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[Friday, January 10, 2003]


Thai goes to the runner

Yesterday I started running again, getting up at a ridiculous hour to go to the track before it clogs, putting in a brief 2 km; not bad considering such a long hiatus, nearly 3 months.

I didn't actually have Thai afterward, I've just always wanted to say that, and nobody's provided me with an excuse in conversation.

posted 1:45 PM |

[Thursday, January 09, 2003]


Via the always-interesting Arts and Letters Daily, comes this.

Which condemns:

people who think that their lives will be fuller, their opportunities greater, and their burdens fewer if they are allowed to treat sex as recreation, children as toys, and income as an obligation of government rather than a result of work.

and thereby illustrates a cheap trick for compelling assent. Two of them, really. The first: yoking together two things that reasonable people might in fact disagree on (points 1 and 3) with something that is an actual act of cruelty that no reasonable person would condone (treating children as toys).

Even many conservatives would not go so far as to say recreational sex was an evil in itself - I doubt Andrew Sullivan would, for instance. They might say that sex should not always and only be recreational, but in this a great many on the left would join them. They might believe that the proper place for sex is within a marriage, but that marital sex can be for recreation as well as procreation.

Not many conservatives could be found to defend a guaranteed income, though to the unprincipled and Machiavellian variety it might have a certain "bread-and-circuses" appeal for forestalling dissent. All the same, I think the arguments for a guaranteed income - that as an advanced technological society we produce enough surplus to make it possible; that it would eliminate the complex bureaucracies that decide who is "deserving" of welfare, and how much; etc. - may well be in error, but they are hardly on the same plane as "Children are toys who inevitably take second place to the gratification of my immediate desires".

Oh, and there is also the lack of case coverage: according to the author, you can either proudly work for a living or debase yourself with handouts from the government. What about inheritances? If a guaranteed income is wrong because of the large, intrusive bureaucracy it creates, and the intrusion on property rights needed to gather the funds, then inheritances are fine. But then there's no need to bring all this dignity-of-labour business into it. However, if you do bring the spiritual/social benefits of working for a living into it, then you also need to address the issue of inheritances, as Theodore Roosevelt did.

The second cheap trick is the cynical "Won't someone please think of the children?" nature of the device. Someone writing for the much-lamented Suck once referred to this argument-stifling tactic as a 'waif-and-switch'.

It's a shame that Wilson resorts to this sort of thing, because he otherwise presents a principled conservative (American-style conservative) viewpoint quite well. I don't agree with much of it, but the disagreement is civil. Given his defence of civility in the article, I wish he'd avoided slippery rhetorical attacks like the one I've described.

posted 12:11 PM |

[Tuesday, January 07, 2003]


Dispelling magic in a 20 yard radius

Looking at the vodyanoi in yesterday's entry, it strikes me how much folklore and literature came my way via gaming. I played Call of Cthulhu before reading a line of Lovecraft; I discovered the Kalevala through reading Deities and Demigods (before it was cravenly renamed Legends and Lore; I'm given to understand that in Second Edition AD&D, even devils and demons got renamed to avoid offending the fundies. Next: there won't be 'evil' alignments anymore, in case that tempts the kiddies to, y'know, consider evil as an appropriate lifestyle choice) and, of course, the first place I read about any number of mythical beasties, including the vodyanoi, was in the Monster Manual.

The second place I read about vodyanoi was in C.J. Cherryh's Rusalka. I read this with some reluctance, since, firstly, that spurious 'h' at the end of C.J. Cherryh's nom de plume has always picked me for some reason; secondly, most of her stuff was published by DAW, back when they had the uniform yellow spines and mostly published poo, with some exceptions (like Tanith Lee); thirdly, one of the major characters was called 'Uulamets', and that really sounded too much like a Unix utility (a la uucp or uuencode) to be taken seriously at all. But, I liked it. Gloomy, though.

(Now that I think of it, Manuel's father in Cabell's Figures of Earth was supposed to be a water-demon, and there was a lot of Russian folklore that fed into Cabell's world. Hmmm, maybe he was a vodyanoi, which Cabell opted to translate, unlike leshy which he left in the original. Must check.)

Anyway, right, the
. I don't know what the compilers of Deities and Demigods were reading when they wrote the "Finnish Mythos" section, but it doesn't seem to be any English translation of the Kalevala I've ever laid hands on. The first one, borrowed from the library at age 16, was Francis Peabody Magoun's, which I haaaated. Partly because of the weird meter of the translation, and partly because it was so unlike what I was expecting: I mean, in the DDG, there's all this stuff about Pohjola, the Land of Evil, and Magoun translates it as "North Farm". The hell? I'm expecting some Finnish-ass Mordor, and I get a farm? No point leaving Southwestern Ontario for that.

Also, Loviatar, the Maiden of Pain? Nowhere to be seen. Okay, maybe a one-liner. The rest was doubtless woven from the fevered imaginations of the folks at TSR - those big ol' perverts.

To be fair to Magoun, neither of the other translations I've read - the recent one by Keith Bosley, and the old Everyman by J.F. Kirby - have any Loviatar to speak of either. I like Kirby the best, by a long, long shot. Bosley's introduction informs me that Kirby is way out of date and inaccurate in spots, but he keeps the Kalevala meter, and to me that really lends the whole thing that vital character of incantation - neither Bosley nor Magoun ever felt shamanic to me, and Kirby does. It was a happy day when I finally found both volumes of the Kirby at a book sale.

And yet, even as I was happily immersed in it, I couldn't help pausing over the passage where Lemminkainen - on skis! - is hunting the elk of Hiisi, and thinking what a great video game that would make.

posted 8:03 PM |

[Monday, January 06, 2003]

"Palgolak was a god of knowledge. He was depicted either as a
fat, squat human reading in a bath, or a svelte vodyanoi doing
the same, or, mystically, both at once. His congregation were
human and vodyanoi in roughly equal proportions. He was an
amiable, pleasant deity, whose existence was entirely devoted
to the collection, categorization, and dissemination of information."

-China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

This is one of those books that I have periodically looked at on the shelf, and thought, has enough time elapsed that it's not ridiculous to re-read this? Which is something that I only started doing in my late teens, when I realized that I was so familiar with Julian May's Pliocene books that there was no longer any oomph to be had from reading them beginning-to-end again. In my obsessive-compulsive fashion, it's fossilized into a nigh-unshakable conviction that at least a year needs to go by between re-readings. It's been close to a year and a half for Perdido Street Station, so it's Time. Besides, there's a sequel now.

Thoughts on a Second Reading: I bought this book in Copenhagen Airport, waiting for a flight home; I had miscalculated how much reading matter I needed to bring, and had nothing left except for about half of a Robert Louis Stevenson collection, which was no way going to get me through 2 more hours in the airport and an 8.5 hour flight. A bookstore with an English-language section was an unlooked-for delight, and getting something that came well recommended instead of some Tom Clancy thing was even better. So I read this on a plane, with insufficient sleep, not yet recovered from jet lag, and my digestion responding to these things in its usual rebellious way. This, perhaps, explains why I didn't notice how much of the detail is actually stomach-turningly visceral. This morning, however, it made me look at my peanut butter sandwich in deep suspicion more than once. The technology/magic of the book is very, very biological - sort of steam ribofunk. (I'm still sad the term ribofunk never caught on.)

I also don't recall the description of Palgolak and his church jumping out so much on a first reading. It's a very appealing made-up religion, which, like the belief system of Terre d'Ange in Kushiel's Dart, I could see catching on. Heck, which I'd even be inclined to adopt myself, if I were inclined that way. And the notion of a deity who travels the dimensions reading in the bath puts me in mind of my betrothed, who warns me that she will read my books in the bathtub, and occasionally drop them in. Hee.

posted 7:26 PM |


Hello, world

We always begin figuring out a new System by making it say "Hello, world". I'm fond of tradition. And new Systems.

posted 7:10 PM |