Thoughts on Star Wars

The new movies will inevitably disappoint fanboys. The original trilogy filled a niche, that now filled no longer exists. That niche is classic. Classics is a cultural reference that binds a group together because all know it. Quote famous lines from star wards amongst sci-fi/fantasy fans and all know the reference.
Star Wars became classic of this sub-community because it was broadly accessible (i.e. not too complex, or hard science resting on pretties, characters and simple plots / reveals) and had appeal outside the community bringing people into it. Its appeal rested on breakthroughs in cinematography and special effects. Those breakthroughs are no longer possible. George Lucas tried in the Prequel trilogy with a whole new series of special effects but the impact was much reduced as they weren’t a massive improvement on what the old techniques could deliver – so they didn’t draw in a wider culture or become must see.
Sci-Fi/Fantasy lacked a common reference point and the field was diverse and changing at this point. Star Wars hearkened back to the age of the genre when it was futuristic adventure stories. Lucas himself was attempting to create the feel of his youth when he could go watch pulpy space adventures.
However, once that classic is established the need for a classic is satisfied and a new classic is much diminished. I’ve been reading Ostlers a language history of the world, and the Greeks with their classics not being much changed for over 1000 years is instructive. It is unlikely that the best literary minds all flourished in roughly the same century in one small corner of what would be the Hellenistic world. No there is a lock in effect once the classic is established. There is a cost with everyone learning all new material, while the old stuff still serves.
Disney had two options when it took over the franchise. 1st it could service star wars fans, borrowing from the expanded universe and sensitive to their ideas of what star wars ought to be. Generally these works would be derivative off and point back to the originals.
Alternately, and probably more profitable, it could be what Lucas originally intended – easily accessible entertainment for the pulpy space adventures market. This has meant catering to a new generation and placing the desires of the star wars cult as second priority. Star Wars is now the Land Before Time. Like that, in order to generate content it will spend a lot of time preaching the political cultural fads that the writers are following. It will recycle tropes and content. Fans as a whole won’t instantly recognize lines from any of the new movies, but they will still watch them.

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Napoleon: A Life :: A Book Review

Rating: Enthralling

For some reason Napoleon reminded me of Joseph Smith. My mind coughed up a reason but I’m not convinced they are the real ones and not just stuff it came up with after the fact to justify itself.

They both looked to the past for heroes and models, and borrowed the forms of the past. Napoleon to military greco romans and JS to scriptures. Perhaps thats just the times and its in stark contrast with our chronocentric generation.

Betrayers – he was hard on his subordinates and alienated some. It seems he made Talleyrand and Metternich really really angry at him. Maybe they would have not have worked so tirelessly for his downfall? Still, all of Europe got really serious about defeating him raising armies much larger than before and paying the huge costs of it. JS too seemed to have a lot.

Some other thoughts:

Definitely a military genius. Particularly evident in the final campaigns to save the empire, then his throne, then france. I think though the army size that best showed this genius was about 70,000. Larger armies didn’t seem to benefit as much. His innovations seemed to be concentration of artillery and independent but mutually supporting flexible corps that made it difficult for armies to attack him in the flank without getting attacked in turn (some of these were french innovations that he first implemented successfully). The three armies system in the 1813 campaign kind of mirrored that. Really though I think he had a sort of temporal-spatial intution that allowed him to read terrain and see how things would play out.

Dictators Handbook – Attack quickly, come to peace quickly (win or lose). He did not do this 1811-1814. Granted he hadn’t really had to deal with losing before.

Bruce Bueno da Mesquite- Peace w/ England? It seems he gave England no incentives to maintain the peace. One idea would be to give them good trading rights in France? He didn’t do that because he was a protectionist and a statist. His attempts to improve Frances economy failed (Conscription may have something to do with that.) and at some points they had to make exceptions to the continental system to get enough shoes for his soldiers. But trading rights would create a peace faction in England.

Turchin – Instability in elites. For a member of the nobility his family was in dire straits.

Nation-States: It seems nationalism first really got going in France during the 100 years was as a response to English depredations. Then it spread to England via their antagonisms. Napoleon seemed to have spread it through Europe: Italy, Germany, and perhaps poland. It was weaker than, as the story numerous generals fighting for other nations shows. But thanks to him it become a powerful force that would peak in the world wars. It has been in decline for a while. Maybe it will come back or maybe it will disappear and our descendants will replace it with something as alien and inscrutable to us as the physite controversies.



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Review: A Sea of Skulls

Rating: A wargamers fantasy anthology

Pros: Interesting Society, Tactics, and fantasy tech.

Cons: Very divergent viewpoints. Yes this is common for fantasy novels but in this case the characters aren’t even involved in the same struggle. Even Fire and Ice has more unity that this – with the exception of dragon chick whose role in the first few books was essentially a back story for when she was introduced back into things. I found her story boring – a series of especially clueless white mans burden amongst the wogs and lost interest in the series when it became apparent she was the main character. I digress however. In this book I liked the Bereth and Norse viewpoints. Other view points where not much seemed to happen in relation to the space devoted are the yankee dwarves and the lost legion. Minor Fights.

Not enough of the Norseman story line. The Bereth storyline seems to have some contradictions. Bereth is a personification of the elves who are falling apart because they haven’t been bothered to reproduce the past years (modern Europe + 1 or 2 generations) but this is undercut by her role as a commando genius. The reader is inclined to think the elvish nation would not have been served if she had in fact allowed herself to fall in love with all that that leads to. Maybe this contradiction will resolve itself later on.

Vox Days prose is light and accessible, and I found this book easy to read. I’ll probably buy the next installment but I think I’ll stick to storylines of interest. Of course the roman story line was interesting in Book 1, but petered out in Book 2. So in summary I think this suffers the common ailment of most modern fantasy – the author feels they have to include everything instead of being content to let the material just lend a feeling of depth to the world building. Tolkiens ring saga had a lot of world building and side stories that never made it into his masterpiece yet enriched it. Is this the result of word processors, where fast writing outstrips ideas? Is there a market for chunky books but not for slimmer novels so one has to pad?

I recommend the roman and Norse stuff in book 1, and the elvish and norse stuff in book 2. The rest is meh.

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Review: War and Peace

Rating: Sprawling but surprisingly parochial

War and Peace strikes me as several different things wrapped up in one. I’ll review each in turn.

A romance novel a la Jane Austen. Less witty (perhaps a translation thing?) and with characters that are a bit more broken. A rise from the ashes sort of romance novel, perhaps. Although he starts out with a lot of society scenes it has ceased to merit mention by about the middle of the book.

A war novel like A red badge of courage. It does follow the big picture better and have several viewpoint characters. It seems Tolstoy concludes this about halfway through the book but continues to use the war as grist for other sections.

A religious novel. I have no parallels for this. Its conclusions seem to be somewhat stoical, passing over religious enthusiasms, organizations, conversions as well as hedonistic materialism in favor of something like stoicism – basically the simple plain things in life and a manly confidence in things for what they are no more no less.

A series of blog posts on the determinism v. great man history. Tolstoy’s thoughts are anti-great man with his deterministic forces being poorly defined and not self consistent. Not much here for one who has read Turchin. For example he talks a lot about how the peoples of the west would flow to the east but would inevitable ebb, like the tide without any discussion of why they would flow, why they would ebb and so forth. In part he is handicapped by only focusing on Napoleons invasion of Russia and so doesn’t consider times peoples flowed but did not ebb. Maybe the anti-great man was a revolutionary historical thought at the time, but to this reader it just seems a series of muddled blog posts – I suppose this may be because this school of thought ultimately gained a place in the study of history. My view is There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. So Great Men aren’t nothing. Stalin by himself seems a refutation of historical forces only hypothesis. Unlike the rules in the dictators handbook he periodically would kill a random proportion of his supporters – including the very instruments of the purges, yet his actions led to Eastern Europe being turned into a charnel house, and improbably the establishment of the Soviet Union as a superpower.

I struggle to find an overarching theme to this book. Perhaps as a serial it is best thought of like a long running TV show where the writers throw in whatever is on their mind when they write it using their basic characters and episode structure. So one episode reflects current events, another a book some of the writers liked etc. If there is a theme it is a rejection of the big and grand in favor of the small and immediate. Society, great men, religious movements etc in favor of family, friends and ones plot of land. I cannot disagree with the wisdom in that.

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Book Review: Iron Kingdom

Review of Iron Kingdom

Rating: Recommended if interested in the topic

1. We are all Prussians now.
2. What Ifs
3. Ending – basically Junker support of Hitler, and dissolution
4. Thoughts on Prusso-German Military Superiority.

We are all Prussian now. First, what exactly was Prussia? It never was a natural nation or land, its boundaries were always fairly arbitrary. Liberals opposing it defined it as runaway militarism and discipline. While not inaccurate I think that purposefully misses a lot because they were on the same page with a lot of Prussianism. What I see as the essence of Prussia is the state. Prussia pioneered draconian army discipline, comprehensive education, bureaucratic system, state involvement in the internal economy, soft control of public opinion, and comprehensive welfare. Most of these have become common in the world today. We are all Prussians now.
This state was run by and for the Junker class and mostly developed by them. The Junkers were the thoroughly mixed German-Slavic aristocracy that came out of the eastward settling and conquest of Slavic areas by Germans such as the Teutonic order. Their land is sandy,  and somewhat marshy and consequently their estates were fairly hardscrabble farms where Junkers could generally not maintain a life of privileged leisure but needed to administer and work on their land. As Feudal work obligations faded away this class become economically insolvent. First Prussia attempted to prop up the aristocracy by  a national bank that loaned nobles money on very generous terms. That failed. Eventually, it employed them as officers and administrators paid for by industry and commercial interests which the state farmed, first by ham handed efforts at creating industries (this failed), education, and then by cozy relationships with business owners and commercial interests. Finally, it took steps to maintain its power in the face of growing nationalism/democratic movements by adopting it, controlling media by soft power means, indoctrination in schools and finally a comprehensive welfare system. This was the most interesting part of the book to me – how the landowner class held on to power in modern times and for this I recommend it.

What ifs. I have several and I don’t want to spend too much time on them, so in chronological order.
a. Frederick the Great (often called in Germany the unique or exceptional, which I think fits him better than the Great), took Silesia
for economic reasons and to make Prussia not completely indefensible. Doing the ensuing Silesian wars his allies who wanted a general war to break Austria. He generally dropped out of these alliances when Austria was on the ropes, and it stayed a great power.
What if instead he saw through the destruction of Austria as a great power? Prussia would be able to occupy only a little more than it took OTL, Belgium and Austrian holdings near France would be independent. France would probably push its borders a little more eastward. The partitions of Poland would be a lot different. End result is the French-Russian Squeeze that made Prussia a non factor in the Napoleonic wars would happen even earlier, which probably would lead to German nationalism even earlier too. Of course, I doubt England would stand idly by while Austria was dogpiled, probably the real result would be the 7 years war would start earlier with Austria playing the role of England’s sole continental ally. In some wars this would be a replay of earlier wars.
b. Different reunifications – especially the Frankfort parliament. In Europa Universalis if Prussia accepts that then a general dogpile on Germany ensues. I don’t see that as too likely but I assume for purposes of keeping the game more or less on track it is necessary. Probably the result would be a trend to a more constitutional monarchy, at least for Germany as a whole if not Prussia. Of course Prussia had the administration that was capable of scaling up the organs of government to the whole nation and still maintain some level of competence. There is a reason that the parliament picked the Hohenzollerns to be Kaiser after all. Friedrich Wilhelm II declined, precisely for the reason that it was a path to constitutional monarchy UK style. It is not theirs to give.
c. In the wars of 1866 and 1870 Prussia emerged as a leader of a unified Germany. Thanks to Bismark’s efforts Austria was not humiliated and later became an ally. Against his wishes France was humiliated and revanchism became a potent force in French politics. I think reconciling Austria was a mistake. It never could join the German nation because Hungary and other extensive holdings were not German. Germany needed to have as an ally either France or Russia (I assume the best it could hope for re UK was for it to stay neutral). By alienating Austria it would have Italy as a natural ally, and would not have cause for conflict with Russia. The main drawback is it would incentivize Austria to stir up trouble in the constituent states of the Empire, but nobody likes a loser. Also one though that occurred to me was to have a plebiscite in the conquered provinces with the populace voting to rejoin France, remain German (possible which state they would join) or Switzerland. Depending on the outcome, boundaries would be moved proportional to the popular support and people would be moved to homes in the new boundaries. Switzerland did something like that at the beginning of the religious wars and it seemed to prevent civil war for them. It might reduce the anti-German feeling in France slightly, shorten the border with France (Assuming the Swiss agree), and make Germany appear conciliatory.


Endings – I get sad at endings. I even mourned Carthage! when reading a history of that city. In this case I felt it most for the Junkers, mustering out at the end of WW1 and being forced out of their homes and manors at the end of WW2. This book says that despite initial resistance the nobility were pretty complicit in Hitler’s rise. Hindenburg in particular seems to be the cause of the ruin of Germany – Defying the Kaisers wishes routinely in WWI, including getting his way for unlimited submarine warfare, (in fact the details of WWI reveal that Junkers were really in charge, just like parliament is really in charge of monarchical Britain) At the end of WWI Hindenburg pushed peace through and then claimed it was all the civilians government idea – starting the ‘stab in the back’ myth, then actually handing power over to Hitler. I suppose it fitting that a Junker bear the blame for the end of the Junkers and Prussia.

Prusso-German Military Superiority. First lets be clear, I am talking about land combat and at a tactical-operational level, not at a strategic level. A reading of history seems like they generally punch above their weight, and of course they had several military innovations: drill and maneuver in formation, general staff/staff officers, rail mobilization, firepower v. shock then later shock and stormtroopers, blitzkrieg etc. Dupuy did a numeric analysis and concluded that part of this is due to them often fighting on the defensive and in smaller numbers. Smaller groups of men being easier to coordinate and bring to bear than larger groups. But after accounting for that they still seem to have an advantage of 10-20% more than their numbers would suggest in any given battle. I cannot explain why that would be. My guess would be that the staff system is slightly better than equivalents accounting for 2-3% of it but the lions share comes to greater local and regional loyalty and their canton system of recruitment. Essentially they went to boot camp with their neighbors and friends and fought with them – and they had a local identity that was important to them. Of course the downsides of this is a community could lose most of their sons in one day, and there is no national integration/networking like there was in the US following WWII which led to the homogeneity and economic growth of the 50s and 60s. I suppose Germany had massive refugees in the east, and sheer poverty, and the polarization of the cold war to fuel their own similar achievements in that era. But I am getting way beyond the scope of the book.

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HFCS is the devil, the cause of the obesity epidemic?
Not so fast according to Guyanet Stephen.

Fructose is good if you are not overeating but turns ugly when you do overeat. FYI half of sugar is fructose, the other half is glucose.
It signals the liver to store glucose. The good is this reduces insulin from glucose and also lowers blood sugar levels. The bad is if your liver is already full up with glycogen, fat gets shuttled straight to your fat cells (especially visceral fat). The other bad is that for sugary drinks, where the speed of calorie absorption in your intestinal tract is a concern, the fructose + glucose increase the calorie uptake rate as they use different transporters. That will tax your pancreas and liver no doubt.

Other possible conditional effects:
replacing some glucose with fructose pre endurance workout reduces the ravenous hunger which some people experience afterwards. Also, it may reduces metabolic slowdown and protein wasting from dieting. (This would abolish the immune system rejuvenation of a 3day+ fast.)

Application: slow down fructose absorption by (1)eating it in a fiber matrix (fruit), (2)at the end of a meal, or (3)with cinnamon which slows conversion of sugar into absorbable glucose and fructose.

Dinner is the time when topping of liver stores makes the most sense, as your body will be using that until you break the nightly fast 12-14 hours later.

If you get ravenous after running or other calorie intense exercise, replace half the carbs in your pre-workout meal with sugar and see if that helps. On race day galactose is probably better than fructose. Strength training does not burn enough calories for this to be an issue.

Dieting: Make half your 120+grams of carbs with sugar. Potassium carbonate, phosphate, choline and carnitine may help.

Fruit may also be ideal to break longer fasts with to ensure a clean rapid transition out of fasting mode. Remember in nature, good moderation is cycles, not being stuck in the middle.

From an appetite/overeating perspective I gather sweet by itself does not cause overeating from by over stimulating appetite. Sweet+fat together  is what blows our mind. Also, the low nutrient per calorie density of sugar is a cause for concern. Spices may help.

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The Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness clearly arises from the physical structures and activities of the brain, but how and why are something of a mystery. We can feel, but why do we do so rather than just act?
Apparently physics has something of a similar problem:

In this way, the deep nature of consciousness appears to lie beyond scientific reach. We take it for granted, however, that physics can in principle tell us everything there is to know about the nature of physical matter. Physics tells us that matter is made of particles and fields, which have properties such as mass, charge, and spin. Physics may not yet have discovered all the fundamental properties of matter, but it is getting closer.

Yet there is reason to believe that there must be more to matter than what physics tells us. Broadly speaking, physics tells us what fundamental particles do or how they relate to other things, but nothing about how they are in themselves, independently of other things.

Charge, for example, is the property of repelling other particles with the same charge and attracting particles with the opposite charge. In other words, charge is a way of relating to other particles. Similarly, mass is the property of responding to applied forces and of gravitationally attracting other particles with mass, which might in turn be described as curving spacetime or interacting with the Higgs field. These are also things that particles do or ways of relating to other particles and to spacetime.

In general, it seems all fundamental physical properties can be described mathematically. Galileo, the father of modern science, famously professed that the great book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. Yet mathematics is a language with distinct limitations. It can only describe abstract structures and relations. For example, all we know about numbers is how they relate to the other numbers and other mathematical objects—that is, what they “do,” the rules they follow when added, multiplied, and so on. Similarly, all we know about a geometrical object such as a node in a graph is its relations to other nodes. In the same way, a purely mathematical physics can tell us only about the relations between physical entities or the rules that govern their behavior.

One might wonder how physical particles are, independently of what they do or how they relate to other things. What are physical things like in themselves, or intrinsically? Some have argued that there is nothing more to particles than their relations, but intuition rebels at this claim. For there to be a relation, there must be two things being related. Otherwise, the relation is empty—a show that goes on without performers, or a castle constructed out of thin air. In other words, physical structure must be realized or implemented by some stuff or substance that is itself not purely structural. Otherwise, there would be no clear difference between physical and mere mathematical structure, or between the concrete universe and a mere abstraction. But what could this stuff that realizes or implements physical structure be, and what are the intrinsic, non-structural properties that characterize it? This problem is a close descendant of Kant’s classic problem of knowledge of things-in-themselves. The philosopher Galen Strawson has called it the hard problem of matter.

The article asks whether matter is conscious. As a Mormon I unhesitatingly answer yes. Mormon points out that the dust is always obedient to God, unlike man. It cannot be obedient w/o consciousness. Furthermore the cosmos revealed by Joseph Smith is alive and consciousness.

…think of someone who has never seen any red objects and has never been told that the color red exists. That person knows nothing about how redness relates to brain states, to physical objects such as tomatoes, or to wavelengths of light, nor how it relates to other colors (for example, that it’s similar to orange but very different from green). One day, the person spontaneously hallucinates a big red patch. It seems this person will thereby learn what redness is like, even though he or she doesn’t know any of its relations to other things. The knowledge he or she acquires will be non-relational knowledge of what redness is like in and of itself.

This suggests that consciousness—of some primitive and rudimentary form—is the hardware that the software described by physics runs on. The physical world can be conceived of as a structure of conscious experiences. Our own richly textured experiences implement the physical relations that make up our brains. Some simple, elementary forms of experiences implement the relations that make up fundamental particles. Take an electron, for example. What an electron does is to attract, repel, and otherwise relate to other entities in accordance with fundamental physical equations. What performs this behavior, we might think, is simply a stream of tiny electron experiences. Electrons and other particles can be thought of as mental beings with physical powers; as streams of experience in physical relations to other streams of experience.

That is actually quite elegant way for matter to be conscious. It is consciousness in and of itself, not as an emergent property. Obviously there is no way to prove this as it is a question about fundamental reality. I am, therefore I experience. Do read the whole article.

Food for thought is how the big consciousness of a person would relate to the little consciousness of the constituent particles – not only of the brain, but also of the entire person.

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