Friday, May 29, 2009

Vulcan gets sucked down the hole -- Star Trek, the 2009 version


OK, so I finally got to see the latest Star Trek installment. One of my daughters went to see it with me, and we sat there, and it was like like a discovery-fest. "I wonder what Uhura is like." "Ohh, Chekov is so cute!" "Hey, checkout Sulu!" "Ah, there comes Scotty!" You get the idea.

We have some friends who definitely aren't Trekkers. They like Westerns even less, and fantasy by and large leaves them cold. They even almost didn't like Transformers—#2 coming soon; joy!—because of the politics. All of which would have implied, one would have thought, and especially because this isn't peacenik or greenie-pooh Star Trek, what with having fist-swinging, womanizing Kirk in the center, that they couldn't have liked the movie much. Besides, there was no way they could have gotten the cult/genre references and homages, of which there were aplenty, despite the whimsically willful changes in the characters—some of which were outright outrageous, but very cool anyway. Still, our friends liked it; which says a lot about the movie and its potential appeal across the resistance-boundaries of many unaficionados. And, let's face it, there are a lot of poor, benighted unaficionados out there that require conversion to the genre and its traditions.

Did we love it? Of course. Dumb-ass question.

One detail I liked was an enhanced realism in terms of 'grubbiness'. Star Trek was always associated with almost septic cleanliness, which arose in the original series from the props and the limited budget. Besides, people were much more tolerant of lack of environmental realism. But these days... Well, there were parts of the movie where I thought I had been dropped into one of those movie styles pioneered by the likes of Ridley Scott. Dirty exhaust ports. Worn seats. Scuff marks on the walls. Mind you, the lecture/assembly hall at Starfleet was spick and span, and the bridge of the new NCC 1701 on her maiden voyage into hell was very clean indeed. Not that it lasted long. A very messy, chaotic and definitely grubby spaceship with a demented Romulan, played with gusto by Eric Bana, saw to that pretty damn quick.

And, of course, Vuclan got sucked down a black hole and Earth was under threat of following after. I wonder if anybody thought 'LHC' at that time. I know I did.




Highway Under the Stars

Let me start this blog with an assertion:

The greatest and most underestimated loss incurred by urban humanity are the stars.

Why am I saying that?

As some of you may know, we've moved out of 'town'. To a place near a little town called Woodford, in Queensland. We live about .5 km away from the D'Aguilar Highway, which is a two-lane feeder highway that goes off from the main coastal highway and into the west.

There are no streetlights where we live. In the distance, over the top of Mount Mee, we can see the reflection of the lights of Brisbane. But it is minor. When we look up, at this time of the year, and the sky is clear and the moon isn't riding high, we can see the center of the galaxy right above.

It's been about 10 years since we lived in a comparable environment. Then, it was in New Zealand, outside Dunedin, on the Otago Peninsula, where we could also see these things. Then, we just had a road go past our place, but it wasn't a 'highway'. That makes a difference, as will presently become clear—and I'm not talking about noise and all that, but more profound things. Things that have to do with perspective.

When you live in an area where there are no streetlights, and it is quiet and civilization seems far away—you can find that kind of thing, for example, on lonely stretches of highway in the Northern Territory; when there's just you and the desert and the stars—then you have yourself and the Earth and the sky, and there's something about it that warrants the attribute 'pristine'. And you go 'Wow! Look at the stars!"; and if you're fortunate enough to are someplace where you can see the core of the galaxy; if you're fortunate enough to have some knowledge of what it is you're actually looking at; if you have a good spatial imagination and can sustain imaginative efforts...then you might, for a moment or a few moments, get the most amazing 3D understanding of your place in the universe—well, at least in this tiny nook of it that we call 'our galaxy'.

Urban mankind has lost that for good; and if I look south and see the glow of Brisbane over Mount Mee and the nearby ranges, I look at the light that envelops urban man—and which to a certain extend contaminates the sky out here, too—and it is this envelope of light, banishing the darkness, that robs urban mankind of the stars. It also provides benefits, of course, such as security and safety; for in the dark invariably there lurk unpleasant things, and you wouldn't want urban existence to be lightless. But there's a price for everything, and when I look at the night sky and the highway with it occasional long string of vehicles following each other, going one way and the other, I understand the price—mainly because I see the darkness that reveals and the light that conceals at the same time.

More so than the lights of Brisbane in the distance, the highway shows me people, busy with their concerns and quite unaware of where they actually are, moving this way and that, with their headlights picking out only that part of the world they are actually concerned with or focused on, and going in headlong rush to wherever it is they're going; with plans for this or that; almost certainly without any consciousness of what they are actually doing at the moment, but just doing it; without awareness that, from this glorious sky above them, in which we move at dizzying speeds not just around the sum but also around the center of the galaxy itself, from this sky in which, a long time ago a supernova or several exploded in inconceivably fury to create the very elements that form the fabric their very bodies and the brains that rush along that highway from there to there...

Long sentence, I know.

It's the contrast that reminds me of the context. Immensity versus contraction of perspective to what one sees in the headlights. Not that there's anything wrong with seeing what the light shines on! But you've got to realize that what may lurk in the darkness—the kangaroo, in this country at least, that bounds from the side of the road and into your headlights—may be more dangerous to you, or more fatidic, than what you can see. And the immensity above, from which at any time, because of the crapshoot of indifferent cosmic contingency, may come that which annihilates not just you and yours, but all life on Earth. And yet, it's the same cosmos that brought it forth to begin with.

These thoughts are not morbid, merely the inevitable results of gaining 'perspective' other than that you get when you drive along that highway, in your car or truck, going wherever you're going, preoccupied with whatever preoccupies you, planning whatever you're planning, hoping, wishing, fearing, fretting over, laughing at, sad about.

A highway under the stars. People moving along it, up and down, going here and there and everywhere and nowhere at all...

Monday, May 25, 2009

What You Ought To Do (And Who Can Tell You What That Is)

Short answer to the questions implied in the title: HTF would I know? (Nobody but yourself).

The long answer:

Came across an article in what sounds like one of those upright, community-spirited Canadian organs of communication. I won't go how I came across it. Long story.

N.B. I am not linking to the article or the source, because I don't want anybody to go out and give that person a hard time just because I'm using his/her words to make what I think is a very important point that isn't going to be complimentary to the writer.

Anyway, the article starts with the words "The universe is laughing at me." and ends with "Part of being a responsible adult is taking the time to participate in the democratic process that determines who gets to make the laws. Another part of being a responsible adult is taking the time to learn about the art that's being created in one's own time, to help shape the way future generations will remember the global cultural landscape of 2009." plus another short paragraph that matters not.

The bits between the beginning and the end confirm the uniopia of the writer. It is, of course, all about her. Well, no blame attaches to that, and it would do so even less of you were an Objectivist, which apparently some people are.

Sidebar: And, yes, I'm definitely going to push the the 'uniopia' related terminology. It's such a good word. 'Uniopia', 'uniopic', 'uniopism', 'uniopiate', 'uniopification'. Different categories of words revolving around the idea that someone has a point of view that only has one point of view; meaning he or she is seriously disinclined to look at the world from points of view other than the one it is being seen from. Since this is a new word, albeit a sensible and near-obvious one, we might as well define it's occurrences across the whole spectrum of applicable categories. The antoym wouldbe, of course, 'polyopic', with all the attendant variants on the theme.

But that's all by-the-by. Let's get back to the target of the cosmic joke, who, like one might expect from any staid citizen—even if she is a science-fiction aficionado; though from what it looks like, of the 'literary', meaning DAM (Deep And Meaningful) variety, which almost certainly implies condescension to those forms that don't make that grade—and that end paragraph, which attracted my real attention.

Here we have one of those statements that, to the suitably 'cultured' surely appears almost self-evidently truthful. Doesn't have to apply to Canada. This kind of utterance might have come from anybody consider him or herself 'civilized', 'educated', 'literate', 'intelligent', 'aware' and so on. And let's not forget 'responsible'. A 'responsible adult', that is. I'm quoting; check it in the excerpt.

'Responsible adult'.

The definition makes me cringe and almost want to become an Objectivist. Arrghh! Anything that can drive me to such desperate considerations, surely must be terribly objectionable in some way, or contain terrible statements or support abortion or other forms of senseless killing, or maybe even condone or excuse genocide or... Whatever.

But, no, it's nothing like that. The statement that's got me riled up is, superficially, innocuous to the n-th degree (n > some-very-big-number). You really can't beat that paragraph for expression of near-ultimate existential blandness; the kind associated with a truly civilized person, having all those qualities listed earlier. And I would like to state, with no ambiguity, that I think there's absolutely nothing wrong at all, nothing at all, with going out and educating oneself, loading one's reading schedule full of books, one of which includes dense medieval classics and the current list of Hugo Award nominations (which is how I came across it, with kind of a long way around). Nothing at all.

Reading is good. Literature is good. Being literate by and large is good. Making sure that one votes and does so informed about what one votes for, is also good. (It's the same for politics, of course, only that all you need to know there is that politicians are politicians; and if they aren't when they start, they will be so after they've been doing it for long enough. It's been that way since the dawn of 'politics'.) Going to sci-fi conventions is good; the genre can do with all the support it can lay its hands on, if only because so many people still don't 'get' it.

So, all this is perfectly OK, and is someone chooses—note the word 'choose', which is pivotal in my view of the world—to value these things and to allocate one's time doing this or that in accordance with these values, then that's perfectly OK, too. But...

The moment one makes a statement that starts with something like "Part of being a responsible adult is..." it isn't OK anymore. That's partially because it implies that if one isn't or doesn't do whatever follows, that will make one into less of a 'responsible adult'. The way this is phrased, it's like you have this collection of attributes that make you into a 'responsible adult'. Tick off the boxes; check, check, don't check, don't check, check, check, check. Count the ticks, calculate the percentage, and you have the measure of a 'responsible adult'. It's this kind of shit that has probably always been thrown by 'responsible adults' at...well, whomever are members of the 'less than responsible adult' group. That means mostly people who either aren't 'adult' in a purely technical sense—though even that is a tough one: the 'technically' not being an 'adult'; since the word itself is kind of hard to define, excepting maybe by age—or who don't have enough boxes ticked to cross the threshold into 'responsible adulthood'.

The inoffensive, bland ordinariness of the paragraph quoted above hides the oppressiveness and intolerance of the concepts underpinning it. This is, in so many ways, what a large portion of the world of man has come to. Some will call it a good place, of course, and seen from a certain perspective it look that way. People who are 'responsible adults' and who do their civic duty and read copiously and are educated, and all that kind of thing. And this in indeed what they do, and they have no apparent urge to do anything else. Which is good for them.

The intolerance is implied in the value judgment applied to those who don't have the attributes required of 'responsible adults'. People who, say, don't vote. People who do not read or who have not the slightest shred of interest in the 'art of one's time' or how the world is going to look back one day and view the 'cultural landscape of 2009' or any damn year for that matter? They therefore become 'less-responsible adults'?

Such statements are representative of the bland, but powerful, oppressiveness and intolerance of exactly those people, whose rights to be ordinary and think they way they do were bought by the blood of many of those who probably won't have, or didn't have, many of the attributes of such 'responsible adulthood'. They are oppressive of non-adults: the ever-rebellious 'youth', who these days is looking somewhat insipid and pathetic, truth be told. Statements made by those who are condescending in their bland but ineffably superior security and self-assurance that what they are is as one should be.

And yet, these people, literate as they are, seem to have missed the dubious manner in which they use the word 'responsible'. Responsible for what? To what? To whom? To do what?

The usage of 'responsible' as an adjective without a reference gives rise to all sorts of mischief. It becomes its own definition, which mutates depending on who applies it and when. But on the whole and in most cases, 'responsible' without a reference is used as a sneaky euphemism for 'righteous'; and that word and whatever concept goes with it from time to time, has been a source of scurrilous individual and social manipulation for a long time. Now it has hidden itself under the rock of the reference-free 'responsible' and thinks it's safe it that dank place, because nobody's noticing that it's there anymore. But lift the rock and look at the low-life that lurks beneath...

Next time you hear 'responsible' being used reference-free anywhere, just substitute 'righteous' and you'll be amazed at what you'll discover as having really been said or written.

As for the real meaning of 'responsible', you might want to consider its connection to the verb 'respond' and the 'action'-noun 'response'. It is different though from being 'responsive', which implies much more a preparedness to 'respond' or actually doing the responding. It's more to do with the actual action and value-free. You don't need to have anybody else around, excepting yourself and even that could be remotely these days, in order to be 'responsive'.

But for 'responsibility' there's more; for this is a social term. If you're responsible for anything, it's because you've been charged with responding to some set of conditions by someone. That someone can be you or someone else. But it's got to do with people anyway. If it's yourself charging yourself with a responsibility, this can also be seen as a social interaction between different parts of your own psyche. One part, the one that does such obligation assigning, charges another, the one who can accept such a charge and to with it what needs to be done.

Internally, too, we are a small society of competing interests, and in that society decisions have to be made and duties assigned. And arguments and disagreements are not only common, but and essential part of being human. That's how decisions are made: in the arguments between the member part of our psyche; where one finally ends up winning and everybody else falls into lockstep with he decision...most of the time anyway...maybe...

If you come across a 'responsible adult', recognizable by any number of little signs and indicators, watch them carefully; and then choose if that what you, too, would like to be. And of you choose that you do, remember that it'll cost you.

Dearly.

Look at what it cost them!

Friday, May 22, 2009

OK, So I Was Wrong. It Happens.

Terry Goodkind is not only an adherent of Objectivism, but considers Ayn Rand to be the greatest philosopher since Aristotle.

Search me! I honestly don't know how people can believe this crap. Thing is, I'm myself harboring convictions that aren't all that dissimilar—but you really got to avoid getting sucked into buying the whole enchilada, mainly because it makes no sense. Not that Aristotle is the final word on 'sense', but Objectivism? Give me a break! It goes against everything we know about the human mind; against all the evidence we have about how the human mind actually works, insofar as it's workings are contingent upon the physical structures that allow it to exist and express itself. Rand-ism is an unscientific philosophy, born out of ignorance about biological realities. Surely, you'd think so anyway, that alone should cause those subscribing to the supreme power of reason, as instanced by the method of scientific inquiry, to abandon this silly ideology.

But, no. No no no.

There is an explanation for this, of course. A simple one. One with a supreme touch of irony that should prompt us all into a slightly embarrassed kind of snigger.

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool."

Recognize it? The thing is that Objectivists, thinking that they can actually appeal to 'reason' as an arbiter of 'truth'—excepting that accessible to the above-mentioned scientific inquiry—are exactly in that class of people whose heads soaked in convictions that actually can not be proved, not even suggestively so, by reason. Choices of action—what to do or what to believe to be true, to mention just two areas where such choices are made—are, at this level, matters of values. The word 'value' is a placeholder for a general class of those mental quantities that make us decide this way, rather than that; selectively attend to this thing rather than that one.

And, no, a ham-sandwich is not a 'value', as Goodkind would have it in his little philosophical spiel linked to above. A ham sandwich is just an object like any other, except that, for non-vegetarians at least, it may be associated with a mental 'value' of, say, "I like it" or "I'm hungry, and this is edible and will assuage my hunger"; which in turn will prompt a decision to eat it, rather than not. For a vegatarian it will also have an 'eek' value associated with it, and these two, in what amounts to a mutual mental competition, will lead to the need to ultimately make a choice that qualifies as a recognizable 'choice' as we think of it. "Should I eat this or not? I am hungry, but I don't want to eat the leftovers of a dead animal."

Values battling it out with values about basic decisions. Reason doesnt come into it, except in terms of evaluating the object and possibly the need to ingest food, which is related to survival, the desire for which is another 'value', and a strong one at that. And one might think that it is reason that ultimately decided if the ham-sandwich will get eaten. But in truth it is the competing values that have been activated in our minds in response to having performed the act of cognition that can be summarized as "This is a ham sandwich."

And, yes, reason might also show us a way out of the dilemma of having to make a choice; a way out to make the value competition be resolved with all values 'winning', if you will. I'm sure you figured that out, yes? (Solution: take the ham out of the sandwich and eat the rest.) But in that instance, reason wasn't actually the one doing the choosing either. It was all a way of the mind making the value competition come to a best-result outcome.

When you deconstruct Obectivist nonsense, usually a task so easy it is almost embarrassing, you might end up at the same place I usually do. I'm still not sure whether I'm sad or should just laugh about the terrifying applicability of the WFR. There are passages in the Goodkind books I'm reading (listening to) just now; passages that relate to ideology and how one is ensnared by them and by how everything, every aspect of one's thinking, tends to double back into one's ideology, because that's become the immutable framework of one's existence. And when I come across these, I want to say, "Terry, just listen to yourself! Listen and pay heed."

Still, the things—and maybe that's more important than Objectivist poppycock—that I do agree with in the Goodkind philosophy, is the value of life; the general railing against the religious, of the supernatural-god kind; and the notion that nobody but yourself can make, or ought to be allowed to make, the decisions that determine who and what you are and what you do and what you think.

If it comes down to it, and if I had to choose between people being stupid on the Objectivist side, as opposed to being stupid on the religious one...well, give me the Objectivists any damn day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Only in Germany, I Kid You Not!

German Man Attacks Woman Over High-Priced Asparagus


Monday, May 18, 2009

Police in Germany are searching for a motorist who attacked a 24-year-old woman because he was outraged over the price tag of asparagus she was selling.

The female vendor called law enforcement officials after the man screamed at her and hit her in the face, threatening to unleash his dog at her, police said.

"The motorist said her prices were totally over the top," Dietmar Keck, police spokesman in the Havelland district west of Berlin told Reuters.

White asparagus prices in Germany fluctuate during the springtime season, peaking at about $13.50 for about 2 pounds of the valuable vegetable.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Legend of the Seeker: Terry Goodkind's 'The Sword of Truth' on TV

Well, we've watched most of Season 1 of Legend of the Seeker by now, with only a couple more episodes to go. I'm also, quite coincidentally, listening to the audio-books for the last three books in the Sword of Truth series. (It's a good way to spend driving time, especially if you travel 350km, return, from the north side of Brisbane to the Gold Coast once a week.)

Anyway, to Legend of the Seeker, which is, I would like to say up-front, very good fun; very enjoyable and—as far as it goes in that genre in the TV-series context—even kind-of true to the original source of the story; which ultimately is Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, together with, or so I think I detect, elements of the subsequent books.

In the context of such a TV-serialized novel, which is a difficult thing to implement anyway, someone who has read the books inevitably will struggle with the issue of suddenly having something presented visually that previously was always essentially 'imaginary'; in the sense that one had to, following the descriptions in the books, 'imagine' what everything looked like. That goes especially for the central figures of the tale: Richard Cypher, the Seeker; Kahlan Amnell, the Mother Confessor; Zeddicus ("Zedd") Zu'l Zorander, First Wizard and Richard's grandfather; and Darken Rahl, the evil ruler set on universal conquest and enslavment, who is also... ahh, no, that would be spoiling things. I wonder if they're going to throw this little snippet of what would be a major SPOILER here for people who don't know the books, at viewers in the last episode of Season 1.

Plus there's a cast of supporting characters, including Shota, the powerful witch; Denna, the Mord Sith; and so on. Lots of New Zealand (where it was filmed) actors, and another bucketload of Aussie ones. They are hard to tell apart anyway. Migration tends to be free and copious; forth and back across what's known as 'The Ditch'.

Having read the books—well, most of them, up to the last trilogy—I have always had fairly concrete images of, especially, the three main protagonists. Richard: tall, strong country boy turned into the ultimate good-guy hero. Kahlan: green eyed beauty with long brown hair; almost as tall as Richard. Zedd: wiry, unruly white hair, powerful personality, not particularly tall, but physically quite powerful.

I have no issues with Bridget Regan as Kahlan. Insofar as one has to put a real person where once there was just a mental image, she's just about as close as you can get.

The wizard, Zedd, is played by Bruce Spence, possibly one of the tallest actors working in Australia and New Zealand. Oddly enough, the switch from imagining to seeing a real person that's no in-line with the imagined one there doesn't faze me with Zedd. Indeed, as I listen to the audio-books, I'm already substituting the new TV Zedd for the one that used to be there.

Richard Cypher, however, does give me trouble. Craig Horner is a very athletic young man, but he's small and somehow wielding the massive 'Sword of Truth' really doesn't work for me. The damn thing is huge compared to its wielder, and sometimes I'm wondering how he can swing it. The Richard of the books is just so different in so many ways.

Well, I still rather enjoy the series, despite the liberties taken with characters and plot. But, as one might expect, it is the Sword of Truth series mostly in spirit and some plot elements, plus the names. Some Goodkind fans may find that hard to stomach, of course. Well, life's hard and then you die.

Also, I noticed, with my current audio-book reading, that Goodkind has progressively drifted into polemics, uttered through the mouths of his protagonists and occasionally also with what amounts to author-commentary; though he usually disguises it. The dialogue is also...well, interesting from another point of view: when his characters hold forth, they use language and verbiage that just doesn't come out of the mouths of people, even if they are practitioners of magic. Many, even in moderately casual speech, sound like Obama holding forth in that pretentious way of his.

And Goodkind explains things. Again and again and again. And again. Sometimes in extended paragraphs, sometimes in clauses added to what otherwise would have been perfectly good and snappy sentences. Admittedly, the series has become so complicated, with so much having happened and so many elements being in play, that some explanation/exposition is appropriate. But the way it's done, it does interrupt the nice flow of the story.

Also, it fills books! By that I mean that in Chainfire, which I've just finished listening to and which is a fairly fat book, not that much really happens. Richard wakes up after being revived by the sorceress Nicci from a terrible injury. He finds that nobody remembers Kahlan, and that other things are also going oddly wrong. There's also a 'beast' chasing after him, sent by that ingrate and degenerate, Emperor Jagang. The book's taken up with picking up on old threads and explaining what's what and who's who and who did what and when. Plus there's Richard trying to convince everybody that Kahlan is real, and that something is terribly wrong in the world.

A few trips, a gazillion overlong conversations, and that's about it for Chainfire.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did, but as an author—and one brought up steeped in the work of the likes of Jack Vance, and especially Vance—I notice extra fat. This fat extends to repetitions of matters that had been expositioned just a few chapters earlier; and one would think that with moderately intelligent and retentive readers, repetition of this kind should be unnecessary. Vance once said that he assumes just such intelligence in his readers. Goodkind, on the other hand, says and explains things and background and reasons and causes and effect and intentions again and again, just to make sure even the Dummies aren't left behind.

And what's wrong with leaving them behind? Most readers will be intelligent enough not to require this. That's partly the reason why they're still reading. Do any Dummies actually go back to such a complicated tale after a while, or is this just the author's and/or publisher's assumption? I know they might, just because it's something familiar that goes on and on, and it's in a league way above the liked of Jordan and, as of the latter works, of David Eddings—who used to be fun, but now is just boring.

But do they really? Should what otherwise are novels of unusual character be aimed at... Ahh, never mind.

Reason why I end up enjoying Goodkind's fiction despite all these objections is that, when he preaches, he basically preaches lots of stuff that I wholeheartedly agree with. Occasionally it borders on loony Ayn-Randism, but it might just look that way to my jaundiced eye because I've seen similar philosophies coming from other authors, who in turn do defer to that silly woman. But I have hopes that Goodkind isn't fooled by Objectivist nonsense. The vast majority of what he says is solid Heinleinianism, with a Goodkind twist. Go, Terry.

One more thing. I have a notion that Goodkind, in the process of wrapping up the series and wrapping up the strands of mystery and all that, is doing some serious post facto rationalizing and connecting. Nothing wrong with that. It's the privilege of any author who has built a complex world; and then you have all these oddities and somehow they've got to belong together, and so you weave the remainder of your narrative so that they do. It's a lot like life, which can also be puzzling and mysterious and WTF.

The author will, of course, claim that somehow he had it all planned, but that's bullshit, as I've pointed out before. Until I decided to write Aslam, now imminent in terms of being started (once I've tidied up the detritus associated with moving house), I really had no idea what the rea' 'secret of Tethys' actually is. You know, the thing that, once uncovered, will change humanity's history forever and get rid of all the tyrants and injustice and blahblahblah.

Kidding! That's not going to happen, but something momentous will. The discovery of the 'secret' will return the series right back to a place not too far away, in genre terms, from where it began. And it's all about the Sareen's. Of course it is. What else could it be about? They are at the core of this; always have been.

I understand that now, but not because I designed it that way, but because that's the world I built, and it's kind-of taking over. I sense the same phenomenon spreading throughout the last three SoT books.

As I said: nothing wrong with it. Makes story telling more interesting actually.

Monday, May 11, 2009

ENOUGH ALREADY!

Geez, crikey!

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. That would be five (5) days, yes? That's how long it took us to move our asses and our stuff from one place to another, plus get the old house ready for the tenants that are going to rent it. No point in selling property right now. You just lose your precious investment.

Two three-ton moving van loads, carted from one place to another, plus several trailerloads, plus several Subaru Outback loads, and even so I'll be going back to our friendly neighbor's place beside our former residence to pick up a load of plants. Ahh, don't get me started!

Fortunately, the place we now occupy, henceforth referred-to as 'home', was spick and span and ready to receive us without cleaning overheads. That's a first. All our other homes needed a good cleanup to start with. But in this instance, the people who we bought it from were of a different kind than the common ruck and had what you might call 'pride'; and they also liked the place they built and left behind. It shows!

Anyway, the obligatory photos will follow in due course when I finally caught up with all my real work. Work work, the kind that creates income. Which is why there isn't any more blogging today!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Moving Time

Yep. It's happening. Day after tomorrow we're going to hire a 3-ton moving truck and shift ourselves. There'll probably be more days of moving stuff over, before our current residence gets taken over by the people who have signed up to rent it. By the time that's done, the operative catch phrase will be "enough already!"

I'm hoping—and we're intending to make it so!—that this will be the last move for quite a while. I never say 'forever' because that's got a terribly terminal ring to it; but 'indefinitely' is definitely an indefinite definiteness. If that makes any sense.

After the move, or so I would hope, more regular blogging may resume. And writing. There's a novel waiting to see the reality of the typed word, and it's clamoring for attention with a louder voice every day. That's the way I know that it really is ready to be attended to as it should.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Why aren't humans square?

Don't read this post unless you've read the last one, please, because it'll make more sense that way—if 'sense' is what you're looking for, that is.

In that last blog I was basically saying that the only real benefit I can see as having arisen from 'modern civilization' is vastly improved health for those who live in 'civilized' realms, and even many of those who don't. As for the rest of it, I asserted, I'd happily do without most, if not all, of the amenities and 'benefits' provided by science, technology and whatever constitutes 'civilized' ambiance.

Let me straighten out anyone straight who thinks that means I'm thinking 'utopia' here. Definitely not. But I'm also not thinking of medievalism. Humans are what they are, and we should not forget that the greatest advances in technology, as well as other areas of human endeavor, were almost universally prompted by two opposing motivations:
  • To make us live as well as we can for as long as we can.
  • To win conflicts with others.
Both of these topics should be taken in very broad meanings, which extend to a vast range of secondary activities associated with the primary ones. All I'm interested in here is that these two areas provide the essential focus of motivation; always have and probably will for a very, very long time.

If you follow the threads of such thoughts into detail—as I am wont to do, being a story-teller, and thus interested in the particular and often unexpected consequences of the 'general'—you'll find stray notions that may surprise you.

Here's one example:

Consider this. On a medieval battlefield it was pretty much unnecessary to actually pause to kill an adversary; meaning it wasn't necessary, excepting maybe as a point of honor, to finish him off. Indeed, it would have been counterproductive to do so. Any effort wasted on doing more than making him unable to fight was effort wasted. The time would have been much better spent dealing with others, who were in turn busy trying to kill you while you were engaged in being unnecessarily thorough or noble or whatever.

Thing is, with the 'medicine' available then most of the injured would have died anyway. And if it so happened that a noble warrior king rode at the front and led the battle—rather than hunkering in a bunker and watching and directing it from afar—and he was injured, he, too, had a very high likelihood of dying. Medicine sucked majorly.

As a result of this we have the development of certain weaponry. Basically—and let's stick to battlefield and ignore, e.g. siege situations—you only needed those weapons that would produce the required maiming and disabling. Anything else would have been overkill.

But suppose we had a situation like you found in the battle for castle Keaen at the end of the first Tethys novel; where 'Sareens', who can heal horrific wounds with something that approaches the miraculous, do their job on the wounded, and thus seriously impact on the 'slaughter'-factor. Suppose also that this kind of healing were widespread, and existed on both sides of the warring divides. In other words, the situation would be symmetrical. Not like today in, say, Afghanistan, where an injured allied soldier has a much higher chance of survival than an injured Taliban. He might end up not being able to join in the fight anymore, or even end up with missing limbs and possibly more significant bits and pieces, but there is a profound psychological difference between a soldier injured and a soldier killed.

In a world of battlefield-healing by Sareens, swords would not be quite as effective as they are otherwise. Unless injuries are un-healable or unless people are actually killed on the spot, the same soldiers might wll return to fight another day. Not a good thing for the enemy.

Meaning, of course, that weapons design would be different, slanted toward ensuring that people actually can't be healed. I leave it to your imagination to pursue this further.

So, no, just because we'd have a world without the need to develop medical technology, that doesn't mean that it would be a nicer world than the one we live in. It wouldn't mean that it would be a worse one either. Just different. And it's quite possible that, driven by the desire to develop better means of killing people, as well as the need to accommodate the existence of large urbanized populations, physical science might well go pretty much the way it's gone now. It's possible, even feasible, that we'd end up in a world not unlike this one, with all the less edifying aspects attending to it.

But I dare to think that it would probably be a world without religious motivation to conduct wars, and quite possibly without the bane of monotheisms. That is mainly because with miraculous healing being commonplace they'd cease to be 'miraculous', and one of the main reasons for people believing in a deity would become nuncupatory. Of course, then there would be other philosophical issues, and we'd need to ask whether the 'healers' were actually able to avert death from old age and all that. For if they were, then the world would be nothing like it is today. But if we'd suppose that they could not, but still add 'quality of life' even to the aged, that would be different again. There are fascinating vistas here.

One other thing occurred to me. It had to do with those I alluded to, who wouldn't today, even if they could, be able to become throwbacks and live in 'throwback' conditions of an essentially non-urban environment. (And I'm ignoring the simple fact that it wouldn't be possible anyway, because it would be practical only with fairly low population numbers. Urbanization is the inevitable consequence of population growth.) I have some friends who'd find it impossible. This is a phenomenon I've been trying to understand, because I'm totally differently inclined. Next week, we're moving out to the best approximation to 'country' you can get within the not-too-difficult reach of 'city' and the attendant needs of 'employment' requirements. Doing this involves serious decisions about what one considers worthwhile and what one might be willing to sacrifice for what. I am acutely aware that many just wouldn't be able to do this; and I mean from a life-style choice point of view. They could afford it, more than we can, but they wouldn't seriously consider it.

The reasons have to do with conditioning. I think that conditioning is not only about what one 'gets' out of a life-style, but also about environment. Some people, I suspect, need the visual environment of 'city'. Straight lines, rectangles and diagonals, precise lining of roads...all those things that are almost necessary visual attributes of urbanization. Every now and then I get a glimpse of the odd notion—by something someone says, or implies by what is being said—that the sight of roofs and houses, sometimes in near-claustrophobia-inducing (at least for me) proximity, is comforting; visually, esthetically and by what it implies socially, despite the gulf that tends to exist between most urbanized 'neighbors'. I think of it as the urge to 'huddle'; which extends into areas far beyond the 'residential'.

Fascinating...