May 2010

Invisible Committee, The. The Coming Insurrection. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, [2007] 2009. ISBN 978-1-58435-080-4.
I have not paid much attention to the “anti-globalisation” protesters who seem to pop up at gatherings of international political and economic leaders, for example at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999 and the Genoa G8 Summit in 2001. In large part this is because I have more interesting things with which to occupy my time, but also because, despite saturation media coverage of such events, I was unable to understand the agenda of the protesters, apart from smashing windows and hurling epithets and improvised projectiles at the organs of state security. I understand what they're opposed to, but couldn't for the life of me intuit what policies would prevail if they had their way. Still, as they are often described as “anarchists”, I, as a flaming anarchist myself, could not help but be intrigued by those so identified in the legacy media as taking the struggle to the street.

This book, written by an anonymous group of authors, has been hailed as the manifesto of this movement, so I hoped that reading it would provide some insight into what it was all about. My hope was in vain. The writing is so incoherent and the prose so impenetrable that I closed it with no more knowledge of the philosophy and programme of its authors than when I opened it. My general perception of the “anti-globalisation” movement was one of intellectual nonentities spewing inchoate rage at the “system” which produces the wealth that allows them to live their slacker lives and flit from protest to protest around the globe. Well, if this is their manifesto, then indeed that's all there is to it. The text is nearly impossible to decipher, being written in a dialect of no known language. Many paragraphs begin with an unsubstantiated and often absurd assertion, then follow it with successive verb-free sentence fragments which seem to be intended to reinforce the assertion. I suppose that if you read it as a speech before a mass assembly of fanatics who cheer whenever they hear one of their trigger words it may work, but one would expect savvy intellectuals to discern the difference in media and adapt accordingly. Whenever the authors get backed into an irreconcilable logical corner, they just drop an F-bomb and start another paragraph.

These are people so clueless that I'll have to coin a new word for those I've been calling clueless all these many years. As far as I can figure out, they assume that they can trash the infrastructure of the “system”, and all of the necessities of their day to day urban life will continue to flow to them thanks to the magic responsible for that today. These “anarchists” reject the “exploitation” of work—after all, who needs to work? “Aside from welfare, there are various benefits, disability money, accumulated student aid, subsidies drawn off fictitious childbirths, all kinds of trafficking, and so many other means that arise with every mutation of control.” (p. 103) Go anarchism! Death to the state, as long as the checks keep coming! In fact, it is almost certain that the effete would-be philosophes who set crayon (and I don't mean the French word for “pencil”) to paper to produce this work will be among the first wave of those to fall in the great die-off starting between 72 and 96 hours after that event towards which they so sincerely strive: the grid going down. Want to know what I'm talking about? Turn off the water main where it enters your house and see what happens in the next three days if you assume you can't go anywhere else where the water is on. It's way too late to learn about “rooftop vegetable gardens” when the just-in-time underpinnings which sustain modern life come to a sudden halt. Urban intellectuals may excel at publishing blows against the empire, but when the system actually goes down, bet on rural rednecks to be the survivors. Of course, as far as I can figure out what these people want, it may be that Homo sapiens returns to his roots—namely digging for roots and grubs with a pointed stick. Perhaps rather than flying off to the next G-20 meeting to fight the future, they should spend a week in one of the third world paradises where people still live that way and try it out for themselves.

The full text of the book is available online in English and French. Lest you think the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a beacon of rationality and intelligence in a world going dark, it is their university press which distributes this book.


Flynn, Vince. Act of Treason. New York: Pocket Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4165-4226-1.
This is the seventh novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. I packed this thriller as an “airplane book” on a recent trip. The novel was far more successful than the journey, which ended up as a 12 hour round trip from Switzerland to England and back when my onward flight was cancelled thanks to an unexpected belch from volcano Whatchamacallit. By the time I got home, I was already more than 350 pages into the 467 page paperback, and I finished it over the next two days. Like all Vince Flynn books, this is a page turner, although this time there's less action and more puzzling out of shadowy connections.

The book begins with a terrorist attack on the motorcade of a presidential candidate who, then trailing in the polls, is swept into office on a sympathy vote. Now, just before the inauguration of the new administration, Rapp captures the perpetrator of the attack and, as he and CIA director Irene Kennedy start to follow the trail of those who ordered the strike, begin to suspect what may be a plot that will shake the U.S. to its foundations and undermine the legitimacy of its government. Under a tight deadline as inauguration day approaches, Rapp and Kennedy have to find out the facts and take direct action to avert calamity.

Characters from earlier books in the series appear here, and references to events which occurred earlier in the timeline are made, but this book works perfectly fine as a stand-alone novel—you can pick up the Mitch Rapp saga here and miss little or nothing (although there will, inevitably, be spoilers for events in the earlier books).


Kennedy, Gregory P. The Rockets and Missiles of White Sands Proving Ground, 1945–1958. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7643-3251-7.
Southern New Mexico has been a centre of American rocketry from its origin to the present day. After being chased out of Massachusetts due to his inventions' proclivity for making ear-shattering detonations and starting fires, Robert Goddard moved his liquid fuel rocket research to a site near Roswell, New Mexico in 1930 and continued to launch increasingly advanced rockets from that site until 1943, when he left to do war work for the Navy. Faced with the need for a range to test the missiles developed during World War II, in February 1945 the U.S. Army acquired a site stretching 100 miles north from the Texas-New Mexico border near El Paso and 41 miles east-west at the widest point, designated the “White Sands Proving Ground”: taking its name from the gypsum sands found in the region, also home to the White Sands National Monument.

Although established before the end of the war to test U.S. missiles, the first large rockets launched at the site were captured German V-2s (December 2002), with the first launched (unsuccessfully) in April 1946. Over the next six years, around seventy V-2s lifted off from White Sands, using the V-2's massive (for the time) one ton payload capacity to carry a wide variety of scientific instruments into the upper atmosphere and the edge of space. In the Bumper project, the V-2 was used as the booster for the world's first two stage liquid rocket, with its WAC Corporal second stage attaining an altitude of 248 miles: higher than some satellites orbit today (it did not, of course, attain anything near orbital velocity, and quickly fell back to Earth).

Simultaneously with launches of the V-2, U.S. rocketeers arrived at White Sands to test their designs—almost every U.S. missile of the 1940s and 1950s made its first flight there. These included research rockets such as Viking and Aerobee (first launched in 1948, it remained in service until 1985 with a total of 1037 launched); the Corporal, Sergeant, and Redstone ballistic missiles; Loki, Nike, Hawk anti-aircraft missiles; and a variety of tactical missiles including the unguided (!) nuclear-tipped Honest John.

White Sands in the forties and fifties was truly the Wild West of rocketry. Even by the standards of fighter aircraft development in the epoch, this was by guess and by gosh engineering in its purest incarnation. Consider Viking 8, which broke loose from the launch pad during a static test when hold-down fittings failed, and was allowed to fly to 20,000 feet to see what would happen (p. 97). Or Viking 10, whose engine exploded on the launch pad and then threatened a massive explosion because leaking fuel was causing the tankage to crumple as it left a vacuum. An intrepid rocketeer was sent out of the blockhouse with a carbine to shoot a hole in the top of the fuel tank and allow air to enter (p. 100)—problem solved! (The rocket was rebuilt and later flew successfully.) Then there was the time they ran out of 90% hydrogen peroxide and were told the first Viking launch would have to be delayed for two weeks until a new shipment could arrive by rail. Can't have that! So two engineers drove a drum of the highly volatile and corrosive substance in the back of a station wagon from Buffalo, New York to White Sands to meet the launch deadline (p. 79). In the Nike program, people worried about whether its aniline fuel would be sufficiently available under tactical conditions, so they tried using gasoline as fuel instead—BOOM! Nope, guess not (p. 132). With all this “innovation” going on, they needed a suitable place from which to observe it, so the pyramid-shaped blockhouse had reinforced concrete walls ten feet thick with a roof 27 feet thick at the peak. This was designed to withstand a direct impact from a V-2 falling from an altitude of 100 miles. “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?”

And the pace of rockets going up was absolutely frenetic, almost inconceivable by the standards of today's hangar queens and launch pad prima donnas (some years ago, a booster which sat on the pad for more than a year was nicknamed the “civil servant”: it won't work and you can't fire it). By contrast, a single development program, the Loki anti-aircraft missile, conducted a total of 2282 launches at White Sands in 1953 and 1954 (p. 115)—that's an average of more than three a day, counting weekends and holidays!

The book concludes in 1958 when White Sands Proving Ground became White Sands Missile Range (scary pop-up at this link), which remains a centre of rocket development and testing to this day. With the advent of NASA and massively funded, long-term military procurement programs, much of the cut, try, and run like Hell days of rocketry came to a close; this book covers that period which, if not a golden age, was a heck of a lot of fun for engineers who enjoy making loud noises and punching holes in the sky.

The book is gorgeous, printed on glossy paper, with hundreds of illustrations. I noted no typographical or factual errors. A complete list of all U.S. V-2, WAC Corporal, and Viking launches is given in appendices at the end.


Austen, Jane and Seth Grahame-Smith. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59474-334-4.
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is the quintessential British Regency era novel of manners. Originally published in 1813, it has been endlessly adapted to the stage, film, and television, and has been a staple of English literature classes from the Victorian era through post-post-modern de-deconstructionist decadence. What generations of litterateurs missed, however, is its fundamental shortcoming: there aren't any zombies in it! That's where the present volume comes in.

This work preserves 85% of Jane Austen's original text and names her as the primary author (hey, if you can't have a dead author in a zombie novel, where can you?), but enhances the original story with “ultraviolent zombie mayhem” seamlessly woven into the narrative. Now, some may consider this a travesty and desecration of a literary masterwork, but look at this way: if F-14s are cool and tyrannosaurs are cool, imagine how cool tyrannosaurs in F-14s would be? Adopting this Calvinist approach allows one to properly appreciate what has been done here.

The novel is set in an early 19th century England afflicted for five and fifty years with the “strange plague” that causes the dead to rise and stagger across the countryside alone or in packs, seeking to kill and devour the succulent brains of the living. Any scratch inflicted by one of these creatures (variously referred to as “unmentionables”, “sorry stricken”, “manky dreadfuls”, “Satan's armies”, “undead”, or simply “zombies”) can infect the living with the grievous affliction and transform them into another compulsive cranium cruncher. The five Bennet sisters have been sent by their father to be trained in the deadly arts by masters in China and have returned a formidable fighting force, sworn by blood oath to the Crown to defend Hertfordshire against the zombie peril until the time of their marriage. There is nothing their loquacious and rather ditzy mother wants more than to see her five daughters find suitable matches, and she fears their celebrated combat credentials and lack of fortune will deter the wealthy and refined suitors she imagines for them. The central story is the contentious relations and blossoming romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a high-born zombie killer extraordinaire whose stand-offish manner is initially interpreted as arrogance and disdain for the humble Bennets. Can such fierce and proud killers find love and embark upon a life fighting alongside one another in monster murdering matrimony?

The following brief extracts give a sense of what you're getting into when you pick up this book. None are really plot spoilers, but I've put them into a spoiler block nonetheless because some folks might want to encounter these passages in context to fully enjoy the roller coaster ride between the refined and the riotous.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.  
  • From a corner of the room, Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie as they went. He knew of only one other woman in Great Britain who wielded a dagger with such skill, such grace, and deadly accuracy.

    By the time the girls reached the walls of the assembly hall, the last of the unmentionables lay still.

    Apart from the attack, the evening altogether passed off pleasantly for the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. … (Chapter 3)

  • Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon communicated the chief of all this, heard it in silent indignation. Her heart was divided between concern for her sister, and thoughts of going immediately to town and dispensing the lot of them.

    “My dear Jane!” exclaimed Elizabeth, “you are too good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; you wish to think all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak of killing anybody for any reason! …” (Chapter 24)

  • But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than choice. He seldom appeared really animated, even at the sight of Mrs. Collins gnawing upon her own hand. What remained of Charlotte would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza. She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success, for her thoughts often wandered to other subjects, such as the warm, succulent sensation of biting into a fresh brain. …

    In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison the most pleasant man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible; but to counterbalance these advantages, Mr. Darcy had a considerably larger head, and thus, more brains to feast upon. (Chapter 32)

  • “When they all removed to Brighton, therefore, you had no reason, I suppose, to believe them fond of each other?”

    “Not the slightest. I can remember no symptom of affection on either side, other than her carving his name into her midriff with a dagger; but this was customary with Lydia. …” (Chapter 47)

  • He scarcely needed an invitation to stay for supper; and before he went away, an engagement was formed, chiefly through his own and Mrs. Bennet's means, for his coming next morning to shoot the first autumn zombies with her husband. (Chapter 55)
  • You may as well call it impertinence. It was very little else. The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you because I was so unlike them. I knew the joy of standing over a vanquished foe; of painting my face and arms with their blood, yet warm, and screaming to the heavens—begging, nay daring, God to send me more enemies to kill. The gentle ladies who so assiduously courted you knew nothing of this joy, and therefore, could never offer you true happiness. … (Chapter 60)
Spoilers end here.  

The novel concludes with zombies still stalking England; all attempts to find a serum, including Lady Catherine's, having failed, and without hope for a negotiated end to hostilities. Successful diplomacy requires not only good will but brains. Zombies do not have brains; they eat them. So life goes on, and those who find married bliss must undertake to instruct their progeny in the deadly arts which defend the best parts of life from the darkness.

The book includes a “Reader's Discussion Guide” ideal for classroom and book club exploration of themes raised in the novel. For example:

10. Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be without the violent zombie mayhem?
Beats me.

Of course this is going to be made into a movie—patience! A comic book edition, set of postcards, and a 2011 wall calendar ideal for holiday giving are already available—go merchandising! Here is a chart which will help you sort out the relationships among the many characters in both Jane Austen's original novel and this one.

While this is a parody, whilst reading it I couldn't help but recall Herman Kahn's parable of the lions in New York City. Humans are almost infinitely adaptable and can come to consider almost any situation normal once they've gotten used to it. In this novel zombies are something one lives with as one of the afflictions of mortal life like tuberculosis and crabgrass, and it is perfectly normal for young ladies to become warriors because that's what circumstances require. It gives one pause to think how many things we've all come to consider unremarkable in our own lives might be deemed bizarre and/or repellent from the perspective of those of another epoch or observing from a different cultural perspective.


White, Rowland. Vulcan 607. London: Corgi Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0-552-15229-7.
The Avro Vulcan bomber was the backbone of Britain's nuclear deterrent from the 1950s until the end of the 1960s, when ballistic missile submarines assumed the primary deterrent mission. Vulcans remained in service thereafter as tactical nuclear weapons delivery platforms in support of NATO forces. In 1982, the aging Vulcan force was months from retirement when Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands, and Britain summoned all of its armed services to mount a response. The Royal Navy launched a strike force, but given the distance (about 8000 miles from Britain to the Falklands) it would take about two weeks to arrive. The Royal Air Force surveyed their assets and concluded that only the Vulcan, supported by the Handley Page Victor, a bomber converted to an aerial refueling tanker, would permit it to project power to such a distant theatre.

But there were difficulties—lots of them. First of all, the Vulcan had been dedicated to the nuclear mission for decades: none of the crews had experience dropping conventional bombs, and the bomb bay racks to dispense them had to be hunted down in scrap yards. No Vulcan had performed aerial refueling since 1971, since its missions were assumed to be short range tactical sorties, and the refueling hardware had been stoppered. Crews were sent out to find and remove refueling probes from museum specimens to install on the bombers chosen for the mission. Simply navigating to a tiny island in the southern hemisphere in this pre-GPS era was a challenge—Vulcan crews had been trained to navigate by radar returns from the terrain, and there was no terrain whatsoever between their launch point on Ascension Island and landfall in the Falklands, so boffins figured out how to adapt navigation gear from obsolete VC10 airliners to the Vulcan and make it work. The Vulcan had no modern electronic countermeasures (ECM), rendering it vulnerable to Argentinian anti-aircraft defences, so an ECM pod from another aircraft was grafted onto its wing, fastening to a hardpoint which had never been used by a Vulcan. Finding it, and thereby knowing where to drill the holes required dismantling the wing of another Vulcan.

If the preparations were remarkable, especially since they were thrown together in just a few weeks, the mission plan was audacious—so much so that one expects it would have been rejected as absurd if proposed as the plot of a James Bond film. Executing the mission to bomb the airfield on the Falkland Islands would involve two Vulcan bombers, one Nimrod marine patrol aircraft, thirteen Victor tankers, nineteen refuelings (including Victor to Victor and Victor to Vulcan), 1.5 million pounds of fuel, and ninety aircrew. And all of these resources, assembled and deployed in a single mission, managed to put just one crater in the airstrip in the Falkland Islands, denying it to Argentine fast jets, but allowing C-130 transports to continue to operate from it.

From a training, armament, improvisation, and logistics standpoint this was a remarkable achievement, and the author argues that its consequences, direct and indirect, effectively took the Argentine fast air fighter force and navy out of the conflict, and hence paved the way for the British reconquista of the islands. Today it seems quaint; you'd just launch a few cruise missiles at the airfield, cratering it and spreading area denial munitions and that would be that, without risking a single airman. But they didn't have that option then, and so they did their best with what was available, and this epic story recounts how they pulled it off with hardware on the edge of retirement, re-purposed for a mission its designers never imagined, mounted with a plan with no margin for error, on a schedule nobody could have imagined absent wartime exigency. This is a tale of the Vulcan mission; if you're looking for a comprehensive account of the Falklands War, you'll have to look elsewhere. The Vulcan raid on the Falklands was one of those extraordinary grand gestures, like the Doolittle Raid on Japan, which cast a longer shadow in history than their direct consequences implied. After the Vulcan raid, nobody doubted the resolve of Britain, and the resulting drawback of the Argentine forces almost certainly reduced the cost of retaking the islands from the invader.


Flynn, Vince. Protect and Defend. New York: Pocket Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-0503-7.
This is the eighth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. I usually wait a month or two between reading installments in this thriller saga, but since I'd devoured the previous volume, Act of Treason, earlier this month on an airline trip which went seriously awry, I decided to bend the rules and read its successor on the second attempt to make the same trip. This time both the journey and the novel were entirely successful.

The story begins with Mitch Rapp cleaning up some unfinished business from Act of Treason, then transitions into an a thriller whose premises may play out in the headlines in the near future. When Iran's covert nuclear weapons facility is destroyed under mysterious circumstances, all of the players in the game, both in Iran and around the world, try to figure out what happened, who was responsible, and how they can turn events to their own advantage. Fanatic factions within the Iranian power structure see an opportunity to launch a proxy terror offensive against Israel and the United States, while those aware of the vulnerability of their country to retaliation for any attack upon those nations try to damp down the flames. The new U.S. president decides to use a back channel to approach the Iranian pragmatists with a deal to put an end to the decades-long standoff and reestablish formal relations between the nations, and dispatches the CIA director to a covert meeting with her peer, the chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. But word of the meeting makes its way to the radical factions in Iran, and things go horribly wrong. It is then up to Mitch Rapp and his small team, working against the clock, to puzzle out what happened, who is responsible, and how to respond.

If you haven't read the earlier Mitch Rapp novels, you'll miss some of the context, particularly in the events of the first few chapters, but this won't detract in any way from your enjoyment of the story. Personally, I'd read (and I'm reading) the novels in order, but they are sufficiently stand-alone (particularly after the first few) that there's no problem getting into the series at any point. Vince Flynn's novels are always about the action and the characters, not preachy policy polemics. Nonetheless, one gets a sense that the strategy presented here is how the author's brain trust would like to see a confident and unapologetic West address the Iranian conundrum.