De Vermis Mysteriis

"Mysteries of the Worm". 'S a Cthulhu Mythos tome created by Robert Bloch.

Anyhoo. Decided to make my space-folds more definitively wormhole-like. Nice thing is, I now know what they look like: they look like an event horizon surrounded by gravitational lensing. Yeah, much like the black kind, worm "holes" don't much look like a hole, except as seen against a background. Remember, they're warping at least four and probably several more dimensions; the mouth of a 3d tube is a circle, but the mouth of a 4+d one is, at least in 3d space, a sphere.

Now, ordinarily, again, FTL (where instantaneous velocity never exceeds c) causing time travel is baloney. Einstein had silly ideas due to getting his philosophy from a Sephardic glass-blower; in the EPR paradox, he also conflated logical deduction with the transmission of data. Both relativity and quantum mechanics, or rather the typical scientist's interpretations of them, have served to lock science up inside the head of the observer, where all the rest of thought had been locked up since Kant, and probably Descartes.

If I go to someplace 20 light-years away, and it takes five minutes for my FTL drive to work, then for me, five minutes have passed. From the standpoint of the place I left, sure, I seem to have arrived 20 years (or 19 years, 365 days, 5 hours, and 55 minutes—remember, a Julian year is 365.25 days, and five minutes have elapsed) before I left, but that's, again, an optical illusion. As well say that an "Einstein's cross" gravitational lens causes there to be four quasars.

Things do, admittedly, get slightly more complex when wormholes are concerned; the idea that they involve time travel is not based solely on that "our observations not only represent, but are identical with, reality" bullshit. Wormholes involve looping space-time in on itself; they can, in principle, be used to go back in time. However, for my purposes, that's not relevant, since apparently they can't go back to before their own creation (or before the first time they were modified to serve as a time-warp) and my space-fold wormholes are extremely short-lived.


All I Survey II

Random thoughts. Of course, it's only random thought because, while I'm still riding a giant linguistics high, I still might wanna talk about other things. Your quaint notion of "on topic" is very droll.
  • I realized, using the reflexive causative for honorific speech, in Zbin-Ãld, might just be part of a bigger thing where they use auxiliaries mostly for social-signaling speech (apart, pretty much, from the use of the pure causative). One can also say "[subject] dares that they do X", for instance, in an equivalent to the -teiyagaru construction in Japanese, and their version of "please" has always been "request that [subject] does X". And yes, "does X", all but their most informal requests are in the third person, e.g. "I request that the citizen wait here."

    The reflexive-causative honorific, of course, is mainly used by citizens when speaking to (sometimes about) nobles, but, because of a political reform a few centuries ago, is now also used by nobles when speaking about the citizenry in any official capacity. Remember, the current zled political theory has the nobility holding power in feudal gift from the populace, not from each other.
  • If it ever strikes you as odd that Irish and Bengali are in the same language group despite being separated by nearly 7000 miles, how about the fact Madagascar and Easter Island speak languages that aren't only in the same group, but the same branch of the group? They're 9000 miles apart, after all, and yet both speak Malayo-Polynesian languages—imagine if the Irish spoke Farsi, for the level of weird that's getting into.
  • Easter Island reminds me, why do people try to make Ancient Aliens or Atlantis arguments based on it? The big statues were reared between 1250 and 1500. And the ruling class of the island were exiled aristocrats from Peru, whether Moche or Inca I forget: back home, they could do things significantly more impressive than a few moai.

    Given the way nationalism works in much of Asia (*cough*Ahnenerbe*cough*), I'm really quite surprised nobody in, say, Indonesia has seized on the probably-superficial resemblance of some Indus Valley signs to those of Rongorongo (pronounced "wrong-o, wrong-o"). You could make a better case for that script representing an Austronesian language than for it representing Sanskrit, I'll tell you that for free. Come to think of it, have any of those trigger-happy Russian linguists looked into a relation between Austronesian and Dravidian (which is probably the language of the Indus Valley culture)?
  • Actually a lot of the things we talk about as ever so ancient really aren't. Chinese writing that the average Chinese person can read only dates to the same period as the Second Punic War (and we can read Roman writing from that era, too). Chinese writing that is demonstrably set up like Chinese writing, though obscured from the layman by using different calligraphic principles, is only as old as the various Canaanite scripts—in a well-defined form only as old as Greek.

    Before that, China wrote in the same scratched in proto-writing conventional symbols you see in stuff like the Vinca Script. Meanwhile, cuneiform was already a full-fledged scribal writing system starting in 2600 BC, and Egyptian hieroglyphs from somewhere between 3200 and 2400 BC. Also? China's first emperor post-dates the Roman Republic by 263 years.

    China is popularly listed along with Egypt and Sumer as one of the world's great original civilizations. But it's not. Chinese civilization is only as old as Greek or Hindu, both of which are recognizable starting around 1300 BC. Dim proto-Chinese gropings are recognizable in the era of the Hittites, who have treaties with the Indic-speaking Mitanni aristocracy.
  • On the flipside of that, however, is the other silly canard, that China is ever so stable compared to the west. Only, the history of every Western country can pretty much be summed up as "Roman, tribal, High Medieval, decadent medieval, Renaissance, modern". China in the same period has gone through Han, Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties, and Sui—just to bring us up to the middle of Europe's "Dark Ages" or tribal period—then the Tang (part of which is the Second Zhou in some regions), then the 5 Dynasties and 10 Kingdoms (which is Liao in some places), then the Song Dynasty takes us almost to the end of the High Medieval. Much of the stuff in between Han and Tang, and between Tang and Song, would count as an interregnum or "Dark Age" in Europe.

    Then China gets conquered by Mongols, and there's the Yuan Dynasty, which lasts till the middle of the decadent medieval in the West (Marco Polo visited the Yuan). Then there's the Ming, which basically actually was what the Renaissance was trying to be (like the Renaissance, it was still much worse for the farming masses than High Medieval Europe). In 1644 you get the Qing Dynasty (conquest by Manchurians), which was what the Renaissance and Enlightenment actually were in Europe (i.e. oppressive government by racist savages), and then in 1911 you get the fall of the dynasty, the takeover of the warlords, Japanese Imperialism, and first the Republic and then the People's Republic, neither of which could give Vlad the Impaler any serious competition in the "good governance" races.
  • To switch to a different tidbit of global history, you know the Medieval Warm Period? Since so much of our politics is based on the importance of climate, and denying medieval achievements, the Warm Period is generally credited with the High Medieval prosperity (medieval breakthroughs in agricultural technology, occasioned by the fact that—unlike Muslims or Byzantines—they had no slaves, actually deserve more of the credit).

    But the same Warm Period didn't just happen in Europe. It also happened in the New World. Only there, it caused a drought that probably destroyed Anasazi civilization (that's when you start seeing cannibalism, drastic increases in fortifications, and whole settlements made up of nothing but temples), and another one that probably destroyed the Classic Maya. What benefits one man may harm another; what the world gives with the left hand was taken away with the right. Nice place, this cosmos.
  • What do conlangers have against the letter C? Also X and Q. Now, aside from the fact that Kw is an independent phoneme in many Indo-European languages, not least Proto-Indo-European—it's called a labialized velar—what if you're deliberately trying to evoke some other language? Elvish is spelled the way it is because Tolkien was deliberately trying to evoke Latin. If I'm trying to evoke Chinese, I might spell a language's aspirated voiceless alveopalatal affricate as "q", or its voiceless alveolar one as "z"; if Arabic, "q" will be a voiceless uvular stop.

    Also, though, any fictional language's orthography should be designed to be pronounced by the people who are reading the book. I, for instance, use the sequence ⟨kh⟩-⟨gh⟩-⟨hh⟩ in Zbin-Ãld, for sounds pronounced [q], [ɢ], and [χ] (the voiceless and voiced uvular stops, and the voiceless uvular fricative, respectively). I write [ʧ] and [ʤ] as ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨j⟩, and [j] as ⟨y⟩. Because my book is written in English, and while ⟨kh⟩ is likely to be said as a fricative ([x], which is actually what the H in Zbin-Ãld is), or just an aspirated [k], what, pray, does the average person pronounce ⟨q⟩ as? Most people know by now that Mandarin romanization uses a q for a ch sound and an x for an s, but I can hardly rely on such common knowledge for languages I made up, now can I?
  • I am, however, a firm believer that fictional cultures' names are not required to conform to the expectations of a provincial audience. I say this because I once had an English teacher complain about all the weird names in my literary analysis of one of the Chanur books by C. J. Cherryh. Because one so often meets people named Zhuge Liang or Agamemnon, right?

    I realize that names like those of the zledo—e.g. Hhãzma, pronounced [χazma], with the first syllable trilled—may be hard to pronounce. Technically even I can't pronounce them, I don't have the right vocal anatomy to trill the tilde-ed vowels (most humans, in the book, make a gurgling noise; I think I'm gonna have a gal what speaks Chinese give 'em that r-coloring from Mandarin). They're hard for humans in the book to pronounce, too. The fact Zbin-Ãld marks the sex of names by which syllables are trilled (odd male, even female) is probably counterintuitive, too—Õzdyithõ and Yehõ are male and female respectively, despite ending in the same sound—but they have to trill vowels in human names in order to mark them as nouns, so the difficulty is reciprocal.
  • You want further proof that manga-ka are a bunch of nerds? How about this, the Volume 8 cover of The World God Only Knows.

    Not only are they reading books called Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, but the top Keima is Plato, the middle Keima is Aristotle, and the bottom one is Heraclitus. How do you know? It's based on "The School of Athens" by Raphael, that's how.


Asia Is Not an Island

Well, I must correct something I said. Remember how I was saying the significance of food in anime might be related to the suspected Austronesian substrate in Japanese, given the significance of food in Polynesian cultures? Well, along the way, I had a discussion of the Yue peoples and their food concepts. Only, I mistakenly identified the Yue (specifically Vietnamese) as Austronesian. Only, Vietnamese is Austroasiatic, not Austronesian. I think I just misread the stuff I was basing that on. Everything else I said does stand—the Japanese are very similar to other Pacific islanders, and food really is important in Yue culture—but those two facts are not (demonstrably) related.

In my defense, who names two language groups whose speakers sometimes share borders such similar things? We don't call Tibeto-Burman "Indo-Burman", even though a lot of them are spoken in India—because that would just cause needless confusion, given that one of the other major language groups of their region is Indo-European (and specifically Indo-Iranian, or Indo-Aryan). But we have Austronesian and Austroasiatic, which not only both start with "Austro" they both have "sia" in them. Since we're on the subject, why do we even call that language group Austronesian? Their Urheimat is, to a reasonable degree of probability, Taiwan, and Taiwan is not that far south. How about just "Nesian"? Nearly everybody who speaks those languages lives on an island or a peninsula.

I think another factor in my confusion is there is a theory, admittedly from Russian linguists (who also gave the world Japhetic theory and are the only guys still taking Nostratic seriously), that Austronesian and Austroasiatic might be unified in a larger "Austric" language family. The trouble is, of course, that a lot of their common features might be areal rather than genetic, since both are spoken in Southeast Asia; there's the same trouble in determining whether Uralic, Altaic, Mongolic, and Tungusic—all spoken in the Eurasian steppes—are related to each other (or even, some of them, exist—the relatedness of Altaic languages, for instance, isn't actually that well-demonstrated once you get beyond Turkic).


It's All Tibetan to Me

So, in the process of making Zbin-Ãld ergative, I actually discovered what an antipassive is. Basically, it is a way of marking a transitive verb so that it doesn't need to have its patient specified (the patient of a transitive verb in an ergative grammar is in the same case as the agent of an intransitive verb). It's called the antipassive because it's the reverse of the passive in a nominative-accusative language—the passive allows a verb to have a patient without specifying the agent, while the antipassive allows it to have an agent without specifying a patient. Antipassives only happen in ergative languages because in a non-ergative language the agent's case doesn't change whether the verb has a patient or not.

According to one source I read, by the way, it's semantically more accurate, when translating an ergative language into a non-ergative one, to render a transitive sentence as a passive one. E.g. if you're translating "the dog bit the man" from an ergative language it's actually closer to the nuance to render it as "the man, bitten by the dog". However, A) that's a really clunky way to render a sentence, and B) what do we do with an intransitive sentence, then? They sure as hell aren't more active than transitive ones, that's why their agents are in the absolutive case rather than the ergative one (that is, the "just floating loose" case rather than the "one that does work" case).

Another thing I thought I'd do was have Zbin-Ãld in its semi-classical form, the form used in official capacities, have cases for locative, ablative/instrumental, and dative, but have colloquial Zbin-Ãld and Zhbin-Khmõ (think medieval Tuscan and Old French, if the classical form is Church Latin) have compressed those cases into one oblique case (which, by the way, is my favorite linguistic concept ever).

PS. I just realized, the title makes no sense—Tibetan is one of the several ergative languages that hasn't got an antipassive.


Mania no Jinsei

Japanese, "geek life". Yes, "mania" is "geek", "otaku" has negative connotations "mania" doesn't (namely, "Law & Order: SVU villain of the week").

Thoughts upon subculture and things of interest to same. Many of them appear to be regarding linguistics.

Subculture, of course, is "The arts and other manifestations of subhuman intellectual achievement regarded collectively." But I kid.
  • Turns out I can make the zled language (Zbin-Ãld, to give it its proper name) ergative after all. I'd been worried about not having a passive for honorific purposes, but I can just use a reflexive causative the way Nahuatl does (that is, the honoree doesn't "do", he "causes himself to do"). Now to figure out how to make the causative work; think I'll go with "to cause" as an auxiliary and the verb that gets caused also be inflected, but be in the subjunctive. Or literally, "X caused that Y did". Hey, I'd managed to get away with no auxiliary verbs heretofore; "only has one auxiliary" is a neat, and realistic, touch.

    Maybe I'll have it only be ergative in some circumstances—Hindi-Urdu, which is about as Indo-European as languages come, is ergative in some of its past tenses. I don't know why; it might be an areal feature, since Tibetan, Nepal Bhasa, and the Sherpa language, as well as Gurung and Kiranti (which is spoken in Darjeeling—yeah, it's a real place, not just a label on tea) are all ergative in those tenses. 'Course, Tibetan's pretty much always ergative.
  • There's a hullabaloo on, about "fake geek girls", as though geek men were some sorta eligible bachelors perpetually preyed on by gold-diggers. To every little Facebook post or Twitter-tweet about this delusion, however, there's probably two articles attempting to refute the idea. Only, most amusingly, the "refutations" involve breathless assertions that denying these people are geeks "invalidates female geeks' experiences", or similar over-the-top politicized formulae.

    I'm sorry, phenomenological fail, you require other people to validate your experiences? That's pathetic. You need men's validation like a fish needs a bicycle, cupcake, maybe you should actually grasp the meaning of the one-liners your fetishized ancestor-gods spouted. Also? Maybe we'd respect you more if you didn't just regurgitate undergrad "identity studies" bromides—if you're a woman, think for yourself, instead of parroting your teachers like a third grader.
  • On the other hand, many of the prominent writers in geek media, regardless of their sex, are simply not geeks. It seems that disliking anime is a prerequisite of working at Anime News Network, for instance, and io9 does everything in its power to define science fiction so broadly that they get to talk about CSI and Breaking Bad.

    I think it might almost be purely attributable to journalism, though. People who report on geek stuff—nowadays—are journalists, not geeks, just like science reporters are not scientists and religion reporters burst into flame on holy ground (I assume—you explain why none of them seem ever to have seen a church). And then you get a vicious-cycle dogs-to-their-own-vomit feedback loop going, where geek culture is perennially dumbed down by journalists being its defining voices.
  • I was thinking about the bland sameness of light novel protagonists (with some notable exceptions), especially compared to the highly memorable protagonists of a typical manga. And I realized, they're all basically Bella Swan. No, not in the "supposed to be drab everyman but lots of people fall for them anyway" sense, although there is that in the more harem-y ones. In the "utterly void non-person cypher protagonist" sense.

    See, light novels appear to have fallen for the laughable nonsense that the reader wants to be the protagonist of the book. It's horse-hockey, of course; readers don't want to be Aragorn or Sherlock Holmes, let alone Humbert Humbert or Jean Valjean. But in light novels' case it's moderately more allowable than most instances of the fallacy—their creators, after all, are often the same people as make galge. In a galge, the protagonist is essentially a non-entity, usually lacking a voice or a character design. But that's because in a game, you are "being" the protagonist, in a way that you simply aren't while reading a book.
  • It occurs to me, the extreme significance of food and eating in anime—do you think it's because the Japanese are, culturally, partly Pacific islanders (you have to dig through about 1800 years of Chinese influence to find that aspect of them, but it's there)?

    Go read about traditional Hawaiian culture. Know what most of their taboos have to do with? Food. Know what cemented their economic and political relations? Food. Hell, know what they did with their defeated enemies? Food. The same (minus the cannibalism) is true of Filipinos and Formosans (or, I dunno, what are the aboriginal Taiwanese called?—and did they practice cannibalism, along with the headhunting?).

    Granted, all those peoples speak Austronesian languages, and the Japanese don't (though it's suspected both Japanese and Korean might have an Austronesian substrate); even if there isn't a substrate, though, the same material influences—the reason we call them "Pacific islander" cultures—would be in play.
  • Food seriously is significant in Austronesian cultures, though. They are our best guess for who the "Yue" people were ("Vietnam", and for that matter the name of Yunnan Province, both mean "the Yue South"); Yue, like Celts, show up in lots of ancient documents but it's actually kinda hazy who the hell we're really talking about.

    And the Yue, of course, became Han Chinese-ified as the people of Guangdong. The way you say "How are you?" in Cantonese (Yuht Yúh—the "yuht" is "yue" in Mandarin) literally means "Did you eat yet?".
  • Should we maybe just content ourselves with the knowledge that when the average person says "Middle Ages", he means Renaissance? I mean, everything from social mores to hygiene to politics to science to material culture, in the typical portrayal of the medieval era, is actually something Renaissance—here's a hint, you won't find much absolute monarchy or plate armor in the 13th century.

    Also? You know how Europe was backward and China was Science-land? Thomas Aquinas gives the roundness of the Earth as an example of scientific knowledge in the Summa, indeed in the very first article of the very first question of the very first part. The Jesuit missionaries in China, in 1582, were shocked to discover that Chinese scholars still thought the Earth was flat.
  • Related to that journalists-dumbing-geek-culture-down issue, above, is when self-hating geeks let non-geek critics define how our stuff is judged. E.g., when we evaluate film or writing according to the canons of other kinds of work, what do we get? We get braindead New Wave and magic realism, that's what.

    Are you okay with there being more science fiction films based on the writing of Cormac McCarthy than are based on those of Larry Niven and C. J. Cherryh combined? 'Cause I'm not.


Random Result

No idea what this thing'll turn out to be about. Random thoughts, but...on a topic? Let's see.
  • I am of two minds about a recent development. On the one hand, I am irked that I have to rewrite a scene in one of my SF books. On the other hand, I am dancing for joy.

    Why? Tau Ceti not only has 5 planets, one of them's in its Goldilocks Zone. That planet, τ Ceti e, is calculated as having 4.29 times Earth's mass. But if you actually look on the Wikipedia article for τ Ceti, the mass is listed as "4.29±2.00". I.e., 2.29-6.29. And even if it has 4.3 times Earth's mass, if its radius is twice what Earth's is, it'll have the exact same gravity. And still have the mean density of aluminum, planets can vary quite a bit in their density.
  • Ancient Astronaut theorists really might wanna go learn some actual, you know, astronomy. A commenter on that Tau Ceti-Planets article there said he's more interested in "Orion's Belt", because the pyramids don't point to those stars because of some Pharaoh's whim.

    No, they point to those stars because of Egyptian astrology. The three stars of Orion's Belt certainly cannot host any alien civilizations. Mintaka (δ Orionis) is a B-class giant and an O-class subgiant, both nearly 100,000 times brighter than Sol; Alnitak (ζ Orionis) is a pair of O-class stars, a giant and a dwarf, orbited by a B-class giant, similarly brighter than Sol; and Alnilam (ε Orionis) is a blue supergiant 275,000 times brighter than Sol.

    Not only would those stars fry the bejeezus out of anything living anywhere near them, but they only last a few hundred thousand years. That's right, blue stars burn out in under a million years, that's how hot they are. Then they go nova, where do you think all the other stars get their heavy elements?
  • One of those articles on writing quoted, of all things, Cicero—"The difference between a good and a bad writer is shown by the order of his words as much as by the selection of them."

    But...Latin, especially the kind Cicero wrote in, is essentially word-order free, because it's so highly inflected. So what he was talking about was, e.g., which word goes last?—Latin was "head final", the most important thing in a sentence, which in normal speech is usually the verb, goes at the end. "Elephantus non capit murem" and "Murem non capit elephantus" are the same sentence ("an elephant does not catch a mouse"), but the first emphasizes "a mouse" and the other emphasizes "an elephant" (if you say "elephantus murem non capit" you're emphasizing "doesn't catch", only by shifting it to Latin's default syntax you're actually emphasizing nothing).

    English, however, like Afrikaans and Jamaican Patois ("English" is actually a Saxon-Norse-French creole), determines everything by word order (well, except for two verb inflections and the plural). There are about three things you can mess around with in English word order, and none of them are really doable outside of poetry.
  • If anyone has wondered why, when talking about what I have elsewhere termed "fumi-e fantasy", I mainly stick to discussing Martin and Moorcock, while neglecting Mieville, it is for two reasons. First, I am far more familiar with Martin and Moorcock than I am with Mieville. That's the main one.

    But also? Mieville is fairly infamous for being not merely anti-Israel or anti-Zionism, but pro-Palestinian terrorism; he ran for Parliament in the Socialist Workers' Party with the support of several of the most radical Muslim groups in Britain, and has been known to uncritically cite Intifada websites. At that point, he goes in the dumpster with John Norman, he's a walking strawman of his own position.
  • I find it interesting that people generally don't disagree with or criticize Tolkien, among other people, but rather their assumption of Tolkien. E.g., Orcs. Again, you assume Tolkien was saying Orcs are just born evil. Only, no, actually, he was saying evil mechanistic power likes to brainwash people until they are so mentally ill they have no ability to perceive morals. You plainly never read the Silmarillion or you'd know that. And if you disagree, you must've never noticed a little thing called "the 20th Century", because that's pretty much the big thing that happened.

    Also? Aragorn isn't a great king because of his blood. Before you shoot off your illiterate mouth, please consider what his blood is. On the human side, he's descended from people who made Sauron their chief priest and committed so much evil that the Valar sank half of Middle Earth to get rid of them. And on the elf side? He's a Noldor—the people who disobeyed the Valar, slew their kin to get their ships, and either followed Feänor in his evil oath, or hid out in Gondolin while Morkoth ran rampant on the world around them. His blood only gives him power, it's listening to people like Gandalf and Elrond that makes him a good king.
  • If one wanted to do something about sociolinguistics without Sapir-Whorf nonsense, how about the fact that in Japanese and Korean, there are far fewer polite fictions? The greetings mean, respectively, "Today" and "Be at peace"; upon being introduced you say either "indulge me" (Japanese only) or "for the the first time" (both); if you have to inconvenience someone you say "just for a moment" or "let me" (Japanese), or "this is/will be rude" (Korean). And yes, "sumimasen" means "just for a moment", its literal meaning is "it does not abide". Then again it's used idiomatically for things that might take awhile, so maybe it sometimes counts as a polite fiction.

    The only polite fictions I can think of are that in Japanese, you say a meal was a feast when you finish it, and in both, after being thanked you play it off as being nothing, saying "What did I do?" or "it's fine" (J, K respectively). In Japanese you can also respond to thanks with just "no" or "yes", much like how Americans sometimes just say "sure" or "uh-huh" (a habit I hear strikes most other English-speakers, except possibly Australians, as odd).
  • I am forever irked by the idea that intelligent characters are always great scientists (relatedly that fiction-writers largely don't know the difference between scientists and inventors, although to be fair in particle physics and computer science the line is very blurry). This is because scientists are our brahmins, we need to believe they were formed from the head of Purusha.

    As I have said before, the whole point of science, or any other system of thought, is to remove sheer brute intellect from the equation. The whole point of the "scientific method", to the extent there is such a thing, is to let anyone, regardless of their intelligence, discover facts about the world. Anyone who can follow verbal directions and record data can do science, although there is some intelligence involved in coming up with experiments to meaningfully test hypotheses.

    Also, the most intelligent living human (in terms of IQ)? She's a self-help columnist.
  • So you know the movie "Battleship"? Leave to one side that it was obviously made by the Covenant, to convince us that being glassed is precisely what we deserve; the interesting thing is, everyone thinks it was made by Michael Bay. But no, it wasn't, unless he's calling himself "Peter Berg" now.

    I think what it is, is basically the trope "All Animation Is Disney". Or in this instance, "All Dumb SFX-heavy Movies Whose Sole Redeeming Feature Is Patriotism Are Michael Bay".
  • You know those smartasses who like to correct you, when you say Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth (or α Centauri is, Proxima being α Centauri C)? Fine, yes, the Sun is the closest star to Earth, never mind that in actual human speech—not scientific discourse, princess, I mean the language we actually use—the sun is not a star, just as people are not animals, even though that's the biological kingdom they go in.

    But the way to do an end-around on these loathsome little beastlings, is to say "nearest star to the Solar System". Because the Sun is in the Solar System, that's why we call it that, and a thing is not generally said to be "near" to itself. Neener neener.
So it turned out to be random thoughts proper.


The Lord Abhors Dishonest Scales

Proverbs 11:1 (well, if we add in "...but accurate weights are his delight"). I assume it's partly metaphorical, since "preferring the lesser good to the greater" is the only smart definition of ill-will (one cannot actually desire evil).

Anyway, this is a reality check for meself. Remember, few posts back, when I talked about how you should keep gravity in mind, designing an alien world? It occurred to me, I probably omitted the square-cube law, the bane of so many science fiction writers (e.g., this).

See, presumably, a difference of gravity would have an effect on the mass, therefore the volume, of colonists, and their height would vary by the cubic root of that ratio. Thus, if your planet is like the one where most of my first SF book takes place, and has a surface gravity 92% of Earth's, the inhabitants are going to be [1/(3√(.92))=1/.97=1.03] 3% taller than Earth-humans. Of course, zled colonists on the same world, since their homeworld has a surface-gravity 8% higher than Earth's, will be living in 85% gravity (relatively speaking). So their colonists will be [1/(3√(.85))=1/.95=1.05] 5% taller than Lhãsai-zledo. ("Lhãsai" is pronounced "ɬasai", with the vowel of its first syllable "purred", because I am a crazy person.)

I don't know if I'm right in assuming height varies by the cube-root of the gravity difference, but it seems reasonable given the effect a thing based on mass (like gravity) tends to have on single dimensions.

Incidentally, if this principle is applied to Niven, Crashlanders being 24% taller than Flatlanders means that We Made It would have to have 52% Earth's gravity, or 37% higher than Mars. Actually, that sorta seems closer to what Niven was describing, although it's even lower than the old number I calculated.

Stuff and Stuff II

This is post 449. It's a prime. You can tell because when you write it in base-6, you get 20256—and all primes besides 2 and 3 in base-6 end in a 5 or a 1. Cool, huh?

Random thoughts, likely to be preoccupied with fictional accoutrements.
  • It occurs to me, armed mecha would be a major advantage in war. Why? Because mobility is an important issue for modern artillery, that's why we invented train guns and various kinds of motorized artillery (including guns mounted on heavily-armored tractors, AKA "tanks"). And since wheeled or tracked vehicles are incapable of going on some 40% of the land-space—did you know modern Special Forces go on horseback in much of Afghanistan?—having artillery that can walk means you very nearly double the terrain that has to be searched before you can blow up someone's guns. And in that time, they're moving. It would just suck to fight those, I'm sorry.

    And again, remember, they're not walking everywhere; where the terrain is good, they'd roll on treads in their feet. People who have evidently not watched mecha anime are really not allowed to comment on how realistic or not those anime are—and people who have watched mecha anime, and still think the mecha walk everywhere, aren't allowed to comment because they've demonstrated themselves to be stupid.
  • You know how "a pint's a pound the world around"? It also works in metric—one cubic centimeter (or milliliter) of water weighs one gram. I recalled this fact while making Minute Rice with a 14-oz, by weight, can of broth in place of the water—since rice takes equal volumes of rice and water, you just fill your measuring cup with rice up to the 400 mL line of its metric side (14 oz is 396 g).
  • Did you know that Google's calculator does unit conversions, e.g. you can do a search for "45 kg in lb"? It also has a currency converter, which, while having the expected disclaimers about not relying on it as a definitive source, is still damn useful, especially if you read as much foreign literature as I do.

    Oh, and it gets better. You can even convert prices and units together. And I'm guessing one reason Japanese people are so much thinner than Americans is that over there, chicken (e.g.) costs $4.53/lb (¥89/100 g), while here, it seldom exceeds $3/lb (¥59/100 g), and can get much cheaper. Let's not even go into what beef costs in Japan, and I don't just mean that ridiculous novelty-act Matsuzaka or Kobe stuff, either.
  • Speaking of Japanese beef, did you know that lots of Japanese people think there's mad cow disease in American beef? Funny thing, there's been exactly one case of mad cow in the US, and it was in a dairy animal (in California), not a beef one. Mad cow was a UK and Australia problem, not an American one. I think it was only a minor problem in Canada.

    So what's up? Simple, protectionism. Japanese industry is notorious for claiming that foreign products are dangerous or won't work there—because they don't want the competition. Up through the mid-90s it was even common to claim foreign electronics had to be completely overhauled to work with Japan's electrical systems. In reality, of course, they don't even have to convert the plugs to use American stuff.
  • I know I've talked before about how the real significance of red, psychologically, has to do with berries, not blood—and the fact that only non-strepsirrhine primates can see it (plants grow red berries so that birds, not mammals that find food by sight, will eat their fruit—that's also why some berries are so bitter, a flavor birds have no receptor for). Consider: only primates use red in social signaling, with large, hairless red buttocks. Only primates use bared teeth as a submissive posture—it's also, in non-human primates, baring the gums, which are red. And only one kind of primate blushes when emotionally excited.

    This idea has potential for science fiction, e.g. "What colors are important to alien psychology?" The zledo, for instance, don't have a color as significant as red; their military wears the color of their blood for the same reason the Roman one did, to symbolize that the uniform takes on the "blood-guilt" of their fighting, and thus they become "pure" again simply by putting on civilian clothes (it was taboo to wear military uniform within the precincts of Rome, the Praetorian Guard wore togas while on duty). The zled religion no longer truly has the idea of blood-guilt (they actually call it marrow-guilt, bones being more significant in their thought than blood; nevertheless marrow looks a lot like blood), but the tradition of how soldiers dress hasn't changed.
  • On a somewhat related note, since both involve evolutionary psychology, is the fact that "a spirit of brotherhood", as used in the context of international peace, is the most inadvertently apt phrase ever invented. Considering what a human's family structure is, "to treat someone as a brother" means, evolutionarily speaking, "to regard a conspecific as non-hostile". In a pack, the only conspecific who isn't your enemy is a member of your own family (i.e., of the same pack). And other members of your pack are either your parent or child, your mate, or a sibling. Analogies to parents, children, and mating have unfortunate implications in terms of international relations, so siblings are the only option left.

    The same, by the bye, is true not only of humans' relations to each other, but of our relations with nonhuman animals. Dogs and cats both become "domesticated" by tricking them into regarding humans as siblings. In the cats' case, domestication has been accompanied by a long train of selective breeding for psychological neoteny (emotional arrested development), since an adult cat cannot regard any conspecific other than as an enemy, except while mating (and just barely even then). That's also why cats are kinda nuts, by the way, arrested development tends to involve other funny wiring along the way.
  • Turns out I was wrong: there is an element—for a given value of "element"—with zero protons in its nucleus. Only, it's not called Element Zero, it's called positronium, and it doesn't give you antigravity, telekinesis, or warp drive, it gives you gamma rays. Because it consists of a positron and an electron in the quantum equivalent of a Trojan orbit (what Pluto and Charon have), held together by their opposite charges, and they annihilate each other as soon as their respective spin-states let them.

    You can use it for gamma-ray lasers, though, which is awesome. Those lasers would be quite helpful in producing fusion, but I doubt very much you'd ever get more power out of fusion than it took to make positronium in the first place (which is relevant to power-generation fusion, not so much to propulsion fusion). How does fusion get to what fission reactors call critical (the point where the reaction is self-sustaining), anyway (outside of a star, I mean)? I suppose if we knew that, we'd be doing it.
  • I was a titsch irked, I think I was reading Cracked (and it wasn't a David "why hasn't that unfunny self-righteous ass been fired yet?" Wong article, either), by the complaint that the cool computers in Minority Report didn't have any kind of wireless networking.

    On the one hand, A, that movie came out in 2002, wireless networking was just barely a thing then, but also B, you really think they're going to trust something as sensitive as Pre-Crime data to wireless security? No. It's doubtful the Pre-Crime computer would even have network access, period, let alone wirelessly.
  • I know I mentioned people in my SF setting use their handhelds for all the things we do, plus wallets, but did I also mention they use them for their keys? You turn on your car with your handheld, you get into your house with your handheld--you remotely unlock your car or garage with your handheld. All it takes is some biometrics on the handheld to make it so only you can do that, and you can still let people use your handheld if, e.g., yours has a capability theirs doesn't—only some functions would be biometrically locked.

    Of course, handhelds being so important, I think (though I haven't found a spot to stick it in) that you'd see a little something come back into fashion: watch fobs. I don't know why we don't keep our cellphones on them now, it seems pretty obvious to me, especially since there's already a fashion for wallet chains. I especially can't conceive of why no enterprising steampunk has done it, it seems like it'd be right up their alley.
  • Isn't it sorta odd, considering the Transhumanist leanings of the cyberpunk fanbase, that all those cyberpunk RPGs have those rules where cybernetic enhancements screw with your empathy? I mean, I could see if some of the brain ones did, but cyberlimbs? Seriously? Even though we aren't sticking guns in our artificial limbs—yet—I'm fairly sure the idea that having prostheses makes you inhuman is offensive. You jerks can go tell the folks over at Wounded Warrior Project you think so.

    It's especially jarring given that the amount of cyborg-stuff you can have is generally linked to Constitution, or the local equivalent, in those games. So why not just have it be that having too much hardware wired into your nervous system is, you know, bad for you? Since, you know, it probably would be, and all.


Command All Words like an Army

Now this is a pusillanimity of theirs (the book writers) that they think style power, and yet never say as much in their Prefaces. Come, let me do so ... Where are you? Let me marshal you, my regiments of words!

Rabelais! Master of all happy men! Are you sleeping there pressed into desecrated earth under the doss-house of the Rue St Paul, or do you not rather drink cool wine in some elysian Chinon looking on the Vienne where it rises in Paradise? Are you sleeping or drinking that you will not lend us the staff of Friar John wherewith he slaughtered and bashed the invaders of the vineyards, who are but a parable for the mincing pedants and bloodless thin-faced rogues of the world?

Write as the wind blows and command all words like an army! See them how they stand in rank ready for assault, the jolly, swaggering fellows!

First come the Neologisms, that are afraid of no man; fresh, young, hearty, and for the most part very long-limbed, though some few short and strong. There also are the Misprints to confuse the enemy at his onrush. Then see upon the flank a company of picked Ambiguities covering what shall be a feint by the squadron of Anachronisms led by old Anachronos himself; a terrible chap with nigglers and a great murderer of fools.

But here see more deeply massed the ten thousand Egotisms shining in their armour and roaring for battle. They care for no one. They stormed Convention yesterday and looted the cellar of Good-Manners, who died of fear without a wound; so they drank his wine and are to-day as strong as lions and as careless (saving only their Captain, Monologue, who is lantern-jawed).

Here are the Aposiopaesian Auxiliaries, and Dithyramb that killed Punctuation in open fight; Parenthesis the giant and champion of the host, and Anacoluthon that never learned to read or write but is very handy with his sword; and Metathesis and Hendiadys, two Greeks. And last come the noble Gallicisms prancing about on their light horses: cavalry so sudden that the enemy sicken at the mere sight of them and are overcome without a blow. Come then my hearties, my lads, my indefatigable repetitions, seize you each his own trumpet that hangs at his side and blow the charge; we shall soon drive them all before us headlong, howling down together to the Picrocholian Sea.

—Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome
Quote's about style, but the post is actually about linguistics. They're not unrelated. Also, sorry about the extended quotation, there, but it's one of the best examples of Belloc when he was in a silly mood.
  • Leaving to one side whether the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is valid at all, do people who use it in their conlangs seriously not compare their work to real languages? I mean, think how many proud, honorable, highly warlike cultures that taboo the mere expression of fear, in fiction, have an almost totally isolating grammar, without the need to mark tense, number, aspect, or anything else if it can be inferred from context. While of course ancient civilizations that regard scholarship and statecraft as ends in themselves and the highest aspiration of mankind will have highly complex languages with a plethora of word-classes and a multifarious system of inter-lexical agreement within sentences, coupled to a subtle system of mood, tense, and aspect inflections.

    Maybe we shouldn't make our conlangs in a conceptual vacuum informed solely by stereotypes? Just putting that out there.
  • That amusing inversion noted and kept in mind, there could be a reason for a warlike people to have a simplified grammar. Old Chinese was much more complex, within words and not just between them—it actually modified its word-stems, which Middle and Modern Chinese never do. Old English was as highly inflected as Russian. What happened? Simple, other Chinese ethnic groups, and the Norse. The simplifications of Chinese stems probably happened as different Chinese-speaking tribes were assimilated by the nascent Chinese Empire; we know for a fact that Middle English has a simpler structure than Old English because of pidginization with Old Norse, which had most of the same stems but different endings. As the Chinese Empire conquered its neighbors, and the Danes were subdued and settled, the languages they spoke, related to those of their neighbors, experienced simplification to aid communication within the Empire and the Kingdom.

    Of course, that's not always what happens. If the people the warlike tribes conquer don't speak a language that's related to their conquerors', they'll just influence its sound, or else their conquerors will adopt their language. Zulu, for instance, gets its click-consonants from the Bushmen; they're not found natively in Niger-Congo languages (Bantu is a branch of Niger-Congo, just so we're all on the same page here). Every Romance language except Italian and Romanian can be described as descending from "late Roman military slang pronounced with a German accent by Celts".
  • I am curious to know where people get the odd idea that English has a huge vocabulary. It can coin Humanist Latin (or bastard Latin-Greek) neologisms like "television", but then, so can all Western European languages, which coined most of the ones we borrowed. It can steal words like shampoo from subject peoples like the Hindus, but then so can Spanish (e.g. "chocolate", from "xocolâtl", bitter water/beverage). And it certainly doesn't have words for "big toe" or "the angry straight man in a comedy duo", the way Latin and Japanese do. (English has to pidgin-ify itself with Russian Yiddish to translate "tsukkomi", because the word basically means "buttinsky", except with different connotations.)

    I think what sickens me about it is the amount of Jingo cheerleading that goes into it—have you Saxon dogs still not gotten over your inferiority complex from Norman French? Yes, fine, English is a perfectly good language for any of the purposes you need it for; you don't talk about philosophy anyway (we still need Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit to do philosophy well, there is a reason most German philosophy scholarship consists of trying to parse what German philosophers actually meant). Quit pretending, however, that English is markedly superior to, or even different from, any of the other Western European languages—and kindly stop even comparing it to languages from other parts of the world, because you don't generally have the background necessary to make those comparisons meaningfully.

    Yes, in case you wondered, I am familiar with the book and miniseries "The Story of English"—with all the prattle about the UK being MultiKulti, they sure can roll out the flag-waving brownshirt Ahnenerbe when it comes to history.
  • How, precisely, are we supposed to use math in a first-contact situation? Sure, "We are capable of figuring out math" can be adequately expressed by the right triangle with the squares on each side (i.e. the Pythagorean theorem), but ringing a bicycle-bell is hardly the deep things we wanted to convey to aliens. Math is severely hampered even in expressing concepts like "the guy threw the ball"; good luck with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    One guy came up with an idea called Lincos, or Lingua Cosmica, that might provide a (bare-bones) groundwork, for if you don't happen to be able to use the cheating workaround I used in my first contact story. It basically starts with counting (in binary), moves on to some kinds of machine-logic, and then introduces some basic concepts like "Good" and "Bad".

    Has, uh, anyone considered, though, that alien civilizations may well have something like the Pythagoreans whose theorem we just mentioned, who regarded math as a sacred mystery to be guarded from the uninitiated? What if you kick off something like the Earth-Covenant war by shouting numbers at people who don't like to talk about them in public? One does grow so tired of humanists' presumption that their quaint local prejudices constitute a universal.
  • If you needed yet another nail in the coffin of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, how about the fact that a typical question asked regarding it is "how can people who use the same word for green and blue perceive the two colors?"

    Only, uh, how about "as two shades of the same color"? That question, from an English speaker, is exactly like if a Russian said to you, "So, you use the same word for the color on the UN flag as on the American one? Does that mean you can't tell them apart?" See, Russian considers "azure", the color halfway between blue and green, to be a separate color, mostly because it is (if we're dividing our color-wheel up evenly). What we regard as just a light, greenish shade of blue, Russians think of as a different color, as separate from blue as purple is. In the same way, what the Japanese or Koreans regard as purplish or yellowish azure, we regard as "blue" and "green".
  • Yet another point, whether a people has a more specialized vocabulary for a thing is not directly correlated with how much they encounter it. As Belloc once pointed out, most of English's military terminology is just ordinary French words (their soldiers walk, on the road, and spread out; ours march, en route, and deploy), because the French have been more warlike than any English-speaking people, and did not actually regard soldiering as an activity requiring a specialized jargon.

Kono yo no subete ga hoshii.

Random thoughts post, quote from Greed the Avaricious, the Ultimate Shield—I want everything this world has. Or, well, I want to write about it, anyway. At least the bits I notice.
  • People who are not linguists, or even who are linguists but not sociolinguists, often "come a smeller", to use a Bertie Woosterism, when trying to describe the relationship of alphabet, language, and society. Always remember the famous quote by the linguist Max Weinreich, "A language is a dialect with an army and navy." Only, the original version is "A sprach is a dialekt mit an armey un' flot"—because he originally said it in Yiddish, which is a dialect of Franconian German written in the Hebrew alphabet.

    And, of course, what we call the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets are really just two different ways of writing the Aramaic alphabet in cursive (there is an alphabet indigenous to Arabia, but the only language it's used to write nowadays is Ethiopian, which uses a cursive form of it that functions like, of all things, Devanagari).
  • Apparently, people trying to advance the Niger-Congo theory of the etymology of "OK", cite the fact it is often pronounced "mkay" as evidence. Only...while it can be said that it's rare for Western European languages to use a nasal+stop onset like that, and very common in Niger-Congo languages, that statement largely only applies to the prestige/official/standard varieties. More dialect/colloquial varieties are full of that phenomenon.

    E.g. in Italian; Florentine (what we think of as Italian) certainly can't start words that way, but you ever hear of the Calabrian mafia? They're called the Ndrangheta; similarly "to be a brave and defiant person" is ndranghitiari, "born" is ntâ, "endowed" is ndànnu (the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", in case you wondered why I know those last two). It's also unusual for any Indo-European language to start a word with a geminated consonant, but nobody told the Calabrians that, either—their word for "cradle" is nnàca and "to buy" is ccattàri.

    Besides which, most of the time, "mkay" is pronounced and conceptualized as a portmanteau of "mmm" and "'kay", so the question is moot.
  • It was probably predictable that, in the wake of the Connecticut massacre, people would be staking out partisan claims about which parts of a certain calf-skin with long Ss written in squid-ink, authored by slave-owning Freemasons in high heels and wigs, we should continue to regard as a divine oracle that trumps reason and morals, or cease so to regard. Only—leaving to one side that Constitutions don't have any real authority—nothing in the Constitution is remotely relevant here.

    Gun control cannot have been an issue, do you know what the gun laws are in Connecticut? They're among the strictest in the country; just to buy handguns, you need the personal authorization of the Public Safety Commissioner, plus a two-week waiting period. Assuming, that is, that you already have the permit to own handguns, which is issued within two months of application, if you pay a fee and complete an FBI background check. Even then you can't carry a handgun without yet a third permit. Meanwhile, dynamite, used in the still-the-biggest school killing in US history (38 children and 6 adults killed, 58 people wounded)? One permit, no waiting period.

    Video games cannot have been an issue either, because, uh, there are no video games where you kill kids, or can kill kids. While there are people who cannot tell reality from fantasy—and we've done studies on how media, whether video game or movie, influence attitudes—nothing remotely comparable to this massacre has ever occurred in any video game, at least not in the last ten years.

    No, sorry, this is an issue solely related to mental illness—namely, don't completely cut off contact with mentally unstable relatives for two whole years, then only renew it as a preliminary to having them institutionalized. This is actually how we prevent all murders—don't cheat on your spouse, don't sell drugs, don't get involved with organized crime. Avoid those behaviors, and otherwise exercise ordinary prudence, and your chance of being involved in a murder drops to roughly your chance of winning the lottery.
  • If you needed further evidence of how Karen Traviss and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis don't mix, how about her saying that the grammatical simplicity of the Mandalorian language is because the Mandalorians are warriors that don't have time to bother with complex grammar?

    You know, like the Zulus and Apaches...whose languages have, respectively, 17 and 11 different genders, the latter of which inflect the verbs relating to motion, and the former of which inflect every word associated with the noun. Zulu verbs also inflect not only by the number and gender of their subject, but by those of their object; Apache verbs have both frequentive and iterative modes ("I do that often" vs. "I do that over and over") and 22 aspects, including continuative, momentaneous, conclusive, and semelfactive.
  • Since my D&D campaign was going to be more of a Renaissance than an antediluvian setting, I decided—based on the look of the elf gear in Skyrim and the ending of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie—that I'd give my elves a slightly Spanish flavor. From there it was a simple step to decide to base the humans' cultures on Mesoamerican Indians; then I added in Puebloans, then the Navajo, then the Navajo brought the Tlingit (and Russian dwarves), and then I decided to also have Mound-builders. I usually only have three or four human nations in my stuff, so this is cool.

    'Course, the basis is very loose, e.g. my Mayans are independent aristocratic city-states in the midst of a decline; my Aztecs are a more centralized confederation of city-states centered on one with scary sorcerer-kings, and so on, but the tech level and most of the culture is more Standard Fantasy (i.e., Renaissance Europe). The elves are a bit better-behaved than the Spanish were (the Spanish weren't the monsters the Anglos like to make them out to be—again, compare New Spain to New England, and notice which one ain't almost all white—but they were a bit, well, brusque, in their negotiating style, and there was real bad corruption early on). But then again my humans don't eviscerate and eat people and then wear their skins to symbolize the coming of spring, or throw maidens down wells to make it rain, either, so I guess this is the Lighter and Softer version.
  • The whole Mayan 2012 thing? Forget how they didn't predict their own civilization's collapse (the Long Count was used by the Classic Maya, who fell in 900 AD; the Postclassic preferred the Short Count), the people who invented the Long Count didn't predict their own collapse, either—because the Long Count was originally Olmec, and the Olmec fell around 350 BC.

    Of course, the Mayan calendar doesn't really make any predictions, other than the obvious ones that are the Neolithic equivalent of "order more calendar pages". Those spooky, apocalyptic-sounding things about underworld-gods getting their due, that formed the basis of all the doomsday prophesying? Yeah, uh, Mayans performed human sacrifice at the end of a Long Count, so that'd be why. People with routine institutionalized human sacrifice will talk quite calmly about certain things that only become relevant for us when stuff goes severely pear-shaped.
  • Finally, you know those weirdoes who say that Olmec sculpture looks "negroid"? This is them admitting they never knew a western Native American, because seriously, I went to school from kindergarten up with people who could've posed for Olmec sculpture. Hopis and Mexicans, the latter of primarily Native ancestry.

    And shall we perhaps pause to ask them "Dude, do you even know any black people? Because 'thick lips, flat noses' is not all there is to what black people look like."

    Besides, as this picture clearly demonstrates, Olmecs were actually from Amestris. Their sculptural methods were passed down the Armstrong line for generations!