Archive for August, 2011

Talking animals

August 29, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if it would be nice to write books for children.

Not ones that the child will a decade later realize were vast metaphors for drug addiction and suicide… well, not entirely those ones.

Just weird and not dull ones.

The problem might be, for each page I’d finish there’d be three pages of MST-ings where something adult suddenly happens.

My father used to tell stories, when we three children were young, stories to get us to quiet down for sleep… stories with Aunt Organic-Waste-Basket and various characters, all anthropomorphic sausages of varying brands, in them.

Childhood is weird.

Below is my essay on what kind of children’s stories I would write. After reading it, you might conclude it is best I do not.

* * *

My personal idea for a best-selling series of children’s books (okay, cribbed from me and dad joking around, a long time ago) is the Adventures of the Gangster Squirrels.

Or, actually, the Gangster Squirrels are the bad guys. They blackmail and steal and don’t even fear the Human People. First book: Gangsterioravat ja sarjapurija; The Gangster Squirrels and the Serial Biter; I don’t know what the plot is about or who the characters are.

Also there may be evil pigs; I’ve got the perfect name for their shuddersome boss: Kärsimys. A Finnish word that may recall kärsä (“snout”), especially on a pig, but is just capitalized kärsimys, “suffering; intense, terrible and lasting agony”. That’s one baconmaker you don’t want to make unhappy.

Er, but wait. If I introduced human-sentient talking pigs and squirrels, just what kind of a horrid world would that be? Think of it as an alternate world of science fiction: boom! all mammals are sentient now.

Turns out carnivores are not nice. How would you feel about a human tribe that tries to eat you?

Turns out humans are worse. There are entire species that are held captive by humans, robbed of their young (chickens), carried away and butchered (pigs), abused in a parody of their maternal reactions (milk cows), or subjected to involuntary labor (horses).

And don’t even talk about dogs, the drooling harlequin hordes of endlessly varying genetic perversion, the happy coward lapdogs of the human-colonial oppression regime.

The idea that humans are sentient and have a language too, but never notice their animals are the same… is just too horrible. (Also highly implausible.)

So what then? An animal enclave deep in the woods, with nothing known of humans except old, dark rumors? A peace of indifference between the herbivores, and a common hostility against carnivores. (Among whom, “fox shall eat no fox”? Or “Chicken people, bring us five of your young every week, or the small bear tribe shall come and utterly destroy you all. Accept or be destroyed. We do not bargain with meat.“)

And what does “sentient and with a language” really imply? Tools? Houses? Clothing against the elements? How much can a pig without opposable digits, without a pair of limbs that are off the ground, actually do? And with animal lifespans, how much room is there for intelligence — if wild pigs live for 25 years, and squirrels for 16, that probably implies something about the culture, and the transmission of culture. (Then again, after assuming sentient squirrels with a language it might be silly to assume a normal lifespan, but hey, of such details are stories made.)

If mammals (or say “big enough animals”) are sentient, would those that live the longest grow to be the smartest, the most well-knit and cohesive community, the most able to retain and exploit inventions, and eventually the Lord of Creation?

Swans live for a century. (I’m just pulling these numbers off a seemingly reputable list.) So do carps. Tortoises live a century, or several centuries. Imagine the intellectual development of a human being that has several centuries of time to learn and grow. Now imagine a race of such creatures… with protective armor!

If there are enough turtles, they will rule the animal world.

This, of course, assuming there are enough turtles. Probably not, because in the great fashion of children’s literature I’m thinking about the rural corner of Finland I grew up in. (Swans, yes, occasionally; but not too many turtles.)

(What does it mean that animals are smart? Would Bucephalus have thrown Alexander off in exchange for Persian oats? Would the geese of the Capitol have taken bribes? Would Spartacus have been a ram? Or is intelligence, in the world of the story, a recent, local development? Then consider the trauma, in the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie, of Caesar thrown among the “normal” monkeys, who to him were a horde of gibbering, screaming heavily developmentally disabled people; people that looked the same but had… nothing in there.)

(There’s no obligation to ask why; but one is forced to ask “what then?”, or end up with a weak and unsatisfying story. Which, mind you, is crazy business for a talking animals story, but I have too much free time.)

This may be an unfortunate case where fantastic racism or speciesism really is justified: it does not seem far-fetched some species will be smarter, just by brain size (squirrels and pigs, come on); and the lifespan alone will make some cultures more expansive and wear-resistant than others.

And the biology: different social structures would lead to different morals, I think. Pack animals have pack virtues and vices: obedience, subservience, and the like, just out of biology. Carnivores and herbivores live differently, need different traits to survive; and if intelligent, will probably start with deciding those traits are moral and so decreed by the Fox-God or the Rabbit-God. (That’s where many of the best and worst of human morals come from, after all: from social monkeys that will eat anything.)

Those species with a short lifespan would, to put it youthfully, so totally get exploited by the long-lived species. Imagine a tribe whose intellectual capacity stops at the level of a sixteen-year-old human, not seemingly, because of difficulties of culture, language and stimulus, but because after that the animal dies. It’s not that the work-filled life leaves no time for intellectual advancement; there is no time, work or no work. Human sixteen-year-olds feel smart, but aren’t all that; that animal tribe would be hoodwinked over and over again, until it got used to the fact, or became very unwilling to talk to strangers. There would be lackey tribes, and savage, suspicious isolationists; and king species… but no interbreeding. Even I know enough biology to say that is impossible.

In human history, marriages and interbreeding have been very good in making humans live with each other — how about a situation where a fox is a fox and a pig is a pig, and the two shall never mix? That situation just screams the ease of genocide. There are no half-pigs, or foxes with a pig grandparent; if one species decides it doesn’t like another, the line is drawn clear, and deadly. And beyond extermination, if a king species decides it is the only one fit to rule, its rule will not be diluted by bed-hopping. (I think it’s an inevitable effect of intelligence that there will be bestiality between all species, rishathra, or at least between those with the power, and those without… but this may not be a meaningful speculation for a children’s book.)

(Marriages and sex… well, one would need to think about those too, but not narration material, no.)

Mind you, “different species will have different cultures” needs sufficient numbers; I have no idea how many rabbits, squirrels, foxes, etc., there are per a square kilometer of forest. And if, as an effect of intelligence, communities will form… what will a rabbit village look like? How long will it be able to sustain itself by foraging? Will there be carrot fields cared for by rabbitses? How much social interaction do you need for language, and for culture?

Where, on the incline from animals to the stone age, to Ur, to Carthage, to medieval folks, to the Renaissance and to mobile phones, are these animal cultures? (No badgers with jetpacks, thank you very much. Not my genre.) Remember that each “stage” builds on those before — unless one can look at humans, or swans, and leap-frog into the neighbor’s utopia. But what do the neighbors think of badgers in waistcoats? Would it be the easiest to just assume humanity has gone extinct, giving the animals room to roam and grow without their cultures being the uneasy refuse of humanity… or does it stretch credulity and imagination too much to try to have them totally independent of humankind, except for old graves and rotting concrete? (Or is there someone in orbit, chuckling at what the medieval badgers do? If so, a very bored posthuman doing long-range sociological experimentation, or an AI unsure if this is what the last order for “the happiness of almost human pets” meant?)

Also mind you, “different cultures” should not be taken as “good cultures and evil cultures”, much less “good and evil species”. I very much doubt some would be kind, hospitable herbivores full of love, cheer and cuddly modern values, and others cold treacherous vermin red in tooth and fang. Each culture would have its ups and downs; and a culture, or a species, would not fully define each individual, except as far as stereotypes and biological imperatives kick them in the head. (“He’s a badger. Badgers are no good. Lazy, stupid, venal, greedy, not worth your trust. Tell that badger to get out!” — that generalization would be nearly as bad tosh about animals as it is about human groups.)

Dogs don’t seem to top thirty years, and average much less; this means the greatest dog thinkers will need to get their ideas early. A dog university won’t offer doctoral degrees; the students would die of old age before graduating.

Or squirrels. One shouldn’t assume that if the average squirrel lifespan is 16 years, then squirrels magically get a huge vocabulary when two years old, just so that they can have a culture. No, they will (as I see it) grow up like human children do: slowly, maturing physically quicker than mentally. (That’s a huge problem: say two thirds of your society is mobile, able to forage and to survive… but mentally on the level of not particularly bright human toddlers. What manners does that lead to? What laws?)

There’s a horror story for you: to be on the mental level of a ten-year-old, and going upwards, and already a grandfather and a survivor of a decade of mostly instinct-based forest life. To first consider yourself as a you, as a separate being with goals and desires beyond food and shelter… and to know that your children have children already, you have no idea who you had those children with, and in five years you will be so frail you’ll likely to be et by a fox.

For something worse, consider the fox. How about developing an adult sense of self and a sense of morals, and then realizing you’ve been hunting, killing and eating other sentient beings all your life? That means instant denial; carnivore societies would not regard the meat species as precious, important minds; they would be talking meat, with “meat” being more important than “talk”. There might be sporadic attempts at vegetarianism; but overall I think those would be societies more cruel and callous than anything I can think of. Humans are proficient in racism, but even the worst racist doesn’t need to accept the death and devaluation of a sub-being as the price of their every meal. Even the most callous capitalist doesn’t actually kill and eat the workers pursuing his profits.

Would the foxes and wolves prefer “live hunts”, or capture and breed particularly tasty species and then hunt and kill them for sport? Less chance of the stupid prey fighting back, not knowing it is made for defeat, that way. And how do the meat species dare to organize and fight back? Would they have the proud hunting foxes starve? Why, the Fox-God says it is the duty of the weak to be meat for the strong; there’s no shame in the weak going that way…

And back to squirrels. With the squirrel lifespan averaging off at sixteen, well, the old geezers will have the maturity of teens; which is to say, maybe my idea of Gangster Squirrels wasn’t that far off. I’m not sure what a society would look like when there are no middle-aged people, no old people; but a sort of a primitive gang-based life seems right to me.

Meanwhile, the swans not only fly; they live, even without medical intervention, decades longer than humans do. The Gangster Squirrels would be bowing at their Swan Overlords pretty quickly; or then wiped off the face of the forest, driven screaming into hiding. And swans can fly, and paddle — they have an air force and a navy from the start! For land use, I’m sure there are fox mercenaries that can be hired for the spoils and a loser buffet.

Consider carps, too — there are no carps in Finland, but maybe there are other long-lived fish species? — a lifespan of a century, and a pond that will not have swans or squirrels invading it in any hurry.  And lakes don’t have any easy avenues of escape, if you are an underwater creature: if a would-be fish empress closes the rivers, she can guarantee there will be no escape for her enemies.

As for dryland suits for the fish, well, really, how cartoonish can you get? First you’d need tools, which fish are not best built to use; then you’d need the materials and the ingenuity to conceive of and to create a fishbowl and some mechanical legs or treads. All without fire, without glass, without smelting and forges, mind you; fire is difficult underwater. Though there could be mines, deep into the silt; and baskets of woven weeds — but for some reason I can’t escape the thought that any fishbowl might be unpleasantly organic, fish being known for having all kinds of air bladders in them, that could be cut away and sewn into waterproof sacs.

The fish may come out of the lakes, but it will take a long march along the road of technology before they do.

Though they could always obtain some tools by capsizing a boat…

“That lake? Jake, we don’t go boating on that lake. Too many good boats and men been lost on that lake…”

The problem here is that the horror movie scenario of a murderous, suddenly cunning animal species is familiar to all; but what does it look like when a scenario of less ferocity persists? When animal intelligence is a fact known for years, decades, for all of human history? (Well, it would be easier for the animal rights movement. If you can hear a cow saying “Please don’t eat me!” in English, well…)

If animal intelligence is a new, local thing, there will be hordes of curious biologists, or gruff animal control officers. But if it is an old thing, there will be… enduring oppression of Animal-Americans? Actual voting asses and elephants? Because animals keeping up a charade of stupidity is an… an asinine thought; such a conspiracy would never last. And without it, people of all species need to deal with the situation.

I’d probably need to go with an isolated forest, with not many humans around; otherwise the story would quickly become a leaden metaphor for foreign people, integration, and racism, which is a very bad idea if you have species that really are fundamentally different. (“Why do the white swans rule? Because they are superior. It is the nature’s law that the superior species rules…”)

But language. If squirrels die as teenagers, I don’t see much great poetry coming from them; and I’m not sure how many languages there will be. Multiples ones for each species, if they are divided and isolated; the same language across multiple species, with varying dialects, if there is One Species To Rule Them All. A squirrel grunting a few syllable of Swan, bartering with a squinty-eyed pig for a few acorns…

All above has been assuming the idea of “talking animals” is much like the issue of “talking humans”: biology and its consequences. All is different if you have only a handful of sentient, intelligent animals with a language: not Redwall but the Winnie-the-Pooh gang, a small group set apart from the bestial majority of animals. Then there’s no great disruption in the order of the world, and no great consequences.

There I’d go for the why: Why, all of a sudden, a bear, a cat and a sparrow think much like humans do, feel like humans do, use the language humans do? How can they all of a sudden do that? And who are they — is this sudden awareness a possession, or an amplification? Language is not something to be poured into a person’s head, and culture even less so: how come the cat can quote Shakespeare, not even having hands for leafing through the pages? Has she seen it on stage? How can the bear do mathematics, not having had any natural reason for developing those abilities? He she picked it up, doing tricks? And how on Earth the sparrow, small enough to fit in a human hand, can have the brain capacity to behave socially like humans do, instead of madly pecking and cacking all over the place? Not by the processes of nature.

What then, but a quest after answers. Is it “magic”, rebirth, the surgical work of a mad computer seeking agents, or something more bizarre? Who, how, why? (“You are”, the Man in Black drawled, “My people. I made you people. How dare you disobey me, Mr. Bear? Now go and get me those Russian nuclear secrets!”)

Turns out “talking animals” is an interesting idea, with the potential for very heavily screwed up tales in it, tales far beyond Winnie-the-Pooh or Redwall… and far beyond the point where the potential publisher says, “I think your future lies with the Xerox machine.”

She’s the world champion

August 29, 2011

For your information, approval and adoration: The new air guitar world champion is Aline “The Devil’s Niece” Westphal of Germany, the reigning German champion.

Yes, this is a thing. Pretend you knew of this.

She rocks; and if you feel tempted to chuckle, take a good, hard look at any other sport or art, and then laugh.

Also, the thing was organized in Finland. Where else?

For the top three, see here.

Potential mischiefs

August 27, 2011

1. Make up a new Creationist argument against evolution, preferably one that’ll cause an amusing brain aneurysm in any biologist seeing such a fractally stupid concept; then slip it into a thread somewhere and watch it get adopted.

  • PRO: Should be easy, if you make it folksy.
  • CON: The possibility of waking to find an angry biologist standing over me with pincers and a squid.

2. NibiruAcademy.net, “All the facts you need about the most important date in history!” and “The facts you’ll read nowhere else!”

  • PRO: Should be fun.
  • CON: There’s a Nibiru Academy already.

3. Start a rumor that there are chemical toxins in toilet water. Be careful no drop splashes on you, or it’s cancer. (If anyone tells you different, mind control rays. Not saying that’s the case, but mind control rays, enough said.)

  • PRO: Mind control rays.
  • CON: Mind control rays.

4. Start a site that reveals how mathematics is a Communist discipline which needs a good touch of patriotic (insert your nation here) chestbeating to be cleared of the unclean inferior mathematics of the people that We don’t like. (We’re not racists, we just know they are genetically and culturally incurably inferior.) Thus, a web-journal free of subscription fees which calls for top research from all mathematicians of pure, stronk culturally valuable (insert ethnicity here)! Away with the Jewish-(insert ethnicity)-(insert political ideology) concept of Teichmüller spaces and the open balls of multiculturalistic measure theory!

5. A website of touching devotional, confessional and faithheadical true stories of somewhat anonymized personal Christian life, full of trials and epiphanies and apophaticisms, most of them bland, generic and inoffensive. But then there’s one that reflects a bit conservative religion and one doesn’t quite know whether to be cheered or not. And, uh, is that piece Christianity? Is… is that in the Bible? And then there’s that one that might be read as a murder confession (though God wanted the dirty sinner dead), and on closer reflection that one makes you wonder if she will one day come around to thinking God wants her to kill, after all…

  • PRO: Oh, the fun of creating a creeping sense of something being very wrong.
  • CON: “Hello. We’re Mr. Stanchion and Mr. Truncheon from the police, we have no sense of humor, and we would like all the contact details…”

I’m bad with faces

August 27, 2011

Well dunk me. Didn’t hit me until the credits that in Sky One’s The Colour of Magic (youtube link) the Rincewind is DI Frost, David Jason himself.

Then, seeing the damn beginning credits of the second part, only then I noticed that the Twoflower is Sam Gamgee.

I am as thick as a plank that is very thick.

Also, I understand, but am miffed they left Bel-Shamharoth out; I love the echoey “Eight… hate… ate” bit, and I love, platonically, anything with tentacles.

Also, finally, this has been a forced blog post to 1) point you at some nice entertainment which surely is one of the central purposes of the social aspect of blogging, and 2) to, yay, make a blog post so I feel I’ve done something instead of just watching videos of questionable legality on Youtube. Because occasionally you need to justify your private actions at the audient void, right?

Questions of Air

August 25, 2011

So I was in a plane earlier today (a small mathematics meeting in another corner of Finland), and I happened to think about the supposedly medieval idea that the world is a disc, and airs surround it. That’s a sketch I’ve drawn many times, making up fantasy worlds because I was bored, but an idea hit me then, looking out of the plane window.

Namely, “I am six kilometers up, and the air up here is very, very thin”.

Consider Earth. It is a sphere, with gravity towards the center. Air tries to fall down, and forms an ocean of air whose bottom is good for human-like creatures, and the upper reaches less so.

Consider Larry Niven’s Ringworld. It is shaped like a bicycle outer tire, spinning as a wheel does; the gravity is pointed outwards, away from the axis, so a ring of air stays in place, not bleeding over the rim.

What about a world disc, a stationary thick pancake? First, its gravity will be mightily strange. That gravity is towards the center of the pancake, halfway through it — so when you are standing at the centerpoint of the pancake (say on the upper side), gravity is where it is supposed to be. Walk towards the rim, and gravity doesn’t point at the ground, but towards that point under the pancake’s center, halfway through it. You’re essentially walking uphill, just walking on the level surface of the pancake world.

That is not a lasting arrangement; every pebble will tend to roll downhill, creating a mountain in the middle of the pancake; and the disc will crumble into the stable shape of a sphere, both on the upside and on the downside. There will be no falling over the edge; instead, the edges will crumble towards the center, until a sphere is born.

Thus, to save the world-disc, we need magic.

Suppose the source of gravity is not mass, but some external force that creates a down as a direction (as it seems to us; say as “the direction of the negative y-axis”), and not as a ring of arrows towards a point in space (or in the most solid… er, most molten core centerpont of mass. Uh.) Then the pancake has a genuine up-side and a down-side; and nothing stays on the down-side unless it is bolted on to it; all else will fall off and disappear downwards. “Gravity” is in the intuitive direction everywhere on the top of the pancake; and you can walk to the edge, lay down, and peer down into the depths, over which this world pancake magically hovers. (Maybe it’s made of an anti-gravity mineral?)

(Also, say goodbye to volcanism. Lava will exit downwards pretty quickly, if there even is enough pressure etc. to make and preserve it.)

This model gets worse, too, though. If the world disc has no rim, and thus no barrier to waterfalls over the rim (hints of Discworld here), the waters will drain away; but it will not be the big problem. Air will be.

Over the rimfall of water, there will be an “airfall”; and shortly afterwards breathing will become very difficult and no-one will have any fun, except in deep valleys in the disc’s interior. Even if there is a barrier range round the rim, well, one should hope for a fairly impervious platter for the pancake (in Ringworld speech, scrith), or all that’s not held up by magic anti-gravity will filter down through the world pancake, bit by tiny bit, and be gone, never to return.

That thought raises the question of what lies around the world disc; if there is a practically endless vacuum, then the air and water will be gone in the down direction, and not seen again. Suppose there is some kind of an envelope somewhere far around the disc, like a black plastic bag for the pancake to float in; and this envelope is filled with air. Then no-one will suffocate and all will be happiness and light, right?

Well, kinda sorta. The air pressure could “happen” to be just right for human-like creatures at the level of the surface of the pancake; but what would lie below it would not be pretty.

There is such a thing as compressed air, you see; I’m fairly certain that our normal air pressure is not because that’s as far as air will be packed, but because we just don’t have any more air to pile atop us. In this model, what lies over the edge of the world, in the “down” direction? Why, an ocean of air, with a step more of air above for every downward step you take. All that falls off the edge of the world will fall into this thickening soup, and gather at the bottom of it, at the end of the world envelope, and form a new world there.

Venus, to be exact; a place with a crushing weight of air above it. Just imagine a pillar of a few more kilometers of air atop you — a few hundred kilometers of air — it will not be a nice, hospitable place. If you fall over the edge, an impact will not be your problem; you will be crushed to pulp by air pressure long before you hit the bottom cup.

One could, having postulated magic coordinate gravity and magic anti-gravity rocks already, add a teleport at the bottom of a funnel-like envelope, a teleport pointed at the very top of this world system. Then, surely, the airs would not form a Venusian hell at the bottom, but zap to the top, and then filter back down, maybe even creating a pleasant breeze —

Well, or then you kick something over the edge of the world, it zips down, falling ever faster, accelerated by the addition of energy from the magic potential of the external gravity; and soon it will zoom through the teleport, appear far above you, and meteor-like make a big fat kinetic impact on your head. Now think what will happen to those air molecules… and you end up with the world pancake smashed flat because magic gravity keeps pumping kinetic energy into the system. (I suppose; I’m a mathematician, not a physicist.)

So remove the teleport; accept the thick Venus of fallen debris at the bottom, and a sparser stratosphere above our floating disc. (What beasts will fly out of the thicker airs to assail the world’s rim? What thin-air angels will live in the voids above?) We can assume, for convenience, that the amount of lost water is offset by some weather action, maybe evaporation caused by the rays of…

Oh, crap. The sun?

A big central sun does not make immediate sense in this model of a disc and an envelope; a small sun would be just a source of light, not of much gravity. But what kind of wild weather do you get if you have a platter of water and mud, and a source of heat somehow going in circles through the airs around it? (You get days and nights if the sun arcs over the disc and then under it; you get seasons if it rises and sets each time a little bit further along the edge. It’s not a exact copy of Earth — if I recall some earlier calculations of mine correctly, the central “pole” will have just one season, the cold one (remember Discworld’s frozen Cori Celesti), assuming the sun is at its highest when above the centerpoint of the disc. The disc’s edges will have a sunrise-summer and a sunset-summer, and winters in between; these seasons will blur when going away from the rim towards the centerpoint.)

Finally, consider the disc itself. It either does not generate gravity through mass, or its mass is insufficient to generate enough gravity to much alter the situation. (How thin is it? Horrors, consider a world where miners risk breaking through the bottom of the world, and falling into a yawning depth below!) The disc stays up because… well, the easy magical explanation is that the rock, or some common mineral, has anti-gravity in it. Which then would imply that it could be mined, refined, shaped, made into flying ships — but this line of thought has surely been examined many times before. (Me, I’m partial to the thought of castles atop flying mountains, floating over the landscape; I blame Dragonlance.)

But wait; what is “anti-gravity”? If our magical gravity means “a force, either a constant or a function of ‘height’, affecting everything, pulling along the same vector”, then our anti-gravity needs to be a counter-gravity to not eventually drop the disc to the bottom. (Doesn’t matter if a major fraction of the disc is unaffected by gravity; the part that is affected will exert a downwards force on the whole.)

So should one assume (for example) that there are two kinds of matter in this system, indistinguishable except for the fact that one is affected by this magic downwards gravity, and the other by an “upwards gravity”? That’s a horrible system; the disc would dwindle, shed matter upwards and downwards, wobble out of balance, and crash either upwards or downwards depending on which force dominates.

What then? Assume there are materials that long to be at some fixed height, that gravitate towards some level of air pressure? (A rock that “floats” at 1 bar?)

Assume some lifting engine, regulated by some wish to remain at a certain altitude? (That’s an end-of-the-world scenario if I’ve ever seen one; tap the right place and half the disc breaks away and falls, while the other spins out of balance, reducing all aboard to fine jelly.)

So, turns out it’s difficult to think up a system that works half as well as a simple sphere; but still, I think thinking these is more rewarding than just taking a cosmology and ignoring the associated problems of physics.

Then again, I once did integration to find out how much sunlight each spot on the disc gets in the system above; I may be biased towards the worldbuilding geek end of the spectrum.

True Finns: it got worse

August 21, 2011

So the True Finns — Perussuomalaiset, “The Basic Finns”, the Finnish tea party, them odious twerps; nationalist crypto-racist fuckwits, clueless populist nostalgia-maniacs; they go by many names — noticed that they don’t have an actual official English name for their party, and decided to fix that.

I had thought “True Finns” was the official name, and bad enough — so they are the true Finns, and what are we others? Impostors, traitors, false Finns?

I thought, then, that if the new official name for their party was something else, it surely had to be something with less effrontery, naked pride and barely veiled disdain in it.

Guess what?

The party known in Finnish as “Perussuomalaiset”, with a support of one fifth of the Finnish population, is officially known in English, from this day on, as…

“The Finns”.

I am not happy.

Anniversary, administrative neepery, announcement

August 21, 2011

I

So how much do I care for my readers? Some 18.17 euros worth, as of now.

After years of bad memory and feeling bad about it, I finally paid money for this blog and bought the WordPress no-ads upgrade. As of today, for the next year, there should be no more of those occasional annoying under-post ads. (They’re clever ones, though. If you’re logged in as the author and lord of the blog, they never appear. And even when you’re just visiting, sometimes not even then. But now them buggers are gone.)

Will look at the other upgrades later; maybe make the grey background blink.

Just kidding; I am old enough to remember the horror-days of blinking text. (Those were the ugly days. Ask any old net-user.)

II

It’s fitting that I blundered into this upgrade just now, because this happens to be the fourth anniversary of this blog, Masks of Eris. The dashboard shows 1258 posts; about 0.86 posts per day. I did not think I would come this far, mostly because when I started this all I didn’t happen to think how this all would proceed. I just had free time, an Internet connection, and a feeling that I had a few things to say about this whole God and religion business.

So, way back in the August of 2007, I started a blog.

It was not my fault, honestly, I’m not to blame. The academic year had not started yet, but I was back in the city and charged… wait, no, antsy and tired; as usual after a holiday. So after extensive meta-neepery round the name, I started this Masks of Eris thing. The first post was about the God and religion thing; namely, “doesn’t remarriage make Heaven really awkward?” (That’s my tack — approaching religion like others approach comic books or fantasy novels; with the icepick of Fridge Logic and the hammer of Implications. The Endor Genocide is nothing compared to what a little kicking of the Abrahamics reveals.)

Then the same date in 2009 I started Lemmata; a sketch a day, or, “I see why you picked written-word first”; some sketches also about the God and religion thing; it has its own self-congratulatory post about it up right now.

Then last year I started Mirrors of Eris, a repository of consciously false conspiracy theory and religion. Because it’s a website, not a blog, the updates are infrequent; I try to hide this with frequent alterations of the outlook and the categorization.

This year I’m not starting anything; three websites are well enough. I’m not going to noodle around with any more…

Well, maybe just one more…

III

Ah, well; those of you with sharp eyes might have noticed it already, but what’s said over at the right sidebar over here is true; it would hardly be a useful thing to say if it were a lie. From the 12th of September, for two weeks, until 25th, I will be guest-blogging over at the Scientopia Guest Blogge. (I should say “Yay!” and leap around like a giggly teenager, but gravitas, and gravity, make that kinda difficult. Plus broken furniture, holes in the wall, etc. etc.)

The Guest Blogge is defined as “hosting a wonderful slate of non-Scientopia bloggers”, which obviously applies to me; I am much more slate than gneiss, obviously. Though I don’t know how I’m in this Han Soloic slate thing with the other people, some of whom seem a bit granite-ey to me; but I trust the judgment of the Scientopia Authorities. (They contacted me and not me them, so I don’t have “a brief description of your existing blog […] and a brief explanation of what you would like to blog about [t]here”; we will see what I come up with. Newton / Leibniz slash fan fiction, maybe.)

But I’m there for two weeks only, starting September 12th, assuming they remember to give me the keys. I’m not going to metastasise. I’m not cancer; I’m a… a rash?

Anyway.

IV

So how much do I care for my readers? A lot, and I read every comment, but as a Finn being bad with small talk I sometimes just cannot think of anything non-trivial to say. Just think that I answered “Hmm! Good idea! Cheers! Yay! Thanks for comment, you are awesome!” if I answer nothing at all; it’s awkward when you skip that, decide to think about something more substantial and then bam a week has gone.

Feedback and readers are nice, because while shouting at the void is nice too, it’s nicer to think someone is listening. (I’m big on niceness. People sized and shaped like ogres usually are, or go for the other extreme.)

Maybe some reader is amused, even. Because while there’s nothing bad in self-amusement (honestly, it will not make you go blind), amusing others feels better.

Here’s to another year of amusing self and others!

Tempted by crime

August 21, 2011

So when I publish a post in the current version of WordPress, I get a screen that has statistics: this many-eth post, this many words; and a few random ideas for the next post.

For the previous Bear fiction post, one of the ideas WordPress offered was this:

If you could get away with committing one crime, what would you do?

That… that does not seem like a well thought-out idea to push at people.

What if my answer included a picture of a specific person, and a picture of a knife?

Or “If I could get away with it, I’d pee in the municipal water supply. Usually really strict regs at the workplace, though, most of the time.”

Or “Sex with the dead, but I CANNOT GET AWAY WITH IT COME BACK READERS COME BACK I’M NOT DOING IT”.

Mind you, I’ve nothing against necrophilia, in principle, provided the sort-of-theftish aspect of it could be negotiated away… COME BACK READERS COME BACK I’M NOT DOING IT.

Feels to me the results of this WordPress suggestion could range from readership failure to a contact from the police; which generally speaking is not what you want to be prompted to write.

With these notes, what first comes to mind is “whatever would make me fabulously wealthy”. After that, the various altruistic goals could be achieved using money, not crime, and from a position of much increased comfort.

(Wait, this isn’t one of those bullshit trick questions, where you’re supposed to half-faint, confess crimes are beyond you, and quote Crime and Punishment for the crushing feeling of guilt etc. etc.? In that case DISREGARD THIS POST I SUCK IN INTERPRETATIONS.)

Money, though, is dull. And saying something like “killing horribly and permanently misguided political person X” is both creepy, and unlikely to effect much anything given most movements aren’t bound up in the life of one single person. And killing annoying musicians is counterproductive because then there will be nothing else on the radio. What other crimes are there?

Jaywalking?

Well, defecating on the steps of the Parliament building and getting away with it sounds like a nice lark.

Unambitious, a waste of a dark wish; but an amusing thought.

And thinking of the thrill aspect of it, there’s something thrilling in the sheer horror of, “hey! I committed a crime against humanity and got away with it!” — but accomplishing that would require some starting position of power and authority, which a graduate student doesn’t have — not even a professorship would do. (“Professor Hackenslash, for your treatment of freshmen during Analysis I, you are hereby found guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced to prison with no possibility of parole… for eleven days.”)

So as something to inspire a blog post with, that suggestion is a total and utter fail—

Wait, 498 words? I am mistaken!

So, er, I guess “making our dean drop naked and hogtied to the middle of a student rally” is the best I can think of for the use of a crime I could escape. That and a load of money. And meanwhile here’s a picture of a knife and a picture of —

Harry Potter and the Horcrux

August 21, 2011

Here’s an alternate ending for Harry Potter.

Harry Potter lies dead on the forest floor, killed by the Dark Lord’s spell, his mind and soul dissipating and disappearing in a haze of shock-loosened memories — the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters — Albus Dumbledore — and then Harry Potter is truly, finally dead.

The Dark Lord listens to his crew cheering and jeering; and is struck by how he loathes them all: the lickspittles, the sadists, the backstabbers, the lying toadies, naked blades and uncivilized brutes.

Is this truly the sort that Tom Riddle, who once wanted to teach at Hogwarts, who excelled in academic pursuits, in subtlety, in ambition, in all the heritage of Salazar Slytherin… wants to give the Wizarding World to?

What would a pair of blunt instruments such as the Carrows do with power? Kill, torture, toy with the lives of others, grow fat and lazy until a servant knifed them in their sleep or they killed each other out of a moment’s irritation. Not that imperio, crucio and avada kedavra are evil — what is evil to a god such as Voldemort? — but swine like the Carrows lack ambition. They are weapons, not people.

Not that the Malfoys are any better. The Dark Lord is certain that if he asked, Lucius Malfoy would say he seeks power because power belongs to the strong… yet what does Lucius Malfoy do with power? Play little political games, half-heartedly pursue his blood purity fantasies, toss favors to some, and piss on others. He is a sophisticated man, but his ambitions are those of a treacherous, petulant child.

These truly are not the sort of people that Lord Voldemort finds interesting; only the sort that had seemed useful, once. Even their laughter annoys him. If there was a different path…

On a whim he raises his wand, and feels the Horcrux is still there, still intact. An imperceptible shake of his wand is enough to do what he did to Nagini, and more.

And so, shortly after, when Nagini dies and Lord Voldemort is driven to the brink of mortality, when his cadre is decimated and the Hogwarts crew simply will not be cowed…

Then Harry Potter rises again, but though the body is his and his memories still remain fresh in the flesh, and though the actions taken are those of Harry Potter, the mind of Harry Potter is dead, and the soul of Tom Riddle lives in his chest.

And though it again takes time, the Hero of Hogwarts and the Head Auror eventually becomes the most powerful, progressive Minister for Magic ever seen; and in the meanwhile he has no worries of backstabbers or brutes or giggling sadists; and he has a wife, that he even grows to care for and love, for no-one is incapable of love, no matter what dead old white wizards say.

* * *

Aftermath:

“So how did the Malfoys survive?” Ron asks.

“Oh”, a thing in the flesh of Harry Potter says, gazing over the railing into the darkness beyond Hogwarts, “haven’t you heard? Narcissa lied to the Dark Lord about me being dead.”

“Oh, that is such bullshit!” Ronald Weasley says, and then blushes furiously. “I mean, good for you Harry, but how does that make them the good guys now?”

Harry Potter smiles. “I do think I believe in last-minute epiphanies, Ron.”

* * *

Aftermath the second:

“They grew up fast, didn’t they?”, Professor McGonagall sighs.

“True, that”, Sybil Trelawney mutters.

“Harry the most of all.” A tear appears on the old witch’s cheek. “It may take him years to get over this all. Think of it: he, a dead man’s pawn, marched to the Dark Lord, willing to die… and he did! How can he cope with so many dead, and him still alive?”

Trelawney hiccups, and takes another drink.

“I think”, McGonagall proclaims, standing up and swaying slightly, “I shall inform a certain Weasley girl about the fact that, in my opinion, she should take matters easily as regards our resurrected hero!”

And she sways away, to say just that.

* * *

Aftermath the third:

“Come to sleep, Harry.”

“Patience, Ginny.”

She’d like to yell at him, but she understands. He’s been through a lot; some nights she can hear it, as he mutters in his sleep. Such frightful things he says; echoes of his mind being linked to that of the Dark Lord.

No, she thinks to herself. No need to dance around that dead name anymore. “Voldemort.”

“Yes dear?”

* * *

Aftermath the fourth:

“Well, this is extraordinary.”

The voice comes from two sets of lips, the tone exactly the same; both break into a nervous giggle at the last syllable, realizing they know something no-one has quite known before.

Harry Potter sits back, takes the wand off his son’s temple, and grins. “But who are you?”

“I am you, and more”, Albus Severus Potter laughs, “a part of your soul as good as the whole. I remember the childhood of Tom Riddle, of Harry Potter, and my own… and if I may say, father, you are the best parent so far.”

* * *

Aftermath the fifth:

(from the Secret Diary of H. Potter)

It is as I surmised ever since the surprise with Albus Severus: the existing versions of the Horcrux spell are stupid, and I was stupid to ever use them. The requirement for killing a person when manufacturing a Horcrux was to sustain the soul fraction being detached, not for the splitting itself.

If the vessel is a living or a very recently dead human being, the necessary elan vital is still present, and no sacrifice is needed. Indeed, the process is made much easier and less painful; and what results is a curious melding of the receptable and the caster.

If the recepient is dead, only his or her memories and personality remain, and the caster’s soul is replicated exactly, swaddled into those memories and that outward personality.

If the recepient is alive, the souls are combined into a new individual, with the caster dominating. As the former individual does not survive as an individual, there is no possibility of rejection.

(Note to self — Is this an antidote to the Killing Curse? It might not be desirable to have the victim come back as a combination of himself and a magical medic, but if some kind of a dummy soul could be employed… the possibilities are endless!)

(Note to self — I need to experiment more on this. Human-animal soul combinations are impossible, remember Nagini. What about more intelligent magical animals? What about dementors?)

The warnings about the diminution of one’s soul and inevitable turn to monstrous amoral evil are, as I have surmised, mere credulous legends and rumors, attached to this spell because of the human sacrifice component. I shall (eventually) show otherwise — I shall show them all! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Bear fiction

August 17, 2011

Today, as ten millennia ago, a naked man walks through mist to a tall pine tree, and embraces it as if it was a long lost brother of his.

In a way it is.

The pine is worn smooth, the rough dark red bark gone, the pale flesh underneath sticky with sap, where the naked man embraces it; the sap makes a tearing sound as he pulls away.

Above him, where the first branches of the pine spread, long and heavy with needles and water, there is a branch-stump on which is a skull, looking downwards, at the naked man and the worn path behind him.

It is the skull of a great bear, with teeth as knives, whiteness as fresh snow, dark eye-holes as the dark river of death herself.

It is not the tree that the naked man greets, but the skull; and it is not the skull that he greets, but the spirit of the great bear, brought down and nailed to its high perch; the great king of animals and men, the star-born old god of the forest, whose skull, with roars given, flesh in the feast eaten, with piety up put, makes this a place of silence and holiness.

And as the man pulls away from the bear-tree’s embrace, shadows near as tall as the pines round him move, round him. They are shadows of hair, and teeth, and claw. They are memory, and future, and sideways in place as well as in time; they are a whisper of the bear, that walks this dark wood as it always has, always will.

The man is not afraid.

Some day the bears will come for him, in a line that pours out of the dark door of night. Some day the forest-army will come for him, and he will gladly go with it; to live as a shadow among the stars, where the father of bears came from, long before the birth of the fathers of man. The Sun’s a drop of honey, the Moon’s a splash of water; every star in the hall of night is a bear-eye, watching. One day the man will walk with those stars.

But this is not that day. Not the bear-day; not the dark door-day; not the day that the endless looping column of kings in pelt and bone come for him.

This is just a day in a shaman’s life, much as any other day.

He sighs, and goes to fix himself breakfast.

The night is still dark; the forest ever darker still; but there are no terrors there for the brother of the bear.

* * *

Ethnological hogwash? Why yes. Horribly mauled and misinformed distortions and lurid inventions of pseudo-Finnish paganism? Absolutely.

Was fun to write, though.

(“And the bears; bah, fear not the bears, small one. What know ye of fear? Fear is for the long winter, when the white walkers come, and bears sleep forever. Fear is for when the albino moose come…”)

(Er, apologies to George R. R. Martin for that.)