Archive for April, 2017

Tanya the Evil: Sub Rosa

April 30, 2017

In Episode 9, Tanya meets an old classmate, Major Uger, on a train to Strategic Headquarters. He’s assigned to the Railway Division at HQ, working for General Zettour. In the dining car, he fills Tanya in on the Empire’s secret plans for the next offensive.

Sub Rosa

Their talk is secret, and the producers found the perfect way to depict this.

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Aunt Ja plays the blues

April 29, 2017

News Report: Scientists find a modified raven bone in a Neanderthal shelter.

I was walking back to camp one day when I heard a sound. It was like somebody was dragging a stick along a very short picket….rock. After a few short time intervals, it became more rhythmic and picked up a beat, which then merged into a syncopated pattern.

I walked into camp, and there was Aunt Ja, sitting on a rock and rubbing a short stick along a scrap of what looked like a raven’s pelvis bone. The bone was notched along the edge, and it was these notches that were making the sound when she ran the stick across them. I asked her what it was, and she said it was a new musical instrument, called a ravenbone.

Aunt Ja said she won it playing rock-paper-scissors with a Neanderdude. Neanders are terrible at that game, because all they know is rock. Well, all we know is rock too, but we know subtle variations that the Neanders haven’t mastered yet. So, Aunt Ja’s rock beat his rock, and before he woke up, she’d taken the ravenbone and walked off.

It sounded cool, with that hypnotic rhythm so beloved of primitive cultures everywhere. I thought maybe we could form a band. Aunt Ja could play the ravenbone. Uncle Ba could play percussion using the slap-dancing rocks, and I could…I could. Well, you can get a pretty nice sound when you pluck on mastodon intestines. You can even alter the tone by getting up close and standing on one end before you twang them, but that can be dangerous.

Universal Basic Income and the philosophy of work

April 29, 2017

There’s an interesting article over on The Week. It’s by Damon Linker, and it’s about “The spiritual ruin of a universal basic income“.

Universal Basic Income (UBI), as you may know, is the proposal for the government to give everyone a basic living wage, whether they work or not. Combined with universal access to affordable medical care, it would remove the two main worries of modern life.

Part of the reasoning behind it is that artificial intelligence and robotic automation (AI&R), are killing all the jobs, and we need to either find something for people to do, or pay them for doing nothing. We find ourselves on the cusp of a revolution, even mightier than the Industrial Revolution itself. Pretty soon we will move from a society of scarcity to a society of plenty.

One of the problems is the lingering morality of that revolution, indeed, of all of history up to this point.  The old world was driven by scarcity. You worked for your living, or you were a freeloader. OK, if you were rich you were a special kind of freeloader, living in a Potemkin village called “job creator”, but mostly it was workers and layabouts. In modern times, conservatives want to limit the support you get, in an effort to force you to find work — the assumption being that if you don’t have to work, you won’t. The liberals want to give you more help finding that new job, with retraining programs and the like, but both sides want you to get back on your feet as soon as possible. So, what if it isn’t possible?

Those who forecast the impact of technology tend to overestimate the short term effects, and underestimate the long term. Bell thought that every town would soon have a telephone. Diesel thought the market for cars was limited, because there were only so many people who could be trained as chauffeurs. The long-term impact of AI&R can be roughed out already, but we don’t really have a handle on what long-term means in this situation.

One possible scenario is this: X number of years from now, we will have a small financial elite, who own most of the money. There will be a somewhat larger professional class, who have meaningful jobs running the AI&R economy, or providing high level services, like entertainment (or maybe not, consider the popularity of vocaloids). Their income will be 1% of what the elite are “earning”. And then there will be the vast, overwhelming majority of citizens who no longer have jobs and have no way of getting a job, and who earn nothing. These unfortunates will be given a minuscule stipend, or ‘dole’, and will live in the most wretched of conditions.

The theory is that UBI would fight this, first, by being large enough to remove the wretchedness, and second, by being a basic entitlement, given to all. Yes, all. The financial elite, the ones who hit 100 x UBI in stock income a few minutes after the new year starts, would still get it.  The working elite, who may bring in 2 X UBI per month, will get it. And the non-working poor will get it, not as a gift but as a right. No stigma. It’s one result of the society of plenty. The question that Linker asks is, will it work?

Most people simply aren’t equipped to lead lives of self-directed flourishing. In a world of widespread, permanent unemployment, we’d be far more likely to see throngs of people spending their days giving themselves over to obsessive video gaming, immersion in virtual-reality porn, and drug addiction, as they desperately grasp for a chemically induced substitution for the real-world fulfillment now placed permanently off limits to them. It would be a psychological and spiritual disaster.

I can see it being a problem. And if it’s a problem, it will be a bigger one than just layabout angst. Consider youth — easily bored, old enough to act without supervision, but with poor impulse control. That’s a recipe for crime, gang warfare, terrorism; not for poverty or ideology, but for something to do.

Linker recommends hanging on to the old jobs as much as possible

Maybe the left needs to … start proposing new ways to disincentivize businesses from embracing every form of automation that appears on the horizon. (Think of a steep tax on goods and services produced with certain forms of technology.)

In essence, we would pay companies to hire people to do jobs that robots could do better. In a way, this is on par with the old Great Depression “paying people to rake leaves in national forests.”

A different approach is changing how we do primary and secondary education. We stop training people to be good little cogs in the industrial machine, and educate them on how to live when independently wealthy in a constrained sort of way. The concept of fulfilment through work, as discussed in the article is yet another artefact of the society of scarcity. Persons who have gotten the equivalent of the UBI, through disability payments or the like, often become depressed. That’s because they are unemployed in an age that values employment above all else. Change what constitutes a life of value, and you change the reaction to the UBI.

We could go even further, and change our definition of what self-directed flourishing is. If people sit around in a library, reading complex tomes and thinking deep thoughts, that’s an active life of the mind. If people sit around in a VR headset, solving ever-more complex puzzles and improving their twitch muscle reaction time, that’s — what? A desperate grasp for a substitute for real world fulfilment? We all can’t be Einstein, and there’s not enough motel wall space in the world to hold the paintings of everyone striving for artistic fulfilment.

As I said a few months ago, in a different context, there was a mid-80’s spoof in the April edition of, I think, Analog magazine. It was an announcement for a new game, a game called Life (not Conway’s, but, as one slowly realized, real life). The article talked about possible adventures on a water-world with multiple continents and thousands of cultures, and an expansion pack to extend the game to the planet’s airless moon “as soon as we straighten out some issues with a subcontractor”.

The takeaway line, which has stuck with me to this day, is this:

In Life, you set your own victory conditions.

You get to set those conditions, and you get to decide if you have won. Maybe we need to re-think what victory means.

The Rehabilitation of Tanya the Evil Part 2: Tanya

April 28, 2017

As I said in the first of these essays, the English title of this anime pre-judges the character, and primes the viewer to interpret her actions as evil. The Japanese title is better: Yojo Senki (幼女戦記), Young Girl’s War Record.

In the first episode, we drop into the hell of a WWI-style Western Front battle, and meet Tanya Degurechaff,  a hard-charging, hard-ass 2d Lieutenant who was drafted as a flying mage two years earlier (at the age of nine). The opening incident has her disciplining two officer candidates who disobeyed her orders (because they wanted to be heroes), by reassigning them to bunker duty. In another incident, she leaves her platoon, and an exhausted Corporal Viktoriya Serebryakov, in a support position, and then attacks (and wipes out) an enemy mage company on her own. This establishes her basic personality: by-the-book disciplinarian, superb flyer, heroic officer. Serebryakov idolizes her as the fairy of the battlefield.

Fairy 01

Members of the high command who have met her say she’s an evil demon. That’s probably because a combat attitude that would be laudable in a middle-aged officer sounds creepy when it’s an 11-year old girl.

Three down, nine to go

At this point, I am going to change the gendered pronoun to “him”, because in the second episode, we see that she isn’t really an 11-year old girl at all. “She” is a middle-aged Japanese salaryman who was reincarnated as the orphaned infant Tanya. Why did this happen? Our un-named salaryman is an atheistic, cold-hearted, by-the-book bureaucrat, interested only in furthering his own career. At the start of the episode, a man he’s just fired (for cause) pushes him in front of a train. In the frozen final instant of his life, he gets into an argument with God (who he calls Being X) over whether he exists [1]. As punishment for his lack of faith he is reincarnated as Tanya, and must find faith in God in this new life, or go to Hell forever. Think of Tanya as a male midget doing loli cosplay.

Tanya decides to fight Being X, refusing to have faith, and seeking his own solutions to all the many predicaments that X inflicts on him. His approach is to apply his knowledge of modern business practice to allow him to live a life of ease in the rear echelons [2]. This doesn’t always work, either because of the way the military bureaucracy works, or because Being X keeps interfering. The rest of the series captures Tanya’s efforts to make it work, and how they keep running afoul of X and the world.

Tanya Fights Back

The question that keeps coming up through all this is, is Tanya really a cruel and evil person? Let’s look at a series of events, ones where his actions are usually interpreted as evil, to see if they really are.

To start with, the first episode.  Ultimately, the two insubordinate soldiers are killed when their bunker is blown up, the strong implication being that the assignment was a death sentence. The real point is, no combat commander will keep a soldier in their unit who wants to be a hero. That kind of person usually gets others killed, before being killed themselves, and to no good end. Tanya recognized this, and shuffled them off to a place where that kind of heroism won’t hurt people. Since we are talking about a WWI Western Front style of war, bunkers are as risky a place to be as any other, but somebody has to man them. And when he tells his platoon to provide backup, and then defeats the enemy company on his own, it’s not because he cares that they are exhausted, it’s because it would look bad on his record if he got a lot of his troops killed.

One reason Tanya is seen as evil is his seeming disregard for civilian casualties. The anime producer’s attitude toward this stems from the modern media attention to the topic, which disregards military reality. My guess is that more civilians than soldiers have been killed since the start of the modern era in WWI. The fact is that if civilians are in the way, then they are legitimate targets. A standard question on Rules of War exams in military school goes something like: “A civilian telephone exchange in the middle of a city is used for passing military commands. Is it OK to attack it?” The answer is, yes, of course.

In the raid on the Dakian capital munitions factory, Tanya indulges in an acceptable ruse du guerre — presenting a required warning of an attack in a form that sounds like a childish prank[3]. The result is the death of civilians who were working in the factory — persons who are legitimate targets anyway. Of course, his triumphant cry after the factory blows up indicates a certain lack of empathy[4].

Tamaya!

Later, Tanya exploits loopholes in the rules about shelling occupied cities to bombard Arene City, where enemy troops are using the civilians as shields and partisan groups are hiding in the vacant buildings, despite the presence of large numbers of civilians. In our world, the mere presence of enemy troops would be reason enough. What makes this attack seem doubly devilish is the fact that it’s based on a paper that he wrote while a student at the Military Academy.

Throughout the series, Tanya does laudable things more or less in passing, for personal motives. He nominates Viktoriya Serebryakov for officer’s school because he wants to be known as someone who takes care of his troops. He hangs around the Military Academy library in hopes of making an impression on senior officers. Also while at the Academy he kindly tells Captain Uger, a classmate (and possible competitor), that as an intelligent person with a conscience (and a new daughter), he should be at the rear, helping to end the war (and removing himself from the promotion track). One should always use persuasion when the other person is mentally defenseless.

On the other hand, Tanya expresses a dislike for war and killing, on several occasions. At the very beginning, he says he objects to war as inefficient. In the episode on the bombardment of Arene City, he becomes almost insubordinant. Towards the end, when he is contemplating victory, and just before Being X springs an expanded war on him, he looks forward to the joys of peacetime.

Our conclusion has to be that Tanya is not an evil monster, despite the fact that the last words of the anime call him that. He is cold, unfeeling, incapable of empathy, totally self-centered, and proud of his work ethic. But he plays strictly within the rules, even though he may play so close to the edge that he gets chalk dust on his socks. His goal is a quiet, comfortable life, un-bothered by Being X. If that means ending the war, then he will do everything within his power to make that happen. If Being X continues to oppose him, then Tanya will do everything he can to defeat Being X.

Tanya declares war on God


  1. Since Being X admits that administering to 7 billion people is beyond its capability, it presumably is god-like, but not a true, Western-style omnipotent God.
  2. That’s why this program has been called the Moshidora of reincarnation anime.
  3. Doubly effective, because, as some have said, the first part of her warning was taken directly from the Japanese school sports pledge.
  4. Tamaya is the name of a major Japanese fireworks family, and is a favorite crowd cry after a particularly good display.

See also Tanya the Evil: Sub Rosa

Minty Lamb Oatmeal

April 27, 2017

OK, I lied about the mintyness.

You see, we had lamb chops for Eostre and I boiled the bones to make my broth. Very good, but slightly greasy (but the lambfat solidifies in the fridge, for easier stripping off). I tried it for oatmeal with garlic and oregano (not bad) and fruit and curry (very good). This time I was casting about for some other flavor. One that was lamb-friendly and (more to the point) available. I hit on mint. One always has mint jelly with leg of lamb. Only, no mint jelly. Well maybe then dried mint. No dried mint. No mint extract. No fresh mint. It came down to a choice between toothpaste and Crème de menthe. The CdM was in the fridge, and closer.

Experiment 1:

Setup: 1/2 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of lamb broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one quarter teaspoon of Crème de menthe, salt. Bring broth and CdM to a boil, salt. When it boils, pour over the oats and let sit, covered, overnight. In the morning, warm in the microwave.

Results: Zero. Null. Nada. Could not detect even a hint of mint. At all. The dish was noticeably lamblike, but without much in the way of other flavor. I’ll either have to go to a teaspoon or greater, or use something else, like peppermint extract. Or schnapps.

Rating: *****

Experiment 2:

I confess that I violated a basic rule of science and engineering. I modified three variables at the same time. First, I switched to peppermint schnapps. Second, I didn’t let the oatmeal sit overnight, but instead used my standard 10 minute cook time. Third, used a tablespoon instead of a quarter teaspoon. It didn’t help.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of lamb broth, three dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one tablespoon of 100 proof peppermint schnapps, salt. Bring broth and schnapps to a boil, salt. When it boils, add the oats and simmer for ten minutes. Add the potato flakes at the end.

Results: Zero. Null. Nada. Could not detect even a hint of mint. At all. The dish was noticeably lamblike, but without much in the way of other flavor.

Rating: *****

My conclusion is that any degree of heating sufficient to drive off the alcohol will also destroy the mint. I’ll have to go out and buy a jar of mint jelly. Unfortunately, we’re out of lab broth, so I’ll also have to wait until next year.

Green Thumb Up My Nose — The 2017 season begins

April 24, 2017

Well, OK, it really began two weeks ago when I scattered some lettuce seeds in Section 1, but the NENW has had an unusually cold and wet winter/spring (current soil temperature is 50F), so our formal planting is starting off about a month later than I hoped.

The Plan

Despite that, the greens are starting to sprout.

However, it is now getting a little warmer, so on Saturday I cleaned all the spruce cones (thanks, spruce) and trimmings of spruce new growth (thanks, squirrels), weeds (thanks, weeds), and trash (thanks, me), laid down some anti-squirrel barriers, and planted a bunch of lettuce, and some cabbage and broccoli in Section 2. Now, I know I’ve said that brassicae don’t do well here (my last try bolted by mid-June), but it might just be cool enough…

The Rehabilitation of Tanya the Evil Part 1: the Empire

April 15, 2017

The English title of this anime: The Saga of Tanya the Evil is, to my way of thought, a misnomer and misleading. It pre-judges the character, and primes the viewer for one interpretation of her actions. The Japanese title Yojo Senki (幼女戦記), Young Girl’s War Record, is more neutral, but not as clickable. The anime is the story of the impact of this girl on a war, and vice-versa. Because of the title, most commentators assume that both Tanya and the Empire are evil. It’s not that simple. Let’s take the Empire first.

At a high level, the world of Tanya is an alternate universe to our own. It is 1925, and Europa is sliding into a war similar to WWI, with some elements of WWII.

(more…)

Memories of my youth: Lost November

April 12, 2017

On April 12th, 1970, one day after the launch of Apollo 13 and two days before Houston was notified of a problem, a Soviet November-class SSN sank in the Bay of Biscay. Four days earlier, there had been a series of fires on board the sub, and it had been taken in tow, in an effort to bring it back to a Northern Fleet port. Unfortunately for the K-8 and her crew, bad weather, and likely bad damage control design, caused it to sink in 15,000 feet of water, carrying her reactor and several of her nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

The crew thinks about returning to the sub

The crew doesn’t really want to climb into that hole

I was at the Military Airlift Command I&W Center at the time, and although it wasn’t our primary area of responsibility, we followed the misadventures of the K-8 with some interest. The sub went down about 175NM west of France’s Brittany Peninsula, and 260NM south of Ireland, and for years afterwards, the Soviets kept a ship loitering in the vicinity, to prevent anyone (read: U.S.) from attempting to salvage the wreck. This became a more or less permanent feature, to the point that it became an oceanic  landmark.  The Soviet cruiser transiting to the Mediterranean is currently located 200NM south of Lost November was a typical phrase in the Naval Intelligence reports of the day.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2017 Part 2

April 10, 2017

I tried some other shows, when Crunchyroll finally broadcast them. Some didn’t fare as well as others.

Hinako Note: Country girl comes to the big city to go to high school. Is better at talking to animals than people, and has a tendency to freeze with her arms out straight, like a scarecrow, when flustered. Sounds like a good way to get your pockets picked. Meets four other girls in her dorm and at some point they will decide to put on a show (it’s too far to use my father’s barn). Would have been a soothing slice of life, if it wasn’t for the eternally squeaky voices and the stupid scarecrow shtick.

Eromanga Sensei: Japan is full of middle- and high- school students making a living as light novel authors and mangaka, which is good for their futures because I’ve never seen one do a lick of homework. Even primary school girls can make it big, drawing erotic art for magazines and LNs. Presumably, they get their subjects from various online websites — although some 12 year olds take selfies of their butts and use that as the basis for drawings they post online, and tell me how that doesn’t violate half a dozen laws.

It should not be all that rare, then, for the 12 year old little sister to turn out to be the one who is drawing erotic art for the 15 year old big brother’s best selling novels. Think, Oreimo with a business relationship.

Tsugumomo: The story of a mama’s boy with an obi fetish — he carries his late mother’s obi everywhere, even to school. Thirty seconds into the main story, they’ve already hit two classic anime tropes, the accidental boob clutch followed by the accidental panty shot, with extra points for chaining the events. Two minutes after that, Our Protagonist is subject to attempted tentacle rape from a marauding wig, but is saved by the Goddess of the Obi, Tsugumomo (つぐもも) which, as far as I can tell means next generation peach. She subjugates him, moves in, shares the bath, shares the bed, hogs the Playstation. Meanwhile, his little sister, who wants to share the bath, share the bed, and to hell with the Playstation, is getting suspicious.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2017

April 7, 2017

There are some anime that are so off-putting that there’s no reason to invoke the three episode rule. The four anime that follow might not be bad, but they are certainly not my cup of tea.

1. The Royal Tutor: There’s a new tutor in town. Looks like a kid but is a grown man (there’s lots of hormonal balance mutations in Japan). Tutor to four princes, of various degrees of snottery, apparently born 9 months and 15 minutes apart. Oldest one looks like a romance novel cover, and talks like he’s lost one too many mace battles. Shorty Tutorpants will outsmart them all — and of course, that’s the problem.

2. Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor: There’s a certain kind of character, with too high an opinion of themselves and hair that won’t stay off of their forehead. A simple three-finger toss of the hair and the head will unerringly identify them. This one’s an incompetent cad. Unless they are planning on doing a body swap with Oda Nobunaga in Episode 2, I see no possibility of redeeming this train wreck. Did I mention the female student uniforms make KanColle look like nuns?

3. GranBlue Fantasy: Generic girl-with-powers escapes from secret lab. Lab is in a Pilot’s Love Song-style Airborne Battle Cruiser. Girl lands near generic village. Generic boy finds her. They, and her generic (female) knight companion, are surrounded by troops from the ABC, led by generic foppish captain with a falsetto voice. Generic ending with Boy merging life forces with Girl, beating the snot out of the Troops and heading off for a Secret Location known only to everyone in the village. Generic.

Paul Robeson sang “Joe Hill” next to this cottage

4. Silver Guardian: While the scantily-clad maidens of the Maidenly Academy for Young Maidens sleep quietly in their maidendorm, a boy is fighting for their survival, unbeknownst to all but the maidenly dorm mom. When the pyramidical tomb he is guarding is surrounded and attacked by thousands of undead, he does the logical thing by taking out his magical swords and attacking the throngs in front of the stonepile, evidently forgetting that there is a back entrance. In fact, there’s a front entrance that’s left unguarded while he’s half a mile away, whacking off zombie heads. Fortunately, the zombies are missing, you know, brains.

OK, I lied. They’re bad.

Anime Postview: Winter 2017

April 5, 2017

This is not a real review of the anime season just ending. Instead, it’s a look at how well I did in my Winter 2017 Preview, which you might want to look at first.

It was a fun season, but not because of any of the shows I picked back in December.

Ones I said I WILL WATCH:

Chaos;Child didn’t last even one episode. Confirmed my suspicion that anime with a semicolon in the title are not worth watching.

Fuuka lasted two and a half episodes. All the characters are self-centered snots, and I never did like “let’s form a band” anime anyway.

Little Witch wasn’t available. It’s streaming on Netflix and we don’t subscribe.

Ones I said I MIGHT WATCH:

Kuzu no Honkai wasn’t available. It’s behind the Amazon double paywall.

Seiren lasted four episodes. It’s a pale reflection of its predecessor.

Dragon Maid Finally, a show worth watching. Among the top two for the season.

Ones I said I WON’T WATCH:

ACCA. I tried it. It was actually pretty good but couldn’t hold my interest for some reason. Maybe later.

Minami K. Quick peek confirms — worse than I thought. Given their demonstrated levels of intelligence, I’m surprised they can balance on a tricycle.

Marginal. No idea. I didn’t even try it. Idols.

So, there we are. Of the six that I checked out, one was worth watching. Of course, there were four other shows that didn’t appear in the preview, for some reason, that turned out to be pretty good: Monster Girls, Tanya the Evil, Gabriel Dropout, and Konosuba 2. So the season wasn’t a complete loss.

Beyond the Mountains of Madness

April 1, 2017

Probing into one of the most inaccessible parts of Antarctica, in an un-named part of the continent described only as being “beyond the Mountains of Madness”, a privately-funded expedition from Miskatonic University has discovered what the explorers describe as the remnants of an early civilization, one that appears to be related to ancient Egypt. The region is shrouded in perpetual cloud and fog, and most of the complex is encased in thousands of feet of snow and ice, but one structure, a pyramid ten times larger than the Great Pyramid of Kufu, was accessible through a great stone passage near the top.

Did ancient Egyptians reach Antarctica? Or was Egypt colonised from there?

The pyramids of Antarctica

There has long been a controversy over whether the civilization of ancient Egypt was able to colonise locations as far away as Mexico and Ceylon, or if civilization was imposed on Egypt and elsewhere by a more advanced race, originating in an unknown location. This new find may cast light on that controversy.

Passions have run high on the topic, and there have already been attempts to undermine the Miskatonic work by labelling the pictures a hoax, not taken in Antarctica.

Before contact with the expedition was lost, the leader said they had opened the passage, and inside found “wonderful things”.