Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Small Sample Watch
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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

Interesting weblogs:
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Debunkers Discussion Forum
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Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
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Prolifeguy's take
The Raving Theist
Respectful Insolence
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Slate Star Codex
The Speculist
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Tools of Renewal
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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
Crank Dot Net
Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress

Yet another weird SF fan

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Notable and Quotable

Yes, there still is some sense on Usenet. In particular, the following post from John Schilling is an all-purpose response to nearly any type of environmentalist hysteria:

The reason people are so incredibly skeptical on your points a, b, c, and d, is that pretty much EVERY SINGLE TIME something like this has come up in the past, the environmental movement and the scientists willing to stand with them have been pretty obviously STARTING with the "Wealthy nations must chang their ways, difficult/expensive/painful!" conclusion, and trying to backfill it with, let's see, air pollution, water pollution, pesticide use, acid rain, ozone depletion, and I think at one point there was even an incipient ice age in there.

They have been wrong EVERY SINGLE TIME, with the necessary fixes being relatively inexpensive and not requiring wholesale changes in the western way of life. And they've been wrong in ways that do not the least bit suggest, "Oops, honest mistake, we'll get it right next time", but rather, "curses, foiled again in our plan to bring down Western civilization!"

We'll probably get around to fixing global warming, whether anthropogenic or otherwise. We'll probably do it while maintaining the extravagant and wasteful lifestyle we've become acustomed to. Demands that we fix the problem by crashing Western civilization, or even just downsizing the US economy to something you're comfortable with, are only going to delay the process a bit.

Which Is It?

Does Doug Soderstrom think progress is to blame for the world's ills or does he think Christianity is to blame?

Hmmmmm… Doug Soderstrom supposedly has a doctorate in psychology. I'm reminded of the phrase “letting the lunatics run the asylum.”

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What If It Is Evolution in Action?

Instapundit pointed to this account of Muslims refusing “un-Islamic” vaccinations and said:

Just think of it as evolution in action:
What if it is evolution in action? For the past fourteen centuries, the pilgrimage to Mecca has acted to spread diseases as fast as possible. Presumably, that would help breed disease resistance. In addition, Islamic law would help keep a society functioning during a plague. (Before sanitation, vaccines, and antibiotics, those were probably the best responses to a plague.) Maybe some Muslims are trying to continue the breeding program.

Digression: One reaction has been “I know you are but what am I?”:

But beyond that, one does not need to go searching for isolated British Muslim doctors in order to find examples of the lives of children being endangered due to the religious beliefs of adults. Merck, among other pharmaceutical companies, developed a highly effective vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) -- by far the leading cause of cervical cancer in women -- but an entire American political movement called "social conservatism" has been desperately trying to prevent its widespread approval -- or at least persuade parents not to have their daughters vaccinated -- because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and they therefore believe that a vaccine will be seen as an endorsement of premartal sex:
First, I'm puzzled by their apparent approval of evil pharmaceutical companies. (On the other hand, it might set a useful precedent.) Second, if this works, will we have a cure by the time a child vaccinated today would otherwise die of cervical cancer?

And furthermore … brown-eyed girl has a question:

Now why is it that the same folks who are happy to take a social darwinist stance are the same mindless idiots jabbering on about intelligent design [sic]?
I have a related question: Why is part of the self-congratulatory left so unwilling to look at the record of the person being discussed?

Maybe they're speed reading again …

This Sounds Dangerous

The most useful question to ask when considering a proposed government activity is: Would I trust my worst enemy with the power? For example, let's consider the current Emergency Alert System for broadcasting emergency instructions:

Today, the E.A.S. enables federal authorities to override programming and issue warnings without intervention from stations. State and local authorities may also override programming during crises — but only if they have the prior consent of broadcasters, which are not legally obligated to cede control of their content, and only if they have installed E.A.S.-compatible equipment, which is voluntary, too. Predictably, the loose local standards leave some officials confused about how to issue an alert and some broadcasters ill equipped to help.
Would you trust a government, possibly right after a coup, to take control of the “nation's” airwaves? They will try to do so anyway, but do you want to lubricate a potential power grab?

The Great-Grandparent's Test

In The New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan asks a question:

You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.
The answer is clear. For most people, the answer is yes.

Polland has another intriguing suggestion:

Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
You can't have foods with more than five ingredients? Okay, so you're cooking stew with chicken, celery, carrots, rutabagas, onion, and … Oops! That five ingredients and you can't add any more! Come to think of it, the rutabagas would have been unfamiliar to me a decade ago and I suppose I must forever avoid jicama as I don't know how to pronounce it. On the other hand, the advice to avoid the unfamiliar disagrees with the advice on the very next page:
Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.
I'm reminded of the common leftist trope that they want diversity while taking steps to stop any diversity they disagree with.

Addendum: Michael Pollan should read The New York Times more often.

Another Case of Filling in the Blanks

According to Anisa Abd el Fattah (in an e-mail quoted on The Volokh Conspiracy):

The position that you appear to take on this issue is very interesting, especially since I have never heard Jewish academicians argue so robustly for the right of people to have free speech rights to deny the holocaust, or to compliment Hitler, or to say that Israel should be wiped off the map. Every time any such statement is publicized, in whatever context, Jewish people raise a fuss, and the speaker is ordained, an "anti-Semite," in an effort to deny their right to free speech by making the price of such speech so high that it wont be utilized.
If someone is speed reading a criticism of antisemitism, it's easy to skip around and then fill in the blanks with assumed denial of free speech.

Maybe some people should just read a little more slowly.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Left and Right and Space and Time

It looks like one of the differences between the left side of the political spectrum and the right side is that the left side is more likely to think in terms of differences in space and the right side is more likely to think in terms of differences in time. For example, when analyzing gun control laws, the left side will compare homicide rates between different places with more of fewer guns:

States with the greatest number of guns in the home also have the highest rates of homicide, a new study finds.

The study, in the February issue of Social Science and Medicine, looked at gun ownership in all 50 states and then compared the results with the number of people killed over a three-year period.

On the other hand, the right side will compare different times:

During the past decade we've added a minimum of 30 million new firearms in public hands - at least 10 million of which were handguns. Since 1993 we've gone from 21 states with "shall-issue" or unrestricted concealed-carry legislation to 39. We've had an influx of "assault weapons" and "pocket rockets" - supposed engines of death and destruction far more lethal than the weapons available in the 60's.

Yet homicides declined. Non-fatal firearm related crime declined.

(Both seen via No Silence Here (seen via Instapundit))

My personal opinion is that variations in time are more important (for one thing, variations in time can distinguish between cause and effect), but then, I would say that as a reactionary.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who Was China Really Aiming At?

For the past few months, Google and similar companies have been planning to stand up to Chinese censorship:

A couple of months ago I alluded to a set of closed-door discussions that have been going on over the past year. Today this press release issued by Business for Social Responsibility has finally brought those quiet conversations out of the closet.

Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Vodaphone are now committed publicly to a process "which aims to produce a set of principles guiding company behavior when faced with laws, regulations and policies that interfere with the achievement of human rights." As BSR's CEO Aron Cramer put it: "This important dialogue reflects a shared commitment to maximize the information available via the internet on the basis of global principles protecting free expression and privacy."

I don't think it's a coincidence that China has now demonstrated anti-satellite weaponry. Maybe they thought that Google, as a heavy user of satellite data, would back down.

Does It Matter Who the Messenger Is?


Okay. Maybe it does a little bit. After all, if the message makes sense, maybe your opinion of the messenger should improve.

After looking at the list of sponsors of the Center for Consumer Freedom, I was reminded of the lists (compiled by the usual idiots) of companies paying the “kosher tax” … which reminds me … shouldn't kosher delis also support the CCF? (When they came for the cheeseburgers, I did not speak up because I do not serve cheeseburgers …)

I think I'll support the CCF and have some Diet Coke now.

It's Definite Now

We won the war in Vietnam. Will either side of the debate on whether Iraq is another Vietnam take notice?

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Question on Political Psychology

According to a well-known article in Psychology Today, thought of death can make people conservative:

As a follow-up, Solomon primed one group of subjects to think about death, a state of mind called "mortality salience." A second group was primed to think about 9/11. And a third was induced to think about pain—something unpleasant but non-deadly. When people were in a benign state of mind, they tended to oppose Bush and his policies in Iraq. But after thinking about either death or 9/11, they tended to favor him. Such findings were further corroborated by Cornell sociologist Robert Willer, who found that whenever the color-coded terror alert level was raised, support for Bush increased significantly, not only on domestic security but also in unrelated domains, such as the economy.
Question: What is the effect of thinking about birth? Considering that parents (or married people in general) are more likely to be conservative, maybe thinking about birth causes conservatism as well. (That may explain why opposing abortion is a right-wing issue.) One of my theories is that conservatism is linked to a tendency to think about time. Thoughts of both birth and death would lead to thoughts about time and then to conservatism.

On the other hand, considering their attempt at a control group, maybe thoughts of pain produce liberalism.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Is the Anti-Tobacco Movement Doomed?

If this cure for cancer pans out, will the anti-smoking laws be repealed?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What Is Atheism?

According to Matt, a commenter at Shtetl Optimized, and Matthew, a commenter at Overcoming Bias, (I don't think they are the same people) the difference between scientists who call themselves theists and scientists who call themselves atheists is not a difference of opinion on the nature of the Universe but it instead a difference of opinion on the nature of religion. According to Matt:

When you say “God” in your lectures, and indeed when most scientists say “God”, we know it is a euphemism for the “harmony of the natural world” or some similar concept. We know this because we are a community of like-minded individuals who all use the term in the same way. The problem is that the general public do not know this. There is quite a section of the population to whom the word “God” always means some very specific bloke up in heaven. They will always assume you are talking about him, however many times you refer to him as her or she, and however many times you explain the whole “God of Spinoza/Einstein” thing. They simply have a mental block about using the word in any other way.
According to Matthew:

At some level, almost everyone believes in "God" if the definition is broad enough. That is, almost everyone accepts that the universe is lawful, that there are universal ("omnipotent" if you like) organizing principles which are responsible for the existence of everything. Scientists tend to call these the "laws of physics" or "natural laws". The disagreement comes about when hypothesizing the nature of this lawfulness and organization which pervades reality, and the existence of additional organizing principles in addition to the laws of physics.

By and large I think that elite professors are too intelligent to believe in the common understanding of "God". If the word is only used to refer to an anthropomorphized super-entity, it seems likely that the vast majority of educated, scientifically literate, high-g people will reject such a formulation. The main problem here is assuming that the word "God" has a common meaning across all the surveyed populations.

I must remind both Matt and Matthew that if you pat yourself on the back too hard, you can develop bursitis.

I don't think the rest of us should accept the judgment of atheists. As far as I can tell, a typical atheist becomes an atheist in middle school (formerly known as junior high school). In other words, they are rejecting a middle-school understanding of religion. It's as though they were rejecting modern physics on the grounds that not everything is relative or Darwin's explanation of evolution on the grounds that the fittest don't always survive.

This applies even despite the apparent fact that professors at “elite” universities are more likely to be atheists. After all, if we take the judgment of the more prestigious universities as authoritative, we must also be convinced of the inferiority of “short people with big ears.” I suspect that professors at prestigious universities are recruited from atheist subpopulations (e.g., students at prestigious universities or ambitious people who focus their ambition towards being part of the Galileo–Darwin–Einstein lineup). We can check the latter quite easily by trying to identify people with similar ambitions but who lack the intellectual firepower popularly associated with the Ivy League. For example, are drop-outs from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton particularly likely to be atheists?

Digression: Does atheism in the intellectual class go with socialism? After all, an unchecked belief that you know more than hoi polloi in the field of religion might go with a similar belief in economics.

A final comment: If the only thing we know about an idea is that the best argument for it is that it is believed by professors at elite institutions, we should be skeptical of it. After all, if there were any real argument in favor it, those talented people would have discovered it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Weren't Skyscrapers Supposed to Be Obsolete?

I thought the 911 attack rendered projects like this impossibly dangerous.

I wonder why they feel safe.

Math in HTML

The following is a test of mathematics in pure HTML with no MathML or images involved:

 = 0.5

 = 1.414213562373…

20 = c

20א = c

eπi + 1 = 0

ζ(s) = 
n = 1
k = 1
 1 – 

Addendum: The above looks slightly better in Firefox than in Explorer.

Another Addendum: After reading this (seen via Geek Press), I had to add the following:

 < mod(⌊
2–17⌊x⌋ – mod(⌊y⌋,17), 2)⌋

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mad Magazine Predicted a Warren Beatty Movie

While watching Warren Beatty being given an award at the Golden Globes, I realized that the Bonnie and Clyde tag line (“They're young… they're in love… and they kill people”) would also work for Bugsy and especially Reds.

Shortly after Bonnie and Clyde came out, Mad Magazine came up with Warren Beatty's next movie “Eva and Dolf” (“They're young, they're in love, and they kill millions”). They were almost right but the movie was eventually made about a different gang of thugs.

Organic Rice Krispies?

I can just imagine Snap, Crackle, and Pop at a sit-in.

I wasn't planning to buy any but anything that can make Mark Morford froth at the mouth is worth considering:

That's when I heard it. The plaintive wail, the sigh, the crack and the moan and the whimper, like a tree shooting itself in the head. It was the final death knell of the "true" organic movement, breathing its last.
On the other hand, it's not enough to kill environmentalism, we must put a stake through its heart.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Monkeysphere

According to the usual idiots, the following is a description of the Elders of Zion:

Three hundred men, each of whom knows all the others, govern the fate of the European continent, and they elect their successors from their entourage.
Wait a minute… I thought the limit for a group of human beings knowing all the others was 150:

You see, monkey experts performed a monkey study a while back and discovered that the size of the monkey's monkey brain determined the size of the monkey groups the monkeys formed. The bigger the brain, the bigger the little societies they built.

They cut up so many monkey brains, in fact, that they found they could actually take a brain they had never seen before and with a simple dissection, analysis and a quick taste, they could accurately predict what size tribes that species of creature formed.

Most monkeys operate in troupes of 50 or so. But somebody slipped them a slightly larger monkey brain -- but a monkey brain nonetheless -- and they estimated the ideal group or society for this particular animal was about 150.

That brain, of course, was human. Probably from a homeless man they snatched off the streets.

In other words, the conspiracy theorists are claiming that Jews are not human.

Come to think of it, a famous Jew once said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” At the time, it had to be hushed up.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Filling a Gap in the Blogosphere, Part II

There's another reason to take Richard Dawkins seriously besides memes. Theologians attempting talk about science can produce utter bullbleep:

Modern science tells us that our species is integral to nature and dependent on it for survival.
I'd be more confident about that statement if a real scientist were making it. For one thing, parts of nature are necessary and parts of nature are vulnerable, but those are not necessarily the same parts.
But in the face of destructive trends, the scientific community been largely complacent: reactive, not proactive.
Translation: “The scientists should show some backbone and agree with me.”
Aggravating this problem, the U.S. government has tried to suppress some science and to silence some scientists.
That part, at least, sounds familiar.

Filling a Gap in the Blogosphere

Speaking of filling in gaps … Alejandro Satz noticed an a apparent blogospheric gap:

To a rough approximation, they can be divided in three groups. First, those who think that there is no God and Dawkins is great (PZ Myers is the prime example). Second, those who think that there is no God but Dawkins is a jerk (Chad Orzel and John Wilkins are two good examples, though there are much more; perhaps more than in the first group.) And last, those who think there is a God and Dawkins is a jerk. (Brandon is one example among those I read regularly.) Unsurprisingly, I have not yet found any blogger who believes that God exists and Dawkins is great.
Raises hand.

I'm a theist who appreciates Dawkins's invention of the concept of memes, which accidentally provided a defense of traditional religion. For example, according to Keith Henson:

I have picked dangerous examples for vivid illustrations and to point out that memes have a life of their own. The ones that kill their hosts make this hard to ignore. However, most memes, like most microorganisms, are either helpful or at least harmless. Some memes may even provide a certain amount of defense from the very harmful ones. It is the natural progression of parasites to become helpful symbiotes, and the first such behavior that emerges in a proto-symbiote is for it to start protecting its host from other parasites. I have come to appreciate the common religions in this light. Even if they were harmful when they started, the ones that survive over generations evolve and do not cause too much damage to their hosts. Calvin (who had dozens of people executed over theological disputes) would hardly recognize Presbyterians three hundred years later. Contrariwise, the Shaker meme is now confined to books, and the Shakers are gone. It is clearly safer to believe in a well-aged religion than to be susceptible to a potentially fatal cult.
(I disagree with the theory that a mere 14 centuries is old enough. On the other hand, if an apparently young religion has taken in enough older traditions, it might not be destructive.)

I don't know if this gap was much needed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Accusations of Racism and Speed Reading

In the discussion following Arnold Kling's TCS column on Iraq's natural state, one of the commenters, LiberalGoodman, wrote:

I often think TCHDaily posts are funny, stupid, but ultimately harmless. This one made me angry, angry that Kling can sit in a leather chair and pontificate that Iraqis are bruts who need a brutal dictator to keep them alive. Genetically, Iraqis are like the rest of us. If we can be democratic, they can. If we can write racist drivel to excuse walking from a bloodbath of our creation, so can they.
The odd thing is that there was no racism in the original article at all. It was about local institutions, not genes. We have seen similar results from an attempt to transplant a free society in such places as 18th-century France or the 19th-century American South.

I think I know how such misreadings occur. LiberalGoodman must have been speed reading. According to Jane Galt:

As I get older, though, I've figured out how I [speed read]: I skip things. This may seem obvious, but I actually had to catch myself doing it; it is not a conscious process, and if I think about it, I can't do it. Somehow, my brain selects chunks of text that it thinks won't convey new information, and avoids them. Perhaps this is not optimal, but it works well enough for me to have made A's in most of my college lit classes. I can still read faster than most people while reading completely, and I do for some things, like textbooks, but it takes effort and I don't enjoy it as much.
The other side of skipping things, of course, is filling in the gaps. If there's a gap between Iraqis “need the rule of law” and “it's not our fault if it can't be imported”, it's easy to fill in the gap with assumed racism.

Digression: One of my theories is that it often takes at least two attempts to start up a free society, one to import the ideas of freedom and the next to empower those ideas. So maybe it's time to take another look at Vietnam …

Another digression: Do people also fill in the gaps while watching TV news? It might be the reason some people thought there was conclusive evidence linking Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reponding to Discrimination

Half Sigma is discussing affirmative action against Asians at supposedly-elite universities:

Let us, however, not ignore the fact that upper middle class white people don't really want their kids attending a school full of Asian kids. Thus, I predict that schools which keep their Asian enrollment really low will rise in prestige relative to those which don't discriminate against Asians. Thus we expect that Colubmia (13% Asian) will rise in Ivy League prestige, and that Princeton (also 13% Asian) will supplant Harvard (18% Asian) as the top Ivy League school.
I doubt it. The effect of similar discrimination against Jews in the 20th century was to raise the prestige of previously unheard-of schools such as CUNY simply because CUNY got the good students the Ivy League threw away.
Predictably, Asians will clamor for enrollement at the very schools which least want them, in much the same way that homosexuals clamor for acceptance by the Catholic Church. Both groups follow the maxim of Woody Allen (quoting Grouch Marx), "I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member."
The proper response to discrimination against talented minorities is to go to a formerly second-rate school, make it first rate, win the Nobel Prize, and accept an honorary degree from the school that wouldn't let you in. (Saying “Nyaaaahhhh, nyaaaahhhh” in your acceptance speech is optional.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Deterministic or Random or …

In a recent New York Times article, there's a commonly-expressed opinion on free will:

“Is it an illusion? That’s the question,” said Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Another question, he added, is whether talking about this in public will fan the culture wars.


“That strikes many people as incoherent,” said Dr. Silberstein, who noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”

In the world of mathematics, at least, there are real numbers that are neither recursive (analogous to deterministic) nor random. For example, if you take an uncountable recursive set of measure zero and remove all recursive real numbers from it, no point in the remainder will be random.

I'll have to give a clearer explanation in a future post. After all, I don't want anybody trusting an incomprehensible post …

Intellectual Strategies for Idiots

I'm sure that most people reading The Top 100 Fundies Say the Darndest Things Quotes will notice a repeated attitude of “I don't understand those evolutionists but I don't have to believe them anyway.” This is more understandable when you compare it to the contrasting attitude described by “I don't understand this, but he must understand it and be smarter than me; I'll go along to hide my ignorance.” I suspect trusting stuff you don't understand is more dangerous than disbelieving stuff you don't understand.

The above also applies to non-idiots trying to judge an argument in an unfamiliar field.

By the way, I would be more impressed by Fundies Say the Darndest Things if the top page didn't have a plea to support PETA.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Next Presidential Revisionism?

After considering Presidential Revisionism, I'll try to come up with something positive to say about Jimmy Carter.

It may take a while …

This Sounds Familiar

Chris Hedges on Christianity sounds quite a bit like Robert Spencer on Islam and they both sound like the Usual Idiots on Judaism.

Addendum: Would the Blackwater that Chris Hedges is worried about be an example of Anti-Qaeda?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Science Fiction Meets Reality

According to The New York Times:

The other colony of rats has been bred from exactly the same stock, but for aggressiveness instead. These animals are ferocious. When a visitor appears, the rats hurl themselves screaming toward their bars.


“The ferocious rats cannot be handled,” Mr. Albert said. “They will not tolerate it. They go totally crazy if you try to pick them up.”

When the aggressive rats have to be moved, Mr. Albert places two cages side by side with the doors open and lets the rats change cages by themselves. He is taking care that they do not escape to the sewers of Leipzig, he said.

This sounds like Mother Hittons Littul Kittons

She moved among them. She and her father had bred them from Earth mink, from the fiercest, smallest, craziest little minks that had ever been shipped out from Manhome. The lives of the minks had been shaped to keep away other predators who might bother the sheep on whom the stroon grew. But these minks were born mad.

Generations of them had been bred psychotic to the bone. They lived only to die and they died so that they could stay alive. These were the kittons of Norstrilia. Animals in whom fear, rage, hunger, and sex were utterly intermixed; who could eat themselves or each other; who could eat their young, or people, or anything organic; animals who screamed with murder-lust when they felt love; animals born to loathe themselves with a fierce and livid hate and who survived only because their waking moments were spent on couches, strapped tight, claw by claw, so that they could not hurt each other or themselves. Mother Hitton let them waken only a few moments in each lifetime. They bred and killed. She wakened them only two at a time.

I don't know if C'Mell is next …

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