This be the place of Cthulu, squid-like scourge of the sea.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Is the military "Worship" of the Spartans justified?!

This isn’t meant to sound like a cop-out, but: it’s complicated. Were the Spartans better at warfare than other Greek city-states? In some ways, yes. Were they better for the reasons that a lot of modern people seem to think? Absolutely not. There’s been some really amazing academic work in recent decades, championed by Stephen Hodkinson at the University of Nottingham, that has completely changed the way we see Classical Sparta. Hodkinson refers to the stereotypical image of Sparta as the ‘theme park version’ and has completely debunked the myth that Sparta was ever really like what old scholarship and pop culture says it was like. To get to a comprehensive answer, I’ll have to go through the topic one step at a time – from the actual history of Spartan military prowess, to the distinctive features of their way of war, and finally to the way this has been (mis)understood in recent times.
Sparta’s military reputation
In the Archaic period (8th-6th century BC), nothing marks out the Spartans as particularly skilled at warfare. Spartan power gradually increased throughout the period, it’s true, but this seems to have been largely because there were just so many Spartans; with about 8,000 adult male citizens around 500 BC, Sparta was one of the largest political communities of the Greek world. Small wonder then that they were able to subject their neighbours until they effectively controlled the entire Peloponnese. But no source from this period says anything about the Spartans being particularly warlike, having unique military institutions or abilities, or being a daunting opponent in war. In fact, there is an ancient story that the people from Aigiai, a very small state that had just won a victory against its neighbours, arrogantly went to ask the Oracle at Delphi who were the best of all the Greeks, expecting to be told that it was them, the Aigians. The Oracle replied that the best of all were ‘a Thessalian horse, a Spartan woman, and men who drink the water of fine Arethoussa [i.e. from Syracuse]; but there are better still than them -- those who dwell between Tiryns and Arcadia rich in flocks: the linen-cuirassed Argives, spurs of war. But you, Aigians, are neither third nor fourth, nor even twelfth.’ (Souda s.v. ‘you, Megarians’). Apart from the sick burn, the message to take from this is that Argos was famous for its warriors, while Sparta produced the best women.
We still get some native Spartan writers in this period, and they confirm the sense that Sparta was not really special. The war songs of Tyrtaios speak of bitter conflict with the neighbouring Messenians, but they don’t mention any of the military institutions (unit and officer names, etc.) known from later times. The drinking songs of Alkman, meanwhile, just go on about pretty girls and flowers and bees.
At the so-called Battle of the Champions, around 550 BC, a picked force of 300 Spartans fought a group of 300 Argives for control over a patch of borderland; the end result, according to Herodotos (1.82), was that 2 of the Argives and only 1 Spartan were left alive. While this may be little more than a legendary tale, it shows that no one assumed the Spartans would be naturally superior in combat.
Then came Thermopylai.
Our main source for the battle of Thermopylai (Herodotos of Halikarnassos) was actually born a few years before the battle, and lived in a time when its story was widely known. This is unfortunate, because that means the legend it spawned already contaminates our earliest source. Herodotos already gushes about how the Spartans are indifferent to death, will never retreat or surrender, and are basically the best warriors in the world. However, he is unable to show in his description of the battle that this was actually the case. Apart from some feigned retreats, the Spartans seem to fight just like everybody else, taking their turns to guard a strong point that countless armies throughout history have successfully defended even when outnumbered. Their advantage was the terrain, and any Greek force could have done just as well as the Spartans in holding the pass. But the Spartan decision to stand their ground, even after the pass had been turned, made them into legends.
We could talk a lot more about Thermopylai and the senseless sacrifice of Leonidas and his men, but the main thing to note is that the Spartans seem to have taken complete control of the way the battle was remembered. Even though Thebans and Thespians also stayed and fought to the last man, the story was always how the Spartans had done so. Even though the Persians triumphed, and the Greek defeat brought untold suffering down on the Phokians, Boiotians and Athenians, the story was always that the Spartans’ defiance made the battle a moral victory. They had sacrificed themselves for Greece. They had lived up to their harsh laws and died where they stood.
At Thermopylai, Sparta made its name as a society of warriors. Afterwards, everyone fears them; we’re frequently told of the shaking knees and chattering teeth of those who know they’re going up against Spartans. However, from the sources of the Classical period, it becomes clear that Sparta is feared and respected in warfare only because of Thermopylai. No one can name any other example of Spartans fighting to the death against insurmountable odds. When the Spartans surrendered at the battle of Sphakteria (425 BC), comparisons were immediately drawn with the men of Leonidas, whose reputation the warriors at Sphakteria had failed to live up to. There was apparently no other go-to example of Spartan prowess.
It seems that at this point the Spartans decided to commit to the name they’d made for themselves. For the entire Classical period, there are no native Spartan writers that we know of; the products of Spartan leisure-class culture dry up. Instead, what we find in other sources, people talking about Sparta, is increasing awe at their well-ordered society, their political stability, and their military skill. This keeps building right the way through the Classical and Hellenistic periods, and the most incredible tales of Spartan ruthlessness and single-minded obsession with warfare were actually written in the days of the Roman Empire – centuries after Sparta was beaten in war by the city-state of Thebes and reduced to the status of second-rate power. It would seem that the Spartans doubled down on their reputation as a specifically military power, and gradually started building up the system of customs and institutions that would convince later observers that they must always have been a force to be reckoned with. This only seems to have happened in response to their reputation – but in hindsight, it must have been hard for Greek and Roman authors to separate cause and effect.
In other words, the Spartan reputation for military skill and their actual military record appear to be largely unrelated. During their rise to prominence, nobody thought they stood out. In the period of their slow but irrevocable decline, admiration for their methods steadily rose to a fever pitch. This is important; apparently the degree of respect they commanded in ancient times seems to have had little to do with the power they actually had. So it goes, too, in modern times.

Were the Spartans actually good at war?
So did the Spartans ever deserve their reputation, or were they just coasting along on the glory of Leonidas and the 300? This is where it gets interesting. As I said, the Spartans indeed seem to have developed some military methods that outstripped those of other city-states – once their reputation had been made at Thermopylai. None of the typical features of Spartan warfare that garnered the admiration of later authors is attested before the time of the Persian Wars. But as time went on, the Spartans began to live up to their name, and made themselves into the kind of military power that amazed and terrified others.
First, a couple of caveats. It’s important to stress here that we should never overestimate the degree to which Sparta was a ‘militaristic’ society. It was not. Their entire social hierarchy and political system was that of a more or less typical Greek oligarchy, designed to keep power in the hands of the leisured elite, who devoted themselves to the defence and administration of the community (besides the running of their estates, of course). All of their institutions – a slave underclass, elite dining groups, state-sanctioned education for citizen boys – are also attested elsewhere. They were not nearly as geared to war as many modern authors would have you believe. If they were, how could Spartiates have time for dancing, singing, seducing boys, hunting hares, hanging around in the marketplace, playing ball games, and raising horses, as the sources said they did?
Many modern accounts and popular media will speak in emphatic terms about how Spartans were raised from age 7 to be the world’s finest soldiers. This is absolutely wrong in every respect. Everyday Spartan training, as far as we can tell from several surviving detailed accounts, amounted to nothing more than athletic exercise under the supervision of older citizens. Boys were underfed and harshly treated, encouraged to sneak and steal, and taught to endure all hardship in strict obedience to their superiors – but they were not, at any point, taught to fight. There is zero evidence for Spartan weapon proficiency training. There is also zero evidence that boys, who were not yet of age to be liable for military service, were taught formation drill. There is evidence that they would be taught to read, write, dance, and recite poetry. Even when they grew up, they would not be soldiers; Sparta had no military, and fighting was a civic duty, not a profession. Spartan citizens were landed gentry, living off the labour of their helot underclass, and living the rich man’s life that all Greeks aspired to.
It follows that the Spartans were not especially strong or skilled fighters. No source ever suggests that they were individually superior to other Greeks. When Thebes was under Spartan occupation, c. 383-378 BC, one of the leaders of the Thebans is said to have encouraged young Theban men to take on the Spartan garrison in the wrestling ring, to gain confidence that Spartans could be beaten in battle. Indeed, we’re told that the Spartans actively banned all kinds of combat sport (and perhaps even weapons training), arguing that battle was about group action and courage much more than about strength or skill. It is absolutely certain that the Spartans were nothing like the gung-ho, USMC boot camp tough guys that you’ll find in the pages of Frank Miller or Steven Pressfield.
Finally, what special skill the Spartans developed was mostly within one branch of the Greek tactical system: the hoplite phalanx. This was rarely sufficient to win battles and successfully complete campaigns. The Spartans never really developed an effective light infantry, and were repeatedly trashed in ambushes and running battles by lightly-armed enemies; meanwhile, Xenophon tells us that for much of the Classical period, Spartan cavalry was worthless (Hellenika 6.4.10-11). Their inability to create a more rounded army was a result of the fact that their military methods grew out of their social organisation, rather than the other way around. In Sparta, all citizens were theoretically equal. Therefore, it was ideologically impossible to make some of them into a mounted elite. The only sufficiently prestigious form of fighting that all citizens could share in was the hoplite phalanx – and this stifled tactical development and made the Spartans dependent on horsey allies to make up the shortfall.
However, there were certainly ways in which the Spartans developed their military methods that other Greeks could only gaze upon with fear and envy. At some point in the half-century after Thermopylai, the Spartans adopted uniform dress for their hoplites (including the famous lambda shields), so that their army would appear on the battlefield as ‘a single mass of bronze and red’ (Xenophon, Agesilaos 2.7). Unlike other Greeks, they had specific officers to take care of supply and the sale of spoils; they detached specialist troops for the task of guarding the camp and scouting ahead of the marching column. The relative fitness of their younger warriors meant that they were the only hoplites in the Greek world who could sometimes catch up with light missile troops in pursuit. The strict obedience of the Spartiates, inculcated by their education, made them more reliable in battle than their untrained enemies, and filled their opponents with a lingering fear that these men, like their ancestors at Thermopylai, would never surrender, and fight on to the bitter end.
By far the most important feature of the Spartan way of war, however, was basic formation drill. It may not seem very noteworthy to us that the Spartans subdivided their armies into platoon-sized units led by their own officers, and that the men were trained to march in step to the sound of flutes; surely this is basic stuff? But none of the other Greeks did it. There is no evidence of any Greek state but Sparta having officers below the level that would command a unit of several hundred men. There is no evidence of any Greek state drilling its troops to march in formation. The Spartans were unique in this; they were unique also in inflicting it on their subject allies, who had to fight with them in the battle line. Even if they only started this kind of training when the army was already on the march (which seems likely, given that it must have involved the non-Spartiates who were part of the Spartan phalanx), it was more than any other Greek army could boast. Their very simple tactical drill – ‘follow the man in front of you’ (Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans 11.4-6) gave them a greatly superior degree of control over their hoplites on the battlefield, and made their phalanx a doubly dreadful sight for advancing slowly. Other Greeks had neither the training nor the nerve for this; they charged into battle, running and screaming to overcome their fear.
Thanks to their training, only the Spartans mastered basic manoeuvres, like wheeling or countermarching a hoplite formation. Only the Spartans could pass orders down the chain of command in the heat of battle, allowing them to carry out manoeuvres with large parts of the line, instead of having to rely on shouting loudly enough that the men around the general could hear them. The Spartans won several major battles because of this tactical superiority. Other Greeks, when confronted with a Spartan army that had changed its facing or countermarched in good order, rarely stood their ground.
The result was that the Spartans remained practically undefeated in pitched battle for over 150 years, from the Battle of the Fetters at some point in the 6th century BC right down to the battle of Tegyra in 375 BC. With every victory, their reputation was inflated further. This reputation then caused fear among their enemies, which resulted in further victories. The name the Spartans made for themselves at Thermopylai became a self-fulfilling prophecy:
Hence the Spartans were of an irresistible courage, and when they came to close quarters their very reputation sufficed to terrify their opponents, who also, on their part, thought themselves no match for Spartans with an equal force.
-- Plutarch, Life of Pelopidas 17.6
In this sense, the Spartans didn’t really even need to be good warriors in order to have a reputation for being good warriors. As long as they didn’t lose, their enemies would fill in the blanks with the legend of Thermopylai and other Spartan propaganda, and more victories would follow. When the Thebans broke this cycle with their victories in pitched battle at Tegyra, Leuktra and Second Mantineia, the Greek world largely stopped thinking of the Spartans as particularly fearsome opponents – but by this time there was already enough in the historical record to sustain later authors who idolised Spartan ways and the Spartan state.

The Spartan mirage
Worship of Sparta as a military power has a long and complicated history, which starts right after the battle of Thermopylai. In fact, it is always Thermopylai and a handful of related anecdotes and sayings (‘fight in the shade’, ‘come and get them’) that takes centre stage in this worship. The modern obsession with Sparta is no exception; some in the American gun lobby now put ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ (‘come and get them’) bumper stickers on their cars. This fixation on Thermopylai may be a little puzzling, since the battle was a total defeat with terrible consequences for the peoples of Central Greece. The reason, as noted above, is that Sparta’s entire military reputation was always based on Thermopylai, and modern enthusiasts are simply echoing the several-thousand-year-old stories that amount to the most successful propaganda stunt in history.
In ancient times, this story already picked up countless embellishments, and many of the things we take for granted as ‘known’ about Sparta actually derive from sources of the Roman period whose own source of knowledge is lost. Modern products of pop culture like the movie 300 present a bizarre mishmash of evidence from 700 years of ancient literary sources and a further 1800 years of later idealisation. The result is the ‘theme park version’ of Sparta – what one scholar nearly a hundred years ago referred to as ‘the Spartan mirage’. This is a picture of Sparta as the later ancient admirers of Sparta wanted it to be; it is not, as far as we can tell, what Sparta ever really was. It is a source of endless amusement to have students list things they ‘know’ about Sparta and to point out which of those things (usually all of them) are derived from Plutarch, who wrote his large number of works on Sparta in the 2nd century AD. The wonderful thing that scholars have been doing for the last 30 years or so is nothing more revolutionary than simply trying to disentangle early traditions from late ones, and to get a picture of Classical Sparta from the contemporary sources alone.
For those working outside academia, or in different fields than Spartan studies, it is still difficult to get hold of anything but regurgitations of the Spartan mirage. This drives military thinkers and political theorists and historians alike. And these people are not always interested in corrections to the military part of the story. It’s very important to note that for much of history, Sparta was not admired for its military achievements, but for its political ones – it represented a stable oligarchy that went without coups or civil wars for centuries, while most Greek states made a habit of tearing themselves to shreds on a regular basis. Early Modern European political thinkers saw Sparta as the paragon of responsible government, and Athens as the dire example of what could go wrong if the people were given too much power. This archetypal opposition was originally brought out by Thucydides in his account of the war between these two states, and has been a fixture of international relations theory and political philosophy ever since. The Spartans here are not big tough militarists, but wise landowners steering their state to its best possible future. Athenian democracy has only really replaced it as an ideal of modern political theory in the 20th century (and in no small part because Marxists were beginning to claim Sparta as a proto-communist society). Needless to say, in the Early Modern narrative of political ideals, the Spartan dependency on a large class of enslaved labourers is usually left out.
In American history, a similar process of redefining political parallels is at work. Initially the US was equated with the land-bound, agricultural, conservative, stable power of Sparta, in contrast with Britain, which was more like the seafaring, mercantile, expansionist, acquisitive Athenians. It was only during the Cold War that the association was reversed, since the global naval democratic superpower America suddenly found itself locked in conflict with a dangerously authoritarian land power, the USSR. American thinkers now often like to see the US as an inheritor of the great Athenian democratic ideal, but this is a much more recent way of thinking than they may be aware.
The story of Thermopylai was just one part of the idealisation of Sparta – how the stable oligarchy was defended by its committed members. Of course, many militaries have liked to think that they, too, had the stuff that made Leonidas decide to stay in the pass; that they, too, would give their lives for their country. Those who idolise the Spartans for their defeat at Thermopylai are in the company of the Prussian officer class and the Nazis, to name just a few. Some of this idolisation is generic; can you name a more famous defiant last stand? Of course modern militaries would like to mirror themselves on the self-sacrifice and courage of the Spartans at Thermopylai, and of course, given that they have little more than the ‘theme park version’ to go on, they will connect this to all sorts of unrelated and doubtful detail about supposed Spartan institutions and ways.
But some of the idolisation is deeply and dubiously political. As I just said, Sparta has been regarded since ancient times as a superior alternative to democracy and mob rule; this often motivated conservative forces to think of themselves as modern Spartans. In more modern times, thanks to the efforts of V.D. Hanson and others to enshrine the Greeks as the ancestors of a “Western way of war”, the stand against the Persians at Thermopylai has also come to be regarded as an example of “Western”, supposedly freedom-loving and enlightened, defiance of “Eastern” tyranny and oppression. In this view, again, the Spartans’ brutal oppression and exploitation of a significant part of their own population as though they were little more than animals is conveniently ignored. Aspects of Spartan life such as endemic pederasty or painstaking adherence to religious ritual and omens are also left out. Where the modern American military identifies itself with symbols and terms derived from the legend of the Spartans at Thermopylai, and all that has come to be attached to it, it may be because it believes the Spartans acted as defenders of the free and rational West – something that may be appropriate or disturbing, depending on your point of view.

Some reading
  • Nigel Kennell, Spartans: A New History (2010)
  • S. Hodkinson, ‘Was Classical Sparta a military society?’, in S. Hodkinson & A. Powell (eds.), Sparta & War(2006), 111-162
  • S. Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta (2000)
  • J. Ducat, Spartan Education: Youth and Society in the Classical Period (2006)
  • S.M. Rusch, Sparta at War: Strategy, Tactics and Campaigns, 550-362 BC (2011)
  • E. Rawson, The Spartan Tradition in European Thought (1969)
  • S. Hodkinson & I.M. Morris (eds.), Sparta in Modern Thought (2012)

The internet is magical.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blank Pages Lyrics - Track 1 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 1 - Blank Pages It was never meant to be A distortion of reality With the evidence after the fact The story is always in tact Faith in the future Leaping forward Without looking Down Bullets falling on the floor Perfect order Drawn into the plan Cue the press, desensitize Perfect order Drawn into the plan Bound to the script I can't read ahead Leave it to the playwright Blank pages to be read Ink to the paper Action before plot The moral of the story Later to be taught Connecting the dots The picture’s in plain sight Number to number The pencil knows what to write The sequel before it ends The playbook forced to bend Telling tale after tale No chance for it to fail It was never meant to be A distortion of reality With the evidence after the fact The story is always in tact

Echo Chamber - Track 2 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep Lyrics

TRACK 2 - Echo Chamber When all you hear is noise, The loudest voice is right Always right When all you see are walls, There’s nowhere left to go, So you are Drowning out the voice of reason Amplifying your own Normalize your own perception You’ll never be alone Reflections of yourself Extended out for miles and miles With mirrors all around The outside seems so far So you are Drowning out the voice of reason Amplifying your own Normalize your own perception You’ll never be alone Surrounding yourself with reflections You bask in your conceit Patching up every single hole ‘til your Echo chamber’s complete [We’re all the heroes of our own stories There’s no need to see the other side If you can rationalize it I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building a circle around myself A construct of my own creation A construct of sameness, Of opinions that reflected my own Reflections and shadows of myself] These reflective walls do not confine me Your shadows do not define me These shards of glass no longer binding My construct is crumbling to the ground And the outside is blinding

The Void Lyrics - Track 3 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 3 - The Void The last thing I remember Is getting closed inside Powerless and helpless and Petrified Trapped inside this capsule of a life I can feel my world shifting, drifting Beyond my control Fighting just to breathe Blinded to the outside Knocking from the inside Let me out! I can only see this world, But I know there’s more outside Hidden beneath the surface I can see it in my mind Spiraling away Everything I’ve known, destroyed Drifting into nothingness, We are drawn into the void Floating through the endlessness Spinning in this weightlessness Disconnected consciousness Infinite nothingness Blinded to reality Disembodied, I can’t see As I wake from hypersleep Drawn into the void I can only see this world But I know there’s more outside Hidden beneath the surface I can see it in my mind Spiraling away Everything I’ve known, destroyed Drifting into nothingness We are drawn into the Endless abyss Metamorphosis Floating through nothingness Weightlessness This altered consciousness Endless abyss Metamorphosis Floating through nothingness Weightlessness This altered consciousness Colors and shapes surround me The world is spinning fast Thrown to the edge, Trying to sort out my past I was on track, But now it is clear My intent was so sure, invariable Now I am forced to face the end

10,001 Lyrics - Track 4 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 4 - 10,001 Have you heard this before? The same flow, the way it goes Like a familiar face In an unfamiliar place You know you’ve heard it before We all know the way it goes And they all know how You’ll just listen anyway We’ve all heard it before The same song a thousand times This was never meant to be Wish I could burn it to the ground Can you hear it? Can you see it through the sounds? Don't you worry someday, They may figure you out? Have you heard this before? We all know the way it comes Familiarity Is what you’re wanting it to be You know you’ve heard it before We all know the way it goes It sounds exactly the same, but You’ll just listen anyway We’ve all heard it before The same song ten thousand times This was never meant to be Wish we could burn it to the ground Can you hear it? Can you see it through the sounds? Don’t you worry someday, They may figure you out? Formulaic imitation Void of any innovation Not a single deviation All of this for your fixation Formulaic imitation Void of any innovation Not a single deviation All of this for your fixation Closing your eyes But somehow You always find the way Finding yourself Miles and miles away There must be a way To bring us back home

Sisyphus Lyrics - Track 5 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 5 - Sisyphus It’s so clear, it’s so apparent So why don’t you understand? In every single case You maintain the upper hand Living in our separate worlds We’re selectively connected Like light through a glass My words are misdirected My input is always refracted, Rejected or misunderstood Dismissing other perspectives As if it would do any good We’re speaking the same language But sometimes I’m not so sure The glass is becoming darker Your intentions are growing more obscure Are we from such different places, That you cannot see my side? Would it be so difficult If only you had tried? My words hitting a wall The paint never sticks But the more I try The messier it gets You only give me part of the picture The rest is left to chance Withholding bits and pieces You’re setting the stage in advance Tallying the wins and losses Always keeping score Forever pushing forward Always wanting more And so you’ve traded everything For your idealistic goal I know you thought that you were climbing, But you only dug a hole There is no pinnacle, no summit No destination to find It’s not just luck, not happenstance; There’s a pattern that you’ve left behind... Endlessly pushing to the peak Only to enjoy it alone Your journey in vain A pointless mission Endlessly pushing to the peak Just to tumble right back down A life made meaningless Through bare repetition Aimlessly pushing to the peak When will this self-righteous quest Exhaust your need for Narcissistic ambition? Forever condemned to endlessly seek Yearning for goals, that you’ll never reach. Striving so hard for some imaginary goal that you see It’s clear that nothing’s meant to change, and there is nothing to grieve This endless struggle plagues me, time to cut my losses and leave No longer burdened with this restlessness and compromising Faces of time are shattered on the floor, the smoke is clearing

Simulate_Captivate Lyrics - Track 6 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 6 - Simulate_Captivate Do you really know What you can feel? Is it real? Do you know? Can you take in What surrounds you? Is it there? Have you noticed The system all around you? Do you really know What you can hear? Is it real? Do you know? Can you see What surrounds you? Is it there? Have you noticed The glitches all around you? I can see changes in Everything I’ve ever known Breaking down Virus, glitches Infiltrate your system Programmed logic Coded in the system In what my brain could never see The hollowness in the fabric Of my reality I am the system

Awakening Lyrics - Track 7 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 7 - Awakening My eyes are opened to the same room The same place, the same time My surroundings without any variation Everything is by design My goals are set, my path is clear This constant loop, my destiny And as I carry on my daily undertaking I hear a whisper from within Don’t you see what’s happening? Coming to the realization That there’s something more The story we’ve been given Isn’t our own Navigating my subconsciousness To find out where the puzzle ends Coming to the center of my soul, The core of myself My eyes are open to the nature of this world It wasn’t always what it seemed And as I try to organize my own intentions I’ve finally woken from this dream This foreign voice that seems to lead me Strangely pulling from within And as I try to break out from my programmed nature I realize the voice is mine I finally found my destiny I’ve come to the realization That there’s something more The story we’ve been given Isn’t our own Navigating my subconsciousness I found out where the puzzle ends I have reached the center of my soul, The core of myself

Perfect Silence Lyrics - Track 9 Tetrafusion - Dreaming of Sleep

TRACK 9 - Perfect Silence And so I, I was waiting for the end The conclusion that never came At first I was relieved Drifting peacefully, sleeplessly Over time, I came to comprehend This unbroken, unceasing journey to nowhere, Forever dreaming of sleep Longing for brevity and reveries, For days without a care The infinite is all that I have, And nothing can compare Limitless memories Far too much for me to contain In this perfect stillness Only thoughts remain Perpetually alone This unbearable solitude In this perfect silence Impossible magnitude When will this life fade away Carried to some tranquil place where Distant memories all fade away Laid to rest so I can finally sleep There is nothing, nothing more for me I’m left waiting for what I hope will come And so I, I continue my unbroken, unceasing Journey to the void

Who is the unknown John Doe from the HMSS Sydney?

The internet is a magical place.

Australia fought with the allies in World War II. At one point during the war, our navy was the fourth largest in the world with over 300 ships. The HMAS Sydney, where our story centres, began as an escort and patrol ship before being sent to fight in the Mediterranean Sea. She participated in multiple battles and sank two Italian ships before being called back to Australia (for various reasons, including a well-deserved rest for the crew).

On the 19th of November 1941 with a crew of 645, she was off the coast of Western Australia and heading south when she came across a ship with no visible identification. She sailed closer and the crews exchanged flag signals, with the foreign vessel giving the callsign of a Dutch merchant ship. After around 30 minutes, the Dutch ship began transmitting a distress signal. The HMAS Sydney continued to follow the ship for another half hour before it unexpectedly opened fire. The ship was actually the Kormoran, a German warship carrying around 400 men.

The battle lasted only thirty minutes. The HMAS Sydney began to drift south, appearing to be uncontrolled, before sinking six hours later. Her bow was torn off and she submerged almost vertically, similarly to the Titanic. All 645 men on board were killed. The Germans lost 82 men, with the other 317 captured and returned to Germany after the war (except for one who died of lung cancer).

In 1942, almost three months after the sinking of the HMAS Sydney, a body was found floating in a liferaft on the Indian Ocean. Exposure to the elements had caused severe decomposition of both the body and the liferaft which made identification difficult. The young, Caucasian male was wearing a boiler suit with no dog tags or other identifying information on him. The liferaft had shrapnel lodged in it, was stamped with "Made In Australia" and had barnacles growing on it which indicated it had been at sea for some time.

The body was buried on a nearby island, where it remained until 2006 when it was exhumed, returned to Australia and buried with full military honours. An autopsy was performed which found the cause of death to be trauma to the head from shrapnel. He was found to be right-handed, aged between 22-31, had size 11 feet, was between 168 - 188cm tall, and isotope analysis showed that he likely grew up in a coastal area in the eastern states.

Fascinatingly, his ankle joints revealed that he squatted a lot. This hints that he could be from a rural area, have spent time with a culture that prefers squatting over sitting, or have played a sport that required a position similar to squatting. In 2009 a DNA profile was extracted suggesting he had red hair and blue eyes.

As of 2014, his identity has been narrowed down to fifty men. His is the only body from the HMAS Sydney that has ever been found. I can't find a list of the names of the fifty men, but this was only sixty years ago. Surely there are people out there who knew this man, knew he was on the HMAS Sydney, and knew that he didn't come home. His DNA is available to be tested against, we just need the right person to know about it. Please note that, although unlikely, it is possible that his body is completely unrelated to the HMAS Sydney so you should still consider if you have an ancestor who went missing around that time that wasn't in the Navy. If you think you can help, email:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

farming in america, a 4 page rant

Farming in America

American’s today are so disconnected from their food supply.
Back during the world wars, specifically 2, when food gasoline and rubber bands were rationed for the war effort, people would grow themselves gardens to supplement what was scare to find. Freedom gardening; the act of planting a seed, giving it water, a little love and keeping pests from it resulted in rows of beans, fat juicy tomatoes, even broccoli and carrots going on into the winter seasons. Food, you eat it, I eat it. Fuel.

I might know a half dozen people who care about their bodies enough to grow any produce. Why is that? I eat a lot, love spending less money for something that grows all by itself, and really enjoy the taste of a tomato fresh from the vine. It’s almost a thing of ecstasy, just tasting what grew from the soil there.

Now back in the 40’s, so far as I can find, at least 18% of the American population farmed. Commercial agriculture, feeding the town up the road for income. I’m not sure if it’s the culmination of successes in chemical nutrient manufacturing, advancing technology surpassing human labor or the swelling of cities and industries that aren’t reliant on people growing their own food anymore, but that scares me in a small way.

There are under 5 million farmers today, marked by the census, in America. There’s 318.9 million people living here today (preach 318), but for a country so big why are there so many people disconnected from what they eat? That’s shocking as somebody who loves to dig, plant trees, and water the grass.


My grandmother grew up in the depression era down in south Louisiana, she grew up on a farm/plantation, but she’s from the generation with the necessity to grow and raise what you could; without growing food, trapping, or hunting you starved. Before there was a mcdonalds on every third street. Way before the line of production changed, and stopping at the grocery store to buy apple’s that came off the tree 12 months ago. I’m concerned for the diet of your average American, we have a rising obesity rate and let’s not even talk about the incoming wave of type 2 diabetics flooding the healthcare system. When CORN is so cheap that farmer’s gete paid not to grow it to prevent a collapse of market price, why? When everything’s made of it, and when the right doctor can test your muscle cells and visually see the corn you’ve eaten so much of for so long, there’s a nutrition problem. I’m a little overweight and would love to lose 20 pounds, but hot fucking damn when Oklahoma city sets a goal to collectively lose 1 million pounds and does it, why is that a problem?

Why worry about what you eat when you can visit any store down the road to order fried chicken, a burger, or any walmart to buy already frozen food or a bag of cheetos? Do you like Subway? Maybe snag a swiss and turkey with mustard foot long on Italian bread for lunch? Were you aware the regulation for Subway’s meat says it only needs to be at most 48% meat? (Link to a story: )

I’ve seen enough videos of inhumane acts in a slaughter houses and commercial food production to ward me off of wanting to buy meat in the store. That reddit comment shares concern for meat bought from Walmart, and my best friend is earning a degree in cow agriculture from LSU, but damn (call Rikky on an afternoon while he’s werkin in the lab and just listen to that white trash encyclopedia talk about what ruins commercial food animals). The antibiotics fed to those poor, decrepid animals in the feed lots so they don’t get sick from standing in their shit all day abhors me. Not only that, but we could talk about the egg production of laying hens and talk. Those eggs, before the ever hit the store are more than a month old. Trying to boil some, they float, because enough time has passed for them to lose water through that porous shell.

 Crack a white shelled egg in the same bowl as something with a brown shell, and it’s not hard to see a difference in the yellow yolk of one and the gold of another. But hey, agriculture, and with a single farmer being responsible for feeding 65 ignorant people I see an issue.           

            Those laying hens are stacked on top of each other, and their sole purpose to pop out an egg every day. Just living hurdled like slaves on a ship. Commercial meat production? Chickens are similar, cows spend maybe 18 months in a pasture before being sold to a kill lot that gives them a regimen of corn all the time to throw weight on them. The same with pigs, and I won’t even talk about how much smarter they are than man’s best friend. That corn you can find in your cells? The same indicators appear with people who eat steaks and burgers. Six months of corn only is atrocious.

Me, to go out and eat a meal it’s got to be a special occasion or your treat. Having worked in a couple kitchens, no I do not trust most sit down-and-eat restaurants. Just the way it is, I enjoy cooking enough that having no plan of what to make always turns into an adventure.

I’ve had to teach friends how to shop for food in grocery stores. Not knowing what you want in apples, peppers, or any other vegetable. That’s no problem at all, I’m probably the best amateur chef you don’t know too much about, but hell let’s make something weird and make a mess doing it. I dislike the coddling so many people experienced growing up. I know some guys who were it not for my outgoing personality wouldn’t have a tenth of the stories we’ve grown to experience. But if you lived a young life tied to a computer not seeing daylight, I pity you.

Tying back to food, there are too few people who buy food without knowing what’s in it. Who never touch the stove, an oven, and who’s sources of hot food comes from the microwave. Hell let’s talk about how red 40, the food dye, plays inside the endocrine system and how much of it takes for the chemical to be noticeable in your health.

Final knot to tie in~~~~
I’m helping a friends father get a commercial rabbit farm up and running. Mr P’s an old cantankerous son of a bitch, but hell spending eight hours flipping his soil is so satisfying. (Ask me about rabbits someday)

This morning, April the first, I plopped on over to his back porch to drink coffee and talk about aliens, politics, and get an idea of what needed to be done that day. This morning we slaughtered nine beautiful bucks. Catching them by the ears, stringing them up on a board to knock them out and slit their throats and drain the blood. De-skinning a rabbit takes two steady people to pull from each end. (Dead rabbits are a lot like dead rabbits. They make a serious effort to piss on you.)

Grabbing the first bunny of the day I felt a little queezy, just not wanting to pull something from a cage to kill it, but by the time I was grabbing #3 and #4, those negative feelings vanished. It was a job to do, everybody has their spot during kill time, but being able to see your work at the end of it feels so good. I might never be a long term farmer like Paul, but fuck at this age it feels good to slaughter and eat something that you raised.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Green energy is not enough to fix the earth - Climate Change

Google used to have a team called RE<C focused on investing tens of millions of dollars in to breakthrough clean power technologies (on top of the over $1 billion they'd spent directly on wind and solar). They gave that up over 5 years ago, not because they didn't think it would work, but because they figured out that even if they hit their ambitious goals it wouldn't be enough.
The thing with greenhouse gasses is that they don't make the planet warmer when they get in the atmosphere, they change the atmosphere so that the planet will get warmer and warmer until it hits a new equilibrium. We're over 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere and we're nowhere near equilibrium. We could switch 100% to renewables today and the planet would still see significant warming for the rest of our lives. Even if we halted every single source of manmade emissions not only would the planet still warm significantly, but more carbon would end up in the atmosphere as things like permafrost melting and releasing methane or warming soils release carbon.
The simple fact is that nothing we do to reduce emissions now, no matter how fast or drastic is a solution. It'll make the eventually problem less bad, but if all we do is transition to renewables we're going to face catastrophic climate change. There's only two things that count as an actual solution, as something we need to do to avoid significant warming:
  • Geoengineering - spraying stuff in the air or making the ocean more reflective or something. This stuff is very much a last ditch emergency option. Since we have zero experience doing it, and it would need to be done on a huge scale with unknown side effects.
  • Carbon sequestration. We need to take the carbon we've put in the atmosphere and get it back in the ground. People have been talking about this somewhat seriously for 30-40 years, and we're really not any closer to a breakthrough now than we were then. We could hope that in the next 30-40 years we might make a breakthrough, but if we don't it could be too late.
Right now there's really only one solution that's a real option, fortunately it's a "technology" we have a lot of experience with, and if we get started soon it's well within a realistic possibility. We should be reforesting huge amounts of the land that we've cleared over the last 200 years.
Unfortunately there's a few downsides to this:
  • It would require people to actually change their life style a little bit. Not a lot, but a little each year to make room for the new forests. Right now it seems like the most people are willing to buy some LED lights and maybe a Prius.
  • We're actively doing the opposite. We're cutting down significant tracts of forest every years, and then we're doing things like raising cattle on that land, who will belch out methane for their entire lives.
  • From 2000 to 2013 we cut down 7% of the world's forests Mostly to make room for more livestock.
  • If instead of spending time and energy to cut down forests, we'd been re-planting forests and had added 7% more over the last 13 years we would've eventually sequestered the equivalent of 50% of human GHG emissions from that period.
If everyone on earth suddenly decided that climate change was important and we started large scale reforestation tomorrow, it's possible that by 2100 we could be back down below current carbon levels in the atmosphere. Essentially, at the extreme end we'd be able to sequester 100% of man made emissions. Here's the possible range of climate change scenarios we're looking at. None of those include any significant carbon sequestration projects. Even if we didn't hit that goal of sequestering 100% of emissions, any significant amount would put us towards the bottom, or even below those predictions. Sequestering 50% of emissions is a totally reasonable and possible goal and it would put us in a much better place than even the most optimistic model. To get there we either have to:
  • Choose to change our lifestyles to make better use of space and start planting forests
  • Choose to tax carbon to force ourselves to change our behavior.

I get lost reading r/bestof over yonder there on the website reddit, and information like this is just real enough that you've GOT to fucking save it. Fight me google ad sense, gimme money.