Friday, February 14, 2014

Birnam Wood Comes to Pelennor Fields

"It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You are looking upon a woman. Eowyn am I, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."

The winged creature screamed at her, but then the Ringwraith was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears gleamed in them. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Case of Nazgul

In the Third Age, all the best families had heirloom blades handed down from generation to generation, graven or inlayed with ancient runes. The runes usually said something like this:

In case of Nazgul, insert blade. If you are a living man, please find the nearest person that isn't, and ask them to insert blade. Possible options may include dwarves, elves, hobbits, ents, orcs, wizards and helpful undead with a debt to repay. Or, and this is a wild shot but hear me out, maybe you might find a female who might insert blade. While inserting blade, please wear safety glasses and protective clothing, as blade is likely to explode in shards of flaming metal. Other side effects of inserting blade may include numbness, disorientation, confusion, coma, and a temporary or permanent impairment of your will to live.

If possible, insert blade some place in the Nazgul likely to terminate the Nazgul, because, if you've been paying attention so far, you understand that your first attempt may be your only attempt.

Frazetta and Eowyn

One does not simply ride into Gondor. Wearing a thong. Because that outfit is going to seriously chafe on a long horseback ride.

Also, which part of disguised as a man didn't Frazetta understand?

Granted, the Witch-king's ability to pick up sexual cues from the living was doubtless withered from disuse. But I think the rest of the Rohirrim present would have noticed within the first mile.

It's like a Hot Babes of Rohan cheesecake calendar.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

More from Eowyn

Dear Diary:

I don't think Aragorn liked my stew. At all. He was, as always, a perfect gentleman, and he said he liked it, but I think he was just trying to spare my feelings. Because that's the way he is.

He's still carrying a torch for Arwen. I can tell. How can I compete with telepathic elfsex? Also, I'm pretty sure she's better at embroidery. Elves, with their "Ooh, look at me. I'm an elf. I can walk on snow, and I'm more dexterous than you, and also I'm immortal. And I'm totally hot, if you like that Eurotrash thing where we bleach our hair but not our eyebrows."

Well, mustn't weaken. Uncle still needs me. Note to self: bring hobbit.

I think I'm better at shield-maiden than stew, actually. A woman has to know her limitations. I can live with that.

This is all making me really, really cranky. I think I'll feel better if I put a sword into something. Preferably Wormtongue, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hello. My Name is Eowyn, Eomund's Daughter. You Killed my Uncle. Prepare to Die.

Not technically alive at this time? Well then, we'll need to improvise.

"No Living Man May Hinder Me."

Eowyn: So. You've been in this campaign for 3,000 years. And, in a continent with at least five nonhuman races, plus undead, plus nonhuman wizards, plus women, you still think that "No living man may hinder me " has you covered.

I can see why Sauron gave you a ring of power. You were perfect. I'll bet you didn't even read the User Agreement.

I saw that twitch. You didn't, did you?

That prophesy. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Also, I know something you don't know.

You make me laugh. Not in a good way, you miserable noncorporeal wraith. But at least it will cheer up the hobbit.

Oh. Right. That's another thing you don't know.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Media Bias

News media are biased, but the biggest problem isn't the ideological bias that conservatives complain about.

Media are biased in favor of covering a story quickly, because viewers want their news when it's new. Information that comes in later that gives a fuller picture will be discounted accordingly.

Media are biased in favor of presenting a simple dramatic narrative.  Complex stories without clear villains and heroes and a clear conclusion are less compelling for the average viewer or reader, and less satisfying for reporters and editors.

Media are biased in favor of stories that can be presented with a compelling visual image.

Media are biased in favor of stories that are cheap to present. Rerunning a video of an incident released first and calling in a pair of talking heads that you can expect to argue with each other is cheap. Sending a real reporter to the scene to find out what actually happened costs more.

"We Need To Get More Comfortable With People Dying In Space"

So some say.

I think not.

When we operated the Space Shuttle, we killed two crews in 135 launches, a fatality rate like a bad year on Mount Everest. Nonetheless, Congress and NASA tolerated this every year for thirty years, even though we had, like the Soviet Union and later Russia, known how to do much better for decades.

We now plan to make the first manned flight of the Orion spacecraft on the second flight of the as yet unflown Space Launch System. This is not risk averse.

I don't think we as a nation are generally unreasonably risk averse about space. Our manned space program is currently heavily dependent on pride and prestige as a motivation, because our manned program hasn't figured out how to do anything particularly compelling in low earth orbit, and going further is extraordinarily expensive and without immediate economic return. That's OK. I'm proud of our share of ISS, just as I'm proud of the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty, and I'm willing to to pay for that pride.

The flip side of this is that killing our astronauts is unusually costly to our pride and prestige, because they die when everyone is watching, or when their deaths are replayed again and again. We hate it when that happens. It makes us sad. Since we're paying for the program, it makes sense  to do it as rarely as reasonably possible.

I think that excessive fear of people dying in space is most often deployed when NASA and members of Congress with NASA centers in their districts want a superficially plausible reason why NASA needs to continue to own and operate its own space launch system. Of course, they would want that, for institutional and political reasons, but the argument doesn't bear close examination.

Arguments that the NASA launcher will be significantly safer have been based on NASA's own reliability estimates, which have consistently been biased in favor of NASA launchers and against non-NASA launchers, and have been shown to be so when tested by experience.