Cheeseburger Gothic

Extract. Immolation. Jason Lambright

Posted May 11 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Battle Shock

December 2345 Earth Standard, planet H-476, 49.4 days after landfall

Sons of the mothers who gave you
Honor and gift of birth
Strike with the knife till blood and life
Run out upon the earth.

—Robert Leckie, “The Battle of the Tenaru, August 21, 1942”


Lt. Col. Paul Thompson was making a dying world die faster. His soldiers, Third Battalion of the 405th Infantry Regiment, were assaulting the Harpies’ last holdout on the world the human forces had labeled H-476. The unlovely, devastated planet lay deep in the Harpies’ sector of settled worlds. Humanity was making good its threat to destroy the aliens’ civilization; millions of soldiers were fighting on dozens of worlds to tear out the Harpies, root and branch.

It was an ugly, squalid, deadly affair, and Paul had been recalled from retirement to participate. And here he was, driving his soldiers forward into the bowels of Aerie 325. His Bravo Company was currently the “main effort,” and as Paul watched his stats on his helmet’s visual display, the people assigned to his unit were dropping like flies.

Paul was doing his best to save his soldiers. But when a soldier’s unit was picked to be in the vanguard of an attack on a heavily defended structure, there is only so much one soldier can do. And Paul had done everything in his power for his people. He had trained his soldiers, he led from the front during forty-nine days of combat, and he had used up his assigned Punishment Battalion.

The partial body at his feet attested to that fact. Paul glanced downward and noted the corpse was shrouded in a prewar M-15 armored suit. Only the damned in the Punishment formations used those things these days. Paul and his troops were in the new M-42s.

A few of the original six hundred or so convicts were still alive; they had done their one task well. They had been driven pell-mell at the aerie with area-denial bots at their backs and shaped charges in their hands. When they opened a breach in the aerie’s walls with their sacrifice, Paul’s battalion had been right behind them.

And now here he stood, in the basement of the aerie with bat-like mounds of Harpy dead and fragments of his people. His newly promoted staff surrounded him, and they all were laboring to bring this slaughter about. His line companies were pushing upward, clambering up walls, fighting along arches and ramps, and killing everything that moved. Progress was slow, but it was steady and grim.

Paul knew that once his battalion reached Command’s chosen figure of 50 percent casualties that they would be withdrawn, and First Battalion of the 405th would take his place. But that was no comfort to him at all. It meant that precisely 325 of his people had to die before this nightmare would be over.

That meant 325 families who would have to be notified that their dear one had suffered a “hero’s death” near a star not even visible from Earth.

Having been through the process before, Paul almost wished he would die here before having to do that again.

A flying Harpy crashed to ruin by Paul’s feet. Without a thought, Paul shot the creature with his pistol. Just to make sure, he shot it again. The sounds of battle, muffled by his helmet, droned in his ears. The rattle of an auto, the grating zing of a rail gun, the explosion of a round hitting rock, the clang of a suit blasted to ruin—these sounds were his intimate companions, and they were burned into his soul like a brand.

His wearable connectivity device, his halo, crackled. John Stevenson, his Bravo Six, was about to speak. “Dragon Six, this is Bravo Six,” Stevenson said.

Paul was Dragon Six, the commander of a battalion nicknamed the “Dragons.” How original, Paul thought for the umpteenth time. He replied to Stevenson.

“Send it, Bravo Six.”

“Uh, roger, sir. Be advised, my company has hit heavy resistance at the top of the ramp, requesting reinforcements.”

Paul glanced at his battle schematic. The ramp was a structure along his battalion’s main axis of attack; it probably led up toward this aerie’s command structure. It had to be taken; it was a bottleneck for further progress. Paul’s readout showed that Bravo had taken 41 percent casualties. In his mind’s eye, Paul saw the tracers and corpses and heard the confused staccato chatter on the squad and platoon nets. If he would have wanted to, he could have pulled up the battle from any of his troopers’ halos, alive or dead, and watched for himself. But he didn’t need to. He knew what combat looked like oh so well.

Bravo was going to have to suck it up.

“Request denied, Six. Rotate your people as we discussed earlier, and take that fucking ramp. Once you have done that, Alpha will do a passage of lines, and you guys go into the reserve. Any questions?”

Paul imagined Stevenson hated his guts right about now.

A pause. “No, sir, no questions. Bravo Six, out.” Stevenson’s voice sounded hollow and drained.

Paul sent out a prompt to his battle staff. He wanted to get closer to the main effort—that is, the ramp and Bravo Company. Of course, in his suit, he couldn’t see the expressions on his staff’s faces, but he knew they despised his idea. It wasn’t safe where they were now, let alone closer to the ramp. Without a word, he and his staff moved up a wall and passed in single file over an arch to get closer to the scene.

Some tracer rounds flashed past, and his supply officer’s suit automatically dodged a Harpy round. A crater flashed in his wake. Paul’s M-372 cannon barked. The distant, distinctive clank from a dead soldier’s suit being impacted sounded across the guano-filled void. Paul’s staff started to pass through Alpha Company’s area, his battalion reserve. They were getting closer to Bravo Company; the din of battle grew acute.

Alpha Company’s commander appeared in Paul’s visual.

“Dragon Six, this is Alpha Six. What’s up?” Subordinate commanders always wanted to know the scoop when the BC, the battalion commander, showed up in the area of operations.

Paul spoke to Lieutenant Tsongas’s image. “Headed toward Bravo. Sounds hot up there.”

He watched Tsongas nod. “Rog, sir,” Tsongas said.

Paul silently wished him luck.

Paul and his staff threaded past waiting troopers. He imagined he knew what they felt—namely, that they were next and that their deaths might be upon them. Paul had been one of them once; he had stood in their ranks what seemed like an eternity ago. And now, through the tricks of a cruel God, he was in command. And he had to crack this nut.

His own mortality didn’t weigh heavily on him; he had resigned himself to death long ago. What he worried about was the deaths of those in his command, even though they thought he was cold and cruel. When his people looked at him, they saw a prewar survivor, a veteran of Brasilia, and a hard-bitten, slightly crazed leader.

When he looked at himself, he saw a mess.

And now he was getting close to Bravo. He and his group were on the leading edge of Alpha’s area. Paul knew that if he looked around the corner he was behind, he would see the ramp.

The din of combat was a roar. Purple Harpy blood was splashed about with alien mortal remains, and every other square foot of the area contained a chunk of trooper. They were Paul’s troops—his responsibility.

He placed a call.

“Bravo Six, this is Dragon Six. Am approaching your AO. What is your situation?”

Stevenson answered, his voice a low, panting monotone. “We’ve taken the ramp. Come take a look.” He dispensed with the “sir.”

“Rog, Stevenson. Good work.” Paul took a second to push orders to Alpha, and then he continued. “Coming up.” He started to move, wondering if he was more likely to catch a round from the Harpies or from Stevenson. Paul pinged his staff and directed them to stay in place, but his major sergeant, Joanna Matherson, followed him.

As Paul cleared the corner, his eyes fell on the battlefield within a battlefield. It was a collage of stuff he didn’t want to see: a Harpy intertwined with a half suit; a trooper’s head; a large streak of Harpy blood on a wall, with the dead alien beneath it; a trooper cowering behind a chunk of something, holding her helmet with both hands; craters; smoke; and blood.

As fast as hell, Paul and Matherson beelined toward Stevenson’s position, clearing a path in alternating bounds. As Paul moved, he checked Bravo’s battle schematic and statistics. A squad from Bravo had gained the top of the ramp, and they were holding. Another squad was moving forward to consolidate the foothold. The rest of the company was waiting. When Paul looked at their stats, he realized that a lot of them would be waiting forever. Fifty-four percent of Bravo Company was dead. Sixty-seven of his soldiers were gone.

Stevenson awaited him by the ramp itself, behind some fallen arcane machine with holes blasted in it. Paul kicked a Harpy out of the way and moved by Stevenson. Matherson linked up with the new sergeant first of the company.

After a minute, Paul broke the silence. He looked at his schematic and saw Alpha was passing through Bravo’s position.

“Captain Stevenson, you are relieved,” Paul said.

“Roger, sir. I’m a lieutenant, though.”

Paul imagined Stevenson followed with a mental “dumb ass.”

“No, Captain, you aren’t,” Paul said. “Gather up your troops, and go into reserve once Alpha comes through. You’ve done enough for now.”

Stevenson didn’t say anything; he just rocked his suit in a manner that signaled “yeah.” Nothing more passed between them.

The first soldiers from Alpha Company passed the two men. They were moving fast and erratically across the ramp. Paul’s experienced eye judged them to be veterans. Paul heard the zing of the rail gun at exactly the same moment as he watched one of the troops die in a photo-strobe flash; the clang reached his ears a split second later. A trooper who was waiting by the ramp to cross over paused. The squad leader or platoon sergeant kicked him or her into motion.

That soldier died, too.

Paul knew that this was bad. No one else from Alpha was moving to cross the ramp, and the toehold on the opposite side had to be reinforced, now. He also knew that he hated chickenshits. He had hated them his whole career. One type of commander would order his men to die while chewing on a peanut butter sandwich, whereas another type would share the dangers and lead. Paul had known for a long time which type of commander he was.

He placed an all-call.

“Come on, fuckers.”

And he started to bound across the ramp.

1 Responses to ‘Extract. Immolation. Jason Lambright’

Rhino swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 13
Damnnnnnn

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Life hacks for the end of the world

Posted May 8 into Funny by John Birmingham

Today's aliensideboob is free. Partly cos I'm not filing a Blunty for tomorrow, due to the Fairfax strike. Mostly cos giving one away every now and then pays off with a subscription bump. Today's came from wondering what a ridiculously upbeat life hack blog post might look like after the end of the world.

My Top Five Amazing Post Apocalyptic Self Improvement Hacks That You Need to Action Today

It can be hard in this post-apocalyptic world of ours to stay focussed on what’s important: you and the better you inside you just waiting to get out of you?—?like the giant tapeworms which helped bring down our civilisation.

People don’t change. (Unless they’re infected with tapeworms or the zombie virus, or if they’ve been injected with a nanite swarm by our robot enemies). Most people still look for secrets, amazing tricks and life hacks that will make everything better right away.

Unfortunately there are no “overnight successes”, not even last night’s successful overnight raid on the rival scavenger camp which had been hoarding all of those tins of premium dog food. We got the dog food, but lets never forget we had to leave old Vernon behind to slow down the human-tapeworm hybrids chasing us.

Vernon was slow. He didn’t adapt. Not to the end of the world as we knew it. Not to the bullets I put into his leg as we fled the scavenger camp. And certainly not to the challenge of all those tapeworm people burrowing in through every orifice.

But think of all the incredible, adaptable people you truly admire in our post-apocalyptic world today. They didn’t succeed because of one power move. They succeeded because they followed my Top Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks That You Need to Action Today.

So stop aiming for radical personal change.

A magic bullet cannot save you.

But five well-aimed conventional bullets into a slow-poke like Vernon almost certainly can.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But there is no more chance of escaping the hard work of self improvement than there is of escaping the robot slave mines of Area 7. So, stop looking for “quick hacks” that bring faster results. The only hacking that works since our computers went dark is the sort involving machetes and the undead, and of course my Top Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks That You Need to Action Today.

1. Think of your time as money.

OK. We stopped using money after the banks collapsed, but we do barter and we only have a finite amount of things to barter with. Time is finite. It’s more important than ever to learn when to delegate a task rather than do it yourself. Do you really need to sharpen all the stakes guarding the zig-zag road into the strategic hamlet? Is dragging a heavy rock to the trebuchet commanding the riverine approaches the best use of your time? Probably not, now that Vernon’s comely young hand-fasted woman is single again and that big old yurt of hers can get cold and lonely on a nuclear winter’s night.

2. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

When those tapeworm-human hybrids sprang their ambush, I improvised a distraction for them. I adapted to the situation, the same way that Vernon will soon adapt to his new life as a giant flesh-eating nematode. And I will overcome his woman’s objections to sharing her yurt and bed roll with the guy who, lets face it, murdered her husband, by offering up a dinner of delicious dog food that Vernon’s unavoidable murder made possible. I improvised, adapted, and will overcome. You can too.

3. Schedule your energy.

It can be difficult to filter out the noise and actually achieve what we set out to do, every day. Rather than trying to avoid distractions completely, we should schedule around our energy instead. Plan to do, say, an hour’s work hammering and grinding salvaged tea spoons into arrow heads, followed by five minutes of rest. Read the Facebook on the hamlet bulletin board, to catch up on who’s had their face cut off by the Inquisition lately. Check on your mail, if the postman still lives. But just be aware of and prioritise around your times of maximum productivity and avoid the infamous afternoon slump when more than one sleepyhead has found themselves waking up in the communal cook pot.

4. Networking.

Did you know that over one hundred percent of people still find their jobs through networking? You can safely bet that successful hamlet elders didn’t get to the top by living in a bubble. Not since the last domed city collapsed. Now more than ever, networking is a necessity.

So how do you pull it off?

It doesn’t involve throwing yourself at everyone you meet. Truly effective networking involves being your authentic, fabulous self, and becoming your own best cheerleader since we’ve already eaten the rest of the cheerleaders. Looking to grab up that sweet, sweet gig as village herbalist? Think you’ve got what it takes to replace the blacksmith one day? You could spend all your time chewing bark and grass or begging for an ironmongery apprenticeship. Or you could just make friends in the Assassin’s Guild. In the modern world, it’s not who you know. It’s who they’re willing to kill in return for a couple of tins of stolen dog food.

5. Get started early.

One thing that hasn’t changed even as everything else has? Successful people get an early start on their success. That crucial hour before dawn, when most people are still hiding from the vampires, you could be up cutting a deal with our vampire overlords to guarantee your position as hamlet chieftain in return for guaranteeing them a regular supply of human blood going forward.

6. Always under-promise and over-deliver.

I promised Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks, but I’m going to give you Six.

Eliminate ANTS.

Not the giant, man-eating fire ants which have proven all but impossible to eliminate, but the other, even deadlier ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts.

Negative thoughts happen to everyone, but the worst thing you can do is let them bring your day down. Focus on learning how you can change your perspective and realise your most fantastic self even as the world dies screaming all around us?—?it’s well worth the effort.

Don’t think, omigod these human nematodes are going to catch up with us.

Think, omigod these human nematodes are my chance to finally get into Vernon’s hand-fasted woman’s hand stitched britches. Huzzah!

Staying optimistic keeps me almost as excited as those well stuffed britches. And by staying optimistic and excited, your day will always be worth it, no matter how few you have left.

aliensideboob.com

6 Responses to ‘Life hacks for the end of the world’

insomniac reckons...

Posted May 8
Thank you, comrade.

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jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 9
LOL. I'm going to remember this piece every time I see a "ten best ways to..." piece in the future.

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Lulu asserts...

Posted May 9
Hah.

I'm starting to seriously rethink my commitment to Fairfax, particularly after seeing Media Watch last night. I'm a customer not a shareholder, and the priority they are giving to shareholders is damaging the product I enjoy buying. The size of executive bonuses (which could pay for many journalists) doesn't help their case.

Dave W would have you know...

Posted May 10
Yep, agreed. I pay for the good reads and there will be a point where there just isn't enough interesting and informative stuff in it anymore.

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NBlob puts forth...

Posted May 9
Hand fasted.
?

Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted May 9
Bound together as it were...sworn to service, loyalty, that sort of thing

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Dark Tower trailer

Posted May 5 by John Birmingham

I tried twice to get into this series of books. Oddly, for the King, they just didn't do it for me. But having seen this excellent trailer I might go back for a third attempt. Thanks to Warren for the heads up.

11 Responses to ‘Dark Tower trailer’

jason mumbles...

Posted May 5
I know nothing about the show but the first three books in the series are some of my favourite SK work. I recommend persisting as the man in black flees across the desert...

Dave W would have you know...

Posted May 5
+1.

I saw the trailer and actually thought that it confirmed my long-running rule of not watching King conversions.

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WarDog asserts...

Posted May 5
Saw the trailer yesterday too. I can't wait
It looks like they might have boiled the story down to something a little more forceful than the books.

While I loved some of the books in the series, some of them just dawdled. Like the ?5th/6th? which spent all its time living in the Gunslingers past.

But the self referential parts and the intertwining with the real world was gripping.

It was written over many/many years and was King experimenting with a paid subscription like model. He originally only planned on completing it if enough people signed up. That was scary that we might never get the end of a story we had invested in.

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Nocturnalist is gonna tell you...

Posted May 5
When I was a kid I found an old copy of F&SF on my parents' shelves that had as its first story this weird quasi-Western thing called "The Gunslinger", which finished with a note that this was part of the saga of Childe Roland on his way to the Dark Tower. (I'd heard of the Roland story, and was old enough to think "heh, kind of cool to be retelling it as a cowboy story".) I was a bit young to take in the whole thing but I remember the *feel* of the story, this quiet, lonely, dreamlike vibe it had that I hadn't run into before. That stayed with me and I remember some of the first serious attempts at fiction that I wrote were also attempts to recapture that feel.

Imagine my surprise when I came across that sequence again after having read Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, It and all the rest and realised holy shit, that was King?

Ironically I've never gone back to go through the rest of the books. Might need to mainline them in a hurry before the series starts.

And that opening line is still in my all-time top-five list.

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Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted May 5
Interesting.

I'm quite ambivalent about the King. I loved 'Dreamcatcher' but not the others I've tried. Could not get into 'The Stand' at all. Don't know why.

I'm looking for a new series right now to go alongside my Hugo Award reading.

I'll give this a try - I know others who love it.

jason mutters...

Posted May 8
Go back to The Stand. One of my all time faves.

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted May 9
+1
Probably what bought me here was JB's thinky on The Stand.

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Nocturnalist puts forth...

Posted May 5
Maybe it's time to bring back the Burger book club to tackle the first book in time for the series kickoff?

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Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted May 6
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

My favourite sentence ever.

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Gilligan mutters...

Posted May 9
I'm about 10% conflicted.

The larger part of my brain that likes shiny things and would pay cinema prices to watch Idris Elba and Matthew MConaughey sitting in a room and occasionally remarking on the weather is super hyped.

The mega-nerd, story purist part of my brain picked out about 4 HUGE departures from the novels that appear to torpedo significant aspects of the characters.

With that in mind, though, I like the idea of an inspired by/based on movie, and see previous comment re; Mssrs Elba and McConaughey.

I'm in.

And in the mean time, if we want to see just how good an adaptation can be, we have American Gods. :)

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NBlob would have you know...

Posted May 9
When I first came across the Dark Tower series they didn't work for me, but this looks the goods.
Interesting that projects that get up seem to be the ones that have built in sequels. Bodes well for AoT.

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A boy, a girl, a violated presidential gravesite

Posted May 1 by John Birmingham

From today's ASB:

I had my first school formal on Saturday night, which is to say, my daughter went to hers and I opened the sluice gates on my inappropriately-named savings account and watched my carefully hoarded fortune flood out into the hands of carnivorous dress designers, hairstylists, make-up artists and the guy who invented Uniqlo because at the last minute I learned I’d have to be in the pre-formal photos too.
(Off topic observation. Every dad is a $49.00 late Saturday afternoon panic outfit purchase away from becoming a lifelong committed Uniqlo Dad. Thank you, Mr Uniqlo. Thank you.)
Anyway, the dance was fine. No funny or tragic or tragicomic stories emerged from it. But that is not always the way of things with high school dances, is it? Especially not when you finally reach the very summit of Mt. Dramapalooza, which in Australia is known as The School Formal and in the US as Prom Night
.

aliensideboob.com

3 Responses to ‘A boy, a girl, a violated presidential gravesite’

jason is gonna tell you...

Posted May 1
I assume the Uniqlo purchase is a tax write off since it was mentioned in the story. In fact the whole formal could be written off if you had a good enough tax lawyer.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted May 1
You're hired.

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Bondiboy66 is gonna tell you...

Posted May 2
So glad I only have sons....formal outfits are so much easier and cheaper.

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100 Days of So Damn Much Winning

Posted April 28 by John Birmingham

Hard to believe we're still alive, really:

And so we are one hundred days into Donald Trump’s presidency of laughter and forgetting. The laughter is the deranged cackle of an escaped mental patient hiding in the darkened basement of a Stephen King story. The forgetting is inevitable, because who can keep this shit straight? The alternate facts, the Russian hookers, the amateur oompah band of cosplay Nazis winding their way through the White House kicking out the jams on a 76 trombone cover of old SS dancehall favourites, the early morning tweet storms, the gentle tonguing of Vladimir Putin, Kelly-Anne’s shopping network promo for Ivanka’s failing fashion line, Mike Flynn’s sacking, Steve Bannon’s demonic possession, selfies with the nuclear briefcase guy, and family favours and open bribes from the Chinese government and the transfer of the Situation Room to the outdoor dining lounge at Mar-a-Lago. And all of that is just off the top of my head. With a quick search on el Goog I could fill this whole column with a firehose of craziness, the same way that talking baboon’s anus constantly fills our world with a never-ending toxic gas leak of his brainfarts and crazy uncle conspiracy theories.

As John Oliver said. “Trump hasn't said one crazy thing, he's said thousands of crazy things, each of which blunts the effect of the others.”

aliensideboob.com

4 Responses to ‘100 Days of So Damn Much Winning’

balders mutters...

Posted April 28
Hey JB,

something broken about the link to aliensideboob.com

from the cheese, it goes to a blank page and feedly its got a broken URL.

happy long weekend

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted May 1
Thx mate. Sorted.

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jason swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 1
If people haven't signed up for Alien Side Boob I would highly recommend you do. I have found it worth every meagre cent just for the huge increase to my vocabulary of insults and abuse. The considered opinion and thought provoking comment are a bonus.

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 4
Artisnal rant, it's like what good coffee was 5 years ago.

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BALLS.104 TAKE THAT for data (N*Sync for the eye test)

Posted April 24 into Sport by beeso

The Doc and I talk how wrong we have been already about the NBA, the paralells between WSC and the current debacle happening in netball and how wrong the timing is for a womens sport to be screwing up. Then we laugh at the Knicks again and how even their fans won't buy our Knicks colourway T, before discussing the FA cup, ecenomic terrorism and YOU AIN'T GONNA ROOK US!

2 Responses to ‘BALLS.104 TAKE THAT for data (N*Sync for the eye test)’

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 4
Excuse me for a moment gents.
.
Economic Growth seems one of a very few measures of an administration. If our economy booms while other comparative nations' flounder it is cause for celebration. If .Au slumps while Canadians & Kiwis prosper we change tenants @ The Lodge.

It seems that every measure, standard, unit or benchmark is beset by those seeking to manipulate in some way for benefit. Remember the Chinese infant formula milk-powder contamination scam? That was people Optimising a % protein assay. VW taught TDi Golfs & Jettas to recognise the test bench and scam the pollution & fuel consumption tests. Bought a Sunbeam product recently? Nobody else has either. Thanks to Al Chainsaw Dunlop manipulating Corporate Performance measures. GFC was largely clever dicks manipulating credit ratings. For every Standard Measure there seems those who seek to manipulate it to their benefit.

I'm wondering what percent of Economic Growth, as measured by GDP, is new things made by clever people and how much is projections, models, speculative estimations. Like rice collectives in Mao's China It is in the interests of everyone, from entrepreneur to the Government of the Day for the most aspirational estimates to be locked in as firm forecasts. How will decades of cumulative optimism affect our economy?

NBlob mumbles...

Posted May 4
It would seem I dismiss the intangible, as if an idea was somehow less valuable than a thing. It is obvious that a thing of beauty and usefulness is an idea, or many ideas made tangible. Yet they are different. A thing has a reality, that the promise in an idea lacks.

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