Frivolous Pictures

(Literal translation of "manga", post about manga and anime. Incidentally, anime were sometimes called "manga eiga" (cartoon movies) up till about a decade after Gundam, which is still their name in Korea (manhwa yeonhwa).)
  • How is it that Upotte!, which I like, but which is rather blatantly a moe series for gun-nerds, has an anime, but "Hajimete no Aku" doesn't? HajiAku is about a girl who finds out a couple of out-of-work supervillains will be living with her. It quickly becomes a school-life series, with only the occasional nod in the direction of supervillainy, but it's still damned entertaining.

    I wonder, speaking of, do the Japanese understand that in America, superheroes haven't been for kids since the 70s? The paradigm in HajiAku is basically one from Power Rangers and other sentai shows for elementary schoolers (it's a comedy series); with the exception of the animated Teen Titans, American superhero media is almost exclusively for people out of high school. (Seriously, the amount of it that deals with the troubles of middle age, though DC's rather ham-handed New 52 might have partly fixed that, is ridiculous.)
  • It's amusing to me to note how anime is still lauded as some kind of bastion of homophilia, by the sort of high-school- and college-aged Susie Soapbox who thinks GLAAD is a civil rights group. It's amusing because no, anime is exactly where they were in 1995, if not a titsch more conservative, in their portrayals of homosexuality, while American media has been doing its damnedest (for fear of having to embark on a GLAAD-demanded Repentance and Reeducation Tour) to shoehorn gay characters and issues into every show and every plot, no matter how superfluous the addition. According to the stats, one character in 66 (1.5%) ought to be gay. Given most shows have, oh, six characters, one of whom is gay pretty much always nowadays, Hollywood appears to believe that there are more gays than Hispanics in our country (then again, the same may be said for Jews and Blacks, both of whom are also outnumbered by Hispanics, except in media).

    And don't think the Japanese haven't noticed. It's actually gotten to the point where Yoshii from BakaTest, complaining about his exhibitionist sister and her habit of hitting on his female friends (probably just to troll him—she's arguably never revealed her real sexuality), can yell "You've been corrupted by your time in liberal America!" (Liberal here meaning "libertine", not either of its political senses.)
  • Also amusing to note is the number of people who don't seem to know the reason premodern Japan valued homosexuality was, mainly, misogyny—"Why would you want to fall in love with a mere woman?" And that the main form of homosexual relationship was pederasty.

    With the exception of (the unwatchably Occidentalist) Samurai Champloo, no Japanese period-drama, anime or otherwise, shies away from pointing out the ugly underbelly of their previous sexual mores—also RE: women, e.g. punitive rape and daughter-selling. A part of that is just cheerleading for progress, Things Are So Much Better Now Than In The Bad Old Days, of course, but sometimes progress actually exists.
  • Speaking of anime and progress, is anyone else amused by the fact Sabre, in Fate:Stay/Night, secretly used to be King Arthur, but she disguised herself as a man because they'd never follow a woman? Now, aside from the fact women occasionally led troops throughout the Middle Ages (Joan of Arc wasn't one of them, though), Arthur was a Roman Briton.

    Seriously, did nobody point out the name "Boudicca"? Hell, for that matter, one of the other heroes they meet is Cu Chulainn. The writers (of the original game) must've researched his legend, in order to know what his spear was called: so why didn't they notice his enemies were following a queen, Medb of Connaught?
  • Remember ages ago, when I mentioned that n00b on something saying tengu would be immune to the "Elf Superiority Complex", because of reincarnation? Well, aside from the issue I mentioned there, about how tengu are pretas, reincarnated as such for their sins, or the one I can't believe I didn't, namely that belief in reincarnation hasn't kept anyone in Asia from having pride in their bloodlines, there's another issue.

    Specifically, tengu are the personification of Superiority Complex. You know how sometimes, in anime and manga, a character who's getting a swelled head will have their nose grow long? Guess what type of yokai has a long nose? The tengu take great pride in being the greatest martial artists under heaven; many martial arts styles, notably Yagyû Shinkage swordsmanship, call their most advanced techniques "the Tengu Sequence".
  • The second series to combine moe with the Cthulhu Mythos, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, is really, really bad. Aside from how you cannot have a Lovecraftian series, even one played for laughs, where Lovecraft's books existed, at one point the protagonist says "Gee, who would've thought the creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos were aliens?"

    Uh, how about, anyone who's read even one single story from the Mythos? It's pretty up-front about it.

    Also, if you make Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, Who Is the Very Soul and Messenger of the Elder Gods, a ditzy girl space-cop à la Mihoshi in Tenchi, I hope you meet him.
  • It's always fascinating to me how fantasy manga and anime (and games) with a quasi-Western setting don't even bother with the "Renaissance, Medieval, we don't know the difference" type of setting Western works use. No, rather, they go with an eighteenth or even nineteenth century setting. While guns and tailcoats are cool, and I for one could stand to see more Western fantasy use them (especially guns), the social order of those eras was different. Sure, most Western fantasy writers read post-Reformation absolutism back into the Middle Ages—but the 18th and 19th centuries were the era of liberalism and the Republic, where even the toffs in Westminster talked citizenship and the rights of man (a little later, they would talk Socialism—none of the ideology they learned to parrot had any influence on their policies, of course).

    Someone needs to take Japanese writers aside and remind them that the setting used for most fantasy stories is contemporary with their country's Sengoku Era (the Middle Ages, meanwhile, is contemporary with the later Heian). You'd no more have tailcoats and flintlocks than you'd have pleated hakama or samurai as swordsmen.

    Oh wait, they do always depict Sengoku samurai as swordsmen.
  • So the Japanese word for "obligation" is "on". There's another "on" that means "resentment", as in "Ju-On", original title of The Grudge. They're spelled differently (well, they're written with different kanji—恩 and 怨, respectively—but that's basically the same thing), but they're very close concepts; an obligation that can't be fulfilled actually becomes a resentment, hence why gift-giving in Japan is so complicated.

    On is also counting syllables (yes, yes, technically "mora"—long vowels and nasalizations count as extra morae even though they don't increase the number of syllables—but let's not toss around technical terms all willy-nilly), but that seldom comes up in the same contexts as the other Ons.

    Aum, too, is "on" in Japanese, mostly because that's how you pronounce it in Sanskrit, but that, too, seldom comes up in the same contexts (though it might come up in the same context as the "resentment" one, since resentment is what brings ghosts back and one might banish them with mantras).


Angst, Angst, Angst

So there's this, over on io9 from a couple years back, which points out it's a direct line from Angel and Spike (the vampires in Buffy, not the bunny and dragon who live, respectively, with Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle) to Edward Cullen. Indeed, yes, there's a case for that—hell, probably four-fifths of the emo wussification of our sissy-britches hairdressing little culture can be laid squarely at Whedon's door. Whedon's heroes make Gundam Wing look like Dragonball.

But I don't know if we can blame Whedon for his take on vampires, though he certainly made it popular beyond a goth/romance-novel niche. His whole vampire mythos was basically a ripoff of Vampire the Masquerade, except not as interesting, because Whedon is a Dawkins-lite Anglo atheist (i.e., an existential illiterate), and the people who wrote V:tM were, at least, dabblers in Gnosticism (i.e., existential people-whose-lips-move-when-they-read). And decades before Whedon or White Wolf ever had a vampire pose moodily in a poet shirt, Anne Rice was publishing softcore porn based on that exact premise (Interview was published in 1976). Hell, Fred Saberhagen published The Dracula Tape in 1975 (and he breaks the rules of that kind of fiction, by holding 19th century medical knowledge against the characters—cheap shot).

And even if Whedon did rip off White Wolf who ripped off Anne Rice, at least none of them committed what I consider the cardinal sin of vampire fiction, something Saberhagen and Coppola both did. Namely: Basarab Vlad III Draculea has nothing to do with vampires apart from some Irish guy naming one after him. There is a boatload of awesome literary ideas for the having, if you study Vlad. Not one of them concerns vampires at all. When Mehmet II, fresh from his brutal sack of Constantinople, says of a person, "You cannot take the country of someone who goes this far," vampires are a needless extravagance. (Much the same may be said of the convention of everything about Oda Nobunaga having to have horror-anime tropes—the man was called "Devil King" because he was an unkillable evil genius; at that point, actual devils become superfluous).

It's actually interesting, to me, how people complain about angsty vampires—but there's no other kind. Dracula, Varney, and Ruthven all angst about being vampires; just because it's more "Magneto talking about the Nazis" than "look what a tortured poet he is" doesn't make it not angst. In folklore, the angst is even older—vampires in eastern Europe are generally tied in to the Orthodox concept of vaskania, which literally means something like "obsession", shares a root with "fascinate", and is usually translated as "Evil Eye". All other cultures' vampire-equivalents are much the same, being powered by what the Koreans call "han"—ritual pollution born of resentment. They're pretas ("hungry ghosts") in Hinduism and Buddhism, you know—Japan's closest equivalent to a vampire is the jikininki, or "man-eating ghost", which feeds on corpses (yes, that's right, ghouls aren't vampires' servants, they're just another kind of vampire).

Also...seriously, the attempts to do without angst in vampire fiction are a never-ending cavalcade of shit. Exhibit A would be Hellsing, which, given its incredibly over-the-top juvenile wish-fulfillment, historical illiteracy (those Anglican clergyman who pretend to be druids have a firmer grasp of history than Hellsing does), and origin as a porn doujinshi, is a shoo-in for the title of "Twilight for boys". (Twilight is often suspected of having begun as some sort of bad fan-fic.) Vampires shouldn't be little pretty-boy sissy-britches, but neither should they be any other kind of Mary Sue. Alucard is basically an Ayn Rand protagonist, or even more, Terry Goodkind. Also, yet again, we get that Vlad Tepes bullshit—despite the fact that, reasonably, a paltry 520-odd years is barely enough time for a vampire to graduate from rookie status. Alucard ought to be regularly getting his ass handed to him by people whose burials involved cave-bear skulls. (That's something I like about Vampire the Masquerade, actually—no vampires don't live in terror of the Antediluvians, who've had multiple millennia to get their shit together. In my own book, the vampires who lived in the classical era consider the post-1000 AD vampires to be young-whippersnapper moderns with a lot of newfangled ideas, and speak in hushed tones of prehistoric monsters the youngest of whom was a Proto-Indo-European of the Kurgan culture.)

As in so many things, I think the problem comes down to the fact that balance is complicated. Since Edward and Lestat suck, we swing the other way, to Alucard...only really, he sucks too. Unfortunately, vampires need angst like werewolves need bestial savagery—it's their essence. Sure, certain trends in the rest of our fiction have tended to make that kind of angst the mark of a protagonist (but that, to quote Alton Brown, is another show), and is dangerously liable to neuter the power of a vampire villain (and vampirism should always be villainous; although an individual vampire may fight against the evil inherent in their condition, the only victory condition involves overcoming their resentments and dying for real). But nobody ever said art was easy, cupcake.


Commentary 4

Random thoughts.
  • Although I cannot find the source, apparently Pauline Kael said that camp is "failed seriousness", which indicates that even she was right twice a day. And yes, she deserves to be compared to a broken clock—a rock-stupid Upper West Side Manhattanite who mixed equal parts paradoxically shallow artistic pretentiousness with turnip-truck cornpone levels of provincial naïveté, "broken clock" is actually quite generous.

    Kael, after all, was one of the drool-soaked dimbulbs who called Dirty Harry "fascist". No, I know—Dirty Harry is entirely about how no convention of the state should be allowed to prevent justice being done, i.e. it is the opposite of fascism. But one must remember, to Pauline Kael, not merely the US Constitution but that constitution as interpreted by "progressive" judges, is the very font and source and self of morals.

    Savor with me the irony of someone whose views may be summed up as "That which conforms to the ideology is alone good" accusing someone else of being in a totalitarian tradition.

  • I return endlessly, in my thoughts and in my writing, to this silly idea that merely humanizing the enemy is sufficient to end wars. Nobody not mentally ill seriously doubted that "Russians loved their children too", or the Japanese, or the Germans, or anyone else one has had wars with.

    But then, one eventually had to ask the question, "Granting that the Russians (or Japanese or Germans or whoever) love their children, why do they not seem to appreciate that Hungarians (or Koreans or Frenchmen or whoever) love their children?" Because an appeal to my empathy and ability to recognize others' humanity is not going to make me stop wanting to fight a war, if I also notice along the way that the enemy doesn't have any empathy of his own.

    Attempts to end wars by making one of the belligerents realize the other is an asshole are probably doomed to failure. Just putting that out there.

  • It is amusing, to me, to be lectured by Black Americans on the legacies of slavery, not least because all of my ancestors but the Czech ones were rather too busy being robbed and murdered by Black Americans' fellow Protestants to do much slave-owning.

    The Czech ones, however, and my great-grandfather's nationalist activities (he signed one of the founding documents of Czechoslovakia, after the Great War), provide another amusing response. Namely, "The word 'slave' is the name of my grandmother's race, fool." See, the Holy Roman Empire was constantly being raided by certain pagan tribes on their northeastern borders. They sent out troops—most notably the secularized Templar splinter-group, the Teutonic Knights—to subdue them, and a number of other tribes who were neither pagan nor raiders, and talked the whole affair up as a Crusade, although the Church hadn't actually preached it as one, and was one of the sharpest critics of the Empire's excesses.

    So many of those tribesmen were used for forced labor by the Empire that their race's name, "Slav", came to be slang for their status, in much the same way the N-word was in the US South. Admittedly that wasn't the type of pagan slavery practiced by the Americans, but, rather, Byzantine slavery, the same type as practiced in Spain's colonies—Protestants, I regret not the slightest to inform you, are the only Christians who ever had chattel-slavery.

  • That's an interesting thought, by the way. Due to the Moors, Spain essentially never had the Middle Ages; in terms of a number of customs, from slavery to treatment of Jews to inheritance laws, they were basically Byzantines who happened to retain union with Rome. Except their dynastic wars were a lot less bloody (seriously, anyone who thinks the medieval West was bad, should read up on Byzantine history sometime—as I've said before, being dominated by warrior-nobles actually made the Latins less savage, not more).

  • Speaking of Spain, while it's true the pointed arch probably comes from Moorish architecture, the Moors pretty much only used it decoratively. It was further north, in France and the Holy Roman Empire (primarily the former) that some architect noticed you could build churches higher, using pointed arches, since they drastically reduce structural stress compared to Romanesque ones. Thus spawning Gothic (which ought to be called Frankish, or more accurately, Gaulic).

    Come to think of it, everything ought to be called Gaulic. There is essentially nothing about Western civilization that didn't reach its highest form in France, especially High Medieval/Direct Capetian France—anything you can point to as great about your particular branch of the West is something they'd already done. Plainly, the medieval Persians were right, when they called all Westerners, collectively, "the Franks" (Farangi). Except for how the French were, in everything but their political structure, still Gauls (only partly Romanized Gauls, at that—there's nothing Roman about lots of medieval French customs).

  • So I thought those pure-carnivore elves, in my D&D game, would be cool if their cavalry rode elk. They have a taboo, based on the Hindu cattle-one, on eating anything "that talks, that hunts, or that sheds its horns." The only meat-animal they domesticate much is poultry.

    The dwarves, I decided, similarly have a society centered on sheep-herding; they raise pony-sized sheep (so, basically, Navajo sheep) as steeds and for their milk, but have a taboo on eating mutton (as well as on eating people or carnivores). They also have a gift-economy, with elements both of European feudalism and northwest American potlatch.

  • Also, after noticing how every single thing the elves in Skyrim make looks like an eagle, I thought, "wouldn't it be cool if my elves had a theme, in their equipment?" Plus I love the demihumans making stuff from odd materials. So now, the elves in my setting wear the equivalents of leather, scale, and banded armor...but they're all actually made of leaves (the leather and banded look nearly identical, but the "leather" is made of thinner, more flexible leaves). The scales are actually tiny leaves.

    Similarly, their weapons are all leaves, too—long ones for swords and daggers, with the stems as grips, or short ones with long stems for axes and spears (why don't Elder Scrolls games have spears, anyway?). It occurs to me that, though my setting isn't set in a 100% standard D&D world, inside a crystal shell and attached to the Outer and Inner Planes by the Astral and Ethereal (I'm sorry, I'm a Planescape and Spelljammer guy—that cosmology will be canon to me until you pry it from my cold dead hands), my elves' equipment is very definitely a shout out to the Elven Navy's ships, each of which is basically a giant flower/seed-pod that looks like a butterfly.

    I wonder, is it common for old Spelljammer players to list butterflies among badass symbols, along with eagles and tigers and dragons? Because an Elven man-o'-war, or an armada, is 60+ spacial tons of undiluted whoop-ass.

  • Don't remember if I mentioned it, but my D&D setting's dwarves make stuff out of a red volcanic glass, like a color-inverted version of the glass from Elder Scrolls (or like the glowing parts of daedric armor).

  • I'm reminded of some halfwit, on an RPG forum I was reading, saying how the societies in D&D games would never work, because they're portrayed as having a gold-based economy. Only, bullshit. I don't own the 4th Edition books, but I know 2e and 3e both say only adventurers do much business in gold—basically, they live in a quasi-medieval version of a hip-hop video, doing all their business in Benjamins (generally with fewer hoochie-mammas, though). Everyone else deals in silver (in this analogy, ten-spots).

    Similarly, another idiot said D&D games were basically set in an era like Greek myth, where anyone not like you is a "barbarian" you can make war on to your heart's content. Aside from being the usual Orcish Post-Colonialism crap, it's not even true; I don't know what rulebooks this PC little sissy-britches was reading but the "monstrous humanoids" aren't evil because they're ugly, they're evil because they murder, enslave, and eat people and worship darksome gods whose realms are mostly in a certain air-filled void full of floating cubes.

    Also, "anyone not like you can be warred upon without limit" is a far more accurate description of many Native American ethical systems than of the classical world even at its worst—actually Romans' singular claim to superiority over any other people was that they acknowledged (in theory, anyway) that morals applied even to foreigners—but don't expect someone who thinks orcs are an oppressed minority to admit that.

  • Thought I'd share two experiences, related to the ditziest person I ever played D&D with...who may or may not be my younger sister. (No, not her, she's my older sister. Although she did once kick a can of Dr. Pepper out of her own hand, into her computer. So...)

    Ahem. Anyway. The two experiences are, first, when the shall-remain-nameless player's character was wounded, and no cleric or other Healer-type was on hand. Quoth she, "I wish I was a vampire so I could heal fast."

    And second, "I know! I'll summon a hedgehog! Then we'll throw it at the dragon's head and it'll lay eggs in its brain!" That was not intended to be wacky, either.


Back in the Saddle

...but, as it turns out, the stirrups are irrelevant.

So you've probably heard of the Great Stirrup Controversy. Probably not by name, but it's the idea that European cavalry really caught on because of the stirrups' aid to lance-charges. Probably the stirrup came from some horse-nomads out of Asia, whether Huns or early Turks, and that is useful for the propaganda that Europe was backward compared to Asia (which is not true—also, one of those groups of steppe-nomads were the Magyars, and by the time they show up in history, they were every bit as European as, say, Copenhagen).

But lately, apparently, it turns out that the Stirrup Theory...is not true. Many scholars and reenactors have discovered that stirrups don't do jack-all for you, when you're lancing. Nope, turns out, it's the high-backed saddle1 and rowel-spurs that make a bigger difference—although, as some have pointed out, Greek heavy cavalry (kataphractoi, Latinized as cataphracts) dates to Alexander the Great, or c. 1000 years before Europeans first used the stirrup, so the theory should never have arisen in the first place.


Baibun no Jinsei

Japanese this time, "The Hack-writer's (Human) Life". Which, presumably, is in vain ("Your life is in vain" is the Mahayana street-preacher's "Repent, the end is nigh!").

Thoughts upon the second R.
  • My first SF book's opening is a titsch weak, I think, or at least a little slow. On the other hand, it uses a device I've copied from movies: the establishing shot. First I describe the building, then I move to what's happening inside it.

    I don't know, I like to know about cities, when things are happening in them. Since I'm on the subject, what did the DP of the third Harry Potter film have against establishing shots? I guess the setting is none of our business.

  • On the one hand, feminist science fiction is as legitimate as feminist philosophy or filmmaking. On the other hand, it's as illegitimate as feminist philosophy or filmmaking—which is to say, as illegitimate as Marxist philosophy or filmmaking, or Nazi, or white-supremacist.

    Given that easily one-third of the subgenre's output is just Lifetime-movie plots about rape, and another third is a caricature of pregnancy-as-monster you'd expect from some mentally ill, slightly misogynistic male writer, I'm pretty sure the remaining third could also be burned with no loss to civilization. I'd wanted to say you could stick all the subgenre's practitioners in a bag and drown them in a river and still come out ahead of the game, but that seems a bit hyperbolic even for me.

  • Not actually, directly, about writing, but did you know the word "hyperbole" is related to the Spanish word "palabra" and I do believe also to French "parler"? Yeah, see, for some reason, Vulgate Latin used "parabola", from Greek, as its word for "word"—presumably meaning something along the lines of, well, "around what the thing is". Thus, a hyperbola is over "what the thing is".

    If that is not the strangest thing in etymological history, I should dearly love to know what is. Which, to tie into my actual subject, goes to show that conlangs need to be creative, too. Another thing Vulgate Latin did, which is also quite odd, is use the diminutive for lots and lots of nouns—ears, for one.

  • Apparently people think Peter Singer invented the distinction between Sapience and Sentience (it's an important matter in science fiction, much of which conflates the two)? Somehow I doubt that, given Linnaeus named us "Homo sapiens" in 1758, and "sapience" meaning "understanding, awareness" dates from c. 1300.

    Perhaps the confusion comes in because people have to translate whatever the Sanskrit is for the type of creature that possesses Buddha-nature as "sentience". But animals and I do believe plants have, or at least may have, Buddha-nature—or at least, since one might be reborn as one, they are subject to the cycle of suffering (they are probably not, within their lifetimes, capable of advancing toward enlightenment; being reborn as one is, I seem to recall, listed as one of the Ten Calamitous Rebirths in Shingon).

  • Personally, I have one suggestion for any writer who dislikes elves: Russian roulette with a semiauto. Seriously, any race you would come up with on your own is just going to be elves anyway, or else something else that's been done a million times. Even the Dwemer have been done before, though not usually in fantasy. Rather than bitching about elves, try doing them right for a change.

    Again, two simple steps will instantly revitalize the fantasy elf. One is, the Faerie Fading Away thing is just as stupid a Romantic cliche as the be-ringleted heroine who trips around and whose eye-color can be seen from across a foggy moor. They've generally lived for millennia alongside trolls and dwarves, why should they start going into decline just because one of the apes abruptly learned to talk? And two is, don't rip off Tolkien, rip off his sources, or an equivalent. My elves, as I've mentioned, are based on the yokai from East Asian legend, and also the Navajo ye'i (a word that is usually translated "god" but actually means "spirits other than ghosts").

  • Another idea I've had on elves is, the ones in my D&D campaign are pure carnivores. Not like the Bosmer (they don't eat people), like jackals (so they do occasionally eat vegetables, virtually all canids are generalist carnivores). See, I was thinking about how elves are commonly portrayed as having less sexual dimorphism, or at least less role-specialization (and more uniform size between the sexes) than humans. And it occurred to me, that doesn't go with the near-vegetarian, free-loving hippie society elves are usually depicted as having. No, low dimorphism goes with near-monogamous pack-hunters, like wolves or jackals.

    So now, my elves are (socially, not physically) jackals, my dwarves are wolves, and my goblins (including hobgoblins) are lions (big dominant males with harems). My ogres (including orcs), on the other hand, are a mix of lion and other cat—the ogres usually live like, say, tigers, only coming together to mate (generally with stable harems centered on dominant males, which is common among felines), while the orcs live communally, also in harems.

  • Am I the only one who tires of the self-questioning little sissy-britches in fantasy fiction (slightly less often in SF and other genres)? The worst example is the Lord of the Rings movies: Jackson turned Aragorn Arathornion into freaking Tanis from Dragonlance.

    Seriously, Aragorn didn't really have any self-doubt. He knew exactly what he was about: he was going to restore the kingship of Gondor, the last remnant of the power of Numenor (his clan being a cadet branch of the Numenorean royal family). For instance, although the books don't describe what he says to Sauron when he confronts him through the Palantir, we can infer from his attitude that it was, in essence, "Who the hell do you think I am?"

    That's only mostly a joke. The very flag of Numenor, the white tree, is every bit as defiant as the flaming skull in sunglasses of the Gurren-dan. Kindly recall that the tree in question was a grafting of the trees, the trees of the light of Valinor, saved from Ungoliant and the machinations of Morgoth. Going into battle against Morgoth's lieutenant with a flag that says "Your master failed" takes a big brass pair, son.

    Newsflash, Jackson, and all the rest of you who write characters like that, the words "I mustn't run away" are not even in Aragorn's vocabulary. And even people who like Evangelion don't usually like Shinji.

  • By the bye, I cannot belabor the point enough: any story, whether science fiction or fantasy, that uses the idea "humans are special" is automatically disqualified from posturing as anything other than the Jingoism it is. Especially since the ways humans are special are generally the (falsely) claimed superiorities of Anglo Protestant culture over the cultures Anglo Protestants liked to rob, rape, and murder. Anyone who paid attention during the 20th century might suspect humans are special in a manner involving wrestling headgear and truncated vehicles.

    On the other hand, however, people are the only thing that matters in the cosmos, and anything else derives its significance exclusively from them. It is fascinating to me how many people can write (or read, or watch, or play) science fiction stories that are non-stop Anthropo-Jingo cheerleading, and then turn right around and deny that a baby has any more rights than a dolphin. Whether that is hypocrisy or just flabbergasting stupidity is probably an academic question.

That Evangelion reference reminds me, the dude what did Yu-Gi-Oh The Abridged Series did a parody of the Evangelion theme that sums it up perfectly. Slight language warning.


Petits Essais

Random thoughts.
  • Remember Jonathan Franzen? He's the Luddite subliterate hack, rage at whom occasioned my post "'Science' Is the Operative Word"? Well, the gent who wrote the Reader's Manifesto reviews one of his books here. Not gently. More gently than Franzen deserves, but I suppose an editor might prefer something more complex than "KILL!!" written 2500 times.

    My favorite part is the line, "Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.)" It is not only highly indicative of the mindset of the lit-fic writer extruder, but an excellently compact little insult. I flatter myself my Megan's Law joke is better, but it's also less useful.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia is, probably, at least as overrated as Code GEASS and Hellsing. Aside from the irritatingly hamfisted shipping, it shows the usual Japanese tone-deafness when it comes to other people's history—and at one point, it also has a Stupid Pollack joke played completely straight.

    Look. If you were going to do a manga/anime about history, it'd have to be a banchô (school gang) story. Every one of the country/delinquents, for instance, would remember having had their asses kicked by France, but then he gave up fighting to please his girlfriend, Socialism. England would be the villainous, cowardly guy who kidnaps other delinquents' girlfriends in order to lure them into traps. And so on.
  • Also, aside from how Austria, not Germany, is the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was nothing like the love-marriage portrayed in Hetalia. 18th- and 19th-century Hungarians used "Emperor Joseph" as a curse, for crying out loud, and talked openly of returning the Holy Crown to its proper supremacy—i.e., secession.
  • I keep returning to that concept, incidentally, the Holy Crown of Szent Istvan, I mean. The idea—that the crown is a mystic artifact in which sovereignty resides, and the king merely the people's representative before it—is marvelously suggestive; I could write you eight or nine fantasy plots using the device, and each one different.

    Another idea, from another country where surnames precede personal ones, has always intrigued me—the Japanese idea of seals. That rocks, trees, temples, and sometimes people (usually princesses with a religious role, due to an ancient Chinese record describing Japan, or Wa as it was then known, as being ruled by one) form a containment on dangerous powers, like nuclear cooling rods, is marvelously useful in generating story.

    A variant of it is actually involved in battôdô. A scabbard is not merely a mundane thing that keeps a sword's cutting edge from undesired cutting; it is a seal on the violence the weapon itself represents. Arguably a similar idea is the basis of the Gurkha custom of never sheathing a knife without it drawing blood (they cut themselves, generally on the forearm, when they sheathe a knife that hasn't drawn blood). One might interpret it pragmatically, as not wanting to get into the habit of drawing blades easily, or mystically, as the blade itself (as an aspect of the wielder's heart) becoming "thirsty"—but is there actually a difference?
  • People always base things—homunculi, serial murders, etc.—on the seven deadly sins. But why not the Four Sins Crying Out to Heaven for Vengeance? You could get a lot of mileage out of characters named/themed Sodomy or Murder, though Denial of Wages and Oppression of Widows and Orphans would be tough to pull off without it looking like James Cameron.

    And yes, the thing called "sodomy" is the "sin of sodom". It's not inhospitality. Not even ancient Jews were so fond of parallelism that, merely because Lot's virtue is hospitality, the wickedness of his city must arise from the opposite fault.

    Incidentally, Lot's hospitality approaches the point of vice—fathers have more duty to their daughters than to any guests, sorry, just as it would've been wrong to have his sons throw their lives away to protect the guests. Nevertheless, 3rd millennium BC Near Eastern mores being what they were (the guest was a sacred being—still is in the various Afghan honor-codes, which are of Persian origin), Lot's act corresponded to the (partly relative) thing called "common decency". Which is different from actual morals.
  • That's something that confuses people about totalitarian or radical Islamic states (radical Islam being a totalitarian ideology, that's actually redundant), by the bye. Absent some idea of natural law, a "good" person—the person least likely to lie, cheat, steal, or commit adultery—is all-too-often also, if that happens to be expected of him, the person who will perform honor-killings or inform on his neighbors to the KGB.

    Also, that people—who have never had contact with alternative systems of values—nevertheless stand up against such unjust practices is a powerful argument against morals being culturally determined. And it can't be due to outside influences, at least not much of the time; many reformers in totalitarian regimes are equally critical of the other systems that would be the only source of those influences. Does anyone care to seriously maintain that Solzhenitsyn was primarily influenced by American liberalism in his critiques of communism?
  • Know what? Shut up about lobsters already. They're bugs. They do not have a nociception center in their brain—they do not feel pain, merely a highly generalized distress. And if it is that important to you that they not be cooked alive? You shove a chef's knife into the base of their big head-plate, cutting edge toward their antennae, and then swing it down like the arm on a paper-cutter. That kills the bug instantly by bisecting its brain—although it doesn't behave any differently, because again, it's a bug, it doesn't need its head to live.

    You can also put them in your freezer for a couple hours, which kills them slightly slower but less traumatically—if an animal that remains alive after having its head severed, and, again, has nothing in its brain for registering pain, can be said to experience trauma. Which it can't.
  • Be wary of B. R. Myers' earlier stuff, apart from the Manifesto; while Bush was in office he was as batshit as the rest of the artsy set, and he also appears to fall for animal-rights nonsense (he was the one who reminded me of lobsters), despite it being philosophically vacuous. And if you speak respectfully at all of Cindy Sheehan, an anti-Semite psychotic who made a marionette of her slain son's corpse, you are either a partisan hack or a slackjawed retard. And Myers is plainly not a retard.

    Also, bullfighting is not a displaced homicidal impulse. It is a degenerate form of a very badass pastime—in its original form, it was one man, with a spear or shortsword, and just as often a bear or boar as a bull. Then again, I come from a place where the hunting-god is still worshiped (he's simply called Black God), and where it's remembered that any animal that can kill you might as well be a dragon, for all the pity you should show when killing it.
  • Incidentally, Black God of the Navajo is also Raven.

    Talking God, incidentally, is probably Owl, although the association of owls with ghosts has caused the identification to be largely ignored; the Owl who warns one of the men off from violating a sexual taboo, when the men and women were living separately, is probably Talking God. The man gave him a liver in thanks—"Very well, my grandchild, but turn your back; I allow no-one to see me feed."

    That the women were not so warned off was the origin of the Hostile Gods the Hero Twins later had to kill. Given the taboo in question, one would wager that sex-toys do not sell well in the Dinétah.
  • Black God is also the god of fire, probably due to syncretism with the Hopi god Masauwu the Skeleton, who is in turn a reflex of the Aztecs' Mictlantecuhtli. Talking God has a ludicrous number of similarities to Quetzalcoatl, although interestingly the Hopi reflex of Quetzalcoatl, Pahana, is very specifically a missing god who will one day return.
  • Speaking of stupid things Myers says, you most certainly can joke about violence while taking it seriously. People whose job is to take violence seriously—cops and soldiers—are a non-stop font of gallows humor, however much chin-pulling blue-nosed Puritans like Myers might want them to make long faces and speak exclusively in solemn tones.

    Anyone who actually knew any psychoanthropology—so not Myers, who repeats some risible howler about early hominids being scavengers—would know why humor and violence are linked. Fear is the common element; remember, humor is an interrupted fear-response. It's only irrelevancies, like, say, art, we're serious about. Or to quote Chesterton, "Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are the oldest jokes in the world—being married; being hanged."