Unrefined Sesame

Not having children, I get a little out of touch with these things, but I was surprised to read that the early years of Sesame Street sport warnings that they’re “intended for grown-ups”:


Apparently, anarchic behavior like cookie-glomphing, pipe-eating, and trash-can-grouching is now considered way too edgy for children.  If that’s the case, I predict a backlash when the children of today’s overprotective parents grow up.

This horrifying five-foot weapon…

Lethal... or goofy?
Lethal... or goofy?

jwz found an old article featuring British coppers puzzling over a Klingon betleH:


Now, My B.S. detectors go off whenever I see fantasy illustrations of oversized swords with claws and sharpened outgrowths.  I figure that the last 3000 years of combat have refined what makes a good edged weapon, and there’s a reason real weapons don’t look like what art directors come up with.  Though anything with a sharp edge can be dangerous, and I imagine the betleH could parry all right, it looks like it’d be lousy for thrusting.  I’d think a good swordsman would either chop at your legs, or knock it, twisting it into a position more dangerous to the wielder than to the opponent.

IIRC European swords actually got thinner over time– the rapier outperformed the longsword.

But, I’m just speculating.  Surely some of my readers are martial arts geeks and can offer a more informed opinion.

Nom nom nom

So, more TF2.  Do you know, I dreamed about TF2 the other night.  I was on the blue team, which lost, and the red CEO (he looked craggy, skin and suit the color of the red spy’s outfit) was giving a pep talk to his team motivating them to search out the survivors and kill them.  I managed to get away with several close shaves. 

Anyway, I think I’m solidly mediocre now.  Thanks to some small-team games with Frohman and others, I’ve been trying out the other classes.  Medic is pretty good, especially with a good partner (i.e. one who doesn’t forget that his medic buddy is made of styrofoam); it’s also an almost cheap way to rack up points.  Soldier is good when there’s someone to take care of long distance.  I kinda like playing Scout too, especially on CTF maps, or to sneak up behind the enemy. 

The new Arena mode is extremely well designed to showcase my faults, especially dying early and often.  But Badwater Basin is great.

Russia 1, Georgia 0, Bush -1

What a difference a quagmire makes.  Just five years ago the Bushies were happy imperialists, eager to project limitless American might around the world.  Now Bush is reduced to squealing petulantly while Russia invades Georgia.  Saakashvili undoubtedly hoped the first-term Bush was still in power; he didn’t pursue NATO membership and send troops to Iraq just to get sympathetic words.  But that’s all he got.  Even a Cold War style proxy war seems beyond Bush’s power right now.

Bush’s supporters have always wanted him to be judged on his principles rather than policies.  But if you don’t act on them, principles do no good– indeed, they actually do harm.  If Saakashvili hadn’t thought he had American support, he would have acted less provocatively in South Ossetia.  And since Bush doesn’t think his non-invasion policy applies to the US or Israel, the rest of the world just considers him a hypocrite.

Taking a longer view, the war is another depressing episode in the US mismanagement of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a saga that goes back twenty years and is as much Clinton’s fault as the Bushes’.  Americans believe in their system and have trouble understanding why everybody else doesn’t rush to adopt it (or something tolerably close, such as whatever they do over in Europe).  But again, good intentions do harm if you don’t stand behind them.  Democracy and capitalism don’t succeed immediately by magic, and if a country tries them without success, they react against them and we’re worse off than before.

Beavers’ stones

Went back to William Harrison’s 1587 text The Description of England.  A choice fact: the testicles of beavers are “of such medicinable force that (as Vertomannus saith) four men smelling unto them each after other did bleed at the nose through their attractive force” (p. 326).  And Vertomannus surely wouldn’t lie about such a thing.

Hidden commie messages

Look at this picture of the Chinese Olympic mascots, bearing in mind that their names are supposed to spell out 北京欢迎你 Běijīng huānyíng nǐ “Beijing welcomes you”.  What leaps out at you?

Why, that the names don’t match!  What nefarious message do they have for us?

贝贝 Bèibèi uses the character ‘shells, valuables’.  Interestingly, the tone doesn’t match Běijīng.

晶晶 Jīngjīng is ‘bright, shining’.

欢欢 Huānhuān is ‘cheerful’; this one does match huānyíng.

迎迎 Yíngyíng ‘welcome, meet’ is OK too.

妮妮 Nīnī is ‘girl’; again a tone mismatch.

OK, there isn’t actually a subversive message; I guess names like “You-you” and “North-north” just didn’t sound cute enough.

福娃 fúwá is ‘happy’ + ‘baby’, not to be confused with Japanese futa.

Fire! Fiyyuh!

Delving deeper into the Orange Box, I’ve been trying out Team Fortress 2.  Valve has very cleverly focussed on the essence of FPSs, namely, shooting.  They removed everything that doesn’t look like shooting: storyline, setup, morality, realism. 

The one lack is a tutorial mode… you can wander around the maps alone, but you can’t learn much without joining a server and sucking hard.  There’s a lot to learn: the maps, the skills required for each class, how to counter the other classes.  I’m happy that, after my weekend shooting spree, I no longer completely suck; I’m just really mediocre.  

I’ve mostly played as a Heavy or Pyro… both classes that don’t require a lot of fiddly technique, such as “aiming”.  I’m starting to grok the limitations as well.  It was instructive to watch a fellow Pyro trying to toast a ledge with a bunch of baddies– an excellent demonstration that the flamethrower doesn’t go very far.  I have to learn to repress the instinct to run after flaming enemies… even if they can’t outrun me, they’re likely to lead me into trouble; better to go toast someone else.  Also, the other side has spies, did you know?  So you flame almost everyone you meet, in a friendly fashion; if they’re enemies they’ll burn.  Snipers are a pain too, so you have to learn not to show up as an attractive target in a doorway or window.  Occasionally I remember all this and can go do some damage– one round I got 5 kills, which was great; they even mentioned it in chat.  (“Did we all just run into that pyro?”)  In fairness, I should also mention someone’s speculation that I must be aiming with a touch pad.  Ha ha!  No, I can aim badly using just the mouse!

Chris a.k.a. tieboy a.k.a. Frohman, whose relentless blogging of TF2 got me into this, generously provided a shot of me killing him:


Wouldja look at the resolution on his computer?  Somebody at Valve spent long hours getting that gas tank to render just right.  Kudos, somebody at Valve.  The balloons and party hats, however, are not really standard equipment.

It’s interesting that the Overwatch, Aperture Science, and Red and Blu all employed the same woman to do voiceovers…

Don’t let your daughters marry time travellers

I just read The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.  On the whole: a good love story, with an intriguing SF angle.  Probably worth it just for the wacked-out timescale alone.  The most literary SF I think I’ve ever read, even more than Doris Lessing (and yes, that’s mixed praise).

Here bee spoylers

(Really.  Cut tags don’t seem to work.)

But… not a great love story.  The first half of the book piles on nice things on the two lovers; the second half piles on a larger number of nasty things.  There’s nothing that’s really implausible, but these things aren’t organic either— they feel like the author kept asking, “What can I do to them now?”  The best bits in the book are the things that aren’t part of the plot per se— Henry beating up a punk for insulting him, or most of the scenes with them as children.

More annoyingly, the couple never have a serious crisis with each other.  They love each other, that’s it.  Clare doesn’t even experience any process of falling in love with Henry— she’s known him all her life.  Henry does have a life without her, but in 24 hours of meeting her, he’s commited to her entirely.  It’s sweet, but a little shallow.  Making the external blows nastier and nastier doesn’t make up for this.

One fun bit was all the Chicago references.  Oh, and one more annoying bit: what the heck does Clare do with herself for the last 40+ years of her life?

Ask Zompist: The race card

Reports on the U.S. presidential election seem to have focused for the last day or two on accusations from the McCain camp that Obama played the “race card” against McCain.  Having seen the Obama comments in question, I personally have concluded that this is just an instance of faux outrage on the part of McCain in an attempt to play the victim before the voters.

However, as an upper-middle class college-age California Democrat, I’m obviously not in McCain’s intended audience, so I’m wondering exactly why such a ploy on McCain’s part would be in any way successful.  What does this say about American voters?  Is this episode symptomatic of some underlying resentment in “Middle America” towards the Civil Rights Movement?  Is McCain playing on white expectations of the black candidate as consumed with playing the victim?  You get the idea.


Certainly there’s ongoing resentment, especially in the Republican base, towards blacks.  Hostility to blacks is openly expressed in talk radio, but on op-ed pages it’s disguised as opposition to “affirmative action” (that is, to attempts to stop discrimination).  The arguments pretend to be meritocratic (as if conservatives believed in merit backed in Jim Crow days), but the game is given away by the fact that there’s no similar outrage directed against athletic scholarships or legacy admissions.

As for McCain, my impression is that he’s rather desperately shooting off his mouth, saying any damfool thing to make Obama look bad.  It doesn’t have the Satanic deviousness of Rovism; it’s just bilious.  He’s accused Obama of being out of touch on Iraq when Obama’s position is increasingly that of our military commanders and the Iraqi government; he criticized him for not going to Iraq and then for going there; he whines about not getting media attention; he sputters over Obama calling him on the race-baiting. 

Billmon has a good post pointing out that McCain’s amazing ability to wow the press corps covers an extremely calculating political career: McCain spouts whatever he needs to say for momentary advantage.


McCain has been pushing oil drilling, another infuriatingly dishonest idea.  Restrictions on drilling in Alaska didn’t cause today’s high prices and won’t bring them down.  But as Paul Krugman points out, lying works: half the public believes that drilling will bring quick price relief.


Will it work this year?  We shouldn’t underestimate the power of fear and deceit.  But I think the public is tired of Iraq and of governmental incompetence, and McCain’s ill humor is unattractive and doesn’t add up to much of a program.  The voters don’t like wimps (cf. Dukakis) but they tend to prefer the candidate who seems warmer.  And John McCain doesn’t do warm.