Archive for February, 2011

Bellatrix Blyton

February 25, 2011

There’s a movie about the life of Enid Blyton, the famous writer of books for a wide range of children and youths. (Oh, the back of the library-o-mobile was groaning with the weight of those, back in my day, and much entertainment was had, back in the Eighties amidst the dark woods of Finland, mumbledy-mumbledy-yes.)

In that movie, the actress that plays Enid Blyton is Helena Bonham Carter.

The only other instance I know her from is playing the psychotic blood purist murderess witch Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies.

I am so very much unable to process this combination.

Enid Blyton… and Bellatrix Lestrange.

It seems almost like an excuse for sporking up some fan fiction; but it’s been too long since I’ve read Blyton, and I’ve never read them in English anyway. (Come to think of it, I probably should go and get one of the Adventure books, just for the sake of sheer nostalgia.)

No. I shall resist.

I will not note that Wikipedia mentions the dated attitudes of the books, written in the 40s and the 50s as they were.

I will not mention the witch had a certain sense of the superiority of some people over others, too.

I will not say the Fantastic Five are their brave blond leader Draco, the big blustery provincial barrel-o-laughs Vincent, the cheeky, kind and kinda fat city boy Gregory, the plucky no-nonsense girl Millicent, and their heroic and very smart pet rat Scabbers, or as Draco calls him, Lord Deathfang Sniggers Mudblooddrinker of the Night.

Nor will I say a word, not a word, about their jovial but secretive uncle, Mr. Riddle, who may be a secret agent or something like.

Not a whisper of the sinister goings-on at Gryffindor Island, and the unsavory mudbloods that are mucking there something as queer as a Squib! Won’t Uncle Riddle be surprised when the intrepid Fantastic Five hand him the wickedly lawbreaking kidnappers and Potter-friends of the… Island of Adventure!

“What’re you going to do with them, Uncle Riddle?” Millicent asked, snatching another glance at the ugly, dirty, smelly and mercifully unconscious pack of Muggles.

“Well, young Bulstrode, my dear”, Tom Riddle chortled, “I’ve alerted Constable Nagini to come here at once. He’ll sweep them up in no time! Now tell me, girl, where’re the rest of these inferior animals keeping poor old professor Slughorn? I think I may have a little surprise for them, if you and young Malfoy are amenable to helping me a bit!”

“Oh, but we are!” Millicent Bulstrode cried in delight and jumped up and down like a Muggle in a fireplace.

No. I shall mention no such things.

Because I have better things to do.

Yes, I do.

Really.

The failure of Uresh

February 23, 2011

Mmm. There’s an excerpt of Patrick Rothfuss‘s the Wise Man’s Fear over on the Tor site.

One: Eagerly waiting, oh yes. Just a few more days.

Two: Had a laugh about this bit in the excerpt.

“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.”

“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause. He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.”

Which I could, if I was feeling uncharacteristically umbrage-ready, take as an insult to all mathematicians, ever, even to Gottfried Leibniz, “the Amor-Goat of Hanover”. But I won’t, because obviously Uresh is so ordered to seek out the opposite or the same sex because he’s been at work for so long he no longer thinks straight. (Or even rigorously bent.)

Well, that, or then the mathematics of Kvothe’s world aren’t yet up to the Cantorian level of understanding infinities, c. 1874; Uresh may be agreeing with one of the so-called “paradoxes” of Greek mathematics, most of which were just the result of too much common sense. (In mathematics, “common sense” is a dangerously misleading tool. Common sense doesn’t work for uncommon subjects!)

Or then Uresh’s just trying a fairly despicable bit of sleight-of-hand, hoping Mr. Elodin isn’t a mathematics professional (professorial?) thought he acts like one.

Namely, his second assertion is all wrong. He’s saying that you can take a finite number and break it into an infinite number of non-zero pieces. This is true, though only for some infinite divisions.

This division would then make the pieces add up to infinity, which would be highly peculiar. This ain’t so, which can be illustrated with an easy example.

Take the number one. (A stick one foot in length if that helps you.) Split it into two pieces, 1/2 and 1/2.

Split the second half (but not the first) into two more pieces, 1/4 and 1/4. You have 1/2, 1/4 and 1/4.

Split the second fourth into two more pieces, 1/8 and 1/8. You have 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/8.

Go on likewise, and don’t worry about stopping.

Doing so, you get the pieces 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and so on; you get infinitely many pieces, each of which is of a finite, fixed, non-zero size. And adding them all back together clearly (?) leads back to the same one-piece, not to some bogus infinity!

We must refrain from splitting both pieces, because we want pieces of non-zero size. If we ever split every piece, we would get first two halves, then four fourths, then eight eighths, and so on; clearly if this went on no piece could be of any size greater than zero: after n splits, each piece is a one-2^nth and this is, for large enough n, smaller than any fixed non-zero size you might fancy.

So Uresh was thinking, “Infinite times a non-zero thing is infinity. Holy smokes!” — but he failed to think that “Damn! But I always get either just zero things, and then infinite times zero is an Amyr-awful mess; or then I get things which are of different non-zero sizes, and those sizes don’t add up to infinity!”

So if we were sticklers for mathematical accuracy and assuming Pat meant Uresh to be right and in full possession of modern mathematical rectitudes (I don’t feel he did), Uresh would have said something like this:

“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you can divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times so that the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small, though this is not true for every division. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.the original number obviously; what do you take me for, some Lenatti lackwit, eh? This is math, not magic.

“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause. He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.Your mathematical prowess impresses me. Please tell me how to get some sweet, sweet loving from the math-hungry girls of Imre.

“Sure thing”, Uresh said. “Here’s how you prove Hölder’s inequality —“

— but that’s where I stop, before this devolves into fanfic about Uresh the Integrator, whom you may have heard of: Uresh the Bloodless, Uresh the Arcane, Uresh Kingkiller — Uresh that burned down the conjecture of Trullheim; Uresh who spent a night with the Rectorian and left with both his sanity and his life; he that gained tenure at the University at an age younger than most people are allowed in; the same Uresh that has talked to Administrators, loved numbers, and written exercises that make the students weep.

Like I said, that’s where I stop.

New frontiers of writing beautiful mathematics

February 22, 2011

Why hey, there is an editor app called VerbTex that allows you to write \LaTeX-documents on your Android phone, and then compile them, over the net, into PDF.

And I have an Android phone that VerbTex can run… wait, does now run, in.

I’m going to get run over by a car one day, you know, run over while pecking “\usepackage{dancers}” or something.

Or get some interesting medical condition, plus beaten, for hogging the toilet while furiously debugging a recalcitrant package mismatch or two.

Also things that I know: there’s a web-based TeX distribution-plus-editor called ScribTex, and another called MonkeyTex, and VerbTex is the Android version of one called Verbosus; oh my. (While googling, came across mini-reviews of related stuff on Robs Blog.)

To think: at least three Internet Texifications! And maybe, one day, a way to get an entire distribution, compiling and all, into one’s Android!

There’s something so numinously glorious in this it almost makes me believe there is a God, and Donald Knuth is his name. (And Leslie Lamport (\pbuh) is his prophet? Let mathematicians rule the world and every knee shall bow.)

This all hasn’t occurred to me before because I’m never far from a computer with a distribution on it. (Is that a good thing?)

(Also, in WordPress you can input $*latex \sum_{i=1}^\infty a_i^2*$ and after removing the stars get \sum_{i=1}^\infty a_i^2.)

If you don’t get why this all is awesome, clearly you are an unmathie as trivial as the zeros of 2x^2e^x-(x-1)x^3e^{x-1}.

Well, as trivial as the real zeros, for x, of…

(If the above made no sense at all, know this: LaTeX is the greatest text processing system, ever; we mathematicians define it to be so. From the brow of living god Don Knuth it sprang lo these many years of beautiful books containing lots of mathematics ago; without it the dark and unspeakable demon MS-Word and its false equations would devour us all, and there would be much crying and gnashing of teeth, and a formula would lay down with \epsilon as a formula lays down with of \varepsilon, and the abomination of desolation would compile. Okay?)

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: Theology!

February 20, 2011

Hello hello. Welcome to CYOA Theology Love Tester, the simple game of choices where you can find out the character of your God!

(Set in very small type: May not work with all Gods. May cause atheism and hair loss. Not for children over eighteen or others incapable of self-examination. Do not operate heavy machinery; it is dangerous.)

Start here:

1: Is there a Heaven, i.e. an afterlife which is better than this world?

  • If yes, go to 2.
  • If no, go to 3.
  • If you are uncertain, make up your mind.

2: So there is a Heavenly afterlife. Do the people in Heaven have free will, or are they puppets? (Don’t worry about high-faluting philosophy; I won’t get all Plantinga on you.)

  • If there is free will in Heaven, go to 4.
  • If not, go to 5.

3: So there isn’t a Heaven. I’m going to assume there’s no Hell either, because a Hell without a Heaven is a bloody depressing concept. So what happens when one dies?

  • If one just ceases to be, dies for real, go to 8.
  • If there’s a different world like this, or if we reincarnate, go to 12.
  • If we are absorbed into God or some such thing, go to 13.

4: So there is a Heaven, which is a better place than what we have right now; and the people there are still people.

That is to say, there is a place which is better than this of ours, and which still has freely living people in it. Riddle me this, Seeker: Why didn’t God bypass this vale of tears, and create us or the nice enough subset of us straight into Heaven?

  • If God wants only nice people in, and couldn’t know which of us would be worthy of Heaven and which not, go to 7.
  • If God is a malicious rat-bastard, go to 6.

5: What have you been smoking? There is an afterlife which is better than this, but the people there are just puppets? Is it a Heaven if the people there have no choices to make? Not even the flavor of their sno-cones?

  • Go back to 2; you don’t have free will in this choice.

6: So God is evil? Congratulations; you have hit on the theology which is both the most plausible, and the utterly most terrifying of all possibilities. Sleep well.

  • THE END.

7: So God couldn’t know which of us would be nice enough for Heaven. Okay, so even God cannot create “nice” (saintly?) beings with any certainty (in large numbers?). Explains why even a portion of the angels fell. So, next: what does God do with those of us that aren’t good enough for Heaven?

  • If reincarnation; try and try until you are good enough, go to 9.
  • If Hell, go to 10.
  • If those souls are just snuffed out, go to 11.

8: So when you die, that’s it.

Have fun until then.

That is all.

  • THE END.

9: Reincarnation? Are you high? What kind of a theology is this anyway?

Or maybe you meant a purgatory of some kind. Some kind of an arrangement where God doesn’t waste souls, but tinkers until they are good enough. God doesn’t give up on people. He don’t give up until people give up and behave.

You could stop now, but just for shits and giggles go back to 7 and ask yourself, instead of mankind, about the ultimate fate of Satan and his fallen angels.

  • THE END (if you want it).

10: So there is a Hell. You should really go back to 7; this is not a good choice.

Oh, you stayed. Luckless you.

Do you realize that Hell, whether it involves pitchforks or some eternal version of Alzheimer’s, is eventually worse than anything else you could do to a person? Worse than anything any of those in Hell had themselves done?

Congrats, cat. Your God is more worthy of Hell than any burning down there.

  • THE END.

11: So some get to Heaven, and the rest are put down like dogs.

Is this better than a Hell?

Your God is one of genocide, then, is He not? He is a murderer of souls worse than the worst killer of bodies. Depending on how big a fraction of us get into Heaven, and how you feel about capital punishment, curl into a ball of some size and shiver in anticipation.

  • THE END.

12: So life’s just a sequence of worlds, basically? Or this world over and over. Mmm. I assume there’s some continuity in dying and being reborn, because otherwise you hardly could speak of rebirth. So how much continuity?

  • What you do here, will determine your luck in the next world; that is, karma. Go to 14.
  • There is a mystical continuity of the soul, which the thinking mind cannot grasp. Go to 15.
  • One can, with some work, recall her or his past lives. Go to 16.

13: So we are absorbed into God. I have to say that a) I’m not entirely sure what that means, and b) it doesn’t sound like something to look forward to.

But who knows; maybe God-absorbation looks good to you. To me it looks like a particularly unappealing combination of lobotomy and death; but hey, that’s just me. Have fun.

Well, fun until the “you” dissolves into something and becomes, uh, the “non-you”. Which will then have fun, I assume.

  • THE END.

14: So there is karma. Very well, but that’s not really the question. The question is how much of a connection of memories, personalities and the like there is between the you of this world and the you of the next. Because otherwise this karma doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, it’s not much of a karma if it’s a different person being punished or rewarded for your actions!

  • Go back to 12.

15: So the next you isn’t you in any way you can see.

So the you that you are is the only you there really is.

So when you die, that’s it for you.

Sleep well.

  • THE END.

16: I admit I don’t quite know anymore what this tells of your god, but maybe I can say something about this dimly recalled cycle of lives.

Maybe the next one is better if you spend this one well.

And maybe the next you never goes to the trouble of finding out who she or he had previously been. Then where are you?

Maybe finding out what you were that future you won’t much like the present you, won’t feel much of a connection to whatever shade you then are.

Anyway, remembering or not, that line of future beings will probably not share your taste in ice cream; they will not have the same favorite book as you do. If they recall you, you’re just one life in a dizzying line-up of lives, each with different opinions, likes and dislikes: how would that future being be anything like you, of all those past lives, and not just a different being on the same string of fate?

  • THE END.

Mothers for Violence

February 18, 2011

She’s a pretty, smiling, well-adjusted single mother, three-time winner of the WorkplaceEfficiencyGreat! Award at Hayek Associates and the coordinator of her local cell of Neighborhood Watch. Her child is a smiling, frequently laughing angel, and already a two-time winner of the ArtsyDoodlePrize, Barnaby Elementary’s highest award for success in art and graphical design.

And according to Mary-Jo Thrasher this is because, and not in spite of, her uncommon method of child-raising.

“Well really I think a lot of people are, on this one matter, fucking silly”, Thrasher, MfV’s Mom of the Month, says. “The world is a big, bad, dangerous place. My children are not going to grow up ignorant of this.”

The MfV method of disregarding all age limits on all entertainment has drawn criticism from various organizations, including the furious condemnation of Callum Wahm-Bulans, M.Div., of the Catholic Propriety League. Thrasher sees this all as misguided and unfounded prejudice; understandable given the weight of historical tradition, but fundamentally misplaced. “Dialog will solve this”, she insightfully points out.

What she strongly denies and cannot stand are the occasional and outrageous blood libels of child abuse. “For Christ’s sake! Showing them T2, Predator and Beetlejuice isn’t abuse! It’s not real, but blood and pain are real enough, out there. My child’s not going to come unstrung when she stubs a toe, or when a bully pushes her, once she’s seen a man skinned alive and his skull made into a belt buckle.”

“Real terrors don’t have a pause button. That’s why it’s frankly insultingly irresponsible to have real terrors be the first terrors your child meets. She needs to know the world! She needs to have a reflex for kickin’ the creep in the nuts!”

On supposed nightmares and trauma, Louisa Dingus Hemphill, MfV’s Social Director, is less colorful but equally frank. “They come. Of course they come, nightmares and bedwetting and running to Mommy. Childhood is pure terror, no matter what you do. Think of it, thinking for the first time of mortality, of the permanence of mistakes, of loss and senseless cruelty. Thinking that those things are real; they could happen to you… or to Mommy. Childhood is hell, in addition to heaven; you can’t take either part out.”

“We in MfV feel it’s not a good idea to keep children ignorant of the dark parts of life. It’s not ‘better’ if they stumble into them on a DVD surreptitiously loaned from a friend, or in vague rumors of something bad. It’s not ‘sweet’ their world and dreams of future will be shattered when they hear the world is not as rosy as their misguided parents have told them. They deserve better.”

“Children are the future”, Hemphill says, as a tear of infinite sadness and deep love rolls down her careworn cheek. She’s a mother of five, yet somehow finds the energy to volunteer for MfV’s Some Parent Gotta Tell hotline. “I’m not going to have a world run by people unaccustomed to reality”, she says. “And I’m not going to treat my children as dainty innocent pets; they’re their own people, they’re the future, and I am going to raise them to be informed adults and I’m going to be proud of them!”

Hemphill notes that MfV wishes, perpetually, always, forever, to express its full support and gratitude to all the filmmakers, game designers, rap and heavy metal lyricists and any TV screen chicken stranglers out there — they’re doing, in addition to art, also valuable educational work, and are often and unjustly maligned for it.

“Shit”, Thrasher laughs, mussing her daughter’s hair, “am I supposed to put on leather pants and hump Pa to loud rhymes? And crack a bloody whip? That would be weird, wouldn’t it? Yet it’s life. I think a DVD of Overblooddeath’s Bloodskinfest concert is show enough. Who knows, I may even buy the little one a ticket for the real thing if she behaves and keeps the bed dry.”

“Because”, she finishes with a wink, “innocence is pretty, but experience is beautiful.”

Little Donna flashes the horns and smiles in agreement.

* * *

In other news, the Catholic Propriety League wishes to announce the publication of the latest number of its magazine, Passion. The new theme issue asks tough questions about penitence and self-mortification, and includes a lengthy history and a handy how-to on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e. the Inquisition. The theme number is subtitled “Massive Racks and Hot Screws”, and is available in select bookshops and kiosks worldwide.

A tango for a dismal land

February 17, 2011

(I almost went with “Gloomy country tango” but then recalled, gol dang it, “country” has that musical connotation.)

The final Finnish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 were last weekend; 10 acts, each with a song. In my opinion three of these were tolerable; none of those got into the super-duper final-final, and a generic plastic product won.

This candidate, now, would have been perfect to represent Finland. He’s the reigning Tangokuningas or Tango King of Finland. This is not as insane as it may sound like: tango may be a South American sound, but it has been big in Finland for many decades, too. So much that there is a yearly competition for the best singer; and this fellow won it the last time.

So here is Marko Maunuksela with “Synkän maan tango” (something like “A tango for a dismal land”); I would have liked it to win, but it did not. A very poor translation after the clip; original Finnish lyrics here.

Fall comes again
Cranes move away
Toppling constructions
Wide open spaces make for anxiety

No willpower
For sale today
Light’s getting lesser
This city keeps on smiling

(Now all the people get to sing)

Chorus:
A tango for a dismal land
Others call it that
(Dismal land, dismal land, dismal land)
A tango for a dismal land
I don’t want to get away
(Get away, get away, I don’t want)

Each happy in their own way
Grief is happiness, in our land of sorrow
My soul’s landscape is so solid and stable
When I sing what I feel, which is easier here
(A tango for a dismal land, a tango for a dismal land)

My world changes
Kaamos never does
Soon winter will go missing
This change, it terrifies me

I’d have no peace
In eternal sunshine
Light’s getting lesser
This city keeps on smiling

(Now all the people sing)

(Chorus.)

A tango for a dismal land, in the minds of others
A tango for a dismal land, I don’t want to get away

* * *

And oh, the choir? Ex-royals of the same tango competition.

And there would have been other non-sappy ones too; say this entirely serviceable bit of metal-rock.

Or this… whatever this is. Who needs a guitar-plonking adolescent (whose bit, which won, I petulantly refuse to even name), when you can have bald guys with eye makeup, jumpsuited feather boa wielders, postapocalyptic raven suit men and top-hatted guitarists?

The social aftereffects of a brilliant scientific breakthrough

February 14, 2011

The serum was sprayed from planes. The serum was belched out by subway ventilators. The serum was exhaled on rural people as if they were a crop of wheat.

The serum was given because the people wanted it. The serum was given to all because that was possible. The serum was given quickly because otherwise there would have been a war.

The serum made everyone immortal.

The serum did not help against foolishness: you could still trip, hit your head, and die. The serum did not help against disease: Ebola still killed, and so could diarrhea. The serum did not help against bad habits: smoking still tended to cancer, eating to clogged arteries.

The serum indefinitely deferred old age; that was what it did. One breath and you were immortal, and so were all your children.

People would still grew up, and become adult, and have sex, and the best days of their lives, and rise into positions with greater pay, and become eminent and respected in their fields. But they would not enter the slow decline of old age. Even as their bodies peaked at twenty, they refused to enter a decline. Even as their brains peaked at forty, they did not grow fragile and stale. Their sexual vigor, even, stayed unchanged.

(Those that were old, stayed old: old age is not so much a weakness as a collection of its effects. What prevented aging, could do nothing against already bent backs and busted livers, blighted eyes and ravaged brains. They soon passed away.)

Those that were young, would never grow old.

This led to a cataclysm of apocalyptic proportions fairly quickly.

Everyone was immortal (in this limited sense), and being free from that weakness of the body was much more likely to stay free of the various ailments of old age. Even their virility was unhindered by the need for Viagra or other supplements here unmentioned due to unwillingness to be counted as spam. It did not help how cheap the Viagra was, or Cialis; they were not necessary anymore.

And as a consequence, there were people.

It was as if every generation lingered on as ghosts, unwilling to depart — except these ghosts had the most job experience, and the deciding posts in every corporation and government. And they had the morals of a mortal world: they wanted to see babies, because babies were cute. They did not want much birth control, because birth control was a war on babies.

So there were still more people — and more people — and all these people needed places to live, and money to live on, and, worst of all, they needed food. They needed food because if they only got to eat, they would live forever. They needed fresh meats and plenty of fruits, because they wanted to live healthy, to live forever.

Resentment towards the neo-old grew. They had not stepped down. They were hogging all the jobs; they were like limpets, with decades of experience no youth could match. They had an old-boy system. They did not retire. They were strong grey hand keeping the youth down. They and their aged wiles were seducing all the bouncy and fertile innocent young boys and girls to be dolls in their depraved old-age orgies of — well, the picture is familiar, is it not?

There were riots, eventually, and lynchings. It was good to be young, but dangerous to admit you had been young for a long time. Social ostracism was the least evil that could happen.

Oh, there were attempted solutions. Some countries steadfastly maintained their mortality-inspired retirement age. This resulted in a huge number of virile, sharp-minded retirees. Some went into the business of acquiring more children, the third or the fourth batch. Some went into black market business, or government; others emigrated, swollen with power and wealth, into less restrictive zones, where they became the foreign leech, the nefarious accented outsider — the usual gripe of all exclusivists and xenophobes.

Eventually there were youth rebellions; everyone aged eighty or less was welcome to join in.

Old age had been a curse against time; now it was a muttered curse against people. And all the while the number of people grew, grew in this wobbling unbalanced world even though the natural remedies did their cruel best: fecundity was stronger, for a moment, than the best of famine, plague, war and sudden death.

It could not last.

Africa was the first to collapse; Asia second. Soon there were mutters of cannibalism from the unemployed sections of New York; tales of little children lured to dark streets in Hamburg; cross-generational warfare with tanks and warsuits in the streets of Tokyo, with a still-warm meaty meal as the victor’s prize. Somewhere in Russia, the unpatriotically anti-state Over-Eighties were herded into camps; somewhere in the American Midwest, a preacher told the fold was full and it was God’s will there would be no more children, and with a hatchet he made it so.

And so the world went down into chaos, not even having had the time to see the prolonged lifespan was mere two centuries and not forever (no-one having had the patience for that study); and the dim generations that came later dismissed it all as a fever dream.

Immortality, hah! half the people did not see their second year.

* * *

Quoth PZ: Imagine what happens IF we actually converge on some kind of immortality. […] What if it’s cheap and easy, and everyone gets it? Kurzweil is talking about a technology that would almost certainly destroy every human society on the planet, and he treats it as blithely as the prospect of getting new options for his cell phone.

I, on the other hand, treat pretty much everything as an excuse for cackling visions of blood.

That, or bad jokes; that covers most all.

This is Finland: Arseholes and cat caries edition

February 11, 2011

Well, I admit the title is intimidating, but this will be a tame post.

First thing: My mother bakes now and then these round pulla dessert breads, one of a size that would pretty loosely fit inside a 20-stack of CDs. Where the holes of the CDs would be, she presses a dimple, pours some sugar in, basts the whole with egg white, and then puts these things into the oven.

The result is a delicious brown perfectly hand-sized thing with a paler part in the center, round a depression encrusted with crystalline sugar remains.

Her name for these is “perssilmä”; more or less, and with no double meanings whatsoever, an arsehole.

They taste good, though. And as far as I know, no guest has ever asked what their name is.

Second thing: Happened to tune in to the local radio station, and caught the tail end of an interview with a vet. Learned this:

  • There are special toothbrushes and toothpastes for pets.
  • You can brush a cat’s teeth, provided you start early. (Apparently a cat can get claw-happy if he or she hasn’t encountered this exercise before.)
  • Also, there are a few pet dentists in Finland.

As the saying goes, I had not been aware this was a problem.

What I’m wondering about is, what about cows? Is their diet different enough, or doesn’t anyone care? (Will someone please think of the bovines?) Also, there went my grand plan to make sugar milk by feeding cows enough of the ingredient. A pet dentist would not, I assume, be very happy if summoned to attend to 200 bad-tempered bovines.

Good old Radio Suomi (i.e. “radio Finland”), the umbrella for the various local radio stations of Yle (the “Finnish BBC”). They always have something better than the hits stations; not that that is much, as most numbers stations are a better listen than those single-CD-on-shuffle affairs!

Also, at least in Finland, you can listen to the radios here. Just click the region you want.

Since I realize listening to foreign-language radio is a limited joy, I offer a world-language link as well: Nuntii Latini, the Yle-produced news in Latin. Lately, for example, there’s been a “Crisis politica in Aegypto”:

Exemplo Tunesianorum adducti cives Aegyptii Cairi aliisque in urbibus plus decem dies contra regimen praesidentis Hosni Mubarak reclamitant. Complura centena hominum flagitant, ut Mubarak munus deponat. Ille oratione televisifica habita nuntiavit se in proximis comitiis praesidentialibus candidatum non fore, sed id civibus non sufficit.

— which you can hear in full at the link.

Entropic neotheology

February 9, 2011

I like making stuff up; and from Mercadian Masques to Mirrodin I was a devoted reader and (until Onslaught or so) a player of Magic: the Gathering, the first and the best collectible card game. (This is a fiat, not a fact. Do not bother me with your fact-based disagreements.) The only reason I’m not heading to Wizards of the Coast’s site right now to read what has happened since, having now thought of the game after a long pause, is that I think there would be several years of unread Mark Rosewater columns and cruumph that’d be goodbye for the rest of the day.

I offer these two facts, making-up and Magic, to explain the fabulism below; sometimes a man just wants to write theology. Oh, theology, the insane troll logic of religion: atheism is no barrier to your call.

* * *

Entropy is not disorder. Entropy is blandness; it is the province of Anodyn, the goddess of lukewarm and inoffensively mild mush. It is said the universe tends toward increased entropy. This much is true. But Anodyn herself is not the reason; she is always described as a passive actor.

Others say entropy is one pole of the world; the other is the twin serpent of the opposite thing, the intertwining forces of Order and Disorder. This is also incorrect. Representatives of both Order and Disorder have denied this; it is a silly idea. No, it is a much more pleasant idea, though still heretical and wrong, to say there are five great forces in the world: and each is allied to two and opposed to two. The five are, then, Disorder, Creation, Order, Entropy, and Destruction.

These are the five, then, again:

  • Disorder (Ally of Creation and Destruction; Foe to Order and Entropy) — Sweet confusion, discord and endless forms most beautiful. Disorder’s the province of Eris.
  • Destruction (Ally of Order and Disorder both; Foe to Creation and Entropy) Death, doom, forms struck apart by the untimely hammer, and the looming sudden cliff-face of the end. Destruction’s the province of Perses.
  • Order (Ally of Destruction and Entropy; Foe to Disorder and Creation) Crystalline arrangements, rigid constructions and hoary immutable laws of Things That Should Not Be. Order’s the province of Harmonia.
  • Entropy (Ally of Order and Creation; Foe to Disorder and Destruction) Decay, old age and erosion; also forgetting and unremembered times future and past. Entropy’s the province of Anodyn.
  • Creation (Ally of Disorder and Entropy; Foe to Order and Destruction) The beginnings of all things, births and gestations, and minds crawling up from the muck seeking a place. Creation’s the province of Make-make.

These five then form the pentagram which is the wheel that turns the world. There is no up and no below; no Heaven or Hell; only the hypnotic turning of the Great Pentagram of Life.

What it turns on is, naturally, the Axis of Enlightened Self-Interest.

The most obvious objections to this ineffably effervescent effusion of affable affect’s effluvium are:

#1: So Entropy is opposed to Destruction? This is clearly nonsensical and ludicrous; Entropy is almost the same thing as Destruction!

Rebut: Nonsense yourself! Entropy is decay, and things falling apart; the center not holding and strings cut by the arrow of time. Decrepitude and old age are entropy’s doing. Destruction is a more active force. A violent, sudden death would be a death through destruction. Destruction is an outside force which undoes; it is the ending alteration from the outside, not from the inside as the worm of Entropy. Entropy is waiting, and Destruction impatience; they are naturally opposed.

#2: So Entropy’s allied to Creation? Now this is bullshit, then; how can the slow decay of things be allied to the birth of new ones?

Rebut: Entropy’s allied to Order and Creation. Order keeps things as they are; from which decay inevitably follows. Creation doesn’t only make new; it also makes the less new things older, much as a new model makes your formerly new cellphone an old thing. Creation puts life into new things; and as that life is stolen from things that already are, they fall under the obliging shadow of Entropy. On the other hand, Creation needs space, and would rather have it effected by the doddering obsolescence of Entropy than by the blazing uncontrolled nihilism of Destruction.

#3: What, “Make-make” the patron of Creation? You couldn’t make up anything better?

Rebut: Get thee to Wikipedia, then: Make-make. A genuine Easter Island creator god and the boss of the bird-man cult.

#4: Okay, Make-make was a fluke. But “Perses”? Surely you mean Perseus? And how come he’s a God of Destruction? That’s clearly nonsensical.

Rebut: Well, no, I did not mean Perseus. I meant the dread titan Perses, son of Kreios, whose name means the Destroyer, and who was the God of Destruction! He, the hound of hell, the doom from the ill winds of the dog-star Sirius, is who I mean! Not this trembly mortal gorgon-fucker Perseus. (Also father of the witch goddess Hecate, the red-mouthed lover of serpents; when you are the God of Destruction your children really need to go all out to rebel.)

#5: So wait. Eris, Perses, Harmonia, Anodyn, Make-make… one of these is not like the others.

Rebut: Eris thanks you for your compliment. Discord and witchcraft! Next!

#6: But… but… how can you just… I mean, what gives you the right? Where does this all come from?

Rebut: To quote rabbi Heschel, “any description of the act of revelation in empirical categories would have produced a caricature. That is why all the Bible does is to state that revelation happened; How it happened is something they could only convey in words that are evocative and suggestive.” Which should explain why I’m wagging my eyebrows at you and winking, suggestively. My revelation or yours, baby?

#7: Where… where are all the other familiar concepts of mine in this ungodly mess?

Rebut: First, there are two gods and three goddesses already and you call this ungodly? No pleasing some people indeed. Anyway, your concepts, I haz them. First these five, and then a few more:

  • Stodge: Is the name for Disorder’s complement, that is, those four elements that are not Disorder: Stodge is made of varying parts of Order, Creation, Destruction and Entropy; but mostly of Order and Entropy, as the name suggests. “Solemnly them bishops march, lips dripping venom and stodge: throats ululating much hodge, and podge.” (Poe)
  • Maintenance: Destruction’s complement. “Creation and Entropy keep the machines running. Their combination is called Maintenance, and it is the life-blood of every Sysop and Supportperson, stronger than coffee or sleep; without Maintenance, the Sysop would lose his soul and wither in body, become fey, wild and dangerous; and eventually go into the darkness, to the side of Spam.” (Knuth)
  • Anarchy: Order’s complement. Anarchy is “the lack of Narchy”, and a Narchy is the rule of an Archon, which is the title Harmonia’s chosen use. “Anarchy’s not old! It’s thirty-seven!” (Dennis)
  • Life: Entropy’s complement. Entropy, however, is only the process of Death, not the end-state. “Life sucks. Unfortunately, that suction is caused by the vacuum of Death.” (Anon)
  • Existence: Creation’s complement. Creation, however, is not Non-Existence, but only the process of Un-Non-Existing. “To be or not to be… not to be. (Kaboom.)” (Schwarzenegger)

What of Good and Evil?

These concepts have no universal meaning in this system. To Disorder, both Order and Entropy are Evil; while Destruction and Creation are Good; and Goodest of the Good is Disorder itself.

As for which of the five one should choose for one’s moral compass, well, that depends on the person — just remember this burning pentagram wheels and turns atop Enlightened Self-Interest: forget this Enli First of Gods, and greedy zealotry or muddling idiocy follows, and your cause and desire will both suffer.

A naive pursuit of Disorder ends up merely scaring others; as a result their desire for Order grows stronger, and they cease their efforts to understand: and Entropy increases also.

But an adept of true and gnostic Disorder, well, she (all true adepts of Disorder are honorary females) turns Order against itself, and makes withering Entropy a mere curtain for the play she presents: and through the action of Creation and Destruction, there is much addition to Disorder.

What of Balance?

One might guess this pentagram is a wheeling thing of balance, all parts of it equally fed by some law of cosmic karma.

That is nonsense.

There is no karma; such a concept is a most pernicious illusion of Order. Each of the five points listed above strives for its own growth, and as they strive, the pentagram spins: it is not teetering balanced on a point, but fixed to the heart of the world by Enli’s nail. The faster it spins, the faster it spins; that is all. There will be no victory in the war of the five. If Order should gain, that gain would flow to its ally Destruction as well; and a portion of Destruction’s gain would come to its ally Disorder — and thus the rise of Order results in the rise of Disorder and, similarly, of Creation.

The stronger Order grows, the wider the seeds of its downfall are cast — this is called the Illusion of Dominant Order. There are four other Illusions; and together they are called the Illusion of Purpose: for in the pentagram there is no purpose, no law, no peace, but only the awful eternal war that makes these illusions appear. This insight is called the Gibberination of Mystics, because it can do weird things to your peace of mind.

This whole system is called the Pentagram of Five; that is a rather redundant name but it will do. For more, consult your Inner Eye or some other applicable body part.

(K)  (This post is highly official
OPEN SOURCE RELIGION
copy, edit, cut and paste
what you like.)

the Family Feuds of Eris, part 1

February 7, 2011

And now, some mythologizing.

* * *

I

In the beginning there was a human head.

Then a blade clove the head in twain, and the blade-wielder roared in grim mirth. In the beginning there was Ares, the rampaging God of War.

This beginning was in the time of the dim old Greeks; and among all their gods Ares was always a wolf prowling at the edges, a god of slaughter and unrest; the only one of the Grecian gods that spurred barbarians against the civilization of the thousand valleys and and the hundred harbors. In the Trojan War he cheered for the alien Trojans, and his red face flew like a banner of northern lights over the walls of that city, a mirage in the lights of the besieged and the besieging.

Ever was Ares glad to see battle and slaughter. Some say for the sake of the battle; some say because of the rising blood, or the test of courage, or to woo Death Herself; others say bloodsport was Ares’s nature, as burning is the nature of fire. Men do not ask why fire burns; why should they ask why the Blood Knight wars?

No man asked; not twice, anyway.

Ares never had a wife, but he had a lover: Aphrodite, the loveliest of all the goddesses, and the wife of the gimp god of the mountain, Hephaestus. Often would Ares come from his field of work, from the sowing of iron and salt, come as a tower of black intent, come clad in the entrails of men who’d met their unmaker; and casting aside his armor and arms, he would fall on the Goddess of Love in fierce and insistent embraces.

This was not much to the liking of Hephaestus; but being a cripple and much in the disfavor of the other gods, he could do nothing.

Besides, in those early days this cuckoldry was not such a shame as it later became: for the King of Gods then was Zeus, who loved both flesh and wine, and held no vow of trust or marriage sacred. As there were a thousand bastards of Zeus, so there were likewise many dalliances among both gods and mortals, and between them; and though this was a cause of much disapproval, especially by the parties thus disincluded, little could be done with the Lord of Gods not being inclined to force the general matter.

As for Aphrodite herself, well, she was a nice, obedient girl ever eager to please, and well knew it was proper for one as beautiful as she to have suitors, and paramours, and many daring meetings and contests of love tested and fulfilled — and knowing this, that was ever what she sought to be: a perfect goddess of beauty, grace and love as well as she could be.

In other words, she was a clueless ditz, and Zeus was a horny goat.

Aphrodite was more liked by the men-gods than by the goddesses; and her children were many, though less if they came within a ramming distance of Ares.

Though more, if they strayed so close to Zeus.

II

From the unions of Ares and Aphrodite, there came three daughters. Two of these were sickly, and were cast into the mortal world by their embarrassed mother. To the cliff of Sparta they fell, where the weak newlyborn of that city were cast into a pit to die. In that pit there prowled a wolf, seeking feed; but coming across the two daughters of Ares, the wolf was torn apart and eaten instead.

These two daughters, weak among the gods, were unsurpassed among mortals; they, though their beauty was not up to the statue-like standards of Aphrodite, were full of life and more beautiful than any mortal or demigod ever was. They came out of the pit of Sparta, and went into the wild lands beyond Greece, and beyond the rude kingdom of Macedonia; in the plainslands of the Scythians they came across a great tribe of that folk, horse-bound and quarrel-hungry; and the tribe’s chieftain made the mistake of thundering these two girls would be his slaves and consummated wives before the moon rose.

As the moon rose, a pair of bare feet danced on the chieftain’s skull, now dead and as bereft of flesh as it had formerly been of wit. The Scythian camp blazed with fire and screams, and with terrible twin gales of laughter; and as the moon grew, that bloody joy howled from a thousand throats more. By sunrise the men were all dead, and in place of a chieftain there were two fell goddesses, two queens unlike anything in the legends and prophecies of any tribe of men.

Ever since in a corner of Scythia soon empty of other tribes there were two new ones. They had few men, and those were cook-slaves and carriers of sofas and pillows, hewers of wood and drawers of water, sports of the daytime arena and the nighttime chamber. The women, formerly so dour and demure, were the warriors of those tribes; their warriors and heroes, queens and deciders; and above all others there were the two queens cold of eye, fierce of temper, sure of hand and shameless in joy, just in judgment and peerless in battle: the Amazon queens Penthesileia and Hippolyte, the forsaken children of Ares and Aphrodite.

This accounts for two of the three children of Ares and Aphrodite: but there was a third, and much to her grief and that of all the world, she was more to the liking of her parents. Of her, soon more.

III

Wherever Ares went, a flock of his folk went with him, save into the mansion of Aphrodite atop the Vesuvius mountain; that was a place of quiet light and pinksome frilliness the crowd of war could not tolerate, nor pass the efflusively cherub-carved pastel lintels of that place.

Thus whenever Ares and Aphrodite met, these four were left outside; and they sat playing dice, drinking and muttering of bloodsheds past and those soon to come.

The first two were the twins Phobos and Deimos. Their names mean Fear and Terror; they were the heralds of Ares, and one carried a horn and the other a drum; their sound was enough to turn blood to ice-water, to burn hearts and to make men gasp for breath. Their clamor told of every battle ever fought, and all the apprehension and despair felt before those bloody dawns. Theirs was a music that made women weep and men soil themselves; theirs was a sound that struck the wise blind, and made sages into blubbering fools.

The third was the armsman of Ares, and carried his sword. His name was Enyo, which is, Horror. He ever wore a helm because of his ruined face; and he knew the ends of battle as well as Phobos and Deimos knew their beginnings; no death nor injury was alien to him, and his own sword was a jagged thing that was cursed to always maim, but never to kill.

The fourth was a girl, Ares’s adopted daughter, clad in black and crimson silks and scraps of a hundred suits of armor. She was as loud and boisterous as the others; and though she was beautiful even by the standards of the gods, her beauty was disquieting, ever mixed with some subtle wrongness, or something unusual one could never quite grasp.

It was not her attire of silks and scraps of iron, not her scarred gilt and red ruffled perfection.

It was not her mane of black hair bound with silver rings, though it flew behind her and round her like Medusa’s ichory curls.

It was not, quite, the quiet depths of her ever-observing green eyes, nor the golden flecks that hovered closer to the top.

It was not her lanky, boyish frame or her fingers, never free of turning a cup of dice or a bone-handled dagger; not her heedless femininity in the most masculine of acts and appearances.

It was not the barbarian make-up of her face, even, not that one side was painted black as midnight with lips and eye in ovals of oily white, and the other side a negative image of this ghastly monochome ghostliness.

No, there was nothing anyone could actually say that was wrong with her, but wherever she went rest and sleep vanished, and the night was torn with the sound of screams. Wherever she went, people became dissatisfied and ceased to see the world as they had seen it before. Though she was stern in the manner of all Ares’s folk, she was never overly fractious or warlike; and yet her quiet presence was enough to start fights and schisms and feuds. Though she seldom drew a dagger, all discord was drawn to her — her name was Eris, which is, Strife.

IV

Now Eris was an adopted daughter of Ares, and Phobos and Deimos were like sons to him, and Enyo a dear companion; but of children of his own spirit and kind Ares had but one, the third and most woeful of the three he produced with Aphrodite.

This child was golden-locked and pale-faced; sweet and beautiful in the manner of her mother, and insistent and unforgiving in the manner of her father. From birth, she had every gift and privilege the daughter of the most jealous god and the most vain goddess could; from birth, she was never without servants and slaves attending to her every whim, and attenuating her every minor distress.

She grew in the mansion of her mother, the palace of pinks and roses; but her rule of it was that of the iron fist of Ares, though veiled in the finest of brocaded, pearl-encrusted fabrics. She was quick to command, and quicker to assume obedience and punish disobedience; though she called it “disloyalty”, because “loyalty” sounded better than “obedience”. She was ever insistent on courtesies and forms, laws and niceties; and no voice was raised in her presence, save hers alone.

Her name was Harmonia, which somewhat predictably means, harmony; and as her mother was called the Queen of Beauty, she declared herself the Queen of Good.

She is the villain of this tale, if one is to believe the Erisians.

* * *

There may be continuation.