Archive for June, 2012

Meditations on phrases

June 26, 2012

Dumb as a box of rocks. But a box of rocks is pretty smart actually. Rocks are difficult to carry on their own; and they may have sharp edges too. Try holding an armful of rocks without a box, and I’ll supply the laughter. “Ha ha! Dropped one! On your foot! Would like something smart like a box, wouldn’t you?”

Built like a brick shithouse. Apparently an approving statement about either a man or a woman. To me, this would indicate being rough and sturdy on the outside… and full of shit on the inside. Which is, at best, a mixed compliment.

Like herding cats. This is supposed to be something difficult; something that indicates you have people that do not respond well to directions. First thing first, cats are not people, they are extradimensional beings who have mind control powers and have in secret good kitty cats are nice do not suspect the cat. Secondly, hypothetically speaking, herding cats would be easy. You just don’t use a dog (as with herding sheep), you use as a “sheepdog” some animal that cats look up to, and feel respect tinged with fear towards. I am speaking hypothetically because this animal would need to be some kind of a hyper-cat, which as far as I or you know, do good kitty cats are nice do not do not exist and there is no reason to go looking.

A leopard cannot change its spots. Sheer stupidity. Leopard only needs to use a razor… oh wait, leopards do not have opposable digits, so the Bible has a good point there. But a leopard with a human accomplice can, using a razor, remove its spots, and then use a good coat of paint to make new ones. I hope this can be included as a footnote in the next edition.

As white as snow. As a city-resident Finn, I can tell you this means “mostly white, with yellow ravines and brown drops here and there”. Source of which depends on whether the location has pets, kids or students.

Also, “as pure as the driven snow”? I have seen snow driven in trucks out of the city center. It is an ugly grey-brown sludge, and it occasionally has dead dogs in it. This saying is stupid and disgusting, and probably is some cryptoracist dogwhistle backformation which I disapprove of, “How was his new girlfriend?” — “As pure as the driven snow if you know what I mean, it’s a shame those people are allowed here.” A better phrase would be, “as pure as the clean and pure Finnish master race”, if you are a racist that is.

Pearls before swine. This apparently means something wasted. I, as a noted expert in zoology, can with sincerity and gravitas say this is not a waste. Pigs eat pearls, you see. Which is not a waste either, because pigs have a very strong metabolism, so the end result is truffles. Which are worth more than pearls so there!

Three sheets to the wind. Apparently used to mean, “very drunk”; comes from Finnish peasants who, once suitably slushed, took the Sunday bedsheets and went to pose as ghosts to scare the parson’s wife; this was a common way to pass the time because before the Internet Finland was very boring. Then there would come a strong crosswind called ithaqua, and the sheets would be in the wind, the drunk Finns would be naked, and the parson’s wife would be even more horrified and the parson would be arriving with a flintlock and the wrath of God. So in summation “three sheets to the wind” does not exactly mean “very drunk” but “in very big trouble, like with your privates about to be frozen, shot off, and/or destroyed by the wrath of the Lord God Almighty as the fig tree was destroyed”.

Engineers on Earth: I explain Prometheus

June 18, 2012

Like I said last week, I saw Prometheus and did not like it.

I still don’t, but I have an explanation for what’s going on in the film.

First point: Holloway, Shaw and Weyland are all less than rational persons, eager to leap-frog from firm facts into the gaseous gulf of what they want to believe. Ancient aliens? Surely our creators. Ancient aliens? Surely eternal life. (The other crew is likewise, but less so: Inscrutable scary jars? Surely bioweapons!)

People like this don’t excel in making the correct deductions, and so the wild, blind, biased guesses accepted by the Prometheus crew shouldn’t be taken for gospel. So let us not talk about bioweapon facilities or Earth-killing intentions just yet.

Also, people like this don’t stumble on genuine ancient aliens unless there’s someone more rational to guide them. But more on David, later.

Second point: The Engineer aliens had the same DNA as humans. (They were albino giants, too; but maybe that’s nurture, not nature?)

What this means is that the aliens dead 2000 years ago and the Prometheus-era humans are (in evolutionary terms) very close relations. They’re not separated by millions of years; six million years created the difference between chimpanzees and humans, and I’m willing to say savannah chest-scratching and interstellar Giger-antics exert a wee bit different evolutionary pressures on species. So the last common ancestor of Us and Them is relatively recent; tens of thousands of years? Hundreds of thousands? No more than that.

(Well, the Engineers could have guided their own evolution. But humans were either drifting free, or then only occasionally nudged by visiting albino giants. A biologist could probably say how funny the thought of nudging humans into the same mould as albino space men is — I don’t have the expertise. “No! Bad cave man! You not pass genes to next generation! Cave man with milk tolerance gene go copulate, again!”)

Three: By the previous point, the first scene of the movie — barren planet, dissolving Engineer — was not the beginning of life on Earth; or the beginning of human life on Earth. For the former, the DNA match between humans and Engineers is silly — “Let us wait 3.5 billion years and then make creatures in our unchanging phenotype!” — and for the latter, well, DNA bits floating in a river do not make a human being.

Four: Darwinian evolution and the well-documented and sensible descent of humans from apes remains in play until the movie says something cogent against it; “I believe in Dänikenian Creationism” is an argument for Shaw’s thickness, and for nothing else.

Five: So we have two species with the same DNA (to an approximation; and technically, that’s “one species”), and we know where one of them came from. We know humans are the descendants of non-modern monkeys (apes? proto-orang-outans?), made by nature on the planet Earth. If we see a group of albino space men with identical DNA, we are justified in calling them albino space humans; and supposing that they left scribbles in stones a few tens of thousands or thousands years ago does not mean that at that time they visited us — but that at that time they separated themselves from us.

The Engineers are humans like us; they developed a civilization capable of spaceflight and left this sordid planet (leaving it stripped bare of resources we never knew?), and they left a few signposts behind them.

Six: Except that the signposts point at a planet/moon which (at the moment) is not habitable for humans. (Wait, did the end Engineer have its helmet on when it loped to the luxury pod? Doesn’t matter really — the Engineers look like people who don’t let their genotype be the boss of them.) Also, the planet/moon had — I suppose the Prometheus checked — no cities, roads or other signs of organized life, except the few black goo installations. (Which were topped by skulls, which at least in human history means either “STAY THE FUCK OUT” or “WE’S THE NAZI SS!!”, which means pretty much the same thing.)

So why did the Engineers, as they left, leave behind a signpost pointing at a place where they themselves weren’t? (A few tens of thousands of years couldn’t have erased all signs of them — and, as dim as my view of the Prometheus crew is, I refuse to believe they didn’t surface-scanner the whole planet/moon before settling on the place of the skulls.)

Remember that the Engineers were/are humans: one supposes they are aware of how fractious humans can be. Thus, they left behind an arrow pointing not at a New Earth, but at a Goal — “Once the non-albinos show up here, we know they’ve become interesting!”

Except.

Except that while the execution at that end was good, the scheme on Earth sucked. The pointing arrow itself wasn’t all that good. Six big splotches of paint, correlating to an almost invisible cluster of stars? That’s not only a terribly imprecise hint; that’s something likely to match (within the limits imposed by the sizes of the star-blotches) more than one sextuplet of stars. And given all the crazy shit ancient societies have left behind (that is, crazy to our eyes), how could the Engineers even be sure the arrow would be interpreted correctly? Suppose a Weyland hared off into the Southern Cross, because there too there was a somewhat similar star formation — remember, the Engineers were surely limited by the existing planets available to them, unless you want to give them the power to move stars etc., which they very much failed to exhibit.

And given how unkind time is to cave paintings and ancient monuments, how could the Engineers even be sure all the arrows weren’t erased before anyone had the eyes to see where they pointed? Earthquakes, lava, Conquistadores, art critics — if deciphering the clues takes a worldwide civilization (“Hey! This pattern reoccurs!”) and the sufficient leisure and technology to spread archaeological tidbits (“Here — these pics are from the Yucatan!”), and the technology to build advanced telescopes and run comparisons (“Zounds! This tiny star cluster matches!”), the Engineers had to know there would be centuries, probably millennia, before anyone could make heads or tails of the arrow they left behind.

Finally, the arrow? Cave paintings, carvings, the like: on the level of artistic execution, nothing Earth-humans couldn’t have done on their own. No incorruptible steel pillars, no laser-cut passages into mountains (who’s this Däniken guy?); just technologically very primitive human art, unlikely to excite anyone’s attention. Unlikely to become an enduring mystery.

That’s not a good message.

So, finally, Seven: The ancient arrows pointing at the moon of black goo were not meant to be found, deciphered, and acted upon, because the Engineers weren’t counting on shoddy methods like that.

They just waited until the time was right (interplanetary spaceflight!), and then nudged their patsies Holloway and Shaw into motion, and towards their third tool, the rich, dying and desperate-for-eternal-life Weyland. Weyland jumped at the bait, launched the ship, and the movie got started.

As for who the wait-ers were in the “they just waited” above, well, a technologically superior group of people with 100% human DNA surely wouldn’t find it difficult to hide among normal humans. That is, until those humans began rocketing technologically upward, towards levels where concealment would be no longer possible…

Have I yet noted the Engineers manning the base (Oh, if we had seen a few women I would have been happier) died two thousand years ago? The boring mystical foofaraw interpretations advanced by Scott, Lindelof et al would have you believe this is about Jesus, because obviously nothing else interesting could have been happening at the time except an obscure Jewish preacher obviously destined for fame on his own merits: but something else was happening. The Greek civilization with its geometry, proto-steam engines and Antikythera toys. The aqueduct-building Romans, the gunpowder-inventing Chinese, all manner of rapidly advancing technological civilizations. The Engineers couldn’t foresee the speed bumps ahead; they probably thought humans would be in a position to discover the Engineers among them in a few centuries.

They freaked out.

They panicked.

They were just human, so don’t blame them.

At that time — two thousand years ago — all the Engineers at the mysteriously small skull-base died. Because they were humans, I’m disposed to think other Engineer-humans killed them.

Killed them, because (as I choose to see it) there are two ways the Engineers could have chosen to act towards their not bright younger cousins, us. Either “Keep the buggers ignorant”, or “Welcome them into an intergalactic brotherhood of joy and happiness”.

Because I am a pessimist, I choose to believe the latter group was in possession of the skullbase of welcomes, and was killed inside it. They were probably sitting on a goldmine of very useful, very advanced and (in the hands of morons) very, very, very lethal articles of biological nature. (Imagine a cave man playing with a pistol. Or a car. Or a bottle of toilet cleaner. The cave man will get burned.)

So: humans are in the grips of cultural evolution, and the days of the Engineers among them seem numbered. There is panic, and the contact-happy ones are voted down with extreme prejudice. The keep-as-pets faction wins, waits, calms down, gets more sure that maybe, after all, they can keep up the masquerade. Maybe there’s no reason to panic after all. But that pesky skullbase on that distant moon still exists. Something needs to be done about that.

Thus the Engineers engineer the “discovery” of Holloway and Shaw (they know where the pointing-arrows are, so they are well equipped to help — though probably they’ve, in their panic, destroyed the really impressive hints two thousand years ago…), and lead these two to the feet of the eager Weyland; thus, the Prometheus expedition begins.

The expedition finds scary ruins, dead bodies, and the Engineers’ toilet cleaner, which they immediately chug, and then act surprised when they turn into zombies and aliens burst out of them. Stupid humans, playing with toys without reading the safety manual first.

The expedition perishes; nobody returns; back on Earth the heirs of Weyland laugh at the old man’s fixation that got him killed. They laugh at the six-dot star pattern, and any such patterns or hints that might be discovered in the future.

Because — this is my supposition — the Engineers don’t have no interstellar empire. They went into the stars and found the stars hostile, the habitable planets too harsh or not worth the effort. They got cold feet. They made the “Goalpost Planet” in the blush of their rise into space, in their “Intergalactic brotherhood and others to follow!” phase; then they said “Fuck this!” and returned, for the most part, back to Earth, to hide among the retard cousins.

And now that that one last hint has been made to appear an utter mare’s nest, they’re safe, and mankind has lost.

Q & A

1) Hang on, I hear the reader saying, what about the remaining skull-structures? And I say, suppose there were self-destruction codes that needed to be delivered in person, but the Engineers on Earth couldn’t risk launching a spaceship for the fear of discovery. (They thought their strike two thousand years ago might have activated those self-destruction codes, but they weren’t sure.) Why, then, take the android David, and add a few lines of code… and the next ship into that system will not find any structures standing after David gets his sticky fingers on the time-delayed buttons.

2) So where did Shaw and David go to? Into a plan of expansion, or an old map of exploration, I suppose. Imagine their surprise when the planet they reach, suffering from food poisoning and a dearth of batteries, is dead and hostile to life!

3) Why was the surviving Engineer so damn angry? Well, you would be too if all your friends were killed, you escaped into cold sleep with a good whiff of toilet cleaner in your head, and when you woke up people that — to your groggy eyes — seemed identical to the killers stood next to you. (Don’t blame the guy. Two thousand years of sleep will leave anyone grumpy and not all that bright.)

4) Hang on a minute, you said the Engineers on Earth wanted to avoid discovery. How are they going to do that if humankind continues to exist and improve itself? Well, maybe they’re more confident now. Or maybe they’ve decided to go native. Doesn’t matter really; the Prometheus movie was the last chapter of a sordid tale; a chapter about David and his sticky fingers of doom, and doddering ol’ Weyland and his soon laughable obsession.

* * *

Nonsense, I admit it, but because they didn’t give me answers I made them myself. Now I’ve made my peace with this irritating movie.

Prometheus: Idiots killing themselves

June 13, 2012

And now I will review Prometheus, the movie. No significant spoilers.

Imagine a temporal ribbon two hours and five minutes long. Imagine it is beautiful: finely ornamented lace, patterned with fractal care, so beautiful you want to find someone really pretty and special to wear it.

Now imagine that at five minute intervals for the whole length of this fine, gorgeous ribbon of two hours and five minutes… someone has taken a great big messy pooling-liquid haze-forming-mushroom-clumps shit.

That’s Prometheus.

It’s a pretty film; if you ran it on mute, it would be gorgeous. If you spoke no English and had no subtitles, you would think you were missing a masterpiece.

Unfortunately, as I saw it in both English with full understanding and in subtitled Finnish, I was very exposed to the fact that while 50% of the movie is genius, the other half is flaming, forehead-red, incoherent-angrish-gibbering FAILURE.

The plot starts like this: It is the year 209X. Two smug, supercilious, self-satisfied sub-Dänikens called Holloway and Shaw have found a six-dot pattern occurring in various ancient monuments. They’ve snookered a dying cackling mad billionaire called Weyland into funding a space trip to a star which the six dots locate.

COMMON SENSE: (raises hand)

NARRATIVE VOICE: (sighs) Yes?

CS: Wait, what were those six dots?

NV: Six stars. So terribly minuscule in the sky those ancient humans could not have seen them on their own!

CS: Wait. So by searching the sky with very heavy magnification, looking at (probably) very faint stars, they could find an arrangement that matched those six dots? Who would have thought! Not me, I have had a course in fucking probability theory, of course they found six stars matching those six fucking huge splotch dots.

NV: Hey, no cursing.

CS: And how do six points in space indicate a single star anyway? I may have missed that. They could have been on a sphere centred on a star… ah wait, pretty improbable.

NV: Shut up! We need to keep moving!

— and Holloway and Shaw convince the billionaire that that signpost means Ancient Aliens which means They Made Mankind.

CS: WHAT THE FUCK?

NV: (sigh) What now?

CS: What about Darwinian evolution? What about the fact, known to the level of science fiction popular culture I would have thought, that people are animals, and we are not special sweet darlings but cousins of monkeys and orang-outans?

NV: Well, there was a biologist who said that…

CS: (mutters under breath) Yeah, a crew of 17 or so to meet Aliens, and you take one measly biologist. Who you make into a cowardly dweeb, as if to underscore how these Karen Armstrong fanboys are the proper people to discuss Matters of Origins, not icky science people with their Common Sense which is icky.

NV: …but er, there was a biologist who asked about Darwin stuff. The answer from H&S was that they BELIEVE those were mankind’s creators. Because hey, what else? Exposition is so last season, and obviously this is still a world, in 209X, where it is too rude to call anyone on their bullshit if they BELIEVE it.

CS: Great. Why not just “Aliens, visited, left these signs, then went away”. Where does the whole “makers of mankind” idea come from? Brain fever?

NV: I said they were sub-Däniken loonies, didn’t I? It was that, or then “monumentally confused and philosophically craven sub-Däniken sub-Creationist caricatures of the usual vague Christian human exceptionalism, for which the creation of life equals creation of humans equals the fertility problems of a leading lady”.

CS: I miss Ripley.

NV: True, that; if Ellen Ripley was commanding these idiots they might have not had such a death toll. Ripley would have nuked the site from the orbit.

And to continue. The plot chugs along; a planet is reached, a moon landed on, a catacomb explored; and every five minutes the characters do something monumentally, unnecessarily, insultingly stupid.

As in, “This place’s atmosphere could kill us in minutes; also, the possibility of alien bacteria, subtle poisons and whatnot. But since this one spot seems to have, at the moment, not obviously deadly levels of whatever, let’s take our helmets off. And since the first one to do so didn’t die in ten second, let’s follow his example! We’re expert explorers!”

As in, “Screw this! This is too scary, and I’m going back to the ship! Because obviously we have no-one who would actually command us, and chickening out will obviously have no adverse consequences to my life whatsoever! We’re teenagers in a scary cave, not highly paid explorers with careers!”

As in, “We have a holograph projection of that alien place in our communication center! And the speakers are transmitting the sound and sight of two of our own inside that structure, dying; too bad the communication center apparently can’t take a message, can’t make an alarm, DOESN’T RECORD ANYTHING, and isn’t manned because the person responsible for manning it is boning the captain!”

As in, “Ah ha, you are surprised I know how your father died, Shaw! Give no thought to the possibility that I, as a trusted employee of the Weyland who gave you a trillion dollars, might have had a little interest in your background. No, it must be because I WATCHED YOUR DREAMS! WHILE YOU SLEPT!”

As in, “Here we have a robot. We shall all be snotty at it, and point out that IT HAS NO SOUL. Which is a failing. Holloway, be snotty at the robot; you can, because you are a human and SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.”

(The point where Weyland points out that David is defective and hugely inferior for not having a soul… oh for fuck’s sake, at that point it began to dawn on me that in a just and sane universe the histrionic nutter trio of Weyland, Holloway and Shaw would have disappeared into space, never finding nothing because people of that vague empirical foundations wouldn’t. Not in a just and sane universe. But, unfortunately, this is one of those protagonist-centred universes where anyone contrary to Holloway and Shaw is supposed to be a nasty, unlikeable jerk, no matter how much that characterization better fits the duo.)

(Seriously; most of the movie I was silently chanting “Die, Holloway! Die, Shaw! Die, you smug, shallow drama royalty! Your stupid pseudo-heroics are going to get you all killed! Die first! Die now! DIE DIE DIE!”, which is not what you should be thinking about the leads. There’s a line between heroism and just being a contrary ass; they were nowhere near that line, or heroism.)

Or, finally, how about this bit of thrilling dialogue, slightly adapted:

MALE: “Would you like to fuck, female superior?”

FEMALE: “I would not. I didn’t go all this distance to fuck.”

MALE: “So what are you, some kinda robot?”

FEMALE: “Let us fuck. My place in ten minutes.”

Thrilling! I never knew one was supposed to talk at girls like that!

As if in the beginning there had been a good movie, but then some wankers with no care for how competent people would actually act were unloosened on the script to make it more exciting. And then some halfwit philosopher unable to distinguish fortune-cookie theology from chewy philosophy let loose a yellow stream of wisdom on the result.

Prometheus is a gorgeous movie with the potential to be very exciting, that insists on slapping you in the face with a rotten fish every five minutes. Then again, if you don’t care about the cast being (save David and Vickers) a full panorama of staggering recklessness, hair-raising incompetence and vague Däniken-shaming lunacy… if you don’t care about that, please have no children.

Thank you.

Short bits, vulgar edition

June 7, 2012

Nena’s 99 Luftballons is a very polite song. It begins with, in German, “If you would have a bit of time for me, I would like to sing a song at you”.

Then again, most songs would not be improved by the vocalist beseeching the audience to, pray, listen carefully.

“Hi! Nice to see you! Look, if you don’t have anything pressing to do or be at the moment, I have a story. Please allow me to introduce myself: I am a man of wealth and taste…”

*

(Me and my brother, once upon time.)

My brother the physicist: —so water is a horrible example of gas-liquid-whatsit because it’s a special case unlike almost any other stuff your could choose!

Me the mathematician: Well, all cases are special cases.

Brother: Whuh?

Me: If you have two cases that are not special but similar, you can collapse them into the same case, which will then be just one more special case.

Brother: Ah?

Me: Like with functions. If there’s any group which is not “special” in some sense, you’re clearly doing something horribly wrong and should collapse that group into one single function. All cases are special cases!

Brother: …talking to you mathematicians gives me brain cancer.

*

Increasingly Vulgar Pitfalls of Finnish, pt. 1

The Finnish: “Kuusi. Kusi.”

How it reads: “Spruce. Piss.”

Why it is funny: Because, as you know, vowels and vowel length are the most difficult part in speaking a new language. And the latter word will not be in your learner material. No, that’ll have tuli/tuuli — fire (the hot burny thing) / wind (the blowing thing) — but not this one, and then you will be getting puzzled looks.

*

(Me and my brother, roughly twice every year.)

Me: —so, as was said by that famous mathematician, Isaac Newton—

Brother: Waidaminit! Newton was a physicist!

Me: —who also dabbled in, ah, was it optics or something?

Brother: (rageface)

*

Hey, that’s it. If I ever need a rapper name, that’s it.

Brother Rageface.

*

Increasingly Vulgar Pitfalls of Finnish, pt. 2

“Hän nai rakkaansa. Hän nai rakastaan.”

How it reads: “S/he married her/his beloved. S/he fucked her/his beloved.”

Why it is funny: Because the verb is the same; it’s the case of the object that determines whether your action is romantic or carnal.

*

Twitter would be a lot more exciting if every midnight the Twittery Overlords rolled, er, 4d6 (four six-sided dice), added the results, multiplied that with ten, and for the next 24 hours that’d be the maximum tweet length.

“The new length is: 40. It is this much.”

“To be known: the new maximum length of tweets is 240 characters, which (for this is a self-illustrating example of which we have each & every ready, for all possible values of 4d6) is quite exactly and without abnormal waffling, this much.”

*

Increasingly Vulgar Pitfalls of Finnish, pt. 3

“No olipa kestävät hanskat. Meni rikki kun vedin käteen.”

How it reads: “Well these were durable gloves. Broke the moment I pulled them onto my hands.”

Why it is funny: Because “to pull sthng onto/into your hands” is the most widespread youthful euphemism for male masturbation.

*

Idea: A book, published as an ebook, which is “a blog”. That is, a novel whose text is the blog of a character. So once you “open” the ebook, it shows you the latest (last?) entry; from then on, it’s intrablog links and trawling the chronological archives for the reader: given how blog archives work, a Memento of a novel.

Which has the big minus of it being a bother to read, especially if you don’t follow the reverse chronological order. (But — a heavy phrase underlined to mean a link — and the link says “This entry doesn’t exist anymore.” And the comments!)

Youtube has this kind of things as faux “video diaries”, whose comments are from the readers, and now and then from a character; for example, Marble Hornets, which I’ve watched 4% of but nobody will know because I will drop the link like I know all about it.

Dracula, the original novel, was diary snippets and letters. There are novels written in text-speak, I suppose there’s a wiki “novel” somewhere (wait, there probably should be a new name for such massively non-linear narratives), a Serious Novelist has been involved in making a text adventure (Robert Pinsky, Mindwheel), I’m a banana if there isn’t a novel that’s all e-mails… but for the loopy new possibilities, reverse chronological and branching and game-like tales, there should also be a new kind of plot: less “from A to B” or even “from A to B_i where i \in \{1,\ldots,n\}” and more “let’s wander around until you get it“.

Would that be the kind of a plot which popped up a note that you’ve seen all “major plot points” so while you can still go on reading, the author’s presented the main points of his tale at you now, and hopefully you liked it, huh? “Book over: close / continue?”

*

Increasingly Vulgar Pitfalls of Finnish, pt. 4

In the Finnish unusual images community there’s orbiting a picture of an unsuspecting lady’s Facebook picture cluster, titled “Kuvia kullistani”. This, for a person with a clean, nice, decent mind, is “pictures of my darlings”, darlings in plural, in the proper case.

If, on the other hand, you have a less than decent mind, and assume the second word is in singular, not plural, and in the proper case, it reads “pictures of my cock”.

The pictures, as far as they were included in that screencapture, were of dogs.

Finns don’t speak to tourists

June 5, 2012

A search that led someone to this blog: “finns don’t speak to tourists”.

This is true. We do not, and we have our reasons. They are not very good reasons; but we have reasons.

REASON #1

Finns are polite by being silent; this is my usual pop-ethnological answer. A foreigner might say “hi” and “how are you” and “have you read any good books lately” — a Finn recognizes these questions as meaningless social-lubrication pap, and supposes most people are slimy enough to slide by on their own, without pinging this empty chatter, wasting time, breath and brain cells. It’s not decent to force people into spitballing sour nothings.

Also, there are times when “how’s it going” is supposed to unleash a torrent of words, a barrage of woes and dark gloating jubilation; many Finns are not sufficiently socially perceptive to risk mistaking a casual hello for one of those times. Imagine —

“Heyah. How’s it going?”

“Colonic irrigation today, testicle lamination tomorrow. And I bit a dog yesterday, it’s a funny story except the dog died. Guess what’s in this box? Right! A dead dog! And guess where I’m taking it? My little niece’s birthday—”

REASON #2

The Fenno-Tourean War of 1901–2.

Do you think we’ve forgotten the Tourist death camps?

REASON #3

Finns speak English. Kind of.

You have noticed this is a blog, not a podcast. The reason is, the Internet does not require “1000 Ways to Mispronounce Every Which Word”.

Finnish is writ as she is spoke; English is less so. English is an ancient language, and because there are no tyrants of language, it has drifted. That’s what centuries of written language does to you. Finnish became a serious written language only a century and a half ago (and a written language at all only in the 16th century, thanks to Agricola), so we’re not used to Mother Tongue being in war with Father Orthography.

So, when a tourist asks: “Excuse me, but what is that statue all about?” — a Finn thinks: “It’s a statue of Rector Bloodfist, our university’s first— wait. Oh no. Stashoo or Staatoo? Stat-juu? Certainly not sta-zu-ee. Can I not use that word? Monument… mon-ju-mjent? mon-nu-ment?” — and then the tourist asks out loud: “Hey, why are you running away? Is it running day?”

REASON #4

The previous are deep, grand, universal reasons. There are specific ones, too.

Some Finns don’t know English; but everyone under forty ought to. “Shit yea” and “fuck you” if nothing else. (These are not useful for finding the train station, but they may ease the culture shock.)

Some Finns are shy.

Some Finns are socially awkward. (The percentage’s higher in Finland than in your country, I’m sure.)

Some Finns think the world ought to be someone else’s problem.

Some Finns, much like the memetic honey badger, just don’t care; they should be beaten with hammers but that’s not the tourist’s job, but the job of a guy that the Department of Education has hired for that purpose.

Some Finns don’t think they have anything interesting to say, or anything useful to contribute. This can be a real problem; you can live for decades in a city, and still feel like zero percent a tourist guide when someone asks you where the gardens are, or if the Vaguely-Familiar Street is this way or that.

Some Finns are deathly afraid they will offend, or leave a bad impression. Finland doesn’t have the certainty and the pride of bigger nations; we can’t think that even if we goof, we still have nuclear weapons and a history of kicking all our neighbors’ teeth in. And we Finns have a pretty bad case of wanting to be known as good, successful, upright people, which is why any Famous American mentioning Finland, even if to just say Finland exists, makes the headlines. (Chamillionaire samples Finnish song from 1967 (Google Translate); Finns solemnly think they’re finally made.)

We’re not servile, and we don’t have big scary secrets; but the world seems like a big, beautiful, sophisticated salon, and we’re rubes and rustics at the door, sure that we’re socially dead if we don’t show ourselves absolutely smooth and decent and un-asinine. And most Finns think their contribution may doom the whole nation to eternal infamy and being forever alone… if, say, they offend a tourist.

Better to shut up than to shoulder that awesome responsibility. The world can do without Finland for one more day.

So those are some of the reasons why Finns don’t speak to tourists. It’s a combination of psychosis and neurosis; doesn’t that make you feel better?

Siberia in space

June 3, 2012

It has happened to you too: a sudden flash of inspiration.

Like, “What if space, the final frontier, wasn’t populated by those Wild West American libertarian types but the people of a different frontier?”

*

Oymyakon (SSE), a godsforsaken place between the Empty Mountains, known for humankind’s sole loss in the war on the space penguins, and for nothing else. Population ten thousand normies, three mores, I think.

Oh, and two magic penguins.

It’s better than Shemya, though. There there’s nothing but wind, fog, and pieces of frozen colonists. Shemya’s the uttermost arsehole of all being.

*

Shemya (USR), no inhabitants. A White Alice communications pin on orbit, inhabitants a few dozen. A part of the United Systemic Republic.

United Systemic Republic, no capital planet; the governmental hub is on orbit above Boswell Bay.

USR systems:

  • major: Boswell Bay (“Alaska Central”), White Mountain, Polar Night
  • minor: Flat, Livengood, Deadhorse (giant disgusting statue next to spaceport; weird sense of humor), Nenana (name means “good place to camp between two rivers”; it’s all a lie), Ptarmigan
  • incidental: Shemya, Tofty (has potential, and really a bad road to it), Ophir (on the bank of the Innoko Field)

*

“Why do these people call them mountains? They’re full of rocks and stuff.”

“What, that big hill down there?”

“Yes, the locals call it a ‘mountain’. Stupid grav-weller stupidity. Everybody knows mountains are the dark empty spaces between concentrations of stars.”

“Mumble mumble.”

“What?”

“Was just saying, anyone using a word like ‘grav-weller’ for planetary inhabitants hasn’t got much leg to criticize nomenclature on.”

“Ah, discrime you.”

*

Note to self: An adventure taking place in the future would need to be translated in many ways: the habits as well as the language. For example: if you have a society where sexual licentiousness has no stigma — hold on, Gor! In! Space! — then people don’t say “Fuck you!” to each other. Rather, they wish for the other to be discriminated against, because That Would Be Horrible, about as icky all around as dropping trou and doing it on the street is now.

Or would “Fuck you” be interpreted as “[You go] fuck you[rself, because your are an undesirable person and nobody would do this casual nice thing with you, not even a relative of yours]”?

*

Other independent entities

  • Bishopry of Partenia (a religious relic buried under sand; hey, pick obscure dog-forsaken places from Wikipedia and you get better results than with the usual way of using obvious allusions! It’s enough that the name sounds good — it’s not required that the reader gets the lame joke.)
  • Rockall 1955 (a British remnant)
  • Socotra-Ieodo-Suyan Rock Research Station
  • Okinawa Reversion (est. by Takeshima Liancourt and Hinomaru Liancourt; current Governor Shannon Boyd-Bailey, vice gov. Tei Tatsu Tsuda; capital city Akamon “Red Gate”); includes the titular planet and Nanasanmaru (“730”, lieut. gov. Kudaka Houshiki); has research stations at Shinjitai, Koroshi and Juku (other pieces of rock are usually something-jima or -shima (island))
  • Dagen H, Swedish-Finnish remnant, right next to the Peltzman Effect
  • Mohingka (the ex-dictator Saw Win Win was not a nice guy, and the name is accidentally descriptive)
  • Lake Shore Drive, ex-Americans (also called the Denver Colony, also the First To Eat, also the Donner Planet, or the Donner Party Planet — initiating a now universal habit tends to leave a few nicknames)
  • the minor league: Gaillard, Kutcher, Manson, Hirano (which would be a case of naming a planet Smith and then expecting the reader to somehow guess which one), Gaddafi, Gaga (“All we hear is… Planet Gaga…”)
  • the “Scots Empire” of very wee planets: Inchcape (cap. Luxter; 90% of capital and 95% of planet pop is palace), Big Scare, Stac an Àrmainn (climber’s place; reputed amazon home), Clach Mhòr na Faraid, Eilean nan Ròn (“island of the seals”, seals are not the animals in this instance but megalithic archaeological remnants; cap. Mol Mòr “big pebble beach”), Gannet Skerry/Sula Sgeir (cap. Blessed House/Taigh Beannaichte; has a very grumbley White Anglo minority)

*

Apanasenko, capital planet of the Siberian Star Empire

Malenkov, capital of the planet Ust-Kamenogorsk; plague by restlessness, ostracism and assassinations between the Irtysh and Ulba political factions of the Zaysan (the parliament) — look, you can take words mentioned in the Wikipedia article and whoomph they sound like they have a meaning and a history! Plus, any Russian reader will be confused as heck and angry for not getting “the joke”.

SSE systems:

  • major: Tyuratam-Baikonur, Apanasenko, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kishinev
  • minor: Oymyakon, Kushka (the hothouse), Golovnin (on the USR border; cap: Zagoskin), Kamchatka (likewise, but larger pop)
  • incidental: Trotsky Icepick (prison planet)

Tshaktogmyut/Shaktoolik — the former name is used in SSE, the later in USR; disputed and at the moment uninhabited.

*

Timeframe:

  1. ancient ruins (apparently from civilizations that did not get off their planets of origin; some are millions of years old and everyone has the uneasy suspicion every planet has them; time just has obliterated the most)
  2. penguin droppings (the best-known pre-human interstellar civilization; much like humans in being aggressive, possessive, vindictive little shits)
  3. remnants of 1st wave of human colonization (c. 22nd cent)
  4. remnants of 2nd wave of human colonization (c. 23rd cent)
  5. continuous (i.e. modern) colonization (25th cent onwards)

*

One would not think two too much similar sentient species could coexist, when their similarity lies in them both being aggressive, possessive, vindictive little shits.

So it is with humans and penguins.

To the poor sods stuck on oohing over the glories of lost Home, let it be first said that these penguins are not avians of the order Sphenisciformes, but aliens not of Home. And the Sphenisciformes were not aliens. The name is one more bad joke of our all too human precursors.

In the beginning, humans and penguins did not coexist happily; but one of the few good aspects of interstellar war is that, unlike with planetary conflicts, all destruction is limited. There is no weapon that can taint empty space, or reach out to snuff out any significant fraction of the stars above — notwithstanding wild stories told by those living next to the toxic emptiness of the Peltzman Effect — so though planets were made uninhabited, or uninhabitable even, the war did not threaten the existence of sentience itself.

And in time, as with humanity’s own divisions, the division between human and penguin was bridged. Indeed, the war was destined to end the moment the combatants understood the other side was not alien space locusts, but people; which is not to say, benevolent creatures of pure goodwill and candy substance, but creatures that love comfort more than war, and that had evolved beyond the frothing subordinate-slaying omnicidal warlord stage of government.

That was enough to doom the war; and to end it, there was a pair of natural disasters some still say were a bit too convenient.

*

Home, also, Earth, Erde, Terra. Uninhabited. Current estimates say the surface temperature may fall to levels that do not require protection in 3000 plus-minus 50 years in the least affected areas.

Home-Moon, Home’s natural satellite. Special independent non-military territory unaffiliated with either USR or SSR. Several research stations, and the operations of Earth Rescue. ER’s Garden of Earth is recommended to all visitors who want to see genuine Home artifacts.

(Note: Some of the “genuine” artifacts are actually replicas constructed with the help of digital recordings; the original Mona Lisa is a charred scrap of cloth and not so good for viewing purposes. And as for that giant statue of a woman, does anyone really believe they lifted it to the orbit and then to the moon? It’s a nice replica, but the original “Motherland Calls” it ain’t.)

(Note to the note: That is true, but irrelevant. The Mona Lisa copy is micro-printed from the 2021 microscope recordings, which means it is to unaided human eyes indistinguishable from the 2021 original. Which, one hastens to add, was in much better condition that the original was; it still had several centuries to go before being reduced to its current partly heat-damaged state. Since the original was already famous and old by 2021, and only deteriorated since, one could argue the current copy is “better” than the original, even without the heat damage, could be! As for “Motherland Calls”, a fair cop; the other alternative was to compact the thing and then reconstruct it at leisure, which was an… unsatisfactory solution. Mind you, it was tried with “Mother Motherland” of Kiev; repairing that tangled capsule of steel took decades and the sanity of two borderline-obsessive people.)

*

Space is cold.

What do I mean, you ask. Space is nothing, nothing has no temperature, space cannot be cold. Where there is something, it is a star which is not cold.

What I mean is this: look in the universe for places real people can live, set a foot down in muck, build a cabin in. Those places are cold. Back in Home, Siberia was a cold place, a place where your piss tinkled. Guess what, fun accident of universe, there are no Home planets except one, and it is no more. All other places are death, or cold.

Apanasenko is the great capital of the beneficent and beloved Siberian Star Empire: there is no place, no night, there when you might sleep a night under the stars, the stars your blanket, and wake up healthy. If you wake at all. And is not because Apanasenki are knife-happy loonies; is because Apanasenko, the jewel of the star empire, the happy planet which is not very cold as compared to some of the Satanic frozen arseholes of the beneficent and beloved star empire, is still cold.

There are planets of poison, planets of crystal, planets of fire and flame… but the places where a woman might walk, a man throw down his seed and get a crop… those places are all too cold for comfort.

*

“Did you see the Trade Delegate? What was he, she, ne, de or xe like?”

“Typical brown Alaskan.”

The kid frowned. “What do you mean, brown?”

The captain sighed, rubbed his forehead. “Well, as compared to the typical Siberian.”

“What, Siberians are snow white?” the kid asked, with apparent sincerity and ignorance.

“That, and beyond that.” The captain thought for a while. “Look, this shithole you crawled out of—”

“Nanasanmaru?” the boy offered.

“Na nana-whatever, what kind of an ethnic makeup did it have?”

“Huh?”

“Skin color, eye color, face shape, things like that. Anything more common than others? Are you typical?”

The kid shrugged, slight frame quick, bird-like, red-and-blue-diamonded skin taut over the bones beneath. The kid’s androgynous face was full of incomprehension. “I was typical a month ago. Now, I don’t think so.”

“Jobs”, the captain swore. “How do I explain this… look, all planets and societies don’t practice body-mod. Some are just born looking one way and, except for functionality fixes, stay that way.”

“They’re poor?”

“No, they just are boring that way. That’s called culture. Siberians have a culture which adores white skin, so in birth or before or after they bleach themselves, skin, eyes, hair, all, so that they look like the ghosts of a chalk cliff. As for the Alaskans, a very long time ago they came mostly from a place called Alaska on Home, an ancient kingdom with pyramids and stuff, so as a consequence of that ‘mostly from’ they had a bottleneck in their natural genetics, and are a bit darker in skin than most other people.”

“They don’t have culture?” the kid asked; the captain slapped his forehead and grimaced.

“They do; theirs just doesn’t go for intricacies in skin color, though I understand the males sew their scrotal sacks back in because of the cold.”

The kid nodded, absorbing this; the captain slapped his forehead again.

“That was a joke. You know, an outrageous statement meant to elicit— ah, never mind.”

*

CAPTAIN’S LOG — THURSDAY

It just struck me that profanity is a profound subject. I tried explaining this to Yorgenson, but she was not interested. In the dim old years of Home, I have read people used religious terms as profanity; I do not understand how shouting “Pope!” was dirty enough, but then again I do not really understand those times. Similarly, in which way is “girl” a profanity or a pejorative? Was there some cultural factor which made prepubescent women particularly unclean or disliked?

What I have read, has contained one gem of insight: for there is one profanity that has endured through all of mankind’s history, from Sumer to Mongolia, and from Rome to Rhudania: cack! Mankind has ever been as repelled by excrement as it continues to be, implausible as that might seem considering the hygienic conditions of Home. If one wished to communicate insult to all members of mankind, all ages and cultures, a flag with the dark star of the human arsehole would do.

I shall instruct Yorgenson to prepare such a flag; sometimes diplomatic missions go bad.

Short bits

June 3, 2012

So: during the last few weeks I moved house from one side of Small Finncity #1 to the other side of Small Finncity #1.

Actually, the moving took just one day, so it doesn’t explain my dearth of posting. But I could say I was without an Internet connection for a week…

Except that that is, without a real Internet connection: I had the one at the university which, while quick, is not suitable for all uses (“How’s the research?” — “I’m looking at lesbian pornography; does that tell how the research is going?” — “No, not really. Ooh, that’s a good one!”), and I had the one in my phone (which theoretically could be made to be a Wi-Fi hotspot for the laptop, if I didn’t read “rooting” as “humongous fireball and then you have no phone”). Either could be used to throw a laptop-written post into the void. But, I, er, uh, here are some short bits.

* * *

Here’s an atheist talking p… okay, an atheist mocking-point: Mary saying, “I was impregnated by my own child!”

Now, this is not quite correct. As I understand the foundations of Christian theology, Jesus did not come to being when Mary got pregnant; no, the mind (soul?) called Jesus is of equal age with the Father. This used to be a fairly big theological fight a long time ago.

So to be exact, Mary was not impregnated by her own son; no, she was impregnated by an ancient spirit that then indwelt the flesh shell thus created.

I’m sure this is a much more palatable formulation of the matter.

* * *

What I wonder is this: was there one miraculously created sperm, or several? Or did Mary’s egg just start dividing, nudged by a divine appendage? If you looked in the face of Jesus, would you have said, “This is clearly Mary’s son”, or was there something else to those features?

Not that I think these are questions about reality, but I like poking at fiction. It’s not a wholesome habit, and doesn’t always increase your appreciation of the whole, but you can get much entertainment from it. And since I don’t think the Gospels tell a good story, poking like this is what I must do to get some fun out of them. (Really: (a) God decides some things are bad and mean hell. (b) God changes his mind. (c) God decides the only way he can credibly change his mind is offering himself to himself as blood sacrifice! — ancient allegorico-mystical stuff doesn’t make a good plot.)

* * *

I’ve been watching Avatar: the Last Airbender lately; as I am thirty, I am utterly without any need to show by my entertainments how adult I am, though not yet beyond making statements like this.

It’s a… a wickedly good show, always shivving you with a joke when you least expect it. And there’s a sense that there’s a backstory and a plot to the whole piece (so far); and I like how small bits of the backstory get dropped in every episode. (As in, why is the Fire Lord’s own brother travelling around with the outcast prince? No initial explanation. Well, in the nineteenth episode it gets dropped he failed to conquer Chinese Name Earth City, whose name has been dropped a few times already as being a place the Fire Lord would very much want conquered, and the conquering of which would mean the end of major combat operations on the Earth continent. And since it has been made clear the Fire Lord is not a forgiving person… it fits, and still leaves you thinking we will hear more interesting details about this failure.)

There’s less murder than I’d like, but I suppose that’s the price of the show getting made. (“I have a pitch for a children’s show. Five intrepid kids… who get all killed in episode five! Then we start with five new— okay, this door is out?”) And at least I can be content with the implied deaths — if your ship sinks with an iceberg in sight and you’re wearing metal armor, you are not going to live. Incidentally, I am not sociopathic, as far as I know; I just like there to be a bit of genuine danger and consequence in my fiction; I’m fairly okay without any in real life.

I don’t think the reader is supposed to ship Zuko and Katara, but I do. Because I don’t know anything beyond the first season, this is either a “D’awwww” or a “DEAR GODS NO” choice.

* * *

Now, before settling on Avatar, I watched the pilot double episode of Warehouse 13.

I did not like it, and thus did not watch any more. Maybe I was not in the right mood; maybe I expected something different; maybe the subtle gravitational tuggings of the Moon influenced my judgment. Maybe I just have certain philosophical pet peeves.

It went like this —

Two special agents of some arcane American persuasion are yanked without explanation or consent to service in a much more secret and sinister organization: Warehouse 13, which squirrels away all kinds of extraordinary and inexplicable items.

One of the agents is a woman; didn’t hear her name often enough to remember it. She’s cast as the cranky one because she doesn’t think this forcible reassignment to a loony bin is peachy.

The other agent is Latimer; he’s an irritating man-child, whose attempts at humor are either sexism, bullying or plain far away from any semblance of funny. Perhaps this unfunniness is supposed to be funny; it did not work for me.

They meet the old Warehouse 13 employee, Artie; he seems like a garden-variety crank, a sad mental case driven to eccentricity by isolation; the two new arrivals don’t seem to be interested in the easy explanation that Artie is crazy, and all his explanations are lunatic ca-ca and demented sleight-of-hand; this would seem to be the natural explanation, but apparently this does not come naturally to our heroes. If the government has a magitek division, apparently this necessitates the existence of genuine magitek, instead of it being a mare’s nest of the First Earth Battalion subtype.

Really, once Artie says they’re riding a cart made by Edison for Henry Ford, that is powered by a couple grabbing a guardrail — for me, the obvious comment would have been, “Very droll, Artie — now hands or feet off that hidden switch, hands behind back, down on the ground, and tell me what this schtick is all about? Is this a test, or are you genuinely off your rocker? Let’s go to see your boss — I’m not going to take orders from someone who believes in ferret-generating magic pots!”

Oh, and that pot which fulfils wishes, that would have been very persuasive — except that the one wish which was wished, that was naturally impossible, so a ferret popped up. Proof of the efficacy of the wishing pot!

I don’t know if the viewer is supposed to think the main characters are gullible, or just jaded to the nonsenses of the intelligence services. Or if the fact that they’ll be encountering real working magitek in the future means it would be tedious build them up as sensible, skeptical human beings at the start.

Some sense of the unusuality of the situation would have been nice.

Grumblety grumblety.

I prefer SCP Foundation, thank you very much. And as for me preferring grimdark horror over light comedy-action, well, that’s just me.

* * *

And finally, here’s a 176-clip strong Youtube playlist of the Just for Laughs Gags mini-candid camera show; that should do to destroy the rest of your day very nicely.

As I understand it, the show’s made in Quebec, which explains why there’s almost no spoken language in it. It’s splendid fun; at least one Finnish TV channel uses it as five-minute clips to make their schedules fit. Much better than using commercials, I think; both are equally good in making me desire the buying of tampons and Twilight tickets.