Easter’s Green Blade

Not much new to report! The little poop goblin continues to consume a majority of my time.

At mass yesterday, I heard a certain hymn. This seems to be in rotation recently at my parish, as I remember hearing it a month or so ago for the first time. It’s become one of my favorites.

“Now the Green Blade Rises” has a rather simple but stirring melody. Something about it just grips at me, especially when performed by a full choir. Not to mention the title is just really cool and evocative (it refers to a shoot of wheat, but conjures up the image of a sweet sword or something).

Here are a couple nice renditions:

-Bushi

bushi

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Facial Expressions

  • by Gitabushi

I’m beginning to think one of the problems in human society is we don’t know how to read facial expressions.

One fun fact is that facial expressions are cultural.  I can sometimes tell whether a Chinese person was raised in the US or in China simply by what their resting face is.  One aspect to guys with “yellow fever”is, I’m convinced, that they mis-read Chinese (or Asian) facial expressions: when the Chinese person is expressing shyness or discomfort, the American guy sees flirtation, or at least attraction.

But getting back to expressions. Let’s do an experiment. Try not to look at meta text (if any)  Bonus points if you provide a sentence that helps clarify what their thoughts/emotions are (in your opinion):

  1. What emotion is this man feeling?

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2. What emotion is this woman feeling?

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3. Are these people laughing or crying? What other possibilities are there?

 

4. Similar to number 1, I think.  What do you think?  Is she feeling the same as the first guy? If not, what?

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Bonus test:

Which of these girls are Asian?  Can you name all three?

 

Continue reading “Facial Expressions”

I Think I Know Who Broke the Law

  • by Gitabushi

One of the principles of our Judicial system is that human nature is immutably unable to maintain a conspiracy in the face of legal pressure.  Everything: the long interview sessions, the separation of cronies to see if they can keep their stories straight, asking people to repeat stories over and over to see if there are discrepancies, the offering of lighter sentences to the first that admit guilt: this is all designed to use Games Theory (Prisoner’s Dilemma, mainly, but others, as well) to find out who broke the law.

It doesn’t always work.  Some people are better liars.  Some threats of retaliation are convincing enough to keep lips sealed.  Sometimes the pre-coordination and memorization of stories works.

But other times, it works.

James Comey’s book just came out. Look what has already happened:

This is just after the pressure of one person saying things to protect himself that his cronies could see as throwing them under the bus.  So they have been doing some hypovehiculation of their own.

And there are others. Obama is implicated in this.

Susan Rice wrote an email to herself, attempting to cover her vulnerabilities.

And Rosenstein could get dragged in, as well as Sally Yates.

With the exception of the Susan Rice email, this *all* happened just from Comey releasing a self-serving memoir.

Now compare to the Trump Administration.  Trump is not known for message discipline, right?  Several people have been fired from positions of power. Having been fired, they would then have motivation to leak about criminal behavior, and would be in a position to do so, even with signed Non-Disclosure Agreements. That alone should provide evidence of guilt, but there has *also* been a Special Prosecutor investigation nearly everything it can on Trump: not just collusion with Russia, but also irregularities (if any) in the transition process, and actions taken dozens of years before he won the GOP nomination.

And yet?  Nothing.

A few people have been convicted or “confessed” to the “crime” of lying to the FBI. These are process crimes, and are not related to any actions that Mueller should be investigating.

The FBI could surveill you for a week to get proof of your activities, review it a hundred times until they had your words and actions memorized, and then give you *one* chance in an interview to, at the drop of a hat, provide an account that matches exactly with what they collected via surveillance. If there is any discrepancy, they will accuse you of lying.  Any hesitancy in response, or any change to your response, will only only give them more evidence that you lied.

This should not be a crime.  It should only be a crime if the action underlying their questions is a crime.  One guy was convicted because he was a lawyer who talked to one of Trump’s lawyers, but didn’t admit it to the FBI.  Horrors!

But I digress.

When you point out that after a year of investigation, Mueller has uncovered no evidence of criminal actions connected to his specified target topic, and that the convictions are only for process violations unrelated to the specified target topic, the response is that this is a tactic to put pressure on the foot soldiers to provide evidence on higher-ups.

Even with this pressure, Mueller has found nothing.  And we know he found nothing, because his office has never been able to keep from leaking any news that hurts the President.

In contrast, the Obama cronies are at each other’s throats after just one fiction story.

It is obvious who broke the law. No honor among thieves…and conspirators, it seems.

 

 

 

 

 

Disruption

  • by Gitabushi

In my last post, I mentioned Disruption.

This is a theme I’m still pondering. I haven’t come to any solid, final conclusions yet.  When I do, it will likely become another stakeholder/touchpoint in my personal socio-political Philosophy of Everything.

Right now, what I’ve mostly decided is that disruption is neither good nor bad.  It is Chaos, which is the dissolution of Order.  Order is generally good, but tends to calcify, becoming unyielding and stifling to the dynamics of human life.  In contrast, of course, Chaos tends to feed on itself, dissolving order and keeping humans in a constant state of stress and crisis, which pressures individuals into poor decisions that expand the Chaos.

This is kind of a big deal for my philosophy, because I’ve been a pretty consistent advocate of Order.

How I came to embrace the good points of Chaos was simply mulling on the best way to deal with the growing oligarchy of Silicon Valley, crony capitalism, Too Big to Fail corporations, and the unholy alliance between Government and Big Business.

I’m not a full-on Libertarian for a number of reasons, but I do have a Libertarian distrust of turning to Government to fix problems..  The problem with having Government fix problems is they tend to see all problems as opportunities for graft or gaining additional control over the every day life of citizens, they rarely do a good job of fixing things, and they are probably more responsive to other citizens who have a different notion of what “fixed” looks like than I do.

I am a firm believer in Liberty, however, and absolutely believe that the most effective solutions involve *increasing* options for individuals, rather than decreasing them.

This is intrinsically related to what I see as the role of Government: do the things citizens can’t do individually or even effectively in private groups, like National Defense and determining and acting on National Interest; resolve problems between equals (equal persons, lower levels of government, corporations, corporations and citizens, etc.); and working to ensure a level playing field.  To a certain extent, these are all just different aspects of the same thing: private citizen groups *could* engage in foreign policy and military action, but it would conflict with the rights and interests of other citizens, so it would almost immediately create a conflict that would need government to resolve, so just have the government do it in the first place, and ensuring a level playing field *is* resolving conflicts between citizens or between citizens and corporations.

So what I’m getting around to saying is that I think the best way to stop Big Corps from running and ruining our lives, or from putting their quest for Profit above the best interests of their workers and customers, is to encourage competition.

The best way to stop Google and Facebook from monitoring us 24/7 is to make it easier for other companies to make money disrupting Google’s and Facebook’s business model. The Silicon Valley Oligarchs are huge fans of regulation right now, the same issue they were huge opponents of when they (and the internet) was in its infancy.  That’s because regulation creates barriers to competition.  The difficult part is how easy it is to demagogue regulation.

Here’s a great example: It was discovered that some toys from China had lead paint.  This is bad. From there, it is very easy to demand that *all* toys imported from China be tested for lead paint.  Since that is logistically impossible, the logical step is to have random testing of imported toys, and demand that the toy importers pay for it. Guess who can afford to pay for random testing because they benefit from economies of scale?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al.  Guess who supported the new regulation for random testing paid for by the importer?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al. The regulation represented an additional barrier to small, upstart toy importers that could cut into their market share.  But if you oppose the regulation, China will have no incentive to stop exporting toys with lead paint, and US children will be harmed.

Look, some regulation is good. But encouraging disruption is also good.

There is no reason that a large company must stay a large company. There is no reason that just because they’ve been making a number of sales for a certain profit margin, that they should be able to continue doing so forever. Humans must compete and work to improve themselves to maintain their station in life, so corporations should also.  And they comprehend that, because they are always fighting to increase their market share, drive out competition, etc.  There’s just no reason our government should help them in reducing competition.

But I also can’t say disruption is always a good tool.  The Left has done a great job of disrupting things they don’t like: Christianity, the traditional family, integrity, free speech, the right to self-defense (via the Second Amendment right to bear arms). LBJ’s Great Society was extremely disruptive to the black community and to many of the traditions that had made the US strong.  Medicare merely added to the misconception created by Social Security that individuals should not be responsible for their own lives, sustenance, and comfort.  I cannot describe to you the sense of frustration and despair I felt when I found out that the Health Care for Life that I earned by sacrificing 20 years of my life to the military reverts to Medicare when I turn 65.  Not that the military’s TRICARE is all that good.  But everything I’ve seen convinces me that Medicare is worse.  But I digress.

The simple truth is that disruption is merely a tool that helps us improve the order in our lives.  But tools can be used badly, and tools can be used on the wrong target, or for the wrong reasons.

I haven’t developed any pithy truisms regarding disruption. I don’t even have a metric for when or how to encourage creative disruption yet.  Let’s have a discussion about it in the comment section.

Must Read, er, Fantasy?

  • by Gitabushi

I highly recommend reading The Paladin by CJ Cherryh.

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The hesitancy of the title is that while this story is set in a semi-fictional world, there are no fantasy elements at all. The people are superstitious, so belief in demons has some impact on the story…but there’s no magic to speak of.

When I originally read the story, I assumed the setting was a fictionalized Japan. Re-reading it, I’m not really sure why I thought that: the setting is quite obviously a fictionalized China.

Perhaps it was because the names are Asian sounding, but most are not valid Chinese syllables, so it is easy to assume Japan as a not-Chinese Asian.  Perhaps it was because of the artistry of the martial arts, except that China also has such artistry.

In any case, regardless of the society C. J. Cherryh intended to copy, it could easily be ancient China, and is probably best understood that way.  Although, to be honest, you don’t have to know a thing about China or Japan to enjoy the story.

The story is about the Emperor’s martial leader, exiled for disloyalty, but left alone as long as he remains in exile, and the girl who brings him back to the world. His martial leadership is never really explained: he’s a master swordsman, but also a tactical and strategic genius.  Prior to the beginning of the novel, his only student was the boy Emperor; hints during the novel indicate he was possibly the top Imperial General, except that his fame is for prowess in fighting, and he never meets anyone considered an equal in the story.  If he was supposed to be the most skilled bodyguard or champion of the Emperor, it wasn’t clear to me.  So it seems more that he was taught all the martial arts, and his training and talent made him the best at all aspects, both personal fighting and leading small units and large armies.

I’ve said before that one things C. J. Cherryh gets better than any other writer I’ve ever seen, is language.  She has always shown the difficulties in communicating in languages learned as second languages, and that plays some small part in this story.  However, in The Paladin, Cherryh displays one of her other strengths: speed of communication and transportation.

One of my theories is that what makes a story work is uneven information flow.  This can be seen in how ubiquitous cellphone coverage has had such a profound impact on film stories, including slasher flicks.  They *must* include some explanation of why the characters can’t simply make a phone call; in truth, the conflict in most stories would be resolved with just a quick phone call.  Time and Communication can create all sorts of conflicts that make a story good.  Thus, C. J. Cherryh has included language differences as a disruptor of clear communication, and her FTL isn’t just “press a button and get there,” but rather a system of applying power to an advanced physics problem, so mass vs power causes different ships to make it to the next normal space location at different times; and so ships can race to get through FTL hops, and take risks to cut time, because presence and communication are the key to conflict and resolution.  But those are her science fiction stories.

The speed of horses, the fatigue and endurance of humans, and the speed of gossip and misinformation, all play a significant role in this novel, and it is the better for it. If for no other reason you should read this novel to see how she handles the flow of information and people. It makes the world *feel* more real.

One other reason to read this book: realistic handling of feminist topics.  It has never been confirmed, but I and others have assumed that C. J. Cherryh was the liberal science fiction writer (Sherry Atkinson) appearing on the Alien Assessment Team in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall.  I felt their characterization of her, for all that it was good enough to make it clear who they meant, was unfair.  She may be (and probably is) Progressive, but she is no bleeding heart, naive liberal.  Her books always display a clear and profoundly accurate grasp of human nature, vulnerabilities, and motivations.  This book is no different.

In this book, a young girl wants to learn how to be a killing machine so she can get revenge on the man who killed her family and destroyed her home community.  Cherryh handles is quite realistically: the girl doesn’t become an equal to a man; in fact, after a full year of training, the viewpoint character shows her how even a half-trained man could easily defeat her just by height, reach, and strength that will always outmatch her own, no matter how vigorously she trains.  But then the sword master alters his training from the ideal set of skills to helping her minimize her weakness and maximize the strengths of her different set of abilities.

Cherryh may be a liberal/progressive/Leftist, but her stories often seem to arrive at the same conclusions conservatives do, and she has a gritty and insightful view of human nature that shines through.

On the other hand, her current epic series masterworks (the Foreigner series (at last count, 20 books and still going), is filled with the same Leftist Dowager political assumptions that mar the later works of Lois McMaster Bujold: “Conservative = bad,” “Conservatives are hypocrites or ignorant people who would be Progressive if they would just open their eyes,” “It’s okay to lie/cheat to obtain a Progressive societal win, because after the stupid Conservatives have Progressive societal advancements shoved down their throat, they’ll see it was right,” “the correctness of the Progressive cause justifies using dishonest and dishonorable methods on anyone who tries to stop us,” “There is absolutely no decent argument for opposing the Progressive agenda, so I won’t even let them make an argument in my book,” and “Progressives win simply because they are virtuous in their commitment to Social Progress.”

The change in her writing seemed to happen about the time she turned 52. McMasters Bujold became less enjoyable for me when she turned 51.  Come to think of it, Heinlein became unreadable in his later life, as well. I disliked Stranger in a Strange Land, written when he was 54. In all three cases, there is a novel where their writing disappoints me, then a novel or two that are still good (in the older style?  or in concert with the older themes?), and then within 3-4 years, their novels become wholly unreadable.

This has implications for my hopes of establishing a writing career, since I’m already extremely close to that age.

Anyway, The Paladin has a great setting, great characters, a good plot, a great grasp of the realities of communication and travel in a non-technological world, and one other thing I appreciated:

Disruption.

I think I’ll discuss this theme tomorrow.  Let it suffice to say that the girl uses disruption to get what she wants, only to have it used against her later.  And then Disruption becomes the main theme of the last third of the book. We’ll discuss this more tomorrow.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Ideas

  • by Gitabushi

I might never get my act together and write consistently.

Ah, screw the long-winded introduction. Let’s just get right into it:

Here are some story ideas I’ve started and abandoned. If you like any of them, use them. Whatever you would do with them would be so different than what I would do with them, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell they came from the same idea seed.  And that’s if I ever wrote any more on these stories, which I probably won’t, so if you use any of these, you won’t even owe me a mention on your acknowledgement page.

  1. Science Fiction story: a spy ship is on a mission to collect intelligence from an enemy world. Detected, it flees. But a traitor within prevents it from escaping, and the crew is captured. Basically, the point was a Science Fiction remix of the capture of the USS Pueblo and the Collision of the Chinese Fighter with the EP-3, with my thoughts on leadership and responsibility thrown in.  Does the pilot/commander have the responsibility to sacrifice his people for mission secrecy?  Or, at what point do military secrets matter less than a handful of lives? Does it matter if those lives are volunteers who accepted their lives might be forfeit the moment they stepped on the craft? And how do you lead your people to resist mind-games while in captivity?
  2. Fantasy story: Magic in this world is placed into twigs via ritual. Breaking the twig releases the magic. It can do things like increase strength, increase distance vision, permit levitation, etc. But each use of magic draws upon the normal powers or energy of the user. So, for example, if you use the vision enhancement twig, your vision is weakened for a few hours after the spell runs out.  If you use several magic twigs to boost the effect or delay the cost, then you risk permanent disability. Placed in the context of war, the intent was to explore the sacrifices soldiers make to complete the mission.
  3. Private Eye Noir story: man wakes up to find a red-haired woman wearing bright green pointing a gun at him.  She asks him a few inexplicable questions, then pistol whips him into unconsciousness.  I have no idea what I was going to do with this, I just thought it was a good start.  One possibility was when he goes out looking for the girl, he finds a red-haired girl in bright green has been murdered…but is it a frame?  Is it even the same girl?
  4. Science Fiction story: Due to an unknown development (but likely a microbe unexpectedly brought back from Mars), children are born without the ability to heal wounds. This should cause them to die before passing on their genes, but one rich family spares no expense to let their son live a full life: protective equipment when young, ballet and martial arts teachers from before they can walk to have the grace/balance to avoid damage. This method spreads to the point that there are hundreds of millions of people afflicted with unhealing, but someone uses fear of the unhealing to stir up hatred, and a war breaks out.  The superior grace, balance, and fighting ability of the unhealing results in them eradicating the genetic line of the healing, and civilization collapses, and all modern knowledge is lost within 40-50 years. But a moon colony has been watching this, developed a cure for affliction, and now wants to come back and re-introduce civilization, but as masters.  So the healing serum is offered to a young fighter to seduce him into being their general. Being able to heal, he can be more reckless in individual duels to ascend to tribal champion, then unite the various tribes by conquest.  Except maybe he has plans of his own. Intent was to show that some of the arguments about evolution are garbage (“See the giraffe? The long neck helped them survive by reaching the tops of trees when other animals starved! That proves evolution!”), but also the nature of using hate to build political power, and the desire of people to be rulers/masters.
  5. Epic Science Fiction universe: An asteroid barely misses the earth, inspiring a wealthy entrepreneur to fund a generation ship to another solar system. Inhabitants go through a trial to make it on the ship. The ship launches. A few weeks later, a mission to terraform Mars is launched.  Then an asteroid hits the earth, destroying most of life. This allows all sorts of science fiction stories: how are people selected to be crew on the generation ship?  You don’t want only intellectual scientists and engineers…do you? Apocalypse stories. Maintaining civilization on a ship stories. Moon colony stories. Mars terraforming stories.  Rebuilding civilization stories.  Could maybe even through in a zombie apocalypse, or magic re-emerging on earth in the wake of the asteroid apocalypse.  Epic.
  6. Science Fiction story: FTL needs pilots. Humans go insane from brain damage if they remain awake during FTL travel. Computers also fail if left on during FTL travel.  An accidental discovery indicates that children that have passed into the Pre-Operational stage (ages 2-7) can pilot ships without brain damage; obviously, a two year old couldn’t follow the steps correctly, but their brain development stage allows them to experience the FTL environment without damage. In the Concrete Operational stage (age 7-11), brain damage begins to occur; however, the damage doesn’t actually impact the mental activity until they achieve Formal Operational (around age 11). The government needs pilots. Age 2-7 is too short a time period for useful mission operation to be worth the training, so the government allows kids to keep piloting until they actually go insane. However, few parents would agree to this, so the pilots are all orphans. After they go insane, they are allowed to mingle, have sexual intercourse, and birth children…who are, of course, Wards of the State and eligible to be pilots.  To justify this virtual slavery, the pilots are given a good salary and the ability to buy out their contract. Most, being kids, just buy toys and candy.  One child, however, actually enjoys the idea of investing and manages to buy out his contract before experiencing any brain damage.  He gets out and goes into business and becomes wealthy, due to his ability to plan for the future, work hard, and delay gratification.  Then one day, a gray man comes to him and says, “Your little brother is still in, but will reach the damaging stage some time within the next year. Join me.”  This idea was conceived in reaction to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, in which children think and act like adults.  It pissed me off. Plus, I wanted to write an epic Star Wars like space opera romp, of a ragtag crew fighting against an all-powerful, and banally-evil govt. I always like stories where the govt is the bad guy, but not from Rule the World evil as much as People Are Liabilities and Must be Told What to Do and How to Live sort of evil.

Culdcept and more Dune sciency stuff

Life flows onward. Care for the larva takes precedence.

I recently picked up a cheap 3DS game that looked interesting. It’s called Culdcept Revolt. Apparently the Culdcept series has been around for a while, though I’d never heard of it.

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Gameplay-wise, it’s something of an ill-begotten spawn. Think Monopoly meets Yugioh meets Magic: The Gathering. In effect it sometimes feels like Mario Party – skill and strategy matter, but the result of a 30-minute match can ultimately depend upon the favor or curse of the Random Number God. But I guess Magic was always subject to that. “Whoops, you drew 10 lands in a row? Learn to shuffle better, scrub.”

But it’s got card collecting and deck building, so it scratches an itch. Don’t get me started on the writing, though. It’s seriously bad.

Ah well, at least it’s turn-based. When you need to be able to respond to the wail of your progeny at a moment’s notice, turns are required. Or at least pausing. Maybe both.

Meanwhile Dune continues to stimulate as I read in bits and squeaks. Back in college, I took a class in sociology and our professor had us read Dune. Herbert is more often recognized for the ecological hardness of his seminal work, but there’s a lot of soft science going on, too. Man, that was a cool class.

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I’m told Herbert really knew ecology. I think it shows. But honestly, I’m not the kind of guy who’s incredibly difficult to convince with this stuff. Throw in the names of some scientific processes, maybe a plausibly-named theory…hey man, sounds sciency to me. “Hard” and “soft” scifi are relative terms, I guess.

Also, is “chromoplastic” a thing? Maybe…? A related element that’s impressed me is the range of invention Herbert utilizes here. He may not have coined all or even most of these gizmos and scifi doodads, but he seems to have picked some good ones that either never reached wide-scale use or else hit critical mass after he threw them in the mix.

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This kind of thing is important, you know? Sure, you can have a good story with blasters and laser swords and plasteel armor and space marines. But that’s all been done. A lot. Don’t underestimate the power of novelty.

Oh, look – “cone of silence.” This thing was popularized by the old 60’s Get Smart TV show, of course, but it was apparently kicking around for at least a decade before that. Herbert himself used the term in a 1955 short story, so Wiki tells meDune was published in 1965, as a reference point.

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I love this stuff, but dang I’ll be glad when I can muster up the wherewithal to dive into something new. Witch World looms.

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-Bushi

bushi