Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Appreciation of Sex in Mylar

Madonna's Sex book in Mylar wrapper
Flickr photo by user MikeWade. Used under Creative Commons.

The news that Madonna is getting divorced (again) gives me an excuse to tell a story that has an almost (but not entire) lack of relevance.

Back in college, Dave, a friend and dorm mate, was, for a time, pretty obsessed with Madonna's Sex book. (Dave was a man of many obsessions, though one at a time. He was a serial obsessor.)

He bought two copies of the book, at $49.95 apiece. One for, um, reading, and one to keep sealed in mint condition to save as a collector's item.

"Collectors item?!" we scorned, "it's going to be on the bargain remainder bin in a few months. You're crazy!" Dave ignored us.

Now, as I recall, I actually did see the books a few months later, heavily discounted in remainder bins. But time passed, and a funny thing happened:

They actually did turn into collectors items.

Now, searching on Madonna sex book on eBay, a sealed, mint copy will get anywhere from $150-$250 (with at least one deluded optimist setting a Buy It Now price of $499).

Dave, I don't know if you still have your sealed, mint first edition Sex, but I salute you.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Dummy in a Dumb Land

Over the weekend, I finished Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

The book is said to have been an influence on the hippie movement of the '60s; if true, it goes a long way in explaining why hippies were such big flakes.

You can also see some of the book's influence on Dune (Dune... Arrakis... Desert Planet), which I guess is a mitigating factor. Then again, it seems to track pretty closely to Scientology -- do with that what you will.

I do still like Heinlein's other works, particularly his juvenile fiction, which I grew up devouring. I still have a fondness for them, even after time and a grownup perspective brings to light some of their shortcomings (e.g. clumsy speechifying, Mary Sue-ism, etc).

In fact, if memory and Wikipedia serves, I probably still have hardcover first editions of The Rolling Stones and Have Space Suit, Will Travel at home. Although I might have told Mom it was okay to throw that pile of books out. And in any case, they were public library book sale acquisitions to start with, and got pretty beat up over the years. But I'll try to find them next time around.

One more quick hit of dumb... stuff:

* The Meat Loaf/Tiffany GoPhone commercial is one of the dumbest commercials I've seen in a while. Not just for the overall cheese and cringeworthy reworking of the lyrics -- it's because the commercial ends on the line, "I swear, I'll love you 'til the end of time," when anyone who knows the song at all instantly and instinctively starts into the whole whole, "So now I'm waiting for the end of time to hurry up and arrive" bit of the song.

This is infinitely worse than the Microsoft Windows 95 campaign using "Start Me Up" and cutting right before the "you make a grown man cry" bit.

Although Tiffany still looks pretty damn good.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

There Is Shit in the Meat

I just finished reading Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser's 2001 look at the societal impact of fast food.

It begins pretty gently, talking about the early chains, the origins of Carl's and McDonalds. It starts to rake a little muck when it talks about the exploitation of teen workers, the de-skillification of fast food jobs (even as fast food companies take millions of dollars in subsidies for worker training, and the problem of theft and robbery at fast food restaurants (usually involving current or former employees).

The bits about french fries, and the science of artificial and natural flavors are really interesting.

Then it gets to the meat of the thing -- agribusiness and the meatpacking industry. It's blood-boiling -- it should be required reading for everyone, especially:

* Libertarians and Grover "drown government in the bathtub" Norquist-types to see just what happens when you neuter the FDA, OSHA, and the USDA and rely on industry self-policing (hint: E. coli 0157:H7 and bloody stools feature prominently). It's where the "shit in the meat" bit comes from -- fecal contamination, combined with sending all the meat through a few big processing plants, equals bacterial fun for everybody. Industry solution? Irradiation. So nuclear shit in your meat.

* Anti-immigration types, to see just how the meatpacking industry relies on and recruits illegal immigrants to staff their ultra-high-speed, ultra-high-turnover industries (hint: if you don't give full benefits until 6 months or a year into a job, high-turnover keeps employer costs down). Let's see if the neo-Know Nothings will put their money where their mouths when it comes to their food buying dollar.

* Terrorism Chicken Littles who fixate on bioterror threats to the food supply, yet turn a blind eye to agribusiness's steadfast opposition to real food safety and robust scientific testing measures.

Since the book came out in 2001, you can see how things have changed since then (Schlosser's warnings about obesity seem almost quaint now), and then, looking at the largest beef recall in the nation's history, seeing how they haven't changed.

Maybe I'm prone to being unduly alarmed by food threats -- I took a meat vacation for a few years after reading Deadly Feasts (about mad cow disease) -- or maybe because it's because I just really like hamburgers, but just looking at how corrupting the meatpacking industry in its race to the bottom on costs shows the dangers of unfettered capitalism.

Perhaps we need a new grass-roots advocacy group -- something to take food safety back from the vegetarians and animal activists: Hamburger Lovers for Food Safety. (Kind of how Ducks Unlimited is a wetlands conservation group for the purpose of having abundant ducks to shoot.)

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Review: Empire -- Orson Scott Cardboard Cutout Coup

I woke up at about 5:30am and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read. I'd just started Fast Food Nation yesterday, but was in the mood for some fiction, so I picked up Orson Scott Card's Empire, fresh from the library.

It's about a new American Civil War, set along the Red State/Blue State ideological divide. I just finished it. It's really bad; so much so that I had to make a determined effort to finish it (I have no problem not starting books, but I didn't want to abandon yet another one.)

The Real World = Walking Robot Tanks

Empire is basically set in the here and now, which is why it's particularly jarring when the 14-foot-tall bipedal tank mechs take over New York. Not to mention the later chase scene in Great Falls Park (Maryland side), featuring a PT Cruiser and rebels on rocket-armed hoverbikes.

[Since Empire stems from a video game treatment, it is perhaps not his fault, but it's still pretty wacky.]

Of course, this is only after the al Qaeda suicide scuba commandos swim up the Potomac, into the Tidal Basin and launch a rocket attack on the White House, killing the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Oh, and al Qaeda is only a pawn, used by leftist elements in the U.S. Army (?!) as a pretext for a coup by the Progressive Restoration, which is masterminded and funded by billionaire Aldo Verus (a very, very thinly-disguised George Soros), who has his own secret underground lair beneath a mountain lake -- complete with robot army.

Card: Fair and Balanced

Now, in his afterword, Card says he's a moderate, decrying extremism on both sides (he probably believes this), and at points in the book, his characters say the rebellion could just as easily been started by the Right.

But it's fairly obvious where Card stands in his fair-mindedness: All the bad guys are lefties, and all the good guys are right-wingers who watch Fox News (in fact, an appearance on the O'Reilly Factor becomes a key element), save for a few tame, pet progressives.

There's also a lot of Mary Sue-ism in the book, particularly in the early chapters, where there's a lot of unsubtle breast-beating about liberals in the media and academia, as well as throwaway cheap shots at the left and reverence for Bush from the mouths of his protagonists.

You can also see some Mary Sue-ish wish-fulfillment towards the end, where (spoiler alert) a quintessential moderate, who may or may not be pulling all the strings (including those of the Soros-arch-villain, reducing him to the ultimate useful idiot), using only the power of his ideas, becomes president by acclamation after being nominated by both the Republicans and Democrats.

Influences: You, Sir, Are No Jack Bauer

There are many shades of Card's previous works -- particularly the post-Ender's Game Shadow books (including: geniuses, evil and not, orchestrating events; family discussions that turn into graduate-level policy roundtables; a Hegemon-like President relying on a small team ["jeesh"] of hypercompetent Special Forces; portraying those soldiers with fanboy reverence; etc.)

Because it's set in the "real" world, this unmasks some of the shortcomings we'd be more inclined to forgive in the futuristic, military supergenius-soaked setting of the 100-years-from-now Shadow books -- particularly the cardboard-cutout characters and their dialog, which at times devolves to action movie buddy-banter that rings completely false.

Card, in the afterword, also credits watching 24 to help set the action-thriller "rhythms and energy," which may explain the origins of a finger-cutting scene and why they have to break both arms of a prisoner instead of, say, binding and gagging him. Though it doesn't explain why the climactic infiltration of the villain's secret underground lair is so tedious.

He also acknowledges Google Maps for the turn-by-turn descriptions of the chase scenes, which likewise end up being pretty tedious. Though we do see some references to local flavor like Hain's Point, the Borders in Tyson's Corner, and even the Rio Grande in Reston Town Center.

Moderate: You Keep Using That Word

Regarding the politics of the book -- I wouldn't mind so much if it were just a straight-out conservative rant (his characters are definitely two-dimensional enough for it -- "Orson Scott Cardboard" is admittedly juvenile name-calling, but it seems to fit here).

What I don't like is that Card keeps going on and on about how reasonable and fair-minded he is, and that he's a moderate railing against extremism on both sides, whereas it's pretty obvious that he's a right-wing conservative in denial; just because he doesn't buy into the entire traditional conservative package, or that he takes extremist positions from both sides, doesn't make him a moderate -- it just makes him a MINO: Moderate in Name Only.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

John Scalzi Killed Me

I'd known this was coming for some time, and I'd managed not to think about it, but I finally have to acknowledge my shocking, inescapable fate:

John Scalzi killed me.

Adding insult to homicide, he had my carcass butchered, essentially turning me into a pile of steaks.

All this (including a hinted-at love triangle) happens between pages 131 and 139 of the third book in his Colonial Union trilogy (as good a name for it as any), The Last Colony:

Me, engrossed in pages 131-139 of John Scalzi's The Last Colony

I finally got around to reading it (it came out spring of 2007) -- I'd started it over the weekend and just finished it now.

I'd known he was going to kill me (or at least a character who shared my name), and as a matter of fact, he had even asked me for permission before doing it. Which I of course granted gladly.

Why did he kill me? I guess you can say it's my own fault. I can even point to the exact date: July 11, 2006. In my capacity as AOL Journals Editor, I'd had the pleasure of working with Scalzi (one does not manage Scalzi -- one can only hope to contain him), a contract blogger for some Journals-related programming.

I'd made a joke about the opening sentence of his prior novel (second in the trilogy), The Ghost Brigades, and this was his way of responding. It's right there in the comments:
"That's it. I'm naming a character after you in the book I'm writing now. And then I'm going to have him eaten by nefarious aliens. Just you WAIT."
He also thanks me in the acknowledgments (page 319). Yay.

As to the book itself -- if I were the type of person to call something "a cracking good read," I would. Scalzi does have a tendency in his works to give his protagonists enormous influence in shaping events and outcomes, ultimately remolding the worlds (and even universes) in which they live. In the hands of a less-capable writer, it might drift into Mary Sue territory, but he makes it work.

Also, as other critics have noted, the subplot that kills me kind of vanishes after it occurs. To be fair, it's overtaken by larger plot elements, such as the looming extermination of the human race. Though, if I were less charitable and significantly more egocentric, I might think that John, spent after sating his bloodlust by killing me off, dropped it to move on to more interesting things.

(I can say this as an accomplished writer, myself. Though I tend towards essays and even shorter-form works [like captions and promo blurbs]. And I'm pretty weak in character development. And I have no experience trying to maintain a story arc or coherent plot. And I'm not so good at crafting realistic dialog. And I've never actually published anything. Nor tried to. But other than that I'm a fully qualified book critic.)

Anyway, if you want to see me get eviscerated and served up like a subprime cut of beef, go buy The Last Colony.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

William Gibson's Thing for Damaged Experts and Ninjas

It was apparently a weekend for wakeup dreams -- Saturday morning's jolted me awake at the precise moment when I'd realized that someone had burglarized my (dream) house -- an idealized version of my parents' house. (The dream's tipoffs: It was far too tidy and had a Miata in the garage.)

I attribute the dream to some It Takes a Thief reruns I saw on Discovery last week.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was 5am-ish, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I finished reading William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just borrowed and started.

I enjoy all of Gibson's works.* This one was a little unsettling because one of the protagonist arcs -- primarily Tito's -- doesn't reveal who the "good guys" are until very nearly the end. In fact, for a while it seems possible that Tito is helping terrorists set up a nuclear device or dirty bomb. It's that Le Carre novel-ish, morally ambiguous kind of thing.

Gibson's recurring themes are really prominent here. They include:

Mysterious, Wealthy, Oddly-Named String-Pulling Savants: Hubertus Bigend (also featured in Pattern Recognition) takes a more benign but essentially similar role to Cody Harwood in All Tomorrow's Parties and Josef Virek in Count Zero.

You can see the root of this in Neuromancer's Wintermute AI (though Julius Deane handles a bit of this in the early going).

Ninjas: While Neuromancer's Hideo is the only actual ninja (outside of the short stories), you can see the ninja qualities in the effortlessly efficient, ruthlessly competent others who dance elegantly through the world with catlike grace -- usually while killing people: Most notably, Molly (and the Panther Moderns) in the Sprawl Trilogy and Konrad the Taoist knifeman in ATP.

In Count Zero, Beauvoir represents part of this, though it's mostly Turner, a rougher, Westernized, more everyman version. Idoru's tomahawk-wielding ex-toecutter Blackwell is on the edge of this, as an even more brutal, not-quite-reformed-criminal variation. And I exclude Virtual Light's Loveless, as he's a bit too psychotic (and too easily beaten).

Alternately, in Spook Country's less fantastical world, we see the ninja manifest in Tito and his extended family of Russian-speaking Chinese Cuban spies, whose focus is espionage tradecraft, not assassination.

Damaged Experts: In Neuromancer, all the primary characters are damaged experts in some way -- Case, drug-addicted hacker; Armitage, insane Special Forces; Molly, ex-meat puppet assassin, though we can also see it to a lesser-extent in the supporting characters: Finn, agoraphobic fixer; Peter Riviera, speedball-addicted holographic artist; and Maelcum, ganja-addled space pilot.

However, the prime example in Neuromancer of the damaged expert is the Dixie Flatline ROM construct -- a dead man's expertise and personality hardwired into a cassette.

In Count Zero, the damaged experts are smaller roles (the Finn; Pye, the rarely-sober vet who sews up Bobby), until the appearance of Turner's reclusive backwoods tech genius brother Rudy), the brain-implanted Angie Mitchell, crazy space hacker Wigan Ludgate, the robotic boxmaking artist itself.

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, though we can see bits and pieces in other characters (AI guide Colin, hacker Tick, nurse Cherry), the primary role falls to Slick Henry, the memory-impaired robot builder, and his drug-abusing, former console cowboy patron Gentry. (Though the Finn has a cameo as a ROM personality construct playing oracle in a laser-armed, armored housing.)

It's been a while since I read the Bridge Trilogy books, but Virtual Light's Skinner sort of fulfills this role, though he's more of an oracle. We see damaged experts in Zona (and some of the other computer-dwelling otaku) in Idoru. And the prime example would be ATP's Silencio, the quasi-autistic boy, drawn out by his watch fixation, as well as Colin Laney, who's introduced with his nodal point fixation in Idoru, but who becomes truly damaged (and ultimately dies for his obsession) in ATP.

As to Pattern Recognition -- I'm not nearly as familiar with it as I am with the other books, though Hobbs Baranov, the former government cryptographer who provides information probably qualifies, as does brain-damaged Russian twin who is behind the footage (though she is also the mystery being solved).

In Spook Country, the damaged experts are very clearly Milgrim, the psychoactive drug-addicted translator of idiomatic Russian, and Bobby Chombo, the obsessive-reclusive GPS-hacker who doesn't sleep in the same square twice. (Art expert Odile Richard is not damaged -- she's just French.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about Gibson's tendencies towards the Nancy Drew aspect, as well as his peculiar manifestation of techno-fetishism.

*Note: I'm less familiar with his Bridge Trilogy and post-9/11 books (which presumable form the first 2 books of a trilogy to be named later) -- I couldn't even find my copies of Virtual Light and Idoru, which were at the bottom of a box until today. Why yes, I am procrastinating. Very badly.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Trying to Finish What I Started

While technically my NaBloPoMo quota was fulfilled yesterday, that was a timestamp technicality and I wanted to get at least one honest Wednesday post in. [Edit: Dammit. Missed it. I do the GMT timestamp kludge thing to show up properly in the DC Blogs Live feed. Oh well -- at least the Blogger FTP upload problems seem to be resolved.]

I couldn't get to sleep last night -- I blame a late day large coffee -- so I did some more reading. I started and finished Edenborn, the second book in a sci-fi trilogy by Nick Sagan.

To be honest, I wasn't really a big fan of the first one (Idlewild) -- books that start out using amnesia as a primary plot driver get hit with penalty points -- but I read it and it was okay, so I figured I might as well finish the trilogy.

At this point it's kind of like Kid Nation (I assume, never watched it), only the kids are all genetically engineered geniuses and everyone else on Earth is dead.

His depictions of the thoughts of the batshit crazy are also unsettling, although well done.

I finished it in a few hours, then I started in on an impulse borrow from the New Fiction section -- One Day on Mars, by Travis Taylor. I borrowed it on the strength of the breathless back cover blurbs, which pitched it as a Heinlein-esque hard science/military SF thrill ride, etc. etc.

I made it two chapters in -- 28 pages -- and honestly, I don't think I can finish it. Military/hard science is my preferred genre, but the writing is just awful. The dialogue is crushingly bad, and I lost count of the sci-fi cliches in just the first 10% of the book.

Look, I know I personally can't do dialogue or characters -- that's why I would be an essayist, if I could. But I don't know if I can even find it in me to skip ahead to the space and mecha battles. It's just bad.

I rarely abandon books (I may not start them for... years, but I don't abandon them), so this is pretty significant for me.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Recent Reading

Been doing a lot of reading recently (wonder why). Here are a few of the more recent items:

Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel: Eh, it was okay. Maybe I should have empathized more, since the protagonist lost his job, but I dunno. Didn't see that twist ending coming from a mile away. Nuh-uh.

We Were One, by Patrick O'Donnell: A pretty straight-ahead combat report from the Battle of Fallujah.

How I Became Stupid
, by Martin Page: Maybe it didn't translate well from the French, but it felt pretty flat. Yes, we know, shallow people are stupid and stupid people are happy.

The Sagan Diary, by John Scalzi: A quick read, basically a behind-the-eyes supplement to the other books in The Old Man's War universe (I still haven't read The Last Colony yet). I guess I'm more into your basic military and hard sci-fi. Not really my thing.

Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley: Set in the world of Thank You for Smoking, I liked it a lot, even though it's a bit ham-handed at times. The ending feels a little abrupt, too, but it's a good read -- I finished it in an afternoon.

In other book news, I saw from DCist that Bethanne Patrick is book-blogging for WETA. I know her from AOL, when she was blogging as AOL's Book Maven. Good on her.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Zombies vs. Bean Counters -- Guess Who Wins?

[The third in a series of entries looking at the modern zombie. See why zombies are the perfect enemy for our time and why you shouldn't try to overanalyze zombies -- like I'm going to do here.]

Crunching the Numbers on Zombie Cracking
For the bulk of World War Z, the world is in the throes of a full-fledged, Class 4 zombie apocalypse scenario, where zombies roam the Earth and humanity is under constant assault, hunkered down in a few safe zones. It's essentially a static siege situation.

Now, in the Max Brooks books, zombies freeze solid in the winter (though they thaw in the spring with no ill effects). Additionally, winters are harsher and longer, lasting 8 months out of the year due to a "nuclear autumn" effect, where soot and particulates from burning cities and limited nuclear exchanges block sunlight, causing global cooling. (Where "spring's like winter used to be," p. 320)

It's also established that inhabitants of besieged outposts wait for the zombies to freeze solid, then raid the surrounding areas for supplies to get them through the rest of the year. (p. 190)

Now, ex-infantryman Todd Wainio talks about the liberation of Detroit, where they faced a zombie "moat" of over 1 million zombies (also known by the nickname "Zack," a callback to Vietnam's "Charlie") surrounding the twin forts of Comerica Park and Ford Field (p. 321)

Here's the problem. You're surrounded by a million zombies (who have to pretty much be wall-to-wall: see below). Winter starts, and they freeze solid. So those people who aren't out foraging take their trusty crowbars and start cracking zombie skulls (example, p. 130). So the question then becomes:
How many zacks could a zack-cracker crack if a zack-cracker could crack zacks?
Let's start conservatively: 1 zombie per minute. (I'd originally gone with 2 per minute, but we'll take into account snow, fatigue, illness, travel time, etc. 1 skull cracked per minute is a good start.)

That's 60 zombies per hour. Assuming 8 hours of workable daylight, with rest periods and such, call it just 4 hours a day of actual crowbar-swinging time. That's 240 zombies per person, per day.

With zombies frozen 8 months out of the year, call zombie season 240 days out of the year.

That means, each individual frozen zombie skull-cracker could account for 57,600 zombies per year.

Which means that, in theory, 20 people dedicated solely to zombie-bashing (and not worrying about disposal, maintenance, or anything else) could crack over 1 million zombie-skulls in a single year.

Assuming the "forts" sheltered a few hundred people, there's still plenty of additional zombie-busting capacity if people can't get close to their theoretical maximums.

And that's just by hand.

For More Fun, Just Add Guns

The book also talks about the Battle of Hope (New Mexico) where the military, using massed lines of infantry and a one-shot, one-kill philosophy, fights and wins their first major engagement to retake zombie-occupied America (everything east of the Rockies) -- (p. 273, my favorite part of the book).

The soldiers line up shoulder-to-shoulder in two ranks for uninterrupted firing (one shoots while the other reloads), shooting at a rate of one shot per second in a deliberate attempt to keep a mechanical pace and "Out-G the G." (This is actually a nice David Hackworth reference, though for Hackworth, the G stood for guerrillas in Vietnam, not ghouls. As far as we know.)

Since Brooks' zombies are slow zombies, they'd be converging on the defensive position, slouching and shambling almost shoulder-to-shoulder. 1 primary/secondary shooter pair, killing one zombie per second, gives you 60 zombies per minute (assume just slightly less, since shooters have to switch position every 30 shots or whatever the magazine capacity is); or 3,600 zombies per hour. (In reality, no one could keep up that rate of fire for an extended time -- you'd burn out the barrel of your rifle.)

If you assume a constant rate of killing (at the Battle of Hope, the pace slows down as zombies start piling up), you just need 278 shooter-pair-hours to kill a massed bunch of 1,000,000 zombies. Which means that 556 shooters (and their supporting personnel) could theoretically pulp 1,000,000 zombies in an hour.

(The bloodiest human battles, like the Somme or Antietam, don't even begin to approach these numbers -- if you look at the number of killed, not wounded. Zombies always walk -- upright and slowly, they don't dodge, they don't take cover and they don't shoot back. However, they won't stop for anything but a headshot.)

The timeline extends since you have to allow plenty of time for the zombies to walk into firing range, which is a good thing, since you need to rotate shooters to give plenty of rest breaks and allow time to switch out weapons and replace barrels.

Basically, if the humans are able to pick their battle; if they're set up in a good, well-defended position; have enough supplies and enough backup shooters; and nobody panics, it's a foregone conclusion. (Oddly, in the Battle of Hope, they rely on firepower alone, with no barricades, elevated firing platforms, earthworks or trenches to slow down the zombies -- though eventually the massed zombie corpses form their own barricade. This would seem to ignore the lessons of the Battle of Yonkers, where insufficient or irrelevant force protection measures contributed to the debacle).

Wisely, the book also doesn't specify the size of either the human force or the number of zombies killed.

Back to Detroit -- the Summer Scenario (Also with Guns)
So we're back to the Siege of Detroit. It's the summer and there are a million zombies shambling around the streets. Think the Dawn of the Dead remake, where the mall is completely surrounded by a sea of zombies.

This is actually a little problematic -- looking at the satellite map, Comerica Park and Ford Field are in the middle of the city:

There's some open space, but it's not like, say, FedEx field, surrounded by parking lots:

Assuming each zombie requires about 3 square feet of standing room, that's 3 million square feet of zombie; it's a square about a third of a mile on a side, or about 69 acres total.

Anyway, forget that for now. As long as the defenses are good and the zombies can't get in, you can airdrop rifles, a crapload of ammo, and a Special Forces instructor to train shooters, then thin out the zombies at your leisure until winter comes and you can start cracking skulls.

At more realistic rates of fire -- a zombie headshot every 10 seconds, or 6 aimed shots a minute -- that's 360 zombies per hour, or 2,880 zombies per 8-hour day (again, we'll assume two-man teams -- one person shoots while the other rests and reloads), that's 347 shooter-pair-days to kill a million zombies.

If you figure Brooks's zombies are unfrozen 120 days out of the year, 4 shooter teams -- 8 shooters, plus support -- firing constantly, 8 hours a day, every day, could break the siege in a single year (as long as they could keep the ammo supply coming and rifles functioning).

(Also, 6 aimed shots per minute is extremely conservative, considering that a Civil War soldier with a muzzleloading black powder musket could fire 2-3 aimed shots a minute.)

Air Supply
As for the ammo required in the zombie shoot -- figure 30 lbs for a case of 1,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammo. A million rounds is 1,000 cases, or 30,000 lbs, well within the capacity of a C-130 Hercules. Making allowances for the weight of the different parachute delivery systems (I'm not an expert -- whatever would be appropriate for a small landing zone; low speed, low altitude would be okay -- it's not like zombies have anti-aircraft capability), you wouldn't need too many sorties, and the book establishes that the U.S. still has a most of its airlift capacity (p. 170).

It would seem to be an efficient way to help thin out the zombie population. After all, each zombie killed at a static defense spot is one less the army has to deal with, and that's why safe zones were left in occupied territory in the first place -- to serve as bait (p. 109).

So What's the Point of All This?
That's a very good question. Basically, it shows that, as enumerated in the book, once the situation stabilizes after the Great Panic, the zombie threat is best seen as a logistical problem -- an exercise in pest control.

Sure, you can rationalize it by saying that even my conservative zombie disposal numbers are too high, due to lack of ammo, too much snow, other factors (feral animals and people, disease, etc.) , etc. It's primarily a thought experiment -- one that shows that I've spent way too much time with what's my favorite book right now.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Economists Are Not Real People and Other Lessons From My Recent Reading

I just finished reading More Sex Is Safer Sex, by economist Steven Landsburg, and was reminded just why economists are not real people.

Actually, I may be painting with too broad of a brush, since Landsburg isn't just an economist, he's a libertarian economist, which means he's doubly nuts.

Now, in theory, aspects of libertarianism thinking should appeal to me -- I generally want to leave people alone, and be left alone.

However, like many economists and libertarians, he goes off the rails and into his own little libertarian economist-land where:

* People have perfect information
* People can accurately gauge the costs and benefits of their actions
* People act rationally based on that information
* Market prices truly reflect the value of things

Since I got a C in Econ (barely), I should probably stop here. I will just say that economists are not real people the same way that game theorists are not real people.

Other books I have read of fairly recent vintage (last 6 months or so):

* Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, David Zucchino: This book depressed me. Not because the startling strategic success of the invasion only serves to highlight the lack of post-invasion planning and incompetent implementation that's landed us in this fiasco now. Nor because of the loss of human life.

It depressed me mostly because the book prominently features captains and majors, all are my age or even younger, who have responsibility and leadership over hundreds or thousands of lives, whereas I can barely take care of my own.

* The Road, Cormac McCarthy: This one didn't depress me. Instead, I felt despair. And hunger. Maybe because I'm in year ten of my ongoing existential crisis, but the thought of an entire world that's gone so far bad that death is a welcome alternative... it just gets me.

Stylistically, the short and choppy fragments and phrases bothered me. I got used to it, but I can't say that I enjoyed that bit.

Oh, and I read it before it made Oprah's Book Club.

Other than that, there have been some zombie books (which I'll talk more about some other time).

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