Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From a world lit only by fire to a world connected by the internet

Bob just bought my copy of A World Lit Only By Fire; and Bill just bought my copy of Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Bob lives in Virginia. Bill, who is a Chief Warrant Officer, has an APO armed forces address, so there's no telling where he lives right now; but I'm going to take a wild ass guess and say he's either in Afghanistan or will be headed there soon.

There's an old military maxim that goes something like, 'Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals talk about logistics.' And, if Bill is indeed in Afghanistan, he's living out a bit of what it was like when the world was lit only by fire.

Alexander had to worry quite a bit about logistics when he decided to go to Afghanistan, which wasn't a walk in a park, because Darius had gone on the lam up that way after running away from the battle of Issus. Alexander was pretty serious about catching Darius. He took about 64,000 fighting men with him when he crossed the Khawak Pass in the Hindu Kush; and he also took about 36,000 or so camp followers who straggled along with his army providing various more or less essential services. For one thing there were thousands among those camp followers who managed the tens of thousands of pack animals that carried supplies from the fertile areas to the barren ones.

Logistics were a lot simpler in those days, but men have had to eat three or so pounds of food a day in all ages, so something like a couple of hundred thousand pounds of food had to reach those fighting men pretty much every day, especially when they were taking sixteen days to file through the narrow passes where there was snow on the ground and the cold was nearly unfathomable to we who have lived all our lives with central heating. The pack horses and the cavalry horses had to eat pretty much every day while they were up in those passes too.

Most of us will never walk the passes of the Hindu Kush as Alexander's men did and as Bill may. But quite a lot of us have crossed Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road while going from Denver to Craig via Estes Park and Hot Sulphur Springs. When I was last there it was still pretty cold at Milner's pass even during the day in late May. For a fairly sedentary sort like me walking that route is nearly unimaginable, although it is possible for me to imagine Dave and Alex walking a good bit of it when they went out there hiking a couple of years ago. Part of the very distant reason a million Alex's are named Alex is because that distant past Alexander walked and rode the passes of the Hindu Kush with those 64,000 men.

Which sort of brings me back to the Bill who's interested in the logistics effort behind Alexander's conquests. By the miracle of the internet I may know a bit more about Bill if I give my assumptions some rein so they can run pretty free. For instance, there's a Bill with the same last name who is a Technical Chief Warrant Officer 3 and was just selected for promotion to Chief Warrant Officer 4. If that's the same Bill I congratulate him on his promotion and thank him for his long service to our country that has gotten him to that rank.

I think I'll put a congratulations and thank you note in Bill's book when I send it off today.

Incidently, I also know a bit more about Bob than the fact that he's interested in history and technology and the way the world changed at the end of the dark ages. I know he's retired, and I know he contributed a couple of hundred bucks to a Democratic Party candidate for a state office. I'm not going to hold that against him; but he gets no note with his book, although I hope he enjoys it as much as I did both the first time a couple of dozen years ago and the second time a month or so ago when I rediscovered it. When I rediscovered A World Lit Only By Fire I listed it for sale at an artificially high price to ensure that it wouldn't sell before I had a chance to re-read it. Learning now that Bob is a Democrat I can't help but feel just a little pleased that I never got around to re-pricing it lower.

By great coincidence I happen to be re-reading A Canticle for Leibowitz right now because I rediscovered it in the course of sorting out my books and putting the ones that have any value on Amazon for sale. It's about a future world lit only by fire and in part about the nitty gritty details, the logistics if you will, that are entailed in rediscovering technology after a long dark age like that which still befogs most of Afghanistan. A Canticle for Leibowitz is also about a problem facing all of us who are readers - so many books, so little time.

Update: In other news, there is a somewhat confused but very persistent woodpecker who has been trying to mate with his reflection in our windows for a couple of days. The other day he gave up and joined with a flock of other woodpeckers who came around to see what was up; but he's now back and patiently going from window to window, doing his thing, trying to get a reaction from his reflection.

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