The Darwinian Dead

So I’m spending all this time dealing with the legacy of the stationary dead, only to come up for air and notice that the walking ones are back on the march.

I’ve never read the Walking Dead graphic novels (unlike, apparently, every thirteen-year-old at Bowmore Public School), but I’m a big fan of the AMC series.  I’ve been a fan from the first episode. I even liked the second season, experiencing it not as the wheels of plot spinning ever-deeper into the mud, but as the kind of slow burn necessary to set up an explosive and devastating payoff.  (There are other views, I know. After the second season, one person of my acquaintance described the show as an abusive spouse who promised to never do it again if you’d just give it another chance. Which implies either an unhealthy degree of emotional investment in a TV show, or a curiously lighthearted perspective on domestic violence.)

What I truly admire about this series is a sense of verisimilitude uncommon in any genre show, much less one about zombies. Of course, the Walking Dead isn’t really about zombies; it’s basically a grown-up Lord of the Flies, an exploration of how ‘civilized’ people react when the rug gets yanked out from under them. It’s got more in common with McCarthy than with Romero. Many of the series’ set-pieces— the napalming of the cities, the tense hair-trigger negotiations between groups of survivors encountering each other in the aftermath, the grim gritty recognition that this ain’t a democracy any more—  would be just as suited to the aftermath of a meteor strike or a Mitt Romney presidency.  The issues explored here carry more than a whiff of Ron Moore’s Galactica before it went down the New-Age toilet on us.

And yet, there are zombies. Pretty convincing ones, too, at least on a visceral level. There are even hints, here and there, of a quasi-biological basis for their existence: occasional glimpses of walkers just standing there, immobile, conserving energy until kickstarted by some external stimulus. The Governor’s tame scientist, observing that Michonne’s armless jawless pack zombies (and decapitated zombie heads, for that matter) were starving to death very slowly. The revelation of some kind of viral involvement during that ill-fated sleepover at the CDC — not to mention the localization of neural reactivation in the brain stem (although this begs the question of why, if the cerebral hemispheres are suddenly so irrelevant, all those forehead shots are so damn effective).

But only hints. There’s never been any kind of explicit explanation for the zombie apocalypse that kicked off the AMC edition of The Walking Dead, and my understanding is that the graphic canon hasn’t dealt with it either.

This will not stand. And since the series has pretty explicitly described the apocalypse as biological in nature, who better to handle the retcon than the fallen biologist who singlehandedly redeemed the crucifix glitch?

Let’s start with evolution. Why do walkers attack the living in the first place? How does the consumption of living flesh promote the fitness of dead flesh? Doesn’t the fact that the flesh is dead mean that it’s pretty much out of the whole Darwinian race by definition?

Photo credit Hans Hillewaert

Obviously it’s not the agenda of the flesh — living or dead — that’s at issue here. The flesh is simply a delivery platform for something still subject to natural selection— and in terms of real-world biology, it’s almost too easy. Readers of my rifters books (or of Carl Zimmer‘s more plausible nonfiction ones) may remember fireside tales of Sacculina, the parasitic barnacle that rewires the behavior of infected crabs so that they stop worrying about their own welfare and instead spend their time aerating the larvae growing inside them, even helping them disperse once they hatch. Or you may be reminded instead of Ophiocordyceps, the mind-controlling fungus that leaves its host’s motor nerves intact while it devours everything else — and which finally, when its victim is little more than an exoskeletal husk stuffed with fungus, takes the reins and forces that poor hollowed-out insect to assume a perch oriented at the optimum angle for spore dispersal just before it dies.

My own personal favorite is Dicrocoelium, a fluke that uses ants as a stepping-stone into the ruminant it targets as its definitive host. Each night Dicro forces its ant to climb to the top of the nearest convenient blade of grass and lock itself in place with its mandibles, leaving it vulnerable to the grazing habits of any nearby cow or sheep. It’s also smart enough to release its ride when the sun comes up, to  let it resume its usual anthill duties (remaining locked to that blade of grass during daylight would toast the host beneath the noonday sun, which would benefit neither rider nor ridden).  Recent studies have shown that the reins tugged by Dicro are neurological: it actually hacks into the central nervous system to work its magic.

Photo credit Parisitology1000.blog.com

And I’m not even going to bother to link to our old friend Toxoplasma gondii.

The take-home message is that any number of real-world parasites conscript unwilling flesh in the service of their own dissemination, even to the point of hijacking the motor control systems. It doesn’t matter whether the agents who walk the dead are viral, bacterial, or helminth: natural selection will promote any behavior that spreads the infection. Jumpstart the most basic locomotory responses; reboot the ancient reptile drives; shock  the carcass into motion. What does it matter that those ancient predatory reflexes no longer serve to nourish the corpus, that meat instinctively bitten chewed and swallowed won’t ever be digested in the service of mammalian metabolism? The biting and chewing itself is enough to spread the infection. The swallowing is mere collateral: an irrelevant side-effect of some macro evolved for one function, then  repurposed to another.

Starting from those ground rules, the serial sieve of natural selection will tweak the specs towards some caricature of optimality.  Variants which always run their engines hot will burn out sooner, lose ground to those who idle on neutral until triggered by sound or motion. Lineages which waste effort biting flesh that’s already infected will lose out to those who ignore their fellow walkers in favor of live game.  Perhaps some extremely lucky mutation partially reboots necrotic host systems, the way a dead frog’s leg kicks in galvanic response to an electric shock: a diaphragm that still clenches now and then, pumps air in and out of rotting lungs like some half-assed bellows. Just enough to keep a few RBCs swapping O­­­2 for CO2 way past their best-before date, residual room-temperature metabolism ticking over just enough to keep limbs in motion longer than Nature might consider normal.  Microbes can cram a thousand generations of evolution into the space of a single prime-time episode; from a standing start, they won’t take long to converge on the walkers we know and love.  It’s basically drug-resistant syphilis, writ large.

The only question is whether Nature did this herself, or whether some Human agent gave her a boot in the ass. I don’t know whether either television or graphic canon will ever give us an answer to that one.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Hang on to your hearts.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday February 14 2013at 06:02 pm , filed under evolution, ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

61 Responses to “The Darwinian Dead”

  1. I think you’ll like the new zombies in the upcoming game The Last of Us. No more walking dead. Instead walking fungus zombies! GROSS/AWESOME

  2. Specifically, they look like this:
    http://images.vg247.com/current//2013/02/the_last_of_us_z_concept_art_10.jpg

    Really makes me wish I had a PS3.

  3. Now that looks gross. Can’t wait to forbid my kids from playing it.
    Isn’t there a 70’s scif fi novel where some fungal infection takes over the host’s nervous system and forces them to walk after uninfected while spore fronds start growing out their back? Now that book’s name is going to drive me nuts for the rest of the day.

    I’ve wondered about the whole zombie origin (2 hours a day alone in a mobile metal box and you think about a lot of things, scary things. I think I know who shot the deputy)

    What about something that modifies the base cellular function? Someone’s great idea on how to stop wounded soldiers from going into shock. (DARPA looked at that in the early naughties, wrote it off as sci fi and too ghoulish)
    The reduced neural function and slow decomposition is a unfortunate side effect.
    Then you just have animal rights activists break into a lab to rescue some chimps and there you go. Slow outbreak, battle of Yonkers, Rheedecker Plan and Brad Pitt looking worried.

  4. There may be an obvious answer here, but why don’t the zombies eat everything? I know they ate a horse, but that was for dramatic effect. You don’t see them busting through grocery stores and attacking song birds. It’s also fairly obvious that the parasite here failed. It has destroyed its host species; so unless it can jump over and/or tone it down a bit, it’s probably done. I think there was a strong implication in the CDC that it was artificial in origin, but that may have just been a subjective impression on my part. I have to admit I found the story too boring to go past the first season. I’ll just have to dream of the Meth Labs of Summer.

  5. pG,

    Could it be “A Smell of New-Mown Hay?”

  6. I believe there’s a scene in the graphic novel in which two characters who, um, let’s just say died by other means, subsequently zombify. Does this mean the infection has become widespread enough to mutate into some form that can be transmitted by another vector? Curious to know how that affects the thesis, if at all.

    Also, I read the previous comment while half-asleep and didn’t immediately click that it was in answer to an earlier comment, and now I’ve got it stuck in my head that the zombie infection is a mutation of New Car Smell.

  7. Awesome explanation. Haven’t watched the TV show yet myself.

    (And speaking of meteors. See link.)

  8. Thank all the gods that this has happened in 2013 and not 1983. 30 years ago someone would have thought it was a First Strike and pressed the button.
    Next thing you know I’d be standing next to a Indian Guide hearing him say – ‘This lake was once the great city of Wha Shing Ton’

    Whoever:
    Awesome explanation. Haven’t watched the TV show yet myself.

    (And speaking of meteors. See link.)

  9. Cameron Dixon:
    I believe there’s a scene in the graphic novel in which two characters who, um, let’s just say died by other means, subsequently zombify. Does this mean the infection has become widespread enough to mutate into some form that can be transmitted by another vector? Curious to know how that affects the thesis, if at all.

    Also, I read the previous comment while half-asleep and didn’t immediately click that it was in answer to an earlier comment, and now I’ve got it stuck in my head that the zombie infection is a mutation of New Car Smell.

    Yes, in the comic and the show, EVERYONE is already infected; regardless of how you die, you reanimate. The end of one of the comic book arcs (volume two of the hardback collections, maybe?) concludes with Rick pointing this out and making explicit that the “Walking dead” are not (or not just) the zombies, but the still-living humans.

    Still, cool piece!

  10. I heart your brain.

  11. […] more seriously, Canadian science fiction writer and biologist Peter Watts comes up with a plausible basis for the zombie, at least in the universe of The Walking Dead: the zombie […]

  12. “aftermath of a mitt romney presidency”. Yeah, because the obama one is going sooooo well.

  13. patrick:
    “aftermath of a mitt romney presidency”.Yeah, because the obama one is going sooooo well.

    Zombie-in-Chief?

  14. As others have made clear, in the comics (and then the series), it becomes clear that *all* dead reanimate unless their brains are destroyed. Whatever mechanism does so (and it has never been figured out in the comic) is universal, either an overall infection of all of humanity or…supernatural? It is immaterial for the story beyond not needing to be bitten in order to rise.

    In Mira Grant’s zombie novels, she has a similar thing since they are set decades after “the rising.” It is a universal infection and anyone who keels over at any time undergoes amplification, where the infection turns them into a zombie. Some people also spontaneously do so, promoting a general state of paranoia in a somewhat recovered world.

  15. patrick,

    Poor guy. Gotta get that in there, huh?


  16. Mitt Romney presidency

    In all due seriousness, how could it be more awful than the presidency of an utter Wall Street tool, a lawyer, who after getting the Nobel Peace Prize signs off on the Disposition Matrix.. and decides it’s just dandy to deem anyone killed by a drone strike a ‘terrorism suspect’ unless proven otherwise?

    To us outside observers disinterested in speeches, the Bush and Obama presidency seem the same.

    At least he’s never been recorded saying stuff like this before signing someone’s death warrant…

    To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed … there is nothing sweeter in the world.

  17. One problem with zombies is where they could possibly get the energy to do anything at all. As I recall, the human body generates and uses about 65 kg of ATP daily (that’s what it would be if each ADP could be turned into an ATP, used only once, then discarded – actually a much smaller quantity of ATP molecules are repeatedly used and regenerated from ADP), and that’s produced by aerobic respiration of fully-digested, absorbed nutrients. Look how quickly dead muscle runs out of ATP – there’s just enough on hand to produce rigor mortis, rather than exciting lurching and moaning.
    OK, buzzkill, but at least it’s better than pissing and moaning about someone else’s president.

  18. “The issues explored here carry more than a whiff of Ron Moore’s Galactica before it went down the New-Age toilet on us.”

    I totally agree with that sentiment. Interestingly, I think The Walking Dead faces a reverse danger. A supernatural explanation is, I think, more plausible (and, in this context, more interesting) for what’s been depicted on the show and it would suffer if the creators decide to depict it as conclusively due to natural causes.

  19. Al Billings,

    Actually, ‘poorer guy’ might be more apt, since incomes have demonstrably decreased under this administration (and the worse still slouches this way). So yeah.


  20. A supernatural explanation is, I think, more plausible (and, in this context, more interesting) for what’s been depicted on the show and it would suffer if the creators decide to depict it as conclusively due to natural causes.

    You never heard of sufficiently advanced technology?

    Say a self-replicating nanomachine that utilizes vacuum energy to let the corpses move. Only capable of surviving in human corpses. Carefully adjusted, so the zombies are not dangerous, as they’d be were they capable of say, running..

    It’s obvious that the zombie outbreak was caused by some sort of benevolent outside agency with the aim of preventing the inevitable war caused by competition for resources.

  21. […] The Darwinian Dead — Peter Watts on natural selection and zombie-ism. (Via threeoutside.) […]

  22. A bunch of us discussed more-or-less “scientific” zombies on the old Delta Green mailing list; I linked to the relevant archives here: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?208785-AFMBE-Tell-me-about-your-Deadworld!&p=4369170#post4369170 (these days I think you’d need to go to the Wayback Machine to find them, alas). I had some more ideas around that, and I should do something with it one of these days…

  23. Apologies in advance for the off topic post.

    I began reading the archives of your blog after finishing Blindsight. Unfortunately, it has utterly ruined my enjoyment of your books.
    This post and thread in particular left me thoroughly disgusted by your smug attitude and antisocial behaviour. http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=3482

    I wish I’d never learned more about you, so I could still appreciate your writing.

  24. PrivateIron: There may be an obvious answer here, but why don’t the zombies eat everything? I know they ate a horse, but that was for dramatic effect. You don’t see them busting through grocery stores and attacking song birds.

    Well, if the cerebrtal cortex is dark, they’re not “seeing” in the usual sense; they’re using the motion-based visual centers in the brainstem, responsible for blindsight. Not to mention the photoreceptors in the eyes have seen better days; I’d imagine anything much smaller than a human being wouldn’t even register. Smell seems to be especially important to them (another ancient sense that predates the cortex) Basically, I’m guessing that if the brain stem doesn’t do it, walkers don’t either.

    Cameron Dixon (et al): I believe there’s a scene in the graphic novel in which two characters who, um, let’s just say died by other means, subsequently zombify. Does this mean the infection has become widespread enough to mutate into some form that can be transmitted by another vector? Curious to know how that affects the thesis, if at all.

    Yeah, that’s pretty firmly established in the AMC series too: everyone is infected, everyone’s a walker-in-waiting. In terms of the retcon, hmmmm: maybe a facultative anaerobe that can survive in a living host, but only really thrives in an oxygen-impoverished environment? Which would pretty much rule out anything with a nucleus…

    Rogtam and Patrick: on February 16th, 2013 at 5:49 pm Re : Mitt Romney presidency

    Dudes, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the adequate-albeit-scarey.

    I’ve got serious misgivings about Obama myself — ever since he signed FISA back as a senator, in fact — and the drone issue is truly troubling. Still, you work with what you’ve got. Romney’s an opportunistic idiot; his position on climate change alone would be enough to disqualify him, if he maintained a stable position on anything for more than the time between Gallup polls. Look at his acrobatic reversals on health care. Might as well put a ping-pong ball in charge.

    Lars:
    One problem with zombies is where they could possibly get the energy to do anything at all. As I recall, the human body generates and uses about 65 kg of ATP daily (that’s what it would be if each ADP could be turned into an ATP, used only once, then discarded – actually a much smaller quantity of ATP molecules are repeatedly used and regenerated from ADP), and that’s produced by aerobic respiration of fully-digested, absorbed nutrients. Look how quickly dead muscle runs out of ATP – there’s just enough on hand to produce rigor mortis, rather than exciting lurching and moaning.

    I think for the retcon to work at all, you have to postulate that the walkers are only “mostly” dead — there’s gotta be some kind of metabolism persisting in there. And judging by appearances, you’re saving a lot of energy by cutting back on routine cellular maintenance; maybe you could put that into just running the engine until the engine, unmaintained, falls apart? (Of course it’s bullshit, but — and I mentioned in response to a previous unrelated comment — you work with what you’ve got.)

    Also, I did not realize that about rigor mortis! That one cool factoid alone makes the whole thread worthwhile!

    Rogtam-Bar:
    You never heard of sufficiently advanced technology?

    Say aself-replicating nanomachine that utilizes vacuum energy to let the corpses move. Only capable of surviving in human corpses.

    You know, that spiky graphic on the CDC computers could have been a piece of nanotech, now that I think about it. The problem is, even real viruses look kinda mechanical that far down…

    But I do like the nanotech angle. That covers a multitude of sins.

    eggo:

    No problem. Apology accepted.

  25. You never heard of sufficiently advanced technology?

    Sure, a naturalistic explanation can’t be ruled out. But I still find it a less plausible explanation for what’s been observed on the show.

    It’s an interesting philosophical question that the show raises though: what evidence would provide one with sufficient grounds for believing the supernatural was real?


  26. But I do like the nanotech angle. That covers a multitude of sins.

    Best applied phlebotinum there is.


    Still, you work with what you’ve got.

    That’s the problem. What you’ve got.
    Charlie Stross wrote a good essay on the inherent problem of representative democracy, which is that politicians and parties are not interested in representing anyone’s views, but in staying in power.

    See here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/02/political-failure-modes-and-th.html

  27. That one cool factoid alone makes the whole thread worthwhile!

    Actually I could have been a bit more careful – there’s generally enough ATP in dead muscle for galvanic twitching etc. Muscle action consumes huge amounts of it, though. You get rigor mortis once there isn’t enough to break the most recently-formed cross-bridges between actin and myosin, and that seems to happen fairly quickly, all else being equal.

  28. Hi Mr. Watts,

    I just read Blindsight over a couple of days, started on Starfish, and am now a fan for life.

    I was just wondering if you’d considered a forum on your site where people could discuss your work, and you could answer questions about vampires/scramblers etc (or just leave them to it)? I mean, unless you hate forums or something. But I can’t seem to find one, and I have a bunch of nerdy questions building up that I don’t think belong on your blog.

    ps you are awesome.

  29. It seems to me that generic zombie canon tends to have these really scary disgusting scenes where zombies all crowd around and devour the guts of their victims. Why guts? Wouldn’t muscle flesh be more nutritious, to say nothing of brains? (mmm, braaaainssss…)

    It might just be that zombies, being dead dontcha know, quickly run out of or kill off their own intestinal ecosystem, and this might be when they tend to actually run out of energy and actually expire or go dormant forever, whatever. They might need to do some actual digestion and without their intestinal microbes they’d have no more luck digesting anything than might a termite in the same situation. Thus, the tropism towards the guts first and everything else later, once they’ve managed to bite enough to bring down their prey. This of course doesn’t address how their infection evolved in the first place.

    Noted in passing: if the main infection is in the brain stem, and if for example as Peter Watts mentions they are pretty much navigating by blindsight, they’re still going to go down from a forehead shot because the hydraulic shock of a head shot echoes around inside the whole skull and possibly might do even worse damage in the spinal canal than in the cranium. One would predict, however, that a crowbar smashed across the skull would bring a quicker halt than an iron bar driven through as a spear. Someone ought to notify their Continuity editors. ;) I should also mention that in the series, it’s been mentioned a time or two that they seem far more driven by hearing than by vision. Thus they’re sort of standing around conserving energy until they hear something “unusual” such as the sound of human voices. Still a bit of pattern matching going on in the zombies, it would seem.

    BTW I didn’t see anyone else mention it, but during the run up to the Super Bowl, I saw a very brief film trailer (haven’t seen it elsewhere on TV or cable) for “World War Z” which IIRC has Matt Damon in a starring role.

    I would seriously love to see that on the Big Screen. In 3D. Ideally not with Smell-O-Vision, tho’.

  30. “Wouldn’t muscle flesh be more nutritious, to say nothing of brains? (mmm, braaaainssss…)”

    A zombie with a hunger for brains produces fewer zombies. That should tend to be selected out.

    “BTW I didn’t see anyone else mention it, but during the run up to the Super Bowl, I saw a very brief film trailer (haven’t seen it elsewhere on TV or cable) for “World War Z” which IIRC has Matt Damon in a starring role.”

    It was an excellent book. The trailers I’ve seen have me worried though in regard to the film adaptation. And it was Brad Pitt who’s starring.

  31. Recent Convert:
    Hi Mr. Watts,

    I just read Blindsight over a couple of days, started on Starfish, and am now a fan for life.

    I was just wondering if you’d considered a forum on your site where people could discuss your work, and you could answer questions about vampires/scramblers etc (or just leave them to it)?I mean, unless you hate forums or something.But I can’t seem to find one, and I have a bunch of nerdy questions building up that I don’t think belong on your blog.

    Hi Recent. Thanks for the kind words.

    Actually, there was a forum for discussing my stuff for a while — it was called “Offensive Squid”, and some gracious dude set it up when I found myself too busy to blog for an extended period. But it atrophied after a while, and the plug got pulled.

    I don’t have anything against a forum — my main concern is that it wouldn’t get enough traffic to stay viable — but with various other deadlines and disasters I haven’t really been in a position to put much thought into it. I’ve been wanting to upgrade the whole website for over a year now (it was almost cutting-edge when it started, now it’s quaint at best), but simply haven’t had the time (even subcontracting the job, I’d still need to make time to write the new content). My hope is that I’ll have time to get that done once Echopraxia is put to bed; and the first step will be surveying you guys on what would work best from the user’s end. Expect to see a snarky poll or two about cutting ties with facebook or the echo chamber that is Twitter; I can always get a sense of whether a forum would be worthwhile at that point.

  32. I prefer the blog. Open a forum and you will be moderating arguments between posters all day. If you wanted a forum type discussion area, sffworld.com has a
    Official Author forums section you could open, and they could handle the moderating.

  33. just a little tidbit I ran across http://energy.gov/articles/zombie-replicants-outperform-living…..

    Squishy scary!!!!

  34. oops, take off the ….. for the link to work.

  35. I recall a similar set of speculations at IO9. I think slime molds are the most likely culprits. After all, those brainless creatures can think.

  36. You know, given that drones have the LOWEST civilian casualty percentage of any relevantly-comparable modern weaponry, I’m still not sure why “drone strikes” are supposed to be a bogeyman buzzword.

  37. I’m firmly in the military experiment not fully designed and got out camp for Walking Dead. (It’s an oldie, but a goodie.) The way that the walkers group in herds and hunt with each other, seeming to communicate, that they will kill large-medium animals in their path but are ultra focused on humans, their heightened hearing and smell and ability to differentiate necrotic walkers from still living humans based on cell, their near indestructability barring brain destruction, the fact that the living can get walker blood and guts all over themselves and otherwise injured by walkers but only get infected from a bite and that the bite infection can be stopped in a limb by amputation, etc. It would seem to me if you were trying to design something for squads of soldiers going in deep to enemy territory, able to go without or minimal food and water for long periods, able to withstand and keep going from injuries and necrotized flesh that would normally kill a soldier, heightened senses, and all that, you might end up with something like the walkers if it was half-finished and got loose. You would not want the super soldiers to fight enemies and be able to infect the enemies with their abilities just from combat wounds, so some sort of injection re salvitory glands? Anyway, the walkers operate very much like (clumsy, poor sighted,) bands of soldiers, and the CDC guy’s behavior did seem to indicate something engineered.

    Sylocat: “You know, given that drones have the LOWEST civilian casualty percentage of any relevantly-comparable modern weaponry, I’m still not sure why “drone strikes” are supposed to be a bogeyman buzzword.”

    Because it’s only low civilian casualties if the drones aren’t turned on civilians or worse, on your own civilians. Because the capabilities of drones to spy, hunt down and kill in pinpointed but wide swathes of devastation represent a significant amping up of battle capabilities and a highly effective way to contain and control a population. Drones aren’t going away, but nervousness about what rules will be used in how they are deployed is certainly understandable.

  38. Sylocat,

    The media will use anything that they think scares the public.

    Personally Im all for drones. I think they save lives, both soldiers and civilians. The issues come up when the gov or law inforcement starts using them to police their own populations. Do they need a warrant to fly a drone over your property and spy on you? Can these drones be armed, lether or not? What if your local police office started using small drones equipped with tasers?

    Part of living in a free country is being left alone until you do something illegal. What if you went out into your backyard and there was a police officer standing there with a video camera in one hand and the other on his weapon, just waiting for you to do something? Having police drones in the air would be the equivilant to exactly that.

  39. Hi Mr. Watts,

    Thanks for replying. I can see your point, and I’ll take your survey.

    Jeremy’s sffworld idea seems pretty good. I’m also noticing that the comment threads on this blog go a lot deeper than I’d expected, so I’ll trawl through those for a while to try to avoid repeating anything.

  40. http://www.cagle.com/2013/02/drone-2/

  41. Whoever,

    We obviously need private ownership of drones.

  42. @Hertzlinger
    Some people already have them.. RC planes with camera kits on them.
    See youtube.

    But not for much longer:

    Even simple use of drones for observation is going to be a felony soon:
    http://www.rctech.net/forum/northwest-racers/702462-oregon-senate-bill-71-bad-news-rc-airplanes-who-knows-who-else.html

    Mere ownership of RC plane would be a class 2 misdemeanor. Putting a camera on one would be a felony.

    An RC plane with camera would have the same legal status as a Predator drone.
    It’s going to happen. Police hate being on tape.
    Quadrotors with 20 minutes endurance could allow easy circumventing of anti-wiretapping laws used by law enforcement in the US to avoid being videotaped.

    US law enforcement has a hard on for criminalizing mere ownership of stuff. A man in NY is facing 35 years in jail for possession of 5 magazines.

  43. Mr Non-Entity:
    Why guts? Wouldn’t muscle flesh be more nutritious, to say nothing of brains? (mmm, braaaainssss…)

    Well, I’m too tired to look that up, but tissues high in proteins might be asking for questions in the nitrogen metabolism. We don’t know what MZ[1] is doing here, though I guess there is already a heightened level of ammonia and like from necrosis; maybe part of the resistance of infected tissue even stems from further products of catabolism, like uric acid or trimethylamine N-oxide[2]. Still, too high a level of ammonia or urea is likely to be bad for zombie bio, err, necrochemistry, and might alert possible prey.

    So going for fat tissue[3] or some innards, especially yummy glycogen liver, might be a better option, and since MZ sufferers behave like obligate carnivores, the guts might be an important source of vitamins and like.

    As for the genesis of MZ, well, experiments in human hibernation seem a likely, since lowering metabolic rate is an imperative there. Resistance to high pressure, extreme temperatures, infections and low oxygen are important for all kind of missions, with the unexpected side effect of the brain going for survival mode, or some subprograms surfacing thanks to lacking inhibition. Which might mean we’re left with the bleak fact of MZ being likely reversible, but nobody knows how.

    [1] Short for Morbus Zombie, though then, why don’t we go with Morbus Romero? I guess it’s somewhere in the ICD-11, under A88.2, part of A88, “Other viral infections of central nervous system, not elsewhere classified”, like A88.1, “Epidemic Vertigo”.
    [2] You know, this shark osmoconformer stuff. And uric acid is a superb antioxidant, which might slow wear on some tissues. Come to think about it, anybody saw a zombie drink or piss? BTW, seems like TMAO heightens also resistance to hydrostatic pressure, which explains the relative immunity to bullets etc. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16043587
    [3] Which might explain why fat people in zombie films have a life expectancy only rivaled by stoned, drunk AND homosexual sex addicts. Also, quite a lot of the adipose tissue is subcutaneous, leaving us with more or less intact new infected, compared to the results of going for muscle tissues or brains.

  44. Rogtam-Bar:
    US law enforcement has a hard on for criminalizingmere ownership of stuff. A man in NY is facing 35 years in jail for possession of 5 magazines.

    You know, my first idea was something along the lines what magazines that were, mere ultraporn, kiddie porn, extreme politics etc., and then I googled it; let’s just say I prefer my imagination…

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/guns/haddad.asp

    So, if that’s the case you are going for, these are 5 magazines of the 30 round, AR-16 variety.

  45. To ponder somewhat…

    Personally, I don’t know the exact circumstances, but if my gut feeling he wanted to sell the magazines is right, the real scandal would be with the US social and medical system not providing for injured former soldiers, even if highly decorated, so they have to go for questionable arm sales:

    http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/01/injured-special-forces-soldier-arrested-in-upstate-ny-for-possession-of-high-capacity-ammunition-magazines/

  46. I doubt he wanted to sell them. He’s employed by the DoD, and the sale could net him at most $85 or so. Half a day’s pay I imagine.

    He’s facing 35 years in prison if he decides to go to trial. Or he could plea-bargain it down to some misdemeanor and lose his job, security clearance and all that.

    US is beyond fucked where legislation is concerned. You don’t even need to annoy a border guard to face jail, unlocking your phone or importing frozen lobsters in translucent containers is enough ..(two guys got 8 years each for the last one)

    Whether by design or not, once feds end up with a detailed file on everyone, and everyone is a felon, it’ll be easy to stamp out any dissent.
    US’ll end up like another Singapore, but less well run I imagine.

  47. Hallo, Mr. Watts. I read in the your Blindsight, this strings:

    “Like many others, I am weary of humanoid aliens with bumpy foreheads,”

    But humanoid project is specific for our galaxy, but may be and for great part of Universe.
    So i not faund in the your works nothing about wave genetics or a torsion field and other progressive science and technologys

  48. Rogtam-Bar:
    I doubt he wanted to sell them. He’s employed by the DoD, and the sale could net him at most $85 or so. Half a day’s pay I imagine.

    Well, I can only go with the newspaper articles on this one, as in

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/guns/2013/feb/1/miller-ny-vet-arrested-30-round-magazines-part-1/

    “According to Jefferson County Sheriff’s office sources, Mr. Haddad was in the parking lot of a closed business at 7:30 p.m. when an officer asked him what he was doing. The police allege that the Fort Drum civilian employee said that he was meeting someone to sell the AR-15 style rifle magazines. A police source also said that the magazines were stamped with the words “Restricted. For military use only.””

    Yes, the version usually told is it was a vehicle check, which sounds somewhat better than “standing in a shady parking lot”, but, well…

    Now there is not that much wrong with selling weapons[1], though it’s somewhat different from mere ownership; I guess the sensitive nature of the matter demands the legal provisions are met. So let’s look that one up. I’ll go here with the situation before the NY SAFE act of 2013

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NY_SAFE_Act

    since one of the points made was it was a brand new law.

    But even before NYSAFE, NYS had tougher gun laws compared to the rest of the US, though that was more of a continuation of the 1994 Federal Assault Rifle Ban than a local innovation. The federal ban ended in the early zeroes, so it’s not so much the law becoming more strict, but the NRA and like becoming more assertative.

    According to the situation between 1994 and 2013, magazines are illegal if they can hold more than 10 rounds and were manufactured after 1994; the change with NYSAFE in 2013 is it’s down to 7 now, and since we are speaking about 30 rounds here, this difference is negligable. So this has nothing to do with a new Assault Weapon ban or even NYSAFE, but it’s just common practice in NY since about 1994, NYS just didn’t have the 2004 sunset provision of the Federal Assault Weapon ban. Complaining the law wasn’t even enacted yet is either errorneous or fraudulent, the law was recently tightened, yess, but the culprit here is a putative break of a law in force for nearly 20 years, AFAIK the act of 2013 will only be enforced in April, with some roll-out. The provisions of the 1994 law might seem strange to people from other US states, but that’s state laws. Err.

    Now Haddad said he thought the magazines were produced before 1994, but it seems there are some problems with detemining the date of manufacture, since the magazines were stamped with it only during the ban. If the magazines were manufactured before 1994, I guess the law enforcement is in for some hurt, and rightly so, if they were manufactured after 1994, at the very least Haddad is a sloppy gun trader. Whatever, the whole point is likely to be moot, since the magazines were stamped “For Military use only”, and it seems this was only instituted AFTER 1994. Which means the magazines hold more than 10 rounds and were manufactured after 1994, are thus illegal, and he violated a NYS law nearly 20 years old.

    Now one could argue, but the whole argument just boils down to two alternatives:

    a) he knew that there was a state law against these magazines, but he choose to break it, maybe for profit, maybe to make a point, maybe he didn’t care. When we go with the idea of him making a pont, e.g. civil disobedience, IMHO fairness dictates that law enforcement treats you decent, but also that you aknowledge you broke a law, but the law was unjust, to quote one of our German commies, “where justice becomes unjust, resistance becomes obligatory”. But then, he says he thought they were legal, so the “idealism, even if somewhat misguided” provision doesn’t fit.

    b) he didn’t know, in which case, well, people kill people with guns, so I guess we can agree selling guns necessitates some caution on the part of the seller.

    As a conclussion, I’d like to quote somebody who opposes the NYS laws:

    “If it turns out that my research is correct that he was selling government property to a private purchaser in contradiction to current New York State laws, Haddad will get what he deserves. This isn’t the Rosa Parks case that the pro-gun people have been hoping for – there are no Rosa Parks in the gun debate. If we’re willing to violate the gun laws in effect in the various states, we must be willing to pay the price. If NYS wants to overturn those scary-gun laws that have been foisted uon them, they should do it in the courts and the legislature, not in dark, empty parking lots.”

    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=34280&cpage=1

    He’s facing 35 years in prison if hedecides to go to trial.

    That is, if he has to serve them nonconcomitantly, though it seems concomitant jail time is far more likely. This means 7 years, and I have no idea if that’s a maximum or minimum sentence, likely the former.

    Let’s stay reasonable, hmkay?

    US is beyond fucked where legislation is concerned.

    Substitute “legislation” with “legislation AND jurisdiction AND criminal punishment”, and, yes, I’d somewhat agree. And yes, I know US prisons are full of “innocents” compared to, say, German ones because while in Germany confessing your crime is proof of rehabilitation and thus early release, in the US it’s likely to nullify your change of repeal, but that’s not exactly an argument against serious problems in your system, right?

    And, well, breaking the laws I don’t like and denouncing anybody breaking the laws I like and not seeing the hypocrisy won’t help, sorry.

    You don’t even need to annoya border guard to face jail, unlocking your phone

    There is one difference, though; selling “assault rifles” to people not fit to use them might harm people, where the weapons in question are of somewhat limited use against law enforcement and like, e.g. the “resistance to oppressive government” scenario, but they are quite “useful” when going against “soft targets”. Like schools. Or hospitals. Or…

    Compared to this, jailbreaking your IPhone is only a victimless crime. Even if it was a crime. And I didn’t buy it, but borrowed it for life.

    or importing frozen lobsters in translucent containers is enough ..(two guys got 8 years each for the last one)

    Err, not really. According to

    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=572318

    it was more like “Murder, Arson and Jaywalking”,

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArsonMurderAndJaywalking

    with the plastic containers being the jaywalking part, though even that one might have to be somewhat revised, since the law in question was more like “no lobsters in bulk, only in cardboard” to ease controls.

    And the “murder and arson” being the lobsters being to small (one of the best ways to drive a species to extinction is still to go for the young who haven’t reproduced yet, you know), some lobsters carrying eggs (one of the other best ways to drive a species to extinction is going for reproducing specimens then) etc. And so on.

    Whether by design or not, once feds end up with a detailed file on everyone, and everyone is a felon, it’ll beeasy to stamp out any dissent.

    Thing is, most of the laws in question are not that new, the Assault Rifle ban is 1994, the Lacey Act the lobsters relate to is even 1900.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lacey_Act_of_1900

    Thing is, people ridicule rules like how much and what flesh there is in meat balls etc. And the industry agrees. Then we find some horse flesh in said meat balls, and the only way to persecute said industry is by “silly rules”.

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/02/25/horse-meat-found-in-ikeas-swedish-meatballs/

    So while I agree there are quite a lot of silly laws around, when law-and-order NRA guys and “property is natural law” economists complain about there being too many laws, my libertarian-mugged-by-reality spider sense flares up, same as with our former communists of “Die Linke” talking about personal freedom, you know. ;)

    To make a long story short, always ask “cui bono”.

    [1] Let’s just say that having some WW2 vets in your family puts a damper on the more enthusiastic gun nuts in the family, you know.

  49. To get this away from one of the usual gun control discussions, what weapons are sufficient for n outbreak of MZ? Guns like the AR-16 and like seem inefficient, given the resistance of zombie tissue to exsanguination and hydrostatic shock. Explosive projectile would destroy zombies, but there might be a serious infection risk. Also note ammunition might be in short supply. Flame throwers and Napalm’d be nice, but fuel might be in short supply either.

    I like Brook’s lobotomizer, but when dealing with bigger crowds, there might be problems.

    Any idea about Roman infantry tactics? It seems like the testudo was not that great for hand-to-hand combat, but protected against missiles, which is quite the opposite of what we want, but an infantry square, especially with the three or more lines of Roman tactics, should work. If you’re tired, cue to next in line…

  50. @Trottel

    Regarding lobsters. What I read is that there was a anonymous allegation, cops impounded it all. Then they checked the lobster and few percent (~3%) or so were undersized or had eggs. Which isn’t really evidence of criminal intent, more of sloppiness.

    So they nailed them for the packaging. And the Honduran law was not valid at the time, since it hadnt yet (or possibly ever) been signed by their prez.

    _____________

    About the mags. They can’t proof they were gov’t property. Such mags became legal in most of US post AWB expiration. Police dept/military sometimes sell off stuff.

    ______________

    there are no Rosa Parks in the gun debate.

    Yes, there are. The pox and crime ridden city of Chicago, in flagrant violation of the US constitution prohibited people from defending themselves with firearms. US is not Austria or Switzerland, places with effective and trusted police forces. US police have no duty to protect people (established in a court case) and can’t be relied upon reacting quickly. Furthermore the crime levels in places with significant underclass are something completely unknown to EU, except perhaps places like Campania and so on.
    See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald_v._Chicago


    Let’s just say that having some WW2 vets in your family puts a damper on the more enthusiastic gun nuts in the family, you know.

    Why should it? Isn’t Warsaw ghetto, where almost completely untrained, badly equipped Jews resisted for weeks before they were burned out proof that had people taken up arms, and fought back, it could’ve been a whole lot bloodier for the Germans?
    Places like Yugoslavia, where arms amongst civilians were widespread, and the nature of the people were more spirited… Germans had a tough time. Terrain helped a lot though. Same in USSR, once the Germans screwed the pooch by mistreating civilians, the partisans were a pretty big factor.


    There is one difference, though; selling “assault rifles”

    He was selling magazines. Which can be bought from any online store or in most US states without any ID or anything. Not ‘assault rifles’ which are mostly banned in the US and very hard to get, and very pricey (7000$ +).

    Semi-automatic rifles are practically the only common weapon feared by law enforcement. Most of them punch through body armor with ease, can be shot rapidly and so on. And they are only used in ~250 homicides in the US per year, which is less than blunt instruments. So why freak out about them, and not handguns which are involved in majority of gun homicides ? FYI, legally owned fully automatic weapons have never been used in a homicide in the US. By civilians that is.

  51. @Trottel

    You’re wrong. AR-15 (not sure if there are AR-16, but AR-15’s are common) are very effective against zombies whose skulls haven’t been hardened. Since all zombies in fiction can be made harmless by destroying the brain, AR-15’s would always work.

    .22 LR which has a far less effective (10% of kinetic energy) is deadly if it hits the right part of t he brain.

    5.56 mm projectile with ~1800-2000 J of energy won’t cause avulsion of the brain like higher powered rifles, but wil certainly punch through the skull and seriously damage the brain.

    If that were not enough, you could always use a higher caliber, such as .308, which is certain to completely destroy the brain or possibly explode the skull.

    Regarding ammo, purchasing 5000 rounds of rifle ammo is within the means of most employed people in the first world. A transitory problem is supply, US has ammo shortages these days, due to stockpiling and gov’t meddling.

  52. The zombie plague is so extreme and obvious that it seems an improbably gigantic evolution. It’s not like we have clumps of zombies showing up today, and it suddenly got more virulent.

    I agree it’s artificial, but not man-made. Alien Space Bats!

    http://smstirling.com/books/dies-the-fire/

    Imagine an advanced alien explorer, looking for threats to quash. It picks up a radio transmission, visits Earth (or sends a probe), and decides humanity is on a dangerous trajectory. What’s the most efficient way to eliminate the risk? Invasion is labor intensive — the low-effort path is to turn humanity against itself. Engineer a virus that causes mindless violence, wrecking civilization and scientific advancement / space exploration. This is also much easier than changing physics.

  53. A brief fly-by though I’d love to bite on some of these threads, specifically the one about proper armament to survive the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse (“IZA”) (or global population crash, whatever). But right now my computer glasses are in the shop getting a re-tread so please bear with any typoes, I can read this just fine on the iPod but can’t type there and typing where I can’t read means short posts and spleeing ereeors. ;)

    @Chris Pepper: Probably you know this but James Tiptree Jr (Alice B Sheldon) did an award-winning take on that idea, called “the Screwfly Solution”. A rather insightful bit of pre-neuro, that was, as well as some groundbreaking Feminist SF. I think there might be a video adaptation on youtube, I know it’s been done to film and rather well.

    @everyone: BTW, for those not in the States, please remember that we’re going through a huge legislative reaction to that massacre in Newtown Connecticut, which ultimately ought to boil down to “keep yer firearms locked up when there’s a withdrawn young adult in the house who is right at the age when schizophrenia most likely would set in.” Yet many legislatures are over-reacting in a big way, notably in my own state. The end result? The only people remotely prepared to deal with the IZA would be a few Charleton Hestons and a heck of a lot of inner-city gangstas. Die-hards and serious criminals will find or make a way to retain enough power on hand to down a pack of zombies. What use is a 7-round ammo clip when you’ve got a whole cemetery lurching across the lawn towards your sadly indefensible suburban tract house?

    Gah. Eye failure. See you next week maybe.

  54. Rogtam-Bar:
    @Trottel
    Since all zombies in fiction can be made harmless by destroying the brain, AR-15′s would always work.

    That’s the problem here, you have to destroy the brain; which means head shots over body shots, where the latter might make the enemy even more dangerous, e.g. crawling at the floor. And as any RPG nerd can tell, head shots are apt for critical failure.

    So shooting the zombies from the top of a house is nice, though I’d prefer a sniper rifle, then, but on the floor, give me an infantry squad, at least 2 lines deep, bite-proof clothes (gotta look at the anti-chainsaw lumberjack stuff and like), some BIG shields and a couple of improvised war mallets, and here we go. ;)

    Come to think about it, maybe we could get the Mythbusters to do some experiments.


  55. And as any RPG nerd can tell, head shots are apt for critical failure.

    RPG’s connection to reality tends to be even more tenous than CG’s.
    Headshots are discouraged by firearms instructors, however there’s no alternative where walking corpses are concerned, the corpses don’t shoot back nor do they move very quickly and ‘critical failure’ is where guns are concerned is affected purely by gun & ammo quality.

    Mallets? People get tired eventually, and hand to hand combat is very exhausting.

  56. Rogtam-Bar:
    RPG’s connection to reality tends to be even more tenous than CG’s.

    Well, yes, but at least with that one, I guess there is some truth to them.

    Headshots are discouraged by firearms instructors, however there’s no alternative where walking corpses are concerned

    That’s why I’m somewhat sceptical about them; corpses are slow, yes, but they are steady, you have to reaim your gun, and the metabolically challenged coming at you might not make you better with accuracy. lso note that as mentioned, “injured” zombies might crawl at you and thus be even more dangerous.

    Plus you have to get a headshot, but the zombie only needs a bite. Amputation/antivirals/exorcism have questionable efficiency.

    There was one nice documentation where they used a machine gun to shot at different attack formations. With a long front line attack, the typical zombie scenario, it didn’t look well. For the MG. It might be nice to thin the zombies out, but after that, it’s hammer time.

    Mallets? People get tired eventually, and hand to hand combat is very exhausting.

    That’s why I insisted on at least 2 lines. ;) I don’t know if you watched the first episode of Rome, but if yes, do you remember the first row fighting while the second one is resting, then the centurio gives a whistle signal, and they switch positions? Actually, AFAIK they really fought like this after the reforms of Marius.

    Some guns in the back would come in handy, too, though with close combat, they should only be used carefully.

    As for the mallet, a pick hammer like the one used by geologists should be nice.

    Actually, I’m already planning on a test run. Give me laser tags and garden pots, and let’s see how it works out.

  57. Here I am, back with early strain-free eyeglasses so I can engage in excessive typing if only the power stays on while, secretly and unbeknownst to mankind, the forces of the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse gather, or prepare, or stop rottting so quickly, or whatever it is that they do while biding their time before erupting as a fast-spreading pox on civilization and devourer of unsuspecting humans.

    What is the proper level, and type, of preparation for the IZA? Seriously, don’t go stocking up on things that are just perfect for zombies but haven’t much other use, as this is a bit silly due to the fact that there aren’t really any zombies. However, a combination of combat knife, handgun, and at least one semi-auto rifle seem reasonable as a starting point. These would also be useful in other situations, such as generic “civil unrest” ranging from the casual revolution to the main force invasion to the occasional eruption of mass psychosis in the guise of (or induced by) years of media coverage of upcoming elections Stateside. Swords are optional but if you need to be relatively quiet, they’re perhaps the only option. If you decide to go this way, get something like a cavalry rapier rather than a katana, something designed to hold up through a lot of clash and hacking by amateurs rather than the elegant tools of lifelong students which are used primarily for slashing. Katanas, used improperly, tend to break rather easily. Machetes are a bit shorter than you might want, but if you don’t mind getting that close, they’re ideal. With little effort they can be refashioned into a Roman-style gladius and those are rightly respected.

    Keep in mind that the notion of getting a strong enough set of walls, with enough food stocked inside, will only work against actual (fictional) zombies, or dogs as another potential threat in a world where civil systems have failed. Anything that can build a fire and/or design artillery will have you out of those walls in short order, or bring them down around you. Besides, if you are sufficiently outnumbered by zombies, they’ll just lay on a siege, and good luck getting out of your impregnable fortress if the reason you’re leaving is starvation.

    Thus, we propose that your best bets for equipage would be a couple of backpacks, varying sizes, some of which you don’t mind losing. Those last you would wear outermost, so that if a zombie grabs you by them, you can just shed and run and re-provision latter. Next, one machete, one combat knife, one multi-tool knife, 1 good semi-auto rifle of durable service style, 1 handgun of sufficient caliber. Probably this should be large-clip and semi-auto and something like 9mm parabellum, and you may want a last-ditch backup in the form of a 5-shot .44 magnum for those annoying times when you really need to blow off a head from no more than 6 inches away. Just keep in mind that weapons and ammo are heavy and that’s less food/medicine that you can carry. You do need spare ammo and be sure to get at least basic cleaning-kits for the firearms.

    Zombie survival comes in several phases. The hunker-down phase is best in the early days until you figure out what’s going on. Then you’ll want to mobilize and re-group and meet up with other survivors, etc.

    One note here: Zombie Movies almost invariably have the pathogen that sparks a zombie also kill off almost all dogs, and that is probably because nobody wants to have to write about the real serious threat that comes with any major depopulation and collapse of civil systems, and that threat is the fact that there are about an equal number of dogs and humans almost anyplace you go. Starting off a heroic zombie-survival novel is going to be tough slogging for bother writer and readers when half or more of the action is dealing with being outnumbered 10-to-1 or more by dogs gone feral. Yet in a real IZA, far more than any shambling revenants, dogs will be the persistent and most-common threat.

    Finally there will be the “we mostly won, we need to grow crops” phase. If you’re writing, that’s probably the best meat on the shelf, so to speak. If you’re a real survivor of a real IZA, you’re basically back to the technical level of the US midwestern pioneers, and in between blasting the occasional zombie as if they were a renegade Pawnee (apologies to any real Pawnee out there), it’s going to be a lot of drudgery… but you survived.

  58. Here ya go:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/zombie-apocalypse-trainining-military-halo-corp-_n_2036996.html

    I wonder if they’re expecting a rise in the use of “bath salts.”

  59. Mr Non-Entity,

    I disagree with your ‘dog’ theory. First off, a large percentage of dogs in the US, most of the designer small breeds, would be no threat at all. In fact they could be used as a handy food source. For the large breeds that are left most of them would be left caged up or locked inside a house or the back yard, alot of them chained to a post even. Unless everyone just sets their pets free I dont think feral dogs would be a huge issue.

    Taking that further dogs would be a great asset as both defence and an early warning system. Chain up a dog every 100ft around your perimeter and they would bark like mad when a zombie wandered near. And have a pack of viscious pit-bulls ready to rip the heads off of any that got too close.

  60. @Whoever: Nope. There’s a group of futurists out there who study the so-called “Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse” and will flat out tell you that of course they don’t believe in zombies… but they are gaming any and all scenarios they can think of which result in widespread impacts on civil systems and which could escalate to actual collapse of such systems. We’re talking about anything that overwhelms law-enforcement’s ability to maintain a non-martial rule of law and maintenance of reasonable order. Indeed, in the escalation modes, it could move to the point where not even full-on martial law and convoy-and-escort procedures could ensure timely delivery of essentials such as food.

    It could be anything… some religious mania, widespread neurological disorder (imagine a plague of human rabies transmitted as contagion rather than by infection), something completely unknown yet expanding through emergent-phenomenon processes. More or less, from start to finish, you have about 3 to 10 days to either get it under control or abandon hope of ever getting it under control. One of the classic cases in “IZA studies” is seen in John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up” which remains a fine novel, excellent writing, and far more accurately prophetic than most modern SF fans know.

    What the military are training for is the psychedelic equivalent of widespread e-coli outbreaks, the modern version of the Middle Ages widespread ergot poisoning outbreaks. Almost guaranteed to happen, sooner or later.

    The fact that this training also serves as training for control of insurrections — against imposition of a police state, for example — is probably not incidental.

  61. Sorry to follow myself, but here’s a notion as to a potential future cause of “IZA”.

    We see a mytery unfolding here in Maryland, and probably elsewhere. 20 year old US Air Force airman donated organs to 4 people, one of whom died of rabies. It seems that the airman probably had it when he enlisted, and made it all of the way through basic training before dying with a misdiagnosis of gastrointestinal disorder thought to be brought on by eating bad shellfish. The rabies strain is one fairly common in raccoon in Virginia and North Carolina, generally the Great Dismal Swamp area.

    Ordinarily rabies would take no longer than about 3 months to become symptomatic, and with no known exposure, the airman wasn’t examined for rabies and his organs were donated for transplant. The US Army veteran in Maryland who received a kidney got his transplant in 2011, and died only a few days ago.

    So, what we have here is a virus strain that has a very wide window of opportunity to spread before it kills, almost certainly kills, the victim.

    Clearly, rabies isn’t easy to transmit; the only cases I’ve heard of which could be suspected of having been transmitted as STD were discussed in a rather sensationalistic announcement by some Italian researcher, back in maybe 1998 or so, linking the possibility of a slow-developing strain possibly being (in part) responsible for some of the tales of vampirism in the 18th/19th-century “vampire manias” that swept Europe. That researcher pointed to traits such as unprovoked violence, frenzied sexual activity almost amounting to priapism, photophobia, inability to drink wine or water, etc etc. The explanation was that a fairly weak strain was causing severe brain damage but not at such a rate as to fall into the profound encephalitis normally produced by rabies.

    One might (wildly) hypothesize that a weak enough strain of rabies might be survivable in rare cases, and that people buried in that timeframe after a coma might survive and even manage to escape the tomb. Imagine, again wildly, that having returned, they find their way home, and their loved ones get a little too close and they are not so lucky as to survive the rabies they acquire. Thus, the legend of a certain type of vrdolak which has the legend of such returns and consequent destruction.

    But I digressed from my original intent. Imagine that our late and lamented airman had been a scrupulous blood donor… and further apply your imagination to how far through the blood supply and general population this might spread with a 15-month minimum between infection and onset of symptoms. This could get pretty widespread.

    Now, set up the cameras, cue law-enforcement, and you’ve pretty much got a re-make of the re-make of George Romero’s “The Crazies”. Except this could be a real landscape of really messed up people wandering around in states of extremely altered consciousness, mostly looking to bite people. Thank goodness that the police and military have had this training exercise to help them to know what to do! ;)