Rannm Thawts Tew

  • There's an ammunition essentially identical to 9 mm Luger, but with a case 2 mm longer—9×21 IMI. It exists pretty much solely because, in Italy and Mexico, and I think other places, it's illegal for civilians to own military-derived ammunitions and firearms chambered in them. I think those bans may be motivated by a desire to curtail soldiers selling equipment on the black market. Please consider Italy and Mexico for a moment—see my point?

    If that's not the reason, then the bans are as fundamentally wrongheaded as our own "assault weapons" ban, which bans guns that are functionally identical to other guns that it doesn't ban, but which look like military weapons. (Also, remember: this is an assault weapon, any other use of the phrase is simply incorrect.)
  • In Upotte, should H&K G3 really be called "Jiisuri-chan"? "Jiisuri" is as close as Japanese can get to "G-three", but...the G3's a German gun. So shouldn't she be called "Geidorai" ("G-drei"—in German, all Gs are hard)?

    Speaking of that weird-ass series, M16A4-chan is pretty much the single finest representative of the American national character in fiction. That she's basically a goodhearted version of Tomo from Azumanga Daioh is doubtless something we as a nation should reflect upon.
  • The fact that German always has hard Gs reminds me, Arabic is weird. Many modern "dialects of Arabic"—i.e. independent languages which stand to Classical Arabic roughly as the Early Modern Romance languages stand to Vulgate Latin—have turned their "Gs" into "dzh", as happened at some point between Classical and Vulgate Latin, although I don't think it depends on the following vowel, in Arabic. Admittedly, the pronunciation of the original "gim" in Classical Arabic is debatable, with some reconstructing it as a palatalized G (a hard G followed by a Y), and others as the "gy" from Hungarian (something like a D followed by a Y sound, shading into a "dzh" J sound).

    A lot of languages undergo that G->J and K->Ch change, seen in Vulgate and Italian when followed by E and I (I wonder if there's some connection to the fact those are the vowels Celtic languages class as "slender"—Latin and Celtic are closest to each other, among Indo-European languages). Chinese, for instance—compare modern Mandarin qì 氣 and quán 拳 (the Q in Mandarin is pronounced, roughly, "Tchhy") to their Middle Chinese pronunciations, khi and gwen, respectively.
  • And seriously, "Arabic" does not exist, save as a religious and literary language. The "dialects" of Egypt, Lebanon, and Arabia are no more intelligible to each other's speakers than 16th-century French was to a Spaniard. When Arabs want to understand each other, they switch to Classical (Quranic) or Modern Literary Arabic, just like 16th-century Europeans switched to Church or Humanist Latin. The latter was the major literary language of Europe until the late 18th century, precisely paralleling the status of the form of Arabic used in most Arab-world literature.
  • I referred to the Anasazi, a few posts back, as the ones who developed irrigation because they lived in a desert, but no, that was the Hohokam. The Anasazi had other achievements, mostly in architecture and logistics—look at Chaco, and you tell me how you'd keep a community that size alive with stone-age tools, no draft animals (except maybe dogs), no wheels, and no writing.

    The theory, by the way, is that the Hohokam (which, by the way, is O'odham for, basically, "ruins", not "the ancient ones" as it's often translated) were the ancestors of the O'odham. The Anasazi ("enemy/foreign ancestors" in Navajo) were the ancestors of the Hopi and possibly some of the Pai or Ute peoples. And the Mogollon (Spanish for...well it was a prominent family in Extremadura, I don't know what the name means; the culture's named after mountains named after an 18th-century Spanish governor of New Mexico) are probably the ancestor of the Zuñi, whose language is scary. Actually not that scary (not compared to Hopi or Navajo); language isolates just weird me out.
  • Apparently the theory, which is probably as old as people noticing Basque is odd, that the Basques represent the original population of Europe (or one of them), has some genetic evidence. Namely, Sardinians, as in on that island off Italy, share a genetic profile with the Basques, who are otherwise unique in Europe.

    Of course, Basque may not actually be a language isolate, but just the only extant member of its group, Vasconic. At least one of the other, now-extinct, languages of the Iberian Peninsula may've been related to it, going by the phonetic rules some of them seem to have followed.
  • There are "genetic bottlenecks" in human populations, produced when people are forced to crowd together into refugia during Ice Ages. Basically all human beings are descended from about ten groups of refugees, all of them in Europe, Asia, or North Africa. Interestingly one of them was in Japan, which was very nearly a peninsula, Hokkaido being linked to Siberia by glaciers and most of the island chain being linked by the lowered seas.

    Another was in the Bering Strait, and from them, it's thought, all Native Americans (and possibly some Siberians) descend. Interestingly, a lot of Native American mythologies have an idea of emerging from holes or valleys into a new world; one wonders if it's not a mythologized memory of that Ice Age refugium.
  • I have elsewhere pointed out that the few actual scientists in the New Atheism are biologists, and generally not in the most rigorous branches of biology. But it's interesting and rather telling that that's the case, because a major aspect of the New Atheism is what you might call Darwinian Mythology. What I mean is, these people believe evolution is an adequate account of the universe—not just life, not just our current conditions, but the universe.

    Or in other words, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail—including scalp acne, hence your obvious head injury." The cosmos pre-exists anything that could undergo evolution by billions of years. And it itself isn't evolving, either. Only living things evolve. Last I checked, supposedly hard-nosed supposed rationalists should not start talking hylozoism.
  • I confess to a certain somewhat bitter amusement at the expense of the people who consider elected power intrinsically good, and inherited power intrinsically bad. The ability to buy advertisements in an election year doesn't seem inherently superior to bloodline as a basis for societal rank, to me, does it seem that way to you?

    Also, though, while there are mechanisms to ensure that those who are elected to their positions—that is, again, who have the best ad campaigns—fulfill their duties, they tend to be rather dissociated and esoteric. Whereas in inherited rank, the incentive to fulfill one's duties is inherent to the mechanism by which power is gained, and is pretty much the most natural of all human ethical impulses. Namely, filial piety.


Desert of the Real 2

Thoughts upon anime. Also manga.
  • Y' ever notice Christians in anime totally overuse "amen"? Alexander Anderson from Hellsing would be an example. Admittedly most of what's weird about him is that the jumped up pornographer—and no, I'm not exaggerating even a little—who wrote the thing was trying to pander to the "No Popery" angle, in a country whose 2% Christian minority is very largely Protestant.

    But it makes a lot more sense when you remember "陰陽和行急急如律令", or just "急急如律令"—Classical Chinese for "[Harmoniously with yin and yang,] quickly and lawfully"—is the conclusion of all of a certain class of spells in onmyôdô. It derives from a Han era formula used in issuing any kind of official order or request. And isn't "Quickly and lawfully" at the end of a prayer not unlike "so be it" in Hebrew, which is what "amen" is?
  • It is not actually true that some languages are better than others. It is, however, the case that some languages are more efficient than others for a given purpose. Modern European languages, for instance, have a really good vocabulary for talking about law; to distinguish "murder" from "manslaughter" in Japanese requires that you have recourse to legislative definitions, because common discourse calls them both "hitogoroshi".

    On the other hand, Asian languages often have a very good vocabulary for discussing social relationships. For example, the translation of the Japanese word "amaeru" in English is, "to engage in rudeness or rebellion presuming upon the continued indulgence of one upon whom one is dependent".
  • I was wrong when I said this winter anime season (Japan has four TV seasons, but then, of course it does) was completely useless. It has two shows, Kotoura-san and Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sô Desu yo?, AKA "It seems problem children are coming from another world?".

    Kotoura-san is a show about a telepathic girl who's had a miserable life till now—all due to her not grasping the concept "you don't have to speak every thought that comes into your own, or anyone else's, mind"—meeting a couple of weirdoes and having what is known in the field as an Enjoyable High School Life. I like the guy who's the obvious love-interest/nursemaid of the gal who founded the club Kotoura's in; he's voiced by the guy who also does Akihisa in BakaTest and Keima in KamiNomi.

    Mondaiji-whatever is about people who get sucked into the Outer Planes from various alternate earths in order to help a nameless band of misfits compete with other bands and thus retain and regain their status. Its protagonist is a guy who basically finds normal life to be what Superman famously called "a world of cardboard".
  • In "Wa!", by the dude who did Mahoraba, there's a conversation about how the bullbar on the front of a Jeep, called "roo bar" in Japan after Australian usage, is to prevent the Jeep from being damaged by collision with a kangaroo. And the two people discussing it first say, "Who cares about the kangaroo, as long as your precious car doesn't get damaged?!", and then say, "And people complain about whaling?!"

    Two points, though. One, I know the only large fauna in Japan are in Hokkaido, but actually, no, a bullbar is not primarily about protecting the car, but about protecting its passengers. Hit an elk (or God forbid a cow), and you actually stand a remarkably good chance of dying. Those things are the size of small horses, and hitting them kills or cripples several people a year where I live. Just because you got the word for the device from Australia doesn't mean that's where it was invented, do you also think the Portuguese invented bread?

    But two, seriously, what is the deal with people being all self-righteous about Japanese whaling? They've been eating the things for centuries, it's as traditional a food in parts of Japan as it is for Eskimos. And unlike the Eskimos, they only harvest very common whales. But no; I guess since Japanese people have computers that weren't donated by white people, not only do they have no right to their traditional food, they must be stopped from harvesting it by recourse to terrorism!
  • Remember how I said love-triangles are Idiot Plots? One kind, possibly the worst kind (not least because it crops up way too often in anime), is the one where the person likes two people equally...but one of them is the person their friend likes too, or is a subordinate or a student or otherwise not someone they can be together with. And the other person—who again, the protagonist likes equally well—doesn't come with that kind of problem.

    So...what, exactly, is keeping people from realizing, "This decision has the least downside", and going with it? You can't have the friend like the same person as the protagonist if the protagonist also likes another person, unless you want to have that be what resolves the love-triangle. As with so many things, I think people are unwilling to accept that sometimes, something you might want in your story would render the rest of the story unworkable.
  • The imouto had the first volume of the yonkoma gag manga, or rather nekeot gag manhwa, Aaron's Absurd Armada (I don't know why they romanize his name as "Aron", 아론 is the Korean name for Moses' brother, and everyone else has a Western name). It reinforces something I'd also noticed from "Welcome to the Convenience Store" (와라! 편의점)—good serious manhwa are hard to find, but good gag manhwa are 109 won a dozen. Possibly because a comic strip is easier to do well than a comic book. (Also, speaking of Welcome to the Convenience Store, do old people in Korea really haggle with 7-11 clerks? Weird.)

    Incidentally, "Chi-U Cheon-He", sold over here as "Heavenly Executioner Chiwoo", is one of the good serious ones—it's about an awesome fantasy Korea where the executioners (who in real life were usually psychotic beggars) are shamans who channel the Korean shinigami (who, by the way, is actually far older and better-attested than the Japanese one, since invoking him is a part of the shamanic funeral). The protagonist is based on a Chinese god who fought the Yellow Emperor, who is traditionally said to have been a king in what's now Korea.

    The little of Knight Run that I've read looks pretty good too; it's about space soldiers fighting alien monsters. You know the drill.
  • I think it's funny how, on the kinds of geek websites that analyze manga and anime through a Eurocentric undergrad identity-studies lens, people frequently claim that harem anime fulfill the male fantasy of having girls love you just for being alive. Only...you could only think that if you'd never really watched one. Tenchi? Boy's a damn hero, puts his life on the line for any girl he sees in trouble, long before he finds out he's god-king of the space-elves (and thus has a magic forcefield that won't let him die). Tomoki, from SoraOto? Well, much like the DearS, Angeloids are made to be slaves—and Tomoki is the first person besides their creator who ever treats Ikaros, Nymph, and Astraea like people, gee I wonder why they like him for that.

    Basically, it's an unfair criticism even of Love Hina, let alone harem manga that are actually good. But you know what do actually involve the plot of the girl who falls for the guy just for being alive? Artsy hipster movies, that's what. Have you ever heard of 100 Days of Summer? It's sorta famous for it. Come now, come now, when's the last time a hipster movie protagonist ever did anything to get the girl, except act out every website, ever, about Nice Guy Syndrome?


Without Taking a Fish; In the First 40 Days

Out of context quote from The Old Man and the Sea.

I was thinking about Lent, and the fact that alligator and capybara, and presumably whale if one lives in the places that eat those, are exempt from the fast. Now many people, myself included, have sloppily attributed this to Aristotle...but here's the thing, Aristotle knows that whales aren't fish (he also knew how octopodes reproduced—and his version was widely mocked by Renaissance and Enlightenment scholars, until he was proved right in the 19th century).

No, this little oddity has a different, older source. Aristotle doesn't consider whales or sea-turtles to be fish, but you know who does? Judaism. Read Leviticus. Everything that lives in the water is treated under a single heading. Now, as you may not be aware, kashrut law considers fish "pareve" (neutral), neither meat nor dairy, much like vegetables; as you probably did know, also, the only kosher fish are those that have both scales and fins. Sharks, whales, and lobsters have fins but not scales; alligators and turtles have scales but not fins; crabs, mollusks, and capybaras have neither. Thus all of them are "treif" (unclean).

Christianity is a sect of Judaism, and its first few centuries were very wary of introducing categories from pagan philosophy. So rather than fathering our peculiar categories onto Aristotle, who didn't have them, isn't it more likely that we just retained the Jewish conception "pareve because aquatic", but are forbidden from calling any animal "treif because lacking fins and/or scales" (see Acts 10:15)?

Of course, the main motive in retaining a now-irrelevant category of dietary law was to make the wealthy live as the poor do, and for most of human history poor people got a lot more of their protein from fish than from fowl or fauna. Many Indian tribes didn't eat fish, but they did eat gators, capybaras or nutrias, and whales (if they lived near them). We actually have church documents from the early Spanish Colonial period assessing the permissibility of capybara during Lent; they outright said to consider it a fish, because otherwise the Indians would starve, and cited the aquatic habitat as pretext merely to shush legalistic naysayers.

Compare this attitude to the imbecility that made the Long Walk a tragedy—namely that the Anglos rationed wheat flour to Navajos who'd never seen it before, assumed it could be treated like cornmeal, and thus starved, despite being well-provisioned. Why it's almost like Spaniards grasped the fact Indians had a different culture from them, and adapted their policies.


De Romanicorum Physicalium 6

Scientifiction. Some reading in John C. Wright's more recent blog posts—where he is less simplistic than I had come to consider his norm—leads me to suspect I should be a little nicer to him, although I reserve the right to refer to him as "Took-A-Miracle" whenever I disagree with him.
  • People are complaining about Aliens: Colonial Marines nerfing the Xenomorphs. My only response is to say, "Hey, why weren't the Flood nerfed for the level 'Cortana', in Halo 3?" Because seriously, the Flood is how you do Xenomorphs in a game. Hell, those guys are the Xenomorphs, only they make sense. Not least because they were pretty much a weapon from the beginning (there are hints about the Precursors all the way back in Halo 2—the Gravemind out and says the Flood are nemesis for the Forerunners' sins).

    I still say Xenomorphs make no sense, and wouldn't be able to infect humans. The only counter-argument is to say that the Engineers from Prometheus made them to destroy humans. Which requires treating Prometheus as canon, something I should hope no Aliens fan wants. (In other words, just admit they make no sense, and enjoy the only two movies that were ever made about them—don't cheapen yourself by having to invoke the authority of that thing.)

    Put another way? "So, how are Xenomorphs able to infect humans?"
    Yeah. I went there, Prometheus.
  • Which is not to say that I forgive Halo for having two different species called "Forerunners" and "Precursors". Just because you said one in English and one in Latin doesn't mean they have two different names. It'd be like if the Jackals were called Pousses-caillous, as if that weren't just calling them "grunts" in a different language.
  • I think I've said before that Lovecraftian "cosmic horrors" are mere comforting anthropomorphisms? It perhaps requires unpacking. Fundamentally, although the writers of such things delight in the pose of denying any ultimate significance to mankind, that isn't actually what they're doing. In reality, they are still claiming that humans create all their own values. Seen in that light, they are no more challenging their audience's comfortable anthropocentrism than a vampire story where presenting a crucifix fails because the presenter lacks faith challenges lukewarm Christian fideistic sensibilities. In both cases, they merely pose as challenging their audience's preconceptions, while actually reinforcing them.

    Think about it. Aren't they actually saying that everything their audience thinks is true, is true? How much scarier would the stories be if, for instance, transcendent laws were real, and did have power—and the assumptions the protagonists share with the audience actually served merely to aggravate their predicament? I don't actually have to speculate whether that'd be more frightening, Maurice Baring already wrote a story like that, and it stands up to the best Lovecraft ever wrote. See also this, without having read which one is unfit to portray the enchantment of terror.
  • Here's a question. Why do people who bitch about military science fiction having human soldiers instead of drone warfare not complain when characters in science fiction play poker? For that matter, why is science fiction, like horror, still trying to live in a world where cellphones don't exist? You think people will have computers installed in their brains, but people won't carry mobile communications like they do now? (Admittedly, if you had people exploring a new planet have to contend with issues relating to range, magnetic fields, and sheer mass of rock—e.g. be very explicit that they put comm-satellites in orbit before a single boot touches space-dirt—I, for one, would be eternally grateful.)

    Again: handhelds. I had a scene recently in my SF book's third installment with people agitating against permanent employment, in a sort of tent-city. And people are not playing cards, they're playing a game something like Pokemon (I don't go into much detail, but the loser addresses the winner as "fireball whore"). If people are waiting for someone in a science fiction story, why don't they take out their handheld and start reading the digital equivalent of a magazine, namely a website related to their interests? I can see if you're still gonna have physical chess sets, because chess (also all its relatives like shôgi, as well as things like go) has a prestige and an aesthetic experience related to moving the pieces on the board. But cards? The fact the deck is a physical object is considered a weakness in all card-games, physical objects can be marked and their order can only be partially randomized.

    Mahjong can go either way, depending on how attached you are to the sound the tiles make when you shuffle them.
  • I wonder, has anybody ever bothered to point out there is a fundamental flaw in the title of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Namely, Clarke is once again doing his Gnostic street-preacher bit, and talking about transcending our Earthly origins. Well and good; no Anti-Spiral me, I desire that man should spread to the stars as he spread to every corner of his globe. But why in the name of every spirit in the Pleroma does the idiot name the thing an Odyssey? The Odyssey is all about going home, dumbass!

    Let us, yet again, quote Chesterton:
    The greatest tribute to Christianity in the modern world is Tennyson's "Ulysses." The poet reads into the story of Ulysses the conception of an incurable desire to wander. But the real Ulysses does not desire to wander at all. He desires to get home. He displays his heroic and unconquerable qualities in resisting the misfortunes which baulk him; but that is all. There is no love of adventure for its own sake; that is a Christian product. There is no love of Penelope for her own sake; that is a Christian product.
    More and more one begins to wonder precisely how Clarke went all those years without eating from a bottle with a skull on it.
  • An interesting thing in cultural setting is the arbitrary forms that courtesy can take. The obvious one is hats—Jews, Muslims, and some Christians show reverence by covering their heads; Latin Christians by uncovering them. Similarly in places as diverse as Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Mediterranean, one shows respect not only for sacred ground but merely for others' homes by taking off shoes, while the Zuñi do not enter sacred ground without shoes (or, more usually, painted-on socks). (I blame spiders, carrying out blood-vendetta—when a Navajo kills a spider, he draws a circle around it, tells it it has no family...and then tells it he's a Zuñi).

    As Chesterton said somewhere, in a society where a gentleman doffs his waistcoat to a lady, you doff your waistcoat to a lady. I was thinking a similar touch could be a society where a woman greets guests by briefly baring her breasts, as the token of motherliness and even of absolute hospitality (the host being primarily the one who feeds guests), but if you actually wrote that it'd be very hard to avoid looking like a perv. Though, if you wanted to write about culture-shock, that could be interesting.
  • This is allowed here because feminist science fiction, but in one of her many, many bizarre diatribes, Marija Gimbutas says that Indo-European patriarchy is responsible for Stalin and the Holocaust. There are two problems with that. First off, Stalin was a Georgian, and though Georgian culture is semi-Indo-Europeanized (like those of the Basques or Dravidians), they still aren't Indo-Europeans. Similarly Nazism is fundamentally at variance with Indo-European mores as observable in sources as diverse as Roman law, the Norse sagas, and the Hindu Vedas. For instance, when Hitler said that Stalin could be betrayed because he was (as a Georgian!) "non-Aryan", he was displaying an attitude far more typical (ironically) of ancient Semitic cultures than of "Aryan" ones, an attitude the Romans called "punica fides" and that's probably the origin of the "teqiyyeh" that comes up so often in terrorism-debates—"we only have obligations to our fellows, not to barbarians".

    Second off, though, speaking of Semitic cultures—you think Indo-Europeans invented patriarchy, cupcake? It's present in Sumer, which had no known contact with Indo-Europeans for its first millennium or so, and was also a major feature of Semitic civilization, as well as Egypt. It's found in China and among the Bantu and the Maya and Aztecs (and also the Olmecs, their successor cultures, and whoever-the-hell were the people of Teotihuacan) and the Incas, pretty much as far back as we can make head or tail of their social arrangements. Newsflash, humans are mammals, and aren't lemurs or spotted hyenas: we are male-dominated. The question is not, "How do we put an end to male domination?", but "How do we ensure that our universally-dominant males are alpha wolves, not flanged orangs—or unflanged orangs, with their 'roam and rape'?"
  • Am I perhaps alone in thinking that people who think therapeutic cloning less bad than reproductive are out of their motherlovin' minds? Therapeutic cloning is where we grow people for parts; reproductive cloning is basically no different from what everyone's precious fertility industry already does. What is you people's moral calculus—and in what nighted gulf of non-Euclidean mathematics, from what cackling, cavorting demon flautists, did you learn it?


Cardinal Points

Just a brief thought, or rather two. A Pope resigning makes one think of these things.

First, there's discussion, various places, of what Benedict's title will be after his abdication; I'm pretty sure it'll be Bishop (perhaps Cardinal) Josef Ratzinger. I base this on A) that being what most other people are saying, and B) the fact that kings that abdicate are no longer kings, but princes (see, e.g., Edward VIII).

Also, this all reminds me of a halfwit I was debating once on Bad Catholic, who was insisting that Vatican City is one of the few country without women's suffrage. No, I don't know why I dignified him with a response either. Obviously, it's an electoral monarchy all of whose Princes Elector are a certain kind of monk, namely Catholic bishops, so of course they're all male (as I also pointed out, no women are involved in choosing the Dalai Lama, either, unless we go with the Chinese version of Avalokitesvara). But something I should've added, Vatican City is also the only country whose electorate is 51% foreigners—only 58 of the 118 cardinals currently eligible to vote are citizens of Vatican City. At that point, your usual standards simply don't apply.

Language and Society

Really it's just a random thoughts post, but on those two things.
  • I would dearly love to know who is responsible for translating the Sign of the Cross into Japanese, because "Chichi to Ko to Seirei no mina ni yotte" (父と子と聖霊の御名によって) is just wrong. The big problem is "seirei"; "seirei" means something more like "genius" than "spiritus". Personally I would've gone with "ki" for Holy Spirit, since "ki" comes from the Chinese word for "steam" (qí/気), and both "spiritus" and Greek "pneuma" come from "breath".

    I'm not sure how I feel about "no mina ni yotte" (literally "according to the honorable name of"), but I don't know what would be a better alternative.
  • You know how people like to say America's position as "world's #1 economy" is a sign of our moral superiority? You get it from Gospel of Prosperity preachers, as well as various right-wing thinkers who ought to know better. I believe the concept is adequately refuted by noticing that #2 is China, #3 is Japan, and #4 is Germany. America's prosperity is due to the World Wars not happening here, and actual communism never getting control of our economy. That's really it. Also all three runners-up have experienced at least one of those two things, China and part of Germany both of them, and yet look where they are, so why are we bragging, exactly?

    Seriously, we are just as bad as any of the other non-totalitarians, possibly excluding England (we didn't deliberately starve 3 million people to death in Ireland and India, after all). Our 19th century treatment of natives was no different from any colonial power in Africa (Late addendum: except for Belgium, holy crap!); we had the worst slavery in the New World (yes, worse than Brazil); between the World Wars we were more eugenicist than anyone but the Nazis themselves; after World War II we exported genocidal population-control to every corner of the globe. And no, those last two are not just the Left—is Henry Kissinger a Leftist and nobody tell me? Because again, he advocated encouraging contraception in Brazil so they couldn't compete with us for oil.

    Nevertheless, and as many the world over cannot grasp, nations are not people; the many innocent people of a nation cannot be made to suffer for their nation's past sins. War, for instance, is only permitted to make countries stop things they're doing now. Otherwise the Turks come well before any European country, except maybe Russia, on the hit list, and England comes before France or Spain. Post-colonialism is the bastard child of Marxism and America's founding myth, and has about as much bearing on reality as you'd expect.
  • I know I've mentioned it before, but Ayn Rand never, but never, actually defended capitalism. She defended an imaginary system where creative geniuses are their own masters. Oh yes, capitalism is better for them than communism, but that's not really what it's set up for; it's set up for the benefit of the investors, that's even what the name means. Of course, by the way, it's the economic system that goes with "republics", both are defined by having an elite (communism, of course, is defined by having an elite whose existence it denies—see also David Brin's worldview).

    The thing Rand was describing, by the bye, is essentially the High Medieval form of a guild, before the monopolistic "mastery" system came in with the Renaissance. Ironically, that is exactly the opposite of what she would say, but given she also thinks civilization, as such, is more individualistic than barbarism, her opinions can be safely discounted, snickering optional.
  • Huh. If you think about it, the system considered ideal by most theorists nowadays (I wouldn't call most of these fetishists "thinkers") has, upon analysis, two classes: elite and commoner. Yes, most of them would deny that, but how many of them actually advocate total economic egalitarianism and direct democracy? Right, not many—none of the sane ones.

    The interesting thing is, that's the characteristic of a chiefdom, in anthropology. In states, anthropologically speaking, there are usually three classes: elite, commoner, and slave. The sole exceptions are Western European or their descendants, and thus arose from chiefdoms at the end of the Roman Empire. Thus, I reiterate, we are not living in true states, but in states heavily modified with characteristics of chiefdoms. And that's actually not a bad thing.
  • Japanese is almost as bad as Chinese in the "it's not so much a language as a language family" thing (most Romance languages are more mutually intelligible with each other than Chinese "dialects"). And I don't just mean Okinawago (which is called Uchinaaguchi when it's at home—that is how they say those self-same kanji), which everyone acknowledges as a separate language. Anything other than Kansai-ben is as different from Standard Japanese as Dutch is from English (while Kansai is probably Scottish).

    The Hakata dialect, spoken in Fukuoka, for instance, renders "Nani shiteiru no?" ("What are (you) doing?") as "Nan ba shiyo tto?" or "Nan shitô to?". Even in the same dialect families as Kansai and Standard (Hakata is Kyûshû-ben), you have weird stuff. Some Kansai dialects have perfective aspect as well as "unmarked" and "progressive" like Standard. Tôhoku dialect, spoken on the eastern side of Honshu, pronounces "ichigo" as "uzungo" and makes the hortative with -be/-ppe. A slogan after the tsunami (Tôhoku is where it hit the hardest) was "Ganbappe!" ("Let's get to it...put in some effort...also, good luck!"—Japanese works that poor word like a plow-horse), which would be "Ganbarô" in Standard. Also? Eastern Kantô dialects go up in statements and down in questions.
  • I realize most people don't look into the grammars of Tibetan, Navajo, or Zulu, but what is with people who act like Spanish and French are hard? They're SVO accusative languages that only inflect for case on pronouns and form most of their verb conjugations with auxiliary verbs. That is, they're almost exactly like English, albeit with slightly more inflections.

    Imagine if the Spanish or French in the New World had been like the Germanic tribesmen who founded their kingdoms, and left the native languages in place when they took over. The brats who whine about learning Spanish and French would need to know Uto-Aztecan, Mayan, and Oto-manguean to talk to Mexicans (enjoy the polysynthesis, the four or five voices, and the defaulting to future tense, respectively!), and Algonquian, Siouan, and Iroquian to talk with the Quebecois (have fun with the first one's fourth person pronouns, and the other two being Split-S and Fluid-S ergative!).

    Note that I am assuming that the English still took after their founders, and imposed their language on the natives. It's seriously ironic that they posture to this day like Norman French was some kind of tyranny, when they only spoke English in the first place because they were the only Germanic elite that forced a Romanized Celtic populace to use Germanic instead of a proto-Romance language.
  • I do grow so tired of scanlators and fansubbers who translate the writing on biker coats (Japanese bikers wear kamikaze trenchcoats with kanji slogans on them) as "yoroshiku" ("nice to meet you")...but do not mention that it's written with kanji—夜路死苦—that, while pronounced the same (よろしく), mean "dark road death-agony". It kinda changes the connotations just a bit, don't you think?
  • As I mentioned in my last post, the attitude of people toward creole languages is weird. They really are languages, Jamaican doesn't have remotely the same grammar as English. They're not really "bad" languages, now—obviously they began as pidgins, which is to say half-assed versions of other languages jury-rigged for hasty communication, but a creole is by definition a pidgin that's become someone's first language. It is not rude to acknowledge that pidgins are half-assed, because they are, but if it becomes a creole it is no longer a half-assed form of another language, but a language in its own right.

    You can say anything in any language, albeit it may take more or fewer words. Koine Greek is a creole, used in the Alexandrian Empire—Alexander's generals, rather than using Aramaic as he and his Persian predecessors had, preferred to use Greek—and it was good enough for the New Testament, wasn't it?

    On the other hand, though, people need to acknowledge that creoles all exist on dialect continua, with the language their pidgin ancestor got its words from on the other end, for a damn reason. If, say, the Jamaican Defense Force is on a joint operation with other Commonwealth forces, the officers of the other nations have a right to expect the Jamaicans to talk to them in English—just like the Jamaicans expect that New Zealanders talk to them in English, even if they're Maori. Nobody's saying they can't use creole when they call their mothers on their off-hours.


I Was Reading Blogs on Writing

Thoughts occasioned by this fact.
  • At some point on John C. Wright's blog, he said that in Buddhism, "everything is nothing". Now, representing Buddhism—which is based on the most extreme form of monism—as nihilism, is, quite simply and literally, to mistake "on" for "off" and "one" for "zero", but I think I know how he came by the error. Or two reasons.

    First is, Theravada's a lot less explicit about the fact non-duality means "nothing exists but God" than Mahayana is—it's the main focus of the Lotus Sutra and to a lesser extent Heart Sutra, but those are Mahayana. And Wright, like every other half-bright Anglo-Jingo of Christian background (that he actually is a Christian and knows it does not excuse him from the opprobrium his provinciality warrants), thinks (given other things he's said) that Theravada is the most authentic Buddhism. Never mind that Mahayana is not only bigger (62% of all Buddhists, or 217 million people, are in traditions that accept the Mahayana scriptures), they're more intellectually respectable. Basically, Anglos assume that accepting an artificially reduced number of scriptures—also believing in limited atonement—makes something the most authentic expression of its faith (yes I know Wright's not a Calvinist, but he certainly appears to be duped by Protestant scholarship).

    Second is that Wright may have been misled by thesauruses—Devil's catechisms!—into thinking that "emptiness", in the famous line from the Lotus Sutra, means "nothing". When, actually, "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" means, quite simply, that all formal parts (remember that Hindu and Greek thought share an origin) are contingent and therefore lack ultimate reality. Which, by the way, is something you'll find in Thomas Aquinas, minus the monism. Even the Wikipedia article on the Lotus Sutra gets that part right (lacking ultimate reality, I mean, not Aquinas), so there's really no excuse for making that mistake. (What the Wikipedia article doesn't get, aside from the similarity of Mahayana thought to Christianity, is that Mahayana's major achievement is more clearly deriving non-duality from non-soul, advaita from anatman, than Theravada does.)
  • Watching Wright's debates with Fabio Barbieri is always amusing, in an ironic kind of way. Wright's a Republican, Barbieri a Christian Democrat in the European sense (I do not think he would object to that characterization); both are concerned to stake out their quaint ideological fetishes as the true heirs of Classical Liberalism...because both appear to believe that Classical Liberalism is a good thing. Both are equally self-righteous toward monarchy and feudalism and all the other political systems that weren't born of the unprecedented butchery of the Thirty Years and Seven Years Wars.

    And I can't resist the urge to remark that it wasn't the Spanish Empire that stole Navajo children from their homes and force-reeducated them in a European culture (there is a reason the most widely-spoken Native languages are all in Latin America); it wasn't the Bourbons, all their Renaissance absolutist sins on their heads, who tried to stamp out the Basque language. That was you people. Restrict your self-righteous posturing to the totalitarians, gentlemen, all of whom were simply taking your precedent and doing it like they meant it.
  • Not actually from a blog but related to writing, my sister (younger) was reading a book one of her students recommended, a "paranormal romance" thingy with changelings. Switched by Amanda Hocking, if you must know. I have a few comments. Firstly, does all paranormal romance have to take something from White Wolf and make it fifty thousand times lamer? Because there are other ways to have fairies interacting with the modern world than changelings, and yet that's the one everyone seems to do—and by an amazing coincidence the one White Wolf did. Please stop it, I'm about to fail a Willpower check to resist frenzying. Second, aside from the fact what you have there are actually elves, you simply can't call trolls "Trylles". That is so laughably "majyckal" a spelling as to approach self-parody (it's also etymologically unjustifiable, but only I and one artist from Birmingham, England care about that—and no, not Ozzy). Also, given the sound-change patterns that produced Icelandic from Old Norse, "trylle" probably would've been "trulle" in the Viking era, and "trull" is a dialect variant of "trollop".

    Third, "paranormal romance" should be paranormal, and have romance. Trolls that are really elves with the wrong name spelled incorrectly should not just behave like suburban gated-community people. Love-interests that are supernatural creatures should occasionally behave differently from any other teen chick-lit love-interest. I realize I write urban fantasy, but the principle is the same: my werewolves cock their heads like dogs when they're confused, and making one angry is an act not unlike calling Sinestro's mom a bad name. We do not read comics to see a Kansas farmboy break really important news stories, we read them to see the Last Son of Krypton stop bullets with his corneas (one really cool idea in the otherwise negligible Superman Returns). And seriously, romance. Don't just mark out a designated love-interest, show us why. People sure seem to look down on harem manga, but all harem stories I can think of give a reason why the girls fall for the dude. Why does anybody in paranormal romance fall for their love-interest?
  • And seriously, paranormal romance, ask yourselves why it makes less sense for your heroines to fall for your heroes, than it does for adorable little pixie-like tsundere android girls to fall for this guy:
    (In case you can't tell, those are panties he's holding.)
    Because Tomoki really is a more plausible male love-interest than the typical paranormal-romance one. When that little twerp has more to recommend him to the ladies than your hero, you have failed as a writer and probably as a human being.
  • Speaking of dialect, I just know people are going to complain about the fact my Jamaican vampires sometimes talk patois rather than English. But newsflash, you can't say that patois and creole are perfectly legitimate linguistic forms and then object to people who would speak them in real life being portrayed as speaking them. (I feel like I should have their Haitian leader speak Haitian creole, but A) Haitian creole is nowhere near as easy as Jamaican, it bases parts of its grammar on the torture chamber that is Niger-Congo, and B) who's he gonna talk it to?)

    Which reminds me, if Firefly were at all serious about a combined Chinese-American hegemony, nobody would talk inexplicably 19th century English with occasional switching to bad Mandarin. Know how they would talk? "Namba wan fain dili, turi pisi gan fa tauzan kashi, mai kan kachi dem yu tumoro." ("Great deal, three guns for a thousand, I can deliver them tomorrow.") Of course, they would have to occasionally deal with some Asians to make the use of a pidgin language plausible.

    Incidentally, the way linguists generally spell the borrowed words in creoles and pidgins is, I think, the final word on why we don't want phonetic spelling.
  • The problem with most love-triangles (I was actually watching RediXBato, but there's writing in a light novel, as well as in a show) is they're virtually impossible to write as isosceles—one of the two options is almost always indisputably superior. Therefore, the indecision that makes the love-triangle possible is the result of Plot Induced Stupidity ("if the guy realizes which of the girls is manifestly better, there goes the story"). And Plot Induced Stupidity is bad.
  • That thing I said about how we don't read comics to see Clark Kent report the news made me realize, most paranormal romance, which mostly ignores its paranormal conceits for standard chick-lit plots and characters, is, basically, superhero shows from the 70s. You know, the one where Spidey doesn't fight supervillains, he fights muggers (also where the guy crawls on a floor and they turn the camera sideways, for wall-crawling). Or where the Hulk (whose name is, for some reason, David Banner, rather than Bruce) is pursued by one crazy cop (journalist?), rather than Hulkbusters.

    And that, of course, reminds me in its turn, that apparently the movie "Catwoman" was a proud return to tradition—a tradition, admittedly, that was the reason we all thought comic book movies sucked until the first X-Men and Spider-Man.


Commentary 10

Random thoughts.
  • I've been reading up on Bantu languages, the southernmost of which (e.g. isiZulu) can give Navajo a run for the money in the "our language is designed to hurt foreigners" department. Both have lots of grammatical genders (11 in Navajo, 17 in Zulu) and tone, as well as weird consonants, though I think Zulu's clicks are weirder than Navajo having the same sound-inventory as Klingon. I still think Navajo wins, though; Zulu may be a language I could never pronounce, but Navajo is a split-S alignment polysynthetic head-marking language whose affixes combine into pseudo-inflections. Phonics, schmonics.

    But I like the cut of Bantu's jib. Specifically, the way it forms words off of roots. E.g., take the Arabic loan-word in the coastal trade language, "swahili", which means "coastal" in Arabic. Put that root in the gender for languages and other artifacts (making kiSwahili), and you get "the coastal trade language". Put it in the gender for people, and you get muSwahili, "a coastal person" (plural waSwahili). Yes, Swahili's 14 genders hurt foreigners, and it's difficult to deny that that's the main reason Bantu has them—but it's not the only reason.
  • Study of Bantu languages, since it involved Wikipedia, inevitably led me to reading about the peoples who speak them. And that leads me to think we need to stop translating "rex" as "king" in Medieval Latin. Now, Classical Latin "rex" means simply "chief", and Humanist Latin has it mean "miniature Roman Emperor, whose state is made up largely of one nation", but in Medieval Latin it means something else. See, medieval nobles were each of them, in anthropological terms, chiefs—their system was a complex chiefdom, neither tribal nor a state—and thus, a medieval "rex", rather than a king in the post-Renaissance sense of the term, is properly termed a paramount chief. There was no Kingdom of France; just a Frankish paramountcy.

    Interestingly, once we recognize that what we're dealing with in the Middle Ages is a complex chiefdom, rather than a state, we are forced to recognize the amazing achievement of their culture. See, complex chiefdoms don't last; it's rare for them to stay around more than a few generations. But the typical medieval paramountcy generally came in a generation or two after Charlemagne, and didn't generally collapse until the Black Plague. Plus, most chiefdoms, e.g. in Polynesia, or the aforementioned Bantus, have gross social inequality, with commoners retaining little of their produce and having only basic rights, while the elite have essentially unquestioned rights over them (pygmies are small, for instance, because the cattle-owning elite takes the hunter-gatherers' tallest women off to marry, and has for 3000 years). In Medieval Europe, the serfs retained all of their produce except the relatively small portion that was their lord's customary due, and their lords would suffer religious and social censure for abusing them.
  • Speaking of the Bantus and the Middle Ages, has anyone pointed out to George R. R. Martin that his stories are a hell of a lot closer to the apartheid government's depiction of the Zulu Mfecane (pronounced "mm-feh-*tsk*-ah-ney") than they are even to the Reformation Wars, let alone the War of the Roses, which he claims he based it on? While the Mfecane really was pretty bad, the sort of thing that didn't happen in Europe between Charlemagne and Charles V, a portrayal of every single principal being cartoonishly supervillainous could only come from an ideology with a vested interest in depicting certain groups in the worst light possible.

    Now why on Earth do you suppose that is?
  • I realized, I'm silly, there's no real question how intransitive verbs (absolutive sentences) in ergative languages ought to be translated, they're just translated as intransitive sentences ("I sleep"). While transitive ones (ergative sentences) are translated as the passive, which is why an old name for that grammatical alignment is "passive".

    I found a specific need for the antipassive in my book, while I was making the Zbin-Ãld grammar ergative. Namely, the catapults the zledo launch certain spacecraft from, roughly a cross between aircraft catapults and a Verne gun. Their name translates to "[frequently] thrown by the union of coordinates", i.e. "[stress-energy tensor] metric-patching catapult". The antipassive is used so they don't have to specify what is thrown.
  • One of the Mundane SF people, justifying their ridiculous idea that we'd never colonize another planet (no, not even in the Solar System), was saying we'd never do it because that would take terraforming, which would take tens of thousands of years, and "what have we ever done that lasted that long?"

    Admittedly, the time-frame for terraforming really is an issue, though the main argument against it is actually that station-colonies and habitat-domes are so much easier as to render terraforming a stupid option on the level of, to borrow an image from Scott Adams, tying thousands of butterflies to your body and hoping they all fly the same direction, as a means of transport. There is also the Niven argument for why there's no colony on Mars (aside from the Martians being dangerous)—planets are holes that it's too costly to crawl out of. Yes he seemed to forget that when the holes were Wunderland, Mt. Lookitthat, Jinx, and We Made It, but he also came up with a very implausible programming oversight to justify setting colonies on those planets, so plainly, when it came to them, he was putting story before pure realism—and more power to him.

    Nevertheless, how about, agriculture? We've been breeding wheat so long that two of the varieties are chromosomally incompatible, that is, we caused speciation. Is that not basically the sort of thing involved in such a long-term endeavor? We're colonizing this planet as part of a process that's taken a hundred millennia, the only part of it we're native to is southwestern Ethiopia. (If by "we" one means H. sapiens, and one assumes the oldest known fossils represent our origin.)
  • It occurs to me, thinking of chiefdoms, that the norm for the human race is that the state is worse—at least in terms of social inequality—than the chiefdom. Think about it. The commoner in a chiefdom has few rights and keeps little of his produce. But the slave, who is the foundation of every state (there is slavery in chiefdoms but it's not the foundation of the economy), is basically an appliance. Perhaps the stability that states have over chiefdoms makes up for it (certainly most of mankind has always thought so), but don't we always claim to prefer freedom and equality over stability and slavery? The commoner of a chiefdom is both freer and less unequal than the slave in a state.

    It's only transcendental ideas—again, Buddhism and Christianity—that make the state liveable, in Asia and Christendom respectively. And as I just showed RE: Medieval Europe, they did the same thing to chiefdoms. So...should all of us who, again, claim to prefer freedom and equality to stability and slavery, favor chiefdoms over the state? Certainly, given that feudalism is a better model of the good things about our 'republics' than the classical terms they use (compare "power is held in feudal gift from the people" to how much wordage you have to pour out to say it classically), we seem to try to leaven our states with characteristics of the complex chiefdom.

    I am not here concerned to argue any political theory—again, if your system ensures a reasonable chance at safety and dignity for the determining majority of your people, I have no quarrel with it—but it is an interesting thing to ponder. As is the fact most thinkers nowadays would fear to ponder it, no matter how much they claim to dislike the state.
  • Have I mentioned, by the bye, my answer to Fermi's paradox? The one I use in my fiction I mean, the one I have in real life is "Neither Fermi nor Drake is qualified to discuss probabilities in this matter, as the arising of life is a historical event, like the coronation of Napoleon, and we don't have multiple French Revolutionary Wars to stick Corsican gunners into and see how often they become Emperor of France."

    But in my fiction, I essentially say, firstly, that the period in which a species uses high-power, non-directional radio is brief—since we're already moving away from that. Secondly, that interstellar transmissions prefer 532 nm-wavelength lasers, which you can only see if you're their recipient (well, maybe if the interstellar dust catches the beam just right). And thirdly, both zledo and khàngaì having developed both space-folds and metric-patching engines by the time we were walking on the moon, they switched to "topology communications", i.e. sending their data as waveform distortions in spacetime.
  • Why is it, when people translate the words of Gangnam Style, they don't seem to usually translate "oppa"? Oppa, pronounced "ôpba", is Korean for "older brother of a girl", here used as self-referential fictive kinship. In East Asia, it's common to refer to yourself as the older sibling of the person you're talking to, when you want to imply that you're doing them a favor out of affection ("here, let big brother show you how").

    Examining the translation of the lyrics reveals it to be less creepy than I'd feared (Gangnam is the Jersey Shore of South Korea), but there's still something a little awkward about a dude referring to himself like that in a love song. Think of Ayumu's fantasy-Yû in Kore Zombie, referring to him as "oniichan". This song is the fantasy of our weak-willed protagonist, PSY.


Total Recall

So, saw the new Total Recall. Haven't done a review in a while. I didn't like it, so let's go positive first.

I really liked the production design, the look of the city and the computers and the cars. Put more accurately, of all the futures that ripped off Minority Report's aesthetic, I liked this one's look the best.

It wasn't as blatantly misogynist as its source material, although if anything it was more paranoid, and without his excuse.

And that's it. Now for the bad.

The plot was an absolute by-the-numbers "good rebels, bad empire" story, without anyone given a speck of motivation or backstory other than "we're all-holy sinless rebels" or "of course we're evil, we have a colony". That is my country's founding legend and I found the plot offensively Jingoistic; how does this horse-hockey play in Spain? (Speaking of? All you anti-American post-colonial thinkers? Yeah, guess what, the Yankee forcibly converted you to his founding mythos without your knowledge. You did realize that, right?)

Also, when people embark on wars of annihilation, they do not use infantry, they carpet-bomb. Unless the target has some resource that'd be lost that way, but, uh, what does The Colony have, exactly? It's a slum. "We can't bomb Kowloon, we need to preserve the infrastructure for after our invasion"—that is a sentence that can't be spoken, right there.

The writing was subpar. It felt like a first draft, probably by a high schooler. Seriously, "That was no dream, that was a memory"? Could we be more pointlessly portentous? Could we be more cliché? We've pretty much already established that that's what's going on in his head—why not have her say "Whatever they did to your memories must not've completely affected your unconscious mind", or something else that would be both realistic and actually useful? And don't even get me started on the rebel leader's stupid speech: adding in a lot of Gnostic-sounding mumbo-jumbo doesn't make your movie any more Phildickian.

Speaking of, "The Fall enslaves us all"? You're actually worse at this quasi-Gnostic misappropriated Christian terminology than Philip K. Dick, and he had bipolar disorder aggravated by amphetamines, and was friends with Robert Heinlein.

Oh yes, speaking of the Fall. It's basically an orbit elevator, but it goes through the planet's core. Because as we all know, the cheapest way to do commuter travel is to send a subway car through a fission reactor on a 13,000 km long carbon-filament cable. (No, they never said it was carbon filament, but guess what's the only substance you can make kilometers-long cables out of?)

Also, in order to commute through the Earth in one day, you have to move 532 kph. Or 2/3 of Mach 1. Given their commute appears to take about 40 minutes—one side of the planet to the other—they must be moving about 19,000 kph, or nearly Mach 16. Since they don't seem to spend most of their time accelerating, I guess they're pulling multiple Gs. That's why they were all in G-force suits, and strapped in up to the eyeballs. No, wait, they weren't, they behaved exactly like they were getting on a subway car that never exceeds 90 kph.


De fabularum mirabilium

Thoughts upon fantasy. Got the Latin word for the thing right this time ("On Tales of the Marvelous").
  • This is probably sarcasm, perhaps a jab at how Hollywood would pretty much have to make that movie. If not, I may have to rethink being a fan of that strip. And if anyone takes it seriously, then I hope their movie bombs the way everyone expects it to.

    Again: if you have to send people from our world to a fantasy world, you have not done sufficient work on your fantasy world. I don't care if it's Narnia, The Land, or anywhere else; there is an exemption for The Labyrinth, MÄR, and Zero's Familiar, but if you are not one of those three things and you contain that idea, you don't have a right to exist. Yes I'm rhetorically anthropomorphizing stories and then talking to them, doesn't everybody?

    Maybe sword-and-planet, too, although really, why not just write straight up sword-and-sorcery?
  • So John C. Wright was recently complaining about "subversive" monsters in things, where dragons and vampires and werewolves are good guys. Well and good, though I say you can have werewolves as good guys so long as you don't use the asinine, made-up-by-Universal Studios, version of them. And you can't have them be skinwalkers, unless they're Hopis of the Fog Clan (Hopi skinwalking, unlike Navajo, isn't always a part of witchery). Or, like the werewolves in my books, an Indo-European warrior society (if we're going to insist on calling any beast-man, possibly shapeshifting cultural complex "skinwalking", which seems to be the trend).

    But then Wright said that benevolent Chinese dragons don't count, because those are actually long 龍, not dragons. Sigh. This is what happens when shallow half-brights try to sound smart, the same idiocy as when people say Jews don't believe in sin, but in "missing the mark". Because, uh, Took-A-Miracle? The dragons in Norse mythology, and also in Beowulf, aren't dragons either, they're ormar and wyrmas, respectively.

    Also, if he had actually read any Chinese literature (which he, I think fairly demonstrably, has not), he would know their dragons are as capricious as the average river god in Greek myth. Not coincidentally, dragons are river-gods in Chinese myth.
  • In my fantasy, I tried to come up with the appropriate psychology for dragons, starting from how each fairy race's nature is based on their different attitude toward Being. Dragons, I decided, are something like the Sensates from Planescape; they hoard because things are beautiful, and beauty is Being as apprehended by the senses.

    I added, however, another element, related to their hoarding and aesthete-ness. Namely,
    I am the Avaricious, so, I want money!...Also women!...Also status!...Also fame!...I want everything in this world!
    Because Greed is the way you write a character like that. The dragon in my book, however, doesn't so much want "women" as think humans are moe, and isn't quite so blatantly "blue-collar Xelloss".
  • Wright also said that magic is bad because it is using supernatural power for worldly ends rather than spiritual ones. Logically, of course (logic is the thing that makes the sky-spirits send us cargo, Mr. Wright), that means it is wrong to pray for health and safety, too.

    Now, this is actually interesting, because it comes up every time Christians discuss fantasy. The real reason magic is forbidden to Christians and Jews, is that its use places you under the laws of the beings you get it from. At best, that means fairy-like creatures (of which class the pagan gods); at worst, fallen angels—which is to say, at best, you're in the Mafia (the only Western institution that still has an aboriginal pagan ethic); at worst, you borrowed money from the Mafia. Christians are not to be bound by any law (save natural), and Jews are only supposed to be under haShem's.
  • Which reminds me, I need to have the elves at the end of my book, discussing the fact that their kingdom's laws, based more on their comfort than on morals, are what drove one of the villains to her rebellion. See, their two kingdoms are basically Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire, and they use that civilization's equivalent of Roman Law, while the human kingdoms use common law derived from actual morals. Because when I write fantasy in a medieval setting, I actually base the culture on the Middle Ages.

    In a way, actually, my fantasy story is a thought-experiment—what if fantasy settings were based on the real Middle Ages? And yes, I know that's what all those dark fantasy writers claim they're doing. I'm sure minstrel-show performers also thought black people really talked like that.
  • I am irked by people who say (read the Wikipedia article on fantasy, for example) that whether a writer believes in the possibility of the marvels he describes makes a work fantasy. This is irksome because I do not disbelieve in any marvel, as such (I may still discount any given account of one), until I see it demonstrated to be logically impossible (because anything that isn't logically impossible, isn't really impossible). So apparently, I'm not writing fantasy? Does that make any sense?

    If you believe marvels are impossible, by the bye, I hate to break it to you but that's because your worldview comes from "comfort-thinking", not reason. A world where ghosts, magic, fairies, and (while we're at it) miracles are possible is much more unpredictable, and contains more things you know nothing about. So you hide. Skepticism is the comfortable, explainable, comprehensible universe its proponents attribute myth to. It's also misnamed, because that word shares an etymology with "scope" and means looking, not covering the eyes.
  • Speaking of which, apparently Mircea Eliade said that reading fiction performs the function of myth and religion in secular society. Only...the novel was invented pretty much simultaneously in medieval France and Heian Japan, neither of them remotely a secular society. Islam caused a flowering of literature in Persia. A Mahayana revival was the reason Journey to the West was written. I can go on, really.

    Also? Propaganda and ideology serve the functions of myth and religion in secular society. How exactly is political correctness not a purity code; how is Rugged Individualism in the American Frontier not a myth (except that most myths recapitulate reality)? For that matter, how is Liberalism (modern, classical, left, right—doesn't matter) not a religion of the same kind as Hinduism or the Chinese Imperial Cult?
  • Another thing that Wright said in that thing about good monsters was basically to imply that fantasy should never deviate from its folkloric models. Only...medieval romance used what the science of the time thought was the real behavior of animals like wolves, foxes, and lions. Why not use the real behavior of those animals, that we know of now?

    I am not such a fool as to discount the traditional portrayals of, say, wolves, foxes, and jackals; our ancestors had good reasons for thinking about them like that. But I still think that for a modern fiction to be respectable, it does have to take new knowledge into account. E.g., my werewolves do not behave like the Proto-Indo-European warrior-complex they descend from, despite its use of wolf-totems—because they actually have influence from the spirit of the wolf, and the spirit of the wolf wants them all to be pack-alphas (married couples with children), while the warrior-complex was made up of unattached young men.

    There is an expression in Japanese, generally given as a warning to girls (and probably popularized by the 1977 song "Be Careful, Little Red Riding Hood" that was used as the ending for Ookami-san and Her Seven Companions), "Men are wolves." It is based on the purely folkloric symbolism of wolves as ravenous and crafty. But I think, given what we now know about the family structure of most canids, that the only appropriate response is, "Ideally."