As Balzac Said of Marriage

"What a commentary on human life, that humans must associate to endure it." (As quoted by Belloc, I can't find the original but I assume it's in Physiology of Marriage.) Thoughts upon society, mostly not fictional.
  • I think a huge proportion of people's folklore about the "brutality" of the Middle Ages...comes from the freaking Mongol invasions. I know the "throwing dead animals over walls to cause diseases in besieged cities" tactic was a Mongol thing, for example, and I don't know of any Europeans that used it. I don't think Europeans did that even in the Hundred Years War, and remember, that was their World War I/Vietnam.

    But, I mean, seriously? Isn't that kinda like saying "the Inca" persecuted Jews and brought enslaved Africans to work in silver-mines? I mean, a lot of the people involved in those activities in Peru were probably of Inca blood, but those are rightly regarded as issues for which the Spanish Empire must answer.

    Is it too much to ask that when forming opinions about a culture, you discuss things it actually did, and not things its enemies and conquerors did? Seems pretty basic to me, but I guess no?
  • And the Mongols were nuts. In 1207, Beijing (then Zhongdu) and the surrounding area had a population of 2 million. After the Mongols sacked it in 1215, the population was 376,000. Now, some of that was probably population loss due to the Jin Emperor moving his capital (since the Mongols had already besieged Zhongdu once), but still, probably at least a million died, given that the besieged city had 100,000 defenders and a populace of 108,000 households. Remember, this was before the One Child Policy (and also before the outlawing of polygamy)—the 13th-century Chinese had very large families.

    That's one battle, at least a million dead, probably closer to a million and a half, all but 10% of them civilians. Meanwhile, the sack of Jerusalem in the First Crusade? 3,000-3,500 dead. Less than that at Byzantium in the Fourth Crusade. All Crusades combined, over 300 years and with most of the dead being Christians massacred by Turks (who, again, always sacked cities they took), killed about 1.5 million, as many as Genghis Khan taking one city. But somehow people actually talk about the Crusaders as remotely comparable to the brutality of the Mongols.

    The only theory where that makes sense is if we assume that "Abrahamic" monotheists' lives count for several hundred times as much as Chinese Buddhists'—you explain the "Three thousand dead at Jerusalem is just as bad as over a million dead at Zhongdu" analysis, otherwise!
  • One canard that gets trotted out is "Oh, the Crusaders committed cannibalism at Maarat!" But, aside from the fact that I only know of one account of that that wasn't written about a decade after the fact (that of Fulcher of Chartres), that's not atrocity cannibalism; read the context it's mentioned, in Fulcher and in all the other accounts. If it happened at all (which, again, debatable), it was starvation-cannibalism. It's something that happens in sieges, to both sides when the besieged city is in a desert.
  • It occurs to me that the device—I myself have employed it—of comparing death-tolls as percents of global population at the time, is flawed. It can still be useful in some circumstances, but in absolute terms it isn't a valid methodology. Namely, it is assuming "scarcity" affects the value of human life. The lives of the members of small nations are not more valuable than the lives of members of large ones; the value of human life does not diminish as the number of humans increases.

    Again, Japan and China lost equal proportions of their civilian populations in World War II, but the Chinese losses represent ten times as many actual deaths. That means that there were more murders and "collateral damage" inflicted on Chinese civilians than Japanese ones, it does not mean that Japan and China suffered equally. All a larger population-base means is that China also had ten times as many people to grieve the loss of friends and relatives.
  • I recently decided to watch Equilibrium on Netflix. I had to turn it off after forty-seven minutes, and surprisingly, it wasn't the gun-katas that did it. No, it wasn't even the pointless inclusion of a bunch of Christian imagery for an obviously secularist, atheist ideology, nor the tin-eared failure to understand that Christian asceticism is the palate-cleanser of the oenophile, the bland preparation for sublime ecstasies. The movie does raise the question "Do these filmmakers hate Christians more than they hate their audience?", but their hatred for their audience was actually the clincher, and most noticeable in something else.

    It was the the basic premise. Who would be dumb enough to try to ban emotions? Leaving to one side how any drug that could do away with emotions would impede every other brain function, if history shows anything, it's that the emotions are the most efficient means of social control imaginable. And how would a culture like that possibly fail to notice that one of its enforcers has gone off his meds? They spot people in the line for trains who've gone off their meds, neither Batman nor Boromir would've made it past their own front doors in that condition. Lame excuses about "trying to optimize" wouldn't fool anyone (plus, since he wasn't doubting yet, Batman would've reported Boromir's "turning in contraband myself" excuse, and all their comrades would've been briefed on it, so he'd never have got away with using it himself).

    And, seriously. You do exist for the sake of your existence, that's not circular, some things are just ends in themselves. You certainly don't exist for the sake of emotions. Emotions mean nothing, they have no intrinsic value. All they are is cognitive shortcuts, a survival characteristic because it frees clock-cycles in the brain, so it doesn't have to adjust a body's operating parameters in real time. You feel to live, you do not live to feel; if you did then emotions would be worth more than life and the exquisite sensation of a razor-sharp blade separating flesh would constitute "justified homicide".
  • A weird trope, seemingly out of nowhere, that shows up in Japanese works (especially though not exclusively) is the "I will make you sick of war" antihero version of the "war for the sake of peace" paradox. You see it in Lelouch Lamperouge in Code GEACPS GEASS and Treize Khushrenada in Gundam Wing. Does anyone know where that crazy-town idea came from? I suppose it has a certain appeal to a nation that in living memory shocked the conscience of Asia (and see those Mongol entries above for why that's hard to do), but I don't think even the most delusional of Japanese nationalists would seriously maintain that was what Imperialism was about.

    Quite honestly, Mutually Assured Destruction—the embryo of which was probably Tesla's "Peace Ray" and which is probably an outgrowth of the Blue Water School of 19th century British foreign policy—is saner than that. And Mutually Assured Destruction is much crazier than its acronym suggests, lots of really, really crazy people would still balk at "both sides explicitly take each other's civilian populace hostage". I mean, "attack me and it won't go well for your people" is always somewhat implicit in national defense, of course, but the primary reason ought to be "we will water our fields with so much of your blood you won't have enough strength left to protect yourselves"; it's actually still just a little frowned on to explicitly threaten non-combatants, and no sane man is in any hurry to change that.
  • If you needed another piece of evidence that the US nuked the wrong island off the coast of Eurasia, how about the persistent habit of British people of referring to all elements of dialect that differ from their own usage as "slang"? Sorry, but "slang" is a form of jargon used for, among other things, in-group identification and as a marker of informal register. Dialect differences persist across registers and groups, when spoken in the same region—official documents in America don't abruptly start calling elevators "lifts" or trucks "lorries", now do they?

    For some reason the fact that "mad" means "angry" in America, specifically, is always described by British people as "slang" (it does admittedly occur more in informal speech than formal—but not all informal-register vocabulary is slang). Of course, part of it is that the British educational system is both worse than ours (an enormity one might take as some kind of eschatological omen), and somehow even more committed to unwarranted "self-esteem". The end result is a bunch of functional illiterates unaware of the distinction between "American slang" and "an Americanism" who nevertheless think themselves qualified to talk about language.
  • As a general rule, by the way, anything about grammar that's different between British and American English is often a matter of German influence, more Americans being of German descent than anything but—maybe, depending on your stats—Irish. For instance, "math" vs. "maths"—in American English it's singular, in British plural (I seem to recall Canada uses both in different contexts, but don't let's get sidetracked). In German, it's "die Mathematik", with the feminine singular "die" not the plural one. Or "different than", which British people tend to think is grammatically incorrect? "Anders als" in German.

    Incidentally, almost every instance where American is more like German is also one where American is more like Middle English; "mathematic(k)" was the word in the late 1300s (when it replaced a word that'd probably be "tallycraft" in Modern English). "Different than" is what every other Germanic language still uses (and while we're at it, "different to", Britain, seriously? come on, we leave you alone for a couple centuries and you let the language go to seed). Ironically, given their rabid Jingoism where French is concerned, a lot of the differences between British English and American—which are also differences between Modern British English and Middle English—shift English closer to Romance usage.


A Few Words

Post 500. I don't have any idea of what to do to commemorate the occasion. I wanted to do a blog post on language and writing though.
  • Idioms crop up in places where you least expect them, in descriptions of things you assume are straightforward. For example, if you read a lot of fan translations of manga and anime, you'll probably have come across phrases like "severed wrist" or "severed neck" (well, if you read crime manga). How do you mail someone a severed wrist or find a severed neck at a serial killer's house?

    Easy. Japanese expresses severed body-parts not by the name of the part, but by where it was severed. A severed head is called a neck; a severed hand is called a wrist. Pro translators tend to know that, and thus translate those things by the equivalent expression in English, but amateur fan translations are done by people who apparently never stop to ask, "Wait, 'severed wrist'? Does that mean they, like, just have the seven bones of the carpus? Maybe the distal ends of the radius and ulna?"
  • I realized that the trend of my recent edits to my book, one that I think all science fiction should follow, is toward the realistic portrayal of advanced technology. I.e., very little of the gravity control, metric-patching, or other high-level tech should be available in handheld or even crew-served devices; it should all be the purview of large labs and reactors, possibly in large vehicles like airships or buses but not in anything even as small as a car.

    The one thing I do still have is that zled wireless communications still use topology—they send their signals as wave-form distortions in space-time. But that's actually not too far-fetched—they just have a tiny amount of exotic matter that acts as an "antenna" by making microscopic distortions. It is to gravity control or metric-patching what the Farnsworth fusor is to actual power-generating fusion. Presumably they have the distortions follow a pattern different from natural gravity fluctuations (which presumably occur from every tiny bit of mass in existence), so they're detectable despite being small.
  • Which reminds me, I regularly use the expression "reinventing the wheel" to describe "science-fictional for the sake of being science-fictional" devices...and then I go and put snake-belly nanomaterial treads, on sled-like runners, on zled cars. No more; I'm changing them back to wheels.

    Or at least to spheres. The main advantage there is actually durability—a sphere-driven car can keep a damaged area of its wheels away from the road and still function exactly like a wheeled car—which is the kind of thing the zledo would think of; they're also neurologically much more equipped to take advantage of the increased maneuverability of spheres over wheels.

    It seems like "brushless direct-current" motors are the way to go with this; they have more power and durability and the trade-off, "potentially less rugged, more complex, more expensive control electronics" is a trade-off zled technology is more than able to make.
  • The last season or two of Law and Order Criminal Intent went downhill sharply, quality-wise. With the exception of the Jeff Goldblum episodes, which seem to have had a wholly different writing staff, the dialogue suddenly became strangely stagey and overwritten, everybody running scared of the verb "to be" and using highfalutin' adverbs while describing grisly felonies. It sounded like rather purple novelistic narrative prose, not dialogue.

    Niven's most important writer-rule: "Everybody talks first draft." People don't talk the way the narrative about them does, because people are not books and their audience isn't reading what they say. That's important enough for the dialogue in a work of prose; for the dialogue in a TV show, it's absolutely vital, as vital as "make sure you don't accidentally load live rounds in the prop guns".
  • I guess this counts as writing since it shows up a lot in journalism, and could well show up in fiction, but pretty much nobody is ever killed with a "high-powered" rifle round. Assault rifles are not high-powered. 5.56 NATO is .223 Remington; the AK-47's 7.62×39mm is probably the weakest .30 caliber round currently in wide use; the AK-74's 5.45×39mm is on par with the freaking .22 Hornet. In many places, if you hunt anything bigger than coyotes with the AK-74's round, or bigger than pronghorns with the M16's, you will go to jail for animal cruelty, because they are not powerful enough to reliably get humane kills. Assault rifles, in sporting terms, are varmint guns, or at best small-game (you could probably hunt smaller deer with 7.62×39mm).

    The .308 Winchester (in the form of 7.62 NATO) does, admittedly, see some limited battlefield use as a sniper- and designated-marksman gun, but even that's more of a medium-game rifle, grossly underpowered for anything much bigger than a (typical) elk. The kinds of animals you take with "high powered" rifles properly so-called are mostly in Africa; pretty much nothing in the New World except musk-ox and the largest grizzlies and polar bears is big enough to be worth the trouble (oh, also walruses—I always forget those are big game). Because that's what a high-powered rifle is, it's basically an elephant gun, and in military terms, an anti-materiel rifle. More people have probably been murdered with staplers—not staple-guns, just staplers!—than have been shot with anti-materiel rounds, those bullets are too expensive to waste on soft meaty targets like humans.
  • I was thinking about the impossibility of spacefaring libertarianism, and how a space-colonizing culture would, virtually latae sententiae, be a "water monopoly" empire. Of course, not actually based on water, nor air—hydrogen and oxygen are in abundant supply in space. Nor over some goofball nonsensoleum you can use for lame-brained petroleum allegories; superconductors, the real basis of space travel, don't actually occur naturally, and pretty much can't.

    No, no, the thing the "empire" has a monopoly over (other than the aforementioned superconductors, which are again not a natural resource)...would be protein. And carbohydrates. Pretty much, just like the fact that the only place you'd fight over in space are life-supporting planets, the big commodity in space would be the products of the biosphere you originated from. Even synthetic nutrients would require equipment the average asteroid miner wouldn't be able to afford, in terms of either space or money.

    Of course, that doesn't actually mean space colonization would have to be wholly state-controlled (nobody but an idiot or a libertarian—but I repeat myself—actually believes that anything is a dichotomous choice between "state" and "individual"). It would actually, as I think I've mentioned, be on the basis usually found in conditions where survival is hard, e.g. the mores and customs of subsistence-farming villagers, who are not a state but who are also under no obligation to help anyone who doesn't play by their rules. And their rules are the very opposite of the ones usually depicted in science fiction.
  • I think the problem with a whole bunch of comic stories along the lines of "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?", made into the animated movie "Superman vs. The Elite", is that they tend to be idiot plots, where Clark refuses to make his argument until it's much too late. I realize that that prevents your story from happening, but then, that's why we call it an Idiot Plot.

    I mean, all he has to say is, "Dude, I can rip your arm off with two fingers. A terrifying alien monster that can turn you into mist faster than your eyes can perceive, is holding himself bound by your rules. And you're bitching about it? What do you think will happen, when I give myself the right to pass judgment on those of you who don't measure up to the standard of an untiring borderline-immortal whose endocrine system is almost entirely under his conscious control?"
  • Of course the other issue is, as the first seasons of the animated Batman realize but no other DC content since, heroes should say, not, "We can't kill (people like the Joker)" since at some point it pretty much becomes criminal negligence. Instead they should say, "I won't kill. That's for the courts. If you as a community decide to give the Joker the chair, the needle, or the gas-chamber, I won't shed any tears, but I'm not in the business of extrajudicial executions." (Or, "The fact we don't perform extrajudicial executions is the nice, legally-clear, liability-averting thing that separates the Justice League from any common lynch-mob.")

    And seriously, there is no legitimate excuse for the Joker to not get the death penalty; he's not psychotic, he didn't believe himself to be acting in self-defense. He's just freaking evil, and he's personally murdered more people than Che Guevara, without the aid of an entire totalitarian state's military and police to bring him victims. Plus? There's no reason he can't be constantly breaking out of Death Row instead of out of Arkham. Hell, coming up with ever more stringent security for him, and then ever crazier ways for him to get out anyway, is something relatively easy that adds interest automatically, like "What'll be the Riddler's clue this time?" or "What kind of constructs does this Green Lantern use in a given situation, and how and why are they different from the ones that Green Lantern would use?"


In RE: Previous

Addenda to the last one.
  • I'm not going to modify the narrative much, but I have decided that zled kinship will incorporate a bunch of different birth-order terms, as well as general "sibling" terms. There'll be a slight difference, in that the specific ones mean both "elder/younger sibling" and "whichever order of child", depending on who they're used in relation to.

    The beta or whatever of a wolf pack, after all, is the beta to both the alpha and the gamma, with the hierarchy-terminology independent of the place of any individual member. It's like how the same person is "offspring" relative to their parents and "sibling" relative to their siblings, but is, say, first lieutenant to both their colonel and their sergeant.

    Late addendum (to addendum): I guess the short way to put it is that "sibling" and "parent" explicitly describe the relationship, while "alpha" and "beta" (or "colonel" and "lieutenant") only implicitly describe it.
  • Realized I don't have the technical know-how to make my own laser ideas from scratch, so I'm borrowing other ideas. Part of this, since that's what my sources use, means they're near-infrared rather than mid, and thus can have much more normal lens material (probably not glass though). One thing I discovered, and which is weird, is that since they don't shoot something that's affected by gravitational pulls (but is affected by the space-time distortion that causes gravity), lasers' range actually depends, in part at least, on the target material. It's much easier to burn flesh than steel so "effective range" for a laser beam depends on the target.

    Another thing is, lasers are basically cameras, they don't need feed mechanisms from magazines. They also don't have recoil so, while they do need some way to steady them, they don't require a full-size stock. This allows me to radically change the design of zled guns, which if you recall I'd had look like Winchester-Henry-Marlin rifles and old Smith and Wesson break-top revolvers. Now, though? I'm thinking quite a different set of guns, taking my "deceptively primitive-looking" idea, with zled tech, a step further. Namely? Matchlocks. Lasers that look kinda like Tanegashima matchlocks!
  • I decided to go with moderately lower-capacity batteries for the lasers, because it makes the issue of "every battery is like a grenade" less daunting. Possibly of more significance, I didn't want to change the number of shots per load that I'd written when they were still guns. But 1.6 kJ per shot, 18 shots per battery, gives 28.8 kJ, or the equivalent of 6.34 g of TNT—the propellant load of a single round of .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. A 50-shot, same power long laser (which has increased range due to having greater depth of field) still only has 80 kJ, 17.6 g of TNT, 4 rounds of 7 mm Remington Magnum.

    Also, though, humans have roughly the same issue—it's hard to make all 30 rounds of our ammo go off because you've pretty much got to strike the primer to ignite the propellant. But with caseless ammo, the heat-sink of the casing is no longer there (there are other issues with that that I've gone over), and a good hit with a laser might cause the ammo to cook off in the magazine, simultaneously exploding and sending all the bullets flying at once (presumably into the weapon's wielder's arm or hand).
  • My guns' caseless ammo is electronically-fired (the G11's isn't, oddly). I was wondering what the difference was between the electronic guns' batteries, and those of the zled lasers, so I did some research. The only electronically fired gun that exists just now, the Voere VEC-91, uses two 15-volt batteries (Eveready 504s, from what I can find). Given 30 volts and a current of 216 coulombs (I looked it up), those batteries have an energy of 3.24 kJ...which is the equivalent of .7 grams of TNT.

    Yeah, the humans' guns are in no danger from their batteries—it's the 205 kJ (45 g of TNT), plus 30 pieces of expressly-designed-to-kill-you shrapnel, in every 30-round magazine, that they have to worry about. (Or 90 g of TNT in a 60-round casket magazine.)


Sierra Foxtrot 4

Thoughts on SF.
  • It occurs to me that zled kinship terms, involving compounds consisting of "relation + sex", are—entirely by accident!—essentially the notation used by ethologists in describing pack-structures. The alpha male and alpha female (note the elements involved) are the parents; the beta male and beta female are (usually) the eldest son and eldest daughter, and so on.

    I am torn as to whether I ought to actually change the narrative to address this. I personally dislike aliens being described primarily in ethological terms, because it tends to lead to shallow aliens that simply behave like their eco-niche, rationality secondary. On the other hand the shallow critics always get offended when your aliens are too much like humans (though that tends to involve wholly unsupported assumptions about the variability of human culture, let alone how different aliens would be).

    I suppose I shall have to please myself and not the critics; I don't have to live with them.
  • Apparently there is an idea, I've run across it in online discussions and brushed the edge of it in the spaceship rules of various SF RPGs, that there are ships in science fiction that don't run on rockets. Which, except for the relatively few reactionless drives, is poppycock. Outside of some very technical definitions, "rocket" means anything propelled by the expulsion of a heated exhaust—if it's got glowy things on the back and they even ostensibly push it, it is a rocket. The exhaust could be pure light, but a photon rocket is still a rocket, which is probably why they call it that. The Enterprise is a rocket, using antimatter as fuel and the byproducts of matter-antimatter annihilation as a propellant (despite the fact there's no reason not to use the warp-drive as a slower-than-light drive). Every ship in Star Wars is a rocket, using ion engines in a manner widely known to be physically impossible. Every ship in Firefly is a rocket, though for some reason they can negate their rest-mass with their artificial gravity tech (but cannot use that tech directly as an engine?). The ships of the Covenant are rockets, which use exotic matter with negative mass as a propellant to impart extra exhaust velocity.

    Notice, two of those things, the Star Trek and Firefly ones (i.e. the two shows in the category "formulaic hackneyed children's program by an overrated vapid ideologue whose cult of personality always blames third parties for their Dear Leader's very real failings"), don't actually need rockets. It's actually much easier to use any model of warp-drive space-time you care to name as an STL drive than as an FTL one, you don't have the massive energy requirements or the "naked singularity" issues. And while artificial gravity, if you happen to be able to get it, can do a lot of things (people in my books bleed off the force of their accelerations into the surrounding space-time, while still using rockets), I know of no models of it that can actually negate rest-mass—certainly of no models that can do that that can't also be used as an engine in their own right. Any gravity-control that can negate rest-mass can almost certainly also directly induce an inertial vector. Much less rarefied models of gravity control can be used as engines, for instance the Kzin gravity planer, which pretty much just makes things "fall" in the desired direction (until it amps the "gradient" back down).
  • There is a future history that made a very bold move, bold almost to the point of offensiveness, but it's seldom been either praised or blamed for it, because that move is concealed from much of its audience. Namely, there is a major science fiction franchise with a eugenicist-to-the-point-of-genocide totalitarian state...that names most of its weapons in Hebrew. We just didn't notice because "Zion", the name of this state, is usually Romanized as "Zeon"...because that's how it's pronounced in Hebrew. No, seriously, look at the names of Zeon mobile suits. "Zaku" ("Zach"), "Elmeth", "Aggai", "Z'Gok", "Zudah", "Gouf M'Quve"—all of those sound a hell of a lot like Semitic languages, and I can find Hebrew meanings for several of 'em (and I barely know how to look up Hebrew).

    Now, I wouldn't necessarily say this is related to the fact that Japan is the one place outside the Islamic world where "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" sells well. It's entirely possible that Kill 'Em All Tomino was just doing the obvious inverts-your-expectations thing, and had his Space Nazis be Jewish. Japan's Jewish population is roughly on par with its "clairvoyant albino" population (lower, if we count fiction), so Tomino wouldn't have been raised to be sensitive to the juxtaposition; to him it would probably look only about as offensive as having a black-dominated America that discriminates against whites, which was pretty much "combo platter #3" for science fiction writers in the late 70s.
  • I had considered having the pistols in my SF books shoot small caliber, hard rounds, like the ones shot by the FN Five-seveN pistol (which has 20 rounds in a somewhat smallish pistol). The Five-seveN shoots the same rounds as FN's P90 PDW/SMG ("PDW" is "personal defense weapon", the kind of thing you see a lot of, for instance, helicopter crews carrying—hence probably why the Air Force SG teams in the Stargate shows use P90s), chambered in FN's in-house produced 5.7×28mm. It's got its advantages, after all, and "small caliber pistols" seem to be a trend in a lot of science fiction.

    But...the thing is, the Russian Serdyukov Vektor pistol holds 18 rounds, and it's chambered in 9×19 mm Luger—or in a special hardened anti-armor 9 mm round, 9×21 mm Gyurza. You're gonna see a lot more of that second thing, and its NATO equivalents, as the armies of the world start equipping all their guys with body armor (and start fighting each other, rather than terrorist brigands, again). There doesn't seem to be much reason to start using small-caliber ammo—against unarmored opponents, who would come up a lot in a law-enforcement context, 9 mm is about as small as you wanna go—and the 9×21 mm can load from most of the same magazines as standard Luger rounds (actually NATO's just gonna start making AP variants of Luger, not borrow the Russian one).
  • Is it possible to have science fiction RPGs that don't take place in either a space-opera universe or one with only humans? I ask because the milieu of a lot of RPGs, regardless of genre, is basically borrowed from D&D, but the convention of that kind of setting RE: other races—the local blacksmith is a dwarf, the most popular bard in the kingdom is a half-elf, the thieves' guild is run by a halfling who has his gnome friend make all their tools—is intrinsically space-opera, if you move it out of a fantasy setting. You can't really have that kind of thing, much, when half the things on an elf's plate will poison you and your food might as well be Yuuji's Diet Coke and jellied agar for all the sustenance it'll give him.

    And that really is what aliens would be like. Anyone who complains about "upright quadruped" aliens, but not about the fact they can eat human food, is simply straining gnats and swallowing camels. As I said, it's an uphill battle to come up with reasons for humans and aliens to fight; it's at least as difficult to come up with reasons for them to trade. They can't eat your food. Your clothes wouldn't fit them and might be hideously allergenic. The only things I can think of are possibly related to fine handicrafts, artwork, etc., and by extension media, but monkeys have radically different taste in music from us and we diverged from them probably under 25 million years ago. There is the free exchange of ideas, but unfortunately, that exchange tends to be free as in beer as much as it is free as in speech. Plus, what would be the demand?

    It's very difficult to come up with a way for aliens to interact with humans in an RPG context that doesn't break the suspension of disbelief. Maybe it'd be workable if the game was more like the old World of Darkness, as written rather than as actually played, with the emphasis on intrigue rather than on shoot-and-loot.
  • What's with all the far future settings—I mean like the ones set more than a millennium in the future—where everyone has our names? Not only names we recognize as being from our language, but names assigned to the same sex of bearer and applied by the same socio-economic principles? 1000 years ago a lot fewer people were named Muhammad, and just about nobody was named Mary (it was held too sacred to be given as a name, just like Jesus was—the Spanish were awarded the right to name their children Jesús as a reward for Lepanto).

    And yet you go to the far off year 3127, and the salt of the earth rugged individualist (who somehow has failed to note that he depends on the gubmint for his air) is still gonna be named Jed. The black dude is still gonna be named Tyrone (which is, by the way, Latin for "n00b", I suggest we retire it as a personal appellation). The corporate shark lawyer—because those, which pretty much came into being in the late 1970s, will totally still exist in the 32nd century—is still gonna be named Leonard, with the vague implication he's concealing the name Lev so as to pass for a goy. Why? Stop it! Five or six centuries is fine, people in the 15th and 16th centuries were named much like we are, but past that?

    If cultural shift doesn't radically alter what names you give, linguistic shift will make them sound completely different. No language now existing was recognizable as itself (and not as simply related to itself) 1000 years ago, except ones that were already dead and fossilized like Latin, Sanskrit, and Hebrew (and other than Sanskrit, nobody pronounced those like they'd been pronounced while they were still alive). English still had cases back then, and ð, ƿ, æ, and þ were part of the alphabet! Sound recording might slow linguistic change, but it doesn't stop it—and we can only with difficulty understand the transitional form between Middle and Early Modern English (which, if we assume sound recording slows drift by half, is where 1000 years puts us).
  • Have you noticed how cheap anti-gravity always is, even in settings put forth by their partisans as "hard"? Mass Effect and Firefly would be the two big offenders; Firefly, as I think I've mentioned, has people cheerfully working under floating sleds as if they were propped up on tire-jacks, but, uh, if it's pushing up with enough force to make what's basically a utility trailer float, it's also pushing down with as much force as the trailer would. Mass Effect has people inducing what are canonically gravitational distortions from within their own bodies, without so much as having to eat more (like, five or six sticks of dynamite) afterwards.

    The fact of the matter is that anything you could do to distort space-time would, realistically, be on the order of nuclear fusion—if so convenient, since we can produce nuclear fusion very easily (in devices no bigger than a backyard barbecue), albeit not safely nor as a sustained reaction. Living tissue generally prefers to be good and far away from anything like that; aside from the risk of whatever energies are released (simply as byproducts) by whatever phenomenon you're getting your anti-grav from, is the fact most of the theoretical possibilities prefer vacuum. I suppose theoretically you might produce the Casimir effect in a Thermos bottle, but you probably couldn't manipulate much gravity with it.
  • Which leads me to conclude that my metric-patching guns are an awful lot of tech for small arms; I'm taking a much more serious look at lasers. Armor will actually have some effect on them, as much as on bullets. One thing I thought was interesting is this, from the Atomic Rockets' discussion of the idea:
    Assuming a worst case of 5 kilojoules per shot and a rechargeable magazine containing 50 shots, the magazine is packing 250 kilojoules. This is the equivalent of ... 55 grams of TNT (For comparison purposes, a standard 8 inch stick of dynamite is about 208 grams and hand grenades used by the US Army have explosive charges of 56 to 226 grams of TNT).
    True, but keep in mind, a given soldier is carrying around about 45 g TNT-equivalent explosive just by picking up an M4 with a 30-round STANAG magazine—5.56 NATO rounds generally use about a gram and a half of propellant, and nitrocellulose propellant is almost exactly as explosive as TNT. Admittedly, it's harder to make all 30 go off at once, but on the other hand there's less lethal shrapnel when a laser's battery explodes.
  • I figure, on zled handguns ("hand lasers"?), I'm gonna go with about 18 shots per "magazine" (i.e., battery). Long guns ("long lasers") would be stronger, of course, since they have more depth of field, and they might get more battery-life from the volume of their batteries. An interesting thing is that a laser-weapon's "barrel" is actually its optical cavity, and its "muzzle" is actually its output coupler (and it ends in a lens). Which, huh, wonder if I should add some stuff about lens caps for the lasers (I suppose being holstered, or sheathed in the case of the long ones, will protect the lens okay).

    I think the beam itself will be in the mid-infrared (near-infrared and near-ultraviolet can have harmful effects when they reflect; far ultraviolet prefers to only exist in vacuum; far infrared has diffraction issues). The lenses would have to be made of something like the flourides of zirconium, thorium, or barium (all of which can form glasses), since normal glass (and clear plastic) are opaque to IR. (No, that doesn't have armor applications—human flesh is opaque to red light, what happens when you shoot it with a red laser?) IR also has relatively short range, especially in atmosphere, so you don't have to worry about knocking satellites out of orbit with it.

    They'll definitely be pulsed lasers rather than long play-over-the-target ones. Pulsed lasers perform more like gunshots—down to producing similar wounds—which is much easier to write (and rewrite) around.


Who Are You?

(It probably helps to know that kid in the clip is an evil god who likes to toy with people before murdering them.)

This article, about how atheists almost universally argue against a God who's actually just a god, just a being rather than Being, reminded me of something a little weird and frivolous. (I wouldn't read the comments on that article unless you want to see very impolite atheists make the author's point for him.)

Namely, in Slayers (I believe it comes up in the anime but they don't go into any detail, but definitely in the books), Lina's version of the Giga Slave, based on her translation of a fragment of the Claire Bible, has the line, "混沌の海にたゆたいし 金色なりし闇の王/Konton no umi ni tayutaishi, konjiki narishi yami no Ô/Golden king of darkness drifting upon the Sea of Chaos".

But then, when she actually "reads" the Claire Bible itself—or rather is infused with the memories of the Water Dragon King, which are the Claire Bible in its original form—she modifies the invocation. Her second version says, "混沌の海よ たゆたいし存在 金色なりし闇の王/Konton no umi, tayutaishi sonzai, konjiki narishi yami no Ô/Golden king of darkness, drifting being, Sea of Chaos"—because the Lord of Nightmares is not something that can drift upon the Sea of Chaos, she is the Sea of Chaos, because she's the Ground of Being of the setting's pantheistic cosmology, and all things, including the gods and demons as well as the Four Worlds they fight over, were brought forth from her.

How sad is it, though, that a book series whose target audience is in middle school, from a country where people go to their temples exactly once a year (plus births and funerals), has more understanding of natural theology than people who dedicate their lives to attempting to refute other people's religion? The significance of L being "Mother of All Things", as Xelloss calls her, is more or less irrelevant to Slayers, it's something I doubt 9/10 of people pick up on even when they're seen the novels as well as the show, but seriously, Kanzaka put more philosophical work into what is pretty much a MacGuffin than Anglophone atheists put into their whole worldview.


More of the Same

More random thoughts.
  • It occurs to me, given the two meanings of Latin carus and its descendents (cher and caro), that caritas has the base meaning of "valuation". Carus and its reflexes mean both "beloved" and "expensive", so plainly "valuation" is the domain that caritas pertains to. And consider: what is Christian charity, if not constantly keeping before your mind the infinite value of each person, as the image of God? That is what all the "charitable" precepts, from almsgiving to forgiveness to evangelization, spring from.

    (And when it's asked why we value others for the image of God, and not themselves, we reply that we only value ourselves for our imaging of God—or put another way we only value ourselves because of our experience of existence. "Image of God" is the same as saying "self-awareness capable of conceiving of existence", cf. Summa Theologica Pt. I, Q. 93, Art. 6.)
  • Recently watched an anime called PSYCHO-PASS. It's future dystopia police drama in a Judge Dredd-meets-Minority Report kinda way, and the whole time I'm thinking "shades of Gil Hamilton" (although organlegging ain't just the stuff of science fiction anymore).

    I really like the cultural setting and props—how, for instance, people go to offline meetups in holo-cosplay of their virtual avatars, and everyone's furniture (and, it seems, their clothes) is some basic utilitarian thing dressed up by holograms. It's especially cool in the scene where they turn the hologram on in a dead guy's house, and there's a hologram couch only half overlapping the real one...because the couch was moved. It's probably the coolest science fiction cop series I've ever seen.

    If the central conceit seems farfetched to you, don't worry, they do explain it. Also the ending could've been better, but it could've been a lot worse.
  • It would be fun, if anyone were actually concerned with justice in the historiography of science (so, in a perfect imaginary dream-world), to rename the three laws of motion to reflect reality, rather than Isaac Newton's lies. Only the third (any body acted upon exerts an equal force on the body acting upon it) is Newton's. The second (the acceleration of a body is directly proportional to, and in the direction of, the net force acting upon it, and inversely proportional to its mass) is Descartes's—hence why Newton very carefully went over his notes and erased all reference to Descartes. And the first (in an inertial reference frame, an object is either at rest or moving at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force), is Jean Buridan's, who died in probably the early 1360s.

    Now, Newton cleaned up a lot of the sawdust from Descartes's and Buridan's formulations of those principles, and related them to Kepler's laws of planetary motion, so that's not to say Newton was just a plagiarist. He was only occasionally a plagiarist, and he built and improved upon what he stole. Plus Descartes was probably asking for it for having ripped off his coordinate system from Buridan's student Nicol Oresme. Newton also got his Nemesis (she sees all and hears all, and men do groan beneath her righteous chains) in the form of that ugly dispute with Leibniz over calculus, although neither one could ever really establish himself as having definitively had the idea first, which may not be quite as satisfying as one having plagiarized the other and then getting credit for what he stole, as Newton did to Descartes, but the frustration they both endured is certainly a sufficiently Sisyphean fate.
  • It's really weird, but a lot of people seem outright offended by the idea that marriage is primarily a sexual relationship. This came to my attention discussing gay marriage; I pointed out that strictly speaking a gay couple can never have "sexual intercourse" as biologists define the term, and the other guy freaked out and accused me of thinking marriage is just about sex. But...marriage is sex. (Seriously, the Sacrament of Matrimony? Not the wedding, bud.) Everything else about it follows from sex, it is the form "mated pair" takes for a sapient species, and what exactly is "mating"?

    I kinda think a lot of people don't think of sex as a biological imperative. Sure, they think they need it (and at an individual level you actually don't), but they don't think of what "biological imperative" actually means, or the reason that that particular thing is one—or indeed, it's the origin of all the others, but nobody seems to ask themselves how or why that's so. If sex was food they wouldn't even see the joke, much less get it, in that gag in Baka Test where Yuuji buys all that food for himself, then tells Akihisa he bought food for him too—diet cola, konjac jelly, and jellied agar. (Total calories: 0.)
  • I think I might have to work in a reference, in my SF, to the fact that each individual function of the brain is basically an independent "weak" AI. Every single thing you do is essentially processed by a separate computer system specialized in that one area, with hundreds of times more situational-analysis capability than the very state of the art in our computer science. And that's not even bringing in cognition, which is something else entirely.

    The fact that the dumb lizard in charge of your fight-or-flight response is, in actual fact, a program of complexity exceeding the greatest our computer science can achieve, and that by orders of magnitude, is important perspective for the excessively sanguine predictors of mind-uploading. We can just about program situational analysis on par with a rather impaired reptilian hindbrain—can the greatest heights of human cognition be far behind?!
  • The real problem with Wikipedia is not that anyone can edit it; it's that they sometimes can't. The article on medieval cuisine is currently a collection of screeds by people that would like to keep calling that era the Dark Ages—with "dark" as a euphemism for a racial slur starting with N. It's because exactly two books, by literature professors not historians, are used as the source; and any time you edit it to look less like Humberto Fontova on Castro (except Fontova is fact-checked), and more like non-polemical academic history, the change gets deleted.

    The other example of how Wikipedia doesn't get edited when it needs to, is, if you want the ranks and insignia of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, yeah, you're gonna have to hunt around a bit, 'cause the Wikipedia article? It's got the English and the kanji, but romanized Japanese? Nope. The formatting for those tables is such a nightmare that that thing is pretty much never gonna get fixed. I was gonna do it myself, I opened the edit window and everything—and then ran away from a giant dense morass of weird code. I don't even think those are normal Wikipedia tables.

    Eventually I did find the International Encylopedia of Uniform Insignia, although finding the Air and Maritime JSDF was kinda a hassle (that link's just Ground). Fortunately, Asia doesn't have branch-specific ranks; just change "Riku" (ground) in the army ranks to "Kai" (sea) to get naval ranks and to "Kû" (sky) to get air-force.
  • In my previous post I described Buddhism as having its "πάντα ῥεῖ" atomism/nominalism "closely bound up" with metempsychosis. But I understated the case. India does not have atomism "closely bound up" with metempsychosis; its atomism-nominalism is functionally identical with metempsychosis.

    This is another thing I realized in that fateful debate with a Hare Krishna that made a Thomist of me. See, he argued that one cannot disbelieve in reincarnation, because at every moment the mind inhabits new bodies. Much like the question "Do you ever step in the same river twice?", in his view—which is the version of atomism found throughout Indian thought—the changing traits of the body, as it is subjected to decay and regeneration, utterly annihilated the very concept of "the same body".

    This troubled me greatly; I found myself falling back on dimly-remembered, half-understood Thomistic formulations about essence and accidents, simply to assert that things are themselves moment by moment, no matter what their parts do. This is, by the bye, the essence of Aristotelianism, its shahada; if you're not a mitigated realist you do not follow the Philosopher.
  • Finally, another anime I recently saw is (the anime of the game) Sengoku Basara. It rocks. Aside from that being what warfare in a D&D setting probably looks like (a bunch of spear-carriers and a couple lunatics with lightning bolts), it's just so damn cool. "Hot blooded" is a thing I tend to favor in a character, and Sengoku Basara has it in spades; they should've named the series "Testosterone: The Animated Series" (I guess the games should be "Testosterone: The Game"?). It's probably best if you think of the thing as taking place in Valhalla; if you try to compare it to real history you'll hurt yourself.

    I especially like the scene where Yukimura claims the burning of a man's soul outlasts the dissolution predicted in Buddhist cosmology—yeap, he claims to be too macho for the Three Marks of Conditioned Existence. And the part where Oda Nobunaga (played with appropriate levels of arrogance by Wakamoto Norio) introduces himself as "The darkness in men's hearts given human shape." And just anything with Date Masamune or the rest of the Date clan, really, like how they mostly don't wear helmets, except for Masamune himself, because it'd mess up their pompadours—or how Masamune's horse has handlebars on its bridle and novelty tailpipes on its stirrups.