heavy mist suffocates the ground and sticks to your blades, accompanied by gusts of wet air. The sun is blotted out and reduced to a whimpering twilight, as if all the heavens lament the loss of this great man. Your people know him as a just and selfless king, who took interest in the wellbeing of every member as a father would his children. The air is silent, aside from the solitary croaking of a raven poached on the mast of the burial ship and the etheral billows of wind under the door crack. [foreshadowing!]

An homage to 13th warrior:

“I am Wulfgar, son of King Hothbrodd, lord of Hedgewick. I come to ask the son of Hygelac for help. Our kingdom is under attack, our villge destroyed, our fields spoiled and our men killed. We are attacked by an ancient evil, an terror which has no name, a terror which must not be named. Long has the house of Haakon and Theodoric been married, yet there has never been a time more dire. I come here in my fathers stead.”

[ in the middle of the glade is the dog, prostrate, whimpering, as if being crushed by something, with a barrow behind it in the shadow of the forest ]

[ oracle gets a severe headache and falls to the floor, “they are awakening, we must leave now”]

[ gast materializes, describe bloated, muscled, horrific creature, hisses and slashes the throat of Trahern, leaps and slashes the throat of Trahern, who falls to the floor twitching, a dark pool of blood pouring out and sinking into the ground as it hits it ]

[ once gast is killed, light from the canopy is blotted out by a passing clowd and leaves glade pitch black, glowing ghosts of dead, murdered norsemen appear and attack ]

[ players should retreat to ship, find wood has been collected by a few who stayed behind, “whats going on?” ]

[ ghost/zombie norsemen shuffle out of forest toward the ship, party should emergency repair it, hold off undead for 4 rounds, then escape ]

Leave it to Beaver storytelling:

[ describe various corpses littering the farmfields, mutilated, gnawed upon and slashed open, festering hay stacks, many farmhouses are burnt out or ransacked ]

From a follow-up scenario…

…awoken by the sudden splintering of boards, undead pour in a phalanx and begin to viciously stab forward with long spears…

Pip: you think the best way to find the mahir’s lair would be to follow the large wake of the army, footprints, torn down trees etc

“Don’t bother, don’t bother, I am far beyond saving. Listen, listen. This foe is no disgruntled mahir lieutenant lusting for our blood, a grudge holder from old times casually hunting in the night. He does not stir to satisfy his hate. No, no. ::cough:: I believe he is one of the nine, awoken by the passing of the Great Comet. Steel yourself my friend ::Cough:: For we’ve no king to resist this great host which is stirring now, and I go to die. Cruniac, be they ready or no, it is time… lead them to the Masoleum of Clovis, lead them…to…the…crown….”

Floating above the mound of the dead is the mahir. He lets loose a guttural cackle as he spots you and raises his hands palms inward. From behind him, a slowly moving cloud of darkness begins to engulf the grounds and blot out the sun, causing the dead to glow with a dim blue aura.

And beyond to Alesia…

You are in the main street of Alesia, a bustling bazaar where merchants come to exchange and sell wares, there are various stalls set up for hawking goods. Unsavory types lurk behind the street corners.

You hear thunderous, cracking steps from behind you. Stone is being crushed. something very large is running toward you. A massive demonic beast bursts into the room, its hateful, beady eyes swelling with rage. It raises a jagged, lightning shaped sword from over its head and appears to be swinging down upon you.

It grunts loudly and staggers toward you, swinging back with a balled massive fist. As it is about to smash into you, its fist stops. A small wisp of dust forms from behind one of the tables. and slowly moves toward you. out from it steps a dark, brooding man, with jet black hair and a face of anguish and contemplation. he is dressed in a simple black, hooded robe. his fingernails are caked with dust and his mouth has little scrapes around it. He speaks softly but with a grave tone.

“How may I help you?”

“Tell me hag, why did you try to cast a spell upon my men?”… 

“This witch attempted to slay my men, and is very well an assassin sent by Leptus to poison our water supply! We found strange lizards on her person, to which my men viewed her eating. These lizards are poisonous, and are only consumed by the venom tested blood of an assassin! Why should I not dispatch her? And you, you might very well be spies too!”

Birka and environs…

Two days by boat you near your destination. The hamlet of Birka is situated at the northern most limit of the Gold River, shrouded to the east by a deep primeval forest. The locals call it “Forestheart” and it is said to be as old as the earth.

“Well met, I am Caithim. I was once the chieftain of this hamlet, yet by old age and infirmity I gave up my post to my son Aethelwulf a decade ago. This was before Aethelred’s yoke came upon us, and now my son is pressed into his service and I am left alone as an old man to do what a young man must!”

A beautiful girl in a long white dress stands up from the assembled villagers and elegantly walks over those seated toward Angvard.

“Father, be calm. I will be the first” gives herself up to angvard.

“Gyda, no! Return to me, others can go, shes a virgin!…”

The girl continues to walk toward your party.

“For shame, no!”

Enraged 15 year old kid Eorpwald with a sword rushes Angvard.

As you follow the sound of the retreating Pukje a gold light becomes visible in the forest. As you approach it, you notice that it is light pouring from an open door in a massive oak. The vicious beasts scurry in, and then the opening in the tree seals quickly behind them, returning the area surrounding the tree to darkness.

Trapdoor at wall: Cannot be opened, bears will come out later.

“I only hoped to be able to collect enough of a fortune to buy a great dowry for the fairest of the fair. For I seek a wife. I seek Caithim’s daughter Gyda. If I offer her what her father cannot, she will love me. But you seek this gold still? Not until she is my wife. Bring me her to wed, and I will give you the coins!”

The Mausoleum of Clovis… [yes another homage, to Myth!]

“Very well, you have completed your duty to me. Conduct them with safe passage to the Mausoleum’s library. Egbert, you know Helfdane, you shall guide them. ”

Some parts of the walls are lined with shrouded corpse put into shallow outlets. Other outlets house skeletons, exposed to the open air, some still grasping their blades. Other outlets are home to stone coffins, ornately detailed with powerful protective runes. Clovis must be among these, but you know not which.

Giant monster attacks Egbert, who says “must you do this every time?”

You head south and the corridor expands to monumental heights, into a large circular chamber. The walls are decorated in vibrant murals depicting the siege of Alesia, culminating in a scene of the brothers Clovis and Connacht atop the piled Imperial dead across the entranceway. The chamber is littered with personal effects of the entombed: sleds, wagons, baskets, barrels, weapons, tools, clothing, sacrificed thralls. In the center of the chamber is a broad stone sarcophagus capped by a black statue of a wolf, surrounded by four massive columns. An inscription plate is fixed into the base of the monument, marked in imperial and runic.

“Here lies Connacht the Wolf, son of Aethel, last king of the Ascomanni. Brother of Clovis, who died in glorious battle against the imperial host of Emperor Athanasius at Alesia.”

The gold disc which holds the statue of Clovis becomes illuminated in blinding light and slowly gives way to a hazy white dust which evaporates and is drawn inward to a cavernous tunnel behind it. Where there was once the tomb of Clovis is a natural stone passage leading upward.

Escape from it…

The farmlands outlying the city are strangely serene, still as a grave, and at first all you can hear is the pattering of rain and hailstones against puddles and helmets. Then the patter is overtook by a stronger kind, hooves from the [north/south]. A detachment of two dozen mounted knights is thundering toward you from across the way with their swords and spears raised up.

Half conscious, dirty, bruised. It is Theodric of Seleucia, a veteran of the society.  He speaks weak words “Cruniac… Harald… Cassio… they are moving through the Tharsus pass…” he falls back unconscious

“I was stationed on the east side of the mountain with Glappa and Frithuwald watching over the Plain. A little girl was there, of a race I have yet seen. Bronzed, with narrow eyes, she wore beads and silks. She was calling for help in a tongue I have never heard. She seemed lost.”

“When Glappa went to her she pointed at him and he fell dead instantly, and her eyes turned black. Frithuwald drew Mistilteinn and the Nine came upon us with a great host of ancient dead and bewitched men. Great beasts. Mistilteinn could not stop their magics, and Frithuwald fell after we slew hundreds of them atop a pile of corpses. I managed to slip away. They marched forward toward the Tharsus Gate.”

“I rode into the wilderness and called for the congress but could only find a few of our order. Either they are scattered or they are fallen.”  “I fear by now they might very well be upon Hakonsfjord”

In ancient times there was a pacifist, peaceful people to the south east of the plain (fremde), lead by nine magi, who were spiritual gurus but had no political power. The pre-Ascomanni enslaved them with absolute brutality and used them to create great barrows and monuments. They slaughtered them en masse, raped them and through the free labor, slowly warred amongst each other to consolidate into a single kingdom.
While for the hundreds of years the slaughter and enslavement escalated, none of the Ascomanni warlords threatened to violate the most sacred Fremde aspect: the living form of the Fremde fertility goddess, whose avatar, a little girl, wanders the jungles of the Fremde homeland. The first consolidated king Yfeldan, in an attempt to break the Fremde spirit, captured this avatar, raped, killed and cannibalized her.
The rage of the magi was such that they forsook their pacifist creeds and began to raise those who had been slain by the Ascomanni, attacking them with terrible fury. While the magi once used their magic to heal and to grow, they were twisted into terrible forms and taught their people murder. The Ascomanni kingdom was instantly set into a retreat, unable to defend against the magi’s magic.


I must study politics and war so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy; my sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture so that their children will have the right to study painting and poetry, and music.

– John Adams


Beginning to a paper…

Speaking the name of Harvard in the contemporary age invokes imagery of a powerful and elite university, second to none in both physical and intellectual wealth. The place today produces the nation’s titans of industry and serves as a fertile social networking hub for the most influential men and women entering into corporate and public space. Seven presidents of the United States studied there, and dozens of more senators, congressmen and electors. Yet Harvard was not always as it is now. In the formative centuries of its history the place was not a university but a college, and was dwarfed by the grandeur of the European places of learning, inhabiting a single, poorly constructed hall, prone to fire hazards. Matthew Battles called Harvard “traditionally little more than a boarding school for elite youth.”

This paper aims to examine the critical development which contributed to Harvard’s elevation from a colonial school for preachers’ sons to an international leader in academia: the expansion, refinement and institutional integration of its library. And at the heart of this latter flourishing are two central veins: the evolution and usage of the catalog system, and the methods and extent of acquisitions. Both faculties began in disarray or neglect, and through their fortification and enrichment, made marriage with the success of the Harvard Corporation. What follows is a brief history of the library, accompanied by precise examination of those significant areas.