Things I'd like to see

So I thought I'd make a list of some things I'd like to see in movies/TV. Doubt I will, but hope springs eternal.
  1. How about one of those gun-toting pacifists' companions disarms them every time they point a gun, and says, "Hey, idiot, second rule of gun safety: never point a gun at anything you aren't willing to destroy."

  2. How about a tiny chick, like River in Firefly, who gets her a$$ handed to her on a plate after trying to use brute force on guys twice her size? Yeah, tiny people can kick butt...but they better damn well use technique. And no, moving like a ballerina is not technique. How about jujutsu? It really works, and it looks utterly awesome, at least to people who know anything.

  3. Vampires who aren't only dead, they're actually based on specific legendary types. How about Slavic vampires, with their long (and bladed) tongues, two hearts, rising at noon, and iron teeth?

  4. Elves who aren't like the ones in Tolkien, but like the ones in legends. Actually I have seen that, but most people don't know Sesshômaru is an elf.

  5. Shows that have learned the Kzinti Lesson ("There is no such thing as a disarmed spacefaring civilization"), and the law it's a special case of ("Anything usable as an interesting spaceship engine, is a WMD.")

  6. Settings where the WMDs we call spaceships are really regulated like they would be—no "no formal training" people with mystical (and, ironically, sexist) intuitive skills with engines, like Kaylee in Firefly. Seriously, do we let nice little hippie undergrads use the LHC? 'Cause a decent rocket makes it look like a damn laser-pointer.
Yes, I used the abbreviation on that last one just to play with the acronym command in html. You can do it with abbreviations, too (Mlle.), and apparently definitions (slavery).


Curiously well-armed pacifists

So, I was reading a largely forgettable little manga called Zero In, and in it, there's a chick from this private para-police force, if that makes sense, who's a genius with guns...but won't kill. There's similar characters in Black Cat (Saya, and later Train), and Kaoru's school of kenjutsu in Rurouni Kenshin (except, you know, with swords). All of them insist that you don't have to use guns (or swords) to kill, in a pitiable little "this is a shonen series so we can't have a body count" gesture, that makes Batman's hoplophobia look downright respectable.

Unfortunately, it's codswallop. Guns and swords have one purpose: killing stuff. Yes, you can use them to hunt as well as to fight, but their only purpose is to spill the blood of other living things. You can't, in real life, "intentionally miss the vital spot", or whatever; while swords have flats, if you get cut, blood-loss and infection will do you pretty soon, especially in a premodern setting. Guns are even worse—even little bullets make some big holes. There's a reason the M16 (which shoots itty-bitty .22 caliber) was nicknamed "the Meat Axe." People survive gunshot wounds all the time (now), but frequently lose the use of limbs or major muscles...or have to have their wife get into the shower with them, and take out their intestine and wash it so it doesn't get infected while they heal.

Yeah, that really happened to the husband of one of my mom's friends after he got gut-shot (he's a cop).

If you want guns in your story, you damn well better make it a story where people die, because that's what guns (also swords) do. You want your hero not to kill people? Fine (though I think you're a sissy); give him/her/it/Mokona nonlethal weapons. Jutte, for instance (Japanese cops' truncheons). Otherwise, man up and show your hero coming to grips, like a grownup, with spilling the blood of other people.

A final, irksome point: for some weird reason, people in manga who follow this nonsense, are frequently supposed to be following the path of Yagyû Munenori's Life-giving Sword (I think Kaoru in Kenshin is, though I've never paid much attention to that overrated series).

But, uh, gee, the whole point of Life-Giving Sword is that, by killing evil men, you give life to the thousands they would harm.
Those who take up arms when this is necessary, are also following the Way of Heaven. If you ask me why this is so, I reply that flowers and greenery bloom among the spring breezes, but they wither and fall in the frosts of autumn.
But then, I've actually read Munenori.


Random noticey bits

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.—H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Unfortunately I was never granted that mercy, and I see connections everywhere. That it might be connected to my anxiety disorder, is basically the premise of Monk. But here's a few of the things I noticed.
  • Shinto, and indeed all traditional, non-transcendental religions (so, Native American and "animist" religions, folk religions, ancient paganism, but not Christianity, Buddhism, or {probably} Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism), can have their ethics summed up in one sentence:
    "All of human society is a Nash equilibrium."
    Think about it. A Nash equilibrium is a state of affairs where no individual will improve his chances of success by acting unilaterally. In Shinto, it's not even good to do nice things unilaterally, since that puts people in your debt, and if they can't pay it off, they'll resent it.

  • Karl Popper, the vastly overrated philosopher of science, established falsifiability as the standard of science. It's not without its value as a standard, but it can't be used as an Occam-style "Razor".

    Here's why.

    So, apparently they managed to disprove one of Michael Behe's chief Intelligent Design arguments, irreducible complexity, by producing something he said was irreducibly complex in random circumstances. Thus, by Popper's standard, ID was science, it was just wrong. So far so good.

    Now how exactly would we disprove Darwinism?

    Somehow it seems to me that anything that says ID is more science than Darwin is, is probably not a friend to the kind of science-fetishists who think Popper was so brilliant.

    I say ditch Popper, keep Darwin, and ignore ID. As theoretical particle physicist Stephen Barr essentially said of ID, "Life is where you're looking for the signs of design? And what about the ten billion years before it showed up?" Course, that also kinda blows those Darwin-fetishizing atheists out of the water, too. See, if Darwin is an adequate explanation of the entire universe, not just one aspect of the tiny part of it that's alive, then LBJ's Great Society is an adequate explanation of America, and we have no need of the hypothesis of the Founding Fathers.

  • So, linguistic note. When people pronounce Iran and Iraq as Airann and Airack, they're actually being more correct and consistent, for English.

    See, ever since the Great Vowel Shift, long vowels in English, other than E, have become diphthongs (A is ei, I is ai, O is ou, and U is...iu? jü?).

    Anyway, there's a rule in English, similar to rules in several other Germanic languages, that vowels before single medial consonants are long. That's the difference between the English pronunciations of "irate" and "irritable". I think it might actually be why final-silent-E makes the preceding vowel long: because it makes the final consonant orthographically medial.


Are you qualified?

So, I had to go to some irritating SF websites (I was trying to find a decent rocket engine; I found the beam-core antimatter rocket, which, however, brought with it a number of headaches—but I'm okay now). The folks running the sites knew their rocket science, though they had an oddly-shortsighted conception of science—they don't seem, for instance, to have even heard of the Alcubierre warp (not that it'd necessarily work, but they didn't even seem to know that there is a theoretical way to get FTL without violating relativity).

But whenever they mentioned something other than physics, they uttered howlers that a third grader would sneer at.

Basically, science fiction writers seem to think if they write the physics right, they can make up whatever horse-hockey they want in other fields. Who knew the Baron d'Holbach ("All the errors of men are really errors in physics") was the only critic they were worried about? (That'd come as news to Robert "bang the research assistants and sell secrets to Stalin" Oppenheimer, too, wouldn't it?)
  • Bad linguistics arising from bad philosophy. So some idiot's story involved a logical conlang a la Lojban, because natural languages ("originating in superstitious eras") are full of inaccuracies. The example? The verb to be having all those senses, "all of them false to fact."

    Little boy, don't play with grownups' things. No language, natural, artificial, or machine, can cope with Being. As mentioned previously, language is composed of subject and predicate; Being is radically simple. Remember how the laws of physics can't describe a black hole well, because it's a singularity? Well, a black hole is actually a three way composite, in logic: it's a thing (essence) that has properties, however ill-defined (accidents) and it exists (being). Even math (most rationalists are some form of mathematical realists) is a composite, since it's things (essence) that exist (being). But Being? Just being. Your language is incapable of coping with that logical singularity, little boy.

  • Bad sociology, deriving from errors in history and economics. How about, "You can't have lords without peasants." Really? 'Cause, um, the Glorious Revolution, which about quintupled the power of England's Lords, also ended the existence of England's proto-peasantry. The Lords, and their party the Whigs (the original Tories were populist, that's why they were monarchists), were the driving force behind England's Industrial Revolution, too.

    How about capitalism? 'Cause lord knows the Meiji era zaibatsu didn't have a bunch of samurai and noble clans running them, and not a single Scottish, English, or German noble was involved in industrialism in their cultures, right? If you have an elite class—which is a part of the definition of Capitalism, toddlers—you could have a feudal or Austrian-style aristocratic system. There's no reason the economic elite couldn't also be the military elite, as was the case in Prussia and is the case in both halves of Korea. Crew-based elites, a la Mt. Lookitthat in Niven or the Guild in Dune (and its knockoff in Last Exile) would be quite likely, too.

    How about we junk the Hegelian nonsense about the ever-unfolding increase in social equality, since it ain't gonna happen?

  • Pointless, rather provincial naysaying. "Space ranks will be Air Force, not Navy." I have three problems with this.
    1. Just because NASA is Air Force doesn't mean its successors will be—navies have a lot more manufacturing infrastructure.
    2. Large spaceships are more like sea vessels than air vessels, and therefore the organization will be more like that on a ship (large organization for handling one vessel) than that on an air base (large organization for handling multiple small vessels).
    3. Most importantly, the Royal Air Force is organized quasi-navally, you provincial little infant cornpone.

  • Bad scientific anthropology deriving from bad philosophical anthropology. Specifically, aliens determined entirely by their ecological niche (I'm looking at you, Niven). Really? As everyone knows, humans behave just like ostriches (terrestrial, bipedal, plains-dwelling omnivores). The total homogeneity of all human cultures—ancient Romans, 19th Century Navajos, and modern Englishmen behave precisely the same way, right?—is due to ecological niche being far more important than culture, history, or, God forbid, free will. Right, zygotes?

    Also, zygotes, must we have all those bizarrely misogynistic, or radically feminist, gender roles? Considering how advantageous human sexual roles were for our survival, I'm guessing aliens are going to have had to develop something similar. That is, different roles, but approximate social equality (though whichever sex handles the more glamorous jobs is probably going to get higher status). The really lopsided gender roles observed in some human cultures—the Middle East, Joseon Korea—are usually only possible once a certain level of civilization sets in, and generally only under the influence of consciously-simplified ideologies. Confucianism proper, for instance, is much easier on women than Neo-Confucianism, because Neo was a conscious striving to conform society (prescriptively) to an order that Confucianism was just observing (descriptively) as a tendency.

    But I doubt most of them have even heard of Joseon Korea.
How about we don't write things into our books until we've cleared the fallopian tube and read up on them, hmmm?


Captain's Logs From Nowhere

So, with the release of the new Star Trek movie (AKA Dawson's Trek, Trek: 90210, Degrassi: The Next Generation (wait...)), people are actually trying to say nice things about Star Trek. Only, unfortunately, the only nice thing you can say about Star Trek—especially this prepubescent take on the franchise—is that its vision of the future is "optimistic."

And dear God, the animals actually think that's a good thing.

Oh, sure, Star Trek is optimistic—in a quasi-Hegelian Marxist triumphalism sort of way. Roddenberry's conception of a happy future is oddly similar to the ideal Socialist state...because he was a Pinko half-wit.

Seriously, all you Libertarians that like Star Trek: were you that scared by the Cold War, that you latched onto anything that presented a future where the bomb didn't fall? Even if the show was cheerleading for the destruction of everything you hold dear, especially the system you treat as a fetish? The show said the same thing about your god it said about mine: Trek's no nicer to the almighty Market (pbui) and its Invisible Hand (if I may be so bold as to mention holy matters) than it is to Christianity.

And here's something apparently nobody notices: the supposedly optimistic future isn't even all that appealing, especially in TNG. Consider their leisure hours: they play tennis, study judo, and listen to (exclusively) coffee bar jazz or classical music. They read only the classics. They play chess; their parties look like they should be happening in some semi-employed playwright's loft in the Village.

They're fricking space Yuppies. Rather pretentious space Yuppies, who probably subscribe to The New Yorker—to read it, I mean, not just leave it lying around so they look sophisticated to shallow people. Spiritually speaking, that makes Planet of the Apes look downright Pollyanna-ish.

Oh, and how about the aliens?

Klingons: They went from being a stand-in for some Cold War player or other, to being a stereotype of warrior cultures (about 3 parts Viking to 1 part Sioux)...except nobody paused to do a lick of research into how warrior cultures function. They're also supposed to be great warriors, and yet they never kick!

Vulcans: They're ethical-cultural Jews—only Comtist positivists! ('cause Lord knows positivism hadn't been discredited by the forties)

Romulans: utterly, utterly wasted, because the show being written at a third-grade level requires simplistic bad guys. Ditto Cardassians. Their cultures look vastly preferable to 24C humanity, frankly.

Don't even get me started on the Borg, although their original version (where they were tech-looters, not "assimilate everything" cliches) was better. And Guinan? It wouldn't be TV from the 90s without Whoopi Goldberg as a Magical Negro!

The more one thinks about it, the more it becomes apparent that Star Trek is only optimistic if you're the sworn enemy of all mankind.


Gun X Sword

Time now to review my favorite show. Ever.

Since this is a positive review, let's start with the bad. The dub—seriously, did they even watch the Japanese version? Van's supposed to sound like he just woke up with a hangover from hell, not be all energetic and snotty. Also his name is pronounced "Van," as in the thing whose roof Leonardo thinks should be 3 feet higher, not "von" as in a Junker's middle name. Yes Japanese has a different A from English (theirs is IPA ɑ, ours is IPA æ), but in what universe do you render an A as IPA ɔ?

The end.

The good. How about, the voices (in Japanese)? Van's aforementioned hangover voice, Wendy and Pricilla's two levels of teenage girl voice, Ray's stone-cold insanity, Josh's innocent-little-boy voice, and Carmen...being Inoue Kikuko. Inoue Kikuko's voice...

Sorry, what was I saying? Right. How about the tongue-in-cheek but serious tone—gruesome, pointless murder and all-consuming revenge, on the one hand, and Mexican Voltron (and, later, a Robot-Luchador nun!) on the other. Need we even mention Mizugi? (Yeah, right, "Missoghi"—you named a country "swimsuit," gentlemen, now man up and admit it)

I really dig the outright iconoclasm of it—hatred saves the world, hippies, choke on that!—and how it's actually surprisingly deep. If you look at it, they basically said, "Look, let's write a story that'll stand on its own...and then throw in mecha," and yet the Armor doesn't feel tacked on.

How about the characters? Van's astounding—they took the "drifter" archetype and made him practically feral (though not compared to Calossa and Melissa). Carmen is pretty much the how-to for strong female characters—she's smart, tough, capable, (and also a dependable Oneechan-type, appropriately) but also a little insecure and spiteful. That is, she's actually got believable flaws, she isn't a Mary Sue who took two d20 rolls on "Table 37: Ridiculous Soap Opera Problems" to pretend to be well-rounded. Pricilla's a great gal, too: she's in the same league as Van and Ray, combat-wise...and she's a complete ditz (probably not as much as Van, but since he gives an entirely new meaning to "Invincible Ignorance" that's understandable). Wendy's just about the perfect execution of an adolescent character (Josh too, from a different angle), and Ray's the most believable tortured psycho in anything. The villain's the best ever, too, but don't let's give spoilers.

Plus, dammit, it's an anime with a Pulp Fiction reference.

Go, run, watch it! Over and over and over until you die and then come back and haunt somewhere that it's showing!