Saturday, May 20, 2006

British Myths and a Small Rant

Recently, I finished re-reading Guy Gavriel Kay's The Last Light of the Sun, which is quite good (nearly equalling The Lions of Al-Rassan in my estimation). I also recently watched King Arthur (the one with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley). Since this was a few weeks ago, I can't remember if I went to go re-read the Kay book after watching the movie or not. In any case, I tip my hat to Synchronicity here. Between the two of these, I was struck by two things.

Thing the first: What is it about British mythology that so much of it is about preserving order against chaos? The resonances here with T.H. White's Once and Future King are clear and, I'm sure, deliberate on Kay's part. While there's definitely such a thing as Too Much Order (e.g. East Germany pre-1991), most British mythology is contrasting order not so much against license as against rapine and pillaging -- defense against marauding invaders.

Is it simply that much of British history is about just that: defending against invasion? (Or succumbing to it in a number of cases....) Certainly British history's foundational stories often involve repelling invasion -- think of the Spanish Armada, or the Battle of Britain -- or successful invasions, like the battle of Hastings.

But certainly there is a long British tradition (one that J.R.R. Tolkien subscribed to, certainly) that sees maintenance of order as a cardinal virtue -- to allow people (well, people with enough money and time and the right set of sex chromosomes) to tend their gardens and drink beer at the pub. (There's an argument to be made that this is Conservatism in its best sense, but you certainly wouldn't recognize that in today's Republicans in the USA.)

What's interesting about this vision of maintaining order is that a significant part of the goal of order is allowing people to learn things and write (and read) books, and forge bonds with each other, instead of fighting with each other. (I sense another rant coming, about the differences between US and British SF and how that might be connected to differing histories and shaping ideas about colonialism. More on that later.)

Mythology, n.
The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.       --Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

The second thing is more from The Last Light of the Sun than King Arthur, but the latter did touch on it a bit. I don't think it's a huge plot spoiler to reveal that part of The Last Light of the Sun touches on the remnants of mystic power in Britain by including beings from Faery.

Kay's alternate-world Christianity (Jaddism) has declared belief in Faery to be heresy. Kay works this interestingly, because in this alternate world, Faery and its power is in fact real, and several of the characters have to deal with the fact that their Church is pushing something that blatantly contradicts reality.

What I wonder, in a Devil's-Advocate sort of way, is whether the long domination of Europe by the Catholic Church, with its stamping out of all heterodoxy, might have made it easier for the development of modern science in the European Enlightenment.

Imagine the counterfactual setup: a Europe where dozens or hundreds of belief systems ruled. (And by "belief systems" I mean things that include claims about the way the universe works that are actually empirically falsifiable, and mostly -- mostly -- avoided by modern religions in the European-influenced world.) In this counterfactual Europe of the 1500s, the natural philosophers of the day would have had to tackle dozens or hundreds of different cosmologies, instead of one, to convince enough people that what they were saying was right.

To set up a Straw Man for a moment, I would guess that some (naive) Cultural Theory types would argue that this hypothesis is wrong because science is merely a competing worldview that historically supplanted parts of the Church's cultural hegemony. Of course, since this is my Straw Man to knock down, I say hogwash! Science is ultimately about empirical evidence, evidence which can convince other people, even those who don't agree with you or your theories.

More Linkage

I know, I'm lame, I have no content of my own. Deal.

But first, go read Matt Yglesias guest blogging at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

Why you should read Bruce Schneier

The Value of Privacy

Buh. (Vitamin Edition)

Vitamin Industry: Findings on Vitamin Science "too Sciency".

(Via Pharyngula.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Best Lab Report Ever

(Via Pharyngula.)

I don't care if it's apocryphal, it's funny.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What part of "Martyr" didn't you understand?

Zacarias Moussaoui gets life in prison instead of the death penalty, and the Right Whingers go apeshit.

Haven't any of these people looked up "martyr" recently?

Bush & Co Tell the Truth

White House says Bush doesn't speak Spanish all that well.

These guys have some nerve. They tell the truth to gain back ground with the racist "Minutemen" types who are "guarding our borders" ("What? Me? No habla Español..."), which of course flatly contradicts Bush's 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial races and both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, in which he would give carefully rehearsed speeches in Spanish to Spanish-speaking audiences.

The most ironic part of this is that the entire "Bush can't speak Spanish very well" is being deployed to deflect attention from reports that Bush sang the U.S. National Anthem in Spanish with some audiences during the 2000 Presidential Campaign:

McClellan made his remark in response to a report that Bush had sung the Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish during the 2000 campaign. Just last week Bush said the national anthem should be sung in English, not Spanish.
"It's absurd," McClellan said of the report, suggesting that Bush couldn't have sung it in Spanish even if he had wanted to.

I am so waiting for that video to surface!

George Lucas finally comes to his senses

Lucasfilm is finally releasing the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD.

Now if only we could get him to "digitally remaster" the prequel trilogy into something watchable.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Colbert? What Colbert?

So Stephen Colbert gave the address at this year's White House Correspondents' dinner, in character, and was brilliant. (Video via Crooks and Liars; transcript via Daily Kos.)

Of course, if you didn't catch the C-Span broadcast (a rumored rerun hasn't shown up yet and probably won't), you won't have heard about this at all.

I wonder if the Liberal MediaTM's lack of noise about this has something to do with the following line:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

Truth to power. Sigh.