Measure, and Number, and Weight

Reference to the last part of Wisdom 11:20 or 11:21—different versions seem to divide the verse in different spots. It was a very popular verse in the Middle Ages (because there was a reason they invented science), and led to illustrations like this one, in the Toledo Bible.

Thoughts upon, well, measures, and numbers, and weight.
  • In light of those newer numbers for the Crusades, I've redone that comparison I did a while back, comparing the Crusades' death-toll to that of World War II. They still would've had to kill 8.25 million people to depopulate the world to the same extent; 2 million instead of 1.5 million brings them to 24% the global-depopulation rate of World War II, and 163 years instead of 300 means the Crusades took 27 times as long, not 50 times. That means our optimism, as people that fought World War II, is only 112.1 times as naïve as that of the medievals, as people who fought the Crusades, not 275 times.

    But again, human life is not subject to economic scarcity, since every person that dies is unique (i.e., scarcity is always total for every human being). If Alice lives in a city of 50,000 people, and Bob lives in a city of 6 million, it's not 120 times worse if Alice kills someone than if Bob does. The fact is that 35 times as many people were deliberately or negligently killed by World War II as were killed by the Crusades, and the Crusades were 163 years long, vs. six, so that "35 times as much slaughter" actually translates to "950 times (!!) the rate of killing".

    While I'm at it, 2 million dead in 163 years of Crusades plus 3.3 million dead in 116 years of Hundred Years (Rounded Down) War, comes to 5.3 million dead in 279 years. Meanwhile the Thirty Years (On the Dot) War killed about 7.25 million (taking the average of the estimates). I.e., the definitive "Enlightenment" conflict killed 37% more people, in 10.75% as long, i.e. at 12.7 times the rate, as the two biggest medieval wars, combined.
  • Speaking of death tolls, apparently the Mongol conquest estimates should be revised sharply downward, since a lot of the assumptions involve "reductions between Chinese censuses" and it's obviously difficult to take a census of territories you lost to the Horde. Apparently a more realistic number is 15 million between 1206 and 1368, which still comes to 7.5 times as much killing as the Crusades. It's 2.83 times as much killing as "the Crusades and Hundred Years War combined", in 58% as long, which comes to 4.87 times the kill rate.

    The Mongols were actually less killtacular than Hideyoshi's invasion of Joseon Korea—half as killtacular, in fact, they killed 13 and 7/11 times as many people in 27 times as long, which comes to 50/99 or just under 51% as much killing over time. Which means the old number is only 1/99, or just over 1%, higher than Hideyoshi's kill rate! (Well, half the dead in that war, c. 90% of them Koreans, were killed by the Chinese—who were Korea's ally at the time—but still, it shows that the Mongols weren't unusually kill-crazed for Asia. Hideyoshi's ambition was to march roughshod over China and put a Japanese dynasty in place, if it'd taken him 162 years he would've done it, except the Chinese and Yi Sunshin stopped him at Joseon.)

    Suddenly Hideyoshi's treatment in Sengoku Basara doesn't seem so over-the-top. "The world you would create has no room for anyone but soldiers."
  • Remember couple years ago, when I said the decimal equivalents of the sevenths-fractions don't matter to anyone but Bungee employees? It's true, but hang on a minute.

    I found out, the sevenths, as decimals, have a very weird property. Namely? They all have the same digits. Having a denominator that's a prime number that is not a factor of the numerical base (in base-fourteen they'd be expressed the same way the fifths are in decimal), their decimal expression is repeating. But they always repeat the same six digits, and five of them are "7", "14", and "28" (the last one is "5", for some reason, possibly having to do with the numerical base being 2×5).

    1/7 is (0.)"142857" repeating, 2/7 is (0.)"285714" repeating, 3/7 is (0.)"428571" repeating (every time after that, notice, the "4" is preceded by "1", i.e. "14"), 4/7 is (0.)"571428" repeating, 5/7 is (0.)"714285" repeating, and 6/7 is (0.)"857142" repeating (again, every time after the first the "8" is preceded by "2"). And like I said, in base-14 they'd be .2, .4, .6, .8, .A, and .C (or however you write "ten" and "twelve" when "10" and "12" represent fourteen and sixteen, respectively).
  • A search of the blog suggests I haven't mentioned it, but I changed the zled measurements to be based around 120, rather than 144, "long hundreds" instead of grosses. Because zledo have ten fingers and therefore will also like fives and tens, and 120 is divisible by almost every number 144 is (except 9 and 16, since it's not the square of the product of their roots), but 144 isn't divisible by 5 or 10.
  • One thing that always strikes me as odd is that often, the "older", more "primitive" ships in many SF settings are smaller. But, look at Project Daedalus or Longshot or the Frisbee antimatter-rocket—these things are huge! They have to carry everything along with them, they're civilization-defining works on par with the Great Wall of China or the entire US Interstate highway-system. As space-travel gets easier, especially if your setting includes FTL, ships won't have to carry as much, since they're no longer setting up in the Great Unknown with no help available for decades. The newer ships would probably, in general, be smaller.

    Size, of course, would ultimately be determined by function. Entry vehicles are space-planes, system-ships have to be able to hold the tankage for voyages of several AU (or rather, to accelerate to a speed where those voyages are relatively convenient). Starships' size will be determined by how you have interstellar travel work—in mine, for instance, there's FTL, but you have to get out to a given range from a star (roughly the semimajor axis of Pluto's orbit, for Sol) or your space-fold will cause topological defects. So the starships are huge, with massive tankage, so they can get out to a distance of dozens of AUs in a timely manner.
  • Remember a few posts back, when I said a zled the same size as a human would weigh 104 kilos, thanks to his extra muscle mass? Yeah, but, some of you probably thought (I would've), zledo aren't the same size as humans, they're bigger. So what're the real numbers?

    An average male zled stands 194 centimeters with his heels flat, and weighs 147 kilos. That is the average height and weight on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. An average female zled stands 175 centimeters with her heels flat, and weighs 97 kilos, which is toward the smaller end of women's Olympic shot-putters, e.g. Elisângela Adriano.

    Of course, raw height-to-weight numbers don't tell the whole story; not even percent muscle-mass does that. A male puma, for example, is about the same size as an average female human, and about three-quarters more of its mass is made up of muscle (a bit over 60% compared to c. 36%—we'll say 63% vs 36% to make the ratio tidy). An average woman, however, not only cannot jump over a six-foot fence while carrying a golden retriever, as a puma can, she isn't anywhere near being able to, forget about being four-sevenths of the way there, which is the difference of their muscle-masses.
  • Apparently archaeologists actually find all the traces of "behavioral modernity" in Homo sapiens-associated sites at least as far back as the Middle Paleolithic. Details are here. However, the writer of that article seems to try to make the evidence say too much, claiming that the presence of these "modern" traits at older levels means there was no "behavioral modernity" revolution. But...notice how the "modernity" of those Middle Paleolithic (and maybe earlier) sites "appears at a few sites or for a few thousand years in one region or another, and then it vanishes"?

    But it doesn't vanish in the Upper Paleolithic. While there are always going to be survivals of older technology (the author of that paper teaches flintknapping), that doesn't affect the fact that "current" technology changes. While the "Upper Paleolithic Revolution" is not the sharp, sudden break it was once characterized as, and it certainly can't be attributed to a physiological change, the fact that what was once done only localized and temporarily was now done all over and on a sustained basis...is pretty much what we mean by "revolution", actually. People had had factories from Roman times, and medieval Europe had mechanical saws and cam-driven automated hammers . But it wasn't the basis of their whole system of manufacture, which is why we call the "Industrial Revolution" a revolution.

    One gets the definite impression that article is claiming more than the data actually support, possibly because "there was no Upper Paleolithic Revolution" sounds more like a breakthrough than "behavioral modernity is not an all-or-nothing proposition, but the gradual adoption, on a widespread, longterm basis, of practices that had previously been isolated and sporadic". Nuance is the bane of a press-release, although some claim to find a use for it in academic discourse. Which one is science-writing supposed to be, again?
  • The size-difference between the zled sexes, with females c. 66% the mass of males, is unheard of for mammals that mate for life, as zledo and their close relatives do (they're basically jackals, even though they look like cats). But zledo are not mammals—they're only even animals in the Aristotelian sense, since "animals" as modern biology defines the concept have DNA (there is, by the way, a taxonomic level higher than "kingdom"—"biosphere"). Anyway there are monogamous birds, the raptors, with that ratio of size-dimorphism—it's just the females that are bigger. Among the several theories as to why female raptors are bigger than males, the theory that seems most applicable to the opposite size-ratio is that smaller males are more agile, and thus more able to catch birds (bird-hunting raptors have the greatest size-dimorphism), which they bring to their brooding mates. Presumably, therefore, zled males being larger could evolve to let them take more of some type of prey ("which they bring to their brooding nursing mates"), which thus conferred an evolutionary advantage.

    Of course, you can explain anything as conferring an evolutionary advantage, even opposite traits; that facet of Darwinian analysis sometimes leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In one of the short stories on my DeviantArt account, over there on the right, that is explicitly identified as the analysis of the zled scientists, who happen also to be monks; I do not mention it but they do actually add the caveat that that would be a theory of how "males bigger than females" is selected for in a monogamous species, if it is. As Stephen Jay Gould was known to point out—the "cosmogonic 'just-so story' myth" form of Darwinian analysis famously irritated him—some traits that aren't actually selected for may "piggy-back" with traits that are. Gould even had a name for such traits, "spandrels", by analogy with an architectural feature, the triangular area at the margin of an arch. Spandrels are commonly decorated, but they do not exist as a decorative element—they exist because of the nature of arches and domes. (I don't know that any size-dimorphism, in any species no matter what its mating strategy, is or is not a spandrel—but it could be. Bonobos, for example, have an even greater size-dimorphism than chimps, but bonobo males do not fight off rivals, while chimp males do. "Big males fighting off rivals" is commonly offered as the theory for chimp size-dimorphism, but what about bonobo dimorphism?)


Blastoff Is My Favorite Combaticon

Well, he's tied with Vortex and Swindle and, really, I guess, all of them; but this is a post about space, and they're not rockets. I love that he's tsundere—he pretends to hold non-space capable Decepticons in contempt, but he's actually just trying to console himself about being all alone up there. And hey, he probably saved them all, when Bruticus got knocked off the Ark.

Anyway, space thoughts. Oh, I also changed the blog font. I was getting tired of having letters with non-ASCII diacritics show up in Times New Roman.
  • One issue with the Firefly episode "Out of Gas" that I didn't get to, is that they realistically wouldn't need their main power to keep the air. If your tech is remotely up to it, you'd use passive systems to recycle your air, precisely so you wouldn't have problems like that—some kind of engineered algae in the vents is a popular SF choice. Since these people can terraform multiple planets to Earthlike conditions in less than 400 years, they can build passive air-recyclers. (They can also move the seventh moon of Saturn, but shhh, how dare you suggest that the physical requirements for a physical process are knowable!)

    You might still need fans going to circulate all your air through the passive recycler system, admittedly, but they really would have the fans on their own independent power supply (along with, probably, water purifiers). Again: spaceships are not cars. They are nuclear submarines. A breakdown doesn't mean "stranded", it means "dead, in any of several horrible ways", so "redundancy" and "failsafe" are two components of the name of the game (the game has a long name, like a Spanish aristocrat).
  • What is the deal with people just randomly taking a traditional fairy-tale, kaidan, or mythological plot, and re-labeling the fairies, yokai, or gods as "aliens"? Space isn't magic. While you could just barely get away with "these 'aliens' are actually descended from ancient humans/hominids harvested from earth by another species", a lot of people seem to think you can have actual aliens that can pass for human in good light. You can't. You want to tell stories about fairies, man up and tell stories about fairies. You want to have aliens, then while "approximately humanoid" isn't terribly unlikely, "can wear our clothes other than hats and sarongs" is.

    As I think I've mentioned before, Japan, for some reason, is the worst about this. Their aliens are either giant-monster wholly incomprehensible Eldritch Abominations (which, again, are demons with the VIN numbers melted off) or just humans with maybe funny ears or forehead tattoos. Then again their supernatural fiction also often posits that the yokai are products of the human heart, and that's crap, except for a certain category of ghosts and things-sorta-like-ghosts. Phenomenological anthropocentrism is odious; why do people have such trouble with the idea that there can be things in the world that are like us, but are not related to us?

    It might be related to the fact that Japan, while they'll often surprise you with their knowledge of foreign cultures, will just as often shock you with their provincialism. Fundamentally, deep down, it kinda seems like they don't believe the rest of the world is real. (New Yorkers and English people seem to suffer from the same ailment, both with much less excuse—Japan is the only place its language is spoken, for example, that's not the case for Manhattan or Britain—so it might be an "island-dweller" thing.)
  • Saw Europa Report. It has a very good portrayal of space-travel, although I wonder about some details of their setup (and their total lack of propellant tanks). But the plot has some glaringly silly choices. E.g., a 2159 space mission is not going to be using inflated pressure suits, they're going to be using mechanical counterpressure suits—that guy whose suit gets cut will have a frost-bitten hickey, rather than having to scrub the whole EVA. Also RE: that scene, we're already investigating replacements for hydrazine, like 2-dimethylaminoethylazide or hydroxylamine nitrate, and besides, as someone on a forum put it, "hydrazine is poisonous, but it isn't VX nerve gas." Getting some on a spacesuit means "you might have some acid burns and respiratory scarring", not "we have to lock you outside the ship to suffocate".

    Also, if the radiation from Jupiter is of such concern (although, again, 2159 spacesuit designers don't have any new ideas?), why not go punch the ice on the far side of Europa? You guys do know Europa is tidally locked, right? One side of it always faces its planet, just like Luna, so if you're afraid of the planet's radiation, put 48 quintillion tons of, well, Europa, between you and that radiation. You only have to wait a quarter of a week for the sun to rise, rather than half a month, Europa's period is 3.5 Earth days. And why do they not have any rovers, either of the "schlepping us around" variety or of the "remote-controlled and can examine things" variety?

    Actually I know the answer to those questions: Rule of Scary, because Europa Report is a horror movie (maybe, being very generous, Rule of Melodrama). Why do science fiction movies have to be horror (that you might generously describe as melodrama)? When did we all decide that all our movies about space must be about how it's too dangerous and horrible up there, and only a fool would go (admittedly only a fool would do it the way they do it in this movie)? Paying lip-service to discovery means nothing when the actual emotional import of your film is "No don't look! There are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know!" Especially not when you express your lip-service in terms ("Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known, what does your life actually matter?") that sound like something Josef Mengele might ask, shortly before he starts reminding us how he got his nickname.
  • An interesting facet of writing aliens is, if they have different senses or sensory acuities from humans, aspects of their science change. For instance, in my own fiction, zledo have as good of night-vision as cats (an average of seven times as good as human)—which means they can see apparent-magnitude 8 with the naked eye (humans can only see 6). That means, among other things, they would've known about Neptune before the invention of the telescope. They also saw a lot more stars, although I'm not sure how that would effect their conception of the cosmos. E.g., the oft-repeated idea that Australian Aborigines' constellations are the dark areas rather than the light, because they see so many stars, is simplistic—they actually just sometimes list dark areas of visible nebulae as "constellations" (or more correctly "sky objects"), rather than just stars. (So did the ancient Eurasians, by the way, that's why we have a sky-object called the Milk Circle, Silver River, or Sky-Road of the Warriors, in Greece, China, and Hungary, respectively. Hungary totally wins.)

    Khângây can see near-UV, so their astronomy probably developed very differently from ours—for one thing, it's a lot harder to make lenses out of quartz, so all their early experiments in optics would probably involve, from their point of view, red-tinted images, since glass chops off half of the hundred-nanometer near-UV range (it can show 400-350 nm, but not 350-300 nm). They probably also would've discovered "Wood's glass" a lot sooner, though, so maybe they incorporated it into telescopes and avoided the red-tinting problem? I've been having a hard time finding out what would be different if you could see near-UV with the naked eye, because most discussion of ultraviolet in astronomy is about far-UV, which atmospheres of Earthlike planets are opaque to (good thing, too), so you need orbital cameras, most of them attached to telescopes, to view it.
  • A really cool concept in astronomy, although not as cool as its name, is a "peak of eternal light" (and relatedly, a "valley of eternal darkness"). What is this fantastical-sounding thing? It's exactly what it sounds like. A peak that's always in the light, or a valley that's always in the dark. You only find them near the poles of bodies with nearly no axial tilt.

    The Moon has a couple mountains that are close, although not quite (they spend 85% of the time in light, not counting the occasional eclipse by the Earth). Mercury might also have them, although we haven't mapped it well enough to be sure; if it does, they would never experience darkness, there's nothing to eclipse Mercury.

    I wonder if it also has to be tidally locked, like Mercury and the Moon are. Maybe not, the Moon has a day-night cycle (we call it the phases), because it's tidally locked to Earth, not to the Sun. Maybe a surface-structure qualifies as a PEL if some part of it is always in the light, rather than the whole thing? A perfectly conical mountain at a planet's rotational pole would probably qualify.
  • I've mentioned that space-communications are more likely to involve text than audio, since time-lag gets in the way further out than about Lunar orbit (1.28 light-seconds). Think how annoying even a 1.28 second delay between responses would be, for phones. Hell, most people text more than they call anyway, and social media has become a cornerstone of communication in just under a decade (c. 2006 or so); space-communications are likely to involve a somewhat more-formal version of Facebook status updates and comments.

    I say more formal because, again, realistically, spaceship crews will be government employees. The communications of civilian colonists will pretty much be Facebook, with all that that entails, but they'll probably be semi-segregated from the official communications. I think in my own work I might have people call that kind of communication "weibó", the genericized trademark from a Chinese site that's like a cross between Facebook and Twitter—maybe they use it as a verb, e.g. "We weibó once in a while but we haven't spoken in person in a long time." Actually, that only goes for in-system communication. Between systems, due to the limited number of FTL transmitters and the cost of bandwidth on them, people keep in touch by (e)mail, since even a huge mail service involves vastly less server-load than social-networking does.
  • Another thing brought to my attention by watching "Out of Gas" is that I very strongly dislike plot-points that only happen because of the writers' liberties with reality. Because a major factor in their air-supply issues, is a fire that started on the engine, and which they had to vent into space (taking much of their non-burned-away air with it). Bully for them, knowing that fire and air-supply are closely related things, and that a fire in a space environment can result in suffocation as well as burns. Give yourselves a big pat on the back.

    ...Of course, the whole thing would never have happened if they'd just designed the Serenity realistically. A major factor in realistic spaceships, the reason their engine and habitat sections are separated by a half-mile of truss-frame (generally with the propellant tanks attached to it), is so that what ought to be a relatively minor engine problem doesn't jeopardize the life-support! How do the engineers fix the engines, then? Waldoes, caveman, waldoes—your engineer works on the engines with robots, not only because the engine's at the other end of the ship, but because your engineer wants to avoid the radiation that is the reason it has to be on the other end of the ship.

    "Why must everyone avert their eyes from reality?"—Itano Ichirô, Gundam Sôsei.


I Didn't Bother to Think up a Title

More random thoughts.
  • The worldbuilding of the Hunger Games is fail in general, but I realized something. Katniss is a member of a rebellion against an unjustly stratified society, a champion of gladiatorial contests, and associates herself with the memory of one of a group of thirteen that is fallen.

    In other words, Katniss is Megatron, Champion of the Pits of Kaon who fought under the name of Megatronus, the Fallen, one of the Thirteen. The Hunger Games is plainly Decepticon propaganda (Suzanne Collins is presumably a hologram generated by Soundwave). The Mockingjay? Laserbeak. Plainly Laserbeak.
  • Searching the blog suggests I haven't mentioned this before, but if I have, scuzați. Anyway. The scuttlebutt among the half-educated is that the Grimm fairy tales are all dark and edgy, and all the adaptations bowdlerize them. The adaptations do take out some violence, but actually, the big bowdlerizer of Grimm is...the brothers Grimm. One of them, anyway. Which, I forget. But either Wilhelm or Jakob is the reason for all the evil stepmothers—in the original folktales many if not most of them were actual mothers, and that struck whichever brother as being too dark.

    The anthropologist in me wants to point out that those children being abandoned, e.g. in Hansel and Gretel, is a folk-memory of the real things people stoop to during famines. That's also the origin of the Jizô-cult that today is mostly associated with abortion, in Japan; they exposed infants during famines, and Jizô is the bodhisattva of the underworld and special patron both of dead children and of repentant killers. (That they bother to feel bad about infanticide at all puts them head and shoulders above the Greeks and Romans, not to mention many modern Westerners.)

    Also, though, if you want dark fairy tales, forget Grimm, Charles Perrault is your man. Several "Grimm's" fairy-tales show up in him first, including Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella—his book, the original "Mother Goose", was published in 1695, the Grimms published in 1812. And seriously, compare his versions with the Grimm ones. In almost every case, the Grimm one takes out lots and lots of sex and violence (and potty-humor).
  • Those who would spot sexism everywhere (I've been reading John C. Wright's blog-posts about "Strong Female Characters") are sometimes hampered by their ignorance. Actually, always, the whole point of spotting isms in things is to let you feel superior to other people without actually knowing anything. It's like being a witch-smeller without even the heavy lifting of knowing the Malleus Maleficarum.

    But, for example, it is often considered sexist to refer to a group of women casually as "girls"—supposedly, specifically, it is "infantilizing". It may be sexist to speak more informally of women than of men (you will hear it said that the reverse is also sexist, if not more sexist, but I invite you to find East Asia on a map), but "girls" certainly is not "infantilizing". Because, hey? Linguistic illiterates? "Girl" is not only the female equivalent of "boy", it does not only mean a child. It is also the female equivalent of "guy"—it also means "a person, as such"—or didn't you notice? ("Guy", by the way, could be argued by the Men's Rights weenie to be not merely infantilizing of men, but fully dehumanizing of them, coming as it does from the effigy of Guy Fawkes burned on November 5; it also happens to have meant "butt of a joke" in British English till well into the 20th century.)

    The thing usually called sexism does exist, although I also think most people who use the term "sexism" are ideologues, using a class-war narrative that makes hash of anything it analyzes, and mean by the word mostly "doubleplus ungood crimethink". Sex-discrimination (in the bad sense of "discrimination") does exist; it's also not a good thing. (It exists against men too, but frankly, it has to be much worse before men are allowed to complain about it. Man up.)
  • Michael Flynn, who comments on seemingly every blog I read as The OFloinn, had a series up, about how the shift from geocentrism was nowhere near as simple as everyone, even the ordinary well-versed layman (which is basically what I am, regarding science) wants to paint it. E.g., Copernicus, it seems, didn't simplify the model—the reverse, he needed more epicycles than Ptolemy.

    One thing Flynn points out is that the humanists, not the scientists, wanted Earth out of the center—because being in the center put Earth at the bottom; they wanted to put Earth in the heavens, where the Sun had been. It's important to remember how many of the alleged rationalists of our own day, despite claiming that religion is anthropocentric, and caricaturing geocentrism as an example, will turn around and call themselves "humanists", unironically.

    Of course, they also claim to be rationalists and then put everything but math and physical science beyond the reach of reason, which is an odd way of being reason's partisan, I feel. Maybe they're Little Englanders.
  • There are people who will tell you it is wrong to call the smallest wavelength of visible light "purple", and insist it's called "violet". One, though, "common usage"—the average person considers "purple" to cover both that wavelength and that wavelength's partial interference with red, therefore that is the correct name for both.

    And two, the name for that color in English has always been either "purple", or "blue". "Violet" is the French name for a flower known in English, probably, as "stepmother" (since that's what it's called in Scotland)...which also comes in the shade of magenta considered the only proper referent of "purple"!

    Again: linguistics is a science. The second you tell me about words, no matter what you know about the field that uses them the way you want them used, you are stepping out of your science and into mine, because the other field is by definition not linguistics, therefore it has no authority to discuss language. Next you'll be telling the Chinese what is or isn't "qing"!
  • Series-wise, of course, the very premise of Firefly is an Idiot Plot, because the opposition are pitiful strawmen in sad need of Emerald City's neurosurgeons. But episode-by-episode, too, it has Idiot Plots. Consider the case of "Out of Gas", which I had occasion to watch recently.

    If your ship's main power-plant is disabled, but your shuttles are not, why not just run the auxiliary life-support off the shuttles' power-plants? If you're at risk of freezing,1 and you have spacesuits,2 why not just wear the spacesuits?3 Which of course raises the issue that a 26th century spacesuit is very likely to have air recyclers, so losing the main power is moot, at least for a period of several days—and a spaceship would also have water-recyclers, among its emergency equipment,4 raising the survivable period to "until the food runs out". Realistically the only issue would be whether they could risk manhandling the wounded Zoe into a spacesuit, or hope there was enough air for her5 till she was well enough to put one on.

    Answer to why they don't do those several obvious things: because then the plot doesn't happen. Again, though, if your plot only happens if everyone involved makes very, very stupid decisions, your plot is bad, and you should feel bad.
  • Apparently the consensus is that the death-toll of the Crusades is closer to two million than to the one-and-a-half I'd always used. Still, that's over 163 years (1091-1254)—not the 300 I usually quote, but stil. Shaka Zulu killed the same number of people in his rise to power, and that took twelve years (i.e., Shaka killed at 13.6 times the rate of the Crusades); the Mongol conquests, which took almost the exact same amount of time as the Crusades (1206-1368), killed thirty million people (i.e., 15 times the rate).

    One thing you seem to get a lot, in historiography of the Crusades, is blithely-stated counterfactual assertions about what was or wasn't "the custom of the time". What happened when a siege broke is the classic example. You get lots of writers saying that sacking was routine, and that it was routine because this gave besieged cities incentive to surrender. But the reaction of the lords in the First Crusade, RE: the sack of Jerusalem, and the reaction of all of Latin Christendom in the Fourth, RE: the sack of Byzantium, suggests that sacks were anything but routine, and that the people of the time regarded sacking as a terrible failure of discipline and morals and "common decency". (Of course, that enemy soldiers' discipline, morals, and "common decency" might fail them, in the event of a prolonged siege, would be common knowledge—we are the only culture in history that doesn't understand that soldiers' ability to keep discipline is a function of their morale, and morale lags the longer a siege, or any other campaign, goes on—and that would be the incentive to surrender. That's still different from the idea that medievals sacked as a matter of course, or thought that doing so was good, because we know for a fact they didn't.)

    Of course, as in the case of the Maarat cannibalism, a part of the problem is that people will tell what an account says, but blithely ignore how the account says it. Chroniclers talked about the cannibalism at Maarat the way we talk about the cannibalism during the Holodomor; they talked about the sack of Jerusalem the way we talk about the Japanese Internment. They talked about the sack of Byzantium the way we would talk about the Soviet Army raping and looting its way across countries it was supposedly liberating, except we don't, because our historians put everyone who opposed Nazism in a white hat (and then they talk about the medievals writing history as hagiography!).
  • In the vein of the question I often ask, "Why do they continue to base fantasy stories on lies about medieval Europe, when there's so much else in the world?", there are certain developments in the prehistory of the American southwest that are a smorgasbord of fantasy ideas. ("Smorgasbord", you will note, has no H in it. It's Scandinavian, not German, so stop pronouncing it "Schmorgasbord".6) There's a particular type of Mimbres pottery, for example, that they don't appear to have traded; the archaeologists suspect there may have been something about those pots that other cultures didn't like (although it could also be that the Mimbres liked them too much to sell them, rather than their neighbors disliking them too much to buy them).

    There's a settlement, Yellow Jacket Pueblo, in Colorado, which is very largely made up of kivas (pit-house temples)—it has at least 195 kivas, to as many as 1200 surface rooms (i.e., it might have more kivas and fewer surface rooms). It dates from around the time that we find cannibalized corpses in Anasazi sites, although I don't think there's any cannibalism there. If the Anasazi are the Hopi's ancestors, I shouldn't have to tell you what cannibalism would mean to them. The fact such things were done on a large scale at one period, suggests a significance to their settlement having such a high kiva-to-house ratio—a significance you'd have to be an idiot not to be able to get fantasy stories out of.