The Suetopia Bypass

Okay, so I mentioned the Na'vi are unconvincing Sues. And it occurred to me, the race in my own books are something of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, for me, the values I believe in made the basis of a successful civilization.

They're basically something like a cross between medieval and Napoleonic France, with some of the trappings of the Roman, Holy Roman, and Russian Empires. Their agriculture is all privately owned ("peasant proprietorship"), their industry is regulated by committees of craftsmen who own their means of production (basically guilds with a few differences), and their government is by military officers who still have many of the trappings of feudal lords, under a single executive. Their chief religion (they've got more than one) is centralized, sacrificial, and monotheist.

But I don't think mine qualify as a Sue, and I'll list the things I did different. And I do mean list.
  1. Embroider this in your skins, writers, NO NOBLE SAVAGES. I don't care what they taught you, most of the Native Americans the US actually had wars with were somewhere between Vikings and Mongols on the SOB scale; if Comanche had a word for Karma it'd be "smallpox". Yeah we treated a lot of peaceable tribes badly—and didn't treat the Comanche badly enough (personally, I think if horse-nomads don't steal your corpse's head just to be sure you're really gone you're being too nice to them)—and there were excesses in the wars themselves, but don't let's pretend all the bastardy was on one side. It wasn't, not by a long shot. African tribes are the same story, as were the European barbarians, let's be real clear—romanticizing the Vikings or the Wends is just as much Noble Savage BS as romanticizing Plains Indians or Zulus.

    My aliens not only have higher tech and science than humans, they have a state, with formalized laws and a concept of government based on abstract principles. Because sorry, the alternative just doesn't work as well.

  2. Similarly, no Proud Warrior Races. This is just a personal thing, but I hate that word "warrior"; "soldier" is so much more civilized. A soldier is a professional, a warrior is an amateur—and amateur war is a scary thing. It's not a coincidence that Proud Warrior races usually use about 2/3 of the Noble Savage cliche, even if they have space-level tech. Or they just combine them, like the Na'vi do. Also like the Noble Savage thing, they ignore the bad side of that sort of culture.

    Which isn't to say militocracy is a bad idea—many societies are ruled by their soldiers, with no ill effects. Sure, military-dominated states currently tend to be bad, but it's not inherent; it's just that all the decent governments, currently, are in a tradition that taboos militocracy. It's like how, in much of Mexico, only loose women dress as revealingly as American women do—that doesn't mean dressing that way makes you loose.

    My aliens are a militocracy—the political leaders are also military officers—but the officer class has a number of restrictions the citizens don't, analogous to how you have fewer civil rights in military than civilian law. They also use their peculiar, mystical code of honor—essentially chivalry—as a political ideology. The fun thing about that is, chivalry precludes doing certain things even to an enemy, and applying it systematically, as the ideology of the whole state, means their state has self-imposed limits, like a Constitution.

    Rank is hereditary, but that just means the children of an officer automatically have a commission—they're raised with that in mind, the funny thing about having an elite with a specific job is, you can raise it to do that job. Anyone can be promoted from the ranks, too, and it's pretty easy to lose a commission.

  3. This is probably the most important: make them work at it. America has to be continuously maintained by human sacrifice offered to the Tree of Liberty—it's funny how innocuous Founder quotes sound scary if you rephrase them—and any alien society would constantly have to fight threats from within as well as without. Any functioning ideology will require striking a balance, and there'll always be someone who figures he'd be happier under some other balance, even if the whole rest of the system falls apart. Some people are willing to do very bad things to adjust the balance, and that needs to be shown.

    On the other hand, it really is Sue-ish if the only conflict or crime is people trying to buck the society's system. I mean, what, so the Na'vi are so perfect they even accept being cuckolded with nary a grumble? Riiiiight. Sorry, but no species whose males have so little in the way of gonads could ever win a war—and it's unrealistic, also, in that Neytiri's clan would probably have lost the support of Tsu'tey's clan for something like that.

    My aliens constantly have to put down secession attempts by their officer class. See, once, all the nobles were supreme in their own territories, but then they were gradually absorbed by the "Empire". Some of them want to be supreme again, and are willing to do many very bad things in order to secede. On the other hand, though, they also have normal crime and conflict—the main alien character is a cop, after all.

  4. Don't just show them working for it in the here and now, though, show how they've had to work for it in the past. Obviously tread carefully, or you'll end up with an alien messiah story, but I expect to know, you know, how'd they get their one-world government, or that sort of thing?

    My aliens were consolidated by a huge war between two branches of their empire, that killed 93 million people in 95 of our years. But that was their whole species fighting—World War II was only in the Eastern Hemisphere, mostly the north half, and killed 70 million people in 6 years.

    The aliens also had a reform, 88 of our years before the big war (so only in one branch of their Empire), that made the people, rather than any other officer or even the Empire, the recipient of the officer class's fealty—remember, the officer class still has the trappings of feudal nobility. Similarly their women's status has been steadily improving, mostly due to their religion, which was also responsible for chivalry (Christianity, especially the reverence for the Blessed Virgin, was a major factor in the incredibly high status medieval women had, and in the creation of chivalry). But the aliens still have sexism and over-ambitious nobles/officers, because societies aren't perfect.

  5. This is a rule for avoiding Sue-ishness in general, actually: if you don't want to show them doing something bad, you still have to show them being tempted to. Unless you're writing a story specifically about a race where the Fall never happened, a la Perelandra, your aliens still have to have that tendency to evil.

    My aliens' emperor admits, in the third book (in the works), that he had one of his aides calculate how long it'd take to genocide the human race—he overreacted to reports of atrocities humans were committing against them. He never did anything, but he did actually want to vitrify every planet humans lived on.

    Incidentally, the answer was 144 of their days (slightly more of ours), assuming human space resistance was at its maximum. It sounds even more pitiful in their units: two months, two nine-day-units-analogous-to-weeks.

This Is Your Addictive Fantasy World?

I thought I'd comment on "Avatar Withdrawal Syndrome", which is where people become despondent over the fact that Pandora's not real. Yes it has a name; let's all weep bitter tears for the human race. Someone actually said he didn't even want to play World of Warcraft anymore! Give me the Night Elves any day over the Na'vi, AKA "giant shaved blue ewoks".

I mean, I sympathize with their trouble, processing the quality disparity between fantasy and reality, I really do; Lord knows I've had more than my share of grappling with that. But Pandora, seriously? What's to like? The planet's just not that impressive. Maybe it's 'cause I'm from Arizona (my parents met working in the Grand Canyon), but what, precisely, about that planet is remotely different from this one? That it looks like a bunch of fake aquarium plants? I'll concede that unfamiliar things often look fake, but the real problem with Avatar is, they had the planet designed to much more realistic specs than the unjustifiably humanoid critters that sit at its apex. They had Barlowe, of "Guide to Extraterrestrials" fame, do the concept art for the rest of Pandora's ecosystem, but they didn't have him design the Na'vi, with the result that they look no more native to their planet than the humans do. Speaking of, the Na'vi are unconvincing Mary Sues, more on that in another post.

But I think really, the problem people have is not that Pandora isn't real. It's that none of it is real. If only we could jump into Cameron's child-universe where business and the military are simply evil, scientists are always good, and natives are never murderous torturing gang-rapists whose economy is founded on robbery and enslavement. The movie hits all the right buttons, it rings every bell the dogs are conditioned to salivate at. And yet—I don't know if it's because other voices are actually being heard in the culture, or what—people's minds aren't taking the infusion like they used to. That's why so many people root for Quaritch. I think their disgust with the real world, when presented with Pandora, is actually just their displaced disgust with the fact people are questioning the ideological "truisms" the film needs you to believe in order to work. They'd rather live on Pandora because Pandora is a world where left-liberalism is actually true. Don't misunderstand me; when people realize the fatal flaws of right-wing ideology, movies based on those cliches will cause "withdrawal", but that's not where we are just now.

Or maybe I really am being too generous. Maybe they're not having a subconscious reaction to the movie's echoing of their political illusions, just as those illusions are at risk of being shattered—maybe they're just a bunch of stupid kids who couldn't handle losing their pretty colors.


In No Particular Order

Random thoughts. For irony I was gonna use the ordered list function, but that'd be annoying.
  • So the people over at Big Hollywood have been doing a series about why they love Pixar. It's fine and all, though as an aginner I tend to lash out at anything I see praised too much. But apparently they think there's nothing to dislike about Pixar. Aren't they cute? I've got one: everything in Pixar is obsessed with the immediate post-war era, from about 1946 to c. 1972 or so.

    Think about it. Woody's a 50s toy. Bug's Life is based on a Kurosawa film from 1954. The eponymous firm in Monsters, Inc might as well be Big Blue. The Incredibles, or Cars? I shouldn't even have to say it. All the music in WALL-E? Guess when it's from. Meet the Robinsons is Pixar, I don't care whose name is on it, and does anyone else notice a distinctive aesthetic? Admittedly that's in the book too, but gee, why'd they feel drawn to that particular book? Hell, they sorta worship the early days of Disneyland.

    Now, there's nothing really wrong with that, and there's a lot to be said for that era. Its technological optimism was a bit more mature than that of the 19th century, society wasn't self-immolating yet, and I dig the diners/drive-ins/Googie (Populuxe, whatever)/Route 66 vibe, also on display in Feasting on Asphalt.

    But I can't shake the feeling Lasseter and co. actually think that time was marked by some sort of "family values", and that is simply not the case. Contrary to popular belief, the Flintstones (or the Honeymooners), or I Love Lucy, were much more typical of those times' view of marriage and family than Leave It to Beaver was (personally I'd say Bewitched was actually better, RE:values—Sam and Darren are a pretty believable happy couple). The family fell apart so quickly a the end of the post-war era because so many of its cultural supports had already been eroded.

  • More generally, the fact that so much of men's culture in our society seems to be geared toward Al Bundy makes it very difficult to critique feminism without seeming to endorse those attitudes. It'd be like if you couldn't critique Communism without sounding like you favored using Pinkerton's to massacre strikers...which was how things were in the early 20th century, that's how the commies made so many gains in this country in that era.

    It is actually possible to criticize capitalism without being Communist, and it's also possible to hate both male chauvinists and feminists. What's really funny is, I don't even hate feminists for their misandry—I hate them because most of their actual policy positions benefit men and not women.

    Solidarity was a labor union. Just saying.

  • So, Rosario+Vampire is an amusing ball of fluff-nothing. But it's got an interesting reason for the harem-lead everyman to get all the chicks: he's the only nice person in a place where most people not only hate each other, but eat each other.

    Also, I like how the outcast hybrid monsters all look like the monsters from tokusatsu series. It amused me.

  • Kaibutsu Ôjo (Princess Resurrection) is a better take on a world of movie-type monsters, but I gotta ask, do Japanese teenagers really dream about being utterly dominated by high-class ladies? 'Cause it's in everything. I mean, as fantasies go it's a hell of a lot better than the maid thing or the nurse thing or the schoolgirl thing (the second the red vinyl backpack enters the equation, you can get the hell away from me), but it's still kinda weird.

    Also, the ending from the Kaibutsu Ôjo anime, by ALI PROJECT. Uh, the vaguely bondage-y subtext present in their opening to Rozen Maiden has just become the text—the song's name is "Kneeling Down, Lick My Feet". I'm not really complaining, it's just an observation.

  • And yes, it's "Kneeling Down, Lick My Feet," not "Kneel Down and Lick My Feet". It's Hizamazuite Ashi wo Oname, not Hizamazue Soshite Ashi wo Oname. Yes I'm anal, so sue me.

  • I realized what I don't like about Marilyn Manson, other than that his music sounds like rat vomit. He is to Alice Cooper what Lady Gaga is to Madonna: a child ripping off someone else's gimmick, with no understanding of how that gimmick even works. It's like a Western manga.

    Alice himself said it best, as is so often the case:
    A male singer, a woman's name, lots of theatrics. Boy, I wish I'd thought of that.

  • I'm pretty sure the apostrophes before consonants, in Covenant names, mean you pause between the words. So the Arbiter is Thel. Vadam (Thel 'Vadam) and the Ship-master is Rtas. Vadum (Rtas 'Vadum). And if you think Rtas is hard to pronounce, you must not be Slavic.

    Also, anyone else think Vadum and Vadam are so similar because their voice actors are Davi and David?

  • Thought of Halo reminds me, why are American conservatives so ra-ra for Spartans, while hating Rome? Not only is America just a bootleg of the Roman Empire (as are all European attempts to govern more than one people), Spartans were a bunch of lousy commies. Read up on the Spartan system: gee, Davy, do you think it might be Stalinism?

  • So you know what's freaky? The Chinese said Emperors ruled based on the Mandate of Heaven. The Latin word for "Mandate" (in the political sense) is "Imperium".

    I can actually go line by line over East Asian and European history, and give you a list of parallels as long as my arm. For instance, the rise of Neo-Confucianism on the mainland undid a lot of reform by Buddhist regimes, in the name of conforming to ancient models—for instance, the Goryeo Kingdom had abolished slavery, the Joseon Kingdom brought it back. It was like the Renaissance, where blind copying of Rome and Greece undid a lot of medieval progress (which was fostered by Christianity, of course). I've already compared Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea to the Hundred Years War—an island country brutally invading the country that taught them to read (and make floors out of something other than dirt).

    Joseon Korea is post-Philip the Fair France. Edo Japan was a prolonged version of the Tudor/Stuart dynasty. Does that make the Sengoku era a longer version of the War of the Roses? Maybe; obviously the parallels aren't exact, unless maybe just the last part, culminating in Sekigahara, is the War of the Roses.

  • I can also give you parallels of different kinds of Buddhism with Christianity—Shingon's Orthodox, Tibetan's Catholic, Mahayana is Evangelical, Zen is...okay Zen doesn't work, it'd be a weird amalgamation of Evangelicalism with Pelagianism, and those are mutually exclusive. But Theravada is Calvinism—it even believes only some will ever be saved ("limited atonement", anyone?).

  • Boy, I hate music ringtones. I believe a phone ought to make a ringing noise (though, okay, my phone makes a sonar ping when my sister calls it), it's one of the very few things I agree with the reductive ass who writes xkcd on. Though I admit I laughed at his "compromise position" with 9/11 truthers, that one of the towers was destroyed by terrorists, and the other by the government.

    I have one exception to my ringtone rule: appropriate ones for fictional characters. The exorcist in my dark fantasy book (he's a specialist with the vampire-hunting order, they call him in when things bigger than ghosts or goblins are involved) has, as his ringtone, Tubular Bells. Because dammit, what else is an exorcist gonna use?


An Over-Prolonged Pupal Stage

I figured out what it is I don't like about so much fiction nowadays. It was revealed to me by watching Cowboy Bebop, when the dude who thawed Faye out says questions about your identity are only asked by adolescents—"nobody past a certain age bothers about them." And hell, that was probably meant to be all cynical and crap, about how adults are sellouts, but guess what? It's true. But it's not because an adult has given up on finding his identity (that being the cynical version they were trying to sell). It's because he's found his identity.

So much work now is geared toward adolescence, or rather toward the perpetual adolescence of the baby boomers, who are compelled to revisit their misspent youth like dogs returning to their vomit. Now I got nothing against a work whose target audience is actually adolescent addressing the issues of adolescents, but the fascinating thing is, all the work with a target audience in that category, at least if it's any good at all, mostly focuses on getting out of adolescence, and becoming an adult. The target audience of perpetual adolescence? Old people.

Now, the problem with this is, an adolescent isn't exactly a person. He's the disgusting pupa that will become a person. All rational work dealing with this pupa stage is directed to encouraging the pupa to emerge from it—the purpose of the pupa is the butterfly. But everything produced by or for the baby-boomers—or others of the perpetual adolescence crowd—is about cutting off their wings and going back into the chrysalis. They were worth a damn as larvae, but since they've decided not to be imagines (it's the plural of imago, I looked it up), they're just failed pupae. Best to gently remove them from the plants they hang off and throw them on the compost heap.

Now do not misunderstand me. I think Diana West is out of her damn mind, when she claims rock and video games are symptoms of this perpetual adolescence. Pretty much any popular musical form will be associated with the young, because the young are the people who go to dances and concerts. And it's only been in the last hundred, hundred fifty years or so that games and imaginative stories have been seen as being for kids; the reason so many fairy tales aren't appropriate for kids is that they weren't intended for kids.

Also do not make the opposite error: most of what is known as "mature" subject matter only appeals to adolescents. Adults don't want to dwell on crap like that, they've actually suffered in real life; also they actually are grown up, so they have no desire to try and make themselves feel grown up by having to endure fictional unpleasantness. The wallowing in the sordid, especially in an attempt at "deconstruction", is the purview of children (at best—most of it is actually just propaganda against disfavored worldviews).

The perpetual adolescence isn't just limited to personal identity or politics; its shifting formlessness (a part of the metamorphosis the pupa undergoes) extends to the "big questions". Only guess what? If you just raise the questions, but don't answer them, it doesn't make you smart. I know, you're all so impressed whenever something gestures in the direction of some question about purpose, or value, or meaning—but sorry, it's only useful if it comes with an answer. Maybe it's just because I know philosophy—apparently I'm the only one?—but when people don't answer the questions they raise, it's irksome. I feel like I'm living with some backward hillbillies, and they're real impressed by the guy who keeps saying things like "What makes the wind blow?" or "What makes the sun rise?"...but they never listen, no matter how many times I try to explain about air pressure or the earth's rotation.

Basically, whenever someone says they like something because "it makes you think," my inclination is to reply, "Yes, I too enjoy things that break me out of my routine."


Dark City

And that's 100 posts.

Whoo boy, haven't done a full-length review in a while. It's something sorta old—Dark City, from the far-off antediluvian year of 1998. I watched this thing on my neighbor's TV with my sister, while we were housesitting for them; I honestly remember I couldn't follow it at the time. Now I think it may well be my favorite movie of all time.

So, uh, bad things first.


And now for the good! Oh, no, wait, there's one bad thing: good luck finding the version of "Sway" used in this film. All the ones I've found? Male vocalist. No, I don't get it either. But that's it, that's the only flaw, and it's not actually a flaw with this picture.

Okay, for the good. First off, Kiefer Sutherland, playing triumphantly, magnificently, neither-a-vampire-nor-a-Hijikata-Toshizô-wannabe against type. He's a frigging gimp forgodssake, and yet he still has enough screen presence to blow a room full of reality-warping monsters and Jennifer Connelly right out of the theater. It occurs to me, he's the mad scientist who is his own Igor, and yet he's kinda awesome.

Second off, Jennifer Connelly. The lady has a very wholesome, girl-next-door kinda vibe, and yet she's so hot "Planck energy" is the only phrase that does it justice. Like Bettie Page, come to think of it, that's why they cast her for the Rocketeer (the heroine in the Rocketeer comic was based on Bettie Page pinups). Also, she refuses to age. Look at her in "Dark Water" (2005) and then look at her in the Labyrinth (1986). She actually was 16 in Labyrinth, or even 15—and yet she really doesn't look much different at 35.

Third, the guy who plays John Murdoch—why isn't he in everything? He actually manages to sell "raging at a world gone mad", which is probably the hardest thing for any actor to make believable. He looks cool, too, which is a rarity in a male lead nowadays (it never was that common, actually).

John Hurt's detective is the best in anything ever, but the real breakout stars of the picture—pretending for the moment that anybody went to see it—are the Strangers, who are just about the coolest damn spooky alien freaks in anything, ever. I admit I ripped off their habit of ending their sentences with "yes?" for one of the races in my book; if you can think of a cooler way to ask after somebody than, "Mr. Murdoch, yes?" I'd dearly love to know what it is.

But over and above all the cool stylistic elements (the Machine, the nightclub songs, etc) are the themes. Apparently a lot of critics didn't like that, once John Murdoch has the power to Tune reality, he pretty much just uses it to get the girl. Know what? Those critics should go to the guillotine as enemies of mankind—literally of the people. I'm sorry, but what better triumph is there than to be handed the chance to be a Nietzsche or Lovecraft protagonist, and deliberately choose, instead, to be a Chesterton one?

Oh but it gets better. Apparently the writers thought they were basing it on the Allegory of the Cave. Cute, isn't it? This is why I think they were writing inspired, literally—because, though they set out to express one set of ideas, they actually expressed another. Rather than the Cave, that dead horse that has, by now, been beaten to stiff peaks, this movie is actually based on a later, better work of philosophy. Specifically, the "De Unitate Intellectus: Contra Averroistas" of Thomas Aquinas. Or maybe just a quick run-through of all of Thomism. The Strangers with their single mind...the persistence of identity in the face of changing traits—that's Aquinas' refutation of Siger of Brabant, and his elucidation of Transubstantiation, respectively. Even the ending—which the writers claim means that John is "disabused of any hope of an outside"—actually makes more sense if you view it as the assertion of Aristotelian mitigated realism against Platonic hyperrealism. The film is third-rate Platonism at best, but it's nearly perfect Scholasticism. Far too perfect to be an accident, and yet the writers don't appear to have realized how perfectly Thomist-Aristotelian a film they were making.


Et Qui Nolunt Occidere...

...quemquam posse volunt. That's a quote from...hang on...Juvenal, and I used it as the motto of the gunrunners in my SF book. It means, "Even those who don't want to kill anyone, still want to be able to." And today I thought I'd delve into another of my well-stocked stores of geekiness, and discuss guns. Several of these are gonna be of a reality-check nature, thanks to all the misinformation out there.
  • You've probably heard this before, but the "Assault Weapons" ban was a joke. Know what an assault weapon is? It's not what you're thinking of. "Assault weapon" only has one real industry meaning, and they've been illegal to civilians for more than a hundred years. An assault weapon, properly so-called, is usually something most laymen would call a bazooka. Occasionally its meaning extends to fully-automatic small arms and to things like flamethrowers. No gun covered by the Assault Weapons Ban is remotely similar, except cosmetically. Weapons capable of fully-automatic fire have not been legal to civilians since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

  • Oh, people will say, but the weapons the ban applies to are semi-automatic. Uh-huh. And this is where the gun-ban people are disingenuous—do you actually know what semi-automatic means? My mother and aunt, who are very much not the gun type but are much better-informed than most people, assumed "semiautomatic" meant the weapon can be changed from fully-automatic to 1-shot-per-trigger-pull (the latter, of course, is what semiauto really means). That is, they thought "semi-automatic" meant "selective fire." I'm willing to wager this misconception is widespread; and I'm willing to wager that the gun-ban people like it that way.

    Now do not misunderstand me, I am entirely in favor of controlling civilian ownership of full-auto weapons. Only that's not what the Assault Weapons Ban did. It eliminated guns entirely arbitrarily, based on cosmetic similarities to quite different weapons.

  • Similarly, how the law limited handguns to 10 bullets? What the hell? I'm sorry, but every extra bullet in the magazine counts. Yeah, more bullets are an advantage for criminals, but they're also an advantage for the law-abiding. And I'm kinda pissed that Calico, a pioneer in helical magazines—a 50-shot pistol, for the love of God!—had such a tough time, in large part because of that law.

    I recall an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ("brought to you by the Lifetime network") where a victim gets a .50 caliber Desert Eagle to protect herself, with a 14-round extended magazine, and the female cop (Olivia?) says, I kid you not, "It's practically an assault rifle."

    Snerk. No, detective, actually it's not. It's got about 1/3 to 1/4 the range of an assault rifle, but its bullets are twice as big; get jacketed hollowpoints and your opponent is not going home happy. Also, again, semi-auto means "bang-bang-bang"; an assault rifle is capable of "ratatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatata" and then you have to change magazines. Not that you'd ever have such poor fire-discipline with an assault rifle.

  • Am I the only one who tires of people who think they're awesome because they correct other people for saying "clip" when they mean "magazine"? Yeah, I know the difference, in my own writing I'm religious about it, but what's served by nitpicking?

    I think a part of the confusion is, the last time put-near-everybody used guns, was World War II. In that era, a lot of weapons were loaded with clips—the M1 Garand, the Mauser C96, a lot of WWII guns, all have internal magazines loaded from en-bloc or "stripper" clips (and the Pommy sidearm could be loaded from moon-clips, those crazy Brits and their Webleys and Enfields). On the other hand Thompsons, M1911s, and several other WWII-era weapons load from detachable box or drum magazines (or sometimes snail-shell, in the Luger's case). But if I have a little bunch of bullets I load at once into my M1, and you have a little bunch you load into your M1911, am I gonna bother with calling them two different things while Fritz is advancing on our position? Hell no.

    Wait, I just implied you're an officer and I'm an enlisted, that ain't right. Switch that; I get the M1911.

  • So apparently there is a reason to turn your pistol inward. Not 90 degrees in, so it lays on its side—that's silly. But 45 degrees, inward, apparently strengthens your grip a bit when you're shooting one-handed. It's called a MacMillan turn.

  • I wish someone would tell me if it'd be legal, or for that matter practical, to convert a LeMat grapeshot revolver to use cartridge ammo instead of cap-and-ball. See, the LeMat has 9 (!) .40 caliber bullets in a revolving cylinder...that pivots around a 16-gauge shotgun barrel. There was a cartridge variant of it made after the Civil War, but it was ugly—it would give you an idea of how to do the conversion, though, and just keep it looking like the older model.

    The problem is, would you run afoul of sawed-off shotgun laws? Because most people I've talked to say yes, but the laws themselves seem to say no. See, a gun that shoots shot doesn't, apparently, violate those laws, unless it's actually been cut down to its current length—there's no problem if the gun was designed short, that's why "ratshot" loads for pistols and rifles are legal. But our laws aren't actually enforced as written, most irritatingly.

  • So, Vulcan Raven is impossible, I don't care how big of an Eskimo he is. The recoil on an honest-to-God Vulcan cannon must be enormous; average recoil on a minigun is 150 lbs, peak recoil is 300. A microgun, which was actually designed for infantry use (but from a mount) is more manageable, averaging 99 lbs and peaking at 220. Still, ouch. Raven would be a bit more believable if he was built like a sumo wrestler—then he'd have the mass to wrestle with his gun, at least, though it's still doubtful he could control it without at least a bipod.

  • Gatling guns in fiction always make the wrong noise. There's a clip on Wikipedia of some sort of Gatling-type autocannon (a GAU, maybe, I forget which though) being fired, and it really sounds like nothing so much as a buzzsaw—it's a much higher pitch than you'd expect. Apparently Tommy guns sound like very angry sewing machines.

    Movies always soup up the sound guns make, actually; the guns that actually sound like movie guns, even the Desert Eagles and .44 Magnums, probably have to be carted around on small wagons.

  • So if the "assault rifle" remark, above, wasn't enough to reveal how little Law & Order writers know about guns, how about how Criminal Intent seems to think you can identify the caliber of a gun when it's pointed at you? Oh, sure, if it's an M1911, a Makarov, or a Luger, maybe, but most guns come in a variety of chamberings. Even if you could tell the internal dimension of the barrel just by eyeballing it—is it, for instance, .45 ACP or .45 GAP? Okay, bad example, it's almost always ACP. But is it .40 S&W, or 10mm?

    Then there was the scene in Criminal Intent where they changed the "L" in "Luger" to an "E", as if it was a trademark. Uh, no, that's the name of the caliber, 9 mm Luger Parabellum. Lots of companies make it, just like lots of them make .45 Automatic Colt Pistol and .45 Glock Automatic Pistol and .40 Smith & Wesson.

    But what really takes the cake for me, about Law & Order, is the SVU episode about how all homeschoolers are mentally unstable paranoids who are hiding from the world, and potentially dangerous. In it, a kid is so terrified of being taken from his (homeschooling) mother—due to her evil homeschooling brainwashing of course—that he kills his little brother. And they know the little brother didn't kill himself, because, quote, "The gun jammed when someone tried to chamber the second round," and, again quote, "It's tough to do that when you've already shot yourself in the head."

    Except it's a semi-automatic pistol, not a pump-action shotgun or a bolt-action rifle. Guess what? Semiautomatic is also known as "autoloading", because firing the first round, chambers the second one.


Context Clues

More reality check, with special focus on things you need to shut the hell up about until you go read up on the context.
  • Turns out I was incorrect—apparently Protestant clergy has a higher rate of abuse than Catholic clergy, the same as the rate among rabbis. Admittedly the rate is about 2% even for them—but it's only 1-1.5% for priests. Why don't you hear about that?

    Why don't you hear that the rate of actual pedophilia, clinically defined, is much higher in Protestant than Catholic clergy, according to a study from Penn State (.2% to 1.7%, for priests, compared to 2-3% for Protestant clergy)?

    Why don't you hear that there are more allegations against Protestant churches, and that the majority of the accused are church volunteers, not clergy of any kind? Why don't you hear that Catholic officials have made far and away the most changes to their policies regarding abuse, while Protestant and Jewish leaders continue to cover it up? In that last case there's a legitimate fear of antisemitism, but nobody thinks the equally (at least!) legitimate fear of anti-Catholicism excuses the bishops.

    And here's a fun fact: the person most likely to molest any child is a relative. 38% of all abuse is at the hands of fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, or mothers' boyfriends—all of whom are, by definition, not celibate.

  • So it's a commonplace to think the English were the good guys in the Napoleonic War. Now, aside from the fact England has never been the good guy in any war between 1336 and 1913, here's a fact: in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, the English not only massacred thousands of innocent people, they became the only Western power since long before Rome to systematically use rape as a weapon of terror. In 1803, on the other hand, Napoleon made war-rape a death penalty crime.

    Now, Napoleon was probably wrong in trying to spread his system—political equality, the rule of law, other horrible things—by force, but personally, I'd have to say Russia was the closest thing to the hero of the story; they were at least standing for something more than a fad. Austria lost the right to be the hero, thanks to Marie Antoinette being the only one of Maria Theresa's children who wasn't a complete ass. As for Prussia...yeah, well, let's put it this way. The Prussians specifically refused to let the English march with them, for fear they'd turn the English against them, between the way they treated their troops and the way their troops treated civilians. And consider what the English were like!

  • Libertarians...oy. Their arguments for legalizing drugs? First off, they invoke the "jus utendi et abutendi" idea from Roman law...even though America is a common law jurisdiction. Common law uses the much more civilized, rational idea that you only have the right to the proper use of anything; the community, in principle, always has the right to prevent you from abusing things. In practice, it can't intervene if doing so would infringe on your rights to other things, but there is no right of abuse, sorry. You don't like it, move to France.

    They also claim "you" own your own body. Kay...but then who's "you"? Body-self dualism is dreck, metaphysically speaking—the soul is merely the identity of the body, that which makes it what it is—and the kind of libertarian who makes that argument tends to be a materialist anyway. You're not allowed to make an argument from a metaphysical framework in which you don't believe. Do I go around making arguments based on the panta rhei of Heraclitus, or explain events by appeal to co-fatedness? No, because I'm not a pre-Socratic or a Stoic, and more to the point I'm not an idiot.

  • Does anyone else find it fascinating how people who are absolutely convinced the Founding Fathers were racist imperialist evildoers will nonetheless thump the Constitution as hard as the most backwoods preacher-man ever thumped the Bible? Or that libertarians, who have a magazine called "Reason", appeal to the Founders' authority more blindly than anyone appeals to the authority of prophets or religious sages? And yet the founders never claimed divine guidance or inspiration, except rhetorically!

    Apropos of nothing, is there a porn mag called "Chastity"?

  • So George Lucas said that a benevolent despot is the best kind of ruler, because he can get things done. And of course David Brin recommended sending Lucas and his entire family to the Gulag for repentance and reeducation—if I read him right, anyway. And then some guy tries to defend Lucas, but he, in his turn, said that "All he's saying is a benevolent despot would be the best, it's just too bad there aren't any."

    Huh. So, you're saying not a single person who can be described as a despot has even wanted to do good. Merely gaining that form of power instantly turns you, not merely fallible and corruptible, but actively, consciously malevolent—gaining absolute power makes you desire evil. "Benevolent" means "of good will," not "of good actions," genius.

    And hey, guess what, the only person here who knows any history can tell you, not only have many despots willed good, many of them have done it. The trouble with a despot is, "What to do when they don't do good, whether through malice or error? What do you do when they really don't want to do good?" And that's where the idea of placing limits on government comes in.

  • Does anyone else notice the irony in how much of the caricature of the Middle Ages generally used in Anglo cultures is, basically, a vicious attack on Protestantism? Think about it: basically they simply say the medievals were fundamentalists and Puritans, and believed in aristocracy and the divine right of kings. Uh, I don't wanna use a Freudian term, here, but I believe that's called projection.

    If anything, the big flaw of the middle ages was their excess of political and social independence; only France even approached federalism. The biggest flaw of medieval Christianity—which interpreted Scripture according to four different senses, only one of which was literal—was being too lenient with human frailty, not being puritanical.

  • So the idiots who do the "Answerman" column at Anime News Network apparently think all the same tropes are in play in Japan as in America. For instance, the creature who runs it now recently claimed that dojikko (clumsy girls) aren't a moe thing, but a cheap ploy to try and play with the trope of women always being dignified.

    Shit, who reads him his mail? There's no such trope in East Asia—in Confucianism, it's the guy who's always dignified! Men literally get the pedestal there, I'm not exaggerating; it's men who are the mysterious beings whose ways are inscrutable to mere mortals. "Man talk, you wouldn't understand" is the original idea in Asia; the concept that women are mysterious is largely a result of westernization.

    All the "mysterious, dignified woman" idea actually originated in a concerted effort to remind men that they're only half the human race, and women have lives and views of their own, and deserve respect. When did it start? The Middle Ages, of course. It got messed up when your precious Renaissance brought back the absolute patriarchy of pagan times, but it still managed to survive as a literary convention, and had some influence on the behavior of the suddenly-omnipotent-again men.


Sierra Foxtrot, Again

Oh, I like that, I think I'll call it "Sierra Foxtrot" (SF) from now on. I had still more thoughts on that field of literary endeavor. I will show you the true horror of my bulleted lists!
  • So, here's a thought: if you're going to plagiarize history for your SF, why not, you know, learn the history? Asimov based his Foundation books on Gibbon, apparently not knowing that when Gibbon wasn't simply wrong, he actively lied (the folklorist Andrew Lang, best known for the "color fairy" books, famously proved that Gibbon had not read most of his cited sources). History-in-spacesuits SF suffers from the same flaw as most historical fiction: the people who write it never know any history.

  • So, solar sails, and similar. Basically the way it works is, there's more radiation pressure on one side of the sail—closer to the star—than there is on the other. This produces a force propelling the sail away from the star.

    If that sounds familiar, it should—it's the Bernoulli effect. A solar "sail" is not a sail at all, it's a wing. Everything in a star system actually hangs suspended in the star's atmosphere—you could argue that, if you're not orbiting any planet in the system, "down" actually means "closer to the sun" and "up" means "farther from it." You say "orbital distance", and I say "altitude."

    No, I'm not gonna be one of those asshats who corrects people when they say "sucked out into space" ("blown out" isn't even actually any more correct, anyway; "removed along with the air that rushed into the area of lower pressure" is how suction works, isn't it?), but it's an interesting thought experiment. Space isn't an ocean, but it is a little bit like a sky.

  • I said this in response to a comment from my sister, but it bears repeating: some of the Dicta Boelcke actually works in space combat. "If possible attack with the sun behind you," for instance, would actually allow a half-assed version of stealth in space, since the sun is almost certainly a bigger radiation source than you are. You'll be harder to spot if you stay between your enemy and the sun. "Always continue with an attack you have begun" is a sound principle, as is "Only fire when the opponent is properly in your sights" (accounting for the difference in technology, that means make sure you have a good target-lock).

    "It is essential to assail your opponent from behind", though, yeah, not so much.

  • So all those people who say you wouldn't have starfighters? Yeah, well, almost certainly not anything like fighter planes, no, but small missile ships with 1- or 2-man crews aren't exactly a bad idea, dude. What's funny to me is how many of the people who say there's no reason for starfighters, then go on to say there's no reason for the Air Force. It's the same kind of stupidity that said we wouldn't have to put guns on jet fighters (guess what, we did).

    I think these yahoos actually think we don't need manned air forces because they have a simplistic conception of what an air force's role is. No, we don't need manned bombing runs anymore, we've got guided missiles now, but for a precision air-strike you do in fact need the Air Force (close air support, the kind provided by attack craft, is adequately provided by the aviation branches of the Marines and Army). But seriously, how many military-aviation missions can you name? Did you remember spying? How about infantry support? Tank-busting?

    I'm with Chesterton: you're allowed to abolish something only when you can adequately tell me what it's good for.

  • It's fascinating how Stargate doesn't know how good of science fiction it wants to be, isn't it? That whole "ancient astronauts" thing, the "Ascension" nonsense—very soft. The ZPM is a very frequently-invoked form of nonsensoleum, as well. But then you have McKay's reason for disbelieving in prophecy:
    Look, in a mechanical, Newtonian universe, not a problem. I mean, you know enough variables, you can predict the outcome; but quantum physics blows that out of the water.
    Um...Yeah, that's just plain old awesome, right there.

  • I realized one thing I hate about Avatar is, nobody that can get into space bothers fighting over resources, other than naturally-habitable planets as such. Unobtainium is called that because it has very specific properties, not one of which you are remotely likely to find in nature—you'd no more get naturally-occurring hot superconductors than you'd get "skrith", the stuff Ringworlds are made of. I know Cameron actually thinks he was saying something when he vomited out this hackneyed Marxist narrative a la Howard Zinn, but it simply will not happen in space.

    Of course, it never really applied to planetary history, either. The fact, fact fans, is that wars, colonialism, imperialism are never about mere resources. If you think anything humans do is that simple, well, I should certainly have thought your middle school would block this blog. Let's deploy another Chesterton quote:
    It is putting it too feebly to say that the history of man is not only economic. Man would not have any history if he were only economic. The need for food is certainly universal, so universal that it is not even human. Cows have an economic motive, and apparently (I dare not say what ethereal delicacies may be in a cow) only an economic motive. The cow eats grass anywhere and never eats anything else. In short, the cow does fulfill the materialist theory of history: that is why the cow has no history. "A History of Cows" would be one of the simplest and briefest of standard works. But if some cows thought it wicked to eat long grass and persecuted all who did so; if the cow with the crumpled horn were worshipped by some cows and gored to death by others; if cows began to have obvious moral preferences over and above a desire for grass, then cows would begin to have a history. They would also begin to have a highly unpleasant time, which is perhaps the same thing.
  • I just found out the Japanese launched a solar sail spacecraft...and named it Ikaros. Uh, what? Or rather, nan de yan nen?! Where's a paper fan when you need it?

    I've heard of ill-omened names, but damn.

  • So, something occurs to me. Magnetosphere sails (more formally "mini-magnetosphere plasma propulsion", though one always calls it "Maggy" in the family) are "inflated" bags of plasma, that essentially artificially increase the size of a sail-type propulsion. But if solar "sails" are wings, doesn't that make a ship propelled by a magnetosphere sail...a zeppelin?

    Only this zeppelin's gasbag is made of ever-shifting plasma, as though it was sewn together from the Aurora Borealis. Nice.


Because "Waldo" Would Sound Silly

Ahem. The title of "Avatar" is wrong—a remotely controlled body is a waldo, not an avatar. An avatar is a virtual representation. But can you imagine the poster with the Na'vi eyes and "Waldo" written all dramatically in the Papyrus font?

That would be hilarious.

Anyway, I had some thoughts on Avatar, occasioned by a recent viewing of...as much of it as I could stand. They're sort of random, so I'll put 'em in an unordered list.
  • I've discovered that not even trying to riff on Avatar can make it bearable. Much like "Hobgoblins", Avatar is so bad, whole sections of it simply forbid the Satellite of Love treatment. And I'm a MSTie of long standing, I actually force my relatives to watch "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" with me every Christmas Eve (it's my birthday, so they have to). Yes, the version with Joel and the Bots, I'm not a monster.

    I think what makes it unriffable is its offensive, aggressive badness. It's like if Coleman Francis had tried to make Red Zone Cuba an incisive commentary on JFK, except with enough Noble Savage cliches to gag a buzzard.

  • And what is it about Cameron, that his female characters are so completely unlikable? Ripley has some human moments, but Sarah Connor? I hear he set out to make her hateful, and he succeeded admirably! Max in Dark Angel is mostly just annoying (googling to double-check her name reveals her surname is Guevara—tell me, Cameron, why not Goebbels, who didn't personally murder nearly as many defenseless people?), but all the others are obnoxious. If there's an aspect of "Original Cindy" that wasn't calculated to make you want to stab her in the larynx, I don't know what it is.

    Avatar has two women you're supposed to hate, or else Cameron sucks at his job. Sigourney Weaver's character is a reprehensible woman, a shrill self-righteous hag with a ludicrously inflated sense of her own intelligence (newsflash, you chimp, the whole point of science is you don't have to be smart to do it...unlike military strategy). Admittedly her disdain for the military is justified, but that's because this is a Mary Sue story and the people who dislike the Sue have to be one-dimensional, so all the people who oppose the holy perfect Na'vi are chicken-milking lobotomites. What isn't justified is her psychosis-level lack of interpersonal skills. Lord knows I'm not the most personable of individuals, but Weaver's character in Avatar makes me look like if Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi could have babies.

    Meanwhile Neytiri is the reason genocide was invented. No, really, she's a complete bitch, who takes her worldview for granted and expects everyone else to do the same; the only reason she's not the villain is the director takes her worldview for granted, too. And the reason I say she's the reason genocide was invented is, if she's what the Na'vi women are like, and their children will grow up to be like her, killing their women and children suddenly becomes a lot less of an atrocity. Yes I'm exaggerating; my point is, I hate her, a lot. Also, I realize Zoe Saldana isn't much of an actress, but Neytiri's accent in English sounds exactly like Kida from Disney's Atlantis.

  • Speaking of Weaver's character, am I the only one who's tired of that "Holy Virtuous Scientist Being Used By Evil Corporate or Military Villain" thing? Understand: the best a scientist can say, if they work for an organization like the one in Avatar, is, "I'm a grant money whore. I turned whatever tricks they asked me to, because I needed the money for my pet projects." And that's the absolute best; Oppenheimer and Mengele were just ego-tripping, and some of the others did it emphatically because science was, for them, the ideal to which petty "ethics" can be sacrificed, just as patriotism might be used to justify military excesses. Sure, you can make a case for the military involvement being a corrupting factor—"my atrocities are for the war effort!"—in the World War II science-scandals (Manhattan Project, the experiments on Shoah victims, Unit 731), but what about Tuskegee? That was civilian from top to bottom. Anything you make an idol out of, you're gonna give human sacrifices to; science is not exempt.

  • It's apparently a commonplace how creepy those data-jack things the Na'vi have are. For one thing, it evokes the deal-breaker question of SF—"How the hell would that evolve?" The Gaia hypothesis is all well and good, except it isn't, but the whole point of Gaian thinking is that "Gaia" is sort of deist, and everything in the ecosystem will just sort of trend the right way...somehow. Yes it's poppycock, but it's a lot less poppycock than this—this is some weird combination of the Blind Watchmaker with the Deus Ex Machina.

    But the other point is the thing with those flying critters: so basically to become a man in their tribe, you have to tentacle-hentai a pterosaur. O...kay? Only this is portrayed as not at all the incredibly creepy thing that it is, but as all beautiful and wonderful and shit. And then Sully gets the biggest one, and becomes the Overfiend of the Na'vi, I guess?

  • The Na'vi piss me off: they're a Noble Savage cliche, without the rape, robbery, torture, mutilation, casual murder, and occasional cannibalism that are the reason for that second word. They also don't have the almost suicidally strict social control that goes with that first one, seen in, e.g., honor-killings. It's pretty much unavoidable for aliens in SF to show the author's pet theories about society, but how about if those pet theories are something less naive? My own aliens are a militocracy, since I happen to know that actually tends to work out pretty well...but the main tension of their society is the members of the military elite trying to get absolute power in their territories, because I'm not an idiot.

  • Update: forgot to add this yesterday. You know when Quaritch talks about the Na'vi having "naturally occurring carbon-fiber" reinforcing their skeletons, and that making them hard to kill? Maybe he meant "that makes them much tougher than you'd expect from light-worlders", because if the CF is on their skeletons then their vital organs are still just as accessible as yours are—there are no bones covering a bullet's access to your intestines of which I am aware. Also, even if they did have some form of natural armor...I'm guessing we still have armor-piercing rounds in the 22nd century, that are rated for stuff that simply doesn't happen in nature. Like, y' know, steel.


Ad Astra Per Acerbitatem

Yes, that means "to the stars through snottiness." This isn't even gonna be that snotty; I just love the play on words. Anyway, here's a number of things I thought of, about space and space SF.
  • So you know that strange idea Americans have that the British are smarter than we are? No, I don't get it either (maybe it's American anti-intellectualism making them think anyone that evil must be smart), but here's a good counter-example. Our flagship SF series is, for better and for worse, Star Trek. Theirs is Dr. Who, AKA "Lost In Space with a body count".

  • Am I actually so geeky that I'm the only one who will give something major props for being consistent about how long things take in space travel? I think a big part of what I like in Cherryh and Niven is that space travel is slow, and largely a matter of pointing yourself at things, revving up, coasting, and then slowing down in time to land. Most other things are about as consistent as Bebop, if that.

  • I know for a fact that I'm unique in thinking sound in space is more excusable than being deliberately vague. One is just foley—punching people doesn't make much noise either, generally—but the other is actually flaunting the fact you can't be bothered to look up or make up any details.

    Here's a mental exercise: What is the main engine of the Serenity? What gives it artificial gravity? What's its main reactor? Is there FTL communication, or no, and if no, how come there is anyway (go check: they're plainly doing interplanetary calls in real time)?

    I can answer all of those questions about Star Trek and Star Wars. With a little research I could answer them about Babylon 5. I can't answer them about Firefly. Why? Because it's not science fiction.

  • Okay, that's a little harsh, but it is the next step down from Star Trek, and that's pretty far into the margins, folks. Star Trek had meaningless technobabble, so Firefly has none. It's like the all-too-common type of feminism that says that, because some men neglect or abuse their wives, we should abolish marriage. Those of us who've seen an arch have a saying, "abusus usum non tollit"—technobabble has a place.

    I come to science fiction to see cool planets and aliens and technology, used to tell a story that preserves the eternal verities. And I'm so constituted that I always think anything is cooler when you know how it works. Half the fun of SF is plausibly-explained amazing things, like orbit elevators or railguns or fusion torches. You wanna show me wondrous things but not explain them, well, I like fantasy too, dude. It's even okay to set your fantasy in space, like Farscape or Dark City (which reminds me, I need to do a review of that). Just don't come and tell me you're doing science fiction when the only apparent explanation for everything in the show is "Magic. Why?"

  • So, Kiddy Grade is a guilty pleasure; if ever a series should've been imported under a different name, this is it. Also, I'm sorry, naked Lumiere is creepy, I don't care if she's actually centuries old and uses the kid body to save power. No that's not a spoiler, you see it coming a mile off.

    I just thought it was sort of funny, though, how, in this show that's just an excuse to draw pretty girls and cool robots, there's an orbit elevator, an anti-inertia field that has a side-effect of making ships hard to hit (because it warps the surrounding spacetime), and an off-hand remark about storing energy in Planck-scale hyperspaces (would that be brane energy?). Yeah, it's one of those shows where everything can be done by nanomachines—if anything the Japanese are worse about that than we are—but it's still a damn sight less condescending than most American things.

    Still, though, I think Galaxy Express's Machine People hunting humans for sport is more plausible than Kiddy Grade's Noblesse who look down on people who have used cyber-enhancements. Elites usually have a reason for their power, and "we're nowhere near as strong or resilient as you" wouldn't be one.

  • Orbit elevators remind me, why don't people know how hard it is to get off of planets? A good rule of thumb is, "anything can go into space that can fly" (a spaceship is basically a wingless airplane, except with a tower's floor-plan if it doesn't make its own gravity). The heaviest thing that can fly is the biggest airplane, the Antonov An-225 "Mriya", and its max takeoff weight is 640 tons.

    And yet a puny Star Wars ship like a Corellian Corvette? 10 gigagrams—as in tens of thousands of tons. And this lands on planets—more than once, I mean. What, did y'all use sea ships as a baseline?

    Now, admittedly things like magnetosphere sails (the aliens in my book use them as backup engines since their main engine already uses a plasma bubble) might allow the lifting of some pretty extensive payloads, though nothing as big as a Star Destroyer's 25 teragrams (yes, apparently those can land). The reasonable max for an orbit elevator, at least the kind we could do in the foreseeable future, is a pitiful 2-6 thousand tons per year; a Verne gun could do 280,000 tons per payload (it's a cannon, it shoots into space), but the acceleration would kill anything that was riding on it. Verne guns become a lot more feasible if you have an inertia damping system, to keep passengers alive and cargo uncrushed. There's much goodness, what Tycho Brahe calls "nutrients", to be had, but SF writers (both TV and, unusually, literary) are often lazy, and just skip coming up with cool solutions to this problem.

    Oh by the way, the reason it makes no sense for any Star Wars ship to be able to land, is that ion engines (and indeed all magnetic-accelerated particle engines) don't work in atmosphere, sorry guys.

  • The famous "Great Resizing", in which the guy who writes Honor Harrington realized the stated dimensions and masses of his ships made them less dense than cigar smoke, is a grim object lesson for writers: check the density of your ships.

    How do you know it's plausible? Well, I checked mine against airplanes, since, as I said, a spaceship is a wingless airplane, tower floorplan optional (but grants additional neckbeard cred). The medium-sized private ship a billionaire guy uses (he's licensed to own power plants, it's cool) is the same mass and dimensions as a wingless Spruce Goose. One of the bigger ones the humans have, the biggest one that can land, is an escort ship that's 3 times the dimensions of the Tupolev TB-6 bomber the Soviets never greenlit; its mass is twice the Mriya's takeoff weight, but I figure putting c. 1300 tons in orbit is reasonable for the 24th century.

    The two biggest ships never land; they're built and launched in space, and stay there till time or the wrath of Ouranos destroy them. The biggest one, a "carrier" (except it's not a boat so I call it a mothership, Space Is Not A Damn Ocean), is approximately three times the dimensions of the aforementioned An-225 Mriya, and 27 times its empty mass...which is 7600 tons, and change. Yeah, that don't land.

  • Anyone else notice how insane the "war" aspect of Star Wars is? Yeah, we know, stormtroopers can't shoot—though neither could the Soviet army, conscripts suck. But how about the battle droids, having their power transmitted from their mothership? Um, what? You put the existence of your army at the mercy of whether the enemy sets up jamming? Forget your war-crimes, Trade Federation, you deserve to lose because of this.

    Also, none of the Clone Troopers in Clone Wars has even a rudimentary knowledge of tactics. I mean, yeah, that "I'll march my column at your column while we shoot at each other" thing they and the droids do, could be chalked up to convention (basically it's fighting a duel as a team event, the kind of thing you get in slightly decadent cultures, and actually has a lot to say for itself). But that, and having air support, don't mesh, and yet they never use the air support—seriously, if it's a convention, it needs to be explicitly said it is (call someone dishonorable for not doing it, or something).

  • I'd like to point out that New Mombasa is a major city in Halo because it's on the equator (Mombasa proper is only 4 degrees away from it), and therefore a good spot for an orbit elevator. It falls on you in ODST, remember?

    How awesome is that? They even went into the economic ramifications—there's a megacity in Africa because of space travel!

  • Also, Halo's Slipstream Drive is a variant of the jump drives from Traveler, basically quantum tunneling on a macro scale. And apparently entering slipstream "space" is detectable...because of Cherenkov radiation!

    I'll explain. Cherenkov radiation is emitted when a particle passes through a medium faster than the speed of light in that medium. Therefore there generally won't be any Cherenkov radiation in vacuum, since "speed of light in a vacuum" is probably the limit.

    But when you use an FTL drive...

    I'm geeking out to the point of squeeing.


If Ignorance Is Bliss, You Must Be Ecstatic

Yeah, reality check-type thing.
  • So people are self-righteous about the priest scandal, and say it has some implications for celibacy and the all-male priesthood. Except all the statistics say the rate of abuse is the same among Protestant clergy. Oh, and the rate for Christian clergy is slightly lower than the rate for rabbis. Yeah, I don't expect to see that reflected in pop culture any time soon; I don't even mind (anti-Semitism starting to be a problem again), I just wish we didn't have to have the priest thing so over-played.

    Oh, and fun fact, the rate for any clergy is about a third what it is for public school teachers. But that doesn't stop their media portrayal from being non-stop hagiography from end to end.

  • I'm not sure where I'm gonna use it, but if you want it, here's an exchange that I thought would be cool:
    Journalist: "Military intelligence" is an oxymoron.
    Soldier: What, so sorta like "journalistic integrity"?
  • Where do people get their ideas about war? I was just thinking about Avatar, and the anti-war movement, and all that kind of thing, specifically the question I asked before: why don't guys who are completely willing to kill women and children just firebomb?

    And that's when it came to me: Cameron's out of touch. I mean, watch Avatar; the last war anyone involved in that picture knows anything about is Vietnam. The most air support they have is dropping in guys (and yeah, their pathetically tiny mecha is still just a guy, not armor in any sense of the term). It's not like Halo where a Phantom will drop off a Wraith, just as you think you've got an area mopped up—because Halo is not World War II, it's not Nam, it's a modern war. But Avatar? Nope, it's still the 60s, man.

    Since the thing they're fighting over in Avatar is essentially guaranteed to survive firebombing, they would only be fighting the Na'vi in person if they wanted to be sure they weren't killing civilians. But they go out of their way to kill civilians...because Cameron is a complete idiot.

    Actually, it's painfully evident Avatar had no military consultants, because there's not a single "ex-Marine" merc in it who behaves remotely professionally. Sully doesn't appear acquainted with even the rudiments of fire-discipline, nor how one ought to behave while walking around in hostile terrain (hint, you don't play with flowers). Mercs might have lower standards than actual military, but a lot of military procedures are just common sense to keep guys alive. But then again the actual Marines in Aliens are no better; apparently Cameron doesn't know "soldier" doesn't mean "child with a gun and no real training or discipline whatsoever".

  • Which reminds me, the constant comparing of Avatar to Halo is just insulting—to Halo, though apparently people mean it as an insult to Avatar. Aside from how Halo involves some knowledge of military discipline, and how war has changed since Vietnam, there's a lot more work in Halo, folks. Bungie put more thought into the Grunts than Cameron put into his whole setting. Yeah, I'll give him the spaceships having heat-radiators; I could stand to see that in everything. But his contempt for his audience is so total as to name the stuff "Unobtainium"—which is director-speak for "You unwashed plebs wouldn't understand if I came up with something more plausible, so why should I even bother?"

    And yes, I'm one of those people who wants to send half a dozen Spartans (or three dozen ODSTs) to Pandora.

  • So my sister had been (I think she stopped) debating this alleged pagan girl, on the internet, about the concept of witchcraft. And of course, she's been getting the same "Witch Cult of Europe" canards nobody's actually believed since the 40s.

    It's funny to me because I know that witchcraft was a death penalty crime in Rome, Greece, and among the Celts and Germans for thousands of years—Rome only didn't kill witches under Alexander Severus, widely regarded as the most incompetent Roman Emperor.

    It was in fact Christianity that put a stop to witch-hunting; in some places you could actually get charged with heresy for making witchcraft accusations, as early as the 8th century.

    What changed? Why, the Renaissance, of course. It brought back Roman laws regarding witches. Then the Reformation brought back the Biblical ones. Nice going.

  • So Martin Gardner died. Personally I held him in contempt; he was shallow and reductive, and we know how I feel about that. Dr. Thursday was entirely too generous to him over on the Chesterton Society blog, just because Gardner wrote some forwards to some GKC editions; personally I ripped Gardner's forwards out of my copies.

    Gardner's blatant anti-rational, wish-fulfillment view of God is actually not what I dislike most about him. That would be his skepticism; he founded CSICOP, the group that puts out the Skeptical Inquirer. He's lucky you're not judged by your effect on intellectual history, because he'd be in hell right now—their brand of skepticism is the epistemological equivalent of the Holocaust. Even as shallow, reductive, knee-jerk positivists go, they're shallow, reductive, and knee-jerk.

    May God have mercy on him, an obvious doorknob.

  • Speaking of shallow skeptics, Mythbusters did a test (with their usual rigor) on the thing from Burn Notice, about using phone books to bullet-proof a car's doors. It works for pistol rounds, but not shotgun slugs or rifle rounds. And the idiots said it had been busted!

    The problem is, "bulletproof" is not a scientifically defined word—the industry prefers "bullet resistent". The rounds the phone book enhanced doors resisted render them the equivalent of Type IIIa personal armor, which is actually damn good.

    They seemed to be using "bulletproof" to mean "completely immune to bullets", and that doesn't exist, short of concrete-and-steel bunkers. Know why? The GAU-8 Avenger (main cannon of the A-10 Thunderbolt) shoots bullets, that's why.


En Train de Revisiter

So I thought a few things I'd commented on before bore further examination.
  • Here's my main one. It seems the City Elf origin story in Dragon Age isn't as nonsensical as I'd thought. It had been presented to me as if the nobles' treatment of elf women is routine in that setting. And that made me insane, because it sounded like a people who probably aren't even absolutist routinely did something even the totalitarians didn't—that is, I'd heard the setting's nobles were significantly worse than Hitler. Which would be utter garbage, from a cultural setting standpoint.

    It turns out, no, it's more just that one noble being an a-hole, and the inequality making it difficult to achieve redress, which is much better—apparently it's even a fairly mature, sensitive treatment of the subject, which is surprising. But it's still a deal-breakingly bad choice, for three reasons. Most basically, it's just the usual "eighth grader trying to seem grownup by filling his story with horrors" thing—there's a reason rape's considered a common Mary Sue backstory. Second off, the "societal elite taking advantage of the women of an ethnic underclass" thing is the same quasi-Marxist race-baiting narrative that gave us the Tawana Brawley and Duke Lacrosse hoaxes. But that brings me to my last problem with it, the only case where I'd cut Ubisoft a lot more slack than BioWare: if you are an Anglo firm, you have no business doing a story like that. Germans don't get to drop casual references to genocide, and Anglos don't get to make casual reference to the abuse of other nations' women. You should be careful discussing anything your nation has inflicted, but never suffered. But apparently the history of Ireland is a secret now?

    Also, I'm sorry, but the elves in that setting are much too much Noble Savage/television Indian cliches...and the character designs are ugly.

  • Andrew Klavan repeated the same specific charge against rock that Diana West made, that (unlike Sinatra!), rock is about lust instead of love. Yeah, again, how 'bout Spend My Life or You Are The One or Made For Lovin' You or half of Whitesnake's output or the Bon Jovi corpus entire? Ignorance is unsightly, Klavan. He also said rock lyrics are never as intricate as those of...whatever the hell Sinatra is. His example? "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah..."

    Dude, the Beatles were a children's band, let's all admit it—no, seriously, if you set a Raffi song to some 60s style background music and had a really good tribute band sing it, do you doubt you could pass it off as a previously lost Beatles cut? But I'll put the lyrics of Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osbourne, or even David Coverdale at his best, up against the best of Sinatra any day of the week.

  • Turns out, some of the wizard names are still in the 3rd edition spell listings; Tasha's still there. But they took out the "uncontrollable"—I remembered they'd changed something, but forgot what—and "Tasha's hideous laughter" isn't nearly as cool a name. Plus, they got rid of "Leomund's lamentable belaborment", and that was an awesome spell.

  • There's a guy at First Things, R. R. Reno, who insists that Analytic philosophy is the heir to scholasticism. Except Analytic philosophy is the heir to the so-called "Rationalists" like Descartes and Hume, who denied Reason's dominion over huge swaths of thought; they have about as much claim to be the heirs of the Angelic Doctor as Svetlana Stalin does to be Autocrat of All the Russias.

  • Third Edition D&D actually comes damn close to being a game with a single mechanic, that "roll higher than the Difficulty Class" thing. It's impressive how initiative, saving throws, ability and skill checks, and attack rolls are all that one thing. Of course it's basically the Alternity mechanic turned upside down, minus the modifier dice. Still, switching Armor Class from low to high worked out really well, and those attack bonus/penalties are a lot more intuitive than THAC0. Let's not even get into how First Edition had to do such things.

  • Know why Kyôran Kazoku Nikki is the best thing ever? This.
    Tsundere, kuudere, yandere. They're all ancient relics now. The ultimate and the invincible genre, that is kandere! It's not like I'm being omnipotent and omniscient for you.
    'Scuse me while I try and figure out a manly way to squee.

  • You know it's weird, I actually have much less hostility toward Firefly now. It's probably just that my unholy geek wrath is currently directed at Avatar, with occasional pauses to squeeze off a few rounds at bad fantasy (that's most of it, especially fantasy that incorporates the canards about the Middle Ages), but I actually kinda like certain aspects of the show. Maybe playing ODST warmed me up to those guys a little, though Dutch is a hell of a lot better use of Adam Baldwin than Jayne was. And while nothing could make me pretend Firefly wasn't canceled because it wasn't very good, I do in fact feel for the Browncoats, losing their show.

    I just wish whenever we lose something we didn't immediately have to canonize it—just because Kennedy was assassinated doesn't change the fact he was a fair-to-middlin' president.

  • So I had worried that my book is too long, but it turns out it'd be about the same size as some Warhammer and 40K tie-in novels. In the Grim Darkness of space, apparently, there is not only war, but lots and lots of paper to spare.