- Neil Balchan is upset, and so am I. The garter snake researcher visited a wintering den where he was doing field research only to discover that dozens of harmless red-sided garter snakes had been beaten and butchered at the site. CBC News has more.
- Here’s TVO on the fragile state of the eastern hognose snake in Ontario.
- And here’s the Great Lakes Echo on scientists’ efforts to track the elusive—and, in Ontario, endangered—rat snake.
- The Tennessee Aquarium has created the first map of North America’s biogeographical turtle communities.
- Burmese pythons might be an invasive scourge in Florida’s Everglades, but they’re not doing well in their natural range. The Guardian looks at conservation efforts on the python’s behalf in Bangladesh.
- An interesting read in Smithsonian magazine about taxonomic vandalism—the act of exploiting international rules to name new species without the science to back it up, usually for self-aggrandizing reasons. It’s endemic in herpetology; Raymond Hoser’s name turns up here, and not for the first time.
- Tiger keelback snakes are both venomous (it’s a rear-fanged colubrid)
and poisonous, thanks to the toads they feed on. The snakes store the toad toxins in their nuchal glands. But do they know they’re packing toad toxins? According to a new study, yes: the snakes’ defensive behaviour changes depending on the toxicity of their diet. [Journal of Comparative Psychology]
- Commercial reptile collection has been banned in Nevada, where it’s been more or less unregulated for decades. Nature’s Cool Green Science blog has the story behind the ban.
- Sean Graham has some advice for field herpers: instead of spending money and effort on finding rare species for your life list, they should spend that on field work that might actually do some good. “Imagine if instead of trying to find their lifer Pigmy Rattlesnake in Apalachicola National Forest, they instead went looking for them in central Alabama where records are few and patchy? If instead of herping for fun, everyone made their herping count?”1
- Using the Internet to identify snakes is definitely a thing; I’ve gotten my share of requests. Sierra, the Sierra Club’s magazine, looks at how the Snake Identification Facebook group does the job. Turns out the challenges the group faces are as much about social dynamics—dealing with frivolous requests, not attacking people for killing snakes—as they are scientific.
- If you can’t feed a snake mice, does that mean you can’t keep snakes at all? I answer this question on Quora.
Month: October 2017
In the original Star Wars movie, the capture of Princess Leia is a key tactical objective for the Empire because she alone can reveal the location of the Rebels’ secret base. “Now she is my only link to finding their secret base,” says Darth Vader in the opening scenes. That fact is why she is taken to the Death Star and interrogated, and why Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan: her singular knowledge is worth the destruction of a world.
But then Rogue One came along and messed all of that up—by making the Rebels’ secret base not much of a secret.
Rogue One reveals that the Rebel Alliance is a shitty rebel insurrection because it does not use a proper clandestine cell structure. Need-to-know is nowhere to be seen; Yavin 4’s location is the opposite of closely guarded. Just about everyone in the Alliance seems to know where the hidden base is. Not only that, but travel to and from said base by high-ranking Rebel leaders—leaders that are almost certainly under surveillance by Imperial security services—appears to be routine.
Here’s the thing. If the Millennium Falcon could be traced to Yavin 4, then so could any other ship carrying someone suspected of being a Rebel. Anyone, from Mon Mothma down to the lowliest private, could be captured, interrogated and compromised—and should have been long before the events of the first film. As depicted in Rogue One, the Rebels are extremely vulnerable to a decapitation strike.
Fortunately, the Empire seems to be run by fricking idiots. If they were dead serious about finding the hidden base, they would have made capturing alive any operative—any soldier, any pilot—a top priority. Leia’s resistance to the mind probe was considerable—the Force runs strong in her family, after all—but the same could not be said for every ground-level Rebel.
Instead, they shoot them down, throw grenades at them, vaporize the general area in which they are found with a Death Star superlaser, and, well …
Pretty sure this guy knew where the secret base was too, Darthie-boy. Nice going.
The original Star Wars1 made sense if the Tantive IV practiced good operations security—if it never visited the secret base on Yavin 4, and its personnel were unaware of the base’s location.
But thanks to Rogue One, they’ve been there. This is a problem, because Leia isn’t Vader’s “only link to finding their secret base.”
Look at what we have here! Prisoners! Half a dozen or so of them, plus two astromech droids whose memory banks are probably full of actionable intel.
Unless Imperial intelligence is as much of an oxymoron as precision stormtrooper sharpshooting, the Empire doesn’t need Leia at all.
DARTH VADER: You will tell me the location of the secret Rebel base. (does hand-wavy Jedi thing)
REBEL REDSHIRT: I will tell you the location of the secret Rebel base. Ah, it’s Yavin 4. Here, I’ll give you the exact coordinates. It’s longitude—
DARTH VADER: No need. Seriously. No. Need.
What can I say? The new movies strike the right emotional notes, but they don’t do plot logic or continuity very well. It’s one of the few things the prequels did better. (Possibly the only thing.)
With Infinity Wars (Solaris, September 2017), Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Project turns its attention to military science fiction. Each volume of Strahan’s Infinity Project anthologies—Infinity Wars is the sixth—has taken some aspect of hard sf and turned it on its head a bit, offering fresh takes on old themes, often from authors not normally known for writing hard sf. (I reviewed Engineering Infinity, the first book of the Infinity Project, in 2001; last year I reviewed the fifth book, Bridging Infinity. I’ve read them all.) Now it’s military sf’s turn, and if there’s a subgenre of science fiction that could use some shaking off of the shibboleths, this is it.
That’s because military sf has more than its share of detractors, a result of it being associated, rightly or wrongly, with a certain ultra-conservative, anti-government, paranoid brand of American politics, one whose bent has gotten more and more strident as its mantle passed from Heinlein to Pournelle to a younger generation: Disch traces the evolution of this strain in his 1998 study, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of.1 See also David Auerbach’s piece for The Daily Beast. These survivalist/soldier-of-fortune power fantasies aren’t the only kind of military sf out there, but there’s an awful lot of them (whereas, as Disch points out, masterpieces like The Forever War are singular), and it’s what people think of when they dismiss military sf.