April 26, 2016

Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny died about 20 years ago, and has frustrated me before and ever since, because he left so many things unfinished. Zelazny was the Writer's Block poster child.

This afternoon I purchased "Madwand" for my Kindle. It's the second volume of a trilogy, the first of which was called "Changeling". We'll never know what the third volume was going to be named, because he never wrote it.

And he never finished the second Amber series. It just kind of ends, not quite with a cliff-hanger but nearly so.

Zelazny was 58 when he died in 1995, and I'm sure he would rather have stayed alive and kept writing, but that's not how it worked out.

Jack Chalker is another of my favorite authors, who wrote a lot of multi-volume stories. He's dead now, too (he was morbidly obese) but when he began work on a multi-volume story, he had all the volumes planned out before he began writing the first one, and he cranked straight through until he had finished the last one -- and didn't work on anything else in the mean time. Sometimes he would come back and visit a canon later (like the fourth and fifth books of the Dancing Gods series) but you can easily ignore those and not miss anything.

But Zelazny danced around and worked on all sorts of things. He was badly afflicted by squirrel-brain.

And in the first Amber series, it's obvious he didn't really have the whole thing worked out in detail before he began. (In particular, he changed his mind about the source of the Black Road. There are two mutually exclusive explanations for it.)

One reason he didn't finish the second Amber series was that he got distracted by working on a computer game, during development of which he died.

One of the worst things an author can do to his audience is to not finish a story, leaving it hanging. And though Madwand is a reasonably self-contained story that hangs together pretty well, it's obvious the story is not over and I want to know what comes next. I've wanted to know for 35 years.

He wrote Changeling in 1980 and Madwand in 1981 and never came back to it in the remaining 14 years of his life. Grumble.

UPDATE: Two rants in a week. I must really be a cranky old man now.

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April 23, 2016

Shakespeare

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That's a reproduction of the enscription on Shakespeare's grave stone.

400 years ago today, Shakespeare died. Widely considered the greatest playwright in the English language, his works are widely performed, widely studied, and widely read -- except not in most university English departments anymore which seem to be dedicated to eradicating any notion of worthiness of any Dead White Male™.

Revisionism is rampant when it comes to his works. This isn't anything new; in the 19th Century a man named Thomas Bowdler published a book called "The Family Shakspeare" (sic) which removed all the worst violence from Shakespeare's plays. (He then gave his name to the term "bowdlerize".)

But modern revisionists are mostly concerned with Race, Class, and Gender™. And there's one particular revision that has grated with me for 30 years. I'm going to take this opportunity to gripe about it.

"The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice" is now known usually as just Othello. And it has become accepted wisdom in theatrical circles that the part of Othello must be played by a Negro. Every effort is made to avoid mention of the fact that Shakespeare thought that Othello was a Moor.

See, the problem is that Moors were Caucasian, not Negro. The historical dividing line between Caucasians and Negros was the Sahara desert, not the Mediterranean. Revisionists (such as the radical "Afrocentrists") try to lay claim to northern Africa on behalf of Negros, despite the fact that the only Negros historically north of the Sahara were slaves.

That's because the majority of important African political, scientific, and cultural contributions to the world came from the part of Africa north of the Sahara.

I don't care who actually did it; I just care about the fact that our intellectual betters seem to feel it necessary to lie about it. Nearly everything like that came either from Egyptians, Greek conquerers, Roman conquerers, or Arab conquerers -- and all of those were Caucasian.

I don't think caucasians are in any way superior to any other race, not that it would help any for me to say that. Anyone inclined that way has instantly decided I'm a racist and probably piled a whole lot of other negative adjectives onto that description.

What I care about is being honest. Shakespeare thought that Othello was caucasian. The modern attitude seems to be "Who cares what he thought? He only wrote the play."

That doesn't mean I think Othello shouldn't be played by a Negro actor. You cast whoever you think can give the best performance. It means I think you might also cast a non-Negro if you think he would give the best performance, and you don't worry about political correctness.

UPDATE: Another one that I find really grating: "The most beautiful woman in history was African." I thought Helen of Troy was Greek. "NO, no, no... Cleopatra!"

I've heard that from people who didn't really know anything about Cleopatra other than she was a queen in Egypt when Julius Caesar conquered the place for the Romans. The problem is, Cleopatra was part of the Ptolemy dynasty.

The Ptolemy's were descended from a Greek general who was made governor of Egypt by Alexander after he conquered Egypt. Alexander then left to travel to the east, conquering every nation along his way, until he died in India. At which point all the governors he had left behind effectively became kings of their respective states, and so it was with the Ptolemy's.

The Ptolemy's and other Greeks who ruled Egypt during that period still considered themselves to be Greek, and they continued to rule Egypt for 300 years right up until Caesar showed up and the Romans took over.

So it's true that Cleopatra was African, in the sense that she was born in Africa and lived her whole life there, but that doesn't have anything whatever to do with the part of Africa south of the Sahara or the people who live there.

History is what happened. It shouldn't be rewritten to fit a modern ideology. We harm ourselves when we lie to ourselves about how we became what we are. We must face the truth, warts and all.

And we can start by not rototilling Shakespeare's grave.

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January 17, 2016

Season to taste

OreIda makes bags of Tater Tots, and I buy them. Half a bag makes a good dinner. You pour them onto a cookie sheet, put them into a preheated oven and bake for 19 minutes and then, according to the bag, "season to taste".

Which means put salt on them, but they can't say that. Potatoes without salt taste like library paste and everyone uses salt on them. Except certain bureaucrats in Washington who create dietary recommendations for the peasants, which recommendations I stopped paying attention to a long time ago. Because it became clear to me that it was food faddism, not science. And now everyone can tell, because in the last few years the official recommended diet has changed quite a lot.

Butter is back on the OK list. So are eggs. Studies have finally shown that cholesterol isn't a synonym for cyanide. And after decades of saying "Reduce dietary fat; eat carbs instead" because they thought all of us were too fat, now it's been revealed that it's carbs that do that, not fat.

But still it goes on. The NYC commission, who have nothing else important to work on since NYC is an ideal city with no problems, no crime, and no other issues, anyway the commission considered a city regulation forbidding anyone in the city from putting salt in their food before sale.

Among other problems, a bunch of bakers went to the commission to inform them that you cannot make bread without salt because the yeast won't rise. Details, details... (I don't think they passed that regulation, in the end. Anyway, all it would have done is force all those companies to move their factories and bakeries to Hoboken.)

My zoology prof in college talked to us about salt one time. This was about 1974, before things got crazy, but he mentioned that when our salt levels get low we really crave salt and our food won't taste right unless we put a lot more salt on than we usually would. (This is most common in hot weather when you've been sweating.) Different people have different desires for salt at different times, which is why restaurants put salt shakers on the tables. They tend to undersalt the food and rely on the customers to adjust "to taste".

But the food freaks think they know everything (despite proof from experience that they're idiots) and the latest fad is food with no salt in it, proudly blazed on the label. John Kovalic did a nice job on that with his comic "CTRL SALT DEL".

That happened to me one time. I wasn't paying attention to the labels and I bought a jar of peanut butter with no salt added. One taste and I knew my mistake. I ended up having to add a LOT of salt to it to get it to taste like anything. It took me three tries, adding more salt each time and then stirring the jar up, to get it to taste right.

It's one more aspect of the encroaching nanny state, and I say this: you will take my salt shaker away from me when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

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January 08, 2016

Tales of rank idiocy

A man named Archer bushwacked a police car in Philadelphia yesterday and fired 13 shots at the cop named Hartnett from point blank range, hitting him 3 times. (Which is really shitty shooting.)

The gun he used had previously been stolen from a policeman. (That's all we know about it, but obviously there are many important questions remaining.)

After calling for help and despite his wounds, Officer Hartnett gave chase and shot Archer, with much better aim. Hartnett's wound were serious but not life threatening, which is a blessing. Archer's wounds were much more serious but also don't appear to be life threatening, which maybe isn't a blessing.

Archer readily confessed to the shooting and claimed that he did it for Islam, on behalf of ISIS.

All of which is sufficiently idiotic, but here's where it gets really maddening.

Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the shooting wasn't motivated by Islam, despite the fact that Archer himself said it was.

I think it's time to retire the phrase "Islam is a religion of peace." I always found that supremely annoying and it hasn't aged well. Back in 2001 it sounded like naivety, but now it sounds like a Big Lie, one that the speaker himself doesn't believe but which he hopes will convince stupid people like us if only they repeat it often enough.

I've always thought it extremely presumptuous for outsiders to explain to people who follow any religion how their religion actually demands that they behave, or for outsiders to try to claim things about that religion that its adherents don't agree with. Lefties do this all the time with Christianity, and though I'm not a Christian I find it really annoying.

But people like Kenney claiming Islam is a religion of peace is even worse. It's not that they expect to influence Muslims with that drivel.

The worst fear of Our Betters is that all of us redneck knuckle draggers will rise up mob-like and start attacking Muslims, burning their places of worship and throwing rocks through the windows of Halal butcher shops and so on.

This is the nightmare for Our Betters, the one thing which must be avoided at all costs. Nothing else is as important -- like protecting the majority from random attacks. That one is well down the charts.

So every time there's an attack like this by someone who is clearly motivated by jihad, whether a lone crackpot or part of an organized force, they always announce that it had nothing to do with Islam. Kenney thinks he knows more about what motivated Archer than Archer himself, and has told us so. Archer claims he shot the policeman for the greater glory of Islam, but Kenney says that wasn't the real reason.

Just thinking about Mayor Kenney is making me feel like screaming.

Folks, it's crap like this which is driving people into Trump's arms. He may be strange; he may even be lying about what he intends. But he's the only high-profile politician who is saying what so many people are thinking. He refuses to play by the unwritten rules of Political Correctness, and every time he says something which sends lefties to their fainting couches, his ratings in the polls rise again. American voters have had it will the Prevailing Wisdom and they're looking for someone, even someone as flamboyant as The Donald, who will acknowledge these things.

I have no idea who will win the 2016 presidential election, let alone who will be the candidates. But if Trump wins either, this will be the reason why. Americans are tired of being talked down to and lied to.

There are peaceful Muslims. Millions of them. But there are also very violent Muslims, and that isn't coincidence.

First rule: The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.
Second rule: The vast majority of terrorists are Muslims.

Let's stop pretending otherwise.

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December 18, 2015

Grumble grumble

One of my biggest beefs with Starbucks is that they have taught everyone that the proper way to roast coffee is to stop just before it catches fire. Everything is over-roasted these days. I've been trying different brands of coffee trying to find one that isn't roasted too much, and I just found one. The Safeway house brand "breakfast blend" actually tastes like coffee, not like charcoal.

Why in hell does everyone seem to want me to create an account and log in? UPS just changed their web site so that you can't see when your package is expected to be delivered unless you log in first. Why in hell do I need to log in for that? I didn't used to.

There are a lot of reasons why I resent HorribleSubs, but maybe the biggest is the way they say, "This is brought to you by the HorribleSubs fansubbing team". Horseshit! Maybe there's a team, but the subbing is being done by Crunchyroll and Funimation. I wish they'd be more honest about what they're doing -- or perhaps "less dishonest" would be more to the point. I guess there has to be a team, because there's no damned way a single person could do all the stuff they do. But they don't sub anything.

Maybe I'll go take a nap.

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November 06, 2015

Tattoos

I have never been tempted to vandalize my body that way. (Of course, I've never vandalized anything else, either.)

But of course, one of the reasons each generation has strange fashions is in order to scandalize the prior generation, which is one of the reasons I had long hair when I was in my 20's. (Also, because it was strawberry blonde and looked really good.)

So in keeping with that principle, I'm always a bit scandalized when I see a tattoo on a pretty girl, like this one:

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This one is particularly annoying because it doesn't mean anything. Bad enough that she's vandalizing herself, but she's doing it with nonsense. It's not proper Japanese, and I think it doesn't mean anything in Chinese either.

As best I can tell it's this:

无使

Which isn't a proper word or sentence in Japanese.

无 is pronounced mu and means "nothing, naught".

使 is pronounced tsuka and it means "use" but it never appears in Japanese without a hiragana ending. (Such as 使い tsukai which means "user" among many other things.)

So if 无使 means anything at all, it would be "useless". Why would someone want that on their skin?

grumble dumb kids grumble

UPDATE: They say a sure sign that you're getting old is when you begin to obsess about the moral failings of the younger generation, and I passed that particular hurdle a long time ago.

UPDATE: I read the first kanji wrong. See comments.

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August 31, 2015

Grumble rassafratzin

Erin McClam, NBC News:

The Texas sheriff's deputy who was killed at a gas station was shot 15 times by a gunman who unloaded his entire clip, a prosecutor said Monday as the suspect appeared in court for the first time.

Dear Erin,

Repeat after me: magazine, not clip. magazine, not clip. magazine, not clip.

Gad.

UPDATE: I don't think anyone has ever made a 14-round clip, and anyway you'd have to go all the way back to something like the Broomhandle Mauser to find a handgun which was loaded with a clip. (Which held 10 rounds, so maybe a 14-round clip isn't so far fetched.)

Anyway, lots of magazines are even larger than that, up to and including drum magazines carrying 100 rounds.

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August 17, 2015

Stupid series naming conventions

These things come and go; there was a period in which series names were essentially nonsense, completely meaningless. There was a period when lots of series had English names.

And recently we've seen a trend towards series having ridiculously long names.

But the worst recent trend has been using increases in punctuation for sequels. Two examples spring immediately to mind: Dog Days, Dog Days', Dog Days'' and Working!, Working!!, Working!!!

I suppose with 50 or more new series each year, and a history going back to the 1980's, it's a bit hard to come up with something new, and fads never make sense anyway looking back at them, and often not even when you look at them contemporaneously. But it's still annoying. Grumble.

The biggest problem with this one is how you pronounce the names in order to differentiate them, which is why "Dog Days Dash" and "Dog Days Double-Dash" even though it's an apostrophe (') and not a dash (-). Me, I use "S2" and "S3".

UPDATE: I just looked it up, and ANN says it's Working!!, Working!!2, and Working!!3. That's a bit better, even if a bit unimaginative.

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June 02, 2015

Fang mail

I stopped posting to USS Clueless 11 years ago.

But occasionally people link to old posts of mine, like just happened last week when Ace did it.

And every once in a while I get fan mail, or perhaps "fang mail" would be more accurate: "This was a really neat post, but you should change it because it didn't include something I think is important."

RE this particular post, I think there is a tendency to oversimplify the idea you are presenting. It is often presented as "you need to be willing to do back to your enemy whatever your enemy is willing to do to you." I don't think game theory requires such literal Tit for Tat. It merely requires significant consequences for breaking the rules. For example, a credible threat to use Nuclear weapons if Biological weapons are deployed, would satisfy the significant consequences argument of game theory, without requiring a country to maintain stocks of Biological weapons or an open threat of Biological MAD. I think this is important, since it allows for some modifications of the Tit for Tat scenarios that avoid the danger of "turning into your enemy" in order to defeat him. You do not have to match an enemy brutality for brutality, as long as there exists some other way to punish the enemy for violations that has equal significance to him.

You don't actually get into this part of the question, but I think this might be a worthwhile update to consider to the post, since people are still reading it and it has been referenced by others as saying something to that effect.

I can't change it. Frustratingly, that server ("regulus") is sitting on my computer desk within arm's reach, but a couple of years ago Microsoft issued a Win 7 security update and now I can't access it either with telnet or with FTP. (It also fouled up my ability to access my WHS, "Deneb".) So I'm not capable of making any changes on it any more.

Even if I were inclined to do so, which I'm not. Dammit, I wrote that post in 2002! Let it rest, already! USS Clueless wasn't a series of academic papers, it was a fucking blog.

(I do have to admit that I get three of four letters a year from people who thank me for doing USS Clueless and who don't try to convince me to rewrite parts of it. And I am grateful.)

UPDATE: Besides which, I did write what he's saying, in a different post.

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May 15, 2015

Grumble roundhouse kicks

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In anime when someone who is an expert at karate does a roundhouse kick, they always, always, do it open-foot.

Which is stupid. That's not how it's done. My sensei taught us to fold our foot up and strike with the ball of the foot, just below the toes. This concentrates the force in a small area and doesn't risk your ankle.

If you kick open-foot, like in the picture above, you're going to break your ankle. You're also spreading the force over a much larger area so it is less effective.

You'd think that someone in the anime industry would go find some karate magazines to see what proper form looks like, wouldn't you?

(And while I'm at it, when you're defending against a punch or kick, you don't try to stop it. Instead, you deflect it. Putting your forearm up and taking a kick there is a good way to break your arm. Plus, deflecting the blow puts your enemy off balance and makes him vulnerable for a counter-strike.)

Grumble...

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