Robots Do Not Fight Clean

MST3K quote.

I saw Real Steel the other day, and, uh...it's good. It's really good. Indeed, I only have two quibbles. One, is the minor antagonist is a hugely stereotypical Texan. Think "snaggle-toothed hook-nosed Jewish moneylender"-level stereotypical—I would say that hating Evangelicals and Southerners was the new anti-Catholicism or anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism is coming back in a big way, and anti-Catholicism never left. So it is simply bigoted and bad, in the way that those are bigoted and bad. The other issue is the voice-activated robot should've had commands in Portuguese, not Japanese—he was modded for it for the Brazilian fight circuit, after all. And "golpe no queixo" just sounds cooler than "appaakatto" (yes, the Japanese word for "uppercut" is "uppercut"—as is the French one, at least in savate).

Okay, I had one other issue: several times, the movie slows down to give us extended reaction sequences, which is a pacing mistake. Reaction shots, even several in sequence, are fine, but dragging it out too long just irritates the audience.

Other than those things, awesome, awesome picture. Especially the guy who designed Zeus (and, I suspect, also the kid's robot). That man—basically Takeshi Kaneshiro with a fancy Asian version of Don King's hair—is exactly what a guy who makes boxing robots looks like. Well, except his suits were a little understated; I would imagine he'd go a little flashier (then again, he is a bit young—flashy clothes is more of a "cool ossan" thing, in Japan).

Which reminds me: Astro Boy references. The kid's robot is named Atom. It appears to have an AI beyond simple move recognition. It was discarded by its creator (who, I am convinced, was the above-mentioned gent), and found by someone who treated it like a person. Oh, and at the end, they say the freaking thing showed "heart". Boxing-movie cliche? No, silly, they just translated "kokoro" into English.

They could've stood to be a bit less ambiguous about the "strength" of the protagonist-bot's AI-solution, rather than going the Chobits route. At one point the film seems to imply that Atom has the same learning ability as Zeus, plus what may be some simulacrum of self-awareness; one likes to know where one stands, vis-a-vis whether one is rooting for a character or merely a mobile McGuffin.

Finally: great fights. Not just the choreography, both of the robots and of how the humans move them, but the actual strategy. Boxing, see, is an endurance sport, just as much as MMA or (real) wrestling, and this shows that—apparently Sugar Ray Leonard earned his consultant paycheck.

Also, Hugh Jackman's character talks very much like every boxer I ever knew (they're slightly different from other martial artists, I don't know how to put it).


The Way of the Voice

Skyrim reference by name but not by nature. No, actually, it's about dinosaurs. You may have heard that we have no evidence that dinosaurs had vocal cords—or, given what modern dinosaurs' vocal apparatus is, "syrinxes".

If it seems lame to you that dinosaurs never could've roared, because they didn't have voices at all, well, there is actually a bird that has no vocal cords. It's called the turkey vulture, and it is one of the coolest birds in existence—not least because it and the two species of condor are, unlike the European vultures, not birds of prey (European vultures are hawks, that's why they hunt by sight, rather than smell like turkey vultures), or at least they're not closely related to them. No, they're members of a larger group scientists call "hell if we know", because the taxonomy of the New World vultures is one of the great mysteries of zoology—they may actually be related to storks.

And incidentally, this is a turkey vulture's call. Imagine something the size of T. rex making that noise: you still prefer the elephant noises they used for the T. rex in Jurassic Park?

Here's the sound a vulture makes if you startle it. Does "homicidal steam kettle" not seem cool enough for you?


Three Other Things

Just little thoughts I had.
  1. So apparently people think Douglas Adams did dark humor? What? Seriously, maybe it's just that I'm Czech and Irish (and a little New England Acadian), and like to read French books, but Douglas Adams isn't dark. His humor is about as dark as Chesterton's, sorry. If that's what you Saxon dogs mistake for dark humor, just thank your blind idiot gods you can't understand French and have forgotten Belloc ever wrote anything but children's poetry, because I've read comedy the darkness of which would, all by itself, unmake you.

  2. Being "gangsta" has no bearing on how hardcore a musician is. Mainly because most of the people who style themselves "gangsta" are at worst street hoods, in real life, with the exception of a few (largely unindicted) serial killer-types.

    But also, the most legitimately gangsta musician of all time? Frank Sinatra. The man had actual mob ties. "You're gonna 'bust a cap in my ass'? That's cute, kid. I'll have your entire family murdered, and if it ever goes to trial, guess what, I own the judge."

    Accept it, your grandma's the one who listens to the OG, son.

  3. Warhammer 40K is basically "Dune and Starship Troopers (the book) had a child out of wedlock." Only it's not as cool as it sounds (to be fair, though, it's also not as talky).


A Cemetary of Dead Ideas

Ideas that science fiction just needs to stop using. The title's from the (rather complex) Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno; he said it of science, "even though life may issue from them." No life, however, issues from these ideas in science fiction, though they are a fertile field for mildew.
  • Freud. In case you're collecting reasons to hate the Aliens movies, the whole franchise is, by the admission of the actual staff, a Freudian-feminist (which is like Nazi-Jewish) allegory for men being raped by women (the xenomorphs, like most hive-insects, being female). Plus a little allegory in favor of abortion, by way of positing pregnancy-as-monster.

    More generally, science fiction in the US and UK is absolutely backward, in terms of psychology. See, Freud ruled virtually unquestioned in the Anglosphere pretty much through the 70s, and thus he was the "science" SF writers turned to when they wanted psychological elements for their stories. Hence all the phallic imagery, penis-envy, women-don't-enjoy-sex, id-ego-superego, and bullshit theories of how an infant's mind develops. Which is pathetic: Freud was as defunct by that time—as in, several years after the moon landing—as luminiferous aether. Mostly because he was a hack. The only one of his theories that hadn't been debunked to hell and back is projection, and that idea is hardly unique to Freud; I seem to recall Augustine talks about it. It's also, ironically, the basis of everything in Freud—e.g., he was molested by his father and had a crush on his (mother-figure) nursemaid, hence the Oedypus Complex.

    Science has abandoned Freud, it is long past time art did the same. At least join the 20th century and be Jungians—it may only be 40 years more recent (the 1920s rather than the 1880s), but it's also much less widely discredited. At least for artists: nearly every bad-rubber-suit monster movie is Freudian (yes, including Alien—the xenomorph in the first one isn't even particularly scary); Babylon 5—the closest thing to real science fiction ever shown on television—is based on Jung.

  • Scientists being used by evil militarists or corporations. I hate the mad scientist, too, but since there actually have been those, it's not irredeemable. On the other hand, there never was a scientist, with the highly questionable exception of Werner von Braun, whose naivete was exploited by an evil military. And there never was one, period, who was exploited by an evil corporation—James Cameron can go right to hell.

    See, many scientists, after a few years of having to beg for grant money, become as uninhibited as the average crack-whore, and they're more than willing to look the other way, if their research is being used in unethical ways. At least their research is being funded, and they're willing to sacrifice anything for that, huge swaths of our civilization having made "Science" with a capital S into its own self-contained ideology. As Bertolt Brecht—who, as a Marxist, knew a thing or two about selling out for an ideology—put it, "Science knows only one commandment: contribute to science."

    Besides, most of the scientists who like to portray themselves as having been duped, are textbook mad scientists. Exhibit A would be Robert Oppenheimer; along with how he always got coeds for his lab assistants, just so he would have lots of young women around whose paychecks needed his signature, the atomic bomb itself was also a power-trip for him. That Hindu text he quoted? Yeah, it's the Bhagavad Gita, specifically a scene where Krshna shows his true form to the Pandavas and says he will destroy everyone else, but spare them, because they've pleased him. If you make a giant bomb, and you immediately quote a god who's in the mood for some infidel-smiting, you are not horrified by what you've done. Also, in his school days, he once tried to poison a TA who got on his nerves. That doesn't sound like "healthy scientist" or even "somewhat troubled scientist" to me, how about you?

  • Dark ages. I have no problem, in principle, if you want to have your setting involve the breakup of some previous star-spanning, or smaller, civilization, like in Andromeda or some portions of the Traveler timeline. Obviously empires break up, and this is almost always unpleasant for quite some time.

    No, my problem is when things get better by reintroducing the system from before the breakup. It is, of course, the myth of the Renaissance. Only, the Romans were horrible people, and bringing back their system ruined Europe. E.g., the average war between, say, 1000 and 1300 involved about 300 guys and went on for two or three weeks, and noncombatants had a set of protections at least as good as the UN's (oh who are we kidding, almost certainly better). Roman wars lasted years, involved thousands, and stripped countrysides bare; plus, even after Christianity, massacring the enemy's people and enslaving the survivors was considered par for the course. Renaissance wars brought all that back, and the only improvement they offered in exchange was paintings that used three-point perspective.

    People don't just stop and wallow in dung for half a dozen centuries, after empires fall. They might take a while to get their shit together, but they do eventually do it—and unreflectively restoring things to their pre-fall condition may very well ruin something the post-fall people were actually doing better, more than likely by not having the preconceptions common to the fallen empire's culture. Say, protections for laborers, or women's rights—two things the Renaissance basically took a freaking axe to.

  • Satires on America. Maybe—in theory, though almost certainly not in practice—there is an exception to this rule for American filmmakers, but Hollywood can't even portray the advertising industry correctly, and "Madison Avenue" is practically the same people as Hollywood. There is no exemption for Europeans, because newsflash, you weasels only know about us through your media and our movies, both of which are inveterate liars.

    Example: describe, please, a Vietnam-veteran US Marine. You said "a little unhinged from the horrors he saw in that war, and reflexively violent thanks to his training," didn't you? That's based on movies, dickweed. The correct answer is "stubborn beyond comprehension, and quite unashamed to have Trekkie-levels of geekiness where their favorite movies are concerned." That comes from the Brennan brothers, two friends of my dad's, because unlike you Eurotards I actually know some actual Marine Nam vets.

    Verhoeven's Detroit is as much a propaganda-caricature as Griffiths' Ku Klux Klan, only even less accurate (the KKK actually was formed because the Reconstruction authorities were letting ex-slaves get away with crimes...it's just that they chose to deal with it by the strategy of "terrorize all blacks we come across").

  • Galactic federations. Conceivably, multiple species might have some sort of council, that represents them all, that they could come to to work out their grievances peaceably. Only, that's not even a confederation, let alone a federation. Those are governments; what you'd need, is just some kind of court—the only reason all parties would be represented is that whole "jury of your peers" idea. Which isn't even necessary—bench trials are often a better solution—except that a member of another species is highly unlikely to understand every relevant fact. E.g., you may not want to leave a liability settlement up to heavy-worlder judges who think 50 m/s2 is a safe, reasonable acceleration.

    The thing is, just like the difficulties in that bench trial, there is no way multiple species should have a say in anything relating to each other's governments. There's a reason the UN's resolutions are completely non-binding: not a single member-nation trusts the others to legislate for them. Nor should they, because those other countries don't know dick about your life, or vice-versa.

    Now imagine that those other countries are populated by people who breathe chlorine, and who see ultraviolet along with red, blue, and green. Do you trust them to write your industrial-safety standards?

  • Being British, and acting like it. Specifically, with their unjustifiably smug and condescending caricatures of religion, especially my religion. Whenever Arthur C. Clarke shot his stupid mouth off about religion or philosophy, you remembered why people invented the car-bomb.

    Okay, not really, because even his combination of stupidity with condescension wasn't as bad as raping every woman in a county, which, you will recall, is the other thing English people think passes for a rational position on other people's religions—especially, again, my religion. Either way, though, they have no right to do it and they need to stop.

  • Historical allegories. The problem is, you are not smart enough to retell the history. Again, not even if you have a degree in it—tell Harry Turtledove's alternate version of Byzantium to any Greek, anywhere, and see if you aren't covered in incredulous laugh spittle, and possibly little bits of feta cheese, two seconds later. This is also partly related to the previous one, because the person making the allegory is virtually certain to say something he has no earthly right to say—like the aforementioned Turtledove, an American Jew who doesn't appear to know why the Greeks might have a problem with their church being portrayed as making Muhammad a saint. If you know anything about the Fall of Constantinople, or the subsequent treatment of Greeks by the Ottoman Empire, Turtledove's alternate history is basically a Holocaust joke.

    Or take District 9. Yes, apartheid was bad. Not as bad as the absolute shambles the post-apartheid governments made of that country in the ensuing decades, and nowhere near as bad as the genocide and child-soldiers the developed world completely ignored in favor of refusing to play Sun City, but sure, it was bad. But there you see the issue: historical allegories only work if you wrench them completely out of context. Would you use the same kind of aliens to represent the child-soldiers, or the Congolese (crazy-ass rapist) militias, or Idi Amin? What would be the "prawn" equivalent of AIDS, and would you mention that their second leader would make it illegal to mention the disease's true cause, thus greatly speeding its spread, to both species (leaving to one side the physical impossibility of two species being susceptible to the same disease)? What about the unfortunate implications of the "black people=aliens" premise, in the first place? Especially since humans (who in this allegory stand for "white people", which is just as troubling) can get a disease that turns them into black people aliens. Because that's not problematic imagery at all.

  • Finally: impossible crap. I'm not talking FTL or artificial gravity. I mean terraforming, massive over-population, AI whose creation isn't an epic in itself, elevating animals to sapience, and so on. Most of those things are not only both impossible, and often, also, off-brand gnosticism, but also, several of them originated as excuses to keep the poor down.

    Terraforming comes from a series of climate-scares deliberately created from the 1960s on, mainly as a justification for crushing eco-regulations to impede third-world nations' rise from poverty—and also to hobble the economies of the free world, because the advocates were directly or indirectly allied to the Soviets. Over-population scares originated as an excuse to sterilize poor, usually brown, people in places like Asia and South America, and, before that, as a polemic against the very first liberals, about how if poor people were given conditions that didn't kill 80% of their children, they'd eat themselves and everyone else into starvation. And both AI-that's-not-freaking-magic and "uplifting" animals arise from a combination of materialism and gnosticism, Screwtape's pipe-dream—essentially, a combination of overweening hubris with a troglodytic ignorance of what consciousness is.


You Sure of That, Smart Guy?

Reality Check.
  • A Cracked article I was reading said, quite correctly, that the typical portrayal of Jesus is due to the Renaissance artists simply painting everyone according to the Greco-Roman canons of art. They then, however, claimed that another factor was that—"during the Crusades"—they needed to disguise the fact people were praying to "a little brown Jew". Because, of course, that would cause confusion, as to "whether it's the one they're supposed to pray to, or to kill." First off, if you can tell what ethnicity medieval manuscript illustrations or monumental sculpture are supposed to represent, you need to go into forensics, because you have a sodding superpower.

    Second, though, they can shove their slander up their asses. The Crusades had nothing whatsoever to do with Jews. On the basis of one incident, the Rhineland massacres, it has been convenient for (lying propagandists and intellectual prostitutes) to paint the Crusades as anti-Semitic, but that's ridiculous. And, if the writer in question is Jewish, it's also grotesque ingratitude, since, again, it was actual Crusaders who finally put down the (not-Crusader) mobs responsible for the massacres (leaving to one side that, also again, the mobs killed more Germans than they did Jews, simply due to the demographics of the region).

    Remember how, shortly after 9/11, some idiot here in Arizona killed a Sikh, thinking he was a Muslim? Well imagine if he'd been stopped by military police. And then, nevertheless, everyone simply decided that the Sikhs ought to oppose the War on Terror and the US military, and if most accounts of the incident described the perpetrator as being a US serviceman. That's basically what people do with the Crusades—do you perhaps see the issue?

  • Another Cracked article pointed out that the "obeying orders at all times without question" thing was never really a part of the samurai's code. But then they claimed that samurai were never loyal, and would simply kill their lords if serving them stopped being profitable.

    Sigh. Look, children, it is just very cute that you're interested in history—even if it's only because of your puerile fascination with "blood and a bit of undressing"—but there are at least 260 years between the period you're talking about, and the rise of what would become Japanese Imperialism. Yes, Sengoku era samurai weren't particularly loyal (though they'd never kill their lords just for not paying enough, it looks bad on a résumé), but the Sengoku was an unstable time. Edo-period samurai—which are the thing we mean when we say "samurai", Sengoku-era ones weren't even swordsmen, they were horse-archers—most certainly were loyal. Have you maybe heard of the 47 Ronin? 200+ years of adapting a military class to peacetime conditions tends to have an effect on its behavior.

    Then again, pretty much every (half-educated) amateur, talking about history, makes that mistake. E.g., they read the brutality and sexism of the Hundred Years War and Renaissance into the High Middle Ages (or to use Regine Pernoud's terminology, they read the medieval and renaissance periods back into the feudal—she restricts "medieval" to meaning "the transition period between the system of feudal obligations and the Classicist absolutism of the Renaissance"). It's basically like my mother's (high school!) students thinking that the black women in "The Help", set c. 1962, were slaves.

    Yes, that happened, and frankly I can't see any difference between that, and you idiots. Except a bunch of 14-year-olds have some semblance of an excuse.

  • I must correct myself: I said that pretty much no Chinese martial arts other than Long Fist were any older than Queensbury boxing or savate, but actually, Hùhng Ga dates to the end of the Ming dynasty. The house of Hùhng were Ming loyalists, who absorbed several refugees from the fall of the Shaolin Temple, and there is probably a tradition of Southern Shaolin martial arts going back to a century or two before that—one branch of which was exported to the Ryukyu kingdom and became karate.

    There's also some Taoist martial art that's that old—the rivalry between Wudang and Shaolin wasn't just made up for kung fu movies, they were neighboring monasteries of partly-incompatible religions. Seriously, read Journey to the West: does "our heroes piss in the Taoists' holy water fonts" sound like the two religions got along? But anyway neither taijiquan nor baguazhang has much claim to be the original Taoist style; it's probably the common ancestor of those two plus xingyiquan.

    Someone needs to ask why Avatar (Aang, not Wicket Neytiri), despite basically being a love letter to the Dalai Lama, paints the two nations that do Buddhist martial arts as the ones more likely to try "imperialism", and the two that do Taoist ones (which are the ones they now teach, under the auspices of the Communists, at Shaolin Temple) are painted as blameless holy creatures.

  • Speaking of martial arts, do you know who was the greatest martial-artist/philosopher in history? If you said Bruce Lee, get out. Anyone who represents the Mind of No Mind as "don't think, feel" should be hunted from horseback by rich guys in pink coats.

    No, the correct answer is Plato. Sure, Aristotle was a better philosopher, but Aristotle wasn't an Olympian wrestler—and I don't care what your "sifu" said, a pankration expert could eat a JKD practitioner alive. You have to put your limbs near him to hit him, after all, and the things he will do to your joints will make you think you crossed Mossad.

    That's an interesting point, by the way—pankration, and for that matter all the other pre-14th century European martial arts, look like nothing so much as Krav Maga, MCMAP, or the thing the Russians just call "Systema". Ditto actual battlefield jujutsu. What we think of as "traditional" martial arts, are actually, usually, martial arts after long periods of stagnation, generally due to unarmed combat falling out of use for various reasons. Actually, of course, most of them are sports, with arbitrary limits to make competition more interesting—traditional karate has throws, did you know? Ditto savate.

  • On a lighter note, I do grow so tired of people saying Firefly was the best science fiction show in decades. And it's not even because Firefly is space opera, not science fiction. It's just, Stargate SG-1 and Farscape are both so much better than Firefly, it's like Dr. Who being compared to House. As a medical dramedy.

    Again, Firefly is the JFK of "sci fi" shows: people overrate it because they lost it. I assure you, Mr. and Ms. Browncoat, if it had been all that great, it would've lasted more than one season. Your quaint theory that Firefly bombed because it was shown out of order, is bogus, completely. Yes, the episodes make marginally more sense when shown in order, but in actual fact, it's only slightly less Caper of the Week than SG-1 was in the early days—while it might help, very slightly, to put the pilot first, after that you can see any episode at all, and they aren't confusing at all. You think Firefly was a work of SF genius by a great creative mind, and needs to be shown in order for the intricate plot arcs to make sense?

    Pfft. We know what that would look like, it was called Babylon 5, and you insult us all merely by causing me to have to compare the two.

  • Interesting thing with actual sci-fi fans: hating the term "sci-fi" is supposed to be a thing for hard science fiction fans, who prefer "SF". Only, hating "sci-fi"—the sound of crickets doing what an MIT parrot allegedly did to him—originates with Harlan Ellison. And Ellison doesn't write science fiction.

    No, seriously. Aside from how pretty much everything he writes involves time travel or dystopias, he actually specifically repudiates the "science" label. Uh-huh. He prefers that you call it SF because he's writing "speculative fiction". He actually coined the phrase, because he apparently retains just enough intellectual honesty to notice his stories are scientifically bullshit.

    I, for one, prefer "sci fi", for its pleasing sound, and the fact it sounds like "hi fi" (and hey, "scientific fidelity" is an important quality in properly defining the genre). Besides, what does Harlan Ellison know? He writes Star Wars tie-ins.

  • Finally, you know how people always say people with Asperger's "lack empathy"? Uh, how many do you know? Because no, no they don't. What they lack is much simpler: they lack the ability to tell how others feel. In Japan it's called KY, for "kûki yomenai" or "can't read the atmosphere". One of the things Asperger's—among other conditions—impairs, is the instinctive ability to gauge others' reactions.

    "Empathy" is something else entirely. Empathy is the ability to grasp that other people have feelings too, and to care what their feelings are. People with Asperger's don't really have much trouble with that; they know that other people have feelings, and they care just as much as anyone else. Don't be like Hollywood, and confuse autism with psychopathy. The thing is, caring what your feelings are and being able to tell are two very different things—and anyone who says otherwise is a needy girlfriend from a bad romantic comedy.

    Their inability to tell others' feelings gets Aspies into trouble when they have to adjust their behavior on the fly, because—unless you actually tell them, "That's annoying" or "You hurt my feelings"—they can't tell, and they can't adjust. Basically, it's like an IM conversation: you have to tell them your reactions, because they can't pick up things like tone of voice or facial expression, anymore than if the exchange were text-based.


F***ing Thermodynamics, How Does It Work?

So I got a comment—which I deleted, because it was anonymous, and anonymous commenters are not people—on the last post, from someone asserting that no, man, zero-point energy is totally an inexhaustible source of free energy. Like, Nikola Tesla and scalar fields, man. This, like, Canadian inventor named John Hutchison totally demonstrated it.

Look. My sister's a huge fan of Nikola Tesla—she has him tattooed on her arm, for God's sake—and she can tell you horror stories, about these tinfoil-hatted hippies and their Tesla conspiracy-theories. Tesla never discovered a free energy source. He practically rent his garments and cried aloud on God when relativity began to be accepted, do you really think he would've kept quiet if the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics had turned out to have a "free energy" loophole?

No, I know—corporations covered it up, because they wanted to charge people for power. Only, bullshit. Just as significantly as its physical impossibility, that is not how people work: even were electricity free, you'd still need wiring and appliances. Do boat manufacturers try to sell you seawater or sail-wind? And yet they seem to do all right. Besides, a huge proportion of the cost for the corporations themselves is energy infrastructure: remember, they only do the evil thing when it's cheaper. Leaving to one side that nobody, but nobody, is smart enough to pull off cover-ups even one-tenth as major; this is also why the purported 9/11 and Roswell cover-ups are bogus. Any explanation that hinges on thousands of human beings being smart and disciplined enough not to blab, may, with essentially no exceptions, be dismissed out of hand.

Speaking of 9/11 Troofers, John Hutchison is one. He is also an inventor who claims to have produced not only free energy, but anti-gravity, both, he claims, by means of the zero-point energy. Only, he has curiously never done it in a controlled setting—only in a "lab" in his own home...and our only evidence it works even there is his videos. That is a warning sign.

Trust me: if you'd discovered anti-gravity, let alone a loophole in thermodynamics, you wouldn't be putting up free videos on YouTube, you'd be publishing papers in prestigious journals and grant money would be rolling in like a hip-hop video with fewer hoochie-mamas (Robert "Pimp Daddy" Oppenheimer notwithstanding). Or you'd publish the paper, the scientific community would give you a noncommittal "interesting if true", and you'd go off for a few years to collect more grant money, the way Evgeny Podkletnov did when he thought he'd found a way to make anti-gravity with rotating superconductors (nobody's been able to reproduce his results, but you'll notice he took them to the journals, not to YouTube—he may have been wrong, crazy even, but his results were not a hoax).

Not content to merely be a free-energy hoaxer and dabble in 9/11 conspiracy-mongering on the side, Hutchison has combined the two. He claims that the WTC complex was (at least largely) destroyed by the (nebulously explained) zero-point anti-gravity phenomenon he calls "the Hutchison effect" ('nother warning sign: other scientists are allowed to name things after you, indeed if you really discover it they're almost expected to, but no scientist does it himself). Because apparently the Bush administration was hyper-evil and ingenious enough to use a highly experimental super-weapon, using physical processes that are still theoretically impossible, to kill 3000 people and frame Arabs holed up in Afghanistan for it...in order to start a war with Iraq, for their oil...but were not, apparently, sufficiently cunning to show a clear link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, or to plant large numbers of WMDs somewhere in Saddam's facilities, or to ever successfully exploit Iraq's oil in any meaningful way.

That hole in your face just needs to shut, Hutchison. A), you and your vile calumnies can go to hell. But B) and almost as important, I'm tired of being deluged with pseudo-science when I'm trying to find legitimate speculations for my writing. I've had to do I-don't-know-how-many rewrites because I found out that something I'd used in a story was actually bogus, and I'm sick to death of it. I realize scamming ill-educated investors is easier than doing real science, or practically any other form of work (even criminal work—websites to protect you from stock scams are readily accessible, protection from scams relating to quantum physics not so much). But know what? Just because lying to people who don't know any better is a quick route to fame and fortune, doesn't mean it's okay. Especially not if you also impede good-faith efforts to research science fiction—the public's understanding of these matters is tenuous enough, without you deliberately muddying the waters for personal gain.

Finally, if I might close with a quote from Thomas Aquinas:
If anyone glorying in the name of false science wishes to say anything in reply to what we have written, let him not speak in corners nor to boys who cannot judge of such arduous matters, but reply to this in writing, if he dares. He will find that not only I, who am the least of men, but many others zealous for the truth, will resist his error and correct his ignorance.
Or in other words, "Put up or shut up, unlike your usual hayseed audience we actually know what those things you say mean."


Does "Zero Point" Refer to Your IQ?

Rage, rage, rage...

Why do people think zero-point energy could possibly have anything to do with anti-gravity or artificial gravity? I keep seeing it, and I'm getting tired of it. Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy of a physical system, in quantum mechanics. It's also called the ground state.

Now, the main mention of zero-point energy, e.g. in the Stargate shows, is as an infinite energy source—mainly because the zero-point energy is something like a lower limit on energy, below which a system can never fall. Only, systems don't magically have infinite energy at their zero point; if you keep trying to siphon energy out of a system beyond its zero-point, the system changes. Given the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the change generally takes the form of breaking down. Expecting that zero-point energy could be tapped as an inexhaustible power-source is like expecting that you could use the force-normal of your wall as one: no, you eventually just put a hole in your wall. That's the same thing, the system breaking down to the point where it has different energy characteristics.

That's all well and good, albeit stupid—but where do people get the idea zero-point=anti-gravity? The first place I saw it is The Incredibles—along with being an Ayn Rand Lite rant about how our society doesn't acknowledge special snowflakes, its understanding of physics makes Jack Kirby look like Enrico Fermi. Only, seriously, Half-Life 2, are you getting physics theories from a Pixar movie? That's pathetic.

Now, there is a slight relationship between zero-point energy and gravity, but at several degrees of separation. The zero-point energy of the vacuum is, at least probably, involved in the cosmological constant, which is the reason the universe's expansion is speeding up. And the Casimir effect depends on decreasing zero-point energy as the vacuum gap between two plates is decreased in size. The Casimir effect can be used (theoretically) to create exotic matter—matter with negative mass—and you could, even more theoretically, use exotic matter to create artificial gravity (plus, negative mass=anti-gravity). However, "the peculiar pressure density produced by an effect that depends on decreasing zero-point energy in a vacuum gap between two plates" is hardly the same thing as "zero-point energy".

No, if you want a "gravity gun", and you don't want it revealed that you mistook a Pixar movie for an episode of NOVA, you need to man up, and say "exotic matter mass manipulator." Or you could say "stress-energy tensor metric manipulator"—stress-energy tensor metrics are the mathematical properties of space-time that are curved by the presence of mass (i.e., they are gravity). And you'd probably manipulate them with exotic matter, anyway.


Just Never on Time

People don't get the dates of things right.

I mentioned a while back that "shinigami" is not a Meiji-era idea, although it may have been imported from the West during the Sengoku Era (when the Grim Reaper was big over here, the Plague being a comparatively recent memory). It parallels several Chinese and Korean deities, and, more importantly, the word occurs twice in "Love-Suicides at Amijima", a 1721 play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (portions of which text can be found here, if you need to prove it to anyone; just use your browser's "find" command and look for 死神).

But I've been noticing, a lot of things people think are new, or copied from the West/Christendom, aren't. For instance, a Cracked article was saying that all our knowledge of Norse myth comes from Snorri Sturluson, who was a Christian Icelander who died in 1241. But, no, Sturluson only wrote the Prose Edda; the Poetic or Elder Edda was written by an unknown author, sometime well before Snorri, though after 985 (it mentions Greenland). As for its content, there is no evidence whatsoever that Odin's pinning himself to the World Ash with Gungnir is a syncretic co-optation of the Crucifixion. If it were, Quetzalcoatl's resurrection of the humans in Mictlan, using his own ritually-shed blood, would be too, and we have images of that from long before Cortes. And Quetzalcoatl was saving humans by means of his self-sacrifice; Odin was just acquiring the 18 Runes, one of which is kept secret by the Edda.

Satanism? Lots of people who debunk those silly Satanism scares like to pretend Anton LaVey came up with the thing—but the word's first provenance is the 1560s, though it meant "being diabolical". As "worship of Satan" it dates to 1896, when LaVey was not yet a twinkle in the incubus's eye. And before that, by the way, we called the thing "diabolism" or "maleficence", and the concept is as old as humanity, if not, well, as old as Satan. As for LaVey, his Church of Satan is just Wicca for Libertarians—they're welcome to come spend the night on the Navajo Rez, they wanna know what the real thing looks like (hint, it wears only a wolf-skin mask, carries a bag full of dead men's fingerprints, and walks around your house counterclockwise).

People think Ouija only dates to the Parker Brothers patent in 1890, but planchette divination actually dates to roughly the 12th century in China. Plus, "select a piece of written material without conscious control" has been a form of divination pretty much since there's been written material; there's a reason the oldest form of Chinese writing is called Oracle Bones Script.

On the other hand, lots of things aren't as old as people think. Other than Long Fist, there are basically no Chinese martial arts any older than savate or Queensbury rules boxing. As for the rest of Asia, jujutsu, taekkyeon, sumo, and ssireum: if a Japanese or Korean martial art isn't one of those four (or a weapon-art like kyujutsu or kenjutsu), it doesn't predate the end of the Joseon Era or Tokugawa Shogunate. Just in general, people have this stupid idea that everything in Asia is ancient. If I hear one more person call the freaking Edo period (or worse, Meiji!) "ancient Japan", I can't be held accountable for my actions. (Also, it's not "feudal Japan"; the feudal period ended when Tokugawa took over the Shogunate.)

Speaking of feudalism, pace the laughable Marxism you learned in history class, European feudalism ended pretty much in 1350, and was replaced by aristocracy. Monarchy, similarly, to the extent it existed at all, dates to round about the Renaissance and Enlightenment—it is essentially the political theory of the Dominate Period of the Roman Empire.

The "Iroquois Confederacy as the precursor of the US" thing, similarly, is bullshit PC tokenism. The Iroquois Confederacy was an alliance of semi-hereditary warrior chiefdoms, and people's basis for saying it was a major influence on the Constitution is, well, "A letter by one of the founding fathers mentions the Iroquois Confederacy in a tangentially related context." Similarly people who think the Icelandic Althing was the oldest republicanism: the Reichstag was older. So was the États-Généraux. Oh, and since we're talking about "republics", how about Rome's? Much like the Althing, that, too, was a council of elders from noble families. That's a major point: if, motivated by halfwitted romantic nationalism, you loosen the definition of something, say "republic", to the point where the tribal moot of a Viking colony counts as the same thing as the US Congress, then under the same definition, the Parliaments of France, England, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire all count too.


Trinkets, Odds and Ends, That Sort of Thing

Skyrim quote. What? Repeating the random, obvious thing the general-goods vendors say does too count as a quote!

Random thoughts, of course.
  • Mea culpa. Or, perhaps more appropriately, "Unahzaal krosis." Turns out, Arngeir never really quits telling you where to find Word Walls; I had just got hung up finding one of the words (it was hard, okay?) and so he stopped telling me where to find them, because they only tell you where to find one Word at a time. It is just possible that, after you defeat Alduin (which I have), they start telling you new word-walls again, but I think the first explanation is more likely.

    I take back wishing that the Jarls all become Protestants and loot your monastery, Arnie, it was a heated moment. But seriously, did Borri, Einorth, and Wulfgar take vows of silence-except-in-Dovah? 'Cause I don't think it'd kill 'em to talk to me in Tamrielic (yes, yes, "English"—but there's no England on Nirn, the lucky bastards, though the Thalmor do their damnedest to take up the "incredibly evil island nation" slack; so obviously what sounds like English is Translation Convention). Wulfgar actually, at least, seems to have taken it a step further; he only talks to Shout.

  • Shifting gears, the obvious parallel to the HHS mandate's contraception requirements, is the tax imposed by the Roman Empire after the Bar Kokhba rebellion. You know, when they forced the defeated Jews to fund the building of a temple to Jupiter?

    Some mouthbreathing halfwit named Terry, commenting on Creative Minority Report, claimed not only
    1. that being required to cover contraceptives in the insurance one provides is not the same thing as having to pay for them (?!), but also
    2. that the Church wanting to be exempt from funding commodities it disapproves of is because it wants to police the bedrooms of all its employees.

    Which is like saying the Jews only objected to being forced to build a temple to Jupiter because they wanted to force all the Romans to convert to Judaism.

    Quite honestly, Terry, I'll say about you something I'd previously only said about Richard Dawkins: you could double the cognitive capacity of your biomass by eating undercooked pork.

  • It's interesting how each of the four elf races in Elder Scrolls differs from the others partly in their approach to ancestor-worship. High elves (other than Psijics) elevate prominent ancestors to godhood, while the dark elves worship their ancestors as minor genii loci alongside the demon lords who make up their pantheon, and the deep elves (i.e. dwarves) didn't worship anything but themselves (and the robot god they tried to build—with predictable results, i.e. "Poof, no dwarves!"). But the wood elves...I sorta get the impression wood-elves' cannibalism—which is essentially just funerary cannibalism, the least creepy kind—stems from the same source. Ancestor-worship and funerary cannibalism are often, if not almost always, related, after all, and elf-religions all assume ancestor worship, whatever embellishments they add on (just ancestor-worship is the religion of the Psijics, remember).

    I wonder, that cannibal Namira-cultist in Markarth, shouldn't it be impossible for her to recruit a Bosmer? When you think of that as normal, it shouldn't be particularly pleasing to a demon lord—especially since it's a part of the Green Pact with the wood elves' non-demon god, Yffre. Navajos believe witches get their power from incest, but if you're an Inca king married to his sister, witchery-poison would be in short supply.

    Uh, just realized something unsettling. Given that elf religions, like those of East Asia, all share elements of ancestor-worship, and the Thalmor are jerk nationalists from an island chain, does that make the Second Altmeri Dominion something like the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere?

  • The Graybeards are an interesting idea, though generally speaking non-Christian monasticism (apart from the extinct Jewish Nazirites and Essenes, and some currently-disfavored movements in Turkish Islam) doesn't have much to do with the worship of the gods. Indeed, the two major non-"Abrahamic" monastic traditions—Buddhism and Taoism—are, respectively, about freeing yourself from the miserable trap-cosmos where gods matter, and about becoming one yourself. Then again I suppose one might call certain Hindu ascetics "monks", and they often engage in bhakti ("worship of the gods").

    Just in general, the gods in Elder Scrolls, and indeed in fantasy generally, suffer from people attempting to have a culture like that of c. 1350 western Christendom, but with polytheism. Leiber and Howard, very wisely, said "screw that" and based their settings' religions, and indeed societies, on the ancient world, just with some post-Charlemagne tech and terminology. Personally that's something I tend to like about Japanese fantasy, since—living in a polytheist society themselves—they have more understanding of what that's like (they make the opposite mistake regarding Western religions, like how Soul Calibur seems not to know what religion they are in modern Greece).

  • Why do Transhumanists think there will ever be societies that have abolished "involuntary death"? Especially since so many transhuman settings have space travel—your medical knowledge is very cute, but a fusion rocket doesn't give two shits about it, it will eff you up on the atomic level anyway. Especially if you don't treat it like the unholy death machine it is. Liberaltarian hippie utopia, space travel that doesn't kill more people per voyage than the Golden Triangle slave-trade: pick one.

    Interestingly, on the subject of SF lifespans, there is a whale, the bowhead whale, that is the longest-lived mammal, with a record of 211 years; a Southern Resident orca (orcas have clans, and that's one of 'em) was 99 in 2010. Parrots have metabolisms in the small-to-medium mammal range, but at least one macaw has lived for over 100 years. The oldest human ever was a Frenchwoman who died at 122 in 1997. Much is made of how "there's no limit to human longevity", but actually, in practice, we probably can't extend your life much beyond 150-170 years.

  • You know how I said Inception's not really all that complex, but is in fact a high-concept movie? Albeit a well-done one? Turns out, it's also basically a ripoff of a Scrooge McDuck comic.

    I'm guessing Flintheart Glomgold should be getting a "special thanks to" credit. Also, the fact Christopher Nolan reads Scrooge McDuck comics (but not, apparently, Batman comics other than "Year One") sure explains a lot about certain other movies of his.

  • I find it highly amusing when people specify that the handgun used in a crime is "semi-automatic". You don't say? Well it's either that or a revolver, single-shot dueling pistols are used in even fewer crimes than rifles are. But just admit it: you think the "automatic" part means they were lettin' fly with sprays of machinegun fire. Or, if you're a journalist (on the remote offchance you do actually know better), you hope your audience will think that.

    Again: semi-automatic is also known as "autoloading". All it means is that—unlike with bolt action, pump action, or lever-action—chambering the next round from the magazine happens on its own, generally because the slide's been driven back by the recoil of the shot (sometimes, as on the Desert Eagle and a great many semi-auto rifles, by the redirected propellant gases). The chief difference, by the way, between semi-autos and revolvers is revolvers have multiple chambers and they switch between them, rather than one chamber that's loaded from a magazine.

  • You know, "sexy female bodyguards as status symbol for male power-player" is all well and good, as a concept, but I would imagine that most female bodyguards would actually be for protecting female VIPs. You don't want to have to leave your security team behind while you're in the changing room at the gym, but you probably also don't want some out-of-work Green Beret to see you in the altogether, either.

    And yeah, I can say "out-of work Green Beret" here, because US Spec Ops doesn't have any women in it. Hollywood's not known for its accurate portrayal of the military, did you know?

  • I'm pretty sure "The Most Dangerous Game" is the stupidest story ever, because when you have a gun—or are in any other way not an unarmed human—an unarmed human is the least dangerous game.

    No, to make it interesting, you'd have to give your prospective 'prey' weapons roughly equal to yours, and then you're not "hunting a human for sport", you're playing paintball with live rounds. Totally different sport. Of course, that undercuts the story's message, which is, uh, anti-hunting? Anti-Russian? Anti-aristocrat? Oh, no, wait, I know: it's "I yanked a throwaway line from 'Brothers Karamazov' completely out of context, and tried to expand it into a plot that wouldn't even work as a third-rate Twilight Zone episode." Which seems like a weird statement for a story to make.


"Science" Is the Operative Word

So a Cracked article I was reading mentioned Luddite ebook-hating pretentious hack Jonathan Franzen, who had the jaw-dropping chutzpah (which, for the Yiddish-impaired, is not a good thing) to say that ebooks are less durable than paperbacks. I looked him up; according to his Wikipedia article, he also told a left-wing British newspaper America is "practically a rogue state", and yet he neither moved away nor took any steps to overthrow its, allegedly, nigh-rogue government. Neither was he disappeared in the dead of night to a hellish secret prison, the likelihood of which is—to a thinking adult—both a major determinant in whether a country counts as a "rogue state", and also in whether saying that to a European audience counts as anything other than contemptible self-hating asskissing.

Also he thinks he gets to write "rules for writers", as if he actually was one. Amongst the obvious remarks ("Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly"), Ted Kaczinsky-lite rambling ("It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction"), and kitten-posteresque bromides ("You have to love before you can be relentless"), is this:
When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
Which—let me translate Pretentious Douchebag to English—means "I hate technological innovation that allows the mob(!) to get their grimy, work-callused hands on what was previously the exclusive purview of me and my fellow elites."

It's also bullshit, because Franzen writes artsy-fartsy PoMo literary fiction. "Voluminous research"? Bitch, you wouldn't know voluminous research if it shot out blue Cherenkov radiation and fried your tiny balls clean off. How much research do you even have to do? How many ISO standards did you look up? How many rockets' thrust and delta-V did you compute just to establish the time-frame for one chapter? How many articles on ammunition and body armor, and projected future developments thereof, did you read? How many alternatives to calcium-based apatite, for alien bones, did you try to come up with? How many Japanese websites did you pore over with Google Translate just to find the original text of an 18th-century bunraku play, just so you could do your own translation of one line? How many articles on Transhumanism, Michel Foucault, and John Rawls did you have to choke down, and then try to work into a workable ethos for a fictional villain?

The answer, of course, is none. Mainstream fiction might have its uses—treatment of insomnia, maybe, or if you're in a debating club and need an argument against the concept of human dignity—but it certainly can claim no laurels for the amount of intellectual legwork that goes into producing it. Shit, does anyone who writes it even write about anyone who isn't just like them? Franzen writes about liberal academics from US cities east of the Mississippi. The minstrel-show caricatures these hacks make of anyone who isn't a coastal-elite with literary pretensions is adequately summed up by even a cursory glance at the works of John Updike (who also wrote sex scenes curiously reminiscent of those in "My Immortal", but with more understanding of physiology and less understanding of the principles of literary composition—impossible though the enormity after that "and" may seem).

But it occurred to me: what most people think of as science fiction isn't much better. Fortunately, they're wrong. Since most people's conception of "science fiction" comes from movies, and movies that aren't 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think I can actually say, most people have no contact with actual science fiction.

I mean, let's go down the list. Star Wars is fantasy, and Star Trek (probably, sadly, the closest thing to science fiction in Hollywood) is naval action.

Apart from those, pretty much every "science fiction" title people list simply isn't. Terminator, for instance, relies on a very bizarre conception of causality, not to mention involving freaking vitalism, a theory debunked by the 17th century. Also, aside from sticking its fingers in its ears and singing very loudly when the concept of Lucas-Penrose is mentioned, the movie's whole premise is highly implausible—unless computer scientists and military technicians have the collective intelligence of exactly one developmentally-disabled blowfly. I forget, is "scientists are wrong about every single thing they've ever done" a common theme in science fiction? Because that's the only way Terminator would work.

Or take Planet of the Apes. It's trying to be pro-science, or rather pro-materialist scientism; the whole thing is actually an elaborate allegory against the idea of humans being special. Only, Pierre Boulle appears to be one of those French "rationalists" in the tradition of "Fossil Scoffer" Voltaire, because in order to advance his thesis, he says something patently untrue, namely that apes' vocal anatomy is the same as humans, and nobody's quite sure why they can't talk.

Which brings us to the Alien franchise, which, even if we're charitable and don't count 3 and Resurrection, is probably the single worst thing we as a species have ever done, at least relative to how good most of us think it is—the Holocaust was worse, but the vast majority of the human race doesn't exactly look back on it as a beautiful dream, either. Understand, those two films make Planet of the Apes look like "Apes of the Impenetrable Forest: The Behavioral Ecology of Sympatric Chimpanzees and Gorillas".

Let us enumerate the crimes Alien(s) has committed against its claim to be science fiction.
  1. A human is more likely to be impregnated by daffodil pollen than to be subject to infection by a facehugger. This gets orders of magnitude more ridiculous when it's determined xenomorphs take on portions of their hosts' genetic material—because apparently aliens use the same kind.

  2. The crew of the Nostromo would have a better chance of nourishing themselves by eating their ship's (probably synthetic) upholstery than the xenomorph would of nourishing itself by eating them.

  3. No lifeform that size would evolve anything like that life cycle or social structure. There are fairly hard and fast mass limits on animal life, and a single eusocial insect colony still masses toward the low end of that scale, except in a few species. For xenomorphs to use the same evolutionary strategy as ants or bees—which relies on each individual of the species being "cheap" from a reproductive and calorie-intake standpoint—their ecosystem's biomass would have to be as much larger than them as ours is than ants or bees. That is, their homeworld's equivalent of say, rats, would have to be as common as rats, but as much larger than the man-sized xenomorphs as rats are larger than ants. And so on, all the way up to blue whales and sauropod dinosaurs.

  4. Molecular acid is not reversibly oxidizable, nor does it reversibly bond with most other volatile gases a life-form is likely to breathe. Plus, every chemical reaction in a lifeform's metabolism has to balance being useful for its process with being deadly to the organism using it, and there are lots of strategies far cheaper than acid blood—like, say, regular blood. Things don't evolve based on what's scariest, they evolve based on what actually works. Maybe if the Alien movies hadn't been written by a seventh-grader who only asked "what would be badass-scary?" rather than "What isn't laughable nonsense?"
And even if Alien isn't science fiction, it's a good movie, right? Nope. The first one is a horror movie: which means it has an idiot-plot, they all do. That's why, if an otherwise intelligent person likes horror movies, it's for the same reason my dad likes Eureka: it gives his brain a rest after a hard day in the intellectual acid-mines teaching high school math. Not only that, but there's that bullshit "the military-industrial complex would actually try to market xenomorphs" thing, for which the writers should've been convicted of sedition and then traded to the Soviets, so they could see how they like the alternative to a market economy.

The second one is worse, because it's James Cameron; not only does it crank that "corporations are so evil, even though this movie wouldn't have been possible without about a dozen of them" up to eleven, the xenomorphs' being those periodically-devouring-everything South American ants In Space was, canonically, a metaphor for capitalism. Only, remember how I said the xenomorphs would never evolve? Yeah, there are no life-forms that can devour their entire ecosystem like that, because they'd go extinct. Similarly, corporate exploitation actually does have natural limits, because "glut ourselves, then starve" doesn't really have much return on investment.

As if his "brain-damaged fourth-grader raised by Communists" understanding of economics wasn't bad enough, Cameron also, just like in Avatar, is incapable of portraying a military as anything other than stupid 'roid-raging children playing with guns. And, even if they actually behaved like trained soldiers (or Marines, who are more disciplined than regular soldiers), nobody would send those guys in, against that known threat, with that equipment, unless the point of the whole exercise was to get them killed—for instance, no space-faring civilization is going to have much trouble designing armor that protects against biologically impossible acid-blood. Just like with Terminator and Avatar, Cameron is too stupid to understand that "what lets the movie I want to make happen" and "what is not implausible contemptible crap" are two very, very different questions.

Now, what's interesting is, Alien(s) can be forgiven—though you still shouldn't like it, because it is shit—solely because it inspired something else, namely, the Flood. And the Flood is an example of how to do that idea right, because unlike Hollywood, Halo is science fiction. The Flood reproduces from, and eats, humans, Brutes, and Elites, because it is a bio-weapon engineered by a species that had a hand in all three of those races' evolution. Aside from the fact that it's not actually an animal—it's something like a cross between a lichen and the colony-jellyfish called a Man o' War or bluebottle—the Flood produces huge biomass to sustain itself, essentially converting entire ecosystems into Flood, which xenomorphs don't do (their hives are not living things). And the UNSC never sends guys in to fight it without protection against its infection-forms; every time UNSC soldiers have to fight the things, it's because it showed up unexpectedly. As for Elites and Brutes, well, they're both partly based (especially the former), on the Yautja, AKA Predators (look at Elites' mouths), and they actually are crazy enough to go after xenomorph-type things without protective suits.

My younger sister was saying this the other day, when my brother and I were raving about how good Skyrim is: video games appear to be fixin' to save civilization. Between Zelda, Skyrim, and Halo, among others, actually decent SF and fantasy are actually available in a visual medium.


Two More Points

Two things I was thinking of, after I posted that last random thoughts post.

  1. The voices in Skyrim. Esbern is Max von Sydow. Arngeir is Christopher Plummer. The Imperial general, Tullius, is the first officer from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica—I like to call him Tighlius.

    But here's where it gets weird. Several people, including the lady blacksmith in Whiterun and a number of female Imperial officers (most notably Legate Rikke), are Claudia Christian, who played Ivanova in Babylon 5. It's probably been at least 10 or 12 years since I last saw Babylon 5, but I recognized her voice right off the bat.

    Also, why are the Imperials led by two second bananas from sci-fi shows that start with "ba"?

  2. I mentioned this a long time ago, but you know the AP reading list? Specifically the books Of Mice and Men, The Stranger, Native Son, A Lesson Before Dying—there are probably others, too.

    I'd just like to draw your attention to these lyrics:
    I just killed a man,
    Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger
    now he's dead
    Mama... life had just begun,
    But now I've gone and thrown it all away


    I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me
    He's just a poor boy from a poor family,
    Spare him his life from this monstrosity!
    Bohemian Rhapsody: rendering English class unnecessary since 1975.


De Romanicorum Theoriarum II

Thoughts upon speculative fiction, mainly—much like my life of late—concerned with Skyrim. If you not only have nightmares concerning Alduin Kingbane the World-Eater, but those nightmares have the Skyrim UI superimposed over them, you're probably playing too much.

  • Turns out Arngeir didn't stop talking to you, but he does stop telling you where to find new Shouts. I think I got back on his good side, by siding with the Graybeards when the Blades ask you to kill your dragon ally (jerks). Sorry, Esbern, Delphine, but I like Arngeir, Borri, Einorth, and Wulfgar (and the aforementioned dragon, too) more than I like you.

    Speaking of, someone needs to sit the Blades down and explain about how, no, certainly a human couldn't expiate the crimes said dragon committed while he was one of Alduin's generals. But dragons are immortal. I figure a few millennia of prayer, fasting, and good works is sufficient penance, and St. George would agree with me (in some versions of the legend, he baptizes the dragon, rather than slaying it).

    Incidentally, the priest of Arkay who does the funerals in Falkreath used to be a Thalmor war-mage. He became a priest who ministers to the grieving to try and expiate all the grief he caused in the Great War. Do the Blades also want me to execute him? Assholes.
  • The dragon language is awesome. It doesn't just sound good, it's got definite rules to its onomastics (word-formation). E.g., "alveolar or dental sound + u" seems to be a root having to do with power, and secondarily speech (for dragons, with their Shouts, the two are related). Thu'um is "shout", thur is "tyranny" and "overlord", su is "air", sul is "sun", suleyk is "power", zul is "voice" (as in "Way of the"), zun is "weapon"; by any indications su'um (mentioned at the beginning of the quest The Fallen) seems to mean something like "persuasion". It's not just fricatives, either—tu is "hammer", tuz is "blade", du is "devour" and dun is "grace".

    Just in general, Dovah doesn't have English grammar; aside from forming "shout" and "tyranny" from the same root, it also usually puts adjectives after the noun they modify (joor mey, "foolish mortal"). Also—as befits an immortal species who were sired by Akatosh the Time-Dragon—it hasn't got tenses. That might seem weird, but Proto-Indo-European didn't have tense, either, and most modern Semitic languages, among others, still don't. There are word-endings in Dovah that certainly seem to relate to aspect, though, e.g. kren "break" and krent "broken", krii "kill" krif "fight" kriid "slayer" (the -d in kriid perhaps a frequentive, i.e. "one who slays").
  • Of interest to fantasy writers, and also to SF writers who use my particular software workaround of Lucas-Penrose, is the fact that, according to legend, one of the greatest Baalim Shem Tov (those rabbis who are so holy they know how to pronounce the Holy Name) had sufficient wisdom to create a golem when he was a child—I think before he was even a Bar Mitzvah (yes, a Bar Mitzvah, it means "son of the Law" and actually refers to the person, not the ceremony).

    Only, said rabbi refused to use that knowledge. There's a reason golems are most associated with filling buckets until they cause floods (the Sorcerer's Apprentice is actually about golems, though I'm pretty sure a Baal Shem Tov is just about the opposite of a sorcerer)—while a very wise sage might be able to create one, even the greatest human wisdom is finite, limited by the fact a rabbi can't be everywhere at once, and will eventually die, if by nothing else. Thus, the wiser course is not to make one—humans can barely handle the responsibility of begetting children, let alone tireless immortal children with the strength of the earth itself.
  • They're making a movie of John Carter of Mars—the first ad for it was on during the Superbowl. I am not such a nitpicker as to object that nobody on Barsoom wears clothes, although they don't. And I will concede that that's not really science fiction (it's planetary romance—indeed, it's basically sword and sorcery that's light on that second one and set on a world that, coincidentally, shares a name and a surface gravity with one of Earth's neighbors).

    However, the real problem I have is that the Barsoom books would have to be rated R to truly capture the way that planet works. John Carter is the only man on Mars who laughs when we do; red, green, and especially white Martians only laugh sadistically. Not really Disney fare, is it (and guess who's producing the thing)?

    Incidentally, "laughter=cruelty" was the actual scientific theory at the time those books were written; you can find Chesterton sneering at the concept. ScienceMarchesOn—now we're pretty sure that laughter=fear. Or rather, laughter=an interrupted fear response, that our species came to value because resisting the fear response produced by cognitive dissonance is necessary if you're going to learn to innovate. Laughter, that is, is essentially courage—which, I think, would make Chesterton happy.
  • Speaking of Chesterton (and I apologize that this is only tangentially related to SF—but economic theories do inform science fiction), most of the people who think they are Chestertonians haven't read enough of his work. Neither have they read any Belloc—and Belloc was the brains of their movement, fail to understand his work and you have no right to claim to be a Distributist. Agrarian back-to-the-land movements are all well and good, and corporate capitalism is a subpar method of organizing business. But what people like Rod Dreher and Mark "Saddam's rape-rooms are fine by me" Shea do not understand, is that you cannot have technological innovation without concentrations of capital.

    Maybe if so-called Distributists spent less time with the League of the Long Bow or the Napoleon of Notting Hill—or getting their views on the War on Terror from the far-left MacArthur Foundation, via Harpers' Magazine, Mr. Shea—and more time with Belloc's Servile State and Path to Rome, they would understand that. Belloc understood that a modern society cannot exist without industrialism, and both he and Chesterton had nothing but contempt for anyone who didn't like the great achievements of modern technology. No, Belloc's problem with capitalism was the one trait that it's already partly lost, the fact only a few people own the capital, and the rest are mere proletarians—which, newsflash, is just a rude word for "employees".

    Why Path to Rome, of the Belloc books? It is, admittedly, one of those incredibly rambling little stream-of-consciousness things he liked to write, much like Cruise of the Nona. But amongst those ramblings is this:
    This is indeed the way [artistic] things should be done, I mean by men doing them for pleasure and of their own thought. And I have a number of friends who agree with me in thinking this, that art should not be competitive or industrial, but most of them go on to the very strange conclusion that one should not own one's garden, nor one's beehive, nor one's great noble house, nor one's pigsty, nor one's railway shares, nor the very boots on one's feet. I say, out upon such nonsense. Then they say to me, what about the concentration of the means of production? And I say to them, what about the distribution of the ownership of the concentrated means of production? And they shake their heads sadly, and say it would never endure; and I say, try it first and see. Then they fly into a rage.
    Choke that down, Shea, you useful (though not to any good purpose) idiot.
  • It's funny to me how people say the AT-AT walker is the stupidest idea in SF ever. No, it's a brilliant idea. It's just that it's used by a straw Empire, and thus cannot be allowed to unleash its unmitigated awesome.

    You know what the AT-AT looks like when it's done right? Well UNSC naval intelligence codenamed it "Scarab"—its proper name is "Type-47 Ultra Heavy Assault Platform"—and I damn near shat myself when the first one I ever fought climbed down off a building in Halo 3. You know how the AT-AT can't turn its head more than 80° to either side? Well, admittedly, a Scarab's head only turns a little further than that. But...the whole body can turn 180° faster than you can circle it on a combination turbo-jet/attack helicopter. I've tried, believe me—someone has to distract the thing before you can do that (in a Banshee, you can just jet straight over it, then spin around and get in a few shots before it turns to face you). Even if you get behind it, the secondary turret, on its rear, can rotate 360° and (on Legendary) will destroy a tank in about five hits. That's the secondary gun, remember.

    The legs, unlike those of an AT-AT, are in crab-walk layout, rather than dog-with-arthritis; they can swing from side to side as well as back and forth. This means, aside from the aforementioned fast turns, that not only can it stomp on you, it can stick its face (with the main gun, the one that makes an AT-AT's lasers look like popguns) into anything you happen to hide in. It can also, by a combination of turning its head and rearing up on its forelegs, shoot pretty much straight up above itself, and significant arcs all around that. I assumed, after years of Metal Gear fighting, that I knew how to kill giant robots. But you try that "run in a circle and shoot its vitals with missiles" strategy on a Scarab, the UNSC's gonna have to find a buyer for some second-hand Mjolnir armor.
  • I have a low tolerance for parody at the best of times, but the issue is compounded by the fact that good parodies, in pop culture, may pretty much be counted on the fingers of one ear. And do you know what the worst is?

    Spaceballs. Mel Brooks is annoying even at his best; in that movie—and Robin Hood: Men in Tights—he pretty much negates his service in World War II (see also the children's books by RAF ace pilot Roald Dahl). Spaceballs, like the Seltzer and Friedberg "Something Movie" series that people often compare unfavorably with it (honestly, they aren't any worse), doesn't actually know its source material; half the time it simply ignores being a parody in favor of stupid dick jokes. And even when Spaceballs remembers it's supposed to be a parody, half the time it parodies sci fi tropes that Star Wars specifically repudiates. Star Wars, for instance, is not set in the future. It's set in a space version of the Hyborian Age.

    Finally, many legal theorists agree that mentioning that execrable "ludicrous speed" bit, in an actual discussion of FTL, is the only known means of formally renouncing one's human rights.
  • Incidentally, speaking of Star Wars and its straw empire, according to various interviews with Lucas, the Rebels are Che Guevara and the Ewoks are the Viet Cong. The Rebels' guns are Sturmgewehr 44s without their magazines for the very simple reason that the StG44 was ripped off to make the AK-47. But, uh, I don't think the Rebels are more racist than the Empire (Guevara, like most of the Cuban revolutionaries, habitually referred to black people as "monkeys", among other things), and I know for a fact they don't go in for torture, gang-rape, the occasional indulgence in cannibalism, or any of the other things the Viet Cong were into.

    Then again, by this time it should be obvious to everyone that Lucas has no damn clue what his own freaking movies were about. And since I'm on the subject, I get that he made Han shoot second because (much like Ron Paul), he stupidly believes you're only allowed to retaliate against an aggressor. Only, Greedo already has a gun shoved in Han's face. Ask any lawyer, outside the UK anyway: at that point, the criteria for self-defense has been met.
  • Speaking of Ron Paul, he claims that his asinine policies won't weaken our defense, because he'd be perfectly willing to, again, retaliate against an attack like Pearl Harbor or 9/11.

    Only, what? Is he actually that stupid? 1, "Having a huge, well-equipped standing army" is a major deterrent to getting attacked. And 2, those of us who shouldn't, according to the actuarial tables, have been dead several months ago, have a little expression called "Zerg rush". It refers to attacking an opponent decisively, before he can get his defenses up. It's especially popular with Starcraft players from Hong Kong, the Republic of China, and, especially, South Korea. I guarantee you, I know more about East Asia than Ron Paul does, and I can tell you: the Zerg Rush is equally appealing to generals from mainland China and North Korea.
  • Yet a third point against Paulbots, and their Dear Leader's ludicrous claim that Islamic terrorism is "because we're bombing them", is that there actually isn't a choice, as to whether there will be what they, and the unspeakable regimes they unwittingly aid, call "Imperialism"—and a rational person calls "having a proactive stance towards military involvement, vis-à-vis both foreign allies and enemies". The only choice is, who's going to be the Imperialist? You know who else opposes American "Imperialism"? China, Russia, and Iran.

    Or as Imperial soldiers in Skyrim occasionally say, "What the Stormcloaks forget is that the Empire's the only thing keeping the [Thalmor] Dominion out of Skyrim." If it weren't an insult to Ulfric Stormcloak, murderer though he be, to compare him or his followers to Paulbots.

    Yes, I realize those last two were actually just about politics: but in SFional terms!
  • I was thinking about my scene where the felinoid dude flips a car, because those guys are freakin' built, and the humans' cars of the 24th century are light, to save battery, but...hang on. Everyone knows the cars in the future will be really light, right? We make the cars now outta plastic, and they used to make them out of metal. Only...did you know that a sub-subcompact car nowadays—say the 2002 Mini—weighs 2500 lbs? The 1962 Mini weighed 1400. What's the difference?

    Fuel injection. Our engines are vastly more efficient now, so they can get better fuel economy from a car 79% heavier. And increased weight tends to equate to improved safety, but cars were not that much more dangerous in the 1960s. Interestingly, though, if we went back to 60s car-sizes (though I do believe our engines are bigger), we'd probably make our cars a hell of a lot more fuel efficient. Weird, huh?

    Incidentally, the 24th century's cars, though much lighter than ours, are actually even safer, even though they go well over 150 kph (90+ mph) on their highways. There's two factors; one is ultra-hyper-awesome strong materials, developed for space travel. And the other is that, for many purposes, they leave the driving to computers. Obviously not the same computers that do the driving in Halo (honestly, I've been rammed by Warthogs at least as often as by Ghosts or Wraiths), but still, computers.