Whovians and Whedonites, Niebuhr and Game of Thrones, plus other random geekery

• I’m a big fan of essays that combine disparate fandoms — like, for example, this piece by Philip Sandifer of TARDIS Eruditorum on Firefly and Serenity.

• Or, in an even geekier vein, this essay by George Schmidt examining Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister through the lens of Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology. Schmidt sees Ned Stark as too much of an idealist, while Tyrion, he says, is closer to Niebuhr’s ironic realism.

• Scott Paeth chimes in:

I agree with Schmidt’s analysis, though I still have cause to wonder whether or not Martin has any such transcendent moral vision in store for us at the end of his story. Thus far he’s been fairly scornful of the idea that the end result of the political struggle is the establishment of social justice, and seems to be suggesting that, in the end, all succumbs to dust and entropy, or that on those those willing to give themselves wholly over to their will to power will ultimately prevail.

How he ends his story will tell us much about the moral world in which he dwells.

Aye, there’s the rub. We can’t yet say what the story means because we do not yet know how the story ends. That’s the trouble with attempting to analyze Game of Thrones before the series is finished. (And it’s the trouble with most memoirs and autobiographies.)

• Meanwhile, Amanda MacInnis defends Tyrion Lannister from a less generous essay on Game of Thrones from Christianity Today.

The Small Council greets the new Hand of the King.

• It’s not often that the culture-watching culture warriors blogging at Christianity Today will agree with Grandmere Mimi, but on this point they are both obviously correct: Maggie Smith is, indeed, awesome.

• “There may a fine line for a Christian mother letting her kids watch a show about vampires who kill people and a slayer who kills those vampires. … But to not let your kids watch the show because Willow and Tara, both Wiccans and both female, are in a relationship? The Wicca part wasn’t the problem. It was the latter part that made my mom draw the line.”

• “Be a hero!” says Marvel Comics T-shirt for boys. “I need a hero” says their T-shirt for girls. Ugh.

• And speaking of the Marvel universe: Big news from the kingdom of Wakanda.

• Amy Acker? Yes, I think that would work. But is the world ready for a Texan as the next Doctor?

• To borrow a term from Steve Buchheit, this report seems like a Story Bone: “‘Shadow Biosphere’ theory gaining scientific support.”

Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university’s astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. “The idea is straightforward,” she says. “On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.”

• The New York Times discovers our local ghosts here in Chester County. Duffy’s Cut, just up the road in Malvern, Pa., was the site of a massacre of 57 Irish immigrant workers in 1832 during a cholera outbreak. The Duffy’s Cut project at Immaculata University has a terrific site following the archaeological and archival research slowly piecing together this horrid piece of local history. The massacre was covered up, not officially recorded anywhere, and formally forgotten. But the story lived on, encoded in folklore — local ghost stories that ultimately helped researchers to locate the site of the mass grave.


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  • Magic_Cracker

    But is the world ready for a Texan as the next Doctor?

    Well, Stetsons are cool.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Today Mom was watching what I think was an episode of Saved by the Bell. Somebody traveled forty years back to high school in the 1950s, and the topic of one of the classes was what the world would be like in forty years. Says our time traveler: Man on the moon, pizza with cheese baked into the crust, and equality between men and women.

    *eyes the ‘be/need a hero’ shirts* AHAHAHAHAHA OPTIMISTS.

  • MaryKaye

    They are building an
    artificial cell – or bionic system – made only of right-handed
    components including right-handed DNA and right-handed ribosomes. “If
    there are right-handed lifeforms out there, many of them will be viruses
    – which will attempt to hijack the DNA of our bionic cells,” adds
    Sasselov. “When they do that they will leave evidence of their
    existence. Essentially we are building honey traps to catch any
    right-handed viruses that might live in the shadow biosphere and so
    reveal their existence.”

    I wonder if this has been garbled in the pop-science transition? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. If there are weird-life viruses, they would need a way to get into weird-life cells, and they would need (in order to actually do anything) to encode a message weird-life cells can read. We certainly can’t arrange the latter as we have no idea what genetic code weird life would use. It strikes me as unlikely that we could arrange the former, either, as cell entry for viruses normally depends on specific cell-surface molecules and we have no idea what molecules would be on the cell surface of weird life. Even if weird life does have reversed chirality it strikes me as vanishingly unlikely (“vanishingly” is not strong enough) that it would be a mirror image of standard life; instead it would be novel, and our reversed-chirality cell wouldn’t have any of the recognition signals it needs. (These are very specific. Humans can’t catch tomato rust virus or lambda phage. We can’t even catch feline leukemia virus, and our biochemistry is really similar to that of a cat.)

    If you think that shadow life uses reversed DNA, a chemical test for reversed DNA sounds a LOT better than a whole cell. (Better try reversed RNA too–not all known viruses have DNA. And better worry about the fact that there are likely more than two possibilities.)

  • Black Panther!!! yeah!

  • Oh hey, I got a little cash present for an early birthday the other day. What was the name of your book again? I’m going to make sure I save a little so I can buy it next month.

  • MMorse


    This is terrific. Please do more “geek roundups”!

  • Lori

    It does sort of amaze me that approved those shirts. Design approval for something like that has to go through a lot of people. How is it that none of them looked at that ans said, “I thnk we may want to reconsider this”? It’s not like Marvel is unaware of teh existence of female geeks. WTH?

    WHoever ultimately had responsibility for signing off on those needs to meet the woman in this picture. That tatoo on her back says “I’m the hero of this story I don’t need to be saved”

  • EllieMurasaki

    A Dinner of Herbs, Elizabeth Conall and Anne B. Walsh. :)

  • Congratulations evil new-disqus, by eating my comment you’ve proven that not only are you worse in every way than a hypothetical non-buggy version of old-disqus, you’re also just as buggy as the actual old-disqus. You fail at everything. I award you no points. You lose.

    At this point the only thing you can do to get worse is regurgitate my old comment after the replacement comment is posted. But, seriously, even if you don’t do that you’re already more useless than every other comment engine out there and, as someone who uses two of them, let me tell you: they’re pretty useless.

    What I was trying to say before disqus decided to act like disqus is that I have been convinced by the camp that says the first female doctor should be the first ginger doctor.

    The Doctor is so happy to finally have desired hair color that doesn’t even notice (and certainly not mention) the gender change at first.

    For a few episodes it’s an open question whether The Doctor has noticed yet, and when The Doctor acknowledges that, yes, it has been noticed it’s with a very much, “So what?” kind of attitude because it’s not like there’s anything he could do that she can’t do so there’s still planets to save, civilizations to rescue, creatures to defeat and an awful lot of running to do.

  • And while they don’t have as iconic a list to choose from as DC, it’s not like Marvel is lacking women heroes that they could have put on shirts. (Not that they need to be gender-specific anyway. Why not just create the same shirts in male and female sizes/styles featuring both male and female characters? Plenty of male geeks would wear a She-Hulk shirt, just like plenty of women would be inclined to wear a Thor shirt.)

    Hell, one of them – the Black Widow – has appeared in two blockbuster films, is set to appear in the upcoming Captain America sequel, and has been popular enough that there’s talk of giving her a movie of her own.

    Even setting aside other considerations, given that the former Ms. Marvel is now Captain Marvel – and is one of the few Marvel women with her own monthly series – this would have been a perfect opportunity to hype the character.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    Ned Stark, in the first season of Game of Thrones, brilliantly portrayed a Lawful Good character working inside a Neutral Evil society but making the mistake of behaving as though that society were Lawful Good.

  • Fusina

    I got it. I like it. Thanks for the self ad.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • Fusina

    That, I think, is because Lawful Good characters want so desperately to believe that society is Lawful Good. And everytime it proves that it is Evil, it takes them by surprise. Again, this is what I think.

  • Lots of planets have a South.

  • Rather than comparing Firefly with Doctor Who it would be more interesting to compare it with Blake’s 7.

  • Lori

    Depends on who’s wearing them. There are few things sadder than someone wearing a Stetson who can’t carry it off. Triggers my sympathetic embarrassment.

  • Lori

    Speaking of disqus sucking out loud, has the spellcheck disappeared for anyone else? It’s not working for me at all and I have no idea why. This is a huge problem because I need a working spellchecker. I am the person for whom spellcheck was invented.

  • Magic_Cracker

    That’s kinda what happens in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” — Lawful Good character is manipulated by Neutral Evil character to follow a supposedly higher law, assassinates a Lawful Neutral character, paving the way for other Neutral Evil characters (who are not traitors) to take over.

  • Sara

    Two of my favorite things — my favorite blog and Doctor Who — combined!

  • Regarding Amy Acker, I gotta agree; an American isn’t the right fit for the role. My dream cast of the moment is Toks Olagundoye.

  • Given that Stark is beheaded by the lawful king– though he had personal information that contradicted that– I might say Westeros is Lawful Evil. Or well, the whole point of it is in flux, but then let’s say King’s Landing is LE. Which is why characters of more flexible feelings regarding the law (like Tyrion) can navigate it but consistently bump into forces like Tywin, who shut ’em down.

  • I believe the term for that is “All hat, no cattle.”

  • Lawful Neutral does not necessarily not have laws. Rather, they tend to adjust the laws as needs be to keep the powerful in power, whilst simultaneously protecting them from the same law. A Lawful Evil kingdom you can expect to be brutal, but you can also expect some fairness or honor if you can follow its traditions. Neutral Evil has no such compunctions.

  • I think you made a type in your first sentence, or otherwise it is maybe just opaque to me?

  • Jessica_R

    The Marvel’s fuckup reminds me of this depressing spectacle, when the porn Wonder Woman’s costume looks better (and the actress a better body type) than the failed NBC pilot. http://grovestreetunlimited.tumblr.com/post/47844983566/beggarsoshat-oldfilmsflicker

  • Abby Normal

    As cool as a female Doctor would be, I shudder to think what the wrong writer would do to her.

  • … I seriously looked at that and kept wondering what the comparison was supposed to be, when the official version was obviously a lot better than the porn version — and then I realized that the one with dramatic shading was the porn version.

    That makes so little sense, I’m still not 100% convinced the image on the left isn’t from some sexy Halloween costumes outlet store page.

  • Jessica_R

    That’s what gets me most. The porn promo pic, that is a picture meant to entice you to see a pornographic film, she’s shot with respect. She’s in shadows and light that highlight the muscles in her arms, and she’s posed arms akimbo, a fierce look on her face. You don’t mess with her. The NBC pilot WW looks like a pissed off sorority girl at her house’s Halloween party about to start pulling hair over catching another girl making out with her boyfriend.

  • Still waiting for mine in the post. Intercontinental shipping is like that, unfortunetly.

  • Makes me wonder if the rest of the movie is treated with the same attention to detail and quality. Wouldn’t that be hilarious if it turned out to be a high quality production which just so happened to have uncut erotic scenes? I’m not exactly intrigued enough to hunt it down and watch it though. :p

  • Magic_Cracker

    Yeah, I didn’t follow it either. To my mind, a Lawful Neutral character follows the letter of the law, regardless of of benefit or harm it may do, and while they’re not above blatantly manipulating the law to their own benefit, but they can sometime be moved to do so for the benefit of others. Furthermore, “Law” can be given to mean a written legal code or codes of honor, depending on the DM.

  • Well right, the organic nature of the alignment system– & you know, moral relativity– will keep geeks arguing about it forever. I just think he typed LN while thinking…something else.

  • Magic_Cracker

    True enough. For instance, my feeling is that a sufficiently intelligent or wise Neutral Evil character is indistinguishable from a Lawful Good (or any other alignment) character, provide s/he see some smidgen of self-interest in acting that way, while a Neutral Good character is often the most constrained because s/he has no excuses for not doing good, but I’ve had DMs who won’t let evil characters do good, ever, while letting good characters do pretty much whatever they want so long as they mean well.

    In the end, in D&D, might makes right, and the DM is the mightiest force there is.

  • Mark Z.

    Yes, I think we’re getting the Star War Backstroke of the West version. This isn’t Sasselov’s project. Sasselov is an astronomer. It’s a project from someone else* in the Origins of Life Institute** who had to explain it to Sasselov, and which he had to explain to an English major, who then edited their conversation down to about a hundred words.

    I suspect that the real project is along the lines of “build a cell with reversed DNA, just to see what happens”. That’s a really important project for the origins of life, because we don’t know why all life on Earth uses left-handed DNA (and right-handed sugars), and maybe there’s a reason it has to be that way. Also, it would be interesting to see the reversed bacteria interact with natural bacteria.*** But when you’re Director of the Origins of Life Institute at Harvard, and a reporter asks why you’re doing a certain project, “just to see what happens” is the wrong answer. People think you’re reanimating the dead or something. Then, when you explain that you’re not, they think you’re wasting millions of dollars not reanimating the dead.

    * I’ll bet ten bucks that it’s George Whitesides.
    ** For the non-academics: “Origins of Life Institute” sounds like it’s a glass-and-steel building at Harvard where white-coated geniuses pursue a grand project to recreate the early stages of evolution. In reality, it’s probably a group of researchers who meet for lunch once a month.
    *** Which would be written up for the public as “A new Harvard study shows that we were the evil mirror universe all along!”

  • Don’t most browsers have spellcheck built in these days? Chrome on OSX and Windows handles spell check for me, though OSX’s spell check is cross-application, which is very nice.

  • I a-zillion-percent agree with you; which is exactly the idea behind ethics, right? The rational way to act!

  • Magic_Cracker

    Except for Chaotic Neutral characters who, I think it’s fair to say, have no ethics, but rather follow their whims.

  • I think that there is an argument to be made that Neutral & Chaotic characters don’t take the long view, sure. Or that evil is irrational. But then we start dismantling the whole system, which is fine, but then, the system is FUN. I wrote a whole screed about DnD Alignments & Tom Bombadil a while back, for instance.

  • guest

    My vote is Sandi Toksvig.

  • Lori

    They do, and mine is supposedly on but suddenly neither disqus nor Firefox are actually checking my spelling. It’s both confusing and annoying.

  • Magic_Cracker

    In my current campaign, our illusionist recently changed from N to CN because walking the razor’s edge of neutral is really hard, while CN was more fun (until he let a mystery lady talk him into opening one of the city’s gates to an orc horde on the promise of unspecified future favors).

  • Yeah, that was a typo. Trying to type one thing while listening to something else. My apologies, I have corrected it.

  • I figured! You do make a fair point but then, I would still characterize Westeros as Lawful; individuals within it are not, but it isn’t as Chaotic as, say, above the Wall or as Neutral as the Free Cities.

  • It was infectious, too; I made a typo on Boing Boing shortly thereafter. About dragons!

  • Man, Captain Marvel is such a good example of doing it “right.” We should all be reppin’ her.

  • Also worth pointing out; that is Kimberly Kane, who is a big time Dungeons & Dragons nerd. From what I understand, all of those porn spoofs are made by people who actually LIKE the source material…which is a far cry from what Hollywood is like.

  • You can read a comic book blogger’s reviews of the director’s previous work:


  • Co-sign.

  • Well, it took them long enough. Carol’s history has been…unpleasant. Even avoiding the stuff that is potentially triggery, which I won’t mention, there’s the cycle of depowering/repowering/depowering her that she’s had to contend with. Don’t actually read her current comic, but I’m glad to hear she’s being handled well.