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In the first Republican debate all the candidates were asked if they would rule out an independent presidential bid, and Donald Trump was roundly decried for refusing to do so. In hindsight, perhaps the better question would have been “If a batshit insane dude captures the nomination, will you endorse the Democrat candidate?” Because it is looking increasingly likely that a batshit insane dude is gonna steal the Republican candidacy, and if he wins the whole world is in a dark place.

It’s very clear now that a significant proportion of the Republican “base” are sympathetic to a campaign that is, essentially, fascist. Some “moderate” left-wingers are trying to claim that Trump is not fascist, and are splitting hairs over whether he is really a narcissist or just “leading America down a fascist path” but I think it’s clear from his latest little announcement that the F-word is no longer hyperbole. Lots of Republicans have gone ballistic over his plan to prevent all Muslims from entering the USA but some of the front-runners have been careful to avoid criticizing him directly, and it’s not clear whether the objection from some of those Republicans is based on respect for “American values” or fear that such a strategy would prevent them from winning an election. It’s certainly clear that for a significant proportion of Republican primary voters the much-vaunted Republican ideals of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association are running a distant second to any political strategies based on racial discimination and nebulous notions of “strength,” mingled in with a healthy dose of imperialism.

This is, of course, the consequence of a long period of Republican craziness, that has mixed racist dog-whistling with openly racist attacks on Mexican migrants and overseas Muslims, along with muscular support for torture and the police state and racism and violence towards internal enemies. This is the environment in which Elliott Rodgers, Robert Dear and Dylan Rooff enacted their openly racist or misogynist militarist plans, and the environment in which some sizable minority of Republican voters have shifted towards an openly fascist platform. For all his bluster and popularity, Trump is a latecomer to this scene of frenetic hatred and partisan divisions: he is a well known birther, but his birtherism is hardly unique or especially well-represented, and when he says there is “something wrong” with the president he is drawing on a deep vein of discontent that is obviously built on racist origins. Although we can hope, there’s no reason to think his latest utterances are going to sink his campaign or discourage his followers.

I think some of the Republican elders must be starting to think that they have woken a slumbering giant here, and worrying that when it starts stomping about it isn’t going to be particularly careful about where it puts its feet. Certainly the Bushes are worried about it, and given how reviled they are by the base I think it’s safe to say they didn’t have much part in the creation of this monster. But a lot of them are up to their necks in it. Cruz, Huckabee and some of those doyens of hate radio, the Limbaughs and Hewitts, need to face the fact that they built this beast, and they’re now caught in its storm. But others, like Christie and Kasich, for all that they’re oily operatives that anyone with any sense wouldn’t go near in this political universe, I think they realize that this beast is going to devour its own party first, before it bursts out of the chest of American democracy and starts eating everything in sight. They want to stop it.

I think they may find that they can’t stop it without interfering in the nominating process. I think Trump is going to win some states, and if they’re lucky he won’t get a clear majority, but there’s a chance he will, and then they face a choice: refuse to nominate him and have him run third party, essentially splitting the vote; or let him be the candidate and watch him either win and destroy the country (unlikely) or lose massively and hand the Democrats a massive majority. In that case I think it’s likely that Trump’s candidacy will spoil the House and Senate elections, and the Republicans risk losing control of all three branches of government. I don’t think the Republicans understand just how toxic this primary is going to be for them, and my fundamental faith in humanity tells me that the longer Trump is in charge, the worse the general election will be for them in every house.

The basic problem here for the doyens of the Republican party is that they have a crazy-wing, and they need to destroy it. Take Cruz as an example. Trump’s antics have made Cruz look almost reasonable, but he’s actually a complete fruit loop. Yesterday he held hearings in the Senate committee on science, of which he is somehow the chair, which all the serious Republicans didn’t attend because they hate him, and which were basically a joke. Steyn was in attendance as an expert on climate change, but didn’t get a chance to speak because Cruz was outnumbered by minority Democrat members, because the other Republicans didn’t want to be there. So instead of having a chance to discuss a Republican approach to climate change based on free markets and innovation, they had some grandstanding about how it isn’t real, and Steyn got some free publicity for his doomed attempt to defend himself from libel charges that will absolutely destroy him. This isn’t how serious people behave, it isn’t how policy is made, and it isn’t a serious base for a political party. Senior Republicans know this, but they don’t know what to do about it.

Trump offers these Republicans a chance to take their party back from the religious nutjobs and Tea Party lunatics. But first they need to find a way to destroy those lunatics, and what better way than to show that they are a tiny minority of the electorate. I think at the very least the senior figures in the Republican party need to make it clear that they won’t support Trump and that if he wins the primary they will campaign against him in the general. They should lay down the line on policy and make clear why they don’t support him. I think, further, that they should endorse the democrat candidate as a strategy for saying enough is enough, and when Trump gets sweet fuck all of the general vote they can start rebuilding – an 8 year process with a real political movement at the end of it. Once Trump lays waste to their party the elders can come forward with a plan to rebuild it based on coherent strategies on ISIS, global warming and healthcare, strategies that may not be what my reader(s) or I want but are generally consistent with vaguely intelligent notions of how to get shit done.

The alternative is that Trump gets selected, leading figures in the party like Cruz refuse to distance themselves, and the Republicans get smashed at every level in the elections, losing complete control of the government. That may seem overly apocalyptic, but bear this in mind: Even though people say he lost the Democrats the senate in the mid-terms, he actually did exceptionally well for a president in his second mid-term. Mid-term elections in the second term typically go really badly for the incumbent and Obama did a lot less badly than the historical average. The Democrats are more popular than they look, and if Trump wins the primary there is every chance of a bloodbath. If the Republican leadership want to take back their party, now is their chance, but they need to show leadership and moral backbone, something in precious short supply in the Republican party. If they don’t act to crush him in the general, the Republican party is going to be toast for a long time to come. Or worse still, America will become a fascist state.

It’s time for the Republicans to show they love their country and not their donors.

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No wonder Achilles sometimes wet the bed ...

No wonder Achilles sometimes wet the bed …

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now a well-accepted aspect of modern soldiering, and it seems to be now recognized that earlier disorders of soldiers such as shell shock that might once have been described as cowardice or weakness were in fact manifestations of the same condition. I did not know, however, that there are accounts from ancient times of this phenomenon occurring amongst soldiers from very different types of warfare, and it isn’t the case that PTSD is a function only of modern warfare. Today I discovered an article describing symptoms of PTSD in Assyrian warriors, from Iraq between 1300 and 600 BC, which were taken from cuneiform tablets. Apparently the Assyrians had a form of military service, with military age males spending one of every three years of their service in combat, and the Assyrians kept extensive documentation of both their campaigns and their medical practice. The article, published in the journal Early Science and Medicine, reports on symptoms of PTSD (especially seeing ghosts and nightmares) taken from some of these tablets. It also gives a bit of detail about Assyrian medical practice, and the importance of diagnosis to Assyrian doctors. The article is a bit jumbled up and confusing, but it makes the case that PTSD is not just associated with modern, extremely lethal soldiering, but is associated in the case of these ancient warriors with fear of death, the sight of colleagues dying, and also the fear of slow death from injury.

The findings themselves aren’t groundbreaking, but I am interested in the general finding of PTSD in ancient soldiers and its documentation. As role-players, we often play warriors engaged in quite brutal old-fashioned combat, often engaged with horrible things from beyond the grave, but in the older games there is no mechanism for the gradual erosion of confidence and strength that constant terror of this kind might cause – indeed, the classic model of gaining XP from experience suggests that our soldiers only gain in strength from continued exposure to slaughter and near death (or, in many cases, death and resurrection!) Of course some of the more modern games have mechanisms for insanity and humanity loss, but these are generally primarily triggered by exposure to sinister magic and beasts from beyond, not from the “mundane” horrors of seeing your friends dismembered, clubbed to death, burnt alive or eaten by zombies. Upon reflection it seems obvious that this would tend to wear one down, and it appears that published accounts from people who did a lot of stabbing, smashing and clubbing to death support the idea that it is a disturbing and sometimes enervating experience.

Some of the symptoms are also quite profound: blindness or deafness, sudden weakness, and loss of sleep. It’s easy to imagine that in a classic D&D setting the inability to sleep would be crippling for a wizard. Inserting some kind of simple mechanic for PTSD from continued battlefield exposure – perhaps ramping it up for multiple back to back battles – would lead to a quite interesting change in play style and get people rethinking battlefield strategies, especially if even “mundane” combat could bring it about, and if it was related more to the length of exposure than the intensity. Players would reconsider frontal assault tactics if there was the possibility that their wizard would suddenly freak out and decide to blow himself up … or their cleric became a shivering wreck incapable of healing them.

I guess we have a tendency to think about psychological health of our characters only in terms of their exposure to hideous dark secrets from beyond the veil. We imagine ourselves as heroes whose basic psychology and morality can only be tempered with by the gods and dark magics. Apparently, and not really surprisingly, the reality is rather different. It would be interesting to see how the tone and style of classic fantasy play would change if it were modified to make the psychology, as well as physiology, of its heroes vulnerable to the slings and arrows of their horde of enemies…

There is a fascinating passage in Antony Beevor’s Berlin where he describes the bemusement experienced by Soviet soldiers when they entered Germany proper, and discovered how rich the Germans were. Beevor describes this bemusement turning rapidly to anger, as the Soviets began to ask themselves why a nation that was so much richer than them would want to invade them at all. Why didn’t they just stay home and enjoy their riches? Beevor even ascribes some of the Soviet soldiers’ furious treatment of German civilians (especially women) to their response to this discovery.

I am travelling at the moment, and my travels start with Swiss and Germany. Obviously the Swiss are fantastically wealthy, but when I enter Germany I am always struck by how staggeringly rich Germans are. I don’t mean in the sense that there are a lot of obviously fantastically wealthy people with a million ferraris; rather, the average German is just stupidly wealthy. Furthermore, their infrastructure is stupidly modern: trains are gleaming and new, cars are silent modern things, hotels are well-appointed and modern, farms are always well built and have the latest stuff. Everyone has solar panels. This is a nation not only of private wealth but of public investment. This is particularly interesting because Germany is cheaper than Switzerland or the UK – the price of living is really low – but it’s really obvious that the country is not doing badly despite this.

My next stage in my travels will be London. London is so remarkably different from either Berlin or rural southern Germany, where I am currently staying. It is filthy, rundown and seething with discontent. Nothing works properly, the infrastructure is crumbling, and very few people take any pride in either the service they provide or in the way their nation treats strangers. The contrast from Germany is remarkable – even though the price of living in the UK is much, much higher. How can it be that a nation of such historical greatness can be so decrepit in comparison to Germany?

Many leftists wish to blame all of this on Margaret Thatcher, but this isn’t really a tenable argument. For starters, the UK had serious economic problems before Thatcher (see e.g. the three-day week), and it had a long period of Labour rule after Thatcher, during which it could have fixed some of Thatcher’s worst excesses. Not to mention that Germany has had its share of economic troubles, backward-looking leaders, and of course the need to absorb all of East Germany. Furthermore, Britain has highly valuable resources – oil and gas – that Germany lacks. It’s also unusual for a country’s entire economic troubles to be linked to just one leader – they tend to be more systemic than that – and other nations like Japan and Australia have also had serious economic problems, but still seem wealthier than the UK. So what is it?

Looking around Europe, I note that among the five big ex-colonial powers, only two are still doing well. The five big powers are the UK, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. If we add in Italy for its African possessions, we have a pretty low rate of economic success for the ex-colonialists. Meanwhile the nations of northern Europe that weren’t colonists are doing very well, as is Japan. (Note that here, by “the colonial powers” I don’t include those nations such as Japan and Germany that tried it for a few years and failed – I mean only those nations who held colonies long enough to benefit from them). I guess some would argue that France is doing okay, but I’m not convinced. But the UK, Spain and Italy are obviously in huge economic trouble. I don’t think that this can be sleeted home to the welfare state – Germany, Japan and the Scandinavians all have excellent welfare states, but they’re much better off than the UK. It also isn’t due to that old British canard, “diversity” – Australia and Germany are actually just as diverse as (or more diverse than) the UK.

I think it might be that colonialism creates a kind of resource curse – nations with large colonies they can exploit don’t bother building up the cultural, economic and political attitudes necessary to be economically successful in the modern world. They stagnate under the influence of colonialism’s apparently beneficial balm. I remember in reading A.N. Lee’s the Victorians that he tries to understand how it is that the UK never experienced the revolutions and civil wars of Europe, and he mentioned one possible reason was the ability to loot Ireland and India. In this version of history, the Irish famine was partly brought about by the need of the British ruling class to subsidize British food supplies, to ensure the poor didn’t revolt. I think Beevor points out that India suffered huge famines in world war 2 as the British exported as much food as possible to the UK. George Orwell notes this phenomenon as well, and in Burmese Days his lead character gives an anti-colonial diatribe in which he points out that the UK basically set India up as a captive market, preventing any industrial competition on the sub-continent in order to ensure that British industrialists had somewhere to sell their products[1].

By way of comparison, Germany and Japan have had a couple of revolutions and, in the absence of either colonies or resources, have had to develop a strong industrial base and a society built around competing with the rest of the world. They have the advantage of having populations large enough to support internal markets and a solid industrial policy – but so does the UK. The difference is that they have never been in a position to decide it’s all too hard and resort to stealing from foreign territories. The economic model the UK worked on until the 1950s was a pretty successful one – you have a small group of people willing to do dirty work, who ensure a regular supply of money to the government by ripping off people who have no power to resist. Such a system is a very tempting way of avoiding facing deep structural problems in your economy, and an excellent way of buying off your poorest class but when the system collapses you find yourself in very difficult economic circumstances[2]. And I think that might partly explain the problems that the UK, Portugal, Spain and France are facing – for too long they were able to belay their economic challenges onto others, and loot weaker nations to plug economic gaps of their own. Since the 1950s the UK’s colonial empire has rapidly unwound, with the jewel in the crown (India) lost in the 1940s. The result is that all those structural problems that were previously being prevented by colonial money have come to the fore, and increasingly desperate attempts to solve them have all come to naught. My favourite example of this zeitgeist is the museum of the crown jewels in the Tower of London: it houses a fantabulous display of colonial bling, showcasing the rapacious powers of the British Empire, but when you get to the end you are confronted with a request to donate to maintain the thing – because the British government no longer has the cash to properly fund its public sector.

Japan and Germany learnt through hard and bitter experience that the colonial powers weren’t going to welcome any new colonial projects in the 20th century, but Japan’s horrible acts and horrible end led directly to the unraveling of the colonies. And when those colonies unwound, I think that Germany, Japan and the other rich non-colonial nations (like Australia and Canada) were in a much better position to face the new world order that resulted. The UK will continue to be unable to adapt to the new world while its politicians, public intellectuals and even its general public are unable to face the true history and legacy of colonialism. Of course, facing this legacy isn’t going to be enough in and of itself – the UK needs to find a way to dig itself out of its economic troubles. I don’t think they will, and instead they’ll be left reflecting on past colonial glories as they slowly slide into the ranks of the low-income countries. Eventually their old colonial possessions will surpass them, and the cycle of colonial history will be complete.

fn1: the lead character of that book is a racist, sexist puppy murderer, so make your own judgments about whether you think they have much worthwhile to say about politics.

fn2: any similarity to Tony Blair’s plan to finance welfare through the finance industry is purely coincidental, I’m sure

A Marxist Reinterpretation of the Chronicles

Last night I watched the second movie in the Narnia chronicles, Prince Caspian. I have read the books, but it was so long ago that I had completely forgotten the story, so it was just like watching a fresh fantasy movie. Overall it was fun with serious flaws: the children were unlikable at best, the ending is essentially deus ex machina, Aslan is a really dicky lion, the centaurs looked really crappy, and the story has that underlying feeling that a group of dippy white kids can inherit the earth for no reason but that they were born lucky, which seems a common problem in British fantasy[1]. In its favour, the action scenes were fun, that Susan chick was cool, Prince Caspian was very handsome, and the bad guys were really bad. Not only was the bad king genuinely bad, but the manner of his demise was a perfect piece of comeuppance. So that was all good. However, the final final ending scene made my head explode with rage, and I think I have to elevate it to the pantheon alongside Titanic and the Breakfast Club for cynical endings. I’m now going to describe why, but be aware: this is spoiler central. If you have never read the books or seen the movie, you should probably stop here.

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[WARNING: Spoilers] So, the kids have won their war against the evil humans (let’s call them the Dicks, because I couldn’t catch their full name). The Dicks are all gathered in a town square, being addressed by the universe’s dweebiest god, Aslan, who tells them that they are welcome to live where they are, in peace with the good folk of Narnia, but they can also go back where they came from, which is apparently some tropical island on earth. He will transport them there with his magic powers that are sufficient to teleport whole populations across time and space but insufficient to bring peace to Narnia. At first they look askance on this offer, somewhat in the way that German soldiers might have looked askance at their Russian captors in 1944 when they were told “This train will take you to somewhere warm.” But at last the general from the army steps forward and says he’ll go, and then the dead evil king’s wife steps forward with her son. Aslan says “because you spoke up first, I will ensure your life is extra good on the other side.”

This really, really pissed me off for two reasons. First of all, it’s that classic christian needy-god rubbish, in which Aslan is so powerful that he can transport you across universes but so insecure that you if you don’t immediately jump at his bidding he will punish you for not trusting him. So the first people to show they trust a lunatic talking lion get special treatment, and all the completely rational and reasonable people who are standing in the crowd, recently traumatized by losing a fucking war, are going to be made second-class citizens in this new world because they didn’t show quite the trusting spirit that a deific lion might want them to. Why would you not trust a lion when it tells you it’s going to be nice to you? Can’t think of a single reason … Anyone who has read the bible knows that needy gods are also genocidal, capricious and wrathful gods. Best not to do what that god wants.

But the next pissy thing about this is the people who got the benefit: the general and the wife of the king. So they go from wielding maximum temporal power in Narnia, to being granted special boons in the next world they go to by the guy who defeated them. This is a classic example of the powerful looking after each other even when they do wrong to each other. Why reward the general for being trusting, after he just tried to exterminate your race? Why not instead offer him the dingiest farm in the hardest place? Because having once been in power, he will always be treated better by others in power, while his footsoldiers – who slogged through the mud for him just days earlier, being beaten by minotaurs and rained with arrows – get second place in the next world too. Oh, how the mechanisms of power reproduce themselves even in adversity …

The ending gets even worse at this point though, because now the crowd reveal they don’t trust Aslan, and demand proof that the gate he has created is safe. Rather than pointing out to them that a god who can open gates will always be able to fool them with tricks to reassure them, the eldest kid decides that the four kids should all go back through the gate to prove it is safe. Aslan agrees, and furthermore points out that two of them won’t ever be able to come back because they’re too old. He also basically tells his favourite, Lucy, to fuck off and not come back.

So basically Aslan is telling these kids that instead of being kings and queens in a world of magic and talking badgers, they are going to be kicked out and forced to go back to living as ordinary kids in London during the blitz. Your reward for helping god? Forced to return to live in a cramped hell-hole of a city that is on fire. And they agree, because of some weird power that Aslan has to convince people that they aren’t able to control his power or the workings of the world, even though he’s standing in front of them negotiating.

I’ve always been confused by the ending of these world-crossing books. It would take me precisely one second to decide that no, I am not going back to being a sales assistant in a bookshop after I just spent months wielding mighty magics in the Land of Phallusia. I think I’ll stay here, thank you, and you can line the vestal virgins up in the hallway outside my penthouse room. Oh, and bring me some of that elixir of youth while you’re at it, I’ll be bedding them until the dawn of the next age. Oh, how cute! A talking lion! There there little lion, why don’t you go and lick your balls over in the corner while I rule this kingdom wisely, and make myself very rich? Because I can tell from the abject state of its denizens, and the fact that a mere bookshop assistant from Croydon can sort all this shit out, that you are neither a wise nor a good god. Now, go and eat your din-dins like a good pet while the adults get on with sorting out the mess you made of your world.

That‘s how Prince Caspian should have ended, not with the plebs being deported to another world to be ruled over by exactly the people who got them into their situation in the first place, and Susan the mighty archer princess having to steal a kiss from a very very handsome Prince whose kingdom she could be ruling before a talking lion whisks her off to study O-level chemistry in a city being bombed by Nazis. That, my friends, is a cynical ending par excellence.

fn1: I wonder why? Actually the Narnia chronicles strike me as potentially very colonialist. At one point a talking animal admits that Narnia has never been happy except when a son of Adam – i.e. a white man – is sitting on its throne. That’s right, Narnia’s swarthy and animalistic hordes will never be content until they are ruled by a member of the British elite.

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Do Japanese cats understand cats from Australia?  Is feline a universal language? Do they understand “get off there you bastard” in any language? This birthday card from my cat to me shows he speaks the language of his household , though hiragana are visible if you squint. Perhaps he is bilingual but lacks the manual dexterity for kanji?

Note also the single cat biscuit under the ribbon. Who says cats  can’t feel love?

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Tonight I discovered a restaurant called sharaku (projecting happiness) in Shinjuku, near the southeast exit, that sells 10 types of Japanese craft beer. Sharaku is the name of a famous ukiyo-e artist from the middle of the Edo era (I didn’t know this till I looked it up in Wikipedia). They also stock a range of imported beers, but my interest was in the local stuff (I can drink Belgian beer anywhere, but the Hideji beer company almost certainly doesn’t have sales outside Japan!) Their selection of local beers changes by the month: this month they had 10 beers from three companies, in Miyazaki, Fukuoka and Miyagi (I think). The beer pictured is a pale ale made with Cascade hops, a nice aromatic number. The chap at the bar gave me a leaflet for Hideji Beer Company that rated each beer in five dimensions and also gave a serving guide – information for the true connoisseur. The beers were good (I also tried taiyo raga, sunshine lager) and the shop’s explanations matched the taste of the beer perfectly. If you’re in Japan, don’t have time to speed on down to the far end of the country, and want to try some regional beers, I recommend this place (the food was really good too). Japanese craft beers can be a bit intense, but there’s a really interesting culture of local beers here – you would never guess from the common picture that the big companies present, but I’d say it’s close to the US in its diversity, and some of them are really cool. Plus, some of them incorprorate really nice Japanese design, and they have a strong seasonal motif (as does everything in Japan). If you’re in Japan, obviously the best thing you can do is try the sake, and if you visit a restaurant like Kujirayama (whale mountain) you can try a wide selection of regional sake, along with amazing food[1]; but it’s also worth seeking out some of Tokyo’s craft beer sellers, and sharaku does a very good job of show-casing the industry. Try it if you can find it!

Turtles also adorn beer!

fn1: I cannot recommend kujirayama highly enough, and in fact I would say that if you come to Japan and you can only spend time in Tokyo, the best decision you can make is to book a hotel in Kichijoji (try the Toyoko inn) and eat in Kichijoji every night: the Thai food here is awesome, Bloomoon has an atmosphere that craps on anything in your country, and Kujirayama has some of the best examples of Japanese food that you can find for a reasonable price. Kichijoji also has a beer bar (holic) with a crazy robot-salvation game, and of course you’re near the studio ghibli museum and on the central line, so you can visit all the boring places (sky tree, museums, whatevah!) quickly and easily. There’s no cat-bus, though.

Praying While Tokyo Burns

Takao Mountain (高尾山), on the western edge of the Tokyo metropolis, is a low (approximately 500m high) peak on the edge of a small nature reserve, easily accessible on the Keio line or the Chuo line. The mountain top hosts a temple, Yakuoin (薬王院), and some hiking paths, and although it is a steep climb it is easily reached by foot in 40 minutes, on paths that zig-zag through light forest. It’s also accessible by a ropeway (essentially a ski-lift) or a cable car (that is really a type of train). At the base of the mountain is a small and cute village of tourist shops, noodle stores and another small temple. As such it is a popular tourist destination, and also popular as a place to do hatsumode (初詣), the traditional new year shrine visit. My friend went with a billion other people to see the first sunrise of the new year, and I went with some friends in the afternoon for the traditional shrine visit.

In addition to being an excellent tourist day trip, Takao Mountain is also a viable zombie survival spot, offering short term defensibility, an easy escape route, and some possibility of sustainability. It’s probably not entirely suitable to a solo survivor, but a good choice for a group.

Review

Defensibility: The mountain itself is accessed by three pathways on the Tokyo side, at least one of which is wide enough to drive cars up. As far as I know there are no direct pathways on the Western side, which in any case faces onto low population density areas and a wide range of bushland. There is a single railway line leading up to the summit (for the “cable car”). All three pathways have a series of steep switchbacks interspersed with periods of long, straight, steep climbs, they are narrow, and there are regular viewing spots on the higher sections of these paths from which defenders can look down on the lower sections of the slopes. Other hillsides are steep, heavily forested and slippery, scattered with sheer climbs or scree slopes that make climbing extremely difficult for mindless undead. Any of these paths would be easy to block off at lower sections, and easy to defend with suitable firearms. From higher vantage points, with a large supply of ammunition, it would be easy to pick off approaching zombies in complete safety. The main difficulty with defensibility is in monitoring all these approaches: to properly defend the mountain would require maintaining constant vigilance over all the access paths and the forests of the western side, and opens the risk that occasional lone zombies would make it up to a higher location without being identified. This would necessitate continuous caution and the establishment of safe inner bastions. Fortunately the Yakuoin temple offers just such a bastion, as does the monkey park. Overall, the area is highly defensible, if your group contains more than 5 people.

Escape routes: Although not ideal, the forested slopes of the western face offer a last-ditch escape route in the event that the temple and the path to the higher slopes are cut off simultaneously. Furthermore, the ropeway offers an ideal rapid escape route. In the absence of electric power, one could use a simple flying-fox type arrangement to return to the base of the mountain in just a few (hair-raising) minutes, and it’s likely that zombies will lose track of you due to the speed of descent. Even if a zombie horde had come up from the base station, it’s likely given the defensibility of the setting that the zombies would have all left the base area by the time evacuation became necessary; thus, one would arrive at a relatively depopulated lower camp area, and be able to escape rapidly – possibly to a pre-established safe house in the lower town, there to wait until the mountain could be retaken after the horde dispersed or moved on.

Location: Far removed from central Tokyo, Takao Mountain is also slightly separate, being located on the far side of a small rural area. This means that its local zombie population is likely to be small and scattered, and it is less likely to have been raided extensively by non-local populations. Additionally, it contains significant supplies for the tourist industry, as well as a non-transient local community likely to have themselves stocked up on food, leaving more supplies for scavenging. The mountain is not on any major road transport routes, though it is near(ish) to an expressway. It’s also on the end of a train line, which is likely to be the only way to get to the location – roads in Tokyo will be blocked and car transport over long distances likely impossible. But a railway line is a relatively safe and easy way to move across Tokyo – it is elevated and likely clear of obstacles. The mainline to near Takao is the Central Line, which is about 8 tracks wide – it may be possible to drive small cars along this line, enabling transport of supplies and rapid escape from central Tokyo. The mountain also has a tourist centre and various restaurants at different elevations, so even if one arrives without supplies it may be possible to go straight to the top and subsist on scavenged foods for a few days while the world goes to hell.

Concealment: From the base of the mountain, almost nothing is visible of the human habitations higher up, and many of the main tourist attractions – especially the temple – are set back from the slopes of the hill. The sounds and sights of a functioning group of survivors would be virtually unidentifiable from the ground, especially in the temple, so it would be possible to have lights, cooking and reasonably normal human interaction without fear of alerting zombies or humans. This means the necessary preparations for survival over a Japanese winter could proceed fairly smoothly, and even an electricity generator could be used without alerting zombies. Movement between locations on the mountain would also be fairly unlikely to attract attention from zombies at the foot of the mountain, which would make defending the mountain very easy.

Sustainability: The mountain holds several tourist restaurants, a monkey park, visitor centre and temple. Even if a group arrived on foot carrying only the supplies in their backpacks, it would be fairly easy to subsist on the mountainside for a few days. The temple almost certainly contains a generator, and it’s likely (though I didn’t see any) that there is at least some solar power somewhere on the hill, so at least some lighting would be possible. There is a parking space containing some snow ploughs, which means that they also have batteries and fuel (and probably some spare fuel). The mountain is riddled with vending machines, but the restaurants sell dango and fresh soba, so likely hold stocks of buckwheat and barley flour, oil and – if they had been evacuated rapidly – eggs. For the first few days, supplies of water could be obtained from vending machines and kettles, until the first rain filled up some buckets. Of course, buckets and water storage mechanisms are commonplace in a temple, and easily converted to survival. There is enough flat space higher up the mountain to plant potatoes and possibly even a rice crop, and the monkey park comes readily supplied with cages for raising and protecting chickens and goats. In the longer term, the area is already supplied with buildings and a defensible temple, but there is one significant long term problem: water. Being on the top of a mountain, most water will be flowing down, and in dry periods there will be little freestanding or potable water. The best solution to this is to use the higher parts of the mountain to set up a water course for trapping and channeling water. Nonetheless, water storage – in a tank of some kind, and perhaps also in containers looted from the restaurants – would likely be a very wise plan. Otherwise, regular trips down the mountain to collect water would be required, and this would be both dangerous and exhausting.

Longer term, the mountain offers a lot of opportunities to establish a sustainable community. It is reasonably close to Tachikawa, a suburb with large stores, and houses in the nearby town could be looted for solar power supplies. With the elevation of the mountains, it could be possible to set up a solar storage system using pumped water. Plentiful wood means that even when fuel and electricity ran out it would be possible to stay warm for at least the first year, and to build fairly solid barriers against zombie and human infiltration – some forest clearing would even be necessary to establish kill zones. The higher viewing points hold a number of coin-operated binoculars that could be used to ensure that zombies can be spotted at very long distances and monitored, and gun nests with good viewing points could be built around these viewing machines. The mountain holds all the necessities of medium-term survival for a reasonably large group, provided that the water problem can be solved fairly rapidly.

Natural Hazards: Although it contains no sizable buildings capable of collapsing in an earthquake, Takao mountain is obviously vulnerable to landslides, which could be dangerous for those on the lower slopes. However, it’s most significant problem is the risk of forest fires, which could wipe out a community very rapidly. The rope way provides a method for rapidly escaping during a significant fire, but keeping it clear of trees would be essential in order to use it successfully. With roaming gangs of humans likely to spot them, back burning to reduce fire risk is not likely to be an option at first, and in any case water supplies may not be sufficient to do this safely. Constant caution and evacuation planning would be necessary to keep this risk under control. The best solution to this problem would be water and forestry management, and any group unable to do these two things would likely ultimately be driven off the mountain by the difficulties of supply and the risks of fire. But if this problem can be solved, the mountain would no doubt be safe for habitation by even up to 100 people.

Tactics

Takao Mountain is highly defensible, and with suitable tactics potentially close to impregnable in a zombie holocaust. If defenders are armed with rifles, it would be easy to defend against a very large horde of slow-moving shambler zombies. Even if guns were not available, a suitable set of barriers could be established on steeper pathways to enable, for example, a single person armed with a pike to kill struggling zombies in relative safety. At the switchbacks, it would be possible to stand in the crook of the switchback and beat down zombies with a pole or pike. Alternatively, traps could easily be set for mindless undead: establish a barrier at a point on the path just past one of the steeper slopes, and present oneself on a high point of one of the slopes to the side of the path just before the barrier. Zombies then reach the barrier and, unable to pass it, attempt to climb the slope on the side of the path. While they slip and fall on the scree, the defender can easily kill them using a suitable pole weapon.

The railway line is even easier to defend, because the top- and bottom-most extents pass through a smooth tunnel. Using a human target, zombies could be funneled into this tunnel and then trapped against a barrier on the upper side; from there, fire could be used safely inside the tunnel to kill large numbers of them. Alternatively, if active defense is not desired, the lower tunnel could be filled with scree, logs and debris, and a series of large rocks – or even, possibly, the train car itself – used as weapons to clear the upper tunnel. The upper platform itself also has a series of fairly solid barriers for passenger control, and is on a steep slope, so it’s possible that even large numbers of zombies wouldn’t be able to get the momentum necessary to push through them. The station itself thus forms another strong defense point, and suitable use of human bait could enable zombie hordes to be funneled into this killing zone, then beaten, burnt and shot into oblivion.

As the linked map shows, there are multiple stages on the mountain; first the lower peak with the temple, then an upper peak with visitor information centre, and then several more, higher peaks, each accessible by a decreasing number of paths. If a zombie wave overwhelms the lower slopes, the higher sections are all highly defensible, enabling even the most exhausted defenders to repel a numerically superior zombie horde with relative ease. With proper preparation, barriers could be set here and used to slow zombie approach while fleeing. With the steep sides of the mountains a constant threat, it could also be possible to break up hordes by throwing members over the slopes, or using rope traps to drag large numbers off the trail. This wouldn’t stop them permanently, but would break apart the horde so that it would be easier to kill as its members attempted to stagger up the steep mountainsides.

Finally, if long-term defenses were needed it might be possible to use back-burning techniques to establish zones higher up the mountain that are safe from fire. In the worst case scenario, with a huge horde approaching, the lower slopes could be fired – possibly using projectiles lobbed beyond the zombies – and the defenders could then retreat into the back-burnt zones. The zombies, struggling up the steep slopes, would be overrun by the fires and potentially destroyed en masse. This is an extremely risky tactic and only useful in summer, and would obviously attract attention from nearby survivors.

Conclusion

A highly defensible, concealed community can be established on Takao Mountain, capable of defending itself capably from even very large zombie hordes, and able to escape rapidly if overwhelmed. The community could potentially be sustainable and even maintain some of the luxuries of modern society – especially, hot water and some lighting – and, although the early years would be hard work, could become a thriving base for recolonization of the world after a zombie apocalypse. If you’re living in Tokyo and worried about the zombie apocalpyse, you should visit Takao Mountain and familiarize yourself with an escape strategy to this excellent post-apocalyptic base.

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