Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 21:57 on 12-03-2016, Alice
Seconding support for the FerretNibble idea! Would the idea be that people submit mini-articles as inspired, and you wait till you have enough to fill out an article slot, Arthur? (i.e. perhaps not anything too topical/time-sensitive?)
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at 11:14 on 11-03-2016, Arthur B
Yeah, I've been trying to post a few shorter ones (like today's Earth vs. the Flying Saucers review) to try and counter that impression but having a way to encourage which takes up less than a couple of sides of A4 but is longer than the typical PlayPen post would probably help too.
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at 03:21 on 11-03-2016, James D
Whaddya think, guys?

Sounds like a good idea. "Articles" have kind of been typecast at this point as being lengthy and rigorous looks at big serious things, so something between that and random conversation in the Playpen could be a good venue for things that don't quite fit either extreme.
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at 10:38 on 09-03-2016, Arthur B
When I first heard about this weird Pottermore worldbuilding project I thought that at best it would be kind of pointless. Rowling transparently didn't think through how wizarding society works and what its origins are on a global scale for Harry Potter, and for a series revolving around one particular school that's fine, just as you don't need to research traditional Native American educational methods for a school story set in a mundane school. Going back after the series was done and trying to retcon in a global wizarding society that barely existed save for some Quiddich teams and a few visitors during Goblet of Fire was always, at best, a doomed attempt to build more rigorous worldbuilding on foundations that didn't really support it.

The fact that the earlier bits seemed to assume that magic worked in every culture more or less exactly the same way (and in a way which riffed on very European assumptions about magic to boot) only increased my uneasiness. I am unsurprised that disaster has unfolded.
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at 08:30 on 09-03-2016, Shim
I'd gradually adjusted my thinking again, so that JK Rowling (having gone from "fun children's author" to "overrated, self-important, desperately-in-need-of-editing-children's auteur") was someone I vaguely respected for speaking out on issues and trying to forge a non-Potter writing career with reasonable success.

And now she's crapped all over Native Americans so I'm back to scratch here.
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at 12:50 on 08-03-2016, Arthur B
Oh, and one more thing: if you'd prefer to post stuff to the Playpen even though it's of a length where it could conceivably be a suitable FerretNibble, you should go right ahead and do it - this is an additional option, not a replacement.
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at 12:43 on 08-03-2016, Arthur B
I've had an idea for a new feature on the site. I don't know about you guys, but sometimes I come across something where I want to talk about it, but I find my thoughts on it don't quite extend to what I would consider to be a full article but are a bit too long-winded for a PlayPen post.

So, here's my idea: FerretNibbles, compilations of micro-articles consisting of short reviews, rants, observations, and any other little bits and pieces that people would like to bring to the attention of the Ferretbrain audience but which they aren't sure would make decent standalone articles by themselves.

Some guidelines:
- Submissions should go to the editorial e-mail address, as usual - editor at ferretbrain dot com. Remember to mention what your Ferretbrain username is so you can be properly credited. (If you don't have one because you've been OpenIDing in, I can set one up for you.)
- All the existing submissions guidelines apply, including the legal stuff.
- The article itself will usually - unless it solely consists of microreviews from one contribitor - be credited to "Ferretbrain Contributors"; your credit in the article will have a link back to your profile, but it won't appear in your article list. Rami and I may be able to do something technically fancy that would allow microreview contributions to appear in your profile and to automate the process a bit, but this is a solution I can implement straight away.
- In some cases, I might come back to you and suggest that a piece is substantial enough to be its own article and work with you to get it published that way if you're cool with that.
- If, on the other hand, I accept your contribution as a micro-article, I reserve the right to make edits for spelling, punctuation, grammar and formatting without getting final approval from you, simply to make the process of putting together a micro-article compilation easier for me.

In terms of what is and isn't appropriate for a micro-article:
- If you're just bringing a funny link to people's attention or tossing out something which you can sum up in a couple of short paragraphs, it might be better for the Playpen.
- If you are responding to something in an article or the Playpen, it'd usually be better just to post that response in the Playpen or the article comments section. If your response is approaching the length of a full-length article, it may be worth considering submitting it as a spin-off article, though typically I'd want such a thing to be able to stand on its own rather than constantly referencing the to-and-fro of a conversation on a previous article's comments section. ("Here is an article where I muse on stuff this conversation made me think about" is great; "Here is an article where I go through someone's argument line by line and tell them they are wrong" just needlessly divides the conversation.)

Whaddya think, guys?
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at 16:01 on 06-03-2016, Ichneumon
I've personally stayed out of this because I'm still yet to see this film and doubt I could meaningfully contribute without either that or a sufficient refresher on the series as a whole. The discussion of alternate Force traditions intrigues me, however, and I would be interest to see what the new team does with that opportunity.

On an entirely different note, have some Ligotti-related articles from The LA Review of Books and Tablet, both of which are conceptually intriguing for entirely different reasons.
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at 21:10 on 03-03-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sorry I haven't participated in this very interesting discussion for a while, since I've been busy and it is quite convoluted to say the least. But a few most likely final thoughts:

-Comparing the Force to actual religions might be a bit futile, since it doesn't seem that there is enough consistent information to go around and what there is doesn't seem to have the necessary details or vocabulary to make comparisons which are anything more than vague (although still fun) and of course there is the big difference that the force is a much more concrete influence on the world, unlike, arguably, our religions do in this galaxy. Although discussing Star Wars and its belief systems has this meta-level of religiousness in it.

-All that said and done, it does seem to have a more panteistic and natural vibe, which does separate it from religions with more of an emphasis on personal gods, which has a more eastern, rather than semitic feeling to it. But that is noly the impression I get. I guess with connection to Jedi-stuff, the difference is whether you see it as some sudden revelation, Kung Fu Panda style, or a gradual awakening requiring practice. And since we don't really know the motivations or capabilities of General Organa, or really, how the force is supposed to function, we'll just have to hope that they'll bother to revisit this point in future installations of the franchise.
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at 06:30 on 01-03-2016, Robinson L
@Axiomatic: Wow, and I thought my knowledge of Star Wars esoterica was pretty thorough, but I only recognized like, one or two of those traditions. You do realize though, that with the exception of the Dathomir Witches, their canonicty has been rendered nil, or is at least in serious question, as per April 2014.
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at 16:27 on 27-02-2016, Arthur B
I would have said that, per the OT at least, the Force and the Jedi seem to be deliberate stand-ins for spirituality. If you take an empiricist, IU approach to the Force, you can get the position you describe, but I think the films clearly present the Force in a spiritual light.

Sorry, I wasn't putting my point very well (obviously taking an empiricist approach to the Force would be rubbish, that's how we got midichlorians), but you've hit on a better way to express it there. The Force is about spirituality, but I'm sure we all know tons of people who would describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious". It is possible to express spirituality without being part of any organised religion, and that's how I think a lot of people in the Star Wars universe may end up using the Force without ever realising that they are doing it.

If nothing else, we see in The Force Awakens that Leia is able to sense Han's death from millions of miles away. So to say she doesn't use the Force is actively incorrect - perceiving things that are happening far away from you is using the Force. (Obi-Wan feels the destruction of Alderaan like a punch in the gut; it doesn't register with Luke.) At the same time, it doesn't seem like Leia's sensitivity in this instance comes down to formalised training so much as it's a factor of her love for Han making her especially sensitive to his presence in the Force.

(Hypothesis: the Jedi were big on forbidding love to padawans because love makes you feel your beloved's presence in the Force especially strongly whilst drowning out other presences, so a Jedi in love might find that they couldn't sense a Sith sneaking up behind them because they were too distracted by their beloved stubbing a toe on the other side of the galaxy. One of the reasons that Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke all found it useful to go hermit was because the more a Jedi interacts with society, the more attachment they have, and the more attachment they have the more dangerously fallible their Force powers are.)
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at 11:57 on 27-02-2016, Axiomatic
There are tons of Force Traditions out there, and every one of them is some sort of religion. You've got Witches of Dathomir, Sorcerers of Rhand, Nuns of G'aav'aar'oon, Jarvashqiine shamans, Acolytes of the Beyond, H'Drachi Seers and the Disciples of Shaa.

Among many, many others. And no, I did not make up even a single one of those. Not even the Nuns of G'aav'aar'oon.
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at 06:41 on 27-02-2016, Daniel F
Arthur:
Not necessarily. You don't need to believe in the philosophy that the Jedi have spun around the Force to use it, after all. If the Force is just there as a literal force of nature (albeit one that isn't amenable to bottling in a lab), and all the religious stuff that has built up around it is merely a way of interpreting it rather than a revealed truth about it, then that would actually be consistent with everything we have seen.

I would have said that, per the OT at least, the Force and the Jedi seem to be deliberate stand-ins for spirituality. If you take an empiricist, IU approach to the Force, you can get the position you describe, but I think the films clearly present the Force in a spiritual light. The mere fact that every character who can use the Force is some sort of space mystic, and that learning to use it is portrayed as an initiation into a larger spiritual world, suggests to me that we should interpret the Force as something closely linked to spirituality.

Bill:
Being a princess is a real job?

Um, yes?
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at 22:52 on 26-02-2016, Arthur B
No, but being a general is.
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at 22:27 on 26-02-2016, Bill
Being a princess is a real job?
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at 21:30 on 26-02-2016, Axiomatic
I always figured that Leia wasn't a Jedi because unlike her brother, she didn't have time to lie around on the couch all day "meditating", because she had a real job.
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at 20:22 on 26-02-2016, Melanie
It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.


This seems completely plausible to me. "Jedi" as a descriptor strikes me much less as an umbrella term for any Force-user who isn't a Sith, and more as "member of the Jedi Order" (or, at the least, someone who identifies themselves that way and follows Jedi-specific practices/beliefs--I mean, in the OT the Jedi Order is pretty much dead as an organization, but Yoda and Obi-Wan are still Jedi). So Leia could be a Force-user, potentially even a strong one, without considering herself a Jedi specifically.

While using the Force is "a religious practice" to the Jedi, that doesn't mean it's always a religious practice, full stop. A particular practice can be religious for some people and not for others. For instance, a religion can ascribe a religious significance to hand-washing, but that doesn't mean that everyone who washes their hands is de facto a member of that religion.
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at 14:52 on 26-02-2016, Arthur B
One might saying that using the Force is a religious practice in itself, though?

Not necessarily. You don't need to believe in the philosophy that the Jedi have spun around the Force to use it, after all. If the Force is just there as a literal force of nature (albeit one that isn't amenable to bottling in a lab), and all the religious stuff that has built up around it is merely a way of interpreting it rather than a revealed truth about it, then that would actually be consistent with everything we have seen.
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at 11:45 on 26-02-2016, Daniel F
It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.

One might saying that using the Force is a religious practice in itself, though?

Off the top of my head, I don't think we saw Luke or even Obi Wan ever performing any visible religious practices in the OT. (Unless you count some of Luke's training with Yoda, I guess.) Most of what we saw was more like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. They used Force powers, and they occasionally stopped to listen to their instincts or resign themselves to the will of the Force, but they didn't have much in the way of ritual. For that matter, they don't have visible costumes either: there is no Jedi costume in the OT.

If I look only at the OT, then... it seems as though the only way I could tell if someone is a Jedi is either if I see them using the Force flashily or if I see their lightsabre.
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at 20:51 on 24-02-2016, Arthur B
On the other hand, there is that line of Luke's from Return of the Jedi, where Luke mentions how the Force is strong in his family: in him, his father, and his sister. I feel think strength in the Force would be incredibly useful whatever your profession, so there is some incentive to develop those abilities.

But what would a general using the Force look like? Odds are, it would be that general allowing their intuition and hunches to guide their decision-making. Maybe dozens upon dozens of Rebel and Resistance lives have been saved because Leia trusted to the Force when making some battlefield gamble or guessing where an ambush is likely to come from.

It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.
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at 20:36 on 24-02-2016, Robinson L
@Orion: Yeah, I couldn't remember for sure if it was "Trust the Force," or "Use the Force." I think it was probably both, in reverse order to how I just wrote it here.

That's an interesting way of looking at Leia's role vis-a-vis the Jedi.

On the other hand, there is that line of Luke's from Return of the Jedi, where Luke mentions how the Force is strong in his family: in him, his father, and his sister. I feel think strength in the Force would be incredibly useful whatever your profession, so there is some incentive to develop those abilities.

I just find it hard to imagine her wanting to abandon her post as a general or senator or counselor or whatever she is to sit in a cave lifting rocks.

I think this is part of the issue, where the Jedi have been largely type-cast as warrior monks. This made sense in the original trilogy, where Luke was being trained to restore the Order and overthrow the Empire, but I don't remember it being stated anywhere that this is the only direction one can take as a Force-user. But a lot of people--including most Expanded Universe authors, and even Lucas himself in the prequels, got caught up in the trappings without thinking through why things were that way in the original. (It's a similar phenomenon to what RedLetterMedia pointed our regarding the Jedi's use of robes and lightsabers.)


Chris Moriarty update: I've now completed my trawl through her Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction review archives, and uncovered another couple of gems.

First, in terms of sheer reading enjoyment, we have her discussion of four recent "Heffalump Hunts" from this column back in 2013. I won't post the whole thing, but here's an excerpt where she weighs in on the issue of the lack of a Jewish Narnia or Middle-earth:

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis weren't just "Christian" writers. Rather, they were Englishmen who belonged to a narrow segment of Christianity characterized precisely by their top-down, hierarchical structures. Both Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism are relatively young religions (at least by Jewish standards) whose entire theologies are based on the power of a single leader to define doctrine for all the faithful. In contrast, Judaism is basically a four-thousand-year-old family argument.

Then, from 2014, we have this moving tribute to Iain M. Banks and his Culture series. Here's an excerpt from near the end of the piece:

we all, if we are honest with ourselves, experience that bad feeling in the pit of the stomach that you get when you know that good people need something from you…and you are quite possibly not up to the task. Iain Banks never forgot this. And that is why his novels are among the greatest achievements of modern science fiction, both intellectually and emotionally.

(I must say that, personally, I only recently started reading Banks' Culture books last summer, and while I mostly enjoyed the stories, and they're undoubtedly great intellectual achievements, I rarely find them emotionally engaging. Not entirely sure why, it just feels like there's something cold about his protagonists that makes it difficult for me to become fully invested in them. Still, I'm happy to hear other people have found his works so engaging and rewarding.)
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at 07:49 on 24-02-2016, Orion
Robinson -- I don't remember exact words but I believe that's basically Ben's mantra in the death star bombing run.
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Why isn't Leia a Jedi? Well, because the premise of TFA is that all the Jedi are gone; it never occurred to me that it would require justification because I had no expectation that she would be a Jedi to overturn. I'd actually like to flip the entire question around. Why would Leia want to be a Jedi?

The Jedi ways were many things for Luke. They were a legacy from his father; they were a way to fight the sorcerer who was hunting him personally; they kept him alive when he was thrown into the war; they were his best hope of becoming someone important and respected.

For Leia, none of that pertains. Leia doesn't need a legacy from her birth father because she's living out the legacy of her adopted parents. She's not being pushed by destiny because the Skywalker family drama* seems to be over and there are no dark jedi to fight. She already has a job; it likely that Leia did more for the Rebels as a General than Luke ever did as a Jedi. Her skillset is well-tuned to the needs of the fledgling New Republic. I just find it hard to imagine her wanting to abandon her post as a general or senator or counselor or whatever she is to sit in a cave lifting rocks.

*Actually, to echo Ptolemaeus, one thing I like about the trilogy is that the entire Jedi angle is kind of a side show, and Luke is important more because his dad is the emperor's first mate than because he's a Jedi.
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at 11:35 on 19-02-2016, Arthur B
It pleases me greatly that after so long silent or only providing intermittent updates, Achewood finally seems to be back on a regular schedule of weekly self-contained comics.

Especially when one of them involves taking the old Charles Schultz memorial comic and having a bit of fun with the concept.
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at 22:00 on 18-02-2016, Robinson L
Hmm, good point, Orion. Do I remember them using the phrase "trust in the Force" in the movies at all, or is that from the Expanded Universe?

Janne: even if christianity is not dualistic, the view of Christianity as being about the war between heaven and hell is very tenacious and very common in culture popular and otherwise and also in history, when one thinks how the everyday business of religion has proceeded. Which might be a way to see the Star Wars cosmology.

Yes, this was something which occurred to me a while ago, but I couldn't find a way to articulate it. Thank you, Janne.

why was Leia not a jedi?

That chafed with me too, especially after the Expanded Universe did an overall disappointing job of realizing her potential in that regard. On the other hand, when I was talking with my mom and sisters about The Force Awakens, I described a counter-factual scenario where Leia might have used the Force to aid the X-Wing attack on the Third Death StarStarkiller base. Ptolemaeus dismissed the idea, saying one of the things she appreciates about Star Wars - as opposed, say, to Harry Potter - is that it depicts nonmagic characters as well as magic characters playing a crucial role in the heroes' victory. As she pointed out, Leia's Force ability was touched upon, when she
sensed Han's death
, but it seems like she appreciated that Leia's main role in the story is not one of the magic people
I should think especially since the only other non-magic member of the original Big Three has now been killed off
. I'm more disappointed Leia didn't have a more active role in the plot, but ptolemaeus felt this was probably to keep the focus on Han, and that she'll have more weight to carry in Episodes VIII and IX. I certainly hope so.

And somehow it was just very sad to see Solo in his old years scampering about doing the same sort of nonsense he was doing before he joined the rebellion.

I agree with you there. At the same time, it felt utterly plausible to me. I think from the end of Return of the Jedi, you could see Han permanently shape up, mend his ways, and become a more mature and dependable person. That was the direction the Expanded Universe stories took his character, and I think it's entirely reasonable. However, I think it's also entirely reasonable to suppose that - although he is at heart a decent and noble person - he might fall into old bad habits again under the right circumstances. (The Expanded Universe actually also toyed with that scenario, if not quite to the same degree, and handled it fairly well, as I recall.) It's certainly not nice, but I find it understandable and not contrived, which is more than I can say for some other plot and character elements in the film.
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