Droppin' the Dreary Science

In which I school those who favor drug legalization, with an economic argument.

So, basically, the reason drugs are illegal is they're addictive. But it's really not because being an addict is beneath the dignity of a free man, making its victim a slave to a mere chemical; no, it's much simpler (the preservation of human dignity being only a happy side-effect). Addictive substances are illegal because they render their victims incapable of making rational economic choices.

There is, you see, a rational limit to the law of supply and demand. That limit is, when one charges more than is reasonable for an actual (not an economic) necessity. If there is a drought, and you have a water monopoly, and you charge me as much as you think I can possibly afford, you know what happens? I'll steal the water, that's what happens; you stand a good chance of dying in the process. This isn't the case with non-necessities, because "I'll die if I don't" is not a factor in that equation.

But addiction, well, addiction puts a person in a state where they will—or feel like they will—die. And so they're willing to kill and steal for drugs. The legality of the substance has no effect on the willingness of junkies to commit crimes to get it. Certainly legalizing it would probably reduce the incidence of crimes by drug-dealers—but licensing assassins' guilds would reduce the incidence of hitmen murdering witnesses, wouldn't it? "Laws create crime" is a stupid argument.

It's funny to me that libertarians so often favor drug legalization, generally on the basis of economic arguments vis-a-vis the "War on Drugs". But hey idiots, economics deals only with the "rational actor", and an addict isn't one. Your obsession with "consenting adults": yeah, again, people under the influence of psychotropic substances can't give legal consent. You see the problem? The thing at the basis of all your arguments is destroyed by the very thing you're arguing in favor of.

Oh, and alcohol? Yeah, all these objections apply to alcohol; we just grandfather it in because of tradition. Though then again, mankind has had 40-60 centuries to work the kinks out of how it copes with alcohol—and look how problematic it still is. "One mildly addictive substance causes all these problems, let's legalize some that are much worse"—the only position that is an argument for is disenfranchising the person who makes it.


On Technology, Science, and Prosthetic Learning

Apparently we really ought to call "algebra" bijaganita, since that's its name in Sanskrit, and they're the people who invented it as a separate field. I mean, as long as we're randomly borrowing names, as if the field wasn't well-known in the West (really everyone whose math is more advanced than simple arithmetic does algebra all the time). The Europeans adopted the Arabic name for it because of the work the Arabs were doing with it...but the Arabs got most of it from the Indians.

What's less well-known, I think, is that the last eight or so of Euclid's books are very seldom touched on in our mathematics; I don't have the background to judge but I've heard he actually had a sort of prototype calculus. So did some of the Hindu mathematicians.

What's always bizarre, to me, is when people actually contrast the architecture of the New World favorably with that of Europe. I have the utmost admiration for the social organization of the great American civilizations (Olmecs, Maya, various "Teca" peoples, the mound-builders, and the Inca), though a lot of it was accomplished through Prussianist or even Stalinist measures; my admiration for their art and philosophy has no such reservations; but their architecture is just not impressive. Do you know what a Mesoamerican "pyramid" (really a ziggurat) basically is? It's a pile of rocks. Yes, the rocks are cut very neatly, and arranged quite efficiently; there is certainly know-how involved in hauling them up there to make the thing so tall. But do you really mean to compare the tiny little stone temples at the tops of those pyramids, however big the pile of blocks it's sitting on, to Notre Dame de Paris or St. Peter's Basilica?

The New World lacked the wheel except on toys—and I'll concede that the lack of horses was a factor, but they also didn't have dog-carts or rickshaws, and that's just odd. More, they lacked the arch; those Maya lintel-doorway thingies aren't even close. The dome, the great achievement of Roman architecture? Forget about it.

All these thoughts were occasioned, in part, by someone saying something about how Firefly's setting just assumes society won't change. He's right—I have complained of that myself—but then he said that technology changes culture, even such factors as average intelligence. Though I won't deny that tech can have an effect, he seemed to be implying that technology can make people smarter.

As they say in these barbarous environs, lolwhat? It took a lot more intelligence just to do bookkeeping in the Middle Ages; if you don't believe me, I dare you to compute your income taxes this year using Roman numerals instead of Hindu-Arabic ones. Our math is not a sign of greater intelligence, a superior science; it is an algorithm, that is a technology. As I said before, all technology, all civilization in general, functions to remove greatness from the equation. If anything, technology would change society by making the average person dumber—by letting the average person be dumber. My dad's a math teacher, ask him what effects calculators have had on his students' knowledge of, oh, say, fractions.

The fascinating thing is, in a rightly-ordered society, this would all be to the good. I may be a snob but I'd rather have everyone be able to understand me when I talk; even I like people too much to want them to think I'm talking gibberish. If we could really put technology at people's fingertips to explain concepts or define words mentioned in conversation, I know I'd spend a lot less time backtracking when I talk to people. But in order for it to work at all, for such a thing to sell, people have to understand that it's bad not to understand things—and, instead of just, first, feeling bad, and second, ignoring the thing they don't understand so they won't feel bad again, they should want to understand things.

And I really think our culture has just given up on that idea. Why? Really, shouldn't something like I mentioned, that'll define words and concepts in real-time, be as uncontroversial as artificial legs or eyes? Ignorance is a disability; it should be compensated for like any other. Why are so many people content to lie around, intellectually speaking, until they get mental bedsores?


On the Passing Scene III

Random thoughts. Mainly concerning my recent interweb searches.
  • I had previously assumed there aren't any good anime out this season—by which I mean in Japan. I watch shows streamed, and then if they come out here I buy them (looking forward to Needless, by the way—think it's out around Valentine's Day, which is just wrong).

    But seriously, what was I smoking? Aside from this season having the second half of Star Driver, there's Dream Eater Merry (which, if I had to describe it, would be "Mayoi Neko Overrun meets Shakugan no Shana") and Kore wa Zombie Desu ka (which is, um, actually Mayoi Neko Overrun again, but this time crossed with Monster/Resurrection Princess).

    Anything where a dismembered zombie asks a girl, "Could you bring my lower half over?" and she calls him a pervert, is okay by me.

  • Turns out I wasn't looking in the right places for criticism of Firefly. You know who'll give that show the business? Asian Americans. It's not hard to see why: mangled, inaccurate Chinese, the trappings of various Asian institutions without their essence, the lack of any speaking parts played by, y'know, Asians, and, oh yeah, Inara.

    I have discussed Inara, the Mandarin swearing, and the treatment of things like Buddhism more than adequately. But the casting really is somewhat problematic, and it's odd I hadn't noticed. But then again, given how he handles female characters (that just sounds wrong), Whedon could not be trusted to have an Asian character as anything other than a token. He can write blacks, indeed Book and Zoe are two of his better characters, but the thing about black Americans is, they're culturally Anglo. I've never seen him demonstrate even basic competency with any non-Anglo culture.

  • You know what? Sinoviet, in Halo, is not only less orientalist than Firefly, it's better cultural setting, too. It's a jointly owned company, I suspect, involving China and Vietnam, hence the name—and it makes heavy machinery, including, apparently, frigates like the Grafton, the Savannah, and the Forward unto Dawn, if the hologram in front of their offices is any indication.

    Apparently they never got rid of state-ownership there (does China have "design bureaus" the way the Soviets did, or is it more a mercantilist model?), which is admittedly somewhat plausible (state industry has a longer pedigree in the Sinosphere than, well, anywhere).

    And that office building, in Reach, is decorated like how such a building might well be decorated—apart from the question of whether they're okay with the royalist implications of the dragons on the fountain.

  • In my SF books, I have a bunch of Japanese and Korean characters, and many of them are members of revived samurai and hwarang classes. But I go into the history of the revival, a little, and they act like actual samurai (though their code incorporates some of the Strictures of the Shinsengumi, to keep dueling to a minimum), not Hollywood samurai. They were, in part at least, originally a less orientalist iteration of the "street samurai" in cyberpunk.

    And, me being the anime maniac (not otaku, thank you very much) that I am, they're based on certain individual Japanese tropes and character types—i.e., they're individuals. I've got a tsundere and a lazy, droopy-eyed smartass and a scholar-nerd with weird hobbies (who's taken a vow of non-harming!) and a yojimbo who talks existentialism mixed with Zen, while challenging people to fights a lot. The two main Koreans, both hwarang, are something of a screwup, and his twin sister, a prim, proper, professional, but also somewhat shy and naive heiress...who's also a shaman (Buddhism, and therefore also Shamanism, had a revival). I don't think any of those things is particularly orientalist, do you?

    God, it's almost like if you know something about a culture you're not reduced to writing stereotypes of its members. Counter-intuitive, I know.

  • On a related front, Whedon said Marvel's angst-wankers were better than DC's characters because, quote, "they're more identifiable". Maybe it's just my Czech hysterical streak, or maybe it's my anxiety disorder (who knows if those are related), but I'm prone to angst myself. Why the hell would I want to read about that?

    I think, Whedon being only semi-literate and all, that he's made a fundamental error. Two, actually. One, DC's characters are plenty identifiable, they're just also somewhat idealized. I've never heard of audiences being unable to relate to idealized characters, but then, I'm acquainted with more than 3 decades of literature. And two, people aren't really reading comic books to see the psychological exploration of "identifiable" (because they suck just as much as you do, apparently) characters. People read comics to see awesome people do cool shit.

    If that has managed to evade Whedon's notice, I fear there is really no help for him.

  • So the German military use of Jäger intrigues me; it, like French chasseur, basically means "rifleman". Probably because most of the early ones were just some woodsmen that some bright officer realized were probably pretty good shots. Is that Jeff Cooper's ghost I see, saying "told you so"? I think it is.

    But it occurs to me: doesn't that mean the USMC are the biggest Jäger unit ever fielded?

  • Speaking of Jäger, the unit 901-ATT "Gespenst Jäger" in Pumpkin Scissors is a neat idea, but there's already a name for that kind of unit. They're called Forlorn Hope (from Dutch for "Lost Massed-troops"). Apparently the French army gave officer commissions to anyone who survived.

    How about 901-ATT "Gespenst Pusch"—a trench warfare "push" is essentially a forlorn hope tactic. Their war was kinda WWI-y anyway, and the 901st aren't really Jäger anyway. Their gun isn't really a rifle.


Doctor Angelicus

...Aquinas' Latin title sure sounds like a Comic Book character, huh? Some benign mad scientist, or something?

That was his teacher, though, Albertus Magnus. Anyway, the Angelic Doctor has given me a quote that, had I not already decided how I want this blog to look, would probably be its motto—since its two subjects are philosophy and geekdom.

The quote (I don't know where it's from):
Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.


Third in a Day

In which I dispense with Ayn Rand once and for all.

So not only does her ethics consist of absolute extremism, and her metaphysics lack a form/matter distinction (also her argument for abortion deliberately neglects the proper interpretation of potency and act); if you finally wanted to put paid to her claims to be an Aristotelian, how about this:
It is obvious that the solutions of plots too should come about as a result of the plot itself, and not from a contrivance
—Aristotle, Poetics
Has, um, anyone ever read an Ayn Rand book?


Number Eight

So, eight this month. Guess 2011 is shaping up to be like 2010, in the "me blogging too much" department. I had a few thoughts.
  • So, as you know, I have posited that the English are the authors of all evil ideologies of the modern era. It's true (or I wouldn't have said it): both Rousseau and Marx were influenced by contemporary English nonsense. Indeed, the English invented non-Marxist socialism, or at least had its most effective proponents (the term was coined in France); meanwhile the French invented the free market, as the term laissez-faire might suggest. As would a basic knowledge of the economic positions of the Jacobins.

    Of course, point out that England has done precious little good since before the Hundred Years War—except founding America, which quite rightly rebelled against its abusive psychopathic mother country—and you'll immediately get a bunch of people arguing that whole, individualism, not-responsible-for-sins-of-ancestors, thing.

    Well, huh. First off, the modern English are just as bad if not worse (an amusing thing to point out is, the only decisions their government has made since the 13th century that weren't purely selfish, have been going to war in Belgium in 1914, and in Iraq in 2003). Second off, this merely confirms my suspicion that individualism is quite frequently the same thing as "plausible deniability". Basically, apparently, if you can manage to stay unpunished for your rapes and mass-murders till you die, and manage to leave your ill-gotten goods to your heirs, you're home free. They'll never be called to account.

  • So Pumpkin Scissors is pretty cool, the manga anyway. It's darn lucky it's got the disclaimer about "this has no bearing on real militaries", 'cause, flamethrower-guy. See, they banned flamethrowers (accurately described as being designed for defoliant use) because people were using them on soldiers. But, flamethrowers essentially have no real anti-personnel use; their only purpose aside from defoliant is psychological, like Dragon's Breath ammo. A flamethrower is monstrously impractical as anything other than a scare tactic ("Oh crap they're throwing fireballs")—unless one was going to be like Henry V (of England, what a surprise) and posit that "War without burning is like beef without mustard". But that's mainly only useful against buildings. Flamethrowers can be and have been used against personnel, and anyone who does that should be shot, but it's not practical to do it very often, so there'd be no point to banning them and doing without their defoliant and psychological benefit.

    Other than that, though, it's awesome; I especially like the part where the Lieutenant tells those peasants, "Being poor doesn't justify murder. You're hiding behind your position just as much as those nobles are." Could you even put that in something American? I'm pretty sure Hollywood would have you murdered in your sleep, for questioning victim-politics like that. And please remember, Japan's communist party is actually viable.

  • So, in my writing, I tend to think of characters as having classical (which here means "public domain instrumental", just like at the music store) themes. I don't know why. It's Tite Kubo's fault I assign my characters themes, though.

    For instance, the felinoid cop who's one of my SF book's main protagonists, has, as one of his themes, the Russo-Turkish War song "Grom Pobedy Razdavaisya" ("Let Victory's Thunder Sound"); their emperor's is "God Save the Tsar". When he acts like a dork, for instance when he's sneaking cookies to his future wife's little sister (against the older girl's wishes, since she's a doctor and a busybody), his theme is still "God Save the Tsar"...but played on kazoo. The felinoids' spaceship-battle theme is the Napoleonic march "La Victoire Est En Nous".

    That pseudo-Hermetic guy who wants to upload his mind has, as his theme, the Sorcerer's Apprentice. See, the story it refers to has to do with a golem, not a broom, and the "sorcerer" was actually a Baal Shem Tov. And, of course, all of that is Kabbalah: which is Hermetic. He also does something with nanomachines that's very "accidentally forgetting to have the golem Shabbas-Goy stop pouring water"-esque, except intentional. Yes I mean gray goo; the question is why. Read it and find out, O King.

    One of the vampires in my second dark fantasy has the final scene (scène finale) from "Swan Lake" as her theme; the little girl vampire she works with has "the little swans" as her theme. The villain-vampire from that has "Infernal Dance of Koschei the Deathless" from Stravinsky's Firebird as his theme.

    On the other hand, though, all my characters also have rock themes; the felinoid cop-guy's theme is "Judgment Day" by Whitesnake, his gunrunner pal's theme is "Heaven" by Warrant.

  • I decided to change the felinoid cop's love-interest's last name; before it was "Chester", now it's something like "Horse-breeder", though the things they ride are more like horse-sized Cape Hunting Dogs. So something like Stallone or Cavalli or Rossmann or Stoddard or Pullen or Coulter (weird, Ann Coulter and Sylvester Stallone have the same last name).

    I decided to give their guns the names of their designers; since it was added in later I haven't had a chance to change it so I can mention that the inventor of one of them wasn't in that craft-association (basically guild, but not exactly). See, the way their system works, if some schmoe comes up with some invention that relates to a "guild", he can either sell it to them and get royalties for the rest of his life, or else he can use the invention as a "masterwork" and be made a full member (though, y' know, probably with, like, an orientation, or something).

  • Speaking of their crafts, I thought an interesting cultural setting tidbit would be, since they're a militocracy, the names of their crafts are all the military aspect of the discipline. They're not state-run at all (each craft sets its own rules, the state only gets involved when someone breaks them), but all the Romance languages basically use late Roman military jargon as their vocabulary. So, for instance, the IT and communications people are Signalers, doctors are Medics, etc.

  • On a related note, I just know (I have come to anticipate your stupid antics, you bunch of lemurs) that someone's going to give me some half-baked 8th-grade civics lecture about the fact their government's posts are for life (or, you know, till retirement, unless they screw up enough to be removed). But, I reply, the only things their government does are military, law enforcement, and adjudication; their state is just cops, soldiers, and judges, all of which, last I checked, were permanent posts here, too.

    And yeah, basically, each community sets its own laws; the officials just enforce them. Direct democracy functions because (A) they're voting by household, not individually; the unmarried don't have the vote because they're not entirely legal adults, and (B) the state has the principle Catholics call subsidiarity firmly in place. The check on the possibility of communities making bad laws is that roughly 5/7 of their society is one religion, and virtually all of them accept approximately a common morals. So any law that violates that religion or morality in general is struck down. Is that a better system than your precious, precious judicial review? I don't know; all I'll say is, there is no "penumbra" of the Catechism, from which politically convenient "rights" may be said to emanate.

  • So remember how I said that that other species, the fuzzy dromaeosaurs, thinks of its economy as working by gift even when it doesn't? Well, here's what I meant. In most gift economies, whether they be medieval Norse or 19th century Polynesian, the feast as a social function where gifts are given is vital. The way these guys work is, instead of state staff or private dependents ("employees", though their property is held by clans rather than corporations, and they're often distantly related to their bosses) getting salaries, they're given "gifts" by their employers, at their regular mealtimes. Which, yes, is just a salary, really, but it evolved differently.

De Romanicorum Physicalium

Yeah, so I had some thoughts on SF writing. What, the title? It's Latin for "On Scientific Romance". I said before, if you can't say it in Latin, why bother to say it at all? For your reference, "science" in Latin is "physica" ("scientia" means "knowledge" in general, Wikipedia). Which, incidentally, makes SF, as such, "Romanice Physicalis".
  • So I decided the IMF Special Drawing Rights currency of my future is based on the relative purchasing power of individual countries, relative to a "basket" of commodities. Basically, what it means (sort of) is that, instead of the yen being weaker than the dollar being weaker than the euro, Japan has less purchasing power than the US has less than the EU. Which, incidentally, is how it works now; this really just streamlines the process.

    At least I think so. Money was complicated enough when it was based on metals; now, when it's based on fiat (which actually means that governments back their legal tender with "face") it's basically fricking magic. And remember, when I say something is magic, that I own the Corpus Hermeticum.

  • So I decided that, given my setting has the UN as a world government (it's basically a confederacy), the Peacekeepers are its armed forces. The national militaries have troop obligations to the PK—known as "Papa Kilo"—and form "national cadres" within it. The standard PK weapon is a bullpup version of the Kalashnikov, like Poland's Karabinek wz. 2005 Jantar, except the 24th century version uses caseless, electronically-fired rounds in 6.8x43 mm. I figured, you know, the UN would want to standardize on something durable and simple, and the AK is certainly that.

    Given their military structure and equipment, I trust you can guess what the Peacekeepers' rank-structure and insignia are.

    Now, some of those "national cadres" also field some more traditional units; the three that've come up are the Sikhs (in the Punjab region of India), the Gorkhas (in a different region of India, and Nepal, and related regions), and the US Marines. They tend to use their own equipment in addition to, or in lieu of, the PK-issue; Gorkhas use kukris instead of PK combat knives, and Marines use the bullpup AR idea I've been boring you all with. All three of those groups mostly come up in scenes where the aliens mention there are some humans who are worth a damn. India and the US have several space-colonies, see, though the latter's are mostly Spanish-speaking (the US is bilingual by this time).

  • Examples of how to do things differently: my felinoid aliens have no concept of the supernatural. It's not that they're not religious; they are (they've got three normal religions and some tiny illegal death-cults), and they've also got a group of psionics-users. It's just, as far as they can tell, all the stuff gods, ghosts, angels, and God do, are completely within their nature; so your silly "natural/supernatural" distinction is entirely arbitrary. On a related note they call science "physical studies", metaphysics "spiritual studies", and theology "divine studies". Which last, well, so do we, if you think about it.

    They also never really had an atomic theory until they observed wave-particle duality; prior to that, "particles" were conceptualized as being discrete degrees of whatever they impart (charge, mostly, at that point). So, yeah, they actually had quantum theory before atomic theory. Fun, huh?

    Their science is mostly done by their monks, as it was in the Middle Ages, and monks are supposed to be humble. So I have to come up with descriptive names for all the things our scientists give their names to. It's not "Casimir effect", for instance, it's "vacuum gap effect". Really you ought to do something like that for any aliens; at least slap some alien's name on it. It irritates me when aliens call it, you know, Hawking radiation: at least call it "Shligaforf radiation", or whatever. My felinoids call it "actualization radiation", by the bye.

  • I mentioned about the measurements, and the colonials using the radio-names of the alphabet (I think because of the need to be clear over radio). Did I mention they also use the Greek radio alphabet? Did you know there is one? Well there is.

    So the second book, for instance, taking place in orbit of γ Serpentis, has characters referring to the system primary as Gati Serpentis.

    Also, though, the UN accepts the traditional Chinese star names, as well. So the aforementioned people occasionally refer to the star, above, as Tiānshìyòuyuán Sì (天市右垣四), the Wall of the Heavenly Market Enclosure 4. Why? Well, because unlike everyone's favorite winner of the Billy Quizboy lookalike contest, I know China has its own culture.

    Which reminds me, the person who grew up on Chinese space stations uses actual Chinese profanity. Did you know it exists?

  • Huh, it occurs to me, if you're gonna make a caseless round, you probably want the case to go all the way to the end of the bullet, like so:

    Notice the caseless bullets are near-perfect cylinders? Yeah. So anyway, that means you'd have straight magazines, rather than curved ones like the current 30-round STANAG. Probably (given, y' know, 30-round instead of 20-round) about half again as long as the STANAG 20-round boxes, but then again, not quite, since it'd be designed for a slightly different size of round (though apparently 6.8x43 is designed to feed reliably from STANAG magazines, since it was originally designed to have power more like the 7.62x51 while having controllability in full-auto more like 5.56x45).

    And who knows, maybe they use casket magazines, and give people 50-60 rounds to play with.


With What Measure Ye Measure

OK, this may be the geekiest thing I've ever blogged about—and consider not only the usual content in this space, but the fact that sentence ended with "I've ever blogged about." This is the apotheosis of geekiness; ahem.

So in my SF book, I thought an interesting aspect of the cultural setting would be the units things are measured in.

The aliens' units are, of course, mostly arbitrary, except their year's length (which is determined by the mass of their star and their home planet's orbit, of course). Oh, and I decided their air pressure at sea level is 85% what ours is, which slightly lowers the boiling point of water, and therefore their temperature scale. Other than that, though, I just thought it'd be fun to have their units be duodecimal, rather than decimal: but still metric. They have five fingers per hand, and their numbers are base-10, but, see, 12 is so much more highly divisible! They're a militocracy, after all, and the reason so many pre-metric European measures are base-12 is because the Romans were practical. It's easier for some military engineer without a calculator to divide by 12, rather than 10, on the fly, since 12s also let you do sixths, thirds, and quarters automatically. All tenths get you is halves and fifths. So, for example, they say water boils at 144 degrees (they also have absolute, Kelvin-style scale, of course). So one of their degrees is 1/144th the liquid temperature range of water in 85 kPa pressure.

A related thing is that, in general, the aliens prefer fractions to decimals, and express angle measures as fractions of a circle.

As for humans, the metric system is here to stay—or rather, the SI system. I'm sure on Earth there are probably holdovers of the older metric units, but the story takes place in the colonies. Colonials say "megagrams" instead of tons, and "cubic centimeters" instead of milliliters—whiskey comes in 750 cm3 bottles, instead of 750 mL ones. They use Kelvin numbers, too—remember, scientists would have a big influence on space colonization, so it's not weird to say room temperature is 293.

Ah, but this is where I rock. In my setting, the UN uses IMF Special Drawing Rights, simply called "rights", as a currency. Now, since the thing's value is currently derived from the value of a few national currencies, obviously it'll be based on something different—maybe the relative buying power of the five richest nations, or something. Doesn't really matter. But I thought, hey, why not metricize it? So a thousand rights is a kiloright, a million is a megaright, etc. And maybe use the "generic rupee" symbol, , for it; I happen to like the thing. I guess it goes after the number, though, the way the euro sign does in France (7,50 € and that kind of thing). I'd also have it re-denominated so there's no need for any fractional units (no 0.46 or whatever); maybe I'm a Nipponphile but prices in yen just look so clean. So "35,000 rights" would be written "35k".


Nota Bene, Mea Culpa

Because if you can't say it in Latin, why bother to say it at all? Anyway, I messed up; I said the humans in my book used Bose-Einstein condensate shielding to protect against the radiation when they're going up on the orbit elevator (fortunately it hasn't directly come up in the book itself). But actually, the radiation encountered entering LEO is ionizing radiation. Which is easier to deal with!

See, all you need to make ionizing radiation go away is a magnetic shield, which we've known how to do for so long, Werner von Braun wrote articles about it. Apparently the way you do it on ships is you line them with toroidal magnet rings. Surely you could just stick a ring of magnets around the elevator-car on the orbit elevator.

Which is interesting, also: I can line my ships with rings of magnets. Anything that makes the ship look cooler, huh?


On the Passing Scene II

Hey, since the random musings idea was invented by Thomas Sowell, why not name them after his description of them? And yeah, I had more. You can keep your remarks about why I have so many random thoughts to yourself.
  • Speaking of Sowell, he's a very thoughtful writer, much moreso than Walter Williams or Larry Elder or most of the other prominent black conservative writers. He's also more thoughtful than Mike Adams or George Will, or most of the other more libertarian-leaning writers. So I'm certainly annoyed when commenters on his articles, wherever you happen to find them, call him an "Uncle Tom"—because, apparently, the only path to authentic blackness is lockstep leftism.

    That said, I see their temptation: a black guy who criticizes not only the party blacks (all too) often identify with, but many trends within black America itself, and his name is Thomas. That kind of opportunity for vitriolic wordplay doesn't come along every day.

  • "Vitriol" reminds me of all that talk of late, about "vitriolic rhetoric". Leaving to one side the inapplicability to the incident in question, or who exactly has been dishing out such words, I confess to having a thought I haven't seen elsewhere. Namely, the only "vitriolic" rhetoric I've seen, in recent political times, has been from Democrats: specifically that their economic policy would need the Philosopher's Stone to be solvent.

    That's an alchemy joke, of course. VITRIOLUM (Visita Interiora Terrae, Rectificando, Inveniens Occultum Lapidem, Veram Medicinam) is the mnemomic for the Stone: seek within the earth, purifying, finding the hidden stone, the true medicine.

    Pfft. You thought you were a nerd?

  • So I discovered I can shorten my bull-pup AR rifle even more, by removing the M4 barrel beyond the front sight. At that point the barrel length is 67.8 cm, or shorter than the M4 Close Quarters Battle Receiver (with stock extended). But, being bullpup, the barrel is also 67.8 cm long, which is longer than many sniper rifle barrels.

    I also found out there's a thing called the M110 Semi-Auto Sniper System, which is an AR chambered in 7.62 NATO (as was the original AR10). The 7.62 is a lot stronger than 5.56, which'll be important against body armor in the future, but often too strong in terms of recoil, especially on full auto. But there are systems, like the "blowback shifted pulse" used on the Russian AN-94, for getting around recoil.

  • So I consider it my patriotic duty to like Eugene Stoner more than Mikhail Kalashnikov. I mean, the one real advantage of Kalashnikovs is, you don't have to take good care of them and they're simple to operate. So they're perfect for the Communist conception of the average person, a proletarian chump who's either a disposable drone for the Revolution, or a class-traitor fighting against it due to false consciousness. The AR family (at least now we've ground the kinks out), on the other hand, are a little more high-maintenance and complex, but they're also almost always more accurate. In other words, they require a modicum of discipline and intelligence, and reward them with a greater precision in working the user's will: plainly, they're the weapon of the 18th Century republicanism that founded America.

    Also, Stoner never claimed to have designed his assault rifle "from a blank sheet of paper", as if nobody had ever seen a Stürmgewehr 44.

  • So a guy (oh yeah, it was Greg Gutfeld) was saying how a lot of people seem to think anyone who owns a gun is a gun nut. I can vouch that that is not the case: I've seen many a gun owner's eyes glass over when I start geeking out about guns. Okay, two.

    But it's interesting because, being the colossal gun geek that I am, I don't actually own one.

  • Has anyone noticed, speaking of Gutfeld, that Robert Downey Jr, at least when he plays Tony Stark (and at the Golden Globes), sounds almost exactly like Andy Levy, on Red Eye?

  • Here's a party game to play with right-wingers: ask them which rewards personal achievement more, the US or the Soviet Union.

    Then ask them who invented the M1911. Or the AR-series. Unless they're gun nuts, they won't know the answer (John Browning and Eugene Stoner, respectively)—but they're a lot more likely to have heard of Mikhail Kalashnikov and Nikolay Makarov.

    It doesn't really show anything, but it sure is fun to piss libertarians off.

  • Another fun example of that idea, is to point out the utter refutation of environmental determinism. Namely, Holland and Switzerland. Both Calvinist nations that gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire, were largely commercial, and are currently mostly associated with assisted suicide and libertarian attitudes toward guns and/or drugs—and look at their environments.

    Quod erat demonstrandum, lupa.

  • So apparently it's not widely known that spec-ops don't use silencers for stealth (because they're not great for that), they use them for their own hearing. Because guns are a lot louder indoors; outside, they're actually not all that loud unless you're near them.

  • Shifting gears without a clutch, did you know apparently an owl's ear-holes are higher on one side than the other? Yeah, it's for directional hearing, 'cause they don't have outer ears they can turn to locate sounds.

  • Finally, so apparently Hu Jintao (whose surname Bill O'Reilly can't pronounce to save his life) said something silly about the dollar's dominance ending, and the yuan (or rather, the renminti) getting stronger.

    And I was watching this economist, saying, "Yeah, he wouldn't want that to happen. His country's so geared toward exporting to us, they really want the dollar as strong as it could possibly be, so we'll buy more."

    Apparently Hu Jintao never saw that one episode of Cromartie High where Mechazawa explains that idea to that guy who's depressed about the yen being weak.


Yeah Yeah Something Random Blah Blah

So I don't care enough to come up with a clever name for a random thoughts post.
  • I realized, the barrel length on the M4-based bullpup AR I mentioned in my last post? Yeah, it's 75.6 cm...which is just under 30 inches, or longer than the barrel on the M82 sniper rifle chambered in .50 BMG. Apparently, every Marine will be a sniper at some time in the future.

  • So what's with Halsey in Reach, saying the conical bullet was a military game-changer in the 19th century, on par with the slipstream drive in the 23rd? Because, see, there's several problems: the conical bullet wasn't much of a game-changer, and it wasn't widely adopted till the early 20th century (the French won World War I, with a little English and American help, using round-tipped 8 mm Lebel in their Lebel 1886 rifles). More to the point, the big game-changers of the 19th century were cartridge ammo, allowing much faster loading, and smokeless powder, making it easier to see the battlefield. Compared to those two, Spitzer rounds are a footnote.

  • So my brother and I have started playing Reach's Firefight mode, and, um, whichever player wants to be the blue team, plays as an Elite. On the same side as the AI Covenant opponents. You gotta try this, it's awesome. Only problem is, the Grunts are so gosh-darn cute, fighting on the same side as them makes you feel a little bad about using them as cannon fodder.

    I recommend taking turns being Blue Team, though, 'cause it's really hard to win as the Reds under those conditions.

  • So what's with Japanese English and saying "Let's (Noun)"? It's just bizarre, is what it is.

    My only theory is, "Let's party"—and nobody explained that "party" can be a verb. The 70s and 80s have carved a charred swath through a number of languages; I suspect this is one of the casualties.

  • So apparently some bacteria substitute selenium for sulfur in some biochemicals. Which is interesting—what if there were a life-form that did it all the time? Admittedly I don't know how likely that is, selenium being a whole row lower, but their planet could be odd.

    Of course, if selenium stands in for sulfur, routinely, well...you think rotten eggs smell bad? Apparently selenium smells worse in compounds like that.

  • So I decided to take out orbit catapults, other than for cargo, in my SF book; the only way humans would survive that would be by using the artificial gravity-based inertia protectors, and I decided the artificial gravity doesn't work very well on planets. It needs to use the Casimir effect to induce exoticity in a plasma shell, after all, and I'm not sure you'd wanna do that in an atmosphere.

    Most human planets use orbit elevators; their ships are insulated with Bose-Einstein condensates, so radiation's not a problem. On one, though—a planet orbiting Tau Ceti, which is apparently a messy system—they do orbit insertion with reusable rocket-stages (TSTO, specifically), because the debris impacts would make short work of an elevator. Another, with a 5-bar pressure atmosphere of carbon monoxide and methane, and seas of formaldehyde (it's cold there), uses zeppelins to bring ships high up into the atmosphere, where they take off.

    The aliens can use orbit catapults, thanks to how their guns work, but they usually take off with their magnetosphere sails.

  • My humans use two different landers, as well: a shuttle-type, that lands like an airplane, and the detachable habitat-section of a fusion rocket-ship, which lands something like the McDonnell-Douglas Delta Clipper idea. Both types, though, use orbit elevators, rocket stages, or zeppelins to take off (they're reusable TSTOs, in other words).

    And yeah, once they're in LEO, they rendezvous with the ship that had their main rocket. I'm not sure the second one would necessarily be a good idea (though I do like the image of a ship's habitat section doubling as a lander); it's just a cheap and easy way for me, as the writer, not to have to multiply settings. Actually it's because I initially wrote those scenes with the whole ships themselves landing, and didn't want to have to re-set them at a hotel or something. I mean, all those scenes were taking place in the ship's hab-section anyway.


But Col. Colt Made Them Equal

Yes, yes, it is time for further ruminations upon the great equalizer (no, not death).
  • It would be difficult to find a more steampunk firearm than the French MAS 1873 Chamelot-Delvigne, at least without replacing the powder load of each cartridge with a water tank (which will, of course, be instantaneously brought to boiling...somehow). Seriously, it looks like a Webley as souped up by a mad scientist. Brass-plate it and engrave a trilobite on there, seriously, what do you think Jaegermonsters use as a sidearm?

  • Difficult, but not impossible: I give you the Steyr-Mannlicher M1894, a very early semi-auto pistol. It's more steampunk simply by virtue of being something we think of as modern, done a very 19th-century way. It's a pistol with a box magazine, but that magazine is not detachable; rather, it loads from the top, like a Mauser pistol. But look at the shape of it: since the frame is shaped like that of a contemporary European revolver (much more Webley than Colt, just look at it), it can't be loaded with a clip, only round-by-round. Yes it's weird but it's also awesome.

    Late Addendum: Turns out it can be loaded with a stripper clip. Weird. The thing's shape must be really odd.

  • From the early steampunk graspings to the highest modern tech, I realized, if you wanted a bullpup AR variant, you'd just take the basic shape of the M4 carbine and stick the magazine in the very end of the stock. Its overall length, being as long as the M4 with stock retracted, is only 1.3 cm longer than the wz. 2005 Jantar (the bullpup Kalashnikov Poland experimented with), but its barrel, running the same length as the gun itself, is not only 29.9 cm longer than that of the Jantar, it's even 24.8 longer than that of the M16A4. No more of those "barrel too short to properly stabilize the round" complaints.

    And you know what? Ship the thing with a derned ejector conversion kit, for southpaws, the way FAMAS does. Or just man up and make the switch to caseless.

  • I must confess I find the M4 intriguing. Not as a battle weapon—I'd opt to use the full-length M16, thank you, if remotely possible. But I'm fascinated by the fact the Marine Corps is so committed to the idea that "every Marine is a rifleman" that their officers carry M4s as sidearms, rather than pistols (which may just be because a lot of Marines appear not to like their Beretta M9s—consider that Force Recon's sidearm is an M1911 variant). I'd say it's open to debate whether a carbine qualifies as a "sidearm", but that would mean debating Marines, and I've done that, so they can call it whatever they want.

  • So, due to how their weapons function, my felinoid aliens use round bullets, dimpled for stability like golf balls. And, because the bullets are round, they use tubular magazines in their long guns, which basically look like Henry rifles or Winchester '73s (they prefer the extra reach, when using their guns as melee weapons). But their tubular magazines are detachable—each of their soldiers carries a "quiver" with a couple of 'em. Of course, they also have guys using SAWs, but their SAW is just the standard rifle on full-auto, with a helical magazine instead of a tubular one, giving it six times the ammo.

    Their handguns basically look like certain 19th-century revolvers, like the Webley Mk. II or the S&W No. 3 "Schofield", but instead of being revolvers, they have a helical magazine about the size of a revolver's cylinder, with three twists' worth of ammo (probably 15-18 rounds, in a handgun no less!). It's actually a conscious design choice on my part, that their weapons look sort of old-fashioned by human standards...until you notice their muzzle flash is glowing plasma, accompanied by a slight ripple of space-time distortion.

  • So apparently the main trouble with magnetically-accelerated guns, whether rail or coil, is wear and charge buildup in the barrels. I'm not certain it would work, but...why not rotate between several barrels?

    Yes, that's right, an actual reason to have a rotary, Gatling-style electromagnetic gun. Don't say I never gave you anything.



Because that's what Tolkien called it; none of your vulgar "conlang" here, thank you. No not really but "glossopoeia" has a nice ring, huh?

This shall be random but I don't think I'm gonna use bulleted lists.

So, does anybody do the ol' Babel Text thing? Genesis 11:1-9, you know, as a demonstration of your languages? I prefer it as a sample text to the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", the sample text Omniglot usually uses; I just think that thing's depressing, since they all immediately set out to try and make Maritain a liar. Us Thomists be tight; it's representin', you feel me? Sorry, I just spent like three hours reading Penny Arcade newsposts, and I think Tycho's habit of randomly becoming gangsta is contagious.

The Babel Text proponents are right, though, Babel is a better representation of a language than the Lord's Prayer (another standby sample), since the Lord's Prayer is in the sorta stilted diction common to prayers. I really doubt the Amatsu Norito is a representative sample of Classical Japanese, you know?

Ahem. Anyway, so I'm actually getting pretty good at conlangs. I've got two whole language families, one for my fantasy book and the other for my SF one—though the former is really an elaborate cipher for Latin and the Romance languages, and for Old Norse and German. Still, if you're going to have a quasi-Medieval setting, why not? I've got two other alien languages actually worked out, in my SF book, as well as three or more others I mention but don't actually have detailed. I've also got an elvish language for a D&D setting I'm thinking of using, with the phonics of Hungarian and the grammar of Tibetan.

For alien languages, I like to use sounds not found in any human language, and take out some that are. For instance the felinoids in my book can't pronounce F or V, since their lips and jaws aren't mobile enough; their own languages lack those sounds and they pronounce them in human languages like IPA ɸ and β, the bilabial fricatives (which is how phi and beta are pronounced in Modern Greek, by the bye). They also have a pair of vowels, one rounded and the other not, that are pronounced with a low trill that sounds like purring (the apparatus is different though, sorta like a sideways bird syrinx—one vocal apparatus does normal voicing, the other only trills). I also decided to change the number of their teeth, to 25—they make the same shape inside the mouth as cat teeth, but the divisions are different; they have more molars and premolars and fewer incisors.

The evangelical Heideggerian aliens don't actually have vocal cords; they resonate their whole respiratory systems, like baleen whales, to produce "voicing", and also hiss on some vowels.

Another species, I don't know if I mentioned them, sort of feathered dromaeosaurs whose civilization bases status on conspicuous consumption and potlatch-esque intellectual property, and conceptualizes its economy as working by gift even where it doesn't, has a weird vocal apparatus I'm not entirely sure of (maybe something like bullfrogs, only maybe internal?). The major language they use (I mention they've got others, since this ain't Star Trek) also has tonal vowels, and sometimes uses "ww", a hollow hiss, as a vowel sound. Their consonants are what's really weird; they have two different click consonants that have no IPA letter. One is a lateral/postalveolar ingressive click, produced by sucking on the molars while separating them. The other is an alveolar egressive click, produced by slamming the tip of the tongue into the spot for "t", forcing the air out with a "hwut" sound. Of course technically they don't have teeth—instead they have hardened beak-like sections, inside their lips, that make a shape similar to a dog's teeth.

Grammar is full of possibilities, though in general, as I said before, it's not likely to be all that different from most human languages. The felinoids' major language, for instance, is head-final and agglutinating, and uses postpositions—all of which are extremely common on earth. It has two classes of nouns and verbs, depending on whether the first syllable has a "purred" vowel or a normal one. It marks noun case and verb tense with prefixes, and noun number and verb aspect with suffixes. It uses different cases for active and passive subjects, and passivizes verbs by switching them to the other verb-class's affixes. One peculiar feature is that nouns and verbs have a different sound structure from adjectives, pospositions, and adverbs; the former alternate syllables between purred and not, or vice-versa, while the latter are either all purred or all normal. Adjectives can't be used "intransitively"; you can't say "he's stupid", you have to say "he's a stupid person". Adjectives and adverbs go after the words they modify, and verbs can also have prefixes for a number of moods like imperative or negative (there's also a negator adverb for adjectives, basically like "un-").

The Heideggerian aliens use (I think, it's been awhile since I wrote any dialog in their language) a head-medial isolating language, like Chinese; I'm pretty sure it uses post-positions and has its adjectives after their nouns. I don't think it uses reduplication to make plurals (Chinese does), but it might use reduplication as an intensifier on adjectives. I don't think it's come up.

Yes I'm a nerd.