Genre Studies

Woop woop, another post title with a pun on genre/gender! About SF, and perhaps fantasy. This is going to be a bulleted list, though the ideas actually do lead into each other, because I can't think of decent transitions.

Sorry, I write fiction, not essays. I've grown dependent on mere causality to supply my transitions.
  • Plainly, the answer to the Sci Fi Ghetto is to embrace the ghetto, and to flaunt deviation from the canons of mainstream "literary" fiction as the sign of authenticity. It works for hip-hop. I mean, yo, it ain't my fault if the critics can't accept that I bust mad infodumps, straight off the books; I guess I just too street, just too geeked out, too 'hood. You feel me?

    I'm only kind of kidding. A., because "Sci Fi 'Hood" sounds awesome (and writing those last two sentences was really fun), and B., because mainstream literary canons suck worse than the most whitebread of mainstream, suburban boomer-approved pop. No, that's still no excuse for the infodumps to interfere with the flow of narrative, or have bad characters, but then neither does the banality of pop excuse the bitches-n-hoes nonsense.

  • The reason that mainstream lit fic doesn't use infodumps, is that the writer can assume his audience knows the workings of the story's world. Which is, I'm convinced, why so much lit fic actually sucks in that regard. Haven't you ever noticed how unbelievable the people in lit fic are? I certainly hope you find the behavior of the characters in Bridges of Madison County, for instance, to require an explanation.

    Well it's because the writers were assuming. Having to write infodumps for everything you feel like including, means you have to get into the habit of justifying things. And thus, SF characters, if they are characters at all, are generally far more believable. Louis Wu is much more relatable, despite being a 200 year old man from the 29th century, than any character in any lit fic I've ever been unable to avoid reading. The same goes for Speaker-to-Animals and Nessus, and they are an 8-foot, neon-orange wolverine, and a three-legged headless dear that keeps mouths in its eyestalks.

    Also, lit fic writers: I know you think your bundle-o-neuroses characters are so gosh-darn wonderful. But if my main reaction is to want to write Cupcakes-style fanfiction about them, you've not just screwed the pooch, you have rocked its freaking world.

  • There is a very famous essay by Ursula K. LeGuin, presumably written by dictation, called "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown", Mrs. Brown being an old lady Virginia Woolf saw across from her in a train once, and who she chose to treat as some kind of exemplar of the common people, because that's not snobbish in the slightest. In the essay, LeGuin asks the question, "Can a science fiction writer write a novel?"

    Why, Old Bossy, would one want to? Novels are emphatically the literature of the aristocracy, romances that of the people—the people prefer to read about heroism and deeds, while the rich or priggish prefer to wallow in the supernal subtlety of their feelings. "But," as the rich once whined, "of course we need to loot the monasteries and enclose common lands. You just don't understand, we're really complicated!"

    As if that weren't enough, the absolute most insidious form of novel is that which lets the rich (or the merely priggish and snobbish, like LeGuin) believe that they understand the people. And sympathize with them. Consciousness-raising, completely divorced from any meaningful action—the absolute nadir of our political discourse—was born of novels. Woolf and LeGuin both are, in essence, talking about having their consciousness raised, and wanting to do it to others.

    Romances are better, not only because their approach to story is fundamentally healthier, but because their stories themselves are healthier. Rather than presuming to unveil the private sorrows of the oppressed poor, romance, traditionally, has been about avenging them.

  • Put another way, the romance is essentially prose epic (there is no verse equivalent to novels, that really ought to be all you need to know about them). And here's an excerpt from the best epic in modern English, not that it's got any competition, the Ballad of the White Horse. It's the scene, preserved in legend, of Alfred the Great being struck by an old woman for burning her cakes (she mistakes him for a beggar, and lets him have some food if he'll watch the fire).
    And Alfred, bowing heavily,
    Sat down the fire to stir,
    And even as the woman pitied him
    So did he pity her.

    Saying, "O great heart in the night,
    O best cast forth for worst,
    Twilight shall melt and morning stir,
    And no kind thing shall come to her,
    Till God shall turn the world over
    And all the last are first.


    And as he wept for the woman
    He let her business be,
    And like his royal oath and rash
    The good food fell upon the ash
    And blackened instantly.

    Screaming, the woman caught a cake
    Yet burning from the bar,
    And struck him suddenly on the face,
    Leaving a scarlet scar.

    King Alfred stood up wordless,
    A man dead with surprise,
    And torture stood and the evil things
    That are in the childish hearts of kings
    An instant in his eyes.


    Then Alfred laughed out suddenly,
    Like thunder in the spring,
    Till shook aloud the lintel-beams,
    And the squirrels stirred in dusty dreams,
    And the startled birds went up in streams,
    For the laughter of the King.


    "Now here is a good warrant,"
    Cried Alfred, "by my sword;
    For he that is struck for an ill servant
    Should be a kind lord.

    "He that has been a servant
    Knows more than priests and kings,
    But he that has been an ill servant,
    He knows all earthly things.


    "This blow that I return not
    Ten times will I return
    On kings and earls of all degree,
    And armies wide as empires be
    Shall slide like landslips to the sea
    If the red star burn.

    "One man shall drive a hundred,
    As the dead kings drave;
    Before me rocking hosts be riven,
    And battering cohorts backwards driven,
    For I am the first king known of Heaven
    That has been struck like a slave."
    The second to last stanza is a deliberate reference to a the buffet given to a knight during the accolade. The best thing about it, though, is that while Alfred is imagining he understands the poor woman, he screws things up for her—a king, too, must remember his place, and not presume with his peasantry.

    LeGuin, Woolf: Mrs. Brown just bitch-slapped the chieftain of the west Saxons, and it was in the precise opposite of a novel—more, it was because he was thinking like a novel. That bread ain't the only thing got burned.

  • Compare also Virginia Woolf's nonsense about an old woman she met on the train, with the things Belloc wrote about people he met in his (significantly more extensive) travels. E.g., On a Man and a Dog Also, The Singer, The Election, The Griffin, The Guns, On Conversations in Trains, On a Fisherman and the Quest of Peace, On a Hermit Whom I Knew, On a Southern Harbour, On Death, The Ironmonger, Mr. The Duke: the Man of Malplaquet, and The End of the World.

  • Speaking of Belloc, anyone who says genre should be tolerated "because I recognize that people need to earn a living" should read his essay The Public. And then be beheaded.
    For instance, the publisher will say, as though he were talking of some monster, "The Public will not buy Jinks's work. It is first-class work, so it is too good for the Public." He is quite right in his statement of fact. ... Jinks has a very pleasant up-and-down style. He loves to use funny words dragged from the tomb, and he has delicate little emotions. Yet hardly anybody will buy him—so the publisher is quite right in one sense when he says, "The Public" won't buy Jinks. But where he is quite wrong and suffering from a gross illusion is in the motive and the manner of his saying it. ... He talks of it as something quite external to himself, almost as something which he has never personally come across. ... Now, if that publisher would wander for a moment into the world of realities he would perceive his illusion. Modern men do not like realities, and do not usually know the way to come in contact with them. I will tell the publisher how to do so in this case.

    Let him consider what books he buys himself, what books his wife buys; what books his eldest son, his grandmother, his Aunt Jane, his old father, his butler (if he runs to one), his most intimate friend, and his curate buy. He will find that not one of these people buys Jinks. Most of them will talk Jinks, and if Jinks writes a play, however dull, they will probably go and see it once; but they draw the line at buying Jinks's books—and I don't blame them.

    The moral is very simple. You yourselves are "The Public," and if you will watch your own habits you will find that the economic explanation of a hundred things becomes quite clear.
    Literary fiction is, quite simply, about people just as boring and depressed (and depressing) as you, being as boring and depressing and depressed as you. Yeah, no wonder people don't like that. In other news, photos of your back-acne aren't going to sell many prints.

    Literary fiction is not less popular than genre fiction because it is better, and anyone, in an ostensible democracy, who says otherwise, ought to go to the guillotine for counter-revolutionary agitation. It is less popular because it is less pleasing to the people, and it pleases them less because it is not as good.

  • There's a whole 'nother level to that issue, namely the people who assume that the canons of lit-fic—of the novel—are the standard of "literary quality". A whole bunch of people, debating the lit-fic/genre dispute, claim that "the best genre work" gets acclaimed by lit-fic, albeit with denials all round that it was ever genre in the first place.

    Bullshit. Time-travel stories and whiny, strawman dystopias are not the best science fiction, actual science fiction is. Larry Niven and C. J. Cherryh produce, far and away, better stories than are to be had in the entirety of lit fic, and they've never been acclaimed by the lit-fic establishment. To return to my rap analogy, they too damn 'hood—they scare whitey.

    Quite honestly, get me in a bad enough mood, and I'd probably say the first couple of Xanth books are better than lit fic. Yes I'd be lashing out—Piers Anthony is to genre snobbery what Woody Allen is to anti-Semitism, the guy bigots can point to and say "See? Just like our stereotype!"—but the fact is, art's sole purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing.



Yes I'm putting on airs, naming a post after Jeff Cooper's random thoughts column, but here's some random thoughts—albeit with less meandering about falconry.
  • I remain convinced that the English only tolerate Dr. Who because it's not from here; they're so hard-up for any not-shitty-looking TV that wasn't made by us, they'll even settle for that. And then, basically, most of the American fans do the same thing, because there really are self-hating Americans who think Britain is better at everything. No, I know, "Their welfare system is actually worse than ours is(!), and a few of us can actually cook a foxtrotting cabbage," and so on. But there really are such people.

    Anyway, I realized, the pacifist hero is much more popular in Japanese and British work than here in the US. It's obviously because Americans haven't cocked up the use of force nearly as much, but I think there are differences; the British were never militarists the way the Japanese were, and they were also never Buddhist. But one thing you'll soon notice, if you consume a lot of manga and anime, is that the Japanese pacifist heroes suffer for it. Vash the Stampede gets the ever-loving shit kicked out of him, and even Goku and Naruto have trouble because they don't kill people like Vegeta (hey, Vegeta killed a lot of Nameks, and he also came damn close to killing Kuririn, Gohan, and Buruma, too).

    But the Doctor? Shit no. His enemies are always morons, and oh yeah, he's basically a demigod, who can always bluff or flirt his way out of danger, or magically produce some nonsense device from a fourth-dimensional pocket, like some black-market knockoff Doraemon. Fundamentally I think it's related to how Japan may have a pacifist constitution, but they also have the third or fourth highest defense spending in the world—after America and whichever other superpower thinks it might fight America. The British are, fundamentally, Jingoes; they believe they are invincible. The more left-wing they are—and the BBC makes the American media look Tsarist by comparison—the more Jingo they are, that's why they favor defense cuts. The idea that the good guy—who is, inexplicably, British, or at least played by one, in open defiance of all but the most recent historical trends—might actually have to suffer for his ideals, is nonsense to them.

  • Speaking of Jingoes, you know what's fascinating? There is this odd attitude, among both the British and Americans of Anglo ethnicity, that they get to forgive other people. Excuse me? Who, precisely, has asked for your forgiveness? Not France, not Spain, and most certainly not the Catholic Church; you animals are the ones who do the apologizing, where those people are concerned.

    I don't know where you got the impression you were sitting in some pure-white throne of judgment, but the fact of the matter is, the only words you have the right to say to any of the above is "We're sorry we're thieves, rapists, liars, and murderers." Because newsflash, shitheads, that's what you are. You're not being "tolerant" when you merely are not anti-Catholic, anymore than it's "tolerance" when Germans avoid anti-Semitism. Indeed, the British were far and away the most vile human-rights abusers in the Western world, until Nazi Germany finally edged them out, and that by far too narrow a margin.

  • On to cheerier things, what the hell is with Alphas, on the Syphilis Channel? One, and I know this is a novel idea, how about having female characters the audience prefers aren't murdered? Two, I don't mind myself, but the black guy gets super-strength from getting angry—seriously? Three, bullshit Homo superior/next stage of human evolution, as explanation for powers, is, well, bullshit. And done before, and better. Most of the powers are basic parapsychology things, how about the lackwit writers actually do some research, and explain the powers that way?

    Four, the villain is Magneto. Sure, he's not got magnet powers; still Magneto. Five, mean ol' normal humans fear the (potentially dangerous) Homo superior and want legislation to protect themselves and this is apparently bad and the crippled private school principle psychologist goes and testifies to someone, about something: been done. Sucked then too. Come up with another plot, the Civil Rights era is over. Most people nowadays who talk about equal rights are defiling the memory of Civil Rights leaders for personal gain, and often for the express purpose of establishing tyranny.

    Finally, again, if a guy has innate abilities as dangerous as technological weapons, then in justice he can be regulated as closely as the equivalent weapon. The race analogy doesn't work, so don't raise it: black people cannot knock over skyscrapers with their minds.

  • A cool idea in Niven is the Thrint. Specifically, they are stupid telepaths. Why? Because their brains only evolved to be complex enough for telepathy, and then they stopped getting smarter...and got more telepathic.

    I'm not saying you have to have your telepaths be stupid—I can think of several ways around that idea, e.g. that telepathy is inextricably bound up with raw computing power—but you have to put at least that much thought into your aliens.

  • You know how people always say "Oh it's unrealistic that aliens always invade/contact X city", where X city is a major city of the region that produced the show?

    Yeah, well they even say it about anime. Only, mightn't aliens seek out the most densely-populated urban center, for contact or attack? Well that's Tokyo.

  • Some lady, associated with some vidyagame blogger, was giving Twilight the business, but one of the things she complained about was nonsense: it's really fairly irrelevant what time of year the story takes place in, as an independent fact. Yes, I look up when Hecate's Night is for my werewolf story, and what the position of Venus was relative to Ursa Major (it has to do with Aztec astrology), but I'm a crazy person, and whole swaths of my research never sees print: at no point in my SF book do I mention that the characters' ship enters the solar system on October 17, 2342, but that's the date I used to calculate the planets' positions.

    As if, however, you needed another reason to love orbit elevators, how about the fact they go on the equator? No seasons on the equator, therefore (unless the planet's orbit takes it through a debris field twice a year, or something), the time of year is demonstrably irrelevant.

  • I have been remiss; ages ago, I mentioned that some Eastern European vampires, though they don't burn in sunlight, turn to stone in it, and crumble to dust. And someone asked for the source.

    Honestly, I don't remember well; I know I've encountered it in stories, but not what stories. I think it might've been a book on Transylvanian folklore at my local library. It might've been the anthropology monographs I read for fun in the college library when I was at Northern Arizona University (yes that's my idea of a good time).

    I think my explanation—bleedover from Greek goblins—may be some private theory of my own. The plague of the student of vampire folklore, after all, is that vampires get adulterated with every other magical creature in the universe, from witches to werewolves to zmei (Romanian ogres whose name is a Slavic word for dragon and frequently gets used as a catch-all for "spooks"), to goblins. That last is important, because Greek goblins, the kalikantzari, turn to stone and crumble to dust in sunlight, and lots of Balkan folklore borrows Greek elements.

    If you needed another example of how folklore critters don't stay distinct, by the way, "kalikantzari" comes from centaur*, of all things.

  • I was reading some other blogs by the person who was critiquing Twilight, and she was talking about translation. She said that she was watching a Bollywood film, and apparently in Hindi one calls people "sister", "brother", and "uncle" as terms of respect; she said that would've confused her, if she hadn't known Japanese does that.

    Only, what? Certain strains of Evangelicalism do it, black Americans do it (probably due to being of those strains of Evangelicalism), freaking Sam Axe in Burn Notice does it. It exists within English, in other words. Can one truly be so bizarrely provincial as not to have encountered fictive kinship before? It's in Lord of the Rings, it's in actual epics, it's in Shakespeare—you'd pretty much have had to sleep through all of high school English not to encounter the thing.

    Interestingly, speaking of, the ambiguity exists within cultures that have it; frequently in manga one will encounter the "Oh, that guy's your real brother? I thought he was just a childhood friend or something."

  • A bunch of people, who are obviously not readers of comics that actually exist, claim that Superman is boring, because he's so powerful. Heh. Actually, no, leaving to one side that him and Bats do a great manzai act in every Justice League comic, Big Blue has a type of drama that's refreshingly innovative, given the "mewling weakling protagonist" school that's dominated literature for the last 40 years. Namely, he has the ability to turn anyone who looks at him sideways into a fine pink mist, and he refuses to do it.

    Given their portrayal of high school gym class, we can guess why those writers find weakling characters more identifiable, but the near-deity who forbears to use his strength is an entirely valid dramatic choice—and one that DC generally pulls off with aplomb, in Superman comics. After all, his powers don't actually give him the things he wants—like Krypton still existing or Pa Kent not (usually) being dead, for instance, or, until comparatively recently, Lois loving him for who he is—and, again, he refuses to be a killer. Lex Luthor is actually his nemesis, despite having no superpowers at all, because he won't use his obvious advantages. You can say that's a foolish choice on Kal's part, but if it is, so is Batman's refusal to off the Joker—and Lex doesn't murder people to set up a punchline.

    God, you have me defending Superman, and me a GL man. Damn you, Internet stupidity, damn you to hell.


In Moses' Seat

See Matthew 23:2-3.

So I was reading an otherwise intelligent writer about issues of religion, science, and logic, but then he said "Who could take the Catholic Church seriously as an authority on sexual morality after the sex-abuse scandal?"


Let us dispense with the preliminaries, that the scandal was minuscule compared to any other sector of society—fathers are the #1 molesters in the world, followed by public school teachers, and they're the people absolutely everyone says you should learn about sex from. On a statistical basis, a Catholic priest—not even the Church's magisterium but just Reverend Joe Dogcollar down at St. Whoever's—still retains more moral authority than dads' Birds and Bees talks or any sex-ed curriculum ever written.

Let us dispense also with the fact that we've had worse sex scandals. Shit, in the Renaissance we had popes who were personally libertines, rapists, and pimps. We've had still worse scandals in other spheres, especially political entanglements—you think the US bishops are sellouts, you should read up on the Holy Roman Empire.

But so what?

The authority of the Church, of the bishops in communion with the pope, is not moral authority. It is teaching authority. It is the right to command assent, intellectually, to propositions in faith and morals. Are the Church's teachings on sexuality true, or not? It is relevant only to him and God, and perhaps to his biographers, if some pope, bishop, or priest behaves as if he doesn't think so, but that doesn't actually answer the question; the only thing that answers the question is whether it is consonant with reason.

Oh, and also, if the Church's teachings on sexuality, and the Canon Law provisions on discipline for misbehaving clergy, had been followed, there wouldn't have been any sex-abuse scandal, would there now? "We'd have avoided this bad thing if we'd listened to you, therefore you don't know what you're talking about"—I am not familiar with that school of logic, but I will admit it is a powerful argument against the Catholic faith. Specifically, the teaching on universal human dignity, because damn, one doubts the very personhood of the creature that said it.

Then again, one recalls Belloc's assertion that irony is inextricably bound up with nemesis—how beautiful, then, to see this worthless ape's very reason fail him in the moment of his calumny, as he himself falls prey to the hypocrisy of which he falsely accuses others.

Once again, I cut a trifling object.


Guilty Spark

Post 343. I'm sure you're almost too shocked for words that I named it that.
  • I'm sure it doesn't even register with anyone but me (this is the kind of crap I worry about), but in response to any perceived hypocrisy in praising Warcraft while castigating Warhammer, Warcraft actually takes its setting semi-seriously. The orcs, goblins, and trolls are not a joke in Warcraft, they are in Warhammer—look at the orc gods, for instance ("Gork and Mork", fertheluvva, and even the orcs can't tell the difference between them).
  • Remember that thing I mentioned, couple back, where the guy was questioning whether fantasy video games are an inspiration or a distraction? Well, while vidyagames in general may prevent one from doing one's writing, it must be said: the best work currently being done in both fantasy and science fiction is in video games. The best fantasy is Zelda and Warcraft; the best SF is Halo. The latter, especially, is doing more to advance public appreciation of the genre than the SFWA ever did.

    Notice, please, before you yammer at me, that I said best. I did not say "most innovative" or "most creative", or any of the other phrases you use that mean "We shall substitute novelty for quality, because 'have I seen it before?' is easier on my puny brain than 'is it worth a tinker's damn?'". Warcraft and Halo are, indeed, quite solidly formula: but they execute that formula perfectly. Good formula is better than bad innovation, kindly compare the real Zatoichi films to that Beat Takeshi abortion if you don't believe me.
  • That is interesting, isn't it, how things like our obsession with novelty are simply fetishes designed to let people avoid thinking or having to form their own judgments. One wonders, is it a form of cargo cult science, simple-mindedly attempting to substitute an experimental marker for the human judgment?

    Mythbusters, given how many of their endeavors "disprove" a straw version of the "myth", is another example of cargo cult science. Watch that show closely, and you'll be surprised how often they deliberately reduce issues to an artificial subset of the possible interpretations, that just happens to be that subset easily tested—or rather, easily disproved—by their halfwit methodology. Why? Because they, in classic cargo-cult manner, have made "falsifiability" the mark of science, therefore the easier a thing is to falsify (even by deliberately stacking the deck against confirmation), the more scientific they think they are—and therefore the more cargo the spirits will send them. Not even Popper, the popularizer of "falsifiability" (known as "naïve falsification" in philosophy of science) would accept Mythbusters as a truly scientific endeavor.

    Also, Mythbusters, like the Innocence Project, puts the results in the working title of the experiment.
  • So the disadvantage of French Roast coffee, is that you lose the unique characteristics of the beans. And the advantage, is that you lose the unique characteristics of the beans. That is, you can make serviceable coffee from poor, cheap beans, simply by roasting 'em real dark.

    This is important if you're provisioning an army. Say, a grand one. Canning, triage...the list goes on, of things invented for Napoleon's army, the biggest in the world up to that time (possibly excluding the Mongol Horde). Remember that, and also radar, next time someone says "What's war good for?" Aside from that whole "defeating Nazism/abolishing slavery/etc., etc.," thing.
  • So decided that my felinoids' swords have a very shallow fuller, but it's near the cutting edge, and takes the form of a Granton edge, only they call it a scalloped-hollow edge. It not only slightly reduces the weight, it reduces sticking when, for instance, slicing through meat. And, uh, swords do a lot of slicing through meat, you know?
  • If you needed another reason to hate the Battlestar Galactica reboot, how about the fact they apparently decided who was a Cylon at random? This isn't me, this is a real thing—they didn't have anyone established as a Cylon from the get-go, they decided 'em as they went along. C'mon, guys, at least make a list of possible Cylons, and decide that as you go. Don't just randomly have the first officer, who served alongside Adama in the first war, be one (that is not a spoiler, you cannot spoil something that has maggots in it when "fresh", and Galactica makes casu marzu look like irradiated milk).

    Nobody's asking that you be J. Michael Straczynski, just, y' know, try and make sense. Apparently even that was too hard for them. Ron Moore is, in essence, another way to say "Rick Sloane".
  • Some crazy Browncoats have a petition to help Nathan Fillion buy the rights to Firefly, and then reboot it. And some of them have pointed out, Family Guy got rebooted. And Firefly is better than it is. Even I must concede that.

    However, Firefly does not have the built-in Comedy Central/Adult Swim dumbass audience that Family Guy does. It does not appeal to stupid drunken/stoned college students. All its sins on its head, it does require more sustained attention than the 4-minute, maximum, gags in Family Guy—and if you take out the "this gag taking so long is the only funny thing about it" gags, Family Guy gags are more like 2 minutes, max. So I doubt a rebooted Firefly would be much more successful than the last run, even if rebooted Firefly didn't suck just as bad as rebooted Futurama did, which is by no means certain (and pre-reboot Futurama was better than Firefly, sorry).
  • You know that thing, 'tis a theme in Firefly (along with the usual Whedon tics), because the other head writer was a Libertarian? "People don't like to be meddled with"? Yeah, they also prefer not to be raped and murdered, and that's what a remarkable proportion of the human race goes in for, you don't meddle with 'em.

    People always say Rousseau was naïve (though they demonstrably have never read him), but he at least knows to start with the question, "Even assuming the original, innocent, 'noble savage' [not, by the way, a concept he particularly emphasizes], why did people ever decide to abandon the State of Nature for the state and the Social Contract?" The need to meddle with the people who go in for rape and murder is the answer to that question, kiddies.
  • Turns out, those mystery anime plots aren't that far-fetched after all. The Glico-Morinaga Case, perpetrated by someone, or a group thereof, calling himself, or themselves, The Monster with 21 Faces, really happened.

    Because if there was ever a country where criminals might concoct pointlessly elaborate plots, and actually pull them off, it's Japan.


Words and History

Nope, not about Orwellian thought control, well except maybe tangentially. Nope, 's about uh, words. Language generally. And history.
  • I have previously mentioned the stupidity of the Mexican-American Ahnenerbe movements, like MEChA, that claim the American southwest is "Aztlan", and assert some right of ownership over it. Hey guys, virtually none of you are Colhua-Mexica, so why are you deliberately identifying yourselves with people who would enslave, sacrifice, and eat you? If this territory had belonged to them, they would've gotten it the same way they got all the rest of their land: conquest, just like the US did. And the US was much more polite about it, see, e.g., the Gadsden Purchase.

    Apparently some of the idiots assert that they're going to retake "Aztlan" (their definition of it), and even tie themselves to the Occupy Somewhere movement by saying "Occupy Aztlan." You go right ahead and do that, nonoalcah*. Some of us live near people who still have Emergence narratives (which is what Aztlan actually refers to), and we can tell ya, returning through the place of the emergence is the same thing as dying.

  • Speaking of people who say stupid things about Indians, a site about the Maya syllabary tried to spin that script's multiple redundancies as a good thing. Uh, no, dude, that is a bug, not a feature: a script should be as simple as remotely possible. The only people who manage not to have syllabaries be cumbersome are the Japanese, the Cherokee, and (most of) the peoples who use Aboriginal Syllabics. Because, generally, their languages don't have much in the way of biliterals. Mayan languages have those, which makes a syllabary a poor choice. Just as poor a choice, by the way, as it was for Babylonian, Hittite, or Mycenaean Greek—all of which also wrote in syllabaries.

    Incidentally, remember those X-Files episodes with "ancient Navajo texts"? And that "Navajo medicine man" played by a blatantly Great Lakes-region guy? Yeah, those were written in Cree Syllabics. You can write Navajo in Aboriginal Syllabics, actually— the Carrier language (now written in Roman) is in the same group and could be made to serve, with a little modification—but seriously, Navajo doesn't have any "texts" in the "written down" sense. And their oral tradition doesn't have much that can be interpreted in a Von Daniken Ancient Astronauts manner. Gods coming down out of the abandoned temples of Anasazi ruins to speak to them, sure, but no Ancient Astronauts.

    Also, seriously, has anyone even seen a Navajo? There's no excuse, they're the biggest tribe in the country. And they don't look like that guy.

  • How, you ask, do I know you can write Navajo in Carrier? Please, I should think you'd know by now: because I've done it. Apache too (they're really close, think Spanish and Portuguese close).

    'Tis a hobby of mine, coming up with ways that people can write their language in scripts other than Roman. Hungarians, I feel, ought to use the rovás (their runes)—hey, Hungarian has 2 million more native speakers than Greek, and the Greeks don't feel weird about having their own alphabet. Also, whoever invented the runes noticed the "gy" sound is actually closer to a d, and so it's a d with an added stroke. I'll bet money that "gy" is spelled that way in Roman because most literate Hungarians did all their writing in Latin, and "gi", in Ecclesiastic Latin, is a similar sound (but Hungarian needed its "gi" for words like "giliszta").

    I also think Mongolian should be written in Mongolian (Cyrillic, too, is overused), Uyghur in Uighur (same goes for Arabic), and the Scandinavian languages can go ahead and write in one of the Younger Futharks, if they like. Turks could write in the Turkic 'runes,' too, though the way Turkish politics is going they're probably gonna reintroduce Ottoman Arabic spellings any day now. English and German should, however, stick with Roman—but I do think the Germans oughtta go back to Fraktur.

  • Speaking of Hungarian runes, remember that Elvish language I made from Proto-Uralic roots? Yeah well I'm also writing it in Rovás. It's ideally suited for that language group, after all. Actually you can get by with only a subset of the Rovás letters, not only did Proto-Uralic have fewer sounds than Hungarian, the runes also use different letters for some sounds depending on the vowel-harmony of the preceding syllable.

    Thought I'd use the Indo-European protolanguage for the humans—hey, since it's a D&D game, it's just gonna be used for place and personal names, it's not like I have to sit down and learn the 27 ways to conjugate the athematic centrifugal imperfect, or whatever. Not sure what I'll write it in; I had thought Germanic runes (I know the Elder Futhark as automatically as I know the ABCs), but what about Linear B? The interesting thing about Linear B, and the as-yet mostly undeciphered Linear A, and the Luwian hieroglyphs, is we can't tell their ancestry, and they sorta resemble each other...also, all the languages they're used for (though we can't tell with Linear A) appear to be Indo-European.

  • It's entirely possible that, along with Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese hanzi, Sumerian cuneiform, and the Maya script, there may have been a fifth alphabet, on this planet. There are some intriguing similarities between the Linears and Luwian, and the symbols Marija Gimbutas flattered lavishly with the name "Old European 'script'" (they're almost certainly proto-writing, not actually a script)—"Old European" may well represent, if it's related to those three L-beginning scripts, a stage like the little scratched-in cow-heads and tally marks that every other script starts with.

    And then, everyone who used it might've said "Screw this, this Proto-Sinaitic business lets you write a consonant at a time, without having to figure out how to write 'sphynx' syllabically. We'll just use some of those extra Hs for vowels." And they chucked it aside in favor of an alphabet derived, ultimately, from Egyptian.

  • So I'm changing my D&D setting, because I honestly couldn't come up with any adventures for the one I'd been doing. Its linguistic features remain intact, except I'm basing my Dwarvish on Proto-Afro-Asiatic (yeah, like Tolkien did)—but not their society (unlike Tolkien). Also using gods and subraces of my own invention, rather than the usual D&D high/gray/wood/dark elves, worshiping Corellon Larethian and Lolth, and hill/mountain/deep/gray dwarves, worshiping Moradin and Laduguer (forgot the duergar god, didntcha?).

    Between my researches into Proto-Languages and the fact I've always found it easier to write adventures of the Howard/Leiber type than the Tolkien type, I thought I'd do a sorta antediluvian, Hyborian Age type of thing. The main human cultures are based on Indo-European, and also either Chinese (with Proto-Sino-Tibetan as a language) or maybe Mesoamerican (except probably also with Proto-Sino-Tibetan vocabulary, because have you tried finding Proto-Uto-Aztecan dictionaries?—let alone Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, which is what we think the Olmecs actually spoke). And then, thanks to something my sister said RE: the Ice Age and Chrono Trigger, while I was reading Sora no Otoshimono, I thought I'd have the part of "decadent civilization" played by people in a flying city, who talk Sumerian. Why Sumerian? Because their civilization was born decadent—the very fact they didn't have the excesses of Rome or China's worst periods is because they never had as much verve as the Romans or Chinese.

  • Research into the Yi syllabary and the Geba and Dongba scripts of the Naxi, just now, brings up some interesting stuff. Dongba is related to Chinese, only it never moved beyond the "you already have to know the story" phase of proto-writing. But apparently its characters have a great deal of commonality with the Oracle Bones script, the first form of Chinese writing.

    See, the Oracle Bones script dates to the Shang dynasty, which is around the time the ancestors of the Naxi migrated westward (they used to be neighbors of the Han Chinese; they now live near the border with Burma).

  • It might be a good idea to investigate similarities not only between Linear AB, Luwian, and "Old European", but between those scripts (and proto-script) and the Indus Valley glyphs.

    I confess, knowing what I do about Hindu Nationalism, that I am suspicious of the gent in India who claims to have discovered that not only is it writing (is it now?), but he can read it, and identify it as Indo-Aryan. Don't get me wrong: I'd love it if it was true, that's why I said we should investigate the possibilities I just mentioned—remember what language group I'm writing in right now. But I don't believe what you're seeing in the Indus Valley is writing, in the sense Roman, Cyrillic, or Devanagari are, and I sure as hell don't believe he can decipher it without bilingual texts. Also, bud, let's see your notes, hmm?

  • Maybe Tifinagh, for those Afro-Asiatic speaking dwarves? Tifinagh's for writing Berber, they've got most of the same sounds. And it looks runey. Runey's good.


Scribblin's and Quibblin's

In which I wax disagreeable about things RE: writing that have attracted my attention.

  • There's a thing in SF where, despite mankind having Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions, Islam still exists. Not Christianity, generally not Hinduism or Shinto, but Islam, Native American religions, and often Judaism. Obviously we know why writers are hesitant to posit Judaism ceasing to be—some unpleasant fellas tried to do that, not too long ago—but what about the other two? My theory?

    Racism. After all, enlightened civilized Westerners and Indians and East Asians have moved beyond religion, but Arabs and Native Americans are still primitive peoples, their lives dominated by the tribe. Alternatively, effete, over-urbanized Westerners and Indians and East Asians have lost their spirituality, but the purehearted Arabs and Native Americans retain their tie to their traditions and the earth, in a way their erstwhile conquerors never have.

    Yeah, you only think I said two different things in that last paragraph. Either way, Arabs and Natives are being treated as Noble Savages; the only difference is whether you emphasize the noun or the adjective.

  • Speaking of, and RE: Keith Graham's stupid "law" for SF writers, "Earthmen are not all white or all men", my SF stories do have remarkably few black people in them. Indeed, only two African Americans, and no Africans (apart from a passing allusion to someone swearing in isiZulu, during a crowd scene). Makes sense, though: the colonies where the stories take place are settled by America, Brazil, and Japan, in one case, and China and the UK, in another. By an astounding coincidence, most of my black cast speaks Portuguese as a first language and thinks capoeira, feijoada, and a little samba is a relaxing evening.

    Also, though, look, I'm from Flagstaff, AZ. Our demographics reverses the proportion of Black and Native American—my town's probably about 1/300th Black, but 1 person in 8 is Native (as we call them here). I have known, personally, exactly five black people in my life, not counting the siblings or parents of those five. And one of them was from Burundi.

  • I thought that something Tycho said in a slightly different context was relevant to the whole "literary vs. genre" thing, seen, e.g., here.
    I have always been white trash, and will never cease to be so; what that means is that I was raised with an inherent distrust in the Hoity and a base and brutal urge to dismantle the Toity. This is sometimes termed anti-intellectualism, usually by intellectuals, when what it is in truth is an opposition to intellect for intellect’s sake. The reality is that what “is” and “isn’t art” is something we can determine with a slider in our prefrontal cortex.
    My God, to have an instrument like that. Even when you don't agree with him the bastard sure can write.

  • Example of not agreeing with Tycho, 'parently he likes John Scalzi, both personally and artistically. I have elsewhere discussed Scalzi's loathsome political disingenuousness—this pretense of moderateness doesn't fool anyone, dickweed, not from you, and not from Jon Stewart, either—I don't know what to say about him as a writer. I hear good things about Old Man's War.

    On the other hand, is this, an excerpt from one of Scalzi's books. It's just awful, cutesy-poo pseudo-Whedon prose gymnastics that is far too damned impressed with itself.

    One of the commenters said "sometimes your wallet just has to hate good writers". Most assuredly, but my wallet loves John Scalzi. My wallet wants to have a million of his children. My wallet owes him a sodding life-debt, because he is the very opposite of a threat to it.

  • So a bunch of people got on Ben Shapiro's case for writing an epic takedown of John Updike, very soon after Updike died. A lot of them were Big Hollywood's resident leftist trolls, claiming that Ben was being mean-spirited. Aside from the fact he's simply saying—what is true—that Updike was overrated as a writer, have you ever read anything a leftist writes RE: the death of anyone the slightest bit to the right? Vlad the Impaler showed more decent deference to the newly deceased!

  • I think we can tell by now I don't like florid prose, in fiction? Yeah. I favor that quality, which Belloc too favored, "lucidity". Thus:
    [Lucidity] does not mean ease of appreciation by the stupidest reader or by the reader with the smallest vocabulary; nor does it mean the expression of ideas which are more easily grasped than others. It means that quality in prose whereby whatever you have had in your mind, however difficult to convey, however unusual, however much requiring the use of terms which may be unfamiliar, shall in the highest degree of clarity possible reappear in your reader’s mind.
    Its value in SF, and indeed in fantasy, is also related by Niven's 5th Law for Writers:"If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault."

    Also, Belloc apparently said that the absolute height of lucid writing is "Mary Had a Little Lamb". And he's probably right.

  • It's interesting, that unadorned style is not, exactly, what I favor in fantasy prose, but I still hate the standard "literary" fiction floridity. Fantasy prose probably ought to correspond as closely as possible to the style in Tolkien. However, the problem there is, Tolkien had so much background in it, that he could actually write modern prose with stylistic tics borrowed from freaking Old English; I doubt there's more than a handful of people in the world today who have both the ability and the inclination to do what he did.

    Alternatively, I think the style in the medieval French romance tradition might be easier to ape, for us—Chretien de Troyes, for instance (and the interesting thing about style, at least in related languages, is it survives translation). French romances didn't have kennings, for one thing (if you tried using kennings in a fantasy novel, it'd probably come off as, at best, an inexplicable borrowing from the Black Mask school of detective fiction, and, at worst, as a William Gibson knockoff). Good things might be done, also, with the pre-Tolkien Romantics and Gothic writers; Bram Stoker or George MacDonald, for instance, or the old standbys, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

    Avoid, however, archaism; try to parse out which stylistic elements of those writers I just named are style, and which are just 18th or 19th century English?

  • The problem with florid turgid Yog Sothothery in fantasy fiction, is it's really hard to do well. Robert Howard could manage it, said-bookisms notwithstanding; Leiber didn't bother (instead, he just paraphrased Shakespeare, see e.g. Mouser's spells in "The Unholy Grail", which are obviously based on the witches' spells from MacBeth). People who can't manage it, but try, just wind up with the Eye of Argon.


More thoughts. Hey, at least you know they won't be Jansenist, like the original.
  • The matter of the "war" on Christmas is revealing—namely, it reveals how stupid you apes are. When one says "Merry Christmas", one is not, in fact, making any assumptions about the audience's practices. One is wishing them well, owing to the presence of the holiday. That is, one is saying "May the blessings of this day I regard as holy bring good to you and yours."

    Plainly, hate-speech.

    I don't know what you call it, the belief that a country that's 80% Christian in creed and 95% Christian in heritage can't even nod in the direction of that fact once in a while. Not democracy, I'll tell you that for free.

  • And yes, "war" is an entirely appropriate term; the anti-Christmas nonsense is conducted in the precise same manner as the original Kulturkampf. The phrase "culture war", after all, comes from Bismarck's conscious policy of undermining the beliefs and mores of the Catholic parts of the German Empire. Historians are divided as to whether he did it to pander to the Protestant principalities, or simply to cut the Catholic ones off from Austria. Most of the Catholic parts of "Germany", after all, were territories stolen by Frederick II Hohenzollern, and his successors, from Prussia's ostensible ally, the Holy Roman Empire.

    One prefers to avoid having stolen territory remember that it's actually a part of another country, and if one can undermine the religion the abductees share with their former compatriots, it's a major step toward brainwashing them into thinking that your state is their actual home. It worked, by the way: most Bavarians nowadays actually think there's such a place as "Germany". Quaint, isn't it?

  • Didja know "concubine" doesn't mean anything remotely approximating "sex-slave"? Yeah, hate to break it to you, but its actual meaning was, basically, "common-law wife", and "concubinage" basically means "cohabitation".

    Speaking of things stupid people don't know about premodern sexuality, the F-word isn't an acronym. The word first shows up centuries before anyone in England would've been using acronyms that way. The text abbreviations used in the Middle Ages weren't acronyms as we'd understand them; while the ancient Romans used our type of acronym, pronouncing them phonetically is a modern thing. Also, nobody, except possibly a Georgian (as in "former Soviet republic", not the Peach State), can pronounce "SPQR".

  • I didn't mention it before, because it's somewhat depressing, but exposure to the puerility of Warhammer Fantasy has tipped me over the brink. I'm lashing out, because that setting is so lame, and it uses the 8-arrows Chaos symbol created by Michael Moorcock. Warhammer, and to a slightly lesser extent 40K, are indicative of everything wrong with the Moorcock school of fantasy.

    Anyway. The only person I ever knew who actually liked the Elric books, later became a drug-addicted male prostitute. I'm not asserting a causal link, but nevertheless, if Moorcock's fantasy is your thing, all I can say is that selling your ass for dope-money might be too.

  • I also didn't mention, as it was embarrassing, that I completely whizzed my "write every day" thing down my leg, last month. I just wasn't in the mood to write, and without a firm deadline it's difficult to put the spurs to a writer. Probably to any creative worker, really.

    But then, yesterday, I wrote something like 5000 words. In a day. As in, at that pace, I could've done NaNoWriMo in 10 days, and my usual length of book in one month. Now, of course, I can't keep that pace up (and neither can you, I dare you to try), and my process requires periodic research breaks for new inspiration, but still, pretty cool, huh?

  • So this guy I'm reading is discussing whether it's legit to take inspiration, in fantasy-writing, from video games. And then, he mentions Baldur's Gate, Skyrim and one of the other Elder Scrolls games, and Dragon Age.

    Uh-huh. Really? You don't think you forgot something? A game that, pretty much single-handedly, is the main reason we think of orcs and goblins as green (because, and it's a credit to your species, nobody knows about Warhammer)? Here's a hint, there are probably whole generations, in some places, that think elves are purple.

    Seriously, how can you talk about fantasy vidyagames and not mention Warcraft?

  • Then again, the same person also said Harry Potter has complex villains. Compared to...? They're a shallow parody of the standard English caricature of "toffs", pretty much up until the last book, when they become full-fledged Nazis.

    Death Eaters are not even as complex as the real things they're based on. The toffs who cared about lineage were the ones who stood up for the common people of England, against the Whigs' plot to convert their nation into a pure plutocracy (and the negative caricature actually stems from the Whigs' reaction—the Whig always denigrates his opponents, since it makes his favored tactics of rape and murder a lot easier later on). Almost all the German resistance to Nazism was the Junkers, and they were emphatically motivated by their aristocratic sensibilities—Nazism not only showed "poor form", its ideology was rabble-rousingly egalitarian (as long as you were German) and, frankly, vulgar.

  • I have commented on this before, but the reason you apes hate dwarves, goblins, and especially elves in fantasy is because you won't take the time to do 'em right. Other than Blizzard: both the Night Elves and the Blood Elves are a fresh take on the concept, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

    I say again: return to the legends. Or, shortcut, watch some anime. And not fantasy anime (though Deedlit is the most perfectly "chaotic good" elf ever). Watch yokai anime, and I guarantee you'll never look at elves the same way again: every one of my elves owes more to Sesshômaru than to Legolas.

    Also, dammit, dwarves: seriously, Tolkien's are Jewish, not Scottish. Does Gimli have to actually rock back and forth, wailing, at the walls of Moria, before you realize that? As I've said before, there's more ways to do "clannish mountain-dwellers" than the two ways (Tolkien's and everyone else's) that dwarves are portrayed. How about Gorkhas? How about Tibetans, or Sherpas? Or the Hopi? Or hey, who says it needs to be mountain tribes? Put the mountain in the middle of the ocean: how about Okinawan dwarves, whose martial art reflects their rootedness in the earth? (I admit, that's blatantly an Avatar ripoff, earth-bending's Hùhng Ga and karate are related.) Or hey, Polynesian dwarves, with an elaborate gift-economy?

  • You know those character sheets you can find upon the web? Not for RPGs, but for writing? Yeah, well, I find them needlessly human-centric. When I'm filling one out for a bipedal ambush predator with bones made of silica or a fairy god whose people saw the Big Bang, too many of the questions have to be answered "NA".

    One might, of course, say "oh well those weren't made for SF or fantasy". Which I would believe, if not for the fact I've only ever found them at SF- and fantasy-writing sites: not once have I seen one at a site for writers of mainstream fiction.

    Occam's razor, though, or maybe Heinlein, the folks who run the sites probably just got them from some mainstream writer, and didn't modify them for genres where your characters don't have to be ugly apes half-assing their way through pack-hunting.

  • A commenter a long time ago said that he didn't agree with my theory that only apex predators would become sapient, because most apex predators have other adaptations that render sapience unnecessary.

    That, of course, would be an argument against the statement "all apex predators become sapient", but that statement would be stupid, and I never made it. I said "all sapients will be apex predators". That is, you'll only get sapience from that narrow band of apex predators whose evolution favors intelligence, rather than pure flesh-shredding ability, as a strategy.

    Another of his (supposed) counter-examples is humans' thumbs and upright posture. Only, quick: what's the other group of animals with thumbs and bipedal posture? Oh, right, predatory therapods. QED.


Stuff and Stuff

Random thoughts, particularly SF equipment.
  • It occurs to me, a big part of the reason I'm so interested in fictional equipment, is my sister's film school days were dominated by props and production design. The fact she's now all DIY-steampunky is not really surprising, is it?

    Then again, it goes back further, to when the first few real anime on Cartoon Network showed me cartoons that actually cared what things looked like (American cartoons didn't, then—mostly still don't, but the shift to CGI has fixed it somewhat, by imposing at least some realism). The Jurai, in Tenchi, have some of the coolest stuff you'll ever see.
  • So in my book, the humans can't use orbit catapults, or Verne guns, for passengers, because the acceleration 'd kill 'em and they can't do their artificial gravity thingy that close to a planet. But they use artificial gravity to make Mars colonization livable, so what's the deal?

    Well, creating an area of near-Earth gravity under a few habitat domes, on a barren wasteland like Mars, is one thing; countering a 100 g acceleration (yes really) while near a major city, is another.
  • Couple of places, actually, I have seen people talking about how space colonization would only pay as a mercantilist endeavor (which is true). And several of them point out that, therefore, a space colony would not be like the American West, but like colonial Australia. At least in having a great deal more involvement from the home government; remember how I said penal space-colonies probably wouldn't exist (though then again both Australia and the New World did have a lot of debtors come in, to work off their debt in helping to set up the colony and so on).

    But am I the only one who thought, immediately, of this?
    Once a jolly spaceman swung by an asteroid
    Hoping to save him some delta-v
    And he sang as he sat and waited for the burn to end,
    "You'll come roaming the ITN with me."
    Yes, you'd never actually have manned space missions on the ITN; "poetic license", bitches.
  • Interestingly, speaking of aeronautics, the original meaning of "pushing the envelope" was "exceeding operational parameters"; the envelope in question is a mathematical one, "the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves", the curves in question being the graphs of various tolerances the aircraft has. Pushing it was only a good thing in flight-testing—doing it in another context (the flight testing having established the real envelope for the craft in question) was likely to lead to the deployment of other aeronautics terms, like "auger in" and "buy the farm".
  • I urge you, with tears in my eyes, study up on military slang, if you wanna create a conslang for a spacefaring civilization. Many spaceship crews would come from military aviation, so there's the cultural setting factor, and military slang is just artistic. I mean, nicknaming the ejector button "the admiral's doorbell", because if you press it you're gonna have a meeting with the brass? That's poetry, kids.

    If you can think of a better slang term for spacesuit than "bag" (what Navy aviators, at least, call flight suits), I'd love to hear it.
  • You know Bill Watterson? Wrote Calvin & Hobbes (remember this is random thoughts). Well, he's crazy—he approaches Scott McCloud-level froth-mouth—about the idea of licensing comic characters. Someone really needs to point out, though, that while the licensing of Peanuts characters and Garfield is essentially in line with those series' spirit, the only place anyone sees Calvin anymore is in those unauthorized "peeing on things" bumper stickers.

    He sure showed them.
  • Speaking of Scott McCloud, a lot of Korean manhwa are webcomics these days. Some of 'em are actually pretty good. But, uh, they listened to Mr. Infinite Canvas, which was dumb—as Tycho pointed out, it's not a good idea to make a comic that can't be printed out.

    For some of them, the period dramas, they might make the case that the comic being a 9-foot-long scroll is intentional, but still, those images are just unwieldy.
  • Been rereading some old reviews of Avatar, and just watched the fourth (and best!) Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As you might expect, this put me in mind of the La Leyenda Negra, and Spanish colonialism (because the Spanish in Pirates 4 are badass).

    I am reminded of a much worse bunch of colonialists, the English, dealing with the Indian custom of suttee (widow-burning). Charles James Napier said, in one of the most epic pwns in the history of international relations,
    "This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."
    The Spanish had a little custom, vis-à-vis human sacrifice, called "Carthago delenda est."
  • Lord knows I loves me the Haloz, but the fact is, the real Warthog is a long sight cooler than the UNSC's Jeep. Because the real Warthog is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, AKA "we put a plane on this gun", AKA "God's own anti-son of a bitch machine".

    Incidentally, the fact it's the Thunderbolt II is, I think, a reason to like the F-35—the Lightning II. The Hawg is named after a WWII fighter that excelled at close air support and ground attack; the F-35 is named after a WWII fighter also made by Lockheed, the Gabelschwanzteufel ("fork-tailed devil"). The Hawg's namesake was made by Republic, a component of its own maker, Fairchild-Republic.

    Still not so sure about halting orders for the F22, though—"air superiority" fighters are called that for a reason. Oh well, we are still getting a few; hope it's enough.
  • I realized, a great number of my style choices (style here meaning in the editing sense, not the artistic one per se) are because I write for the ear. Thus, I prefer to use italics for emphasis, rather than sentence structure, because you change the way you physically deliver the word, in speech, rather than changing the whole sentence around. It just sounds more natural.

    Huh, interesting, the unadorned prose style I favor, though in many ways the more modern, is actually less literary—in that it more closely approximates oral communication—than the older style. Does that represent progress or not?
  • Speaking of conforming writing to oral communication, people still appear confused by the fact that languages like English and French, which encode etymological as well as phonetic information in words' spellings, are actually better than your quaint "phonetic" spellings. Why?

    Two reasons. First off, you better hope to God all your sounds change uniformly, or your "phonetic" spellings will rapidly cease so to be. Korean got lucky, Classical Latin not so much—it was originally a highly phonemic alphabet, probably as much so as hangeul (it even marked vowel length, which hangeul doesn't). Look at all the various things that happened to the Latin C just by the time of Vulgate, originally a K sound in all positions (incidentally, Qu is a legitimate phonemic letter, as much as Korean's "ch" is; Kw is a separate sound in a lot of Indo-European languages, just as "tsh" {ish} is in Korean).

    Second, especially for a language like English, European, Australian, and American English are all spelled nearly the same: but they render almost shockingly few of their sounds the same way in speech. Actually in America it's worse; Southwestern American, like I speak, and Northeastern American, like my father's relatives speak, are probably almost as foreign to each other as either is to British English.

    An example of what you'd get, spelling each variety of English "phonetically", is readily apparent: Scots. Scots has essentially the same grammar as English (almost exactly the same as Southeastern American, e.g. inflecting verbs that follow auxiliaries, rather than putting them in the infinitive). But go read a few pages on the Scots language Wikipedia. Do you want to have to wade through that, if the product instructions or webpage you're dealing with happens to come from Australia?
  • Finally, you know how people always say science has shown man just how small he is, in relation to the cosmos? Yeah, well, by discovering that the cosmos is not infinite, and that light has a finite speed, science has actually shown man that the universe is much smaller than he thought.

    The main medieval astronomical texts, for instance the Almagest of Ptolemy, said that the Earth could be treated as a mathematical point—with no dimensions—relative to the scale of the heavens. Many medieval thinkers thought, you will recall, that the stars were windows in the celestial sphere that let in the light of the Empyrean, from beyond—and they thought that celestial sphere was infinite, the light reaching the Earth simply because they thought light's motion was instantaneous.

    It's comforting, isn't it, this cozy little universe revealed to us by science, compared to the infinite void we once believed ourselves to hang within?


Akajûji, Mô Hitori

("Once More, the Red Cross.")

Apparently the Red Cross symbol is not public domain. Oh, but it gets better. Turns out that using it without the permission of the International Red Cross is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

All those pre-2006 first-person shooters could result in trials in the Hague. Who knew?

The public-domain first aid symbol, by the way, is a white cross, on a green field, somewhat inaccurately known as a green cross. Its use is specified in ISO 7010.

It is perhaps needless to say that that's what the humans in my book use for med-kits (it actually comes up, there's a scene where the alien cop is binding wounds he gave a couple prisoners while subduing them, in a human hotel). And it would be the health-packs in a video game of the book, should such ever exist.

PS. Remember how I said the International Red Cross is not the same thing as the American one? Yeah, well, for example, the American Red Cross recognizes the existence and legitimacy of the Mogan David Adom (Red Star of David); the International one doesn't. Couldn't possibly be because the International Red Cross is actually the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, right?

Incidentally, there used to be a Red Swastika, too (it's a Buddhist symbol, and no, it doesn't matter which direction it rotates), but it's not really used much anymore. 'S too bad, that symbol needs to be more prominently reclaimed from Nazism; its legitimate uses predate the earliest references to Germanic languages.

Medics Just Make Them Feel Better...While They Die

Red vs. Blue reference.

So the International Red Cross (not the same thing as the American Red Cross) is apparently claiming that war crimes in video games can lead to real ones. I am not so stupid as to deny that play influences habit—why the hell do you think you evolved the capacity, you dumb ape?—but this feels bogus to me. First off, what war-crimes? The only one I can think of is that one of those series that used to be a World War II series but then set games in the modern (or next Sunday, AD) era, used to let you kill civilians without a consequence. And apparently some mouth-breathing drool-soaked halfwitted reprobates among their fanbase were mad that a later version made it impossible.

The other things the Red Cross asserts are war-crimes featured in games, are murdering POWs, torturing, and using weapons "that inflict unnecessary injury". Only, uh, what games are they talking about? There aren't a whole lot of games where you even take POWs, and I don't know of a single one where you torture anyone. As for unnecessary injury, there's a defined military standard for that: "Is the opposition neutralized, without excessive damage to civilians or infrastructure?" If the answer is yes, the injury was necessary. Yeah, I wouldn't want my bits blown off by a Bouncing Betty either, but then, I wouldn't want to die instantly and painlessly from a sniper-rifle headshot, either. As Tycho once said, "World War 2 was not some kind of Axis Vs. Allies bake-off."

Second off, though you could probably demonstrate a correlation, though not a strong one, between violent video games and a general callousness toward violence, the fact of the matter is that video game violence is not, generally, very realistic. Some more or less realistic blood splats around, and a ragdoll-physics dummy flops over. Bungie actually considered having the Needler's effects look realistic (guess what happens when seven crystal needles explode in someone's flesh), but decided against it, because it would be grotesque, detracting from the horrificness of the Flood, and would probably give Halo an AO rating. Even the games that do go a more graphic route (Team Fortress 2, for instance, and indeed the whole Half Life series) aren't very realistic. When someone gets blown to bits in TF2, or sliced in half with a giant antigravity-propelled saw blade in Half Life, it just looks like a GI Joe's been taken apart (and then splashed with strawberry Kool Aid). Real dismemberment is a lot messier than that, and many of the parts of the human body don't look quite the same without the other parts attached to them. Plus, most of them have things, and fluids, bundled up inside them: these are not generally depicted as flying out, even by the most violent of games.

Seriously: forget violent video games, even fans of torture-porn and slasher flicks (pretending there's still a distinction between those two) nevertheless lose their lunch at the scene of car accidents. There's a big difference between real life and any simulation, sorry, and between your inborn tendency to empathize with conspecifics and at least two millennia of cultural conditioning, nobody likes seeing that kind of thing. No, the main reason soldiers don't throw up, despite hacking or blasting each other to bits, is adrenaline. Being able to perform unauthorized modification to other life-forms' anatomy is a key part of the fight-or-flight response, and so adrenaline tends to suppress the mirror neurons that play a key role in your ability to empathize, mostly since empathizing with critters who want to kill you results in you getting killed. Thus, it's evolutionarily counter-indicated to remember that Russians love their children too, if a Russian's trying to make your children orphans. I'm sorry if that bothers you; maybe you should find some other planet's biosphere to be a member of.

On the other hand, I actually would be interested in FPS games incorporating a karma-type system, as I mentioned here. Reach has a little bit of one (you die if you kill a civilian in New Alexandria), and all the Halo games will have the computer-controlled characters attack you if you do enough team-killing, but it'd be cool if someone came up with a way to work that more fully into the overall story. A game where you don't just die for violating ROE, but where doing so affects (namely, impedes) your progress would be pretty cool. I don't know how well it'd sell, but it might appeal to the people (apparently a minority, have I told you lately that I hate you all?) who actually play through a game's story mode before hopping online to do some teabagging.

Incidentally, I fully endorse the Red Cross's hesitancy about having their logo on health packs in games, although not for their reasons (hey idiots, since you provide so much medical care on battlefields, you're already inextricably linked to war and violence; put yer big-girl pants on and deal with it). I endorse it because it forces game designers to get creative, that's why Reach and Combat Evolved Anniversary both had what appears to be a "hospital" symbol on theirs. Personally I think they should've put the Optican logo on there, but it doesn't exactly scream "health!".

Speaking of medical symbols, it is not a mistake that American medics use the caduceus of Hermes rather than the rod of Asclepius. The guy who first put the insignia on their uniform was classically educated, he knew what he was about. No, apparently he used the caduceus because it was the flag flown by merchant ships (Hermes being god of merchants), and thus meant "noncombatant!".

Huh, and here I thought it had something to do with Paracelsus, the Hermetic alchemist who invented modern pharmacology.



Short random thoughts. Which are likely to be snippy as well.
  • Why is it that the sort of person who calls others "sheeple" online, always leaves you with the vague impression that, to them, it might be fetish terminology, like "mpreg" or "shemale"?

  • Speaking of Ron Paul supporters (zing!), has anyone else met the subtype whose support for Paul seems predicated on hatred of America, and the "evil" we do worldwide? While I can't fault their reasoning—if America was evil, a President Ron Paul would be what it deserved—I must at least, in justice, call them a minority. Grievously mistaken as they may be, most Paulbots sincerely do think they have the country's best interests at heart.

  • My family just watched the Charlie Brown Christmas dealie, and you know, when Sally's making all her present-demands, and saying she just wants her fair share, she sounds just like Occupy Wall Street. Except of course that her voice is more mature.

  • I know I've said this before, but the only people who think "making you think" is noteworthy in an artwork or a deed, are people for whom it is a novel experience.

  • It is amusing to note that the Occupy people don't seem to know that there can't not be a top 1%, and, since equality is impossible when it comes to material goods (no, literally, even if you have the same quantities some will be made up of measurably inferior goods—this is a principle of metaphysics), that top 1% will always have a "disproportionate" amount of the resources.

  • I may have said this before, but the attitude Jeanne Kirkpatrick called "blame America first" (as evidenced by the probably-not-orthodox Paulbot, above), is actually Jingoism. "You can only believe that everything is your fault if you also believe that you are all-powerful"—(Gregory House). Also, the only explanation for their foreign-policy positions is a fundamental belief in their own immortality, or at least in their nation's indestructibility.

  • A further example of how WotC is unmoored from reality, as a corporation, is, 6 editions in (I think?), they finally have official elvish and dwarvish fonts. Do they have these for download on their website? Shit no. You gotta go to a completely unaffiliated forum, where some guy has made fonts of them, just from the goodness of his heart. It's free, but you gotta join the forum to download 'em. And oh yeah, WOTC itself mentions this fact in their own forums—"yeah, some unnamed SOB is providing you with a service we won't, here's the address."

  • As if that weren't bad enough, they named the dwarvish one "Davek", which, aside from being Cockney for Dethek (the Forgotten Realms dwarf script), is one letter different from "Dalek". So while I'm schlepping all over the interwebs, looking for a font it would've taken WotC 13 seconds to put up as a download, I also have to deal with that. No, Google, I did not mean "Dalek font", and I'm insulted by your suggestion I would.

  • Someone said, in a comment over at the darksome pit of time-waste that is I Can Has Cheezburger, that only Dr. Who fanboys and hipsters would get the joke in question. Those two things are virtually identical on this side of the pond, you know. (And no, ane-ue, just because you watch it doesn't make you a fangirl, fear not; you know as well as I do that it's a very stupid show.)

  • On the other side of the pond, they like it for the same reason they like the SA-80: it's what their vast unfeeling bureaucracy deigned to give 'em, and it wasn't made in America.

  • Incidentally, "Designed by the Incompetent; Issued by the Uncaring; Carried by the Unfortunate", the British grunt's joke about the SA-80, is actually a pretty good summary of Dr. Who, too.

  • With a little modification—"Written by the Illiterate; Produced by the Indifferent; Watched by the Indiscriminate"—you really get all TV SF since Farscape, with the partial exception of portions of Stargate shows (other than Universe). And even Farscape was actually fantasy (have I mentioned that the Peacekeepers are the Elven Imperial Navy?), so actually, "all TV SF since Babylon 5, with the partial exception of portions of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and the Stargate shows".

  • The Syphilis Channel was annoyed when people described Stargate Universe, before it aired, as "a soap opera for teenagers". Their response was to point out that most of the cast is in its 40s or 50s. Because obviously, it was the "for teenagers" part we objected to.

  • It is funny to me to read British people's descriptions of post-9/11 America. The quaint rustics actually think that event had any impact on our civil liberties outside of the airport. Did anyone remind them about the biggest newspaper in the country printing military secrets, at least once, and getting off without so much as a stern talking-to? Or how about how the dreaded PATRIOT Act merely lowers the standard of evidence necessary to procure a warrant, in a terrorism matter, from probable cause to reasonable suspicion?

  • Remember, London is perpetually decorated for the CCTV Day Parade (the Big Brother float is always the highlight of the festivities), and the traffic flow in key areas is, literally, based on medieval castle designs, in order to slow fleeing suspects (law-abiding people's convenience be damned). Why? Because of an IRA bombing that killed one person.

  • You think I'm nasty? I really am, if you don't think so you probably need to call someone because the people around you are severely skewing your readings. But you should see some of the stuff I don't say. Like I wanted to say, to the aforementioned America-hating Paulbot (which is still so weird), "I was going to ask how you choke down your hypocrisy, but actually I can guess how you practice." Or this Objectivist, who basically accused me of Rand's fumblefisted accidental pantheism, when I pointed out that God=existence (hey, I'm not the one identifying being with form), said something like "When I sleep with my wife, am I sleeping with God?" I said something rather rude, but what I wanted to say was, "No, you're committing statutory rape, because anyone who'd marry an Objectivist, given what you apes think about adultery, must be a full-blown retard."

    Are you horrified yet? The me you usually see is me when I do self-edit.

  • Finally, America is the greatest country in the world. So much the worse for the world. Seriously, France, Japan, Mexico, you gonna let these idiots show you up like that?


New Comments Policy

So I think I'm gonna go back to my old comments policy—you need to sign some kind of a name, but it doesn't need to be with an account. I dunno, maybe people weren't sure which accounts they had? It takes a bit of digging, for instance, to discover that your Blogger ID also counts as OpenID—and one honestly might not like one's comments on some ill-tempered geek's pop-culture-and-philosophy blog to lead back, automatically, to one's own blog.

I am changing one thing, though: I will never, no not ever, publish another truly anonymous comment (just writing "—Jim", or whatever, in the bottom, is fine, though). Anonymous commenters are dirtbags, little removed from banditry—and then the dumb apes act shocked when you treat them poorly. How the hell you think your reception'd be, showing up at a Q&A session in a mask?

One of the dumb apes, when I pointed out that commenting anonymously is strike one in the "we assume your good faith" department, actually said, "Right, because 'Sophia's Favorite' is your real name."

Sigh. No, you braindead chimp, I didn't say you had to use your real name; I said you had to use a name. I'm sure the distinction is very hard for you, what with that one adjective, and all.

Or to quote Tycho:
Accountability is crucial—you might recall our theory on the subject—and a fixed persona makes the laws of a microculture enforceable. But the idea that this persona must bear your actual name to lend it value (for you, or for others) is ludicrous.
Yes I did slightly change his formatting. Know what else? I've also translated all the Cardboard Tube Samurai comics into Japanese, and lemme tell you, Tycho's style does not take to languages without relative constructions.


Controversial Subjects

This is post 334. Which is a dystopian soft SF novel from 1972, and the highest score ever in test cricket.

Thoughts upon religion and politics.
  • So there was an article in First Things, that said that Ayn Rand was a philosophy n00b (my words, not theirs, of course) in part because of her upbringing as a Russian Jew. And some commenter, probably Jewish based on the way they said it, said that's not fair, because Rand went against Jewish philosophy, too.

    So she did, and I wouldn't want my culture to be blamed for Ayn Rand, either. But unfortunately, Rand's philosophy fail is nevertheless because of her background (though coming from the Soviet Union was a bigger factor). First off, Jews generally under-emphasize philosophy, especially in the era before the Holocaust; to this day Judaism doesn't really have a systematic theology (Kabbalah, even real Kabbalah rather than Madonna Kabbalah, is not systematic—and it's mystical theology, anyway, not natural, closer to Bernard of Clairvaux than Thomas Aquinas).

    Second off, Rand's philosophical shortcomings are very Jewish shortcomings, analogous to native-language interference in second-language acquisition. Her big error is to assert that "existence is identity". That's poppycock; not only would that imply that any word that can have a referrent must ipso facto have a real one (since "unicorn" refers to an identifiable thing, unicorns must exist), ultimately it's emanationist pantheism (existence is God, identity is the formal part—if identity=existence, every formal part is God). Now, Objectivism essentially consists of elevating the self, and one's identity (it has a sort of short-bus existentialist element), to the status of God; this fact may be said to follow from that basic error, but there's even more to it.

    The reason Rand made this mistake is—and if you read anything she wrote you'll come to this conclusion—she was not interested in metaphysics. No, her interest was ethics. That is something you always get with Jewish philosophers; the "hiccups" observable in Maimonides, who Rand is otherwise not worthy to appear in a paragraph with, are of the same origin. He wouldn't have identified Ha-Shem with the cosmos's formal part (accidentally becoming a pantheist, just as Rand did) had he not been so interested in discussing the Law in relation to Aristotle's conception of the Good—and he certainly wouldn't have said people should believe things they know to be false if it makes them behave themselves ("necessary truths", he called them). Virtually all Jewish thought for 3300 years has been ethical speculation, and Jewish thinkers, from worst to greatest (Rand to Maimonides, in other words), tend to do metaphysics with an ethics "accent". Maybe "Rand to Rambam", if you prefer alliteration and his Hebrew nickname doesn't confuse?

  • I was thinking about people who call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. It is, of course, but, uh, where's the cutoff point for calling a thing a Ponzi scheme? Because the "always need new investment", "if you're not growing, you're in trouble" thing about capitalism is also Ponzi schemish, if you think about it.

    Then again, all of human life is a Ponzi scheme, and actually all life, and indeed all coherent physical existence whatsoever. Why? Second Law of Thermodynamics. If you don't keep inputting energy, entropy takes over. The universe is one vast sucking void of nonbeing into which must be poured a continuous stream of multitudinously varied sacrifices, lest it suck us up.

    And that's your cheery thought for the day.

  • Did you know that the radicalization and incivility of our politics is because both parties' primaries are based on a popular vote? I know, sounds crazy—"Things would be less partisan if the party leadership nominated the candidates, rather than the members."

    But think. Who has the highest voter turnout? No, not old people. Crazy people. Since the people who are most ardent in their views are the most likely to vote in a party's primary, their candidates are the ones who get nominated.

    Then again, I'm not sure I mind partisanship. The fact the two parties don't like each other is a long sight better than how Britain was, pretty much up through Thatcher, with two parties that could've completely swapped platforms and candidates without anyone actually noticing. Read the political writing of Chesterton or Belloc; I forget which of them described parliamentary elections as being, like the Boat Race, between two teams in different shades of the same color.

    Yeah, idiots who don't understand that voting third party is political masturbation like to assert that the two US parties are interchangeable, but again: we know what that would look like, and it does not exist in this country.

  • Speaking of, does anyone else get a colossal kick when Ron Paul supporters call other Republicans RINOs? Because apparently isolationism and defense-slashing is authentic Republicanism. Also, apparently, a confederalist interpretation of states' rights. You know. The Republican Party. The "Party of Lincoln". Big on states' rights, hated involving the US military in anything, that Lincoln, right?

    Ron Paul is the RINO, actually. Point by point, that man is a Democrat. Specifically a Dixiecrat, David Duke endorsement and everything. Anti-Communism, based around a "proactive" approach to foreign policy, has been the cornerstone of Republicanism in this country since at least the Class of '46 (when the GOP, including one Joe McCarthy, took Congress). And it was support for those foreign policy positions that created the Reagan or "Blue Dog" Democrats in the '80s.

    But no, Paulbots, tell me again how non-interventionist Reagan was.

  • Do you think the people at UbiSoft understand that making the Templars the villain of your game means something very different outside France? See, in France, the Templars are the grassy knoll in Dallas, or the Roswell incident; every conspiracy theory has to involve them, and putting them in something pretty much means "this is tinfoil hat nonsense, not to be taken seriously".

    But seriously, the number of Americans who seem to think Assassin's Creed represents an even partially not-bullshit portrayal of that order? Yeesh. The dude who writes those "Extra Credits" videos on Penny Arcade's site, for instance, is not noticeably mentally disabled, but he seemed to disapprove that Dante's Inferno has Dante dressed like a Templar. I mean, sure, Dante was actually a Franciscan (tertiary), but uh, you do know the chief historical fact about the Templars is they all got murdered by their own king, right?

    Again, the Knights Templar were the first people in Europe to definitively rule that the Peace of God's protections for noncombatants extended to infidels. The Peace of God, incidentally, was also the first attempt on Earth to put some teeth in battlefield ethics. Let's ask the children and old people who were murdered in the Hagia Sofia in 1453, just so their mothers, daughters, and grown sisters could be raped and sold into slavery, what the Turkish view on noncombatants was, hmm? Yeah, similar things were done, on a much smaller scale, in 1207 when the Latins sacked the city, but that sparked an outcry in the attackers' own homelands. The Turks? Yeah, that was just how they paid their soldiers.

  • You know how people in the media always act like controversy is always good, and that if you complain about their show, it'll only benefit them?

    Tell it to Bill Donohue. If your thing is anti-Catholic, the Catholic League will get your advertisers to jump ship, or simply get people to boycott your film. They are, for instance, almost the sole reason there will be no sequels to the Golden Compass movie (please, just because it sucked ass never stopped a studio before). A couple of shows that crossed them actually lost advertisers so fast the studios that made them were the only things putting on ads, which is called "losing money" in English. Heard of a little show called Nothing Sacred? No?


    Incidentally, they're actually not that crazy, certainly not compared to the Anti-Defamation League. I can only think of once that they've overreacted, and I've been reading their newsletter since 1998, and their website, daily, since 2003. They misinterpreted one line from the episode of the X-Files with the snakes and the two churches.

    Yes, I remember that, from, what, 12 years ago? Understand, if you are wrong about anything, ever, I will remember it for the rest of my life. Unfortunately my own errors are the same way; bullshit I said in third grade still haunts me.

  • It's always funny to me how people think the His Dark Materials series isn't that anti-Catholic. The villains are a religious group called "the Magisterium". Thought experiment: if your villain is a military organization called "the Pentagon", are you actually so brim-full of bullshit as to deny it's a slam on the US military?

    Then again, I don't blame Pullman, or for that matter Dawkins or Hitchens, for being unpleasant little bigot-shits. Their wholly unwarranted condescension, coupled with historical and philosophical illiteracy, is a long sight better than how their kind used to try to get you to change your religion (it involved forced famine and mass terror-rape, remember?).

  • Speaking of Dawkins, does anyone else find it funny that Dawkins and P. Z. Myers, the only two actual scientists in the "New Atheism", have only published papers in, respectively, beekeeping and aquarium fancy? Biology is the cutoff-point to be a hard science, only one step up from the social sciences (and they're not exactly in the hard parts of biology, either—Dawkins, remember, as a "behavioral entomologist", is actually an ethologist, so he's practically a social scientist anyway).

  • You know that whole "we lost the thing, it sure was great"? People say it about Firefly, and JFK? Yeah, apparently Korea's last empress, who's been the subject of hagiographic plays and movies and books and miniseries, was despised when she was actually alive. Mainly she opened the country to foreign influences, but she was also real scary in palace intrigues, having her husband's mistresses tortured to death on witchcraft charges, for instance. Apparently the Koreans tried to kill her more often than the Japanese did.

    The whole era, too, actually; the Joseon era, that was brought to an end by the Japanese annexing the country, is understandably looked back on as a golden age, but it was kinda the Dung Ages, in real life. A Neo-Confucian ideological state (it's entirely appropriate that North Korea still calls itself Joseon, only the ideology is different), the specific version of Neo-Confucianism was like some anti-Orientalist caricature. Social class was absolute, Buddhism and shamanism were ruthlessly persecuted (in large part so the landowners could loot the monasteries, gee where have we seen that before?), and something like 40% of the population were nobi (slaves). Also, the state had a system of tax-funded brothels, staffed by slave-girls, to cater to its troops—not even in its worst periods did the Tokugawa Shogunate do that.

    I think I've mentioned how bad the Joseon military was? Yeah, well, you needed the approval of a high-ranked officer to even mobilize troops, even if you could see the enemy marching up to your walls, and the officers might be in the provincia capital. With 16th-century communications, yeah, Hideyoshi caught them flat-footed a lot, when he invaded. When they finally did get mobilized, the Koreans kept losing, because actual battlefield experience was almost considered a detriment to an officer. And when the Chinese came to help them, the Chinese troops (who got paid by body-count) actually killed more Koreans than Hideyoshi's men did. But the Koreans had a huge festival in their honor anyway, where the Joseon King performed worship of the Ming Emperor.

    On the other hand, given all that, Admiral Yi, who seriously impeded Hideyoshi at sea, is actually more impressive.

Wherever It Lies...

"Wherever it lies, under earth or over earth, the body will always rot."—Plotinus, Enneads
The juxtaposition just pleased me, Neo-Platonism being remarkably similar to Buddhism.

Anyway, 天上天下唯我独尊 ("Tenjô tenge yui ga doku son") is usually translated as "between Heaven and Earth, I alone am holy", but there is no "I" in it. It actually means "Over or under heaven, [there is] one [thing] holy, [a] single [thing] venerable."

It's actually just a quite orthodox assertion of the Buddhist teaching of non-duality, the extreme form of monism that even denies logical negation (because not-A is just a category of thought-in-relation-to-A, not a reality in its own right). In non-duality, only a singular entity can be said to have an absolutely real existence; since the entity in question is essentially identical with the Monad and Absolute of Greek philosophy, which are both Aquinas' Actus Subsistens Essendi (God), it makes sense to say that that one, single thing is holy and venerable.

It has nothing to do with asserting "the divine within" since, what with the teaching of anatman or the non-self (but literally the non-soul—"atman" is the Sanskrit equivalent of "anima"), there is no "within".

Most people in Japan are vaguely aware that Buddhism uses the phrase in a different context from how the phrase is used dramatically. The "worship me" version comes from a Sengoku warlord; I wanna say Uesugi Kenshin, who claimed to be an avatar of Bishamonten, a Buddhist god revered in Japan as the god of war.

And yes, there are Buddhist gods, and they're not the same thing as Buddhas. Actually in Vajrayana Buddhism being reborn as a god is considered in the same category as being reborn deaf and blind, since it makes it much more difficult to advance toward enlightenment.


Stuff I Been Thinkin' Of

Hóunoih móuhgin*.

Random thoughts.

  • There's a manga called Lost Seven. I haven't read much of it, it seems like pretty standard fare, but I just love its basic conceit. Why?

    Basically, "Snow White and the Seven Samurai".

    Oh yes.

  • So remember how the Elvish language for the D&D setting I was doing uses Proto-Uralic roots and the grammar of Tibetan? Well it does, even if you don't remember.

    Anyway I finally decided that for my Dwarvish I'll use Proto-Vasconic (Basque) and the grammar of Chinese. Mandarin, probably, Cantonese is actually remarkably hard to set up, considering its an isolating language.

    It's really too bad so little Proto-Vasconic vocabulary has been reconstructed. And apparently modern Basque having 101 words for "butterfly" is not an aberration, the reconstructed proto-language has a lot of roots dealing with bugs. What are they, Japanese nine-year-old boys?

  • Incidentally, people need to stop pretending Basque is hard to pronounce. It's easy to pronounce. No, what's hard about Basque is its ergative grammar.

    Huh, Tibetan has that too. Is there something about living in the mountains that makes you like ergativity?

    Then again most of the Native American languages that have it don't seem to be spoken by mountaineers, so probably not. And seriously, what is it with this hemisphere, that so many of its languages are ergative-absolutive? I think the only place with a higher concentration of that structure is Australia (those languages actually are hard to pronounce, some of 'em that I've looked up, I don't even know how to go about making those sounds—I do not think my tongue can move that way).

    Further weirdness, I don't think there's a single ergative language in Africa. Lemme check. Apparently something called Shilluk, spoken by one of the Christian peoples of South Sudan, is ergative. And that's it.

  • Interestingly, Welsh, though it doesn't stack consonants anywhere near as much as Slavic or Indic languages (let alone Caucasian ones), is, actually, pretty hard to pronounce. It's apparently one of very few European languages with that unvoiced lateral L (the one it writes "ll"); trying to learn Welsh in my misspent youth is probably why the only thing I find hard to pronounce about Navajo is the tone. Didja know it's also in Taishan dialect Cantonese? Yeah.

    Welsh also has unvoiced nasals, which are one of Satan's most insidious inventions. Fortunately the forces of good have managed to contain their evil—they are all freaking rare, seriously, look 'em up in Wikipedia sometime. Half the time the list for "voiceless (whatever) nasal" has, in its list of language-examples, "Welsh, Burmese, Yupik". And that's it.

  • The worst language to have to learn—and its speakers had the decency to keep it secret—was, apparently, Damin, a ceremonial language from Australia that, apparently, uses every single possible airstream mechanism, except implosive. That is, it uses pulmonic egressive, velaric ingressive, glottalic egressive, pulmonic ingressive, and velaric egressive. I don't blame you if you don't know what those mean (breathing out, like normal; pulling air in through where "K" and "G happen; pushing air out through where "H" happens; breathing in like normal—except while producing speech-sounds; and pushing air out through where "K" and "G happen)—most human speech never uses any airstream mechanisms but pulmonic egressive, and one only occasionally meets glottalic ingressives (no idea what those are) and lingual ingressives (tongue clicks).

    It's not only the only click language outside Africa, it's also, apparently, a conlang. Now, the folks who speak it (the Lardil and Yangkaal) believe a mythological being came up with it in the dreamtime, whereas the anthropologists think it was tribal elders, but either way, that language was devised. Just because Aulë is a Vala doesn't change the fact he, personally, came up with Dwarvish.

  • And just now, having been reminded of Aulë, and Oromë, Valar who made the Dwarves and found the Elves, respectively, did you know that the Elvish equivalent of Terpsichore is Nielíqui, daughter of Oromë and Vána?

    Terpsichore is my favorite of the Muses, though I can't dance particularly. It's interesting, by the way, that she's also Apollo's favorite—Apollo, remember, shares an origin with Shiva (Rudra and Apaliunas were considered equivalent gods by the proto-Hindus and Hittites who signed the Mitanni treaty). Shiva's aspect of Nataraja ("Dancing King"), anyone?

  • Interestingly, though the Mitanni spoke Hurrian, apparently their horsemanship terminology all came from Indic. Which, I mean, makes sense, their rulers having been Indic invaders and the leaders of all Indo-Europeans being cavalry warriors.

    Incidentally, Apaliunas was the special patron of a city-state called Wilusa. The reason that's significant is that Wilusa was also called Truwisa, and was sacked by the Ahhiyawa, possibly during the reign of one Piyamaradus, who had a son called Alaksandu. That is, Ilion, or Troy, beloved of Apollo, was sacked by the Achaeans, because of its prince Alexandros (better known by his nickname "Paris"), son of Priam.

  • On a similar note, you know how ancient Near Eastern monarchs called themselves "Great King", to distinguish themselves from all the little kinglets here and there (did you know the Latin word "rex" only means "chieftain"?). Later they had to specify "Great King of Kings".

    What's interesting about all that is, "Maharaja" and another title I just found out about, "Maharajadhiraja". Hindi, to this day, still uses a pattern in titles that was first established among the Hittites 3600 years ago. That is frickin' awesome.

  • Speaking of the airstream mechanisms of Damin, you think parrots' weird voices are because birds default to breathing in, not out? Seriously, talk while inhaling: don't you sound like a parrot?

    Which reminds me, people are sissy-pants when it comes to conlangs for aliens. Okrand thinks giving Klingon the phonics of Tlingit makes him a big man? Please, take yer training bra off and give it click consonants that don't have an IPA letter. You know, unless you're scared, or something.