Checkin' Myself 'Fore Wreckin' Myself

Some thoughts, mainly of a reality-check-for-myself nature.
  • I am frequently unkind, often to the degree of unjustifiability, to atheists with whom I debate online. Now, admittedly, since it only ever happens on certain religious blogs I read, they are the ones who start it; but certainly I often don't acquit myself honorably.

    The explanation, though not excuse, lies in a form of generalization from the self, but not the one you probably think. It seems, to me, that the existence of God—the God of the philosophers though not of Revelation—is simply not open to dispute. To one acquainted with ancient philosophy, Thomism, and the existentialists, that there is such a thing as the Monad/Actus Subsistens Essendi is self-evidently true; to deny it exists is to say that sugars are not sweet, when "resembles a sugar in taste" is the definition of sweet. One may hold any number of beliefs that closely approximate atheism, but atheism itself is proscribed by logic, placing atheists in the same category as Holocaust Deniers and people who think we never landed on the Moon. Hence I debate with them on the internet as if they had swung by an astronomy site to deny the Moon Landings.

    But (here's where the generalization from the self comes in), most atheists know no philosophy. What little they do know is generally bad, either empiricism (which is just as self-refuting as Biblical literalism—Sola Scriptura is not found in the Bible, and empiricism is not empirically verifiable) or something like Rand or Spinoza, who never learned that Existence and That-Which-Exists are two different things. They undoubtedly are irritatingly ignorant, but my mistake is in often treating them as if they were willfully so. They are not. They have been deceived or deprived. It is one thing to be a member of the Flat Earth Society; it is quite another to be from an isolated people that never heard the earth is round. I owe them the same courtesy as the second, and frequently I give them the opprobrium of the first.
  • On a lighter note, I may have jumped the gun, flattered as I was, in endorsing John Wright's post about a Czech movie being the first steampunk. It may not really count, since it's a movie of a Verne book—Heinlein juveniles don't count as Rocket Punk, because when they were made, that was just how SF was done.

    On the other hand, Morlock Moorcock's "Warlord of the Air" can't really claim to be the predecessor of modern steampunk—then again, neither can Sterling and Gibson's "Difference Engine", and it named the genre. No, see, steampunk now is not primarily about (usually terrible) alternate history. It's about making cool overscience gadgets using materials and methods of past eras.

    Personally, I'd say the first example of that kind of steampunk is the awesome manga and anime "Steam Detectives", by Asamiya Kia, who doesn't appear to have ever encountered any other steampunk ideas before he came up with the thing. That's gotta count for something.
  • For the longest time, I thought the Japanese for "equivalent exchange" was "tokaku kokan". But, turns out it's just "toka kokan".

    I wonder, is it perhaps that Paku Romi (Ed's seiyû) renders consonants slightly differently? She is Korean, after all, and Korean tends to render the more aspirated consonants found in Japanese and English as its own emphatic consonants—except in the North, where instead they render them as geminates. Now, Paku Romi has virtually no accent—at least nobody in Japan ever seems to have complained—but tiny little differences of pronunciation can persist years after the rest of one's accent is gone. Every once in a while Agent Scully will evince just a bit of Gillian Anderson's British accent, for instance, and I pride myself on being able to spot when Hugh Laurie says something that sounds more like Blackadder's sidekick George than it does like House.
  • On the reality-check-for-me front, I can point you to the most shameful thing I ever said on this blog: in my review of Outlaw Star, I said it was "more serious, literary SF than 2001: A Space Odyssey". Now that's just ridiculous. This setting has an entire species of weretigers.

    Of course, Outlaw Star never claimed to be hard SF, and the setting also has hundreds of effing wizards, whereas Clarke's work is supposed to be atheist rationalism but it's loaded with mortals-becoming-gods from end to end. Nevertheless 2001: A Space Odyssey is still serious, literary SF until the last several minutes. It just also happens to be glacially paced, boring nonsense, more interested in Clarke's quaint bastardized-Whiggism-meets-Gnostic-soteriology than in a rampant AI, while Outlaw Star is interesting and entertaining space opera whose makers consider becoming a god the opposite of salvation.
  • Not really a reality check, but my seventh post on the whole blog, called "Identity Crises in the midst of Actual Crises", about how people in modern fiction have whiny existential angst nobody would have in their situation ("what am I good for" tends not to be asked by people whose everyday life is a struggle for survival), was remiss.

    It was remiss because it does not include this awesome quote from Peacemaker Kurogane, said by Yoshida Toshimaro to his page:
    "Is this who I really am?" "Is this my true nature?" Do not entertain such doubts, Suzu. If you have such doubts, you will hesitate. If you hesitate, you will die.
    Let the record show I did not pass into the night without correcting this heinous omission. Seriously, what the hell happened, that I wrote a blog post on that topic and didn't use that line?
Huh, so, in the end, I could only think of five things to correct myself about. If anything, I'm even more surprised than you.


Commentary 5

Random thoughts.
  • The manga-reader sites I use have been claiming a lot of series they used to host are now licensed, necessitating the removal of the series. Only, I keep checking, and none of those series are licensed. So one of two things is going on. Either some company is going around licensing a bunch of manga without definite plans to actually sell them—which is stupid, doing that with anime is how ADV went out of business—or they're using "it's licensed, sorry" to mean "someone made us take it down", even if the someone isn't actually the licensee.

    For the last few years, a lot of scanlation groups have been bitching about manga-reader sites. Now, on the one hand, they do need traffic to sell ads and keep their sites going (although Gabe and Tycho among others eliminated the stigma on begging for donations), but it's ridiculous to expect people to go and look through every scanlator's site when they want to read a series. Even more ridiculous to expect people to download scans—I share a computer with my 15-year-old brother, I ain't leaving scans of some of the more horrifying (or filthy) seinen series I follow lying around. (Or, for that matter, some of the girlier shojo series.)

    But I can't shake the suspicion some of those scanlation groups got together to bully the manga-reader sites to stop hosting the series they scanlate. Is it amusing to anyone else that a blatantly gray-market enterprise should have such a well-developed sense of "ownership"?
  • What's with people not understanding jack about fiction? I mean, someone at TV Tropes thinks Special A is about how women should never try to compete with men—rather than (as is rather blatantly obvious) simply being about one hyper-competitive psycho girl, and the one dude she can never beat. Competition doesn't even exist between any of the other characters; if "girls shouldn't try to compete with boys" were a theme, you would expect there to be more than one competition between a girl and a boy.

    On a right-wing site, similarly, someone said MLP:FIM is trying to erode gender distinctions. I hope to God they were being sarcastic, because if Friendship Is Magic is trying to erode gender distinctions, it's doing a piss-poor job of it. Aside from how all six mains are almost wastefully girly, the two major male presences (not counting Spike) are the chief of their god-queen's guards, and a burly farmhand whose only lines are either homespun wisdom or the single word "Ee-yup." Are the gender-roles maybe different on that writer's home planet?
  • An idea I thought I'd use in my D&D setting, since I haven't seen it in any fantasy ever, is Emergence. That is, the concept found in Hopi and Navajo mythology, and in a modified form in Aztec mythology, wherein everything once lived in a previous world, but (for various reasons) was driven out, and into this one. For one thing, it gives an interesting alternative to the standard D&D cosmology if, e.g., "Outsiders" are inhabitants of previous worlds, rather than of other "planes" (remember that returning back through the Emergence Hole is the same thing as death, and the souls of dead D&D characters go to the Outer Planes).

    Another idea, since I tend to like Eldritch Abominations in my fantasy (though more in a Robert Howard/Fritz Leiber manner than a Lovecraft one), is to have all the nonhuman races be themselves somewhat eldritch abomination-y. I admit I'm not the first to do that; the elves in Übel Blatt, for instance, are reminiscent of the Plants from Trigun, with bunches of stunted wings growing from their bodies. My elves get like that (Plant-y, I mean) whenever they use certain spells and powers, except with leaves growing out of them rather than wings and feathers—elf druids also shapechange into treants, not elementals. Dwarves get stony and/or burst into flames, and their druids (yes, my dwarves have druids) can become earth or fire elementals, but not air or water.
  • On the "people are idiots" front, one of those "oh hurray let's privatize space, never mind that means we'll never get to use grownup rockets" idiots claimed the Russians never could understand why we bothered with Space Shuttles.

    Really? Then why did they build one, the Buran? They also built the world's biggest cargo plane to move the thing around with. They were at the unmanned test-flights stage when the Soviet Union collapsed, and took their funding with it.
  • And speaking of, how many people chanting their blind fetishism about privatizing space would want Virgin CEO Richard Branson to have the bomb? The only currently feasible method of getting fusion for a rocket is, well, the same place we get all our fusion—hydrogen bombs. Project Orion, remember?

    Virgin Galactic is a branch of a company best known for its involvement in the RIAA, and, well, stuff like this, where they sued a band on their label for 30 million despite gypping them on royalties. Ironically, the band's name is 30 Seconds to Mars.
  • People—generally libertarians and anarchists, which are different because of the spelling—claim that the state has a monopoly on force. Only, there is no defensible theory of the state that has ever claimed that. At least not in the West; Confucianism does claim something close, although even they consider the state's use of force to be a macrocosm of the individual's use thereof. No, what all Christian theories of the state, and all Social Contract theorists, and...then I come to the end of the list of "defensible theories of the state"...say, rather, is that the individual has a right to self-defense, and the state's use of force only even exists because having the state do at least part of the protecting frees your hands to do your day-job.

    Now, the defensible theories of the state do claim the state has a monopoly on vengeance—that is, the use of force in a punitive rather than a defensive context. Mainly so society doesn't devolve into a never-ending storm of blood-feuds, we actually have tried the alternative, thank you. It may not always be wrong to take justice into your own hands, but if you do, you're pretty much denying there's any actual "state" in play—hence why vigilantism is also called "frontier justice". Hence also why the state cracks down pretty harshly on vigilantes; institutions don't like people to go around claiming they don't exist or aren't legitimate, try it on your boss RE: the company you both work for if you don't believe me.
  • Speaking of how paying the state to protect you frees up your hands, Heinlein was, to a degree, right, that specialization is for insects, but division of labor is for anatomically modern humans. People who won't divide their labor are Neanderthals. Like, literally, dividing labor between the sexes is a major difference between them and anatomically modern humans. Also you will note that Neanderthals are a matter of prehistory, and "anatomically modern humans" are, well, around now, hence the name.

    Remember, people who dislike there being distinct sex-roles are the ones acting like Neanderthals. As are people who think we should change our bodies rather than just our tools. They tend to think of themselves as progressive, but the nomenclature is no more valid than "People's Democratic Republic".
  • I recently read the single best Zombie Apocalypse story ever written. Namely, Green Lantern: Blackest Night. Did you know there's a doomsday prophecy contained in the Green Lantern Oath?

    I'm a bit disappointed in the GL animated series, incidentally. Atrocitus has a lot more to say for himself than that series lets him—he's just as concerned with justice as the Guardians are, he just tends to think "death by acid-lava" is a perfectly good sentence for any crime more severe than jaywalking. Also? He let a cat into his Corps. An angry, angry kitty.

    Nevertheless, rather than letting hacks like Nolan or whoever wrote the GL movie do it, why doesn't DC have Paul Dini do a movie for them? Are they that afraid of giant piles of money?
  • You know how people always say English has such a huge vocabulary? I've harped on this before, since Latin has a single word for "big toe" and a prefix for "one and a half of anything". But I recently noticed another example.

    Japanese. You like monster movies? Yeah, well, which kind? Japanese can distinguish three types. An o-bake is a monster from their legends (in folklore, it's restricted to those monsters that originated as animals or objects in which spiritual power accumulated, e.g. tsukkumogami or bakeneko). A kaibutsu is a Universal/Hammer Films type monster. And a kaijû is something like Godzilla.

    Incidentally, the jû in kaijû and the butsu in kaibutsu both mean animal (a raijû is the pet of the lightning god that Pikachu evolves into, a dôbutsuen is a zoo), but with different connotations.


Jablko nepadá daleko od stromu

Czech, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

So, read this, by John C. Wright. Apparently, the first steampunk was a Czech movie.

Have I mentioned that I am a fourth-generation geek on my mother's side, her mother being an amateur Southwestern antiquarian and her father being a man who spoke Esperanto? Yes, well I'm almost certain I didn't mention that that Esperantist, my great-grandfather, Josef Martinek, who signed one of the documents founding Czechoslovakia after the Great War, supposedly taught himself Spanish just because of the Western dime-novels he read as a boy, while escorting the family cow on its bovine errands.

Remember, one of us—well, a Jew, but Czechs were almost as good as Poles about considering Jews to be members of their nation—also wrote the first robot-uprising story, the one that also coined the word "robot" in the sense of "mechanical man" (rather than "sharecropper, drudge").



So I now have a deviantART...account? Page? Gallery? Hoity-toity artist's loft? Gallery-showing somehow finagled from a curator who actually just needed to fill a little wall-space?

Anyway, I am now present and have works viewable upon deviantART.

I have used it to put up the first five sections of the short story about first contact 'twixt humans and zledo, called "Here Are Dragons". Go read it. I don't care if you don't want to. Go. Now.

Off with you, seriously.


Space Cops

Be cool, be cool, space cops, be cool.

Portal 2 reference—the Space Core is a quotable little guy. Wanted to do an SF post, but it ended up turning out to be mostly reality check...about SF. So that's cool too.
  • So the New York Times had an essay contest (for adults...?), for readers to defend the ethics of eating meat, since it's bad to kill animals and use land and water for grazing. Except, of course, that it isn't. But even considering their incoherent premise, the one that won was about in vitro meat, which, uh, is cheating—I don't consider an essay eligible to win if it completely sidesteps the important question raised by the essay prompt. Also, in vitro meat is barely even a novelty act at the moment, and since it makes extruded chicken slurry look like filet mignon, that condition is likely to persist.

    Besides, how come nobody said, as is the appropriate response, "'Ethical'? What are you, stupid? Humans are members of this ecosystem. Our niche is apex predator. It's no more unethical to act according to our ecological niche than it is to reproduce sexually."

    Oh wait, the Times' own Maureen Dowd thinks that is unethical. So I don't know what I was thinking.
  • I have discussed the argument, offered by Libertarians on a number of issues they don't understand, that "you own your body". It's risibly bad—who's this "you" that owns "your body"? Body-self dualism is bad metaphysics.

    Worse, though, is when they formulate it as "you own yourself". Uh, what? Body-self dualism may be bad, but self-self dualism? Really? There is no place in our property concepts for owner and chattel to be one and the same. As well say you enslave yourself—which, not coincidentally, is what they're generally arguing in favor of doing.

    I bring it up here because it's often invoked by Transhumanists, who seem to be about fifty-fifty stupid leftists and stupid Libertarians.
  • And yes, leftist Transhumanism is stupid, at least if the leftism in question is even vaguely egalitarian. If we do ever marry biology with technology and make people super-smart and nigh immortal, you think it'll get done to everyone? That's cute. How?

    Forgive me if I put this bluntly, but I want to be able to outsmart the rich if I have to, and I want them to die when I guillotine them. You can be cringingly servile, with your naive trust in their benevolence, if you want to.
  • Also, seriously, why bother augmenting yourself with technology? The one thing—seriously, there's just one—that a computer can do better than you is math, and we are not noticeably hampered by our current input methods.

    As for everything else, why would you bother surgically (or hypodermically) installing hardware on your actual body, and risking all the attendant complications, when you can just carry a handheld with virtually every app you'll ever need, plus a phone and a camera that might well give you augmented reality displays and probably IR goggles and binoculars to boot? For things that require specialized hardware or physical capabilities, modular utility garments, ranging from specialized gloves to full-blown powered-armor and spacesuits.

    Get with the Upper Paleolithic: we don't adapt our bodies anymore, we adapt our tech. Cramming the tech into the body is counter-productive.

    Transhumanists are really just playing out their fetishes, I think; let's just say the works of Sorayama Hajime are disproportionately represented in their "private" collections. And, well, futurists, the Transhumanists among them, are an elite—a niche elite, but an elite. And the elite is perennially prone to Gnosticism, and Gnosticism is obsessed with bringing the body under its control. Because the body, and its needs and capabilities, is the area where the elite is not special.
  • This account of a writer's travails adapting a Heinlein book to the screen, reveals, I think, something about the current plight of visual-medium science fiction. Namely—given two directors tried to cut the thing—Hollywood hates spaceships.

    I don't see why. Hollywood loves artsy-fartsy little loft apartments and mahogany-paneled boardrooms. They love mad scientist labs and military staging areas. Is a spaceship interior that different from those? And as for exteriors, spaceships are easy to CGI. They don't change shape as they move. They don't have to squash and stretch upon contact with surfaces. You just rotate them and slide them toward a vanishing point, and add engine glows.
  • So David Brin thinks we should restore optimism to science fiction. Well and good—but understand, Brin, your optimism is my dystopia. Also vice-versa. On the other hand, read the interview: Mr. "Star Wars Is Fascist" thinks "the worst drug addiction of our age" is "a self-induced high called self-righteous indignation". Yeah, shove it up your ass, Brin, certain people aren't allowed to say certain things. Do I complain about crotchety unpublished SF writers of a philosophical bent who run obscure geek-culture blogs and play a lot of Skyrim?

    Also, given that Brin is significantly to the left of John Scalzi, which is to say he careens on a waterslide past Heinlein into Ayn Rand country in terms of partisan hackery, he doesn't get to complain about "the dismally insipid 'left-right political axis.'" Yes, Brin, if only we could see past our petty partisan politics and think in lockstep with you.

    He also says Paul Ehrlich's worries are "on-target". If by that you mean they are intended as an attack, namely on the peoples of the Third World, their personal autonomy, and ultimately their very lives, then yes. If you mean they are accurate, well, let's just be polite, and point out that astrophysics has no more to do with economics or anthropology than entomology does. Ehrlich has rather famously lost his bet with Julian Simon, vis-à-vis resource scarcity caused by overpopulation...and he still hasn't paid up. He's not just a liar, he's a welcher.
  • While anime is generally a lot better about space-stuff than Hollywood—they do at least know about orbit elevators—their aliens are virtually always "not even bothering with the rubber forehead". Other than Outlaw Star, and the Ctarl-Ctarl are rather too humanlike even there, I can't think of an anime with aliens that aren't either humans with forehead tattoos, or Godzilla-type monsters. I don't know why they have such trouble with it—also why, apart from Gintama, which is shit, they've never seen the parallels between the Black Ships and a First Contact situation.

    On the other hand, they very frequently manage to get a lot closer to realism in "Transhuman" futures, by the simple expedient of not pretending it'd actually change anything. Maybe it's because of Buddhism, but they don't pretend for a second that cyber- or gene-enhancements, or greatly extending lifespans, would affect the fundamental facts (most of them unpleasant) of human life. As I said before, people in Xenosaga can go into computer simulations and retrieve goods into the real world, and they use the Collective Unconscious as a warp-drive, but they also have to work as part-time waitresses to pay for it.