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Archive for the month “November, 2015”

No Complaints Here: One Punch Man

Since I’ve been talking a lot about media I wasn’t that fond of, I figure I might as well go ahead and recommend something unreservedly: One Punch Man.

Stories of heroes and legends are as old as man. And every hero has their nemeses. Batman has his Joker, Superman his Doomsday and Lex Luthor and Darkseid and so forth. Even Hercules, the original superhero, had Hera to torment and vex him, and drive the story of his Labors forward, and mix things up when things got too complicated.

But what if they didn’t? The universe is not fair, and it is not symmetrical. It is not driven by the constraints of narrative to produce exciting battles between plausibly-equal agents. Some times, battles come up in which one side is unmistakably superior.

One Punch Man is such a universe. The hero, Saitama, is a man who sets to be a superhero, ends up gaining superpowers…and in getting them, becomes the absolute strongest thing in his vicinity. He is fast enough to dodge any blow, strong enough to endure any blow he doesn’t feel like dodging (if he’s worrying about his grocery list, for example), and strong enough that every fight, against every foe he faces, ends with one punch. (This is excepting the case in which he uses his deadly ultimate combo attack Sequential Normal Punches.)

This is a story that can only exist in the rich narrative ecosystem of superhero and fighting shounen anime. It takes the piss out of a great deal of them, but it doesn’t ever come across as ironic or winking at the audience. The universe is frequently ridiculous, but the characters of the universe are forced to confront it head-on, and laughable villains can have very serious body counts, if not stopped.

The story is not yet done, and it’s already raised a bunch of interesting questions about the nature of power, heroism, courage, and stories themselves. We know that the hero will triumph, that courage will prevail, that even if the villain has the hero on the ropes and all seems lost, the hero will pull a win out of their back pocket somehow. This is how stories work. What happens, then, in a story where the author dispenses with the premise that the hero might lose, and makes the story not about whether or not the hero will win or lose, but what happens as a result of the hero’s ever-increasing string of victories? What, ultimately, are the limits of the good that can be achieved with punching, even irresistible punching?

The series is well-written, well-animated, well-voiced, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard to date in any media. If you have any interest in superheros or anime, check this series out.

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Clean Sweep: Not the target audience, definitely not a fan.

To be clear, I don’t think that this is a bad book. It just fails to pass through a few critical gates that a book (or media of any kind, really) need to make it through to get a second glance from me.

In theory, this could be called hybrid sci-fi/urban fantasy, but in honesty, it’s straight urban fantasy, which just uses Space Technology!! as a kind of technobabble, and doesn’t do anything with its other planets that Dresden’s Nevernever doesn’t do. And that’s Gate One faceplanted into. Magic and science are different. To invoke magic is to reify a high-level concept into the rules of the universe, as an absolute thing. And that’s fine! That’s perfectly acceptable within the story. Take bargains, for instance. There’s a lot of stories about magic bargains. The stories about the devil out to buy your soul from you make the concept of a bargain an absolute thing.

But what if it wasn’t? What if there was just some devil-shaped alien who could do technobabble tricks if they got you to sign something? Well, then you’re in the realm of technology. And technology improves. You’d expect those aliens to jump straight to mass-marketing, click-through Faustian EULAs, or simply skirting the level of whatever coercion isn’t allowed and making up for it in volume, with people opposing them looking for similar story-breaking ways to cheese their way out of their own bargains. Technology is fundamentally different from magic.

Anyway, technology is where it’s at. Vampires and werewolves exist; they’re aliens and alien genetically-engineered super-soldiers. We get one of each, who of course square off and have a sexy ab-off at our heroine for most of our book, when they’re not engaging in witty banter and apparently-supposed-to-be-clever repartee with said heroine.

And here’s where he hit Gate 2 hard. This book makes me feel like the author(s) have genuinely never imagined how people in honor-based cultures where you might have to draw down and kill people to protect your good name (lest you be shamed and killed in turn). The book wants us to believe that there’s Tension! between Wiry Muscular Male Lead and Brawny Muscular Male Lead, that both are live wires who might erupt into violence at any moment. But they sure don’t act like it. They both treat each other (and the protagonist treats them) with less caution and respect than you’d grant strangers on a gun range. There’s no narrative treatment of anyone as actually, genuinely dangerous.

This leads into a kind of sub-gate that makes me not put books down, but only because if I did, I’d barely read anything. The book reflects as unexamined truth that social dominance is always and forever equal to physical (and/or technomagical) dominance. Winning an argument means you win the fight that follows the argument, always. There’s a duel in the book at one point that’s glossed over, because we know that the good monster has Righteousness on his side and has publicly accused the Bad Monster of great dishonorable cheatery and thus cannot possibly lose, and of course couldn’t get bushwhacked by further dishonorable cheatery in the duel itself.

Now, there is a lot to like here. We get a good variety of monster-aliens and alien vistas. Character motivations (when not swept up into the Black Hole Of Wanting To Bone The Protagonist) are fairly sensible, and aside from the stupid-ass posturing, most of the actions characters take make sense within that they know when they choose to take the actions. The Female Gaze stuff looks like it’s doing its job, as far as I can tell. So if you ever read the Anita Blake books and thought “I want more of these, but with sci-fi instead of magic and more of a PG rating.”, this appears to be the series for you. (And it is very reasonably priced, if this does sound appealing and if the gates I describe aren’t hard stops for you.) But for all that I did like the new perspective on werewolves and vampires and witches, oh my, I’m not interested enough to keep reading.

Now, if someone makes an RPG sourcebook out of this universe, then we might be in business…

[WIR, What Hath Gone Before] Oathbreakers

RPG.net link here.

In which…goddamnit, just read the summary.

This book, man. This goddamn book. Ok. First act is mostly fine, but with one big warning bell. Here, Tarma and Kethry have signed on with an elite mercenary company, and we follow them on a campaign. It continues to level-set them as high-level D&D characters. That warning sign, however, is the complete disconnect between what the book tells us and what it shows us in terms of women on the battlefield. The book (and other books) tell us that women make up a distinct plurality of the combat forces. What it shows us, however, is that of the characters who we don’t get zoomed in on, and who aren’t both important and on the protagonist’s side, none are women.

Now, my hope was that we’d follow up on the last story of Oathbound with the realization that in a world with equal-opportunity brigandage and robbery, having a magic sword that put you always and irrevocably on the side of women could very often be a crippling weakness. But we don’t get that. Apparently, the idea that someone could be a woman and oppose the protagonists while not being a demonic thrall who went through an involuntary gender-swap didn’t occur to the author.

OK. So, not great, but not terrible. Then we get into the meat of the book, and things start looking really interesting. The commander of their mercenary company (who was in the line of succession of a generic far-off nation, but left because it was a nest of vipers and backstabbing and she wanted an honest career of mercenary work) gets news that things are afoot in her home country, heads back, and then apparently vanishes, and now our protagonists need to head to a strange land, to deal with a problem of intrigue and politics, neither of which are skills in their wheelhouses.

And this works really well! We get tension built because there are other mages and so Kethry can’t just roll over the opposition like she’s done before, Tarma has to deal with the fact that her people have a very poor reputation in this nation, and the one person who looks like he’s able to give them a straight answer on what’s going on doesn’t trust either of them as far as he can throw them, and he’s middle-aged with a chronic health condition of some sort.

Then there’s an assassination attempt on the guy which the protagonists foil, the team has to hit the road in a hurry, while pursued by shadowy magical agents. Things are exciting now! The team has a path into their investigation, they can pit their skills against the specific problem facing them, and then…

Then it all falls apart. No, wait, it’s worse than that. Then it all falls together. Then the story abandons abandons even the pretense of dramatic tension.

There is again a warning sign in the fact that Team Heroine finds a legendary magic sword on a random dead body while crossing a winter pass. This is basically Excalibur for the nation they’re from, and can in theory resolve the succession crisis (but they don’t know this yet.) Now, this is stupidly convenient, but hey, protagonists tripping over legendary magic swords goes back to Tolkien, so there’s nothing too outrageous here.

Then the team crosses over into Valdemar, meets a Herald, and Tarma’s interventionist goddess does step down to let her know that she’s got the combined divine go-ahead from both her and Team QHAT, and OK, that was worrying from a dramatic point of view, but in keeping with both her and the Companions, so again, not outrageous.

Then Kethry becomes an Adept. Adepts are the name-level of the wizarding world in Valdemar. They’re the highest rank of wizard there is; they’re the Plot Device Wizards Who Did It, who are involved in all of the legendary acts of historical magic.

And Kethry’s still a D&D character, so OK, having the little bit of quest XP bump her into taking that Archmage prestige class is a little disjointed from a dramatic point of view, but I buy it.

Then we finally meet the pursuit. He’s another Adept. Another, much-more-experienced Adept. And of course there’s a random out-of-nowhere Adept dueling protocol where they show off their spirit animals and the like, and it’s at this point that a fell premonition creeps over me.

There is one way this fight should go. This is someone who just got their black belt stepping into the ring for their first black-belt-on-black-belt match with a 5th dan veteran. If the story wants me to take the idea of magic ranks and experience meaning anything, Kethry needs to lose this fight.

She wins, of course, but her opponent cheats! He secreted a golem under the combat area, which unburies itself and mauls Kethry! Happily, this the exact kind of golem that the team’s cranky sick old guy happens to know the secret weakness of (and Evil Adept apparently doesn’t), so he takes out the golem. And in a scene which is actually decently-written, Tarma calls on divine intervention for Kethry to be healed, and gets it. And that, by itself, wouldn’t have been terrible, but it on top of everything else cements that nothing seriously bad is going to be allowed to happen to our heroines for the rest of the book.

The book, of course, doesn’t even pretend to ask “Why, if Adepts are such hot shit, didn’t the Adept following them overtake them and do something? Why, if Adept magic can be made undetectable to non-Adepts, did Kethry get wind of him following them in the first place? And what’s the plan for all of the other mages back in the capital, many of whom are presumably also Adepts, since they could spare sending this guy out on a rather random mission of questionable utility?”

Instead, the heroines enact their plan, and this is where I go from disappointed to darkly, bitterly amused. See, the title of the book is Oathbreakers, because there’s some ancient ritual mystical stuff about mercenaries and oaths. There’s a doom ritual that can be pronounced on oathbreakers and traitors to declare then anathema, but it requires a mage, a cleric, and an honest man all wronged by someone, and its effects are questionable and mystic. So of course we’re going to get our heroines (and less-sick-under-magic-HMO-plan guy). But first we need the dirt on the guy in charge. And how do our honorable mercenary heroines get it? Disguise Tarma as someone else, join his guard, take his money and swear falsely to serve him, and then pump him for information.

It works, of course. Guy in Charge drove out his good brother and had Mercenary Sister killed in the designated way Romantic Fantasy villains have women killed, of course. Despite being described as competent at plotting and intrigue, he suspects nothing when his Adept never reports back, of course.

Team Heroine get word back to their company and they infiltrate the kingdom in small groups, to form the core of a revolutionary army. This goes smoothly, of course. Kethry comes up with a revolutionary new kind of magic trap she can drop on the opposing mages all at once to neutralize them. It works perfectly and none of them do anything else in the story, of course.

Kethry blasts aside all opposition with overwhelming magic as the coup attempt happens. They run down the evil prince, and Tarma captures him because he trusts her guise. Then they drag him to some ritual area where they call up the ghost of Mercenary Captain, she kills him horribly over a long period of time, then they drag out his body to the people of the nation, proclaim that Good Brother With Excalibur is king now, and everyone is happy. The end.

It really didn’t help that I was reading Honor and Violence in the Old South at the same time as this book. But really, consider this in the general case. You’ve got Group A who is out to avenge a slight on their honor. They invoke harm done to one of their women by a perfidious member of group B. So they smuggle in large numbers of people, attack from surprise, overwhelm group B’s defenses, kill a fair number of group B, torture the accused member of group B to death, then parade around his body while also showing off their numbers and martial power.

In what world are we supposed to assume Group A are the good guys? Team Heroine could have done a thousand things differently. They could have quietly assassinated Evil Prince for ages, and with Kethry’s Adept super-magic, made it look like an accident. They could have saved dozens of their own lives and who knows how many lives of their enemies. But they wanted a big fight where everyone would see what happens when you cross Team Heroine. It wasn’t about justice, or saving future victims of Evil Prince. It wasn’t even about revenge. It was about having their honor satisfied, and having the world know what happened to people who cross Team Heroine.

There is a silver lining to this, however. This book does have Team Heroine retire, as far as I can tell. And as far as I can tell, at some point between this and the next series, Mercedes Lackey has her own “Hans, are we the baddies?” moment. And the next series, set in Valdemar’s Past, is the Last Herald Mage series, and goes in a very different and much more interesting direction.

I am a bastard, part one of many.

A quick story from my past that I feel like sharing:

Friend: *listening idly to news as disliked media figure speaks* “There he goes, blowing the dog whistle again.”
Other friend: “I dunno, it’s not like he’s being subtle.”
Me: “Yeah. Talking about ‘political correctness’ at all is only done to attack it. It’s a sibboleth, basically.”
Friend: “A what?”
Me: “A sibboleth! You know, it’s language you only use to prove you’re a member of one group or another-”
Other friend: “You mean a shibboleth.”
Me: *quirks eyebrow* “Yes, a sibboleth. That’s what I said.”
Other friend: “No, you said-”
Friend: *holds up a hand for pause, googles*
Friend: “…You are a bastard.”

He was not wrong.

Book Review: Rogue Planet: Fortress At The Top Of The World

Rogue Planet: Fortress At The Top Of The World, written by Ian Harac, better known in the blogosphere as Lizard, is a rousing planetary romance. Lots of excitement, action, exploration, lost civilizations, found civilizations, and really good interaction between the protagonist characters.

There is a lot to like here. The book’s well-written, well-paced, and there are a lot of really clever nods to the genre. Furthermore, Ian does a really good job of taking some of the less-savory elements of the genre, and either simply dropping them in front and center to acknowledge them, or working around them with modern sensibilities in a very adroit way. One of the problems with Deja Thoris is that she always came across as an ancillary of John Carter; it wasn’t that she failed to be brave and clever and a good leader and such, it was just that those attributes only defined her so as to make her a good match for John. Here, the female leads are much better realized as independent characters in their own right.

There are a few weaknesses, though. The otherwise-strong pacing falters a tiny bit at the end of the novel, as material for sequels is being set up, and without those sequels, the book doesn’t really end in an optimal position. It resolves the story arc that was raised initially, but there’s stuff left unanswered, and not in a tempting-mystery way. Also, the bad guys lean way, way, too hard on the “And he must be taken alive for my nefarious and sadistic purposes!” for my preference; having this happen once is acceptable, but anyone who’s gamed as long as Ian has should know that the moments of most tension are when the villain has been forced to throw away their pride, their glorious self-image, and all of their plans other than surviving the next few seconds, and throws all of the power that has opposed the hero throughout the story at them at once in sheer desperation.

For those weaknesses, however, it’s still a very worthwhile and entertaining read, and one I recommend.

[WIR, What Hath Gone Before] Oathbound

RPG.net link here.

In which the warrior Tarma and the mage Kethry, the wolfcat Warrl, and the incredibly sexist magical sword Need travel the lands, exploring, leveling up, and having very specific adventures; in which my opinion of Mercedes Lackey’s writing bounced around a great deal; in which a great many apostrophes are pronounced; in which a lesson of great import is learned and forgotten.

This series, man. This goddamn series.

OK. I need to talk about some general theory-of-writing stuff first. You can tell an X-men story in which mutants are a stand-in for some disadvantaged minority, and show them being wrongly shunned or disdained for their differences. You can tell a story in which there is a strong faction of evil mutants lead by Magneto, bent on securing a future for his people through acts of terrorism and violence. But you really can’t tell both stories at once unless you want to end up crossing the streams, and giving the bigots from the first half solid ammunition for their opinions in the second half.

And this leads directly to the structural problem that underlies both this book and the next; it wants to tell a story in which Tarma and Kethry travel the lands, have adventures, and save women from the tyranny of patriarchy. But it also wants to tell a story in which women don’t actually suffer any structural disadvantages, and in which they make up a significant percentage of the combat arms, magic users, and leadership. There are many individual problems which our duo need to address, and address them they do, and there are only a few points where our heroines explicitly ignore the plight of men because they are men, but it happens, and it grates.

There’s also a lot of protagonist-centered morality. Tarma in particular gets away with a huge number of threats to life and limb, both covert and overt, that would peg any non-protagonist as a villain and a bully, and Kethry…

OK, let’s just go right to the nadir of this mess. It’s one of the earliest stories written, if I recall correctly. The base structure of the story is as follows; a merchant wants to hire Tarma and Kethry to deal with bandits that are attacking his wagons and leaving no survivors. T&K don’t care, of course, as they save women, and Mercedes Lackey doesn’t take seriously her assumption that women are well-represented in the actual footschlogger rank of combatants who wade through the mud, take the unglamorous guard duty posts, and die in droves when someone interesting or dangerous shows up. Thankfully, the merchant also lost some younger female relatives that were being escorted and who of course have suffered the default fate of female captives in romantic fantasy, so the team is happy spending their time on this.

Kethry does some magic, finds out that the bandits have some unspecified magic of their own, and comes up with a plan. She’ll magically disguise the three of them into looking like civvies (and a dog in Warrl’s case), follow along with the caravan after making an entrance looking rich and tempting, then kick ass when the bandits show up.

The plan works flawlessly, of course. The magic is identified as one bandit who has a psychic gift to make him appear as someone generically trustworthy from your past when you see him; he’s been infiltrating the guards and feeding information to the bandits about when and where to strike. Since Tarma and Kethry didn’t tell the guards they were agents of stabbing, he called for the attack.

The attack happens. Many caravan guards die. Only after that do Tarma and Kethry join the fray, tearing through the bandits like the high-level D&D characters they are. They win the day, and as punishment for his sins, Kethry uses magic to muck with the psychic gift of the infiltrator bandit, making his appearance affect now stuck on the vapid civilian woman disguise she was using, before stripping him, tying him to a horse, and sending him back to the remaining bandits to receive his justified, rapey deserts.

The thing is, this terrible story was followed immediately by another, much more interesting story. That bandit didn’t actually exit stage left. He survived, stuck around, and in the process of looking for any way to reverse Kethry’s curse, ended up calling down and falling victim to a powerful demon lord, who was only defeated by Tarma and Kethry once through his arrogance and his failure to read the Evil Overlord list, specifically the entries on trying to marry people who want to kill you.

Round two with the prepared demon lord goes a whole lot worse for Tarma and Kethry, due to the demon lord being clever, and Need being terrible.

Let’s talk about Need. Need is a magical sword meant to serve and protect women. Only women can use its magical powers, and in addition to magic resistance and healing the bearer, it compels them to seek out and protect women. It’s not specified what happens if you hurt a woman while wielding Need, but both the demon lord and Kethry consider head-explosion a plausible response.

Now, keep in mind that the author has already written Hulda, a delightfully sadistic and conniving mage and spymistress from the last book. Here, we need to get demon body-swapping shenanigans to produce a woman to fight Kethry and make her risk Ironic Death. The story finishes (extremely unsatisfyingly) when an out-of-left-field 20th-level cleric wanders in and casts the right bodyswap spell at the right moment, so everyone ends up back in their body (if they’re a hero), dead (if they’re that bandit Kethry fucked up long ago), or trapped in an unpowered human female body (if they’re a demon lord).

And so the ending of the story (which was the last in the book) was terrible and unsatisfying. But maybe that was the point, I thought. Maybe this was Mercedes Lackey saying to me “Actually, on reflection, a sword that assumes virtue based on sex is a terrible goddamn idea and any group of adventurers who relied on such a thing would need goddman divine intervention to not die the minute they took it into the field.” This story was the first time we’d seen a villain recur, and having him recur in a way that drew attention to the fucked-up-edness of how Kethry sent him off boded well.

And so, it was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and full of high expectations, that I started the next book.

Rent or own?

This is a question that I’ve seen come up a fair amount recently. It is, of course, far too narrow and reductionist in its base form: all things being equal, is is better to rent or buy your primary dwelling?

The first thing to remember is that all else is never equal. Renting gives you the freedom to move out easily, but gives up the freedom to alter the inside of your house at will. Owning frees you from worries of rent increases, but exposes you to property tax hikes. But the big issue is properties are discrete, and have their own individual characteristics; you can’t go out and buy the average house of n-thousand square feet for n hundred thousand dollars if all of the houses on the market are either .5*N or 2*N, catering to two very distinct markets in your area.

But, given all that, is one a better plan than the other? Let’s do math and find out!

The first factor we need to consider is opportunity cost. Let’s imagine that you are Richie Rich, and that you want to maximize your long-term income. Right now, you have a lot of money in the stock market, earning a comfortable 7% after taxes, fees, and so on. Your previous dwelling vanished in a comic-book-related mishap. How should you proceed?

Well, as above, it depends strongly on the actual properties available where you want to live. Let’s say that you want to live in a handsome townhome very similar to my own, in a neighborhood very similar to my own, bought under…hell, we’re using my house as an example.

Now, my neighborhood is neat; the townhomes are nigh-identical, and there are several houses available for both rent and several more for ownership, so we can compare like with like. In this case, purchase price is about $130,000, and rent is about $1,200 per month.

If Richie buys outright, he ties up $130,000 of his wealth, as a one and done. If he rents, he’s drawing less than a hundredth of that amount down each month. But how many months will that be?

Richie is a kid, remember. He’s got the bulk of his threescore-and-ten ahead of him. Let’s say that he’s ten, and has 60 years ahead of him that he wants to plan for. So, over his lifetime, if Richie rents, he will incur $14,400 in rent costs a year, or $864,000.

Of course, we need to consider that opportunity cost again. Let’s set aside the money Richie won’t be touching for this transaction set. Let’s just say he has a million to play with. If he were willing to be homeless, he’d just be earning 7% on that million annually, so $1,070,000 in year 2, $1,0155,000 in year 3, and so on.

Now, we’ve got two really simple models. In one, we pull $130,000 right off the top, and do the interest for the remainder for those 60 years. In the other, we pull off the yearly rent price every year. So, what happens then?

The short version is that house-buying Richie makes up the losses in net worth by 25, and the gains just grow from there. Not hugely, mind you; it’s a difference of $51 million vs. $45 million; significant, but very much close enough that you need to do the math.

Of course, this doesn’t stop here. Richie Rich didn’t get that way because he managed his money poorly. What if Richie went to the bank and asked for a 30-year mortgage?

“Of course!” they’d say; Richie is the living embodiment of the safe lending prospect. He’d get a nice, middle-of-the-road 3.75% mortgage. (There would also be closing costs and down payment minimums and such, but we’re waiving them for simplicity here.) Essentially, Richie is taking out a $120,000 loan when he already has a million in the bank. Why?

Because 7 > 3.75. The opportunity cost of dropping $120,000 immediately is significant, as we have shown previously. In this case, Richie is paying about $556 a month, or $6700 a year, to pay back that mortgage. By doing this, Richie is maximizing the amount of money that’s earning the full 7% interest in the markets. That pushes his expected gains from $51 million to $53 million.

Now, all of these examples contain many assumptions. I neglect the cost of maintenance of the house, as well as the ability of the homeowner to optimize their own maintenance to limit their own costs. (How many apartment complexes that don’t pay for tenant water put in low-flow showers and toilets?) I assume that houses can sell fungibly, and that Richie can either live in his one new house indefinitely, or sell it for market value and move into another painlessly. But most of all, I ignore the downside risk. Downsizing your apartment in an economic crunch period is painful, but having to do so for a house you can no longer afford the mortgage payments on can be catastrophic if you can’t safely discharge the mortgage debt. Richie was never at risk of a property downturn wiping out his savings, because his house was such a small percentage of that million-dollar hunk of savings he had allocated. If his finances were tighter, and he had to worry about that downside risk, he might well have elected to rent for a few years, save up a buffer, and only then go for the purchase. How many years? How much a buffer? That depends entirely on Richie’s individual tolerance for risk.

So, is there a lesson here? Well, one lesson is that there is not a huge amount of difference between renting and owning if you live in my neighborhood. But the other lesson is that you can solve thorny and seemingly opened-ended questions with a little research and a little math.

When stereotypes go gentle into that good night.

“Hey, Robert.” asked my co-worker. “You’re Jewish, right?”

I confirmed that I was, already polishing up my ‘Difference between Jewish ethnically, Jewish culturally, and Jewish religiously.’ mini-lecture in case he was going to ask me a difficult question.

He dropped his voice a bit. “Can you tell me what means to Jew someone down?” he said. He sounded…slightly worried.

“Um.” I said. “Well, you see, in the middle ages, there were these things called usury laws, which prohibited lending money at interest to Christians, so Jews ended up doing a lot of banking and moneylending, which lead to a reputation of…”

I stopped, realizing I’d overshot.

“It’s a slur.” I said. “It literally means ‘to bargain or haggle so someone drops their price’, but it’s saying that Jews do that all the time because they’re greedy.”

“Oh!” said my co-worker. “I’d heard the phrase in a HR lecture and I had no idea what it meant.”

Which was, when you think about it, quite a trick. It’s easy to taboo a concept or an idea, once you’ve in a position of cultural dominance, but actually eradicating it from mainstream thought?

I feel like there’s some reverse nonviolent struggle hierarchy going on here. First, you win, meaning that the tide of public opinion turns, and a majority of people feel “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t call Jews kikes any more.” Then, they fight you, as the people who were really invested in calling Jews kikes push back against public opinion bending the other way, and lose. Then, they laugh, as those people are reduced to caricatures, as antisemitism becomes cultural shorthand for not just racists, but crazy, stupid, ineffective racists. And then, they ignore it, as people ask, in perfect sincerity when one of that old guard starts ranting, “What’s a kike?”

It’s really interesting to read about the prejudices of yesteryear to me, because there’s so much stuff that’s just so foreign to what I experience now. It’s worrying, because it suggests that there is an infinite variety of ways people will divide each other up in order to be dicks to each other. But it’s also hopeful, as a reminder that the struggles we’re fighting for right now might one day become so thoroughly assumed, it becomes hard to imagine that things were ever otherwise.

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