- Did you know that the Hopi and certain other Pueblo peoples think they defeated the Spanish, in their respective uprisings (one of which is called "the Pueblo Uprising", although it wasn't the only one)? That is to say, a few groups of just-barely Neolithic subsistence farmers believe that they defeated the people who lived through 700 years of a gritty reboot of Red Dawn, and who were such pros at fighting in mountains and deserts that they handed Napoleon one of his few real, entirely human-caused defeats (Russia, of course, was a laurel for the brow of those two military geniuses, General January and General February). What actually happened in the Pueblos was, the Spanish essentially decided whatever they could get there wasn't worth the trouble of breaking them—and since both had made it clear they didn't want missionaries, that consideration was no longer a factor, either. The ease with which they could've wiped the rebellious settlements off the map is adequately expressed by the fact that their punitive expedition was able to systematically maim many leading members of the Revolt—not something that can be done by a force that isn't in near-complete control of the situation. But the Spanish had instituted a policy of appeasement with regard to hostile Indians (one that Mexico would largely continue, to their discredit when it came to the Comanche), so they left their retaliation at that.
Why would the Spanish—who are one-half the reason the word "hot-blooded" is often followed by "Latin", in English—adopt a policy of appeasement? Well, because they more-or-less accidentally annihilated a couple of entire tribes in northern Mexico; they simply weren't used to fighting people whose entire adult male population could be killed in an afternoon. And remember, the Hopi now have three or four times their population in the era of their conflict with the Spanish...and it's still only 6,000-odd people. Hopi casualty numbers on par with those of Leonidas' personal guard at Thermopylae—not a conflict where guns, cannons, or cavalry played major roles, nor where one of the sides was armed with stone arrowheads against steel plate armor—could've been enough to completely wipe out Hopi culture, forever. (300 men would have been something like 60% of the entire adult male Hopi population. That is a demographic calamity a community may never recover from; the Hopi women and children would've been forced to disperse to neighboring communities, where they might well face enslavement in return for shelter.) The Spanish mercifully forbore to inflict such a fate over a handful of massacred colonists, and simply left.
Then the Hopi shouted after them, "Yeah, you better run!"
- Apparently I was wrong: the medievals, following Ptolemy, didn't think the universe was infinite, and they did think it was fairly small—73 million miles to the shell separating Earth, the moon, the sun, and the planets from the "fixed stars" (which were, I believe, conceptualized as windows into the Empyrean).
73 million was still so much bigger than their (fairly accurate) estimate of the size of the Earth, courtesy of Eratosthenes, that for practical purposes two points on opposite sides of the Earth were on top of each other, relative to the scale of the heavens. It's the same as how, when dealing in kilometers, you generally ignore meters—at that scale, one side of, say, a house, is the same as the other side.
They thought, by the way, that the stars were so close, because of a magnification of the "disc" of each star by the air—a phenomenon that wasn't discovered until 1828 (they knew that stars' sizes were distorted near the horizon, but didn't realize that it also happened even when the stars were directly overhead).
- It also turns out, way back here, I was wrong about Puppeteers having parasitoid young making no sense, when they're herbivores. The majority of wasps that do that are actually herbivorous in adulthood.
It still makes no sense for an intelligent species, though, because "intelligent" and "social" are essentially indistinguishable (there's no need to develop language if there's nobody to talk to, and without language intelligence is limited to the personal capabilities of individuals), and gregarious animals tend to be heavily K-selected (few offspring, reared carefully).
K-selection generally doesn't go with the kind of "fire and forget" strategy that parasitoidism represents. Parasitoidism doesn't seem to go with any form of parental care; none of the eusocial wasps that I know of are parasitic, for instance.
- When I said torture got much worse in the Middle Ages after the reintroduction of Roman Law, it seems I was understating the case. Apparently all torture in medieval society can be traced to Roman Law (which trickled back in, pretty much from the death of Charlemagne on).
It had fallen out of use in the Common Law by the time of Charlemagne (whose laws were largely "Frankish", by which is usually meant "Gaulish"—other than inheritance-customs and fealty oaths, the Franks used the customs of their subjects, who were almost all Celts, and only semi-Romanized in the rural regions).
We also have letters, dating from a bit after Charlemagne's death, from Pope St. Nicholas I to Boris I of Bulgaria, probably the first Christian prince of the Bulgars, about not using torture. Torture was of course a part of the customs of the pagan Bulgars, which surprises nobody with so much as a bookish ninth-grader's knowledge of anthropology.
- Back here, where I said that aliens, portrayed as "a eugenicist military dictatorship, effete artisans of Byzantine complexity, an all-encompassing bureacracy, a rapacious merchant culture, a Proud Warrior Race", are "space-versions of Nazis, Communists, or various caricatures of the Japanese"? Well, it occurred to me, actually they're pretty much all actually some aspect, or stereotype of some aspect, of the Japanese. "Eugenicist military dictatorship" is Imperial Japan; "effete artisans of Byzantine complexity" is tea-ceremony Japan; "all-encompassing bureacracy" is Confucian Japan; "rapacious merchant culture" is 1980s industrial powerhouse Japan; and "Proud Warrior Race" is the samurai.
Sure, all aliens in Japanese stuff that aren't kaiju or shrine-maiden princesses are basically Westerners (actually sometimes even the Godzilla-type are), but they do have the excuse of us having been an epoch-defining encounter for them. What's our excuse? (Well, we also do Television Indian-Noble Savage aliens, but go read the typical white hippie's conception of Shinto if you think that's not something we could be saying about the Japanese.) Actually, it occurs to me, we do have part of an excuse: when people call Japan "nation of contrasts", they may be being unoriginal but they're talking about a real thing (true statements often lack novelty, just one of many reasons novelty is no substitute for rational judgment). Japan's just got so much going on in its culture and history that virtually anything you can do in fiction will have a parallel there.
- I find it amusing that people are still peddling the "Hollywood actresses are anorexic" folklore. Name one who is anorexic on-screen, since about the late 1990s. You can't. Know why? Boobs. After about 1996 or so, Hollywood started wanting actresses who were slender, but had generous busts (whereas actresses in the late '80s and early '90s were, indeed, very skinny, including being flat-chested). You simply don't get a big chest (or several other female features generally considered attractive) with eating-disorder levels of thinness.
Which is not to say there is no anorexia in Hollywood, but it's not the actresses suffering from it. Nope. It's the men. Read that article. During the scenes where actors have their shirts off, they're literally anorexic—their trainers plan their diets so they're at minimal body-fat percentages (4-6% is considered the physiological minimum for the male body) during those shooting-days. And then there's the part about the guy who told his trainer he had so little trouble slimming down because he was on coke at the time. The trainer's response? "You should have told me, because I might have killed you. But I'd much rather have you doing a lot of blow than smoking a bunch of dope."
Remember that next time you see a movie out of Hollywood about some other industry abusing its employees. Or about the treatment of greyhounds and race-horses, for that matter.
Reality checks. Several of 'em are for myself.
- Even though "wheeled and tracked vehicles cannot travel on 40% of terrain" could justify walking artillery (assuming sufficient tech to make them work), it might still be asked why one doesn't just use aircraft for artillery platforms. But the answer, I think, is that aircraft are exposed; especially with the kind of technology that makes walking mecha feasible, anti-air fire is often too much of an obstacle, while walking mecha would be quite capable of taking cover. "Terrain" is essentially the same thing as having many tons of armor, for free, if you use it smart and don't let yourself be flanked.
A large proportion of our assumptions about the future of mechanized warfare come from current conditions—where the "first string" technologically-advanced militaries never fight each other, they only fight insurgencies and third-string rogue states. That's not a condition anyone should count on being permanent. When the time comes that two high-tech militaries engage each other (it doesn't have to be in an "existential" war, the US and Russia or China might just be chasing each other's troops out of someplace like Iraq or Ukraine), we'll see what the real "future" war would look like.
- I imagine that a mentally alert person who has somehow managed to still think religion and superstition are related (except for being negatively correlated), would probably get a headache upon prolonged exposure to the culture of Japan. It's a very secular country, where most people only attend shrines for New Year and births, and temples for funerals—but it's also a place where superstition runs rampant. I mean, you ever notice in anime how the girl who wants to get a bigger chest is always drinking milk? Well, why do you think that is?
The answer is "if you eat your enemy's brain you gain his cleverness". Well, not quite, but it is based on a folklore principle that you eat liver to cure liver-trouble. A girl who wants to grow her chest drinks milk because milk comes from that part of the body (well, actually, its equivalent on a cow, but same difference). Admittedly, if it's whole milk, it might actually help (half-and-half would be better, and cream would be better than that), but so would eating lots of bacon.
- I discover that mechanical counter-pressure space-suits have to be custom-made for their individual wearer. Now, admittedly, that's a lot easier with 3D printers, but it'd still realistically run into money (apparently it's also a pain in the ass to make gloves for 'em, although with future technology it might be more feasible to map the "lines of non-extension" even for a hand). But what do you do if you're a passenger on a ship, someone who does not ordinarily travel in space, and the habitat loses pressure? Simple, you zip yourself into a big inflated ball (presumably made of radiation-insulating materials).
I wonder if zledo would actually have quite as much need for pressurized suits as we do? See, your skin actually maintains pressure pretty nicely, although it swells up (presumably quite uncomfortably) in a vacuum—you still have to protect your exposed soft tissue, of course. You also have to stuff your armpits and various cleavages even in a mechanical-counterpressure suit (maybe inflated underwear is a solution?). But zledo are built for flexibility on par with a cat, and, have you ever seen a hairless cat? They're covered in accordion baffles, because their skin is so loose. So a zled might be able to get by much more comfortably with a spacesuit that's much less careful about pressure, because his skin can expand much more before he starts to hurt.
- Another thought about spacesuits is, while the "heraldry as personal identification" idea is fine (albeit why not just put an IFF transponder in the suit?), most people's conception of it ignores the actual nature of heraldry. Heraldry is not a vehicle for personal expression. It is a highly conventional, stylized system of communication, registered with a central body. If someone needs a degree in modern art to identify your escutcheon (Mr. Niven!), then it really isn't very useful as heraldry. This is also why nations founded after the invention of photography still use highly stylized emblems, rather than photographs, on their flags, and why commercial products have logos, rather than just photographs of the products in question.
Now, it's entirely believable to say people paint all kinds of stuff on their suits for personal expression—but if they do, then for purposes of identification, they're probably going to just go with my IFF transponder idea. Especially if they're as individualistic as Belters (individualistic enough, that is, to be incapable of surviving in space longer than three generations), who presumably wouldn't want to have to deal with a centralized heraldry college. (Besides, we all know that what Belters would really paint on their suits would be wizards, dragons, and unicorns. But even mural vans still have license plates, proving my point.)
glorified editorialist and hack dramatistnoted historian Voltaire, the Holy Roman Empire had its ruler crowned, and blessed, by the Pope (rather than having him place his crown on his own head like the Byzantine αὐτοκρατής); used Roman law instead of Common Law, which was used in France until sometime after the scandal of the daughters-in-law of Philip the Fair; and was a confederation of aristocratic states with a unitary executive, and even pursued expansion by conquest.
It was arguably as much of an Empire as Byzantium, or for that matter Tsarist Russia, Napoleonic France, Victorian England, or Hohenzollern Prussia; and certainly more of one than China, the Mughals, or the Ottomans. It was significantly more Roman than Byzantium, and its laws (though not its common language), for most of its 1005 years, were much more Roman than those of France. The only adjective that can actually be doubted is "Holy"...but Voltaire wouldn't know holiness if it jumped up and punched him in the mouth (it is not open to doubt that holiness would punch Voltaire in the mouth).
- Was thinking. Thoughts were, one, that "Fifty Shades of Grey" is apparently a third of all the shades of gray your eye can distinguish, and two, that if the khângây were to write it, they would call it "Five Hundred Shades of Gray" (actually they'd call it "Seven Eights-squared, Six Eights, Four, Shades of Grey"—they have four fingers per hand).
Except that they wouldn't, because (apart from their artisan-dominated culture encouraging a thing called taste), their potlatch-like culture disapproves of fan-fic, and that story began as Twilight fan-fic (it actually manages to make Twilight canon look healthy—and your civilization made it a best-seller, in the best argument yet for the Colony Drop). While the finished product sufficiently disguised its origins that even they couldn't complain, in a society with potlatch attitudes, E. L. James never would've started.
Say what you will about intellectual property, making much of the concept would've prevented Fifty Shades of Grey.
- If you wanted an example of how illiterate people are nowadays, you couldn't look much further than the very concept of the "linguistic turn" in modern thought. See, all philosophy before Descartes and Kant was linguistic; all the Hindu philosophers were grammarians (except a few who were mathematicians), while Aristotle's entire metaphysics was framed in terms of "we say X when Y"—it is as much functional grammar as it is epistemology. Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine" has been called, not without justification, "the pioneering work on semiotics".
But, of course, unlike those most associated with the "linguistic turn", those ancient people didn't primarily devote themselves to constructing elaborate taboo-avoidance language—even though the Hindu ones believed that the grammar of Sanskrit was the foundational structure of the cosmos. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone acquainted with the smelting of iron who thinks the primary purpose of linguistic speculation is finding ways to avoid inauspicious words; that's a behavior more associated with people who call all metals "flint". Outside of academia, anyway.
- Well, I was trying to figure out how to get my head around how the zledo handle their lasers—a 60 mm (well, actually, 64.35 mm, because they aren't going to use round numbers of our units) lens is a bigger diameter than any current weapons except mortars and RPGs. Then I realized, though, that giving it an equilateral triangular casing is interesting, from a design standpoint; it has to be pretty wide, but it occurred to me you can stick things in the corners.
So I decided the point under the lens (the triangle is flat side up—it's still worn at the waist rather than over the shoulder, with the flat against the hip and the grip designed for a cross-body draw) is where you can attach your bayonet or flashlight or, if you're using a very high-precision laser, a bipod. The other two points, I decided, are where they insert the heat-sinks, which I think vent along the bottom edge of those corners. Zledo, having fur and much tougher skin than humans, don't have to be very careful with their heat-sinks (remember how cats' fur actually starts to burn before they find a heater uncomfortable?), but humans using zled weapons have to watch out.
I also decided to ditch the vaguely stone-looking material for the casings. Now the police sidearms ("hand lasers") are matte black (because their uniforms are black), while the military weapon ("long lasers") are the same fuchsia as their uniforms. Zled heavy weapons, which includes a c. 30 kJ anti-materiel laser, as well as grenade-launchers and RPGs, are orange (the stuff that still has to act as a pressure vessel, like the grenade-launchers, has a hexagonal casing).