Le Camp des Saints is a 1970s anti-immigration novel that remains eternally in the public mind thanks to proimmigration activists. Every few months a new op-ed appears somewhere informing the reader that this evil, racist book still exists and remains evil and racist. Like Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, it’s hard to defend, easy to mock, a useful albatross to hang around your opposition’s neck. Voltaire said “oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” Saints achieves this so effectively that it will probably remain in print for a hundred years.

The story is a dystopia. Overpopulation has turned the Third World into a simmering Malebolge of starvation and poverty. A sea of refugees threaten to overwhelm the West, while deluded liberal politicians tunnel holes in the walls. The crisis reaches a head when an army of Indians (enabled by a weak, dissimulating “atheist philosopher” called Ballan) hijack a fleet and sail for France. As the armada approaches, the government faces a choice: should the refugees be allowed in? They deliberately packed enough supplies for a one-way trip, and they’ll die if turned away.

To state the obvious, the book is indeed bigoted. Raspail does not like foreigners. They’re described as “a mass of human flesh”, “a million flailing savages”, “a river of sperm”, “unbridled, menacing hordes”, “cholera-ridden and leprous wretches”, “columns of ants on the march”, a “numberless, miserable mass”, “a welter of dung and debauch”, and more. Tolkien didn’t write about orcs with such vituperation.

Saints might be the most splenetic book to achieve mainstream success in a century.  It’s written in squalling, thundering prose that seems shouted at the reader through a bullhorn. Characters are painted with one broad stroke, and usually never a second one. In the first pages we meet the first of many strawmen of the pro-immigration left – a white college kid who has embraced Islam and atheism simultaneously (?), is helping the refugees make landfall so they can destroy French culture (?!) and who wants to rape his sister (?!?!). But first he’s going to smoke pot and shoot dope on the beach. This character amazed me: he was like a caricature from a Jack Chick tract.

Saints is a queasy and miserable nightmare. I doubt many finished it, and the ones who did probably didn’t immediately plan a re-read. But it has an intensity to it, and once you adjust to the content, it’s strangely readable. Raspail has a “Nouveau French” prose style that’s equal parts classicist and camp (“there was no lack of clever folk, willing, from the start, to spread endless layers of verbal cream, spurting thick and unctuous from the udders of their minds”) and quite amusing. It’s a book written out of passion, not cynicism.

The moral issues Saints raises are interesting and important, however much you disagree with the book’s handling of them.

Race is a stalking horse for Raspail’s true issue: overpopulation. The Indians aren’t bad because they’re Indians, they’re bad because there are too many of them. They reproduced to excess, used up all their country’s resources, and now want to take other countries down with them. This might seem a distinction without a difference, but it creates a covalence with many thinkers and intellectuals from the period, not all of whom were on the far right.

Overpopulation was much on the public mind in the 70s (and 80s, and 90s). The ghost of Thomas Malthus[1](For the record, Malthus was an original and clever thinker, but he made mistakes. His argument was that human population must increase exponentially – two people, four people, eight people … Continue reading) began stirring and rattling chains. “The population is doubling every forty years! How will we feed, clothe and house them all? What happens to the environment? We’re going to be back in the bad old days: wars, famines, plagues, deforestation. Wouldn’t it be kinder for everyone if we could…*cough*…control the population somehow?”

This is why your Infowars-obsessed dad keeps finding quotes by “elites” such as Ted Turner about reducing the population. It’s also the reason The Camp of the Saints was published by a mainstream press and read by academics, instead of “published” by a hand-cranked press at a neo-Nazi farmstead and “read” by the prosecution at the author’s hate speech trial. “There’s too many people, and lots of them will have to die,” absolutely wasn’t a fringe viewpoint fifty years ago, and Raspail’s hymn had many voices in the choir, although most hid their views in liberal language.

In 1968, Paul Erlich wrote The Population Bomb, full of cheery asides like “the battle to feed all of humanity is over”, and “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies and got its author on NBC’s Tonight Show. In 1995 Lester R. Brown wrote a book called Who Will Feed China? (making China sound like the monster in Little Shop of Horrors, ravenously eating), complete with a photo of sad-looking Chinese kids on the cover. Radical leftist Pentti Linkola spent decades recommending drastic population reductions by coercive means, as seen in his famous “lifeboat ethics” metaphor.

“What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.”

Note that these brutal “sever the extra hands” solutions were always directed at brown people. White people used far more than their share of the planet’s resources, but somehow it was always the mother in Senegal with seven children dooming the world. It’s an uncomfortable legacy that the left has spent a lot of time grappling with since (Google “eco-fascism” for more), and if you want to throw tomatoes at Raspail, save a few ripe ones for the 70s environmentalist movement, too.

But how the years condemn. Here’s Raspail’s introduction.

I HAD WANTED TO WRITE a lengthy preface to explain my position and show that this is no wild-eyed dream; that even if the specific action, symbolic as it is, may seem farfetched, the fact remains that we are inevitably heading for something of the sort. We need only glance at the awesome population figures predicted for the year 2000, i.e., twenty-eight years from now: seven billion people, only nine hundred million of whom will be white.

This year arrived twenty years ago, but this world arrived not at all. Raspail’s vision of the future never came to pass, and something happened instead that he didn’t expect: the Third World began rising out of poverty. The choice between saving the poor and saving ourselves never occurred: we can do both. The game is survival is not always zero-sum.

But I’m interested in the moral quandary Raspail poses. First, let’s grant his scenario. A million Indians are waiting to enter France. If they, they’ll destroy Western civilization (in the same sense that Spanish invasion of the new world “destroyed” the Meso-American civilizations). Don’t ask questions. This is the choice. What’s the correct thing to do?

I think the refugees should still be allowed in. Killing a million people is bad. And although the death of Western civilization might be worse, you’re weighing a certain bad at probability 1 (a million people will definitely die if we sink the ships), vs a maybe-bad at probability <1. How sure are we that Western civilization will be destroyed? We might have misunderstood the situation. It might be that Western civilization passes without mass suffering. The two evils aren’t equivalent. Throwing a brick blindly into a crowded shopping mall isn’t the same as throwing it in a remote wilderness, even though you can conceivably injure people in both cases.

Comparisons between Third World immigrants and Spanish conquistadors can only take us so far. Spain didn’t wipe out the Meso-American empires by flooding them with sheer numbers of Spaniards. They wiped them out with a superior technology base (steel, firearms, horses), as well as novel diseases that the natives lacked immunity to. This isn’t the case with refugees. They’re limited in their ability to cause harm. This isn’t to say there aren’t issues associated with immigration, but it’s not the same set of issues raised by an invading army or a superplague.

Lastly, we have to be pragmatic. If Western civilization can be overwhelmed by a million people on ramshackle boats, it was weak and wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. It may as well help some people as it dies.

References

References
1 (For the record, Malthus was an original and clever thinker, but he made mistakes. His argument was that human population must increase exponentially – two people, four people, eight people – while food supply can only increase linearly as land is cleared and developed – one farm, two farms, three farms – creating a “Malthusian trap” where the population is constantly bumping against the limit imposed by the land’s carrying capacity, causing strife as people fight for resources. But technology can increase the productivity of land: each hectare of land in Britain produces eight times as much wheat as it did in the Middle Ages. Malthus assumed “two people with plows, four people with plows, eight people with plows”. In reality it’s “two people with plows, four people with combine harvesters, eight people with GMO wheat.” Furthermore, population growth is affected by factors other than available food. Countries such as Canada and United States have plentiful food and space yet a sub-replacement fertility rate. Malthus was a “hypothesize a spherical cow…” economist: making accurate predictions for a world that isn’t ours.
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One of aviation’s great mysteries is the disappearance of BSAA Flight CS-59.

The plane – which had the call sign Star Dust – left Morón Airport at Buenos Aires, Argentina on Aug 2nd 1947, bound for Los Cerrillos Airport in Santiago, Chile.

Aboard was a cast worthy of an Agatha Christie novel: two businessmen; a Palestinian man rumored to have a diamond stitched into his jacket; a South American sales agent with connections to the Romanian throne; a seventy year old German émigré; and a British civil servant carrying a “diplomatic bag” bound for the UK embassy.[1]“The Star Dust Mystery.” Damn Interesting, 2 Aug. 2015, www.damninteresting.com/the-star-dust-mystery. The plane itself was a sturdy Avro 691 Lancastrian MkIII, capable of 310mph airspeeds and 20,000ft altitudes, piloted by decorated RAF veteran Reginald Cook.

The Star Dust entered Chilean airspace in the late afternoon, with radio operator Dennis Harmer maintaining contact with Los Cerrillos. Nothing unusual was reported.

Then, at 5:41 p.m, Harmer transmitted the message “ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC”.

The Chilean air traffic controller didn’t understand the last word, which was neither ATC terminology or a word in any language she recognized. She asked for clarification, and received “STENDEC” twice more.

This was the last transmission ever received from the Star Dust. It did not arrive at Los Cerrillos, and a five-day search uncovered no trace of the missing plane.

The Star Dust‘s disappearance remained a total mystery for fifty years. Theories included aliens, a trans-dimensional rift, aliens, foreign hijacking, and aliens. It became part of “vanished plane” lore along with the Bermuda Triangle – a triangle that seemingly has sixteen points and extends across 80% of the Atlantic Ocean – and (much later) Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

In 1998, mountaineers climbing Mount Tupungato’s southwest face found wreckage 15,000 feet above sea level. Pieces of metal. Shreds of clothing. A Rolls Royce aircraft engine jutting from the ice. The Star Dust had never come down from the sky. Subsequent expeditions by the Chilean army and air force uncovered more of the wrecked plane.

The wreckage was scattered across a narrow area, ruling out a mid-air explosion. The Star Dust’s propeller was twisted and bent back, suggesting it had been running at the moment of impact. A fully inflated tire indicated that the plane hadn’t deployed its landing gear.

We can guess how the plane crashed: it was caught inside the jet stream (which was poorly understood in 1947) which exerted backward drag on the plane, causing it to cross less distance than expected. Just like running on a treadmill.

This wouldn’t have caused a problembut only if the pilot had known it was happening. Inside the cockpit – surrounded by shrieking white, guided by primitive WWII-era navigational instruments – Reginald Cook greatly overestimated the distance he’d crossed. He’d thought the plane was directly over Santiago, when it was actually still fifty miles east. He also thought they’d safely crossed the Andes range, when they were plunging into its face.

The technical term for the crash is “controlled descent into terrain”[2]Pilot, By Plane And, et al. “A Pilot’s Last Words: ‘STENDEC.’” Plane & Pilot Magazine, 12 Dec. 2019, www.planeandpilotmag.com/article/a-pilots-last-words-stendec. – a fancy way of saying Cook flew the plane into the mountain. The impact buried the Star Dust in ice, but recent melt-off at Tupungato exposed the engine. There are fascinating rumors that local arrieros (high-altitude mule-handlers, the Andean equivalent of the sherpas) knew of the Star Dust crash long before 2000. [3]Maynard, Matt. “Searching for Star Dust: The Hunt to Uncover an Andean Mystery – Geographical Magazine.” Geographical, 2019, … Continue reading

Tupungato’s southwest face is deadly even when you’re not crashing into it at 310mph. Making the ascent requires skill and daring: only four independent mountaineers have reached the crash site, two of whom died in the process.[4]Ibid. In recent years Argentinian policy has forbidden mountaineers from even trying to reach the crash site.

The Star Dust’s discovery was a red-letter day for Argentina – finally, Anglo-Argentinian history that didn’t involve bombed islands or offside football goals – and they clearly don’t want the crashed plane to claim still more lives. Search teams have located many fragments of the Star Dust (including a severed hand from the stewardess, her fingernails still painted[5]Maynard, Matt. “Searching for Star Dust: An Epic Quest to Find a near-Mythical Plane Wreck.” Red Bull, 19 Nov. 2019, www.redbull.com/au-en/star-dust-mystery-1947-plane-wreck-quest.), and will surely find more.

But the meaning of Dennis Harmer’s final “STENDEC” transmission has never been explained. There are many competing theories, none of them fitting all the facts.

1. “STENDEC” is an anagram for “DESCENT”. 

If Harmer had meant to write “DESCENT” he would have done so; RAF radio operators are trained to signal clearly, not in word games and riddles.

2. Harmer was suffering from altitude sickness or hypoxia, and mixed up his message.

While this might seem plausible, it’s not easy to accidentally switch letters in Morse the way it is on a keyboard (signaling C alone requires four distinct pulses in a precise order.) In any case, Harmer repeated the word multiple times; clearly he meant to write what he wrote.

3. “STENDEC” shares many letters with “Stardust”.

Planes in the air are identified by registration number (which was G-AGWH in the Star Dust’s case), not the fanciful names bestowed by the airlines. Also, why would an operator sign off by telling Chilean air traffic control the name of his plane (which they already knew)?

4. “STENDEC” is obscure RAF shorthand for “Severe Turbulence Encountered, Now Descending, Emergency Crash-landing”[6]“NOVA Online | Vanished! | Theories (Feb. 8, 2001).” PBS, 2001, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vanished/sten_010208.html..

This doesn’t fit the first half of the message. Harmer had just said that the Star Dust would shortly be arriving in Santiago.

5. “STENDEC” is spy code.

What sort of spy code? What was a Chilean air traffic controller supposed to do with it? How did Harmer (or whoever wrote the code) expect it to reach the right set of ears?

5a “STENDEC” stands for “Saturday, 10th of December”.

Sounds good, except that December was a Wednesday that year.

6. It’s possible (but again, uncertain) that the word was mistakenly deciphered by radio control, due to limitations of the Morse code cipher.

Translation is easiest when two languages share all the same features, and harder when Language 1 possesses some property that isn’t present in Language 2, or vice versa. Early Biblical manuscripts were written in scriptio continua, in an unbroken flow of unmarked text.

This creates textual ambiguity, with sentences that change meaning depending on where a translator or copyist chooses to insert spaces and punctuation. For example, the Greek Septuagint of  Romans 16:7 runs A S P A S A S T H E A N D R O N I K O N K A I I O U N I A N T O U S S U G G E N E I S M O U K A I S U N A I K H M A L O T O U S M O U O I T I N E S E I S I N E P I S E M O I E N T O I S A P O S T O L O I S O I K A I P R O E M O U G E G O N A S I N E N K H R I S T O, which the King James Version translates as “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” The problem is that the accusative noun IOUNIAN can have one of two accent marks (IOUNÍAN/IOUNIÂN), which would make it either a man’s name or a woman’s. We still don’t know the gender of this “Junia”.[7]Omanson, Roger L. 1946-. “Punctuation in the New Testament. If Only Paul Had Used the Chicago Manual of Style.” Bible Review , vol. 14.6, 1998, pp. 40-43.

Morse isn’t a foreign language (it’s a cipher for English), but it’s scriptio continua. Its dots and dashes represent 26 letters and 10 numbers, but there’s no special character for a space. Operator convention[8]“Morse Code & Abbreviations.” Portland State University, 2021, web.cecs.pdx.edu/%7Ecaleb/aa7ou/ham_pages/morse_abb.html. is that spaces between letters are signaled by a pause equal to three dots, while spaces between words are signaled by a pause equal to seven dots. But if the signaler is in a hurry (or panicking), the pauses might get shortened, creating an ambiguous message that could be read multiple ways.

The exact transmission was.

… – . -. -.. . -.-.

The Chilean air traffic controller spaced it like this: STENDEC.

… / – / . / -. / -.. / . / -.-.

But it could also  be spaced like this: STAREAR

… / – / .– / .–. / . / .–.–.

A typical “end of message” signoff at the time was “AR” (with no spaces.)[9]“An Explanation of STENDEC …..” Fly with the Stars, 2021, www.flywiththestars.co.uk/Documents/STENDEC.htm., and it’s possible that the sequence could have meant “STandard ARrival from East + signoff.”

This (along with other ways of re-ordering the message) raises as many questions as it answers. How did the Chilean air traffic controller misread this supposedly commonplace message so badly? And how did she repeat the same mistake two more times? And why didn’t Harmer clarify or rephrase?

In short, all explanations suffer from one of three basic weaknesses:

1) Harmer signalled “STENDEC” multiple times. This completely rules out a mistake, and makes it far less likely that the Chilean air traffic controller misunderstood the spaces. (“Tell ’em three times” is a simple but reliable error-correcting trick in communications theory).

2) Harmer had no reason to write in code. If the Star Dust had been about to crash, he would have said so. If its navigational instruments had failed, he would have said so. Explanations that rely on “deciphering” Harmer’s final transmission like a puzzle provoke the question of why this would even be necessary.

3) There’s no hint that anything was amiss. The retracted landing gear, the running propeller, the casual tone of the message…there’s zero sign that anyone aboard the Star Dust knew they were in trouble until they exploded against the side of Mount Tupungato.

The Andean glaciers are still melting. It’s possible we’ll recover more wreckage from the Star Dust, but will we ever know what STENDEC means?

[Update] The mystery is solved. “STENDEC” stands for “Stop Trying to ENcode and DEcode this Conundrum.” Glad we could put that one to bed.

References

References
1 “The Star Dust Mystery.” Damn Interesting, 2 Aug. 2015, www.damninteresting.com/the-star-dust-mystery.
2 Pilot, By Plane And, et al. “A Pilot’s Last Words: ‘STENDEC.’” Plane & Pilot Magazine, 12 Dec. 2019, www.planeandpilotmag.com/article/a-pilots-last-words-stendec.
3 Maynard, Matt. “Searching for Star Dust: The Hunt to Uncover an Andean Mystery – Geographical Magazine.” Geographical, 2019, geographical.co.uk/people/explorers/item/3213-searching-for-stardust.
4 Ibid.
5 Maynard, Matt. “Searching for Star Dust: An Epic Quest to Find a near-Mythical Plane Wreck.” Red Bull, 19 Nov. 2019, www.redbull.com/au-en/star-dust-mystery-1947-plane-wreck-quest.
6 “NOVA Online | Vanished! | Theories (Feb. 8, 2001).” PBS, 2001, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vanished/sten_010208.html.
7 Omanson, Roger L. 1946-. “Punctuation in the New Testament. If Only Paul Had Used the Chicago Manual of Style.” Bible Review , vol. 14.6, 1998, pp. 40-43.
8 “Morse Code & Abbreviations.” Portland State University, 2021, web.cecs.pdx.edu/%7Ecaleb/aa7ou/ham_pages/morse_abb.html.
9 “An Explanation of STENDEC …..” Fly with the Stars, 2021, www.flywiththestars.co.uk/Documents/STENDEC.htm.
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A single long movie that was split in two because Harvey Weinstein wanted to fuck a potted plant that day (I don’t know). On the surface it’s a movie about kung fu/grindhouse/western tropes of revenge, but equally, it’s about the technique of moviemaking itself. The closest parallel is watching an artist who puts paint on canvas with such consuming skill that the act of watching him paint is as fascinating as the actual painting.

Kill Bill is ingenious, and one of the stronger Tarantino works. There’s hardly any story. From beginning to end, the movie wants to thrill. It’s just cool visual, cool setpiece, cool dialog moment, with only tenuous ligatures of plot and motivation in between. It’s all delivered with ease: some movies try so hard that they seem to sweat, while Tarantino’s, whether good or bad, all have an effortlessness to them. Only later (or upon rewatching) do you become aware of how hard certain parts must have been to film. Although a shorter one-movie version of this would have been stronger, it’s good to live in a world where any form of Kill Bill exists.

Witness the opening scene, which goes from 0 to 100, 100 to 0 (when Vivica A Fox’s daughter interrupts the fight), then 0 to 100 again – sudden gear-changes that have devastating effects on the viewer. The staging, and blocking, and so forth is cartoony as hell, and this almost seems like an effect. There’s an animation technique called rotoscoping that consists of artists painting cels over live-action film. Kill Bill almost looks like reverse rotoscoping, with live actors playing at being comic drawings. The exaggerated swooshes, bangs, and music stabs add to this effect.

But it’s uneven in places. Vol I is much the stronger half. Most of the classic Kill Bill scenes are here – the animated sequence, the House of Blue Leaves sequence, the final boss battle. The climax is absurd beyond absurd, but it’s directed with a slaughterman’s eye for weight and mass, with blood spraying and limbs falling convincingly. Everything makes sense and can be followed on the screen. The decision to film everything “practical” was the right one – watch the Crazy-88 fight and infamous “burly brawl” scene in the second Matrix film (the only comparison I can think of) and the Wachowski film looks like Pixar.

I enjoy Vol II less. It has a slower pace, which allows for some fun Coen Brothers-esque character moments (a lethal assassin who winds down his days cleaning toilets in a strip club), but much of it’s clearly filler, stretching out a too-short movie. Kill Bill was chopped in half, and due to the way the plot is structured, it couldn’t be chopped in half. Most of its skeleton and organs ended up in Vol I. Vol II contains a lot of mush, with about seventy or eighty minutes of movie mixed in.

And it’s visually less appealing. The first part looks drab and overstays its welcome – it feels like we spend a million years in some asshole’s mobile home, and when the Pai Mei flashback sequence occurs, it’s a relief to see some color on the screen again. And it doesn’t really try to recapture the first film’s excesses, which is a shame. There’s 2-3 fights and they end pretty quickly, with only the Elle Driver battle arousing much interest (it also contains the best eye-gore scene since Lucio Fulci retired). And the more grounded tone doesn’t always work to the movie’s advantage. It invites logic into the proceedings, and logic is Kill Bill’s antimatter. “Wait, why is the Bride allowed to carry a samurai sword with her on the plane?”

I enjoyed David Carradine, though. I guess you could say he has a stranglehold on the movie. There’s a lot hanging on him, and its good that he doesn’t choke during his performance. The film really breathes during the moments he’s on screen. I’m glad Tarantino gave him maximum airtime, and didn’t leave him dangling.

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