When we lived in China many years ago now, my wife and I encountered a form of Chinese humor that is really quite dominant there: the homophonic pun. Chinese is a monosyllabic language: every character is named by a syllable, and there being only so many monosyllabic sounds you can make, many of them sound exactly or almost exactly alike. Some of them differ in tone -- Chinese is a heavily tonal language, with a big difference in meaning possible if you employ this tone instead of that one in sounding the word. Others of them don't differ at all, and you just have to know that two different meanings are possible. 

An interesting work project lately has been researching Chinese anti-regime online protest language. An important figure is the mythical Grass Mud Horse, which fights the evil River Crab. The words for "River Crab" are a homophone for "Harmony," the excuse the regime uses for censorship online; and the words for "Mud Grass Horse" are a homonym for "F*** your Mother." 

Also, the Chinese Communist Party is colloquially referred to as "Mother."

The Cantonese dialect -- like many dialects -- uses the same writing system as Mandarin and all* the other Chinese languages, but the characters are pronounced differently by verbal speakers. What that means practically is that a whole different set of puns are possible if you speak Cantonese, like they do in Hong Kong, and the Mandarin-speaking Party elites can't really censor them because they don't understand the jokes. They don't realize what is being said, and so Cantonese protest puns are going wild right now in spite of the whole PRC Great Firewall effort.

* Except Cantonese as used in Taiwan. This uses the original, traditional form of the written language; all of the People's Republic parts have switched to 'Simplified' Chinese characters. For example, the Chinese people is written in Simplified Chinese as  汉人; in traditional Chinese 漢人.

Easy tree

Putting up and decorating a large, natural Christmas tree was fomenting domestic discord, so for the last several years I've been experimenting with faux bare-branch beech trees. This tree uses mostly crocheted snowflakes, paper Froebel stars, and crystal pendants.

A Partial Defense of E-Cars

The author is not successful in establishing his thesis, which would require a defense of the massive issues around batteries and e-waste. He does, however, have an interesting claim about power generation. A regular critique is that electrical cars are powered mostly by electricity generated with coal. He points out that, even if it were 100% coal-generated power, e-cars would still have a significant advantage.
Even if you only ever burned coal to create the electricity to power EVs, that's still less CO2 than is released by burning gasoline.... ICE ['internal combustion engine'] vehicles only send between 16 to 25 percent of the energy created from burning gasoline to the wheels. The other 75 to 84 percent is lost due to inherent inefficiencies. Most of the loss is heat and noise, although about 10 percent is sacrificed to stuff like drivetrain losses, essentially the difference between crank horsepower and wheel horsepower.... 
Electric vehicles (eventually) send 87 to 91 percent of the energy in the battery to the wheels. I say "eventually" because 22 percent of that energy needs to be "recaptured" through regenerative braking. Put another way, 31 to 35 percent of the energy stored in the battery is lost for various reasons, but 22 percent can be regenerated by the "brakes."... To summarize, replacing gasoline with coal (which, for the record, is an abysmal idea) would reduce energy usage by 31 percent. Another way to think about it: Right now, Americans use about 9 million barrels of oil a day for our automotive transportation needs. Magically switching to EVs charged via burning coal would result in only needing the equivalent of about 6 million barrels. That's a big reduction. 

That seems like a significant rebuttal on the one point, at least. 


After Captain Blood, I decided to give Sabatini another try and read Scaramouche.

I definitely learned more reading this book than the prior one, whose background material was well-known to me. I had never really encountered the Italian theatrical tradition commedia dell'arte on which it draws so heavily (including for its title). The form uses stock characters who, instead of having lines, are put into scenarios and asked to improvise a performance that is different every time. Because the stock characters are well known to the audience and have obvious costumes to designate their role, the audience can quickly ascertain the motivations at work on stage and understand the comedy. 

Sabatini decided to draw heavily on this for his own storytelling. He regularly refers to a character as being "a Rhodomont" or "our Pantaloon" in order to convey to his audience what role to expect them to play. This conveys nothing but confusion until you study the form enough to have some notion of who those stock character are. A Scaramouche is a 'skirmisher,' one who engages in or provokes fights but then flees from them -- somewhat like the little dog that will start a fight among the big dogs and then go hide while they have it out. 

I shall put the rest after the jump, to avoid spoilers in case any of you want to read the work.

Herschel Walker Loses in Georgia

I would not have thought that Herschel Walker could lose an election in Georgia, but he did. A friend points out that he might have simply waited too long to run: the median age in Georgia is 38, meaning that most voters weren't even born when he was leading the Bulldogs on the gridiron to their national championship. They wouldn't have been old enough to know who he was until he was long gone from Georgia. 

It is also true that he is not well-spoken.  His English is poor at times, and his ability to express his thoughts is limited. He can come across as unintelligent.  On Saturday Night Live, Dave Chappelle -- whose comedy is praiseworthy for its courage and truthspeaking, generally -- called him stupid. He made that remark in a performance that otherwise attempted to save the career of Kanye West for remarks that were surely as stupid as anything Walker ever said.

Chappelle also used to give a performance designed to show O.J. Simpson in his best light. While acknowledging that Simpson surely killed his wife, Chappelle could praise him for his remarkable football career and manners. No similar accord is granted Walker, who was accused of far less serious things than murder. The media has done much to find women who would often simply say that he wasn't nice to them. "One, who was involved with him in 2006, said: 'Having Herschel Walker lose this very important Senate race tonight not only vindicates that democracy has won but the women that he betrayed, have won.'" I suppose he was a philanderer, like Bill Clinton; or perhaps like Ted Kennedy, who like the Juice actually also killed a woman. It is no matter, though, because they were favored by our cultural institutions. 

His opponent, meanwhile, could go on television and literally claim that Jesus favors abortion and only receive laudatory remarks for it. Indeed he ran on it and was portrayed as saintly for his views.

Ultimately I am saddened to see that a boyhood hero has not proven to be as good a man as my boyish self might have hoped him to be; and deeply dismayed to see that support for abortion -- not merely as an occasionally-necessary but tragic medical procedure but as if it were somehow a good and desirable thing -- has taken root in the state of my birth. It is a sad day to see self-described men of God claiming it in the name of God, and being rewarded with praise and power. I left Georgia quite a few years ago now, and will never be back except perhaps to visit; but it is sad to see the moral state into which it is falling.

Pearl Harbor Day

This year the main story out of Pearl Harbor is Red Hill. Built after the Japanese raids, it is an under-mountain fuel facility that is proof against aerial bombardment. It is also now very old, and subject to fuel leaks and toxic spills affecting the water table. 

It is understandable that the people want it cleaned up, but the strategic importance of a secure fuel facility hasn’t changed. If anything we are closer to renewed attacks on Pearl Harbor being possible than at any time since the end of the Cold War, maybe even since the end of WWII. Instead the plan is to move fuel to ships at sea, which are vulnerable to air attacks and submarines. 

Thirteen Silver Dollars


The Evil State

In the discussion to the Riddle of Steel post below, a matter has come up that deserves its own discussion.  

Blogger jabrwok said...

The State is just a way of organizing human beings. It's neither intrinsically good or evil, any more than a gun or automobile or whatever.

A definition of "evil" would be useful here. I'd say "evil" is any action which undermines social trust (some actions do so more than others, hence greater and lesser evils). States can certainly *engage* in evil, and have a lot more power to do so than individuals, but I wouldn't say that a State is *inherently* evil.

E Hines said...

States can certainly *engage* in evil....

This is another misapprehension. States do nothing at all; they're merely, as noted, a means of organizing. That organization, though, is populated by particular men and women. It is those men and women who engage (no quote marks needed) in any action, and those men and women can use or abuse that organization's power to more or less good (however defined) or more or less evil (however defined).

It's important, too, to keep in mind that those definitions of good and evil, while perhaps originally the definitions of the population who created their State organization, quickly become the changing definitions of the changing men and women who populate the organization.

Grim said...

St Augustine says that evil is, purely, a privation from the good intended by God in creation. I think the administrative nation state we have today is an evil in that pure sense. Humanity organizes naturally into families; Aristotle claims that it organizes even more naturally into polities, because (he claims) that is the only place where humanity's full range can be realized. In a polity, one can be free of oppression by other families or clans or bandits; one can enjoy a sort of equality with others that is not found in nature; one can take actions as a member of that polity to govern one's self and to express one's virtues through practical action. One can help others in the community express their own virtues by electing them to other offices to which they are well-suited.

Weber's criticism of the administrative state -- you can read my notes on it by following the links at the sidebar -- shows clear privation from these goods. The need of the elected officials to constantly run for office means that they have to defer their powers to administrators who aren't elected; this means that the good of self-governance is lost, because the people we elected don't end up being the ones with power over our lives.

The need for money for those campaigns means that the elected officials also end up chasing donations instead of doing good to deserve election; that means they don't actually end up doing even their limited duties, or exercising their limited virtues.

The need to use power to perform favors for donations is inherently corrupt. It also draws into the political class not the virtuous, but the most successful at corruption.

It also creates an administrative class that is both unelected and really powerful, thus eliminating the sort-of equality that free citizens had with each other.

Thus, all the goods intended by human nature -- according to Aristotle -- end up being achieved either not at all or only privatively. Thus, per Augustine, the state is evil: and really evil, not just rhetorically evil.

E Hines said...

Except it's not the State doing any of that. It's the men and women populating the State. The State is just a tool.

Grim said...

Yes, but at the same time also no. It's true that only living beings, and not formal organizations, can act -- yes, in that sense. But it's also true that the form of organization creates effects, even they aren't willed actions. One form of organization has a structure that does the one thing; the modern administrative state's structure does the other. It's not that the right people, choosing the right things, could fix it. The right people won't be successful in obtaining offices under this structure; should they by accident, they couldn't keep them over successive cycles without becoming corrupt; the elected offices don't end up having the power to fix the problems anyway because it gets delegated to administrators; and the administrators interests are necessarily separated from those of the governed so they are sorted into separate classes.

It's similar to the materialist/immaterial issue. One can say that 'only material things exist,' and in a way that seems true: everything we can observe is composed of material parts. But it really matters how those parts are organized. The same parts can be organized into a table, and it will function as a table and provide the goods for which a table was wanted. Or they can be organized into a loose heap on the floor, in which case it's all and only the same parts -- but the form of organization prevents them from attaining any of the goods that they might have if they'd been organized into a table instead of a heap.

My sense is that the Conan-style band of adventurers is a kind of political organization, non-family members choosing a leader and striving towards a common goal, each contributing according to their own virtues and by voluntary participation. That's an ideal, more Homeric than Aristotelian as it does not attempt (nor really contemplate) the sort of organization that would entail all of the human goods that Aristotle wants from the polis

Dying in a flood

For some reason we got dramatically better at preventing coastal flood deaths just at the turn of the millenium. I can't think of a good explanation, especially for worldwide statistics. Otherwise climate risks look pretty steady.