Apr 26, 2010

Miyamoto Musashi - Maybe Not Such A Nice Guy

Miyamoto Musashi - that guy in the picture to the right - is quite rightly known as a good swordsman. That stuff kinda comes with the turf when you're said to have fought 60 duels, and lost not a one.

Of course, most people won't know a lot about him - suffice it to say, he founded a rather influential swordfighting school called 二天一流 - Ni Ten Ichi Ryū - meaning Two Heavens, One School.

He had, however, some darker sides, too. For one, he had a tendency to "fight dirty", getting his opponents off balance by such tactics as showing up hours late to a duel and insulting them. He also was less than meticulous in avoiding unnecessary death and injury in his duels - even though his signature weapons were wooden; ironic, his being identified with the wooden bokken, considering one of his main warnings in his book 五輪書 - Go Rin No Sho, the Book of Five Rings, which presumably inspired the famous RPG Legend of the Five Rings - was against becoming overly reliant on any single weapon).

So, knowing the above, the question is - did Musashi assassinate Sasaki Kojirō?

He certainly had the motivation - Hosokawa Tadaoki, Lord Kokura, was a powerful enemy, who had much to gain by Kojirō's death, and he was also the one who organized the duel between Musashi and Kojirō, though the stories vary between whether it was Musashi or Tadaoki who first took the initiative. There's also the fact that the island upon which the duel was said to take place was later named after Kojirō, rather than Musashi, who was the nominal "hero" of the place.

He also had the inclination - he was an eminently practical man, given to utilitarianism over idealism or romantic notions of honour, who had earlier assassinated another man, Yoshioka Matashichiro, who was 12. However, the latter had happened after, sources claim, Yoshioka had put together as large a force of fighting men as he could get his hands on to assist him during this duel, so if this is to be trusted, then Musashi's attacking form hiding would seem prudent, rather than knavely.

And he had the disregard for human life, killing in duels even when little stood to be gained.

The facts also state that Musashi's clan was involved on the wrong side of the Tokugawa-Toyotomi war - a war in which Kojirō was also very much on the wrong side - but later on was held in very high regard by Tokugawa-aligned lords who were not especially noted for their backbones.

So did he do it? The only answer remains "maybe". He certainly killed the man; the only question was whether by trickery in a duel, or by surprise from the shadows, as a politically-motivated assassination.

Feb 26, 2010


Just realized that "kamikaze" can also be construed to mean "paper towel" in Japanese.

Jan 15, 2010

Civilization - Definition

Here is my own definition of the word "civilization":

Two people who hate one another sitting in a room without fighting.

Jan 8, 2010

The Vietnam Paradigm - War Never Changes?

War - it brings up images of death, bloodshed and chaos; from the earliest phalanxes to the latest squads, war has changed as times did. The Roman Legions were invincible because they were tightly drilled, disciplined, and very, very good with shields. Cavalry turned out to be the answer to that. The spear turned out to outclass cavalry, and the crossbow - and later the gun - the spear. Firearms-era tactics went from "you shoot, you duck and reload and the guy behind you shoots, he reloads and you shoot, all the while you're in a block formation", to "dig a hole, shoot out of it, shoulder to shoulder with your comrades", to "hide in the forest, shoot your enemy before he sees you, and cover your squadmates". The last true paradigm shift in military thinking came about in WWII, as a result of the horrific meatgrinder that was WWI, and that is the modern way of war.

I propose that the status quo has changed, again. Lately, war has gone away from military engagements where two uniformed forces duke it out away from the civvies, towards a form of refined insurgency, wherein you compete with your opponent to see who gets demoralized and loses the support of the people(s) first. Thus far, it has ended with several bloodied noses for the "great" military powers, and small victories for the insurgents. Far from the antiseptic power-armour-and-laser-guns, or even remote controlled robot v. robot, war has actually become "normal-looking, normally dressed people hiding out, striking, and melting away".

This means two things. One: The tactics and strategy manuals used by the US, and most governments worldwide, are outdated, and will never again achieve a consistently victorious trend - in essence, the Vietnam paradigm. Two: The nightmarish vision of a totalitarianized future may in fact be totally unachievable by the traditional means most feared, since any population with a skilled leader or insurgent and the will to fight can challenge any army.

Of course, this is all assuming that the authorities do not manage to change the popular opinion - any war that gets limitless support from the people can be waged in the traditional form, simply switching "enemy combatant" for "non-friendlies" in the books. Essentially, the US can win in Iraq and Afghanistan - they just need to stop having moral qualms and kill everybody, and thus sacrifice any claim to basic human decency in order to become Nazis v2.0.

Yeah, didn't think so.

So long.

Jan 7, 2010

The Imperial Character - Why Warhammer Has Good Settings

Warhammer - and its daughter setting, Warhammer 40.000 - is generally known for being "grimdark"; that is, "in the grim darkness of [the far future/fantasy Germany], there is only war, disease, starvation, mutation, fanaticism, corruption, and misery. Oh, and closedmindedness - doncha go forgettin' the closedmindedness." Phony Texan accent aside, there's a point to the perception - Warhammer is grim and dark, and it's also, once you get down below the magic and the scifi, very real, in a way few RPG settings attain.

No, not "realistic" - the magic and scifi kinda puts paid to that. It's "real", in that the people are very realistic - they strike true in a manner humans seldom do outside of history books and Pratchett novels. The people of Sigmar's Empire, and its sister civilization, the Imperium of Man (the sexist nomenclature in this instance perfectly reflecting the entity itself), are very hard indeed to nail down - they are stupid, brave, naïve, stubborn, enlightened, backwards, urbane, closedminded, corruptible, contemptible and worthy of respect, all of them in combination or alone. Above all, they are human, all too human, struggling against unfathomable odds and losing, some of them dying, some of them turning traitor, some of them closing their eyes and going on about their business, and some, perhaps the largest fraction, fighting back, blindly, ignorantly, without weapons or knowledge, to the bitter end, often for little gain.

It's a dark mirror of an ugly, yet glorious humanity - in the case of the Imperium, a humanity that long since left its heyday behind and is fast fading, perhaps taking the last, best hope of victory against Chaos with it, but just won't admit it, even to themselves; and, in the case of the Empire, filled with potential, right on the brink of true greatness, in the form of the Renaissance and the modern world, but all too likely never to achieve it due to the threat of Chaos. Both cultures are doomed, and though they don't know it consciously, they seem to be aware, in their hearts, that victory is a longer road than ever, and defeat a razor's edge away. And they react to it appropriately.

More than any other fantasy setting I know, humanity in Warhammer is engrossing and interesting. They have a culture, a character, and an identity, one full of foibles and with as many reprehensible traits as admirable ones, if not more, and one not afraid of voicing its opinion, whether we'd agree with it or not.

I realized how engrossing I find the human cultures of Warhammer when I came across a stack of WFRP books recently, and the first book I eagerly cracked open was not Dwarfs: Stone and Steel, but Marienburg: Sold Down the River - instead of reading about the Dwarves, my favourite stock fantasy race for quite a while, I chose to read about fantasy counterpart Holland. No other setting has ever made me eager to read about Holland, fantasy counterpart or no, so that's one plus in the margin of GW.

Anyways, enough rambling.

Jan 6, 2010

Piracy in Monochrome - The Shades

Software piracy is a fact of life. It's there. It will never go away unless and until all software is destroyed, abolished, or the common rabble and riffraff - that being me and you - are denied access to it by the Man. And even then, there'd be some form of illegal or semi-legal distribution of intellectual property. In fact, there's only one way to permanently rid ourselves of illegal information distribution, and that is to make all information distribution legal. A can of worms, that, desirable in part and in theory, but with some strange implications.

However, what piracy isn't is a matter of black and white - like every single other moral question in existence, bar none, it's a matter of grey and gray - although, granted, some moral issues are darker or lighter grey than others.

Here's a sliding scale of piracy:

1. Buying a book from a bookstore.

2. Buying a book second-hand from a friend.

3. Downloading a digital copy of a book you legally own or which is public domain from PirateBay.

4. Downloading a book illegally from Piratebay.

5. Downloading a book illegally from PirateBay and sharing it with your friends.

6. Scanning a book by a large, multi-billion-dollar publisher and posting it to PirateBay.

7. Scanning a book by a small, independent publisher and posting it to PirateBay, where it gets a huge amount of downloads, causing the publisher to go bankrupt for lack of sales.

At what point does it get uncomfortable? Was it at point 3 or earlier? If so, congratulations! You are a corporate tool unaware of your own rights, or too scared by the system to want to use them. Get a spine.

After that it gets shady. To expand point 4, which is where I believe the majority of folks would start having troubles, would you download a book illegally from PirateBay if:

1. It was long out of print, the author dead, the publisher no longer existed, no second-hand copies were for sale anywhere, and you needed it for your doctoral thesis?

2. It was long out of print, the author dead and the publisher no longer existed, but you might be able to dig up a second-hand copy if you really tried?

3. It was long out of print, and the author and publisher have gone on record stating they never intend to print another batch?

4. The book was never made legally available in your country in the first place?

5. The book is legally available in bookstores, but the author personally insulted you the only time you met?

6. The book is legally available, and you need the book for a school project, but you don't really *want* to read it, and don't feel like spending your money?

7. You want to read the book, but it's Sunday, and you know the store will be closed 'til Friday?

8. You're standing in the store thumbing though ithe book, and it looks good, so you go home and download it?

9. You download the book because you're too busy eating the author's babies to go to the store?

I'd personally download it up to and including point 4, and refrain from buying it in case 5. In case 6, I'd probably try to find it in a library or borrow it from somebody, and in case 7 I might download it and then buy a legal copy when the store opened.

My point is, piracy is a complicated issue. Blanket statements get us nowhere. Im pretty sure everybody but fanatics will be okay with the first few points, and if you're okay with point 9 above then you're pretty damn sick. I mean, if you were to go through my harddrive, you'd find quite a few illegal PDFs, but most of those I either own a legal dead tree copy of, or it's stuff that's long out of print and damn near impossible to find - or, at least, prohibitively expensive. "Piracy is wrong?" On occasion, yeah. "Piracy is [insert positive adjective here]?" Sure, under certain circumstances. But there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the fence, so, please, don't be a fanatic or an extremist - just be reasonable, and admit you don't have all the answers, 'cause nobody does.

End of line.

Dec 3, 2009

Time Flies Like A Banana

I'm currently trawling the archives of James Maliszwicz's Grognardia, and came upon this:

"You Know You're Old When...

...other gamers unironically talk about the release of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia in 1991 as "back in the day."
That's the entiretey of the post, by the way, though the comments are also interesting.

What struck me is, not only was I at the tender age of 3 at the time, the Soviet Union fell that very year. This, to me, isn't just "back in the day" - it's history on par with WW2, just as "old" and far-gone, though the objective distance is far shorter.

In that time, I practically left my diapers behind and started blogging and paying bills. Well, I probably wasn't wearing diapers still, but you get the picture.

Time sure flies, eh? And it seems to go faster and faster. Feels like December 2008 and my original introduction to the wonderful world of RPGs, via the World of Darkness, is just a couple of months ago.

[If you're wondering why I'm apparently suffering from some form of writing-diarrhea today, it's because I just finished my exams and am bored.]