The Lack of Correlation

...probably does imply lack of causation, actually, it's neat. Yes, time for more random thoughts!
  • So you know how the left tried to brand the Tea Party as "Teabaggers" (stay classy, guys)? Well, uh, isn't the left's near-monopoly on the education establishment basically spawn-camping?

  • Turns out the ending to Reach is a little less depressing the second run through. Am I the only one who wants Rooster Teeth to get their hands on this thing, so we can finally get a Tex you can tell is a girl?

  • Speaking of SF I revisited, it's possible the smoky-looking stuff coming out of the railguns on Battlestar Galactica might be plasma. There's a video of the Navy testing a railgun (squee!), here, and the stuff that comes out, actually a plasma discharge, totally does look like smoke.

    But guess what, if you don't tell me, I still have to assume you didn't know. Television is a dialog driven medium, as they're obviously well aware given what a talky hell-show they've visited upon us, but apparently they don't know that one of the marks of great SF is artfully-interposed exposition.

    What's that? You didn't know SF had different rules from mainstream fiction? Yes, more and more that appears to be the problem.

  • Speaking of, Eureka, on the Sci-Fi channel, probably has worse technobabble than Jimmy Neutron. Every time they spout off utter nonsense, it hurts me deep inside. And don't tell me it's hard to write believable technobabble. Penguins of Madagascar manages it pretty well, folks—Kowalski's debate with his own past selves about why his time machine would, or wouldn't, mess up the fabric of space-time, was one of the more believable things I've heard in years.

  • So I read Keroro Gunsou/Sgt. Frog, and it may be the most consistently funny gag manga I've read in a while. Giroro is my favorite, because he's so serious—the war-movie things he says instantly become funny, merely from being said by a two-foot-tall red frog. Also, Nostradamus' King of Terror is a kogal. Which is very, very true.

  • I will have to, one day, watch Full Metal Panic and pay attention to how Sousuke talks; I need to learn military Japanese, since it's the kind one of the aliens in my SF book uses ("de arimasu" all over, etc.). Or maybe I'll find something else, and be pleasantly surprised—I only watched Asu no Yoichi because I needed to learn the "de gozaru" form (the revived samurai in my setting use it), and I ended up finding a fairly cute little romance manga.

  • Yes, Asu no Yoichi is romance, I don't care that it's usually classified as "ecchi" or "harem" (it is harem-ish). As they told the lady in Bakuman, you can do a straight-up romance in a boys' manga, you just have to put in panty shots.

  • Qko-chan the Invader Girl, from the bloke who did the FLCL manga (a tie-in, I think?), may be the cutest-looking thing I ever saw. Plus, Goth-loli mechas. Those need to be in everything.

  • We bought the Rifftrax of the Harry Potter movie that Alfonso Cabron (uh, Cuaron) did, and frankly, I wasn't too impressed. It had too many internet memes, not enough obscure Midwestern references; it was a little too much like the MST3K movie. I come to those guys to hear jokes about the Tommy Bartlett Water Show interspersed with Yeats references and poop jokes, not the same pop culture I'd get from anyone else.

    Still pretty good, though, but not up to their old standards. Though in fairness, I think they're only written by Mike, Kevin, and Bill (and probably Bridget, since she's Mike's wife); there was probably more variety when you add in Paul, Mary Jo, and all the other Best Brains.

    Oddly enough MST3K seems to benefit from being written by committee.

  • That reminds me—since they have a higher volume of jokes to go through—of the fact that TV shows are, basically, r-selected. That's when a species has large litters that grow up quickly, so there are enough breeding pairs to keep it afloat. It's typical of many small animals, like rodents and insects.

    So if you ever thought TV producers were a bunch of lemmings...


White Man's Boredom

So I was reading the comments on one of the (far too few) articles that noticed how much Avatar sucked, and one person was complaining about the Noble Savage thing in it. Rather than complaining about it because it's historically/anthropologically inaccurate Mary Sue BS, however, he was mad because, get this, it continues to dehumanize "the other"; he went on to say of course it's popular with white audiences, because they never have to view themselves as the other.

Okay couple things. First, why not dehumanize the Other? Are Sparks even human? She's a sociopath and she's got all those zombie slaves and those "ghost women" servants, right?

Sorry, couldn't resist the Girl Genius reference.

Ahem. For real this time, though, yes, it is bad that the Noble Savage archetype is so condescending. But the reason we continue to use it in fiction is because, the second we judge other cultures by the same standards as Western Civilization, we notice, huh, they're just as bad as we are, if not worse. And there goes a multimillion dollar victim politics industry, which has friends in Hollywood.

Funny how the people who act like Watergate was Lepanto are never willing to follow the money.

Also, though, whaddaya mean white audiences never have to view themselves as the other? Tell a French, Polish, or Spanish American Hollywood never portrays his people as the other. Tell a Catholic he's never been portrayed as the other. Tell it to a Mormon or a Southerner. For that matter tell it to a corporate executive, a suburbanite, or a homemaker. Not only are white people commonly portrayed as "other", they're routinely demonized, even in contradiction of history.

The guy also said the Noble Savage is a legacy from Colonialism, which is false; it's a legacy from Romanticism, which inherited it from the Enlightenment denial of the Fall.

But that reminds me, why do we always assume decolonization is a good thing? Does anyone else think it's weird that leftists use this neo-con rhetoric about democracy and self-determination, as long as we're talking about European powers getting out of their colonies? Belgium leaving its colonies had much worse consequences than Saddam being toppled in Iraq—and the colonial Belgian governments were much better than Saddam's on human rights—yet the left likes decolonization and hates the Iraq War. Do you like democracy for blacks, but hate it for Syrians, Mesopotamians, and various Persian tribes, to be specific about what Iraqis are? Or do you just have an illiterate, unthinking taboo on Westerners having any foreign influence? 'Cause if you do, you might wanna stop all those global distribution deals for Hollywood movies.


Footwear, Navigation, Packaging, Agriculture, Monarchy, Sea Temperatures, Porcine Aviation

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Random ones.
  • I don't always agree with her—indeed almost never on economics—but I am fond of reading Ann Coulter. She's a lot different than the media tells you she is (most of the mean stuff? Yeah, satire, glad you picked that up). And the fact she's a Daddy's Little Girl warms my black heart.

    But one thing I noticed a while back is, her tone is exactly like the narrative tone in the Slayers novels. Which is weird. On the other hand, though, where do you think Lina stands on the capital gains tax?

  • Conservatives often call the somewhat ritualistic outrage the leftist media often express, the "kabuki theater".

    Wouldn't it be awesome if it was, though? Chris Matthews cutting a genroku mie, and rolling his head on his shoulders rhythmically as he intones, "This time Ann Coulter has gone too far-uh!" And then Keith Olbermann hits one of those little drums, and gives a howl? And then Rachel Maddow cuts in with a "Shibaraku!" and recounts what she was doing in the previous act, before summing up with something decisive. It'd be awesome.

  • So I decided to change it so now, none of the human ships in my SF books land. Ever. They just send down landers. It didn't take much doing, and it made my book awesome, by firming up the science at no narrative cost.

    By the way, boy, it sure is hard to write fresh bereavement. Just putting that out there.

  • It occurs to me, how come people who always complain the media misrepresents them, don't realize it might misrepresent other things? Tycho Brahe knows the media lies about gamers, but seems to take its word on Ann Coulter; conservatives know it lies about them, but take its word on gamers and Catholics; Catholics know it lies about the history and teaching of their religion but take its word about politics. Hey, idiots (yes, even Tycho, though only here): think for your damn selves!

  • And yes, Tycho is only an idiot here. Lemme put it this way. I used to brag about my intelligence by telling people my IQ is in the 96th percentile (because it is). Now I just tell them I know when he uses a word wrong. Should these words reach him: sir, take that in the spirit it's intended. You're the bar, man!

  • I think a part of why he always seems so smart is, he never went to college, so he never got into the habit of spewing up his professors' nonsense in lieu of thinking for himself. 'Cause nearly everyone else who comments on geek-pop, if that be not a contradiction, like Overthinking It or FerretBrain, just does it from the part-feminist, part-multiculti, quasi-Marxist PoMo perspective of the academies. Only Tycho is not content merely to vomit the viscous oils of bad theories all over his subject, like a startled albatross drenching an assailant in gut oil. And as with the gut oil, ideas that get PoMo theories on them lose their waterproofing, and sink to the bottom of the sea.

  • Gut oil, by the way, is really gross, but its existence is useful should you happen to wonder if there are alternatives to milk for aliens. My aliens' "milk" comes from chest-located glands, but they're modifed oil glands rather than sweat glands, and it turns solid at room temperature. They use domestic animals' milk, just like we do, but they consume it by the slice instead of by the cup.


    Other options are crop milk, like flamingos and pigeons have, and honey-ant type things. One of my other races has the coat fall out, on the mothers' necks, and globes of translucent stuff, high in sugar, fat, and protein, form from the oil-glands there, for their babies to lick it off.

  • It occurs to me, the big flaw in Avatar, or at least with the Na'vi, is, "Their culture would not be anything like any earth culture, since they've got their tentacle-hentai link to every other lifeform on the planet." If you don't understand why a species that starts out being de facto "Post-Scarcity", would not be anything like any human culture (let alone a human hunter-gatherer culture whose chief economic activity is subsistence), guess what, you fail every social science there is, forever. In fact we're gonna shred your SATs now; security will be by shortly to escort you off campus.

  • So how come, in the first Halo, Cortana speaks British English, but with an American accent—"fancy a look", "chums", "sod off", etc.? It's weird, is what it is.

  • It occured to me, Catholicism in America was long dominated by a certain type of Frenchman, and the Irish, rather than by any of the many other Catholic peoples who came to this country. Why? Well, couple reasons, many of them linguistic, but one I see mentioned too seldom is, Jansenism. For those who don't know, it's basically Catholic Puritanism, and it's borderline heretical. But it was strong in Ireland and parts of France—Pascal was one—and I can't help but wonder if it, being similar to the Puritanism of the Northeastern cities a lot of the new immigrants came to, didn't ease their transition. But it made it easy to paint Catholicism as another species of Puritanism, which it's not.

    Know what real Catholicism looks like? Look at Bavarian- or Cajun-Americans. Not a whole lot like the Puritans, oué?


Remember Reach

So I rented Halo:Reach a few days ago, and damn, is it ever a mixed bag. The ending's really depressing, the whole part with Cortana was confusing as hell, and Kat should've stuck around longer. All in all I think I give it a 6? On a scale of 1-10.

Yeah. Let's see, what didn't I like?

I wish the Covenant forces would speak (be translated into?) English, though it's pretty cool hearing them talk their own language(s?).

I wish they weren't trying to sell us Halsey as "the sorority sister of Guanyin and the Virgin Mary," because she's kinda a jerk.

Honestly, why aren't the Elites that fast when they're on your side? This was actually my first time fighting them, I never played the first two Halos though I know what happens in them, but were they this fast in either of those games? I doubt it.

And I wish to God that the damn UNSC forces could drive. No, seriously, how many of the casualties in the Earth-Covenant War were just inadvertantly run down by the UNSC Marines total incompetence with vehicles?

That's it. I did like the new vehicles, the Skirmishers, the needle rifle, the plasma repeater, and those little rocket guns the Elites use that are sorta like a faster fuel-rod gun.

I liked everyone on Noble Team, even Emile, especially his awesome death scene (look, you know they all die; the only thing less spoilable than this game is The Passion of the Christ).

I really liked helping out Buck, from ODST; I'm kinda a sucker for that sorta thing in any franchise.

And hey, how about that thing about the Pillar of Autumn taking off with the removable stages? And the Saber launch? In general the spaceships are the weakest things in Halo, the most Roddenberry touch in an otherwise straight Niven franchise, but the amount of power it takes to clear Reach's gravity well made me feel like an eight year old girl whose daddy actually got her the pony. No, seriously, I damn near squeed, I was so happy.

Now if only the Saber's engines had been dark most of the time...

Personally I woulda had you have to eliminate a few human insurrectionists first, and then have you discover the bodies of those ODSTs that were tortured. You think it's the separatists playing dirty, and then you see the plasma burns and the Skirmishers. Hell, maybe have you have to fight alongside the insurrectionists. Yeah, it would've made the game longer, but frankly it was too damn short.

See, my way, it'd play up one of the greatest narrative strengths of the franchise: that the super soldiers that were designed to be a boot on the neck of the colonials were humanity's saving grace. Hell, that's basically the story of the British Empire in the Pacific Theater—an army designed for oppression was used for salvation. The way the Spartan program plays out, all by itself, makes Halo more grownup than the entire ouvres of Whedon and Cameron combined.

All in all, a mostly satisfactory end(?) to the series. Plus, since my SF story involves a lot of fighting with similar tech (though the aliens aren't as fond of energy weapons...and are the good guys), playing it counts as work.

Remember, kids, it's not goofing off if it counts as research.


Politics Again

I had some thoughts about politics; as I said before, I'm extremely politically skeptical but I don't like the Left. Sorry if that bothers.
  • I hate to harp on this (no, not really), but in France between the 11th and 14th centuries women could own property, file lawsuits, and vote in any circumstances men could. It was your precious Renaissance that put a stop to that, folks, since what got "Reborn" was a culture where, don't let's forget, women didn't have first names—they only had the feminine of their clan name, since Romans left out all their daughters after the first for the wolves.

    The medievals similarly had no slaves, and, indeed, very little in the way of racism—though Ethiopians, say, are much darker than the average "Black" American, the medievals would never dream of treating them as anything worse than "funny foreigners".

    Nice going, America: with the 13th, 14th, and 19th Amendments, you've almost caught up to the 12th Century. Oh, except that if you people knew as little about physics as you do about metaphysics, you'd think every object's motion was the result of the whims of the Olympians—with some few, really daring thinkers who theorize that objects fall by antiperistasis.

  • So I realized that I sympathize with a lot of the Tea Partiers' ideals—they're a lot less bullshit libertarian than I'd feared—even though I don't believe a number of the myths that are integral to the American right's worldview. Basically, my response to them is Bilal's response to the Gurren-dan's typical speeches, right before he helps Shimon pilot Gurren Lagann: "As always you talk a load of crap...but this is a load of crap I can really get behind."

    And yes his name's Bilal, not Viral, he's named after a French cartoonist.

  • So, in general, I tend to like Hispanic culture more than Anglo; basically America is the only good thing Anglos have ever done, though most of its good points are moves away from the typical Anglo model (the strong executive, for instance, directly undoes the Magna Charta, which is Latin for "The king's not allowed to keep the barons from doing whatever they like to the commoners"). The worst thing Mexico ever did (the oppression that culminated in the Cristero War) had American collusion, so even then, the biggest minus in Mexico's column is also one in America's column.

    But, hey, Mexico, two thoughts. I like France better than England and Poland better than Germany, but that doesn't mean Frenchmen or Poles can violate the immigration laws of England or Germany. Or in other words, even if your neighbor is a flabby drunk who likes Adam Sandler movies, you can't just walk into his house without permission. Is that complicated?

  • Thought of how race-politics play out in this country's major cities, has brought to mind a rather Carson/Leno-style joke. "Serbo-Croatian now has a word for tribalized political fragmentation. They're calling it 'Chicagoization'."

    I kill me.

  • So there's a weird ethnocentric movement among some Hispanics, mostly Mexican-American (no seriously, I doubt most of them are fewer than two generations removed from Mexico), called MEChA. I don't remember the acronym's meaning, except the A is for "de Aztlan", Aztlan being (to them, and them only) a collective name for the land America acquired (mostly by purchase, does the name "Gadsden" ring any bells?) from Mexico. Only, what? Aztlan is a mythical place in Aztec mythology, with some parallels to the Hopi idea of the Sipapu or Emergence Hole. It's probably never been a real place at all, and it sure as hell ain't anywhere near America.

    Remember, if you're gonna use mythological terms to dress up your naked bid for Lebensraum, make sure nobody knows what they mean.

  • So it occurred to me, and I really want to make a short film of it or something, that the attitude many Americans have toward the Founding Fathers, even to the point of letting a piece of paper force them to tolerate what they view as evil, is ancestor worship. But not normal ancestor worship. No, I think I may have come across the secret of America's religious life that's eluded scholars at least since de Toqueville.

    You see, there are many gods in America, but the country's inhabitants truly revere the gods of America, but mainly by the fear of offending them. On some nights, when the fog lies low over the River Potomac, they will shuffle forth from their black temple with its silent belltowers, wrapped in their black shrouds and bearing their black wands, and those who make the mistake of transgressing their will, will never be seen again.

    You weren't expecting a Fritz Leiber reference, were you?


Our Reanimated Corpses, Ourselves

So, this, about how the crappy vampire show "True Blood" decided to delve into rape and eroguro (the Japanese term, from "erotic grotesque", for porn featuring torture and mutilation—DON'T Google it). It's pretty hard to disagree that the act under discussion reveals the series to be psychotically misogynistic, basically playing sexualized violence against women for cheap thrills every chance it gets.

What I thought was fascinating is that the two main defenses the show's fans muster are, both of them, bullshit. One was, "Oh, well, the context; it's totally not rape because she's more powerful than him, being his sire." The three problems with that are, a) did I miss the memo about there being a context where that kind of sexual violence, even if it were consensual, is okay? b) "sire"? What, and she therefore has more dots in Dominate than him (remember when vampire things ripped off Stoker or at least Anne Rice?), and c) and most importantly, that's a common excuse used in real life. Paint yourself as the underdog and suddenly raping a woman becomes a noble blow against oppression; minority rapists with majority victims often use it. It's also used by regimes like China that use rape as a weapon—the enemies of Communist regimes, remember, are always the oppressor, even if they're Tibetan goatherds. When the English were winning their title "first Western European country to sytematically use terror-rape", their rhetoric was all about the power of the Catholic Church—even though their actual target was Irish farmgirls.

Some of us are so old-fashioned as to point out that, in that context, "power" in that brute-dominance sense is nearly always on the man's side. A woman can be a blackmailer, sexually speaking; it's physiologically very difficult for her to be a robber. It's not inconceivable you could charge a woman with rape—remember, any form of coercion makes it rape—but men are largely alone in committing the "throw her down and have your way with her" type, sorry.

More to the point, the fictional context is one thing, and the fact we see him rape and torture a woman is another one. That's sorta how vampires work, both in-universe and out: they look just like humans, so we feel about them as we do about each other. That's how they hunt, you know? And that's why a scene like this is no different from if it'd happened in, say, the Sopranos. Sorry, but you're still a monkey; your brain is not actually advanced enough to draw a distinction between "fictional reanimated corpse" and "actual human body". They've proven that video game action has the exact same physiological effect as real violence; I don't know about you but I get pretty jumpy when I'm playing Metal Gear Solid.

The other defense the animals made, was worse: "You don't have to watch it." Other than a few religious fanatic libertarians, nobody ever means that. They mean, "It does not happen to bother me, and I cannot see why other people's sensibilities should be respected. If you made something that did offend me, I'd make the KGB look downright relaxed and groovy." Funny how that's basically a failure of empathy, huh? That thing all the studies show is inhibited by overexposure to media violence? Again, monkey: you're not intelligent enough for this not to affect you.

Now of course this isn't terribly likely to influence your actual behavior—much; all the studies show it has an effect, but don't let's let science get in the way of our religious dogma. But I'll say about this what I say about Grand Theft Auto: why the hell do you think that's entertaining? Ask yourself that question.

Now, I don't actually object to media violence as such, though I seriously doubt there's ever a legitimate reason to show rape. Indeed, I can't think of a single story where even the mention of it was particularly useful in any artistic sense; it should only be used when strictly necessary (so never in historical fiction, I regret to inform you, unless it's about a particular historical event where it was a major factor, like Boudicca, certain events in the World Wars, or the history of the Turks, Comanches, or Communists). If you use it "to show how bad things were back then," especially about the Middle Ages, congratulations, you're peddling a Stalinist narrative where all who doubt your ideology are demonized, never mind they were less likely to do it than several of the eras you lionize (trust me, you'd rather be a woman in Capetian France than "Enlightenment" England).

But other forms of violence, if they're to be legitimate at all, need to be in a moral context, the way violence always is in real life; treating people, even fictional ones, as mere aesthetic tools not only can lay the groundwork for genocides, it did. But some of us are familiar with the artistic currents of Weimar Germany.

You can't just splash blood across the screen 'cause it's a pretty color. What are you, Ladd Russo? Grow the hell up.


Spot Check!

Stuff I noticed. A lot of it was stuff that annoyed me, so it's pretty Reality Check-ish, too. To use a device Massad Ayoob is entirely too fond of, it's two posts, two posts, two posts in one!
  • So anyone else wonder how the hell it's possible to produce these lavish, beautifully painted—yes, painted!—fantasy manga, like Elemental Gelade and Soul Gadget Radiant? Unless these manga-ka have small armies of assistants.
  • So one thing I've been noticing is, many of the sources discussing the Middle Ages in the Anglophone world, talk about medieval England, and often generalize from it. The problem with that is, England was the Canada of the Middle Ages. It had a language and a border in common with the actually significant country of the era, but it was not the same as that country.

    Actually that's not fair to Canada; medieval England was a backwater, not just "less influential than its similar neighbor."
  • This one idiot was saying that war-rape was considered a part of the spoils of war, in the Middle Ages. Now, that's not entirely false about the tail-end of era; the professional soldiers that had sprung up, absent all feudal and most religious control, during the Hundred Years War, had a subculture with values more reminiscent of some warlike tribes than the norm of the Judeo-Christian West. But in the Middle Ages proper, no, war-rape was forbidden under the Peace and Truce of God movements, and by contemporary conceptions of decency; of course it still happened, as it happens today, but just like today, there was an outcry. Probably more consistently than today, actually, in some ways.

    How do I know? Gosh, if only we had the contemporary Pope's reaction to the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth "Crusade" (it was really just an attempt at a Crusade). Oh, no, wait, we do—and his reaction is exactly what ours would be.

    Incidentally, the magnitude of the sack is grossly exaggerated, thanks to the sensationalistic style typical of the accounts at the time. The only person I've seen give a number for the death toll is Gibbon, but if he exaggerated it as much as he exaggerated that at Jerusalem (he said 70,000 at Jerusalem, modern estimates put it at about 3,500), the death toll would've only been 1,500—because he said it was 30,000.
  • Let's skip cheerfully over our society's curious silence on the death toll—and the rapes—when the Turks took Constantinople, 249 years later. It made what the Franks and Venetians did look like petty vandalism.
  • Remember how I said the caste system in teen movies is illusory, that there truly is no such thing? It occurs to me, it'd be really fun to do a teen-movie that's actually an allegorical treatment of the life of the Buddha—with emo-ness standing in for extreme asceticism! But then, when he's brooding emo!angstily somewhere, the little sister of a cheerleader gives him a pudding cup, and he sees that the caste system is a delusion, and that the twin extremes of jerk-jock and emo-wangst are alike false, and that the truth lies in the middle way.
  • So the comments on a manga-reader site I use—mostly for series that'll never get picked up here, sit down—have led me to conclude, most manga fans are not mature enough for shonen.

    One idiot was saying he didn't like NuraMago because the plot follows the standard shonen arc—it doesn't, actually, the seems-like-a-friend-but-is-an-enemy-but-it's-a-test thing happens a lot sooner, for one thing. But even where it does follow the standard arc, so what? The thing that's following that standard arc is a story about the Fairy Mafia! Maybe you didn't notice?

    Then there was the idiot who said he didn't like Sisqua, in Elemental Gelade, because she "doesn't really help Cou" and "she still wants to take Ren back to Arc Aile". I'm sorry, little boy, were the larger-than-life shonen characters still too complex for you? Sisqua's whole point is to be an ambiguous, "is she on his side or not?" character, coupled with a greedy careerist loony; she's like if Xelloss and Lina had a kid (you just know there's a fanfic of that out there).

    Late addition: And just now, a bunch of people were complaining about SWOT, that the fights are too over the top and various silly remarks about the female lead needing to be rescued (she isn't weak, by the way, she just doesn't want to fight anymore). Basically, it all boiled down to, "I have absolutely no idea what a banchô manga is; I don't know any of the conventions of the genre; I am not aware that Cromartie High School is a parody of an entire style." Read a book!
  • Then, I was reading this weird, and vaguely creepy, manga about this girl who has a crush on her brother, but finds out they're (of course) not really related. The comic itself had some comedy gold ("Oh no, what about my dreams of forbidden love!" (beat) "Wait, this means it's not forbidden. That's actually better, huh..."), but the comments were a tour de force of stupidity. A lot of people were saying it was still pretty sick, which is, um, kinda the source of all the drama, permit me to congratulate you for noticing, but then this one person said, I kid you not, "We'd probably be a lot more okay with incest if not for science."

    Huh. Okay, then explain why in civilized, urban societies like Rome or China the cutoff point for relations to be considered incest is usually first cousins, occasionally just siblings (that is, first cousins aren't tabooed), while among the Franks it was any member of a parent's clan, and among the Navajo it's any member of a great-grandparent's clan. No really, the Navajo consider it incest to sleep with someone who's in the same clan as either of your grandparents' parents—and being in the same clan only has as much relation to actual kinship as having the same last name does, for us.
  • So how come people hear that Chinese is tonal, and think it sounds like singing? You do that weird growly thing with your voice in Mandarin, how every syllable sorta has an American English R in it? Yeah, I can see thinking it sounds good, certainly interesting, but "musical" is not the first word that comes to my mind. It kinda sounds like you're chewing on it, actually.

    Then again, am I the only one who likes the sound of Cantonese more? Mandarin just sounds oddly sneaky to me, I don't know why; maybe it's that it doesn't have low tones (making it sound sorta snide or sarcastic), or maybe it's just I mostly hear it in Hong Kong movies, where Northerners are always bastards. Odd how a convention from the Qing dynasty survived British rule and unification with the Mainland.


Fantasy Altitudinal Zonation

So the distinction in SF is between hard and soft—and it's measurable by the Mohs Scale or my own Rockwell Scale. The primary division within fantasy, however, is between High and Low. Therefore, obviously, we need a scale derived from elevation—and I'm just the geek for the job!

The layers are as follows, and I quote:
  • Nival. The story is ridiculously moralistic, with everyone clearly labeled as good or evil. Often whatever the protagonist does is good, even if it's butchering pacifists or torturing people who've already talked—generally in service to an ideology readily identified as that of a political movement in the author's homeland. Ex: Sword of Truth, Eragon.

  • Sub-Nival. The story is idealistic, only complexified by human faiure. The protagonists know their principles, though they may sometimes fail to achieve their goals. Ex: Lord of the Rings.

  • Alpine. The story will be essentially idealistic, but complexified; the protagonists will struggle with their principles, but the ideals aren't truly in doubt. Ex: Dragonlance.

  • Montane. Though the story will be pretty cynical, and the protagonists might be pretty amoral at times, idealism isn't actually denied, just held to be a bit unworkable. Even the amoral protagonists will occasionally stand for principle, though. Ex: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Conan.

  • Lowland. The story is pointlessly ugly and sordid, drowning in misery and oppression—usually because it lacks the author's pet ideology, whatever it is (especially because, as everyone knows, human happiness is impossible without the Sacred Gospel of Liberty!, which, of course, subsists exclusively in the Enlightenment Liberal Tradition, as understood by Anglos). Ex: A Song of Ice and Fire.

Yeah, obviously for "Lowland" read "lowland desert". Basically the extremes of Mary Sueniverse High and Crapsack Low are "bad fantasy", which I thought was interesting. Then again the very hardest and softest SF is largely unreadable, too. Maybe it's an Aristotelian thing, or even Taoist.


Been There, Done That

...And actually it was pretty fun. I think I'll go again.

I've recently come into contact with the famous "Fantasy Novelist's Exam", though I'd read it before, and indeed mentioned it here. I got a couple points, folks. Fundamentally, it's flawed—"seen it before" is not a value judgment, it's a biographical statement and, like all other biographical statements, totally irrelevant, because nobody cares what's happened to you. Who the hell are you, anyway? More to the point, making "originality" the sole criterion is simply announcing you're too stupid to judge a work on its merits, and have opted to substitute novelty for quality.

Now, it's true that a lot of fantasy is derivative in the negative sense, but what that really means is "it jumped on the bandwagon to try and sell inferior goods." Merely following formula or genre conventions isn't bad, in fact well-executed formula works are probably the most satisfying things in all of fiction (watch a Zatoichi movie if you don't believe me); attempting to use "having conformed to formula" as a substitute for quality is the problem. But so is attempting to use "departing from formula". Bad fiction is bad fiction; there's no simple way to detect it.

Even then, the argument is flawed. Conceding for the moment that unoriginality is a detriment to a work, there is no checklist of taboos one can keep to stay unpolluted by it. For instance, one of the questions is, "Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?"

Guess what, mine has elves and dwarves, but they're nothing like you've ever seen. The dwarves are the allies of the elves, indeed their vassals—the elves are the leader of the fairy faction the dwarves also belong to. Miners and woodcutters give the dwarves libations in exchange for luck. The elves are more major spirits—they used to be worshiped, and humans still give them libations in exchange for luck, good weather, and good harvests—but they're not the all-singing, all-dancing stargazing archers of Tolkien, still less the thin-wristed little sissy-britches of D&D. Let's put it this way: the female elf lead splits a minotaur's skull with her bare hand (people on the Internet have some weird thing about minotaurs and female elves; I don't want to say my reversal's a Girl Power moment but I can't for the life of me say why it's not). The male elf lead, who rules a village of woodcutters, is a boogieman in the barbarian nation's legends; they call him the Corpse Hanger. Elves in my book have elemental powers, wood is one of the elements, and the barbarians passed through his forest to try and raid his village. I trust you can figure it out from there.

That's almost the only one that I answered yes to; another is "Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?" One does, but she goes by the diminutive in a related language. It'd be like if an Italian woman named Giovanna usually went by Jeannette because she happens to be living in France.

On the other hand I avoided the "farmboy protagonist" by the simple expedient of having most of the characters be nobles (the plot involves one of the mage-nobles contracting with trolls to get out of her fealty oaths, so it makes sense nobles would be involved), except for one farmgirl (secondary character, most of the rest of the cast doesn't even speak her language) and the illegitimate daughter of a barbarian chief, working for a troll, who's mostly there to show the softer side of the villains (and to show the dragons' personalities—some of them think humans are moe).

Yeah, like I said, it's got dragons. Only they're the same type of being as the elves and trolls. I've never met that before; I've also never read a fantasy book that's led me to believe its writer had read any anthropology (except Conan, but I mean good anthropology).

Come to think of it I do have a problem with things I've 'seen a million times', as 'twere—I just don't object to formula. I object to people jumping on bandwagons of various political or cultural ideologies. They're always the really simplistic ones—multiculturalism, academic-style feminism, or libertarianism, for instance—and they're always about as subtle as a mule kick. I don't mind it as much if it's an ideology I don't see that often—I'd take a by-the-book Stalinist fantasy book over the standard lukewarm leftism, any day, just for the conviction it takes to stay loyal to that lunacy—but fundamentally, you people are not qualified to preach to me. Especially if you're an English Marxist—that combination is worse than anything it could ever try to warn us about.

Yeah, basically, China Mieville is everything that's wrong with fantasy today.


Reality Check in Housewares

Yeah, you try coming up with a different title for each one. These are gonna be a little random.
  • So remember when Brit Hume got into all that trouble for saying Tiger Woods might want to turn to Christianity for redemption? Yeah, well, at the very least, Woods might want to turn to a branch of Buddhism that accepts the Mahayana sutras—unlike the Theravada he appears to practice, the Mahayana (and Vajrayana) do claim to offer redemption. Lord Amitabha Tathagata, anyone?

    Far less excusable, frankly, are all those people who said Buddhism isn't about redemption because, quote, "it doesn't believe in sin." Huh. Really? So then what are the ten hells for? What is it called if you don't refrain from harming, taking that which isn't given, sexual misconduct, false speech, or intoxicants which interfere with mindfulness? What about if you kill your mother, father, or an arhat, harm a bodhisattva, or introduce division into the body of the Sangha?

    Yes, of course, Buddhism doesn't have a concept of sin as "wrong because it breaks a divine command". But then, neither does Christianity—see Summa Theologica, Prima Secundae partis, Q. 106. But apparently it's not common knowledge that Christianity's understanding of sin is a complete, radical departure from the Jewish one?

    Of course, most of the "Buddhism" on offer in the West isn't Buddhism at all, it's Fox Zen.

  • My sister had an interesting point, RE: the debate on the religion of the Founding Fathers. Namely, Jefferson can't have been a Deist, since Deists didn't start their letters with "In Christ". He was just what we'd call a Liberal Christian.

    Actually the only Deist founder was Ben "Turkey instead of Bald Eagle" Franklin, and Payne was the only atheist.

    I think it would be really fun to get an atheist to agree that America was based on Enlightenment principles as exemplified by Rousseau, rather than Christian principles. Once they agree, see, you ask them to tear up their voter card—Rousseau considered atheists incapable of discharging the duties of a citizen. So did Voltaire.

  • Tycho Brahe (an atheist who probably puts the lie to Rousseau and Voltaire's theory there) makes occasional reference to some dude's Geek Hierarchy, but the hierarchy is fundamentally conceptually flawed. See, it's based on the concept "Consider Themselves Less Geeky Than". But this is the dark work of Thesauruses, Devil's Catechisms as I call them—there are differences between the synonyms for nerd. For instance, Lord of the Rings fans are generally held much geekier than Star Wars fans—Huttese takes up about four pages, know how many Sindarin takes?—but, as long as they don't cosplay, they're considered much less dorky.

  • So I may, myself, have been wrong for many years, when I said Navajo was the hardest language ever, having as it does the hard parts of Chinese, Zulu, and Basque—and the phonics of Klingon. No literally, it has tone, verbs inflected according to which of over a dozen classes their subject goes in, and it's ergative; Klingon has the sound-palette of Tlingit, which is distantly related to Navajo and has the same sounds.

    But I may have been wrong, because I just took a look at Tibetan. And damn. Not only is it ergative, verbs are divided into "volitional" and "non-volitional", and it has three classes each for its copula and existential expletive. And then there's the spelling—it'd be like if we still spelled our language gelice hit wer Eald Englisc, but still pronounced it exactly like we do.

    It might still be slightly easier than Navajo, though, but only because I know Japanese; stuff in Tibetan that'll give you a headache if it's the first time you meet it, like the way relative constructions work (or are worked around, actually, since it hasn't really got them) is old hat to me. That's not the case for Navajo.

    In case you were wondering, I was using Tibetan grammar for a language in a more by-the-book D&D setting I'm coming up with, for the elves (in my fantasy book elves can't talk, remember). The language also has the phonics of Hungarian—I don't know, maybe I just enjoy pain.

  • It's weird to me how people who hate Glenn Beck don't seem to know what they should hate him for. Make no mistake; I consider him a contemptible, vapid ideologue who's doing more than anyone else to help the right wing become complacent and self-satisfied in unthinking conformity to an illusory worldview. In other words I hate him for being too damn much like America's left.

    But people always attack him for being "angry"! Angry? Delusional I'll give you, a bit tinfoilly behatted even, but all his raving is diluted with healthy doses of self-deprecation and comedy and flat-out schtick. You can hate him for his ideas and his bad arguments—pretty much the ab auctoritate right down the line, coupled with a child's faith in his particular brand of liberalism that makes David Brin look iconoclastic (yes, Brin, it's just a different brand of liberalism)—but his presentation is pretty much irreproachable. That's actually why I don't like him; he makes his crappy ideas too much fun.

    Then again the same people who say that about Beck think O'Reilly is right-wing. He's to the left of Dennis Miller on everything but social issues, kids.