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DShomshak

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DShomshak last won the day on January 26

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  1. we may differ on what we consider "humans with a coat of paint." But I may have inadvertently made your point for you. If a Fantasy setting can include people with dramatically different appearances and abilities, living in dramatically different environments, but who can nevertheless be classified as human, what is gained by saying they aren't? "Culturally or mentally distinct"... hm. That's a high bar, given that H. P. Lovecraft ended At the Mountains of Madness with the narrator empathizing with the aliens and concluding that everything they had done had been comprehensible and, in many ways, admirable. "Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn -- whatever they had been, they were men!" Arguably, even they ended up as "humans with a coat of paint." Anyone care to nominate examples of Fantasy nonhumans who would meet this standard but were still characters with whom one could empathize? Dean Shomshak
  2. Yesterday the BBC interviewed perennial liberal Noam Chomsky, who amazingly is still alive (age 92, IIRC). He said the coronavirous was only the latest evidence that the radical capitalism of the last 4 decades or so Just Doesn't Work and we need to return to the days when corporations were regulated and billionaires were taxed. To get an opinion from a very different source, today the BBC interviewed the editor of the business magazine Forbes. Who then said almost the same thing as Noam Chomsky: Milton Friedmanish, only stockholders matter free market absolutism does not work and must be changed. Corporations also need to operate for the benefit of workers, communities and society as a whole. The editor claimed that many of the billionaires he's interviewed say the same thing, though few are as yet willing to say it in public. Okay, so talk is cheap. But I was surprised even to hear such talk from one of the cheerleaders of big business and big money. Dean Shomshak
  3. Yesterday the BBC interviewed perennial liberal Noam Chomsky, who amazingly is still alive (age 92, IIRC). He said the coronavirous was only the latest evidence that the radical capitalism of the last 4 decades or so Just Doesn't Work and we need to return to the days when corporations were regulated and billionaires were taxed. To get an opinion from a very different source, today the BBC interviewed the editor of the business magazine Forbes. Who then said almost the same thing as Noam Chomsky: Milton Friedmanish, only stockholders matter free market absolutism does not work and must be changed. Corporations also need to operate for the benefit of workers, communities and society as a whole. The editor claimed that many of the billionaires he's interviewed say the same thing, though few are as yet willing to say it in public. Okay, so talk is cheap. But I was surprised even to hear such talk from one of the cheerleaders of big business and big money. Dean Shomshak
  4. DeWine was mentioned on today's episode of The Daily, the NY Times radio program/podcastt. The subject was the resurgence of governors in national politics, arguing they'd sort of been eclipsed in public consciousness for the last decade or so as culture wars intensified and politics became more nationally focused. But with Trump making the federal government irrelevant for two months in responding to coronavirus, it's been left to governors -- and the difference in their responses has been stark. NY's Cupmo has been the most visible, but DeWine was noted as an example that Republican governors have not all parrotted Trump's line that everything's fine. Conversely, Florida's DeSantis was called out as particularly psittaceous. Here in The Other Washington, yesterday Gov. Inslee said something good: We are not helpless in this crisis. "We have power in this thing. And the power we have is we can use our heads." And today he vetoes a passel of bills he'd previously worked hard to get passed, as a way to cut $445 million from the state budget over the next two years. Because state revenues are going to take a beating, and there just won't be money for everything. Dean Shomshak
  5. EDIT FOR DOUBLE-POST: Anyway, I've seen some Fantasy stories and products that include "hero races" apparently without irony and, well, they sometimes leave me feeling a little uncomfortable. Dean Shomshak
  6. Thank you; excellent article. The flip side of the "villain race" is the "hero race," and here I'd argue that Tolkien gets sneaky. Elves are angelic, but not meant to be in Middle-Earth. Their depiction is deeply shaded with sorrow, which doesn't fit very well with the usual racist vision of heldenvolk. Not to mention how many of Middle-Earth's problems are caused by elves, from Feanor's crafting of the irresistibly tempting Silmarils to Celebrimbor's gullibility in perfecting ring-forging for his good buddy Sauron. And the Dunedain? These seem like an Aryan dream, the heroic "Men of the West." Except when you look at their history, they don't look so good. They can defeat Sauron militarily in the Second Age, but their king Ar-Pharazon and ruling class are putty in his hands. Then Isildur and the Last Alliance defeat Sauron again, but Isildur lacks the moral fortitude to destroy the One Ring when he has the chance. The north kingdom of Arnor does half Sauron's work of destroying it through its own partition and civil war. And finally, at the end, we have Aragorn -- who transcends his heritage by realizing that he is not the hero. All his deeds in the War of the Ring are to protect Frodo and distract Sauron. He is Frodo's sidekick. That humility is his most heroic trait -- in contrast to proud Boromir, who falls to the temptation of the Ring. So just from the text, I'd say any argument about a racist worldview in LotR is iffy. Tropes are there, but at least some are being subverted. Dean Shomshak
  7. A few days back, the BBC aired a story about, IIRC, a black hole being detected ripping apart and eating a star. Particularly important becaue the black hole is in the mid-range size between what could be created by a collapsing star and the supermassive ones at the centers of galaxies. But, radio, so there wasn't much detail. Does anyone know of an article with more information? (No video, please. My internet connection is too slow and erratic.) Dean Shomshak
  8. As an example of what one can do with the variant humans of Exalted, here's the introduction to a society I designed and posted as a bit of fanwork. It uses these variant humans for a number of purposes: to intensify an underlying premise of diverse peoples coming together in a greater union for common good; to extend possibilities for adventure into an underused environment; and sheer "sensawunda," to show how exotic the setting could become. ----------------- <1>Warrakai, the Land Under Waves Of all the Directions of Creation, the West has the least land area. For this reason, people in other Directions usually think it has the lowest population. They forget that not all people need land. But then, most land-dwelling folk do not regard the beastmen, Wyld mutants and other aquatic races of the West as people. Warrakai, the Land Under Waves, is one of the more complex societies of the Western Ocean. On this undersea plateau, fish-scaled folk trade harvests of kelp to dolphinman hunters of tuna and bonito. Men covered in crab-chitin, with pincers for hands, practice slow, underwater battle-dances to fight the creatures who enslaved their ancestors. Ghost-pale, one-eyed folk descend into lightless depths and return with prophecies and jade. People of the Sea, indistinguishable from human save for the gills in their necks and the webs between their fingers, travel bearing land-made trinkets and tools. The five races do not love each other, but they worship together at the sacred atoll of the god Warratoa. In return, Warratoa and his subordinate spirits protect them from the Wyld. The federation, however, is still fragile… and an ancient evil already moves against it. Will the Time of Tumult forge the sea-folk into a great nation? Or will it wash them away in a riptide of forces beyond their comprehension? ----------------- That, I submit, is a bit more than humans with a coat of paint. Dean Shomshak
  9. As I've mentioned in another thread, the game Exalted sort of manages to have it both ways. Creation is mostly human, and most humans still fall within the baseline of merely cosmetic differences of skin and hair. But an indefinite number of altered humans exist, some created deliberately and others warped by ambient supernatural forces, to give a "sensawunda" feeling of the unearthly. But from amphibious People of the Sea to feathered hawkmen and scaled snakement, to furry cannibal Varajtul Wyld-mutants, they are still theologically human in that they can all be chosen as Exalted. (Convenient for the player who insists on a special snowflake character, but it can be used for thematic purposes as well.) There are also genuinely inhuman intelligences such as Fair Folk (elfy-looking, but these are humanoid masks for soul-eating entities of primal Chaos), Mountain Folk (dwarfy, but born from jade eggs and strange in other ways), Dragon Kings, Lintha pirates, and a few others. Some of these are marginally playable, but they all tend to be in some way deeply strange -- encounters with the alien. Dean Shomshak
  10. I'd agree that one thing Fantasy elements do is intensify the features of stories. Returning to LotR: Could the story be told without dwarves, elves, hobbits and orcs? (and as lesser players, ents and trolls.) I suppose so. The hordes of Suron and Saruman could just be human cultures they subverted; the Fellowship could be made of representatives of different countries. But I think Sauron's evil is shown more when his hordes aren't just people with unpleasant cultural features (the Southrons and Easterlings -- Middle Earth's Saracens and Tatars -- who could fill this role, are ciphers). Orcs are monsters, literally created to be brutal and pitiless. It isn't their choice. That Sauron, and then Saruman, would employ such creatures shows in turn that they aren't simply leaders with politics one might disagree with: It gets to the heart of what makes them evil, of what evil means in Tolkien's world. Similarly, having the Fellowship consist of different races/species strengthens the point that resisting Sauron requires diverse peoples to overcome long estrangement. Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits have good reasons not to like each other very much. But Sauron isn't just a common military threat. Sauron is a moral, even theological, threat, that requires fundamental changes in how things have been. And so the friendship that develops between Gimli and Legolas means more, too, because the barriers they overcome are more than just those of people from different cultures. Dean Shomshak
  11. Perhaps someone with better internet access than me could find and post a link to the NYTimes story that just appeared in my local paper? It's worth reading. It's the story of how the federal govt set out to buy a whole bunch of ventilators to have on han d for just such emergencies as we have now, and didn't. Short version: Ventilators are bulky, complex, very expensive devices that need special training to use. HHS, rationally frightened by SARS, MERS, etc., decided, "This sucks. We need lots of cheap, portable ventilators." They negotiated a contract with a relatively small company that just made ventilators. Company said, "Great, we'll do it." Because while they'd make less money per ventilator, they figured they'd sell a tone of them. Better product, lower price, grab the market. This is how capitalism is supposed to work. Just after Newport Medical Instruments delivered its prototypes, the company was bought out by a much bigger company, Covidien, which makes a lot of stuff. Including, as it happens, those large, expensive ventilators. And Covidien made clear it did not want to honor the contract with HHS, and HHS eventually gave up. Protect your product by crushing the upstart: This, alas, is how capitalism often works in the real world. HHS tried again, but too late. The story's headline, as it appeared in my local paper, is, "US failed in its mission to build a new fleet of ventilators," by Nicholas Kulish, Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Dean Shomshak
  12. Perhaps someone with better internet access than me could find and post a link to the NYTimes story that just appeared in my local paper? It's worth reading. It's the story of how the federal govt set out to buy a whole bunch of ventilators to have on han d for just such emergencies as we have now, and didn't. Short version: Ventilators are bulky, complex, very expensive devices that need special training to use. HHS, rationally frightened by SARS, MERS, etc., decided, "This sucks. We need lots of cheap, portable ventilators." They negotiated a contract with a relatively small company that just made ventilators. Company said, "Great, we'll do it." Because while they'd make less money per ventilator, they figured they'd sell a tone of them. Better product, lower price, grab the market. This is how capitalism is supposed to work. Just after Newport Medical Instruments delivered its prototypes, the company was bought out by a much bigger company, Covidien, which makes a lot of stuff. Including, as it happens, those large, expensive ventilators. And Covidien made clear it did not want to honor the contract with HHS, and HHS eventually gave up. Protect your product by crushing the upstart: This, alas, is how capitalism often works in the real world. HHS tried again, but too late. The story's headline, as it appeared in my local paper, is, "US failed in its mission to build a new fleet of ventilators," by Nicholas Kulish, Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Dean Shomshak
  13. Yesterday, All Things Considered reported on a COVID-19 outbreak in Sun Valley, Idaho. (I *think* they said Idaho.) Super-rich people thinking they're going to do the Masque of the Red Death or Decameron thing by riding out the pandemic in their luxury ski resort town... but they and their entourages bring the disease with them. oops. Sorry, guys, we have millennia of epidemiological history showing that running from the plague never works. Their little hospital has 25 beds. Total. One of them is occupied by a local doctor, sick with COVID-19. Oh, the irony. Dean Shomshjak
  14. That's probab ly the best response you could give, under the circumstances. Though we are getting a graphic example of why germ warfare would be a... peculiarly unreliable, uncontrollable, and counterproductive weapon. Apropos of this, I recommend the essay "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by physicist Freeman Dyson, in his collection Disturbing the Universe. It includes the story of Matthew Meselson, the Harvard biology professor who almost single-handedly ended the US biological warfare program of the 1960s. He kept turning up at Congressional hearings for the program's appropriations to ask questions the generals in charge of the program couldn't answer. Quite a story, though I would not be surprised to learn that a later president re-started a biological weapons program after Richard Nixon abolished it. Some presidents since Nixon have been, hm, notably simple-minded. Dean Shomshak Dean Shomshak
  15. That's probab ly the best response you could give, under the circumstances. Though we are getting a graphic example of why germ warfare would be a... peculiarly unreliable, uncontrollable, and counterproductive weapon. Apropos of this, I recommend the essay "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by physicist Freeman Dyson, in his collection Disturbing the Universe. It includes the story of Matthew Meselson, the Harvard biology professor who almost single-handedly ended the US biological warfare program of the 1960s. He kept turning up at Congressional hearings for the program's appropriations to ask questions the generals in charge of the program couldn't answer. Quite a story, though I would not be surprised to learn that a later president re-started a biological weapons program after Richard Nixon abolished it. Some presidents since Nixon have been, hm, notably simple-minded. Dean Shomshak Dean Shomshak
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