Si Vis Pacem

'Nother post 'bout guns. The title is, of course, a reference to the motto of the Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken firm, which employed one Georg Luger. The last two words are "Para bellum" ("If you wish peace, [prepare] for war"), that's why Parabellum is the other name for 9mm Luger. I prefer Leo IX's version ("Para justitiam"), but it's still a great motto for gun-makers.

  • So the ototo-ue's been playing the re-release of Goldeneye on the Wii. Am I the only one who wonders why the game doesn't call its P90s and ARs by their proper names? You'd think FN Herstal and Colt (among the many makers of civilian-market ARs) would like the free advertising.

    I don't know, maybe it's some weird law somewhere, or maybe they're just being lawyer-phobic. Anyway, at least they didn't take away Bond's Walther. Though, seriously, I get that he used to use the PPK and all, but why do they have to give him a P99 now? It's odd, is what it is. I wonder what Brit spies really use. SIGs, maybe?

  • So the PP was copied, in a slightly larger size, to make the Makarov; the Soviets have a bad habit of copying German guns and forgetting they did it (yes that means you, Kalashnikov, and your surreptitious appropriation of the Sturgewehr 44).

    But I think it'd make sense, since the Peacekeepers in my book largely use Kalashnikov-type rifles ('cept bullpup), for them to use pistols that largely look like P99s. Thematically, I mean—hell, maybe the folks who gave current-Bond a P99 were thinking similarly. And maybe the US Marine "cadres" attached to the Peacekeepers will use, along with their bullpup ARs, something that looks like the Beretta Px4 Storm.

  • So I was watching this Youtube video of this guy shooting a .357 SIG Glock; apparently you just have to swap the barrel to convert .357 SIG from a .40 S&W gun. Which makes sense, .357 SIG being based on the .40 casing. Anyway, though, he was saying that light, fast bullets tend to hit low, and a bunch of people in the comments were correcting him that, no, the faster bullets will have a flatter trajectory and hit high.

    But then he came back and said, no, their trajectory is flatter but they're more effected by the recoil; I'm not sure if his explanation's right but it's possible they lose momentum more readily or something, since they have less mass and therefore decelerate faster. Interesting though, huh? This, not violence, is why I'm fascinated by guns: the pure intellectual side of it. And, well, yeah, the fact they're a universally accessible form of lethal power doesn't hurt.

  • That's actually something that makes me nuts. Several writers, Terry Pratchett and R. A. Salvatore among them, seem to think that the fact that, with guns, any Joe Blow can kill a master martial artist, is a bad thing. Uh, no. That is not a bug, it is a feature. Great fighters are no more special than the rest of us—there is no form of greatness that makes the rules not apply to you—and guns mean that nobody can consider himself above the law just because he's a powerful fighter.

    When I pointed this out, some idiot thought "yes but a much more skilled gunfighter will still have the advantage" was a counterargument. No again. See, with guns, once you're competent, greater skill is much less of an edge, and the average person is still on a much more even footing. Why? Simple: there is no way to block bullets. If I shoot at someone like Bill Jordan or Jeff Cooper, he still has to run and hide. If I come at Okita Sojiro with a sword, I stand a very good chance of being killed without even coming close to touching him: because a sword can also be used to block.

  • And am I the only one who thinks "bullpup" may be the weirdest word ever? Hang on (quick search of the Bat-Google)...

    Ah. So apparently, it goes like this. "Bulldog" is (possibly British?) slang for "big gun", and, well, a bullpup is a smaller one. 'Cause it's more compact. Remember this one, folks, it could, I don't know, impress people at a shooting range, or something.

    Whoo. The internet justifies its existence, for once—and, for once, in a manner not involving the Los Alamos National Laboratory archives.

  • You know what would pretty much make the more extreme forms of anti-gun hysteria evaporate? Having people read gun magazines. I mean, read Massad Ayoob's stuff, and then try to picture the media's portrayal of gun enthusiasts. It simply can't be done. Gun writers have a peculiar warm, laid back, slightly corny, easygoingly opinionated style that might as well just scream "Salt of the earth". You know who Jeff Cooper's literary style reminds me of? Richard John Neuhaus. I defy you to paint a man who sounds like that as a zealot. Occasionally a set-in-his-ways old fuddy-duddy (a single-stack just isn't enough, often, and .40 S&W, 10 mm, .357 SIG, and even the hotter 9 mm loads are now just as good as his preferred .45 ACP), sure, but hardly the frothing-mouthed survivalist the media would, reflexively, try to make him out to be.

    One recalls a Belloc essay called "The Eye-Openers". Here's a bit of something to chew on:
    It isn't only that we get our impressions for the most part as imaginary pictures called up by printer's ink—that would be bad enough; but by some curious perversion of the modern mind, printer's ink ends by actually preventing one from seeing things that are there.


    [A] foreigner [visiting England] will discover a plebeian character in the Commons and an aristocratic one in the House of Lords, though he shall have heard but four speeches in each, and though every one of the eight speeches shall have been delivered by members of one family group closely intermarried, wealthy, titled, and perhaps (who knows?) of some lineage as well.
    That's the sort of thing I'm talking about.


Questioning Your Genre Identity

I'm sorry about the title, really; I just get entirely too much fun out of the similarity (historical as well as phonetic) between the words "genre" and "gender". Also, anyone who's read any "Culture" stories probably wouldn't mind if Iain M. Banks had his own bathrooms. I'm getting to that.

In my perennial quest to classify myself, a terrible aching thirst that has, I think, always plagued humanity, I think I came across a label that largely fits my SF: "new space opera". New space opera, to quote from the Wikipedia article on space opera in general:
...which evolved around the same time cyberpunk emerged and was influenced by it, is darker, moves away from the "triumph of mankind" template of space opera, involves newer technologies, and has stronger characterization than the space opera of old. While it does retain the interstellar scale and scope of traditional space opera, it can also be scientifically rigorous.

The new space opera was a reaction against the old. New space opera proponents claim that the genre centers on character development, fine writing, high literary standards, verisimilitude, and a moral exploration of contemporary social issues.
That's pretty much my stuff, right there.

The list of writers they give includes Peter F. Hamilton (Night's Dawn trilogy) and Iain M. Banks (The Culture)—indeed, it's mostly Brits, revoltingly, though I'd put David Brin's Uplift stories in there, too. Does anyone else see why I'm hesitant to place my own work with theirs, despite the similarity of descriptions?

Yeah, you got, basically, a trio of religiously and economically illiterate vapid ideologues. A perennial theme in my own work is that the rank and file guy in an evil organization isn't usually a bad person: but the ideology, and whatever resentments attracted him to it, can have him do things he doesn't approve of. Brin? Yeah, not so much—anyone who doesn't regard the Guardian as a right-wing newspaper is just plain evil.

Plus, I make a point of giving people actual arguments for their positions, even ones I don't agree with, like Foucaultian transgressivism or Rawlsian "public reason". In this I am apparently unique. I mean, do you think the "religious" opposition to "Uplifting" animals incorporates arguments of half the complexity seen in Humanae Vitae? Of course not: Brin does not know how the Pope would argue the case, he makes shit up based on his favorite unlettered caricatures. Do you think Banks knows the psycholinguistic pedigree of gendered pronouns in the Indo-European and Semitic languages? Of course he doesn't, that would interfere with his pseudo-Marxist gender-oppression narratives. Do you think Hamilton knows which forms of biotech Christianity would permit, and which not? Here's a hint: a lot more than contemporary European social mores. Look at the religious demographics of the UK, and then, please, explain to me why they banned the import of genetically modified crops—the main opposition to biotech isn't religious, thank you for reading up on the topic. But all that is immaterial to them: they know, as "everyone knows", that Christians are the foes of technological progress. You know, just like "everyone" used to "know" that Jews are greedy.

Which brings up an interesting question, "How exactly are these guys' stories moves away from the 'triumph of mankind' theme?" In Brin, mankind has triumphed so far as to bestow the gift of sapience—indeed not just sapience but Speech, to make a distinction that only matters to Navajos—on a number of animals. In Banks and Hamilton, they've taken control almost entirely of every aspect of their own bodies, and dwell with a number of artificial lifeforms. In some SF stories species that could do that would be regarded as gods, not men—but no, there's no humanist triumphalism about Banks or Hamilton at all. Nope, none.

So the "triumph of mankind" theme is now called "triumph of humynkind" and involves a nonviolent, diversity-celebrating workers' state: still triumphalism, thank you. Contrast that to my stories, where humans are widely regarded by all the other aliens as backward, factional savages—the only nice thing the felinoids can think of to say about humans is, "And yet they still stood and fought us." You know how you know a story's not about the "triumph of mankind"? If it's about mankind not winning. I know, weird concept, huh? I guess, going by the Wikipedia description, I have more right to call myself "new space opera" than these guys do.

The one area where "new space opera", as described, wouldn't fit my stuff, is that thing about "a moral exploration of contemporary social issues". While most of the idols I take my hammer to are of relatively recent manufacture—Brin, Banks, and Hamilton can often be found prostrated before them—the way that's phrased just sounds like you're getting into Very Special Episode country. I mean, I suppose my themes of "individualism and collectivism are alike fallacies with abominable human consequences" and "a government is judged solely on the basis of whether it preserves justice and peace, not by any particulars of its organization" might be contemporary social issues, but aren't they really perennial? Certainly I use particular modern examples—Foucaultian and Rawlsian philosophy, quasi-corporativist economics, etc.—to make my points, but I wasn't concerned exclusively with exploring contemporary issues. There were actually two other factors: rage is my muse, and modern claptrap pisses me off more than older claptrap, since I hear it more often; and contemporary philosophies, with all their follies on their heads, are likely to continue to exist into the future. That last bit, the worldbuilding factor, was the main one.

So I guess my stuff is new space opera, but from an unusual perspective for the genre. I wonder if there's a way to tout that when I need to advertise the things—"New Space Opera Informed by Something Other than 8th Grade Civics!"


The Best Thing About the Show

I actually wrote this at 11:30 pm on Holy Saturday, but even I wouldn't post something like this on Easter. That'd be like spawn-camping the Resurrection.

So I was looking for something else, and came across yet more praise, and, worse, shouting-down of criticism, of Firefly. And it pissed me off. Did you know the idiot fans actually don't like their show's theme song? But it's actually pretty good; it's absolutely perfect for the theme. It's what I was referring to, above, as "the best thing about the show", but really, the best thing about Firefly is the closing credits. Zing!

Anyway, just to pour some venom out on the unjustly praised, I'm a go line by line.

Take my love, take my land
This could actually be some decent SF, since habitable planets would be the only resource a spacefaring civilization would feel the need to fight over. 'Cept the Alliance can make their own...and yet have trouble winning wars with people who demonstrably can't?

Take me where I cannot stand
...Which probably ought to include half the planetary colonies in "the 'verse", if their surface gravity (and surface atmospheric pressure...) had a realistic variation. Maybe Whedon shoulda had some of the Independents be from station-colonies. Sieg Zeon!

I don't care, I'm still free
Which is odd, because allowing the private ownership of a space-capable reaction engine is stupid—do we allow colorful "tramp" nuclear submarines? Mal should be one closely monitored son-bitch.

You can't take the sky from me
Well, son, actually, if Joss could world-build worth a damn, yes I could: because y'all would be living in a gorramn habitat dome, and it ain't economical to privatize those. And it'd be a simple matter to polarize the dome material so it's opaque: Nathan Fillion's character in a better story does it routinely with his ODST helmet's visor. Plus, you'd want dome material able to filter out unwanted radiation.

Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
This couplet actually makes me very happy, purely from a musical perspective. It's a very Western-style phrasing, especialy the second line, firmly in the British Isles workman's lament tradition that gives us a lot of the Western standards, like "Streets of Laredo" and "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie". Whedon and Firefly may suck, and the song's execution may leave a lot to be desired, but the songwriter knew what he was about.

Burn the land and boil the sea
The work of a few moments, if the Alliance were really capable of the terraforming scale they demonstrated. Hell, even making the Independents' worlds "burn until their surface is but glass" wouldn't have been out of the question—and it probably wouldn't take them 30 years, like it does for the Covenant (which, by the bye, is crazy fast). Am I the only one who thinks Whedon doesn't quite get the scale involved, with terraforming?

You can't take the sky from me
Or does "sky" here mean "space", as it does in Taiwanese Mandarin? (like in "taikonaut"—the "kong" hanzi might mean "void", but most of its common uses involve aviation) In which case, actually, yeah, again, I could: because you'd be spacefaring at the state's pleasure, son. There's a reason the 2nd Amendment don't apply to hydrogen bombs, and that's just the low end of the scale we're talking, with decent spaceship engines.

There's no place I can be
Another classic line in the great Western lament tradition...

Since I found Serenity
...completely flubbed to name drop that stupid-looking, and unbalanced, ship. No seriously, the damn thing should fall off its tail every time it takes off.

But you can't take the sky from me...
Not only can I, but do you realize, if the Alliance could really do that level of terraforming, the only reason you're still alive to be a thorn in their side, is that they were generous with you? I made this comparison in my book, about the humans who don't accept losing their war with the felinoids, but this smacks of the cartoon character who gets dropped with one punch, and then slurs out, "Had enough, tough guy?"

Which reminds me, remember how I mention that "faht joehng" ("an image of the Buddha", formerly known as a Joss) was Chinese stationer slang for "self-important dink"? Yeah, well, the context is some spaceport gossip, about some captain getting arrested for having an untrained engineer, who just "intuitively" understands what her ship is doing. As one of the characters remarks, "Boy, it's a good thing our ships are powered by unicorns and propelled by rainbows, because that'd be dangerous if there were any superheated plasma involved."

I'm just filthy with Take Thats.


Things I Like

So, in honor of Easter, I thought I'd mention some movies and shows I do like. You know, be positive for a change. As another change, no bulleted list.

First up is Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price. I like to watch it at Easter. Why? Well, it's about the last normal human in a world where everyone's been driven mad by (I think) a virus...and in their stupidity, they kill him...and then they realize they can create a cure from his body. Yeah, uh, go ahead and tell me that's not an Easter movie.

Vincent Price in general, really—the Tingler is another good one. It's a hell of a lot scarier than you'd expect, given its special effects.

Judge Dredd: I don't really care that the people involved distance themselves from this, or that the British comics it's based on are supposed to be satire. British people have long contented themselves with making smart remarks—because it's so much easier than making smart reforms. But the movie's awesome. Also, though, doesn't a Russian Udar revolver, designed not to catch on clothes when carried concealed by detectives, look like it'd be right at home tucked into Dredd's sock?

Chronicles of Riddick is a very nerdy little film—the Necromongers are basically anti-paladin Planescape Dustmen, and Riddick is, pretty much canonically, Chaotic Neutral. Plus, the elementals: why didn't they just come out and say they're from the Inner Planes?

Speaking of D&D, I'm pretty sure Cartoon Network picked up Adventure Time because of the short's viral-ness on the interwebs, but here's the thing: the short was awful. It was that same faux-whimsical, incredibly forced "wackiness" as Spongebob, the sort of thing where being killed with a spork (along with all the cockroaches in the kitchen) would be the best you could expect, and better than you'd deserve. But the show is hilarious stuff—Finn went from being Spongebob Earhat to a paladin who chose INT as his dump stat. So yes, Jake is his paladin mount. Seriously, though, Adventure Time is probably the second weirdest thing mankind has ever produced (the weirdest, if you're keeping score, is King of Bandit Jing In Seventh Heaven). Well done, gentlemen: we can finally compete with the Japanese.

It's been mentioned over on the Ane-ue's blog that TaleSpin is Baby's First Steampunk. Similarly, Gummi Bears is Baby's First Fantasy. What is it with the quality of shows involving anthropomorphic bears?—as long as they're made by Disney, Care Bears is a scourge to rival the Flood, let's be very clear. But some of the worldbuilding in Gummi Bears, while keeping the same Disney tone, is easily the equal of mainstream fantasy intended for grownups.

Hmmm. That's all I can think of off the top o' me 'ead. Happy Easter; the unremitting negativity will resume probably long before Pentecost.


Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!

So my black throne is now repaired, and I thought I'd talk about the stupidity of my fellow man. I enjoy an inexhaustible topic, don't you?
  • I get the feeling the same people are responsible, but in any event, all you fansubbers who do Zero's Familiar and Scarlet Bullet Aria, two things. One, "urusai" means "shut up" (the post title is a reference to Kugimiya Rie's signature line). I don't care how iconic it is, if you're subtitling this shit, you write the word in English.

    Second, and more importantly, "kizoku" means "noble family". It does not mean "royal family"—that's "ôzoku". If you don't know the difference between royalty and nobles, you are not sufficiently fluent in your own language to be subtitling works in another.

  • Speaking of, anyone who thinks Britain's royals have anything to do with the concept of monarchy, is simply announcing "I cannot read history, and am probably regularly outwitted by blue-green algae, diatoms, and other protozoa." Britain has not been a monarchy since the Hanoverian succession at the absolute latest—a case can be made for Runnymede as the date when they ceased to have a king.

    What the many blunders and crimes in the history of England's government discredit is not monarchy, but the republic. Which, again, is just the Latin word for aristocracy. America only has a valid government to the extent we have repudiated the abortion that is the Westminster system—our greatest point of similarity to that thing, our legislature, has been a standing joke of corruption and incompetence for at least a century.

  • Back to the topic of linguistics, while it's a near certainty that the modern portrayal of shinigami probably dates to the Meiji era, the concept itself is older. First off, China and Korea have the same sort of god, basically a corrupt official who harangues worshipers for offerings, lest he abuse the souls he's escorting. Something like the guys who brought you before the courts in Neo-Confucian states.

    Second off, the term "shinigami" is absolutely not Meiji era, since it occurs twice in "Lovers' Suicide at Amijima" by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. 1721 is a smaller number than 1868: doesn't that mean it's earlier? We're not counting down to some future event on this dating system, right? I forget.

  • Remember how I said Tycho was an idiot solely when he takes the word of the media on Ann Coulter, when he knows they lie about gamers? Okay, I found another one. He habitually, probably in his pure aesthetic enjoyment of synonyms as such, uses "Soviet" for "Russian". Dude, you can get your ass kicked for that. Do you think "Nazi" is synonymous with "German"?

    It's still not as bad as Alton Brown not knowing Kiev is not in Russia, or thinking "Viva La Revolucion" is an appropriate toast when drinking a Cuban-style daiquiri. ("Che-te, Che!" would go over a lot better, with all the Cubans who wouldn't be shot for watching his show).

  • Not exactly a reality check, but I almost wanna run for some political office just so I can respond to the recent upswing of obscene heckling as only a gamer can. E.g., "Hey, I think your mom said that to me last night. She was yelling it even louder, though."

    It's quaint how normal people think they know how to trash talk, isn't it?

  • Ever hear of the philosophical concept of "The One and the Many"? Yeah, what it actually means is, "how do you reconcile the concept of a single common nature, for things that have multiple, non-identical instances?" Basically the correct answer is, denying either the single common nature or the non-identical instances, is fallacious. The fact that, unlike Plato or the atomists, he doesn't do that, is a major selling point of Aristotle.

    As in all things, errors of thought have consequences in actions, and these errors' consequences materialize in social life. Those who deny common natures ("The One") tend toward forms of individualism that border on solipsism, while those who deny the individual instances ("The Many") tend toward extremes of collectivism. For all her claim to be an Aristotelian, Rand's anthropology is actually atomistic.

  • And once again this thing gets sidetracked onto pointing out the risible pratfalls in her "thought". What's really funny is how self-righteous she always was. See, if "man is a being of self-made nature", as she pontificated, then no two humans actually have the same nature; and lacking a nature in common, no common morals are incumbent upon them. The existentialists understood that—including Sartre and Heidegger. When you're a less cogent moral thinker than a Stalinist and a damn Nazi, it's really time to take your ball home.

    Also, remember how I (jokingly) said she was actually a Soviet agent? It occurred to me, ever see the Chesterton line, "You can tell a man is a Buddhist by his way of telling you he's not a Buddhist"? Well the version of liberal capitalism she praised, was strictly the Soviet version, not even an approximation of the real thing.


  • You know that thing in Niven, and implied by some things in Halo, and in a bunch of other SF? The idea that HumansAreSuperior? Usually because of their "monkey curiosity" and some alleged "versatility" from being omnivores? Yeah, well, my SF story posits a different interpretation.

    Namely, only apex predators become sapient. Humans are only sapient at all because of a few Pleistocene coincidences that shifted us from foragers to hunters. But, while the felinoids and dromaeosaurids are building on tens of millions of years of evolution as predators, humans are building on 3 million, tops, and probably a lot less (before that, we were shambling mush-mouthed foragers). Again: only apex predators become sapient...and we're a half-assed bunch of apex predators.


Further Fictitious Equipage

Yeah, so I had more thoughts on SF equipment. Oh, by the bye, this isn't the computer I usually write these on. There should be a special hell for those who write spyware—and a special method of sending them there, if they disguise their spyware as a security alert. Like beating them to death with frozen airliner lavatory waste.

No, I didn't fall for it, but I can't use that computer until the nonsense is resolved.

Without further ado:
  • The pistol had a sight in Combat Evolved (that's why it has one in Reach), but they took it off in Halo 2. My brother's theory is that it's got to do with the dual-wielding, and he's probably right. But I like the in-game explanation: that's the compact variant of the gun.

    Gentlemen, really, you've already impressed me enough. It would be okay to stop.
  • So before, my felinoids' swords were sorta katana-like, with hilts more like Napoleonic sabers ('cept two-hand length). Then I thought, hey, clip points are neat, like on a Bowie knife.

    But then I thought, hey, actually, a sword-length Bowie knife with a two-hand length hilt would be cool—the particular combination of features we think of as "sword" ain't set in stone. Just look at some of India's swords to see that. Anyway now, basically, the felinoids' swords look more or less like this.
  • And, yeah, I realized: a part of that would be, my felinoids, much like Western Europeans, have a tradition of straight swords—curved swords are probably slightly better for cutting from horseback, but straight swords are your guy for massed combat: because for that, you need stabbing. Remember how I said katanas are counter-intuitive for stabbing? Well a gladius or an Oakeshott XII arming sword makes stabbing strictly point and click, and the latter is pretty damn good for slicing, too.
  • Their weapons aren't made of metal, though. Their current swords are made of an opaque, white, vaguely pearly stuff whose chemical formula is probably as long as your arm, and probably involves six different kinds of special notation.

    But they still call it steel—except that, indeed, they call it bronze. See, I decided, their word for "steel" actually meant "iron bronze", and their word for the synthetic they currently make weapons out of is the same thing. Basically it's a word that means "alloy or other composite substance that's used for making weapons".

    Their guns are made of a different synthetic, a vaguely translucent gray-green whose shine looks vaguely oily, like you might see on certain soaps (glycerin soap, I think? I'm a dude, sorry). I dunno, it just seemed like it'd be a cool thing to make guns out of. I remember visual textures, if that makes sense, a lot—one thing I really like about Reach is how different the material of human and Covenant gear looks. I mean, Elite armor totally looks like candy.
  • My brother getting a 3DS has been a godsend, even though no decent games exist for the damn thing yet (not a breathtaking strategic move, Nintendo). Why? Its 3d camera, that's why. I had already had volumetric displays in my book (you quaint chalcolithic Zinjanthropi call them "holograms"), but I couldn't help thinking, "How do you do them with video phones? Do you have a big frame, like a shower, the person stands in?" Well, the 3ds has a phone-sized 3d camera.

    Basically, the display it would make would be a volumetric ("holographically projected") bas relief, just the front 2/3 or so of the user's body, as far up as the camera can see (upper arms up, probably).
  • Is it weird that the mere presence of soda machines in Halo games makes me happy? I mean, sure, the attack on the corvette in Reach could've given us our first glimpse of the Food Nipple; nobody's denying there's still much work to be done. But "what, if anything, are their vending machines like?" is an important cultural-setting detail that's far too often neglected, especially in American works (Japanese SF is often much better about it). And trash cans, and drinking fountains: Reach has lots of both! Plus, you can knock trash-cans off a higher level, onto a lower, in the multiplayer, and tell your opponent (perhaps a younger male sibling) that you're striking him in effigy, or perhaps making war upon his natural habitat. Not that I've ever done that. More than once. Each.

    Remember how Bebop has the periodic appearance of the Cup Noodle of the 2070s, with the pull-string to activate the heating element in the bottom? Yeah. Hey SF writers, what's the low-budget instant food of your setting like? If you don't know the answer, well, why not?
  • Also, coffee. Apparently the smeerp has quite the unusual biology, in that one of its most common subspecies is, essentially, coffee (a smeerp, of course, is essentially a rabbit). Rather than coming up with stupid names for coffee, call it coffee: or have them drink something else. My felinoids, since they have catlike senses, drink hot water in the morning—it's a lot more flavorful to them than it would be for you. They also drink broth (which I occasionally do, too, it's great when you're sick).

    I mean, nobody in East Asia puts milk or sugar in their tea (South Asia does, but they drink black tea, not green—those facts are probably connected). Mexican hot chocolate has cinnamon in it. Are you really so irredeemably, benightedly provincial that coffee's the only hot beverage you can think of?


Can a Computer Be High on the Crack Cocaine?

It seems the answer is yes. Why? Well. You remember the writing-style analyzer program I mentioned here? Well I ran two sections of my dark fantasy story through it, and the first one came up Margaret Atwood, and the second, David Foster Wallace.

A chapter of my fantasy story came up Anne Rice. And a chapter of a steampunk/alternate-history story I may never finish, came up Dan Brown. So I'm wondering, how the hell does it work? Is it just keyed to make the most insulting comparison it possibly can?

Hmm. Lemme put in the first chapter of my first SF book. So apparently:
I write like
Jonathan Swift

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Ooookay. Other than it having lots of funky words, due to the first chapter being from the aliens' viewpoint and set on their homeworld (and, thank you, the words aren't quite as silly as Brobdingnag or Lilliput), and the occasional sentence with more than one clause, how the hell does this thing come up with that?

Let's try the first chapter of my second book.
I write like
Vladimir Nabokov

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

...I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

First chapter of the unfinished third book in the series:
I write like
William Gibson

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Okay, the only pattern I'm seeing is that it really seems to try the most insulting comparison it can. Well, that first paragraph does mention the sky (the planet it takes place on orbits one of those lots-of-sunspots variables, so its sky always has an aurora)—but at no time do I compare that sky to the color of television tuned to a dead channel. Incidentally, nowadays, "the color of television tuned to a dead channel" means a very bright blue, the color the sky is on the Navajo reservation, and the very antithesis of urban blight he was attempting to invoke.

Let's try the fourth book in the series, which takes place at the same time as the third:
I write like
Mario Puzo

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

It's gotta be word choice, it's just gotta; that first part is about the alien cop who's the protagonist of the first book. Lots of mention of murder and police ranks, you know—though to my knowledge not even the NYPD has any Baron-Inspectors.

All right, let's try and figure out what's wrong with the SOB. One more shot, the first section of a short story about the felinoids' first contact with humanity:
I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Gotta be keywords; that part's about fusion rockets, as was the section I tested that very first time. Then again, I suppose, at least, it's not insulting me this time: Clarke may have sucked at life but he was pretty good at describing space travel. Personally I think that section is more reminiscent of Niven—since it is in part almost a redux of "The Warriors", the one about first contact with the Kzinti—but I'm probably not impartial.

Still, though, those comparisons to Dan Brown, Anne Rice, and Margaret Atwood: that's just unkind.

PS. So, as a larf, I put in the first chapter of Chesterton's "The Flying Inn." Apparently he writes like Lovecraft. Which, apart from a very few superficial similarities, is just about the opposite of the truth.


The Hard Part Is Getting the Ping-Pong Ball in the Holster

That's a reference to Bill Jordan, about one of his freakish speed draw demonstrations. Anyway I thought I'd talk 'bout les armes à feu.
  • "Hidan no Aria" ought to be translated as "Scarlet Bullet Aria." Am I the only one who thinks a "Bullet Aria" sounds like something that happens in a Pistol Opera? Which is a Suzuki Seijun film, but I think it'd make an excellent name for John Woo type HK action flicks, that use tropes from Chinese opera. Think about it.

    Anyway, you know in the first episode, when Kinji goes into Hysteria Mode and shoots all those Uzi Segways in like a second? Cool and all, but I couldn't help thinking you wouldn't use a Beretta in a situation like that. If you had superhuman speed, you'd actually prefer a revolver, because there's a mechanical limit to how fast a semi-auto's action can cycle; you control the speed of a revolver. Like how, in trained hands, a pump-action shotgun is actually faster than a semi-auto shotgun?

  • So I decided my felinoids' bullets (other than their anti-tank rounds) are made of tungsten-copper alloy. It's as hard as mild steel and 2 grams per cm3 denser than lead: which should give even round bullets quite the armor-piercing capability.

    The anti-tank rounds are made of something compressed till it's a few g/cm3 denser than osmium; the anti-armor rounds on their ships' and planes' guns are made of iridium. Remember, iridium is cheap and plentiful if you're a spacefaring race.

  • You know nickel-plating and chroming and other finishes that make guns bling? In a higher tech civilization, it gets even better. Titanium nitride (TiN), see, makes an excellent finish for things like guns (it's already sometimes used on knives): and it's the color of polished brass (see, e.g, this brass 0,20 € coin). Titanium carbonitride is black with a muted shine.

    But that's nothing. Titanium oxynitride is various shades of blue and purple; on the Wikipedia page for TiN, there's a fuchsia pocketknife.

  • And how come nobody finishes guns in some kind of bright red? I ask because guns have a lot of the same design "themes" as cars—both have been looking more and more like athletic shoes as time goes on—and I can't believe that there isn't someone, who'd buy a red sportscar, who wouldn't also want the specific bling of his blinged out pistol to be red.

    Oh by the bye (this whole topic was just to justify mentioning this in a post about guns), the reason red is used as a danger signal has nothing to do with blood. It's simply used because it's eye-catching. And do you know why red is eye-catching? One word. Berries. You're a monkey, and red, to you, means "food". Evolving the ability to see that color is why your sense of smell sucks, remember?

  • Am I the only one who wishes so many militaries' sidearm was something other than the Beretta? It's not a bad gun, any criticisms of 9 mm Parabellum to one side, but it's just...inaesthetic. It's not really ugly; if anything it's not ugly enough. I mean, go look at a Glock: that's an ugly SOB. That thing looks like the tissue box at my elbow. But it means business, and you know it. Maybe we should switch from the M9 (Beretta M92FS) to the M11 (SIG P228), since then we wouldn't have to learn a new gun, just teach guys a different one of our old ones.

    The problem with the common dream of bringing back the Colt Government, so dear to the followers of Lt. Col. Cooper, is the bastard doesn't usually take more than 10 rounds a magazine; a P228/M11 can take 13, 15, or 20, and the M92FS/M92 can take also take 17 or 18. I dunno, maybe switch everyone to the HK Mk. 23 (SOCOM)? It'll at least take 12 rounds, and it's already used by some of our guys so, again, it's just a matter of changing the distribution of manuals-of-arms. And getting Heckler & Koch to start up production again.

    There'd still be the problem of using a different chambering from most of the other members of NATO; 9mm is the handgun caliber in NATO, and there's lots of people who say we were stupid for using 5.56 NATO when so many others were using 7.62—and at least 5.56 is a NATO standard, though probably only because we (and the French, though I don't remember if they were members when they adopted the FAMAS) went with it.

  • I made a change in my dark fantasy book (which I really need to rewrite). Before, the vampire-hunting priest used .44 Magnum, while everyone else used .45 ACP or .45 GAP. But, really, why? I switched him to one of those 8-round .357 Magnum revolvers (I forget the name, the S&W one with the flashlight rail underneath); most of the others now use .357 SIG or .40 S&W (the latter in a high-pressure load, all you "40 short and weak" naysayers can sit on it). Hollow-points only, since having to expel bullets makes vampires take longer to heal.

    The albino werewolf doesn't use a gun in the first book, since he doesn't have a laser sight—albinos have poor depth perception, see (I'm not sure how their reduced "resolution" vision would affect the sight-picture, either). The reason a laser sight (which he gets in the second one) improves that, is, this guy I was in a class with had macular degeneration, whose effects seemed to be similar to some of albinism's visual symptoms; and he could shoot, if he had a laser sight. Cool, huh? All is grist!

  • Two of the vampire hunters use Glocks, but one of them uses .357 SIG, while her partner uses .40 S&W. Yeah, I know, they're virtually indistinguishable. Ah, but worry not: not all Glocks are black, you know. His have the olive drab frame option.

    How is it Glock has managed to overlook the market for bright pink pistols? The frame's already polymer, guys, color can't be that hard to change.


The Shame Is Too Great

It seems I was wrong about something. I know, mark your calendars, it only happens once or twice a year. Remember here, when I said Teflon-coated bullets are coated with it to keep them from grinding off in the barrel? Turns out I was wrong. That's why most non-stick coated bullets are so coated, but the Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullets (which have never killed a cop) are coated with it to keep them from grinding off the barrel. Yeah, they're real hard, it seems, that's what their designers—cops themselves—were going for. Their main purpose is to go through the kinds of cover (car bodies, for instance) used in a police firefight.

PS. Yes, anonymous poster, they have made several games based on Hindu mythology, besides just Treasure of Rudra that you mentioned. But I find it difficult to believe the ads for that game featured Rudra, Indra, or Lord Shiva vaporizing a thinly-veiled export of Kratos with the casual contempt he deserves, since Treasure of Rudra came out in 1996 and God of War came out in 2005. Before you comment to tell me "it's been done", kindly make certain you are actually aware what "it" is.

Also, since you didn't give me any form of a user-name, your comment was deleted.


On the Passing Scene X

Grr. So I am in a foul mood, and this may shade off into reality-check mode. But, random thoughts.
  • So some idiots at IGN were discussing sexism in video games, and, really, both sides were, as Tycho described a different forum, "an unceasing wall of useless jungle sounds". The dude who's saying video games are sexist just regurgitates the same pre-chewed quasi-Marxist narrative as always. But the one who's concerned to defend them? Yeah, he makes some good points (mentioning, for instance, BL games and otomege as examples of how men ain't the only ones), but then he says, "It's just like movies, it's fantasy." And, therefore, may simply be regarded as ethically irrelevant.

    This is where these people become what they accuse those they don't agree with of being: the enemies of science. See, we've proved there are neurological effects of viewing violent and prurient media, and even more of violent and prurient content in video games. Of course, even a moment's thought would point out the flaw in their argument (aside from its deliberate dismissal of inconvenient research): we actually know the evolutionary purpose of play.

    Play, biologically speaking, is practice. It functions as dry-fire drill for the abilities an animal needs in its eco-niche. Play, as I believe Aristotle said (so they're, what, 2400 years behind the relevant research?), is how children, and adults, form habits. Thus, only the appropriate habits ought to be formed. I'm sorry if that offends you; I'm sure you're some kind of Platonist who believes all wrongdoing is simply caused by ignorance. But if that were true, why am I such a jerk, and you much less of one?

  • I am not here advocating censorship; nor have I tied a lock of your hair to a cloth doll and nailed it to a tree, so you can put your superstitious fears and taboos to rest. I am advocating a rational view of media. It behooves the individual to select media content that will not form, in him, negative reactions and values. I was not aware that the benevolence of our corporate masters was so unquestionable that we can uncritically accept all they shovel out.

    Obviously, the idealized female form, plots involving a dramatically-correct interpretation of romance (and sex), and violence within a coherent moral context, are none of them of spiritual peril. Other than that, well, I suppose it's better you play GTA or God of War than burn ants or something.

  • Which leads to an interesting point: free speech, in its modern connotation, is literally the enemy of all ideas, fit for the "marketplace" or not. The only possible rationale behind allowing the promulgation of all ideas, is the servile notion that they cannot possibly matter. Free speech is only possible to the diabolically insincere.

    Take, for instance, the Handmaid's Tale. If it is not an argument in favor of religious persecution—because Evangelicals will do the things it depicts—then it is simply an argument against free speech. Because, see, the only possible rational purpose of words, is as a spur to actions...and the only rational reaction to the claims that novel makes (implicitly) about Evangelicals, is to systematically remove all trace of their power from society, by force if necessary. Imagine a novel that portrayed Jews as doing that; do you think anyone would pretend it wasn't a cry for pogroms? That, or it is a deliberate, Post-Modern deconstruction of the very concept of allegory, an assertion that anyone or any group can be vilified to any extent, and yet evil consequences not only won't, but can't, follow—which necessarily means that neither can good consequences, so what is the point of speech?

    If such works are not a cry for massive discrimination, then their only effect is to bolster the power of the status quo. Remember, the most "enightened" of the "Enlightenment despots" was also the most despotic: Frederick II Hohenzollern, who said, remember, "The people can say what they like, because I can do what I like."

  • Whoo, that felt good. Commit the above words to heart; I am on to lighter topics. So, so far this season, Tiger and Bunny is the best anime this season. Did anyone else notice the shout-out to The Incredibles in the second episode? Yeah.

    Speaking of, I like Japanese superhero shows far more than American ones. The Incredibles, for instance, is all about special snowflakeness and nonconformity, without a word about what responsibilities inhere in the possession of unique talents. Far better is the thing from Tiger and Bunny, where Kotetsu tells the kid who can animate objects that, yeah, people are jerks if you're different, but the answer is not to lash out: because your power's purpose is to help others. At that point, they'll either accept you, or have an undischarged obligation (no, that last bit's not actually mentioned, but dude, that kid he saves would be a real jerk if he didn't change his tune, and the audience is expected to know that).

  • Of the other shows this season, Kami Nomi is, well, Kami Nomi; Astarotte no Omocha is creepy, Nichijou is hilarious, and Hana Saku Iroha is really annoying.

    But, uh, Dog Days. What the Hell. So is it made by Square Enix, or what? 'Cause there's a Chocobo, it's actually referred to as such, and the combat rules sorta remind me of FF Tactics Advance.

    All that is, however, irrelevant. Aside from that it has Koyasu Takehito, always a plus, I'm 90% sure the protagonist is Takuto from Star Driver. I guess he's becoming their go-to guy for "sweet young guys who can kick ass when the situation calls for it", a role for which he may well be more suited than Kugimiya Rie is for tsundere pettankos. Also, the princess reveals something interesting: the catgirl was an evolutionary dead-end. The future belongs to shiba-inu girls, since they have the exact same cute ears, plus the adorable "feathered" tail that curls up.

  • Mention of God of War reminds me, I really want to make a video game based on Hindu mythology, just so I can have an ad where a guy who isn't Kratos at all (if you know what I mean) get vaporized in the first three seconds, by Indra. Or Rudra. Or Shiva, depending on which stage of Hindu myth one uses.

    I'd also like to make a shirt with an Elite Zealot holding aloft Kratos' severed head, with the words, "Wrong Spartan". Do you get the impression I dislike those games?

  • Speaking of Shiva, so he was originally an aspect of Rudra (or, if one is a Shaivista Hindu, I believe, Rudra was his better-known avatar). What's interesting is, Rudra is invoked, I think in the Mitanni treaty, in parallel to the Hittite god Appaliunas—both are plague-gods with bows, often concerned with oath-taking.

    What's interesting about that is, Appaliunas is the original of Apollo (his plague-powers probably involved sun-stroke a lot, considering where Anatolia is). And I once heard an atheist, trying to imply that Ha-Shem will someday be consigned to the dustbin of history, say "Nobody believes in Apollo anymore." Let us leave to one side that "belief" was not really a factor in Ancient Greek religion (it was not a Creed), and notice: considering Shiva was originally the Indic equivalent of Apollo, no, actually, something like 197 million people worship Apollo (albeit in identification with the Ground of Being).

  • Which reminds me, you know how people try to deny that everything likeable about this society comes from Christianity, and say no, a lot of it came from the Greeks and Romans? Well, huh, go tell your father-in-law he has the right to kill your wife, for any reason, till the day he dies: that was the law in Greece and Rome, thanks for playing.

    But seriously, you're always denouncing various abuses in India (but not the Islamic world, which has even worse ones). Well, India is the exact same civilization as Greece and Rome, only with a far higher moral development. Notice the women's clothes: ever see how a Roman matron dressed? Anything—absolutely anything—that you consider preferable about Western culture to that of India, was invented by Christianity, because there is not a single regard in which Hindus are not better than the Romans, let alone the Germans. Hinduism is pretty much about as good as that worldview gets.

  • So on this now defunct forum I used to go to, for learners of Korean, this idiot (from New York, what a surprise) said, quote, "International milk tastes better than American milk." Sigh. It's just a syllabus of errors, isn't it?

    First off, the word is "foreign", you PC idiot. Aside from how "international milk" sounds like some conspiracy theory about twelve Kosher dairymen in Zurich, international can only be used (if you must have a euphemism for "foreign", and it makes no sense that you would) in certain contexts, otherwise it sounds incredibly stilted, the kind of thing you get when one language adopts another's terminology (that "Let's noun!" thing in Japanese).

    Second, no, jackass, it just tastes better than the crappy milk you can get in New York from the Kraft monopoly that controls pretty much all dairy east of the Rockies. I dare you to say any milk tastes better than the stuff we got here in Arizona (well, 'cept when the feed's marigolds or something and it's weirdly bitter).

  • So I'm seeing if maybe I can convert 3E D&D to an SF setting; GURPS and Alternity (which I realize now is partly a GURPS knockoff) may be more realistic, but 3E had some of the most elegant rules I've ever seen.

    'Course, some things need a-changin'. Fighters and Rogues can stay, but Rogues' Use Magic Device becomes Use Hacking Program—think about it, a future rogue would probably know quite a bit about programs for disabling bank security, but he'd have little idea why it worked. Bards are retained as a thing I'm forced to call Speaker (because "Media Thing" seems impolite), minus one or two of their crazy powers—and their others aren't magic-based, anymore. I'm not sure about rangers, though maybe the 3.5 version archery-specialist version. Other than that, I'm also gonna add psions (once I get the 3E ΨHB), again with a modified list—no teleportation, and the flying-type powers go in telekinesis.

    I'm replacing wizards with technicians, in a blatant Alternity ripoff; I'm gonna swap out their magic item creation feats for tech ones, and replace their spells with programs—again, probably knocked off from Alternity. Remember, "originality" is just knowing who to steal good stuff from.


War Never Changes

Well, 'cept when it does. But, still, that whole "bunch of guys killing each other" aspect of it—probably the most salient feature, I'm guessing—is always the same, so that's probably what it meant. Thoughts upon the military SF aspect of my writing, and mil-SF in general.

  • So I decided to sidestep the whole Navy-Air Force debate in space ranks. Now, my Peacekeepers have ranks based on the Chinese or Imperial Japanese systems (in East Asian languages, all branches of service have the same ranks, just with "air", "sea", "land" at the beginning). So now, the ranks look like this (top to bottom):

    PK Rank
    Chief General OfficerGeneral/Admiral
    Senior General OfficerLieutenant General/Vice Admiral
    General OfficerMajor General/Rear Admiral, Upper Half
    Junior General OfficerBrigadier General/Rear Admiral, Lower Half
    Senior Field OfficerColonel/Captain
    Field OfficerLieutenant Colonel/Commander
    Junior Field OfficerMajor/Lieutenant Commander
    Senior Company OfficerCaptain/Lieutenant
    Company OfficerFirst Lieutenant/Lieutenant Junior Grade
    Junior Company OfficerSecond Lieutenant/Ensign
    Chief Sub-OfficerSergeant Major/Chief Petty Officer
    Senior Sub-OfficerSenior Sergeant/Petty Officer First Class
    Sub-OfficerSergeant/Petty Officer Second Class
    Junior Sub-OfficerJunior Sergeant/Petty Officer Third Class
    Senior PrivateSenior Private/Seaman First Class

    Yeah, notice, the enlisted ranks are basically those of the Russian military. That's also where the insignia come from; the "Chief General Officer" insignia is a single large white star, on a field with a UN-blue border, beneath a UN seal. Basically, this. Enlisted rank insignia other than "Chief Sub-Officer have the letters "PK" on them. Not like this at all.

  • So I realized, the caseless rounds my humans use would, probably, have as their total length, the "casing" length of their equivalent chambering. So, for instance, their pistol rounds (equivalent to .357 SIG) are 9×22 mm; their rifle rounds (equivalent to 6.8×43 Remington SPC), are, well, 6.8×43...but they actually are 43 mm long, while Remington SPC are 58.8 mm long.

    One advantage to these shorter bullets is in helical magazines: their SMG, similar to the Chinese CF-05, has a capacity of 64 rounds to the CF-05's 50.

  • Remember how I said my felinoids' homeworld has less oxygen in the atmosphere than Earth? I wrote a scene where a member of this quasi-Manichaean cult (rebelling against their empire after centuries in hiding) uses a thermobaric grenade against some of their cops, but its effectiveness is reduced: because the thermobaric grenades are designed for use against humans, and therefore are most effective in environments nearer to human standard oxygenation.

    Live by the rich oxygen content, die by the rich oxygen content, you monkeys.

  • Similarly, so I was thinking, my felinoids are a lot stronger than a human—basically somewhere between a leopard and a jaguar in strength. A jaguar is strong enough to hold a horse in its mouth and jump over a six-foot fence. Now, part of my aliens' strength comes from the fact their atmosphere is thinner (hence they've evolved bird-style air sacs), and their gravity is higher (10.59 m/s2, or 1.08 gs), but there's another factor.

    Early humans, and also modern hunter-gatherers, do not actually succeed by hunting prowess. Though they're competent hunters, a human is at a grotesque disadvantage compared to other animals, except in one area. Namely, stamina. We only use 1/5 of our power under normal conditions—adrenaline functions as the limit break, that's why 105-lb women can suddenly lift quarter-ton minivans when you scare them. Anyway, what if the felinoids had, even considering their superior lung-capacity etc., less stamina, because they're using more of their power?

    Unfortunately for humans, while greater stamina is a great advantage in drawn-out conflict, conflicts tend not to get drawn out when the other guy can split your skull by slapping it.

  • Quick addition, about, what, half an hour after I originally put this up? Armor. Armor, armor, armor. It's really funny, read some books about future war written during the 60s; one thing that frequently comes up is this idea that there'll never really be armor again, on the battlefields of the future, except on vehicles. It's the same kind of reductive thinking that led to "We'll never dogfight again" (guess what, we still do).

    It'd be real fun to show those guys a photo like, say, this:Yeah, these gents are some manner of Russian Federation soldiers; don't think they're Specnaz but they'd probably beat you up if you assumed there was a difference.

    It's only a matter of time till we add bracers, shinbaulds, and cuisses to the cuirasses, often spaulders, and sometimes poleins everyone already uses. And yeah, notice, the names are all in Old French.

  • Speaking of, I think the Peacekeepers in my books use something similar to the People's Liberation Army's current multi-cam pattern, as worn by the second guy from the right in this pic:Think it's called Type 07 camo, semi-arid, but it's obviously similar to the multi-cam we use over here. A few countries' Peacekeeper contingents ("national cadres", and yes, the fact that's Soviet terminology is deliberate) will use other patterns; some US Marines still wear good ol' MARPAT. 'Cause, y' know, they're the Marines.


No King Without His People, the People Lost Without Their King

A quote from the good version of Fullmetal Alchemist. You know, the one that wasn't written by a 9/11 Truther.

So Big Hollywood was doing this thing about how Verhoeven is a worm for doing what he did to Starship Troopers. It's true, but they had some silly notion that the Founding Fathers wanted a "republican" form of government—in the sense of one that disenfranchises the "mob".

Frankly, if you're going to endorse the Tea Party, you cannot—it would be immoral—talk that way. The Tea Party is nothing but the mob. And it demonstrates something my people have known for hundreds of years: the mob is nearly always right, at least on principle, its only errors arising from matters of fact. And facts, of course, are typically delivered to the "mob" from the elite (save when the people inappropriately generalize from their own experience, as is generally the case in instances of mob violence against minorities).

Seriously, do you know why the English "liberal" tradition talks that way about the "mob"? It's because the English "liberals", which means the Parliamentary clique, knew the people were on to them, and they had the sense to know that meant their worthless lives were in dire peril. Recall, if you will, that the history of England's Parliament goes like this:
  1. Deliberately subjecting royal power over lords in matters of criminal law to the authority of other lords (it's "a jury of peers", not "of one's peers", in the Magna Charta).
  2. The deliberate alienation of the predominantly Catholic culture of England under Elizabeth and especially the early Stuarts, in order to prevent the monasteries' property (looted during the Henry VIII business) having to be restored.
  3. The replacementof the Stuarts, when they noticed Catholics are human beings, with the tractable, because alien, Hanoverians—which transfer of power was effected by the worst domestic political violence in European history until the Terror, and unlike the terror, during peacetime.
  4. The Enclosure laws, quite simply stealing the communal lands from the populace and giving them to members of that Parliamentary clique.
There's more, really; the Parliamentary clique was also the reason for the Boer War and England's role in causing the World Wars (had Parliament not been pacifist, neither war would ever have happened at all).

Oh but wait, you'll say, that's the aristocracy. Uh-huh. And again, republic is just Latin for aristocracy; haven't you ever seen how Aquinas' "On Kingship" is glossed? What about the fact the British Parliament is no longer hereditary, even in the Lords? That's worse. I said it before, a technocracy (and all European Parliaments have lately developed a tendency to be dominated by "experts") is even worse than a plutocracy, since there's even more opportunity for pride in expertise than in wealth. From Rome, when the Senate was exclusively a Patrician domain, to the Parliament, to the US Congress, to the French Senate, to the Soviet Republics: all republics immediately become the basest oligarchies mankind has ever conceived.

Why? Again, the reason was quite clear in the 13th century, when Aquinas wrote "On Kingship"—and remember, he not only knew more monarchs personally than you can probably name, his family were major nobles; Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, was his cousin. Find me, please, another political theorist who had personal experience with both the elective and hereditary forms of both monarchy and aristocracy.

In "On Kingship", he explains why the republic is the worst form of government, even though its corrupt form (oligarchy) is only middling in efficiency, of bad systems of government.

A republic is, by definition, a system with a ruling class. Its weakness, therefore, is that good people will go along with bad, "in order to keep peace within the class". We, nowadays, call it peer pressure (very appropriately); have you maybe heard the expression "Washington insider"? Yeah. Thus, the republic, though its corrupt form is not as bad as the corrupt form of monarchy (tyranny), is more likely to become corrupt.

Anyway, though, the Founding Fathers were not as stupid as their forebears. I chalk it up to a French influence, but, though most of them did not appear to understand that no Hanoverian could be a tyrant (because no Hanoverian was a monarch), they did understand that the legislature—the Parliament—is not incorruptible. And so they created the presidential system. The President having the power to place a check on Congress is not, as so many idiots seem to think, a bug; it is a feature. Any king who cannot check his lords is worthless as a king.

What, then, about the idea that "the mob" can't be trusted with the vote, as evinced in so many of the defenses of Heinlein's book (that's not really the point of the book, but hang on a second)? It's folly. All government, if remotely moral, rests on the assumption the community is ultimately sovereign. Now, the flaw in most electoral systems is that the community, unless almost completely homogeneous, is not truly represented in mere majorities. So some system of representation is required.

Now, of course, in practice, one might define "the community", and therefore the right to be represented, tribally, the assumption that forms the basis of the nation-state. But in such a system enfranchising minorities is not only illogical, it's actually immoral. Hence the moral flaw of all true nation states: in a community defined as German, Jews, even Ashkenazim, actually aren't members and should be disenfranchised (communism does the same thing, only with "class" substituted for "nation"—those not of the proletariat really are non-members of the community). Combine this fact, derived from that definition of community, with Nazism and Marxism's paranoid assumption that all aliens are enemies, and all enemies are non-persons, and the Holocaust and Gulags follow like a syllogism.

So you have to fall back on the Roman assumption, that all "responsible, resident adults" shall be considered members of the community in its political capacity. Now, there are different conceptions of what constitutes "responsibility", and Heinlein's Federation falls back on the ancient one, military (or other) service to the polis. Except that, y' know, unlike ancient (and "Enlightenment", but not medieval) systems, his Federation does not automatically exclude women from the category of "adults".

But, you know what? I, and the theorists of both the American and French Revolutions, still call Heinlein a quitter-bitch. Since the mob can be expected to behave responsibly—as when it self-organized for military resistance, in both the above Revolutions, or when it self-organized to protest economic policies it objected to, in the Tea Party—we may conclude that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, every adult with full legal membership of the community can be considered responsible. Hence, the full franchise—although the Enlightenment thinkers who founded the great Republics (both of them characterized, right up to the end of the 19th century, by enmity with Britain), retained enough of the pagan darkness of the "Renaissance" to deny the adulthood of women. Oh well; the oversight has since been corrected.

Oh, and let's point out, the Terror was the work of a very small legislature, the Committee of Public Safety. Once Carnot turned on Robespierre, it had to be dissolved: because it had lost public support. Quebec echo delta.


On the Passing Scene IX

Random thoughts. Oh, but first off, happy birthday, ane-ue-dono. And Mobile Suit Gundam—April 7, 1979 was its first airdate. There's a significance that she was born exactly four years later, I think we can all agree.
  • So I found out that, with JP Aerospace's Orbital Airship idea, payloads can be brought to orbit at a price of $1/ton/mile altitude, or $0.69/metric ton/km altitude. Which in my setting comes to 434 ₨/megagram/km altitude. That's darn cheap!

    Airships: they're not just for steampunk anymore.

  • Speaking of Gundam, I read a manga called "Gundam Genesis" (Gundam Sousei) about the creation of the first Gundam series. Uh, did Kill 'Em All Tomino really hit Amuro Rei's seiyuu (twice!) to get the "You hit me, you hit me twice, even my father never hit me!" line right? 'Cause he seems crazy enough to have done that, but still, wow. Also, did Itano "Circus" Ichiro really sneak into demolition sites so he could see how smoke rises from demolished buildings?

    But it's interesting, that thing about how the fans of the show went and bought the toys so it would stay on the air. Nice going, Tomino, you're responsible for one of the most embarrassing things about Japan's culture.

  • But, still. Remember when I said Americans are smarter than Brits because at least our TV science fiction is Star Trek, not Dr. Who? Yeah, well, Japan's is Gundam, so, uh, yeah, they win.

    Also, "Sieg Zeon!" is cooler than "Live Long and Prosper", and a hell of a lot cooler than "Exterminate! Exterminate!"

  • So the movie "Moon" has a lot of soft SF trappings like easy cloning and evil corporations, but the protagonist is there to, uh, mine helium-3 from the lunar regolith.

    Oh, baby, you know just what Daddy like!

  • So far this season, the good anime are Sket Dan, Nichijou, and Tiger and Bunny. Sket Dan needs no introduction, but Nichijou is basically Magic Realist Azumanga Daioh. But it's good—Magic Realism is actually tolerable in service to slice-of-life comedy.

    Tiger and Bunny is an even more cynical take on superheroes than I'd do, and in mine the supervillains are the good guys. I especially like the Pepsi logos all over that idol-chick's costume.

  • My problem with Magic Realism is, it's basically like "Huh, oh yeah, an angel (or a monster or a UFO or whatever) showed up in the backyard, but whatever; let's go into lucubrations on our petty infidelities just like crappy mainstream fiction."

    Again: that'll work in a comedy, but if you're trying to tell a serious story either the weird stuff is in the foreground, or it's not there.

  • So all these right-wingers who just can't remark often enough that Obama's various shifts RE: the War on Terror are "flip-flops" from him. I have only one thing to say.

    Hey idiots, he's doing what you want! Why the Hell Michigan are you pointing out that he said he wouldn't?! Is some ephemeral "moral" victory more important to you than actual victory? Any 5-year-old knows, when you're getting your way, you don't point out it's inconsistent! Why are you stupider than a 5-year-old?!

  • So I've officially decided, the two orbit elevators on Earth, in my book, are in Entebbe, Uganda and Macapá, Brazil. Because those two cities are on the equator.

    How has nobody noticed the potential social-justice implications of orbit elevators for the "Global South"?

    Nah, I'm just kidding; of course nobody means it when they talk about wanting to help the developing world.


The 1887 XDR Bottle of Wine

Yeah, 1887 Special Drawing Rights in my setting=$3. If 1887 Rs seems like a lot, well, in South Korea $3=₩3257.

There's a famous article called "The $11 Billion Bottle of Wine", about how interstellar trade will never be possible—even in SF settings, with FTL. Unfortunately a lot of the assumptions are, well, assumptions, and not good ones.

For instance, the current price of space-launches is $10-25k per kg. It's projected to drop to $500/kg, thanks to private competition. And methods like orbit elevators can drop it down to $200/kg. That lowers the cost of getting the ships, and cargo, off the ground. Indeed, containerized, low-fragility cargo can simply be pelted into orbit with Verne guns, probably lowering the price even further. That's a lot higher than air freight, admittedly, but considering the ROI from even small-scale asteroid mining, it'd be worth it. What I mean is, some of the substances you can mine from asteroids, are so hard to get here in the gravity well that their price per unit weight approaches high-end pharmaceuticals or even illicit drugs—and robotic mining has much lower overhead than pharma.

Once you're in space, the issue becomes the methods of interplanetary flight. Spaceship fuel is cheap, unless you're crazy enough to use antimatter rockets—ships use plentiful things like hydrogen and methane as propellant. Indeed, the expensive parts of spaceships are used in constructing the engine, since even an NTR needs a lot of shielding, and expensive superconductors. Again, though, many of the materials that go into hot superconductors can be mined from asteroids; the more spacefaring you do, the cheaper it gets. Plus, nuclear fusion power is projected to become feasible by the 2020s, and that means fusion spaceships won't be far behind—the NTR was invented a mere 13 years after the Chicago Pile achieved critical mass.

Okay, so, yes, at that point, you'd be limited to interplanetary commerce, realistically. But the article in question was in a gaming magazine, it wasn't concerned with realism: indeed, it specifically claims FTL won't make a difference. But, uh, what? If it's an FTL system like the slipspace drives in Halo, it'd be an incredible boon to commerce, since it can teleport directly from one low planetary orbit to another. Even if it's an only-usable-at-a-certain-distance system, like Niven's hyperdrive (and my space-folds), interstellar trade, in a civilization with FTL, is, ipso facto, no more expensive than interplanetary trade. With FTL, if you go out to whatever-"jump"-distance, jump to another star system, and then go from that new system's "jump" distance to the planet where you're trading, it costs the same as if you'd done the same amount of maneuvering in-system.

Now, I'll give you, it's unlikely there'll be any tramp freighters like Han Solo or Mal Reynolds. FTL drives sure as hell wouldn't be cheap, even if anyone was stupid enough to trust guys like that with spaceship engines, which they wouldn't be. Interstellar trade would be the purview of governments and mega-corps, quite possibly a neo-Mercantilist system...but of course, so would interplanetary trade. Oh, I know, mercantilism just never works, compared to the all-holy free market. That's why the Chinese owe so much money to the US.

Oh, wait.


Never Apologize, Mister, It's a Sign of Weakness

200 posts!

So I was thinking about Atlas Shrugged, and, has anyone noticed, Rand's basically a Stalinist? Cut out the lip-service to individualism and the story is Socialist Realism. Atlas Shrugged is the story of a brilliant, exemplary worker beset on all sides by "looters" and social parasites—that is, it is the tale of a Stakhanovite udarnik plagued by tunejádsti.

Someone needs to investigate whether she wasn't some kind of elaborate Soviet sleeper agent.

Anyway. I realized, one thing I hate is when people allow their opponents to define the terms of the debate. Worst, is when they literally allow their enemies to define them. One obvious example would be how French people have decided to become the caricature of themselves the English made. For instance, they think they're not a military people, and that they're copasetic about sexual misbehavior; when in fact all their current mores arose out of a reaction against the extremely militant, and sexually almost Puritanical, tradition, that arose in the period between the Bourbon Restoration and the Great War.

Or how about the Cold War? Leaving to one side my theory that Communism was a secret plot by the capitalists (it's much harder to criticize capitalism now than it was before 1917, I'll tell you that for free), what's with all the idiots who celebrate the Soviet caricature of capitalism? I mean, on the assumption Rand wasn't actually a Soviet agent, she basically said, "Capitalism's selfish and heartless and based on greed and exploits the worker and leaves him to starve in the gutter. So I'll say those things are good."

For example, the Soviets did have competition, and a mechanism for incentivizing performance. It was called "socialisticheskoje sorevnovanie" (literally competition, but officially interpreted as "emulation"). They frequently contrasted it favorably with "kapitalisticheskaja konkurencija", capitalist competition—because, of course, capitalist competition benefits only the winning capitalist, while socialist emulation benefits all of society. This is poppycock; both in theory and practice, a rising tide lifts all boats (the troubles with capitalism have to do with the fact that most of the populace is not the captain of its own boat, and that the whole enterprise is at the mercy of the tides).

But—along with the many who, of course, point out that the caricature is a caricature—I have with these mine eyes read libertarian writers who say, "Good, if the rest of society wants to benefit they should try harder." Now let us leave to one side that plainly this attitude is the enemy not only of social justice but of ordinary sportsmanship, and notice: it is not true. The only reason to favor capitalism is that its benefits outweigh its downsides. That is the only reason to favor any system.

You get it in religion, too—as in, Catholics and the Orthodox do not have to apologize to Protestants and Muslims for a damn thing, since they've killed several hundred times more of us than we have of anyone—and in stuff like entertainment. Indeed, it's at the root of cool table syndrome.

PS. Libertarianism at its extremes is no more realistic than Mao, commanding the farmers to grow incompatible crops together "in order to foster class solidarity among the cereals". Admittedly the majority of them know the real defense of capitalism, but in matters like sex and drugs they are all strict Party men—and like Soviet apparatchiks, they respond to all objections with "Oh well the theory makes it impossible.". Ironically, though, their policy positions would only work for the New Soviet Man.


Blood and Treasure

What? No, this is about writing SF and fantasy, with special emphasis on alien biochemistry, and economics. Why, what did you think it meant?
  • So I decided my felinoids have fuchsia blood, based on an iron-sulfur protein instead of a heme-protein. It's yellow when it bonds to carbon dioxide (did you know that's why the blood in your veins is blue? yeah, hemoglobin doesn't just bond to O2). What's interesting is, though they're immune to carbon monoxide poisoning, they get nitric oxide poisoning, instead. Nota bene, nitric, not nitrous—NO, not N2O.

    Of course, their homeworld has only about 2/3 the oxygen in its atmosphere that Earth does—so they have air sacs like birds, constantly pumping fresh air through their constant-volume lungs. They still breathe out when they relax, though—birds breathe in by default, and have to tense a muscle to exhale.

    As Gabe and Tycho said, birds are weird.

  • The elves in my fantasy book, and the trolls, don't have blood, they have ichor—they were the objects of human worship, and ichor is what gods' blood is called. I was at a loss for what to have it look like, but then I found out ichor is gold-colored. So when an elf gets cut it looks like molten gold (fortunately they're not prone to emo-ness, because self-harm would be a hell of a temptation if your blood was that cool-looking).

    Oh incidentally, Ursula K. LeGuin, while admittedly "ichor" should never just be used as a synonym for blood, I'd have said completely bollocksed cultural appropriation is "the infallible touchstone of the seventh rate". But then, I'm acquainted with actual Taoist thought.

  • My felinoids' genetic material is held together by sulfones, not ribose. We've created sulfonucleic acid in the lab, though the new nucleobases we created had problems; obviously, my guys use a set of nucleobases that doesn't have those problems. Now, of course, their metabolism still uses monosaccharides for energy storage, but the different structure of their cell nuclei means glucose is sub-optimal for the purpose (I don't know enough to say which one they use instead). Also, they use a different chemical from the adenosine phosphate sequence in their metabolism, but again, I don't have the background to say what they do use.

  • So I mentioned that their main alcoholic beverage is "kumis" (actually blaand, since it's fermented whey); they also drink "beer". Technically it's not really beer, the seeds they make it from are more like legumes...and it's actually its fiber being broken down, like wood alcohol...and instead of yeast-like lifeforms, they use the gut-flora of a ruminant. An interesting cultural-setting tidbit is they consider our wine to be beer, since that's their only word for fermented seeds (and fruits count as "close enough" to seeds, for that purpose).

    The other thing they drink is, basically, shellac. It's fermented with those same ruminant gut-flora, but it's made from bug wings. See, chitin (or its alien-homeworld analog) is actually made from carbohydrates, it's somewhat akin to cellulose.

  • I changed their agriculture slightly. Though they still grow various plant crops, the storage of which attracts edible critters, I realized that probably wouldn't be enough for a hypercarnivorous species to develop civilization. Plus they have a taboo on domesticating prey animals. But, I'd already decided, they have no problem with preserving prey (a large proportion of their peasantry is actually professional hunters), and, well, do you know what pumas eat surprisingly large amounts of?


    Basically, my felinoids now have "preserves" (something like artificial termite colonies) of a bug that's something like a cross between a grasshopper and a termite (looks more like the former, acts a bit like the latter). Since they're not really domesticated, there's no taboo—and suddenly there's a nutrient base for any size population they need. Bugs can even be dried out and then reconstituted, like the shrimp in Cup Noodle.

  • So I rented Sacred Blacksmith (Seikon no...Blacksmith), and, one thing I noticed right off, do these idiots really think the only threat a high-placed imperial could make against an independent city would be force? Please. The real threat would be, "Do as I say, or I will reroute all my empire's trade that I possibly can, away from your city."

    The other things that are funny all relate to Japanese conceits about smithing. First off, nobody uses black sand iron ore, unless they absolutely have to; it's a piss-poor source of the stuff. Most iron comes from hematite, it's not our fault your stupid little islands don't have much.

    Also, though I think the dude's katana can cut through other swords because it's forged and they're cast, a katana is actually measurably inferior to a properly pattern-welded arming sword. First off, the katana, being a backsword, can only block with one edge; a skilled swordsman could break one by hitting the back of the sword as his opponent makes his backswing. Second and more important, slightly later European arming swords had optimal balance between slicing and stabbing—the slightly tapered blade, the fuller stopping several inches from the tip—whereas katanas, being curved, are very counter-intuitive to stab with. That's why merely stabbing often seems like a magic special move, in the annals of Japanese swordsmanship: so few guys practiced their stabbing that few other guys practiced to defend against stabs.

  • So, hey, did you know that asteroids are a convenient source of iridium and osmium, and other elements that are extremely rare on earth? Yeah, those are the first and second densest of all elements, so they tend to sink to the center of the body they're in. That makes them inaccessible on a planet, not so much on an asteroid. Among their applications, how about non-radioactive armor piercing rounds?

    Also, titanium (also more common in asteroids than on earth) needs vacuum to be refined, at least without costly electrolysis—the processing price would drop drastically if creating a vacuum just involved opening a door. Same goes for a bunch of other metals. Once you get the refinery up into space, it'd eventually pay for itself, especially as we develop cheaper launch methods (and in the interim we could just reroute those flights we already use to launch satellites).

  • According to TV Tropes, a bunch of people think there can never be a world currency "because it wouldn't allow enough flexibility when regional economies fluctuate". Which is, of course, why California and Texas each issue their own currency, right? Because otherwise, people in Texas would be forced to buy things at California prices, right?

    Oh, no, wait, none of that happens. If your regional economy has made something more expensive, then you pay more for it—in whatever denomination—than someone does in a place where it's cheaper, even if they're denominating their payments in the same currency.