Memory in G Major

Most of the songs I write begin when I’m humming absently while doing math or reading a book. I’ll make something up for a little while, then find myself transitioning into a real song I know, and then start to improvise based on it, and then find myself transitioning into another song, and so on. Occasionally I make up a tune that sticks for some reason in my head, and then it becomes a theme that pops up now and then as I’m humming much like those real songs do.

“Memory in G Major” is something of a conglomeration of these different themes. The main theme suddenly appeared one day while I was playing around on the piano. It feels faintly familiar, but I can’t quite place it; it’s probably something I made up some time ago, or something based on a song I heard once. Then the second theme, which appears in four quite different forms, is actually the same as the second theme in “An Inciting Incident in E Minor“. It’s an old theme that’s been floating around my head for some time; I think I made it up, but I certainly can’t remember when. One variation of this theme is the same as the central motif in “An Experimentation with Chords in D“. And then there are several other little tunes and motives in there that I’ve played with many times before.

I suppose calling this song a “memory” fits because it’s made up of lots of little memories of themes and motifs and tunes. Yet I’m not quite sure that’s the title for it. I think the song has a strong feeling to it, but I can’t put my finger on what it is…just like I can’t recall the origins of all the themes in it, I guess.

Anyways, much like my other songs, it’s not very impressive…but like my other songs, I love it nevertheless. Below I have a recording of me playing it, as well as some sheet music I wrote up for it. I hope you enjoy it.

The sheet music

Higher Education in Egeld

Egeld doesn’t really have any institutions for higher education like universities. Rather, there are lots of independent teachers specializing in different subjects who individually accept, teach and are paid by students. So after a student completes their initial elementary education (usually at a local physical school), if they know the specific subject, the little niche, that they want to go into, they’ll find a master teacher on that subject. Then they’ll devise a plan of study to help them eventually be accepted into the teacher’s classes. Most master teachers publish recommendations for study before their courses to help guide such students. If, however, a student doesn’t know what they want to do, they would make a preliminary plan of study to help lead themselves to a decision of field.

Whatever the goal is, this plan of study would mostly include courses of various lengths from different independent teachers. Someone wanting to eventually take a master teacher’s class on how to combat government corruption in parliamentary democracies might take a year-long “Introduction to Parliamentary Government” course from one teacher; a 2-month statistics course from another teacher in a different city; a 3-month “Introduction to Governmental Reform” in another teacher in yet another city; a 6-month research project led by another teacher in another country; and so on. Each course would be hand-picked by the student from the huge selection of courses available to students in Egeld and in other countries – though of course they would probably get advice and would have to keep in mind limitations of expense, distance, and so on. Students usually find courses in huge, Yellow-Pages-style directories organized by subject. Elementary schools and government offices often have copies of these directories available for students to look at, or students can buy them if they have the money.

Each course requires it own application, which is generally read and judged by the teacher themselves. When a student is accepted, they generally need to pay the teacher an initial deposit before the course begins, and then the rest of the cost after the course is finished. Finally, if the student does well in their course, the teacher gives them a signed certificate saying so…which the student then usually includes with the application to the next course on their plan. Teachers will also often contact each other to get information about students they’re considering.

Additionally, most students supplement their courses by reading books, doing projects and internships, and so on. Students often write short summaries or response essays to books they’ve read to show that they’ve understood the material, and then sometimes include these responses in their applications. Other programs for students have processes similar to those of normal courses for applying, paying, and getting a pretty certificate once you’re finished.

Once a student believes that they have enough background in their chosen field, they can then apply to a master teacher for what’s called “comprehensive certification.” Once they’ve been accepted, the teacher will give a course on their very particular area of specialty. Then the teacher will also assign and judge various exams, papers, projects, and so on so their students can prove their knowledge in the whole field – not just their tiny area of specialty. Once the teacher has been satisfied, they will sign a “comprehensive certificate” saying that the student has a good working knowledge of the whole field with especial knowledge of the teacher’s own area. This is more or less like a degree.

Comprehensive certificates from some teachers require little work, while others require many years of study – it all depends on the teacher and the field. This makes higher education very flexible for Egeldish students. So say, for instance, that you’ve been studying for a year or two, aiming to eventually specialize in how to combat government corruption in parliamentary democracies, but you decide that you want to stop, settle down, and have a family soon. This is perfectly possible. You could just see what courses you’ve already taken and find a master teacher who could give you a comprehensive certificate in some field of political science given your amount of knowledge. Then you could always continue your studies later and get a better comprehensive certification. So this system allows for many levels of specialty and depth.

Now how do such students live and pay for all their courses and projects and whatnot? After all, teachers almost never provide housing or food or anything to their students. In general, students work at the same time as they’re enrolled in courses. Jobs in factories, on farms, as assistant teachers, and in the government are particularly common. Students usually live together in shared apartments, generally boarding-house-types where an established family supervises the students and cooks and cleans for them to some extent. Moving is very common, as most students need to go all over Egeld in order to take all the courses they want. As a result, students avoid having many possessions. Another result is that marriage among students is quite rare – even if two students were married, they would need to be separate for long periods of time in order to pursue their own studies, or they would have to take all the same courses. But even taking the same courses would be difficult, since the couple couldn’t be sure they’d both get accepted by a teacher. Even if a student had a spouse who wasn’t a student at the time, the spouse would have to move constantly. And certainly even married students leave their studies if they have children, except for a very adventurous few.

One more tricky thing is mail. Reliable mail service is important so students can contact and apply to teachers, receive replies, communicate with family and friends, and so on, but moving constantly makes delivering mail reliably rather difficult. So students generally pay the government in their home provinces for a “Student Mail Service.” All mail for them goes to the province’s central post office. The student can always go there and look at their mail. But then the post office will also send copies of their mail to whatever address the student is currently living at; whenever the student moves, they write to the post office and change the address to forward the copies to. Sending copies like this ensures that nothing important will get lost, since the original will always be at the central post office. (You can see why the major fire at the central post office of a northern Egeldish province in 1499 was such a problem.) However, the government-run mail service in Egeld is limited to letters, magazines, flyers, and other kinds of writing. You have to use a privately-run mail service in order to send other types of things.

Outline of the phonology of Thomoraii

This is part of the third incarnation of my language Thomoraii, otherwise known as Tǎi, Tą and Tâï (the current name is Thomoraii or Tǎi). My translations of a seakitty notice and a scene from Super Paper Mario are in the second version of Thomoraii, so they’re outdated at the moment. This rough phonology is the beginning of a new grammar of the modern, standard literary dialect of Obtobian Thomoraii.

Phonemes

Thomoraii has only 13 consonant phonemes. In their basic form:

Labial

Labiodental

Dental

Alveolar

Alveolar-Palatal

Velar

Glottal

Stop

Fricative

f

θ

s

h

Approximant

w

l

j

Trill

r

Nasal

m

n

But then Thomoraii has 15 vowel phonemes. These are generally divided into three sets – the basic set, the pharyngealized set, and the epiglottalized set. Thomoraii grammarians typically call the basic vowels the green vowels, the pharyngealized vowels the blue vowels, and the epiglottalized vowels the black vowels. I will be using this traditional terminology throughout this grammar.

Green vowels:

Front

Central

Back

Close

i

u

Close mid

o

Mid

Open mid

ɛ

Open

a

Blue vowels:

Front

Central

Back

Close

i

u

Close mid

Mid

ə

Open mid

ɛ

Open

a

Black vowels:

Front

Central

Back

Close

u

Close mid

e

ɵ

Mid

Open mid

ɛ

Open

a

The actual phonetic realization of a consonant depends on the color of the vowel nucleus of the syllable it’s in. In syllables with a monophthong nucleus, the nucleus determines the realization of both onset and coda. In syllables with a diphthong nucleus, however, the onset is determined by the first sound of the diphthong, and the coda is determined by the second sound of the diphthong.

Here’s a table of how consonant phonemes are realized according to the color of the determining vowel. In general, green vowels are associated with lack of voicing, blue vowels with retroflex place of articulation, and black vowels with voicing, but many phonemes break these patterns. Please also note that this chart only shows the general realization; there are a few more processes that occur after vowel color has its say.

Green

Blue

Black

p

b

ʈ

d

q

ɢ

h

ħ

ʔ

f

v

s

ʂ

z

j

j

ɰ

w

w

ɰ

l

ɭ

ɫ

r

ɻ

ɻ

n

ɳ

ŋ

m

m

θ

ʃ

d͡ʒ

The phonological processes that occur after vowel color determination vary by dialect. Here are a few of the major processes that occur in most modern Obtobian dialects.

/ai/ and /oi/ of any combination of colors are diphthongized
[kʰ] → [g] before blue /i ɛ u/
[h] → [h̰] before [i ɛ e] of all colors
A single vowel following [h̰] is nasalized
Doubled consonants are not geminated

Phonotactics

Most syllables are CV or VC, with any consonants being allowed in the consonant slots. However, there are several other possible syllable shapes, too:

CV(/s r m n t θ/), e.g. [tʰas], [baŋ], [joʃ]
[stop]/r/V, e.g. [tʰra], [dɻa]
/s/[stop]V, e.g. [stʰa], [zda]
V, but this syllable shape is rare in roots – it’s mostly found in inflected words and loanwords

Stress

Stress patterns vary significantly by dialect. This grammar, however, will assume typical Obtobian stress, which is always initial.

Romanization

Thomoraii is rather tricky to romanize, since if you do it phonetically, there are too many sounds to be able to elegantly represent them. But if you do it phonemically, the romanization does not clearly show what the actual pronunciation is. Since neither is ideal, this grammar will use a phonetic romanization when it is important to emphasize how something is pronounced, and will use a phonemic romanization in all other cases.

Phonemic Romanization

pʰ <p>
tʰ <t>
kʰ <k>
h <h>
f <f>
s <s>
j <y>
w <w>
l <l>
r <r>
n <n>
m <m>
θ <sh>

Green

Blue

Black

i <i>

i <ǐ>

e <î>

u <u>

u <ǔ>

u <û>

o <o>

ə <ǒ>

ɵ <ô>

ɛ <e>

ɛ <ě>

ɛ <ê>

a <a>

a <ǎ>

a <â>

Phonetic Romanization

Vowels are romanized in the same way as in the phonemic transcription.

pʰ <ph>
p <p>
b <b>
tʰ <t>
ʈ <ţ>
d <d>
kʰ <k>
q <q>
ɢ <qh>
h <h>
ħ <hh>
ʔ <‘>
f <f>
v <v>
vˠ <vg>
s <s>
ʂ <ş>
z <z>
j <y>
ɰ <yg>
w <w>
l <l>
ɭ <ļ>
ɫ <lg>
r <r>
ɻ <ŗ>
n <n>
ɳ <ņ>
ŋ <ng>
m <m>
mˠ <mg>
θ <th>
ʃ <sh>
d͡ʒ <j>

How to record your computer’s sound output (on Windows) with Audacity, Virtual Audio Cable and SoundLeech

Update on 12 August 2014: In the comments, Riverlandsmj alerted me to another, simpler way to record your computer’s sound output while still playing it through normal speakers. I added this method below and generally revamped the article. Thanks!

This is a tricky question I’ve bumped up against multiple times. What if I want to record my computer’s sound output? I can use the microphone to record what’s coming out of the speakers…but there’s naturally going to be a large loss of quality, since the sound has to go through both my bad speakers and my bad microphone. It would be much better to to have software on my computer directly record what’s coming out of my computer. If you do a little searching, you’ll find lots of people saying, “Oh, just use Audacity and select ‘Stereo Mix’ or something of the sort as the microphone!” Sorry…but not all computers support that – including mine! You will probably also find various programs that promise to record sound output…but that you have to, like, pay for. Which perhaps is fine if you intend to be recording sound output a lot, but not for me, who only needs to once in a while. But despair not! There is a free solution. In fact, there are THREE!

I’m going to show you the three methods I’ve come across, in order of how good I think they are. First, you can use Audacity, which is fairly simple, works in all situations, and lets you still output your computer’s sound through your normal speakers/headphones/whatever it is. Secondly, you can use VB-Audio Virtual Cable (catchy name, I know), which also works dependably, but is more complicated to use and can’t keep playing your sound normally unless you install extra programs. Finally, there’s SoundLeech, which is very simple to use and lets you still output your sound normally, but doesn’t work in all situations.

Audacity

This lovely open-source sound recording and editing program runs on Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and 8, and is also available for other platforms, though the protocol for recording sound output is probably different on different operating systems. A feature was recently added that lets you choose a sound output device as an input device – so for instance, you can choose your speakers as your microphone. Let’s see how this works.

First of all, let’s download Audacity:

Audacity Free Audio Editor and Recorder - Google Chrome_2014-08-12_17-25-57

Once you’ve downloaded the file, run the installer:

Downloads_2014-08-12_17-31-03

Tell Windows that you really do want to run the installer:

Open File - Security Warning_2014-08-12_17-32-34

You may need to tell Windows again that you really, honestly, do want to run the installer, but eventually you should get to the language selection dialog.

Select Setup Language_2014-08-12_17-39-54

Now just follow the dialogs to install Audacity. When you’re done, open it up if you haven’t already.

Greenshot_2014-08-12_17-41-33

Now look at the upper left corner, at the bar right underneath the controls for stopping, pausing, etc. Do you see that first drop-down box, the one that says “MME” right now?

Audacity_2014-08-12_17-45-28

Click on it and choose “Windows WASAPI”.

Audacity_2014-08-12_17-45-58

Now move over to the third drop-down box, the one with a little microphone next to it. Choose the sound output device that you want to record sound from – probably your speakers.

Audacity_2014-08-12_17-46-41

Start recording by clicking on the big, round red button. Don’t worry if nothing much happens at first.

Audacity_2014-08-12_17-47-51

Now start playing whatever you want to record through the sound output device you picked (again, probably your speakers), check back, and there you go! Audacity is recording your sound output even as you’re hearing it.

Greenshot_2014-08-12_17-51-59

If you want to change the volume of what you’re recording, you’ll need to change the volume in the program playing the sound; changing the volume of your speakers or whatever other output device you chose won’t make a difference, in my experience.

Greenshot_2014-08-12_17-54-29

You can also always use Audacity’s “Amplify” effect once you’re done recording to change the volume.

Greenshot_2014-08-12_17-58-03

Both Riverlandsmj and I experienced some problems with the sound dropping out occasionally while recording this way, particularly at the beginning of recording, which seems to be because Audacity has a different default sampling rate than our sound cards. To fix this, Riverlandsmj suggests changing the sampling rate on your speakers to the same level as Audacity’s, like this. Go to the system tray in the bottom right corner of your screen, and find the volume control. Right-click on it and choose “Playback devices”.

_2014-08-12_18-01-28

Select the speaker in question, and then choose “Properties” below.

Sound_2014-08-12_18-02-15

Now go to the “Advanced” tab…

Speakers Properties_2014-08-12_18-02-47

…and in the first drop-down box, pick “24 bit, 44100 Hz (Studio Quality)”.

Speakers Properties_2014-08-12_18-04-40

Click “OK” below, and hopefully this will fix the problem!

Speakers Properties_2014-08-12_18-04-49

 

If it doesn’t, you can try opening up Audacity, then going to Edit > Preferences > Quality and seeing what the “Default Sample Rate” is. Then you can change your speakers’ rate to be the same, as I demonstrated above.

Preferences Quality_2014-08-15_10-52-18

VB-Audio Virtual Cable

Okay, on to VB-Cable! As I mentioned earlier, this program works consistently, but it’s trickier to use and you can’t output sound through a speaker while you’re recording from it. VB-Cable is supposed to work on Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8. It basically works by pretending to Windows that it’s some speakers and also pretending that it’s a microphone. Then, if you tell Windows to output to VB-Cable’s “speakers,” VB-Cable will send whatever goes into those speakers to the VB-Cable “microphone.” So if you use a recording program – Audacity or whatever else – and select the VB-Cable “microphone” to record, you’ll get whatever is being sent to the VB-Cable “speakers.” I’ll demonstrate below by trying to record Windows Media Player playing an MIDI file using Audacity.

First we’ll need to download VB-Cable from its beautiful website:

VB-Audio Virtual Cable - Google Chrome_2014-01-09_07-16-19

You’ll get a .zip file. Extract it somewhere, look inside, and you’ll see…a lot of stuff. Never mind all that. Look at readme.txt if you want to. Then, if you have a 32-bit version of Windows, right-click on VBCABLE_Setup.exe and choose “Run as administrator;” or, if you have a 64-bit version, right-click VBCABLE_Setup_x64.exe and choose “Run as administrator.”

VBCABLEDriver_Pack42b_2014-01-09_07-17-52

If you’re not sure what sort of operating system you have, open up the Start Menu and go to “Control Panel,” then “System,” and look at “System type” under “System.”

All Control Panel Items_2014-01-09_07-18-50

System_2014-01-09_07-18-59

(I know, I don’t have a very impressive computer.)

Windows will make sure you really want to run this program – click “Yes.” Now click “Install Driver” to actually start installing VB-Cable. It may say it’s not responding for a while, but that’s fine.

VB-Audio Virtual Cable Driver Installation (Version 1.0.3.2)_2014-01-09_07-21-22

Windows will make sure you want to install VB-Cable’s drivers – these are its fake speakers and microphone. Click “Yes,” and there you go! You might want to restart after finishing, as the program tells you to, but I got away with not rebooting, at any rate.

VBCABLE Installation_2014-01-09_07-22-12

Now let’s see what VB-Cable can really do! First, right-click on the volume control in the system try and choose “Playback Devices.”

_2014-01-09_07-26-56

Click on the sound device called “CABLE Input” (that’s VB-Cable’s fake speakers) and click “Set Default” below.

Sound_2014-01-09_07-28-02

Now all sound the computer outputs will be sent to VB-Cable, which VB-Cable will then promptly send to its fake microphone, which you can see if you click on the “Recording” tab.

Sound_2014-01-09_07-28-58

So, let’s open Audacity and choose “CABLE Output” as the microphone…

Audacity_2014-01-09_07-29-48

Start recording…

Audacity_2014-01-09_07-30-14

Now I can open up my MIDI file in Windows Media Player and let it play, and when I check in Audacity – ah yes, it’s recording the sound produced by Windows Media Player!

Greenshot_2014-01-09_07-33-26

To finish off, I can stop recording in Audacity, save the file, etc., then right-click on the volume control and pick “Playback devices” again, and set my normal speakers as default again.

Sound_2014-01-09_07-34-25

This reveals one problem with VB-Cable – you can’t record sound output with VB-Cable and listen to it at the same time, since Windows is sending the sound to VB-Cable instead of actual speakers. If you want to listen while recording sound output, you could, again, try the Audacity or SoundLeech methods.

SoundLeech

So there’s also SoundLeech, the simplest program, which runs on Windows XP, Vista and 7 (not sure about Windows 8). Here’s the basic idea: When it’s running and you tell it to “start leeching,” it tries to detect any programs playing sound, and then records what they’re playing to a .wav file. The problem is that it doesn’t always detect programs playing sound – it only seems to support some programs. So if you’d rather not mess with Audacity or VB-Cable, you could try SoundLeech, but it’s a bit less flexible and doesn’t work 100% of the time. I think SoundLeech is pretty straightforward, and the developer also has some info on how to use it on his website, so I won’t demonstrate it here.

Conclusion

And there you have it! I am very happy that I finally found some good solutions for this problem. Hopefully they will be useful to you too!

An Inciting Incident in E Minor

This almost-six-minute song marks my second wild venture into the world of instrumental composition. I first wrote it for a piano, a D pennywhistle, and a low A pennywhistle (a version that’s currently in F# minor). But then I recently arranged it for piano, D pennywhistle, and cello, and decided that version was superior and therefore definitive. In this song I experiment a bit with modulating between keys and including notes outside of the key signature (how bold!), and I’m also a little more adventurous in my harmony than I’ve been before. This being said, I do not think my harmony is adventurous by objective standards; the pennywhistle and the cello, for instance, spend a great deal of their time switching off, and one hand of the piano spends it days just playing simple chords over and over. And in general, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I know a few basic things about what chords are and what intervals are supposed to be consonant or dissonant…but I certainly have very, very little in the way of training in composition or even in just plain music theory. I have only my ears, a piano, a pennywhistle and some music notation software. As usual, I would happily accept constructive criticism or any other help with my songwriting if you are willing to give it.

I call this song “An Inciting Incident in E Minor,” and there’s a bit of a story behind it. A woman (the pennywhistle) and a man (the cello) are fighting (the key of E minor), even though they can both see how they might be able to be happy together again (G major). What they don’t realize is that there’s something far more sinister (B major, represented by its emissary the B major chord) that’s looming over them, something that they should be working together to combat. I imagine this song being the first part (the first movement?) of a larger work – it is, after all, only the inciting incident. The second part would be about the woman and her backstory; the third part would be about the man and his backstory; and finally the fourth part would be about them confronting the key of B major. I already know about both their backstories (because who doesn’t have backstories worked out for the instruments in their compositions, right?), but I doubt I would be able to write the fourth part anytime soon with all its harmonic instability and key mushiness. I already have a germ of an idea for the second part, though.

So here is a recording of my song and the sheet music for it. Unfortunately, I don’t own a low A pennywhistle and I don’t play or own a cello, so at the moment I can’t record an actual performance of it. I’m hoping to eventually get my hands on a low A pennywhistle and record the two-pennywhistles version, but I doubt I’ll be able to record the version with the pennywhistle and cello unless a friend of mine that plays cello wants to learn it. So for now you’ll have to make do with an MIDI version of this song. Below I have an MP3 recording of the song as synthesized on my computer, and I also have a link for downloading the original MIDI file if you want to synthesize it yourself. Finally, you can download the sheet music if you want. And if anybody is interested in the version with two pennywhistles, please comment or contact me, and I would be happy to post it or send it to you!

The MIDI file
The sheet music

The Thomoraii calendar

Unlike Earth, Sheesania has years of about 411.68 days. (The length of each day is different from the length of an Earth day, also, but I’m not going to address that in this article.) Different Sheesanian cultures have measured years differently, but one of the most sophisticated Sheesanian calendars in common use today is the Thomoraii calendar. Its ancestor was a calendar created in the early days of the Thomoraii empire to help make administration easier. Later on, as it became more and more clear that the calendar didn’t quite align with the year, the famous Thomoraii emperor Amjâi commissioned some scholars working for him to revamp the calendar and make it more accurate. Their final result, more or less, has been used for hundreds of years in Thomoraii and is still very common today, though the Uniatic calendar is also widely in use in Thomorai.

This calendar divides the year into 21 months – 11 cold and dry months and 10 hot and wet months. The first 20 months each have 20 days, and the last month has 12 days. Every three years, about two days of the last month are lost to compensate for that fraction of a day in the length of a Sheesanian year. Years are counted from what’s considered the foundation of the Thomoraii empire – Emperor Fesǎnsolai’s official establishment of his capital in Ôbtobâi. The current Thomoraii year is 2219.

Then there are names for each week in a month – the first week, the second week, etc. – and the days of the week. To refer to a specific day of the month, you can combine the name of the week with the name of the day of the week. So for example, here’s what the first month of the year, Yakaʔîri Nǔmiâira or the Month of Nŭmiâir, would look like.

Dâhwegǔa

Dâḣǎtěǎ

Dâhnǔǎ

Dâhsela

Bâlfaia

Bâlfaia-Dâhwegǔa

Bâlfaia-Dâḣǎtěǎ

Bâlfaia-Dâhnǔǎ

Bâlfaia-Dâhsela

Bâlnǔǎ

Bâlnǔǎ-Dâhwegǔa

Bâlnǔǎ-Dâḣǎtěǎ

Bâlnǔǎ-Dâhnǔǎ

Bâlnǔǎ-Dâhsela

Bâlǐma

Bâlǐma-Dâhwegǔa

Bâlǐma-Dâḣǎtěǎ

Bâlǐma-Dâhnǔǎ

Bâlǐma-Dâhsela

Bâlôâ

Bâlôâ-Dâhwegǔa

Bâlôâ-Dâḣǎtěǎ

Bâlôâ-Dâhnǔǎ

Bâlôâ-Dâhsela

Bâlȟia

Bâlȟia-Dâhwegǔa

Bâlȟia-Dâḣǎtěǎ

Bâlȟia-Dâhnǔǎ

Bâlȟia-Dâhsela

In colloquial speech, you’d probably leave the “bâl” off the names of the weeks – bâl just means “week” – and you’d also probably leave the “dâh” off the names of the days of the week – again, dâh just means “day.” However, more commonly in colloquial speech, you’d refer to a day of the month using its name in the Thomoraii lunar calendar. Here’s an example of what names you might give to the days of the Month of Nŭmiâir according to the lunar calendar.

Dâhwegǔa

Dâḣǎtěǎ

Dâhnǔǎ

Dâhsela

Bâlfaia

Šǎnšǒm

Šǎnǐbâ

Šǎnět

Šǎnwâo

Bâlnǔǎ

Šǎněsa

Šǎnǔwa

Ḣǎk

Ḣǎkfe

Bâlǐma

Ḣǎkšǒm

Ḣǎgǐbâ

Ḣǎgět

Ḣǎkwâo

Bâlôâ

Ḣǎgěsa

Ḣǎgǔwa

Dêeli

Dêešǒm

Bâlȟia

Dêibâ

Dêět

Dêewâo

Dêěsa

So when would you use the solar calendar and when would you use the lunar calendar? In general, you’d use the solar calendar for names of weeks, days of the week, and months, but the lunar calendar for the names of days of the month. You’d only use the solar calendar for days of the month if you were trying to be very formal or very accurate, or sometimes if you wanted it to be easier in the future to tell where a day was in the month. For instance, newspaper articles in Thomoraii generally use the solar calendar for days of the month, since they want to make it easier for researchers in the future to keep track of when specific articles were published.

Here’s a PDF of a complete calendar, including names for days of the month according to the lunar calendar, for the Thomoraii year 2219. This calendar also shows the name of each month.

I won Camp NaNo!

2014-Winner-Facebook-CoverThis month I’ve faced many trials: stubborn narrators, confusing symbolism, disobedient characters, writer’s block, fear that what I’m writing is rather boring, and most of all, tricky questions of font choice. But in the end I managed to write 30,000 words as I challenged myself to at the start of July. In fact, I wrote 30,135 words, and I did it in only 25 days!

My resulting draft is only the beginning of the novel – there’s still a lot more to go – and it has a lot of problems. I need to do some major rethinking about how I’m going to present some aspects of the story, and I need to wrangle my narrator into shape, too – he sounds much too young and much too gloomy. (I have discovered that it is very wearing for me to write a story that’s so serious all the time.) But I still like the idea, and I feel like my draft has some promise. There are scenes in there that I’m proud of, even if they’re kind of awkward right now.

So can I read it?? you ask. Not yet! Not nearly yet! This is probably the most unpolished draft I’ve ever written, but I’m proud of that fact – I generally find it very difficult to put something bad down on paper, but this NaNo I managed to keep going, keep writing, keep pressing on even when I wasn’t completely sure that last paragraph actually had anything to do with anything. However, I’m hoping to keep working on this story, and if I manage to finish it and get it into decent shape, perhaps you will be able to read it.

Anyways, now that I’ve finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ll return to posting something here at least every week. As always, if there’s something you’re particularly interested in hearing me write about – something about Sheesania, something about books, something about religion, whatever – let me know.

Moral Dilemmas and Human Weakness

Warning: This essay brings up quite a few questions, but it doesn’t really give any clear-cut answers. So if you hate it when an author does that to you, don’t read it! Also, I’m writing to a Christian audience that already believes we should, more or less, take the Bible literally. So I’m not going to take time arguing for why to believe this; I’m just going to assume that you do already and work from there. Of course, even if you don’t believe in Biblical literalism, you might still enjoy the essay.

Imagine that you are a Christian living in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation. You have compassion on the Jews there that are suffering under the Nazis, so, wishing to help the poor and oppressed as the Bible charges you to, you hide a Jewish family in your home. Now imagine a group of Nazi secret police show up at your door one day and ask flat-out, “Are there any Jews in this house?” Well, yes, there are. But are you going to tell them and so compromise the safety of the people you are trying to protect? Or will you lie? You could try to avoid the question or answer it in a misleading way – for instance, you could say, “No, there are no Jews here,” reasoning to yourself that “here” doesn’t necessarily mean the whole house. But if the police are being careful, they will keep pressing until you have to give a straight answer or else reveal that you’re trying to hide something. And you may not be able to think of a cleverly misleading response in the heat of the moment. So what should you do? Lie and presumably save a life? Or tell the truth and presumably condemn a life?

The world is full of confusing moral questions like this. You might be able to somehow explain away the lying problem above – for instance, by citing the example of the Hebrew midwives that “feared God” who lied to Pharaoh when he asked why they were letting the Hebrew baby boys live. But even if you can deal with one question, there are many, many more that still remain. For instance, is it alright to kill an evil man – say, a ruler who is executing thousands of people without any justification – in order to save other people’s lives? Is it right under God’s law to abort a baby if, as far as you can see, both the mother and the baby will die if you don’t? What can you do to answer these difficult questions in a way that glorifies God and upholds His truth and law?

Many people argue that we must just follow the law literally and trust God to work out everything for good. After all, you can’t be completely sure that telling the truth to the secret police, or letting the evil ruler live, or not aborting the baby will end badly, because God can take care of those situations and make them work out for good. And even if things do turn out badly, God won’t hold you responsible according to this way of looking at things, since you did your part and obeyed the law in faith. When you decide to take things into your own hands and lie or kill or do something else against the law, on the other hand, you are not having faith in God, one could say. Rather, you’re relying on your own prediction of what bad thing will happen and your own judgment of what wrong thing is therefore right to do, and so trying to do good by your own strength. You could see it this way: God gave us a set of laws that serve as limits to what we can righteously do. If we cannot achieve a worthy goal – such a stopping the murderous activities of an evil ruler – within those limits, then evidently God doesn’t mean for us to achieve it. So instead we should in faith leave it to God to figure out another way to further good, whether that involves accomplishing the goal some other way or not. If we rather insist on reaching that goal, even though it requires breaking God’s law, we are, according to this view, arrogantly putting our judgment of what’s important to accomplish above the limits God has established.

The problem with this response is that it tells us to ignore our God-given common sense in order to stick to a literal law – a law that we may very well be misinterpreting in an effort to have faith in God without allowing ourselves to be led astray by our fallen intellect! Now, we are indeed fallen, and so our minds are corrupted and tend towards evil. But God gave us minds back in the day before the Fall, so there must be something good about them. And even now after the Fall, God very often appeals to our sense of logic and reason in the Bible – take Paul’s careful theological arguments in his epistles, for one. And we are to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. So while we need to be careful to not let our minds get in the way of faith, we must also be careful to not let our concern with maintaining our faith to get in the way of using our minds for good. It is a delicate balance. The above response to moral dilemmas, now, encourages us to suppress our minds in an effort to have faith. Is this a time when we should be keeping our minds from obstructing our faith? It’s hard to know, for, as I said, it is a delicate balance.

Some other people fall on the opposite side of the balance and say that this business of following the law literally is ridiculous. We’ll cause much harm by taking everything literally, they say, missing the spirit of the law in order to follow the letter of the law. In this way they commendably try to prevent the foolish, empty legalism that God so often condemns in the Bible. But many of these people then throw out absolute morality altogether and say that good and evil is completely relative – sometimes killing someone is evil, and sometimes it’s good; sometimes lying is evil and sometimes it’s good; etc. – nothing is innately good or evil. And when you say that anything can be either right or wrong, it just depends on the context, eventually you have to ask, “Well, what makes something right or wrong in the first place?” But in this system there are no absolutes of rightness and wrongness…so is there really any right or wrong in the first place? If you take this relativistic morality to its natural extent, you end up having no right or wrong at all. And that definitely contradicts the Bible, which is full of moral judgments and statements of absolute truth. Relativism also puts our sinful minds in charge of what’s right and wrong, and ignores or at least sidelines what God has to say on the issue. So while the approach of following the Bible literally and blindly trusting God may be foolishly suppressing our minds, this approach elevates our reason to a point where we must dispose of absolute right and wrong altogether. Neither is fully satisfactory.

Still other people, not wanting to have the shortsightedness that seems to result from a strictly literal obedience, but also not wanting to succumb to relativism, try another route. They rank God’s commands by importance – for instance, they might rank “Do not murder” above “Speak the truth to each other” – and then say that when we are faced with a situation where two commands seem to conflict, the right thing to do is to disobey the lesser one in order to follow the higher one. But disobeying the lesser one is not wrong, since we are only obligated to pursue the greater good. Quoting Norman L. Geisler: “God does not blame us for what we could not avoid. Thus he exempts us from responsibility to follow the lower law in view of the overriding obligation to obey the higher law.” (From http://equip.org/articles/any-absolutes-absolutely-/) In this view, there are still absolutes, since there is an absolute hierarchy of laws. Others say that there is only one absolute law – the law of love – and so that always comes first.

But these approaches nevertheless put an outside, human-created framework on the laws of the Bible. The system of ranking God’s commands imposes a hierarchy on His laws that Scripture never fully develops, if at all, and the “law of love” system demotes the other laws given in the Bible. They say, “Well, the Word of God seems to say this, but we smart and reasonable humans have figured out that actually you should interpret it like this.” Again we are forced to ask: how much should we use our God-given but fallen minds, and how much should we set them aside and focus on having a simple faith? And again I say: it is a delicate balance. Our arrogance constantly pushes us towards saying, “No! We can figure things out with our own minds!”, while our tendency to control and regulate ourselves in a hopeless effort to combat sin, to say “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” as Paul writes in Colossians 2:21, pushes us towards restraining our minds and fearfully enslaving ourselves to worthless rules. What is tipping is the balance? What is crossing the line? Different people come to different conclusions.

To me, it seems that the relativistic approach is definitely out; taken to its logical conclusion, it flaunts the moral judgments that pervade the Bible and just does not fit with our natural sense of right and wrong, the law written on our hearts discussed in Romans 2:15. The approach of literally following the Bible and seeking faith over reason, on the other hand, appears much more Biblical. After all, there are many times in the Bible when God tells people who believe in Him to do things that seem foolish or even evil, requiring them to have faith. Consider the story in Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, for instance. But this approach is still is difficult for me to accept. It seems foolish and legalistic to insist on following rules such as those to not deceive when things that seem more important are at stake, like people’s lives. Yet when I find this approach difficult to accept, is it because God has gifted me with a thoughtful mind, or is it because my sinful nature is resisting the idea of having to trust God more and trust myself less? How can I tell? Meanwhile, the approaches I discussed that try to take the middle road – the system of hierarchical commands and the “law of love” – also seem much more Scripturally tenable than relativism. But they still do not satisfy me because they, like relativism, elevate humans to a position where we can interpret the law in non-obvious ways. Is this a right position? Maybe. I don’t know.

Or maybe I’m approaching this issue in an unhelpful way in the first place; maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Perhaps there is not One Big Answer to these moral dilemmas, one all-purpose strategy for dealing with them. Perhaps we should approach each separately, studying the morality of lying to save lives apart from the morality of killing to save lives, for instance. Or maybe God meant to not give us all the answers, so we would have to rely on Him in moments of crisis instead of comfortably working out a whole ethical system beforehand. But again, I don’t know.

This brings me once more to the theme that seems to pervade this question of how to handle moral dilemmas: should we rely more on intellect or on faith? How much should we second-guess and re-interpret and explain ourselves out of literalness and build fallible human systems for understanding the Bible, and how much should we set aside logic and the principles of the world and go forth in blind faith and stubbornly stick to literalness even when it goes against common sense? How much should we qualify God’s commands and say, “Well, you don’t have to do it in this situation” and build systems of exceptions and special cases, and how much should we insist on absolute, literal obedience even when it seems downright stupid? How much should we trust in our predictions of the future and our ability to successfully avert “greater” evil by doing “lesser” evil, and how much should we just do whatever we’re sure we should be doing and leave the future entirely to God and rely on Him to work everything out? How much is arrogance and how much is foolishness? How much is indifference and how much is fanaticism? How much is eleven divided by zero?

Clearly, these questions are not easy to answer. But they can make us aware of one of our human weaknesses: our tendency to either arrogantly elevate our minds or foolishly and fearfully suppress them. And when we are aware of our weaknesses, we can more easily take them to God and say: “Look, here I am, a very messed up human being. Can You please give me the grace to deal with these weaknesses? Because I know I can’t.” Unfathomable questions like these can remind us that we can’t do everything and remind us to ultimately rely on God. And so however we choose to explore them, and however we try to answer them, we should do it in a humble manner, sensitive to what God is saying, aware of our weaknesses, eager to seek grace to compensate for them. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Even if we can never find all the answers, God will ultimately be glorified.

Marriage Among Scholars in the Thomoraii Empire

I recently had to write a paper on marriage for school. This got me thinking about marriage customs and kinship systems, and so guess what happened? I ended up creating my own! Then I found myself facing the tricky question of how on earth such a structure could ever develop in a human society. Unfortunately, I first encountered this problem while trying to go to sleep and lost a good hour or two of sleep as a result. Fortunately, I did come up with an answer in the end. Here it is. By the way, feel free to skip the long paragraphs of introduction and just read the explanation of the system itself if you feel so inclined.

Traditional Thomoraii marriage and the evolution of pledge marriage

In the rainforest islands of Thomorai back in the days before civilization, when most people lived as part of wandering tribes, marriage was primarily done through a straightforward system of exogamy – marrying outside your group. Once a generation of young men from a tribe had reached adulthood, they would go into the jungle and live together for a while. They would travel around hunting and collecting food, and occasionally stay with other tribes to trade – and also look for wives. Once a young man had found a woman from another tribe that he wanted to marry, he would go through a ceremony of promising allegiance to her tribe. The couple would then live together in that tribe for the rest of their lives. Intermarriage like this generally worked out pretty well – for one, it helped to keep the tribes from killing each other in conflicts over land and resources, since if you started a war you would probably end up killing your own relatives.

However, some of the people from these tribes eventually began to settle down in towns. These settlements were initially trade hubs, places where members from lots of different tribes could meet together to exchange goods. But soon people staying in the towns began to do agriculture, too, planting particular valuable crops and raising animals, and they developed specialized crafts like carpentry to help in agriculture. In these towns, the tribes were all jumbled together or were split up with some members living in towns and some still living traditionally in the jungle. As members of different tribes got used to living in the same place, and as people got used to living separately from the rest of their tribe, the old tribal groups became less and less defined. It became less and less important for them to try to avoid conflict by allying with each other through intermarriage.

Meanwhile, what people were looking for in marriage was changing, too. In an old, traditional marriage (called a “house marriage” today in Thomorai), a person would choose a spouse out of attraction or some other romantic inclination. Then the man would pledge loyalty to the woman’s tribe and marry her. Following this, the wife and the husband would take on different roles – the wife would take care of children, cook, and do other jobs close to her home, and the husband would hunt, fight if need be, and do other jobs that were dangerous or farther away from his home. They would spend most of the day away from each other pursuing their different jobs, and each spouse was not expected to be involved or even take any interest in the other’s tasks. Any children would be expected to obey their parents until they were adults. At this point they would still be expected to respect their parents and other elders, but they could do pretty much whatever they wanted otherwise. Divorce was also fairly easy in a house marriage, though once a man had pledged allegiance to a tribe in a marriage ceremony, he was expected to stay within that tribe even if he got divorced. So if he wanted to remarry, he would need to marry another woman from that same tribe.

However, in the new towns and cities, women had many more opportunities to do business, run farms, or pursue other things, and they wanted more freedom from the traditional strict gender roles. Additionally, men now usually spent most of their time working at home running a farm or a business, and consequently had to spend a great deal more time in their wives’ company. So many of them wanted to find spouses that, for one, they genuinely enjoyed being around, but preferably also someone who could help them in their work. Also, in large towns without strong tribes where you had to look out for yourself, it became more and more important to have people that you could depend on – like a wife or a husband who worked well with you and who couldn’t easily divorce you.

And so a new type of marriage, which people (rather confusingly) called “pledge marriage”, developed. Instead of choosing someone for a spouse that you happened to be in love with, you would try to choose somebody whose temperament and personality worked well with yours. Romance was beside the point. Then, instead of having the husband promise loyalty to the woman’s tribe, both partners pledged loyalty to each other. After you were married, you were expected to work together and be thoroughly involved in each other’s lives. Yes, many of the old gender roles were still followed – women still usually worked at home and men still usually worked jobs that involved more interaction with people outside of the home. But husband and wife were expected to advise each other and help each other with their jobs. Additionally, the children of such a marriage were supposed to participate in their parents’ jobs, too. If you had a business, your children of a pledge marriage would all be expected to work in the business and inherit it after you died. Divorce was also much more difficult in a pledge marriage than in a house marriage – you could generally only leave your spouse if he or she was significantly unfaithful or abusive, much like a man could only be released from his pledge to a tribe if the tribe betrayed him or mistreated him badly.

This new type of marriage became very common among the middle and high classes in cities, even as house marriages continued at the same time. In fact, it was fairly common in rich families to have multiple marriages. You could only ever have one pledge marriage at a time, but you could have multiple house marriages at the same time. It was much more common for men to have multiple wives than for women to have multiple husbands – mostly since then there was the issue of figuring out who was the father of a child – but both did happen.

Scholarly societies and their role in marriage

Meanwhile, many of the members of these middle and high classes were joining scholarly societies to study history, philosophy, science and other subjects that were flourishing at the time. At this point technology like writing, papermaking, and even simple bookmaking had been developed. More and more families in the cities were getting rich, too, and so more and more of them could afford to let a child or two dedicate his or her life (because these people were often women) to study. At this time in history, these societies were usually quite small, as cities were still not that populous and most people were not interested in spending lots of money and effort getting an impractical education. This caused some problems when a member of a society wished to marry another scholar (as many did), but there weren’t very many people in his or her society to choose from. Also, people in scholarly societies were often related to each other, particularly in the early days when only a few rich families could let their children spend their days studying esoteric ideas.

So scholars began to travel to other cities and visit other societies looking for educated spouses. There had already been quite a bit of visiting of other scholarly societies in order to share ideas or get information from a particular authority, but when scholars started to visit different societies searching for marriage partners, it increased significantly. All this moving around and interaction between scholars of different societies and backgrounds led to wonderfully fruitful sharing and cross-pollination of ideas. Scholarly societies began to form connections with each other and exchange teachers and students so people could learn more. Those with knowledge shared it with more people, and scholars from different cities collaborated on projects. It was at this point, even before the formation of the Thomoraii empire, that Thomorai truly began its great tradition of study and research.

Soon many of these scholarly societies started to help arrange marriages between their members. Many societies had different strategies for finding potential spouses who could work well together, but who would also be able to exchange ideas and learn from each other. (In fact, some areas of Thomoraii psychology were first founded by people trying to figure out ways to match-make effectively.) By the time the Thomoraii empire was founded, virtually all scholars who wished to marry had marriages arranged for them by their societies.

Later on, the emperor Amjâi the Great combined all the scholarly societies in his empire (which now consisted of all of Thomorai except for Kafa Monica) into one huge organization, then formed an elected council to run it. This council eventually decided on one standard system for arranging marriages between scholars (though it determined other parts of their lives as well), which would be used for hundreds of years until the dissolution of the Thomoraii empire. Their system required a great deal of travel (they were hoping to encourage the exchange of ideas this way), which was reasonably easy in the peaceful and prosperous Thomoraii empire. The prosperity of the empire also gave plenty of people the opportunity to become scholars – people with lots of money could support scientists, writers, thinkers and so on that they liked, or they could pay for their own studies. Eventually, however, the Thomoraii empire fell apart after a long war with Unia and Santa Meluna, and the old system had to be given up. But remnants of it are still in use today.

The system

Here, finally, is the system of descent groups and marriage restrictions that was used by Thomoraii scholars in the days of the Thomoraii empire. As far as I can tell, it’s technically a “subsection system” – a societal structure where people are divided into different groups based on their ancestry, and then there are rules about what groups are allowed to intermarry. (The Wikipedia article on Australian Aboriginal kinship, a system which was part of the inspiration for this one, may be enlightening.) However, this kinship system determines a lot more than just who you can marry.

First of all, it determines where you’ll grow up, or at least where you’ll get a degree (I’ll discuss this more later). This place can be one of five Thomoraii islands – Ôbtobâi, Kishmorai, Kakabâi, Piskovǎi, or Alashtian. (There are another two Thomoraii islands, Alaqǎwai and Kafa Monica. But Alaqǎwai had no real scholarly tradition to work with when this system was developed, and Kafa Monica has always been considered thoroughly barbaric by most Thomoraiis.) Secondly, your place in the kinship system determines your general area of study. This can be one of five subjects:

1. Hoipiǎir, or philosophy. Religion, some kinds of psychology, and some branches of linguistics are also included in hoipiǎir – pretty much anything that has to do primarily with the mind, the soul, the heart, and other mushy, invisible, spiritual things.

2. Tôhǎqsiâ, or the study of people, though it’s usually translated as “history”. It includes history, anthropology, genealogy, politics and many other fields primarily studying human beings.

3. Jawâǎqsia, or technology. It includes engineering, physics, some kinds of public administration, and other fields that involve physical, human-created things. Many students of jawâǎqsia were involved in public service projects and the government, and they were also quite popular as advisors to politicians…why they were is a long story.

4. Shǐwinǎqsiǎ, or the study of speaking, though it’s usually translated “literature”. Shǐwinǎqsiǎ includes public speaking, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, and, of course, literature, among other fields.

5. Bêafuǎqsiâ, or natural science. This includes biology, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, etc., though many of the more practical aspects of these sciences were reserved for the lower classes. You would certainly have never found a well-educated Thomoraii scholar doing surgeries, for instance, or raising animals to study them.

And finally, your place in the system decides who you are allowed to marry.

Now how does this kinship system determine all this? Well, when you are born, you’re given what I call a “descent group signature”, which is determined by the descent group signatures of your parents. It has four parts: your future area of study, your same-gender parent’s area of study, the place where you will grow up (or get a degree – again, I’ll explain more later!), and the place where your different-gender parent grew up. Firstly, your future area of study is decided by those of your parents, according to this chart.

Father’s Subject

Mother’s Subject

Hoipiǎir

Tôhǎqsiâ

Jawâǎqsia

Shǐwinǎqsiǎ

Bêafuǎqsiâ

Hoipiǎir

jawâǎqsia

bêafuǎqsiâ

tôhǎqsiâ

shǐwinǎqsiǎ

Tôhǎqsiâ

bêafuǎqsiâ

shǐwinǎqsiǎ

hoipiǎir

jawâǎqsia

Jawâǎqsia

shǐwinǎqsiǎ

hoipiǎir

bêafuǎqsiâ

tôhǎqsiâ

Shǐwinǎqsiǎ

jawâǎqsia

bêafuǎqsiâ

tôhǎqsiâ

hoipiǎir

Bêafuǎqsiâ

tôhǎqsiâ

shǐwinǎqsiǎ

hoipiǎir

jawâǎqsia

(Those blank spaces will be explained later. Trust me.)

So, as the chart shows, your subject of study will always be different from that of your parents. The people who developed this system were hoping to keep families of scholars involved in lots of different areas this way, which would help different ideas and viewpoints to interact.

Then the subject of study of your same-gender parent also becomes part of your signature. So if you were a girl and your mother specialized in shǐwinǎqsiǎ, you’d take that as the second part of your descent group signature. If you were a boy and your father specialized in hoipiǎir, you’d take that as the second part of your signature. It will all…okay, it will mostly make sense later.

The place where you will grow up, much like your future subject of study, is decided by where your parents grew up. Here’s another chart showing how this works.

Father’s Country

Mother’s Country

Ôbtobâi

Kishmorai

Kakabâi

Piskovǎi

Alashtian

Ôbtobâi

Kakabâi

Alashtian

Kishmorai

Piskovǎi

Kishmorai

Alashtian

Piskovǎi

Ôbtobâi

Kakabâi

Kakabâi

Piskovǎi

Ôbtobâi

Alashtian

Kishmorai

Piskovǎi

Kakabâi

Alashtian

Kishmorai

Ôbtobâi

Alashtian

Kishmorai

Piskovǎi

Ôbtobâi

Kakabâi

And then you would also include the place where your opposite-gender parent grew up in your signature. So if you were a girl and your father grew up in Ôbtobâi, you’d have that in your signature.

In the end a girl might have a signature like Hoipiǎir/Jawâǎqsia Kakabâi/Ôbtobâi, showing that her future subject of study is hoipiǎir, her mother’s subject is jawâǎqsia, she will grow up in Kakabâi, and her father grew up in Ôbtobâi. You might put it like this:

My own

My parent’s

Subject

hoipiǎir

jawâǎqsia

Country

Kakabâi

Ôbtobâi

Marriage is then restricted this way: the attributes you took from your parents must be the same as your spouse’s, but your own attributes must be different from your spouse’s. So our girl above must marry a man whose father studied jawâǎqsia just as the girl’s mother did. But the man himself could specialize in shǐwinǎqsiǎ, in tôhǎqsiâ, in bêafuǎqsiâ, or in jawâǎqsia – anything that is not the girl’s own specialty, hoipiǎir. This man’s mother must also have grown up in Ôbtobâi just as the girl’s father did. But he himself could have grown up in Ôbtobâi, or Kishmorai, or Piskovǎi, or Alashtian – anywhere other than Kakabâi, where the girl did.

Why on earth would anybody restrict marriage this way?!

Well, the main idea here is to encourage the interaction of different ideas and areas of study, though this kinship system also has the added benefit of preventing incest. (This is, by the way, one of the main purposes of real-life kinship systems like this one.) This is why you have to marry somebody who studied something different and grew up somewhere different. But the people who developed this system also wanted spouses to work well with each other and be able to understand each other, and they believed that you are best able to understand somebody who came from a similar culture as you. The Thomoraiis who worked this system out figured that most of your personal culture came from your parents, and thus if you married somebody whose parents came from similar backgrounds, there would be a much greater chance of being able to understand and relate to him or her.

But then what about the weird same-gender, different-gender split there? Why not just always, say, take your father’s subject and your mother’s country, instead of having girls take their mother’s subject and boys take their father’s subject and girls take their father’s country and blah blah blah? Let me explain. The Thomoraii developers of this system believed that you have both a “casual culture”, meaning the way you think and act when you are just hanging out and relaxing, and an “academic culture”, which is how you think and act when working, or thinking through a problem, or doing something else brain-intensive. Now in most Thomoraii pledge-marriage-based families of this time, mothers would usually train their daughters and fathers would usually train their sons. All the members of the family would interact with each other, of course, but mothers and daughters, and sons and fathers, would have a more serious, work-focused, and, well, brain-intensive relationship. And so daughters would get most of their academic culture from their mothers, just as sons would get most of their academic culture from their fathers. And then daughters would get more of their casual culture from their fathers, who they had more casual relationships with, and sons would get more of their casual culture from their mothers.

Now these same clever developers of this kinship system also thought that your academic culture was influenced by your educational background as well as your same-gender parent, and that your casual culture was influenced by where you grew up as well as your different-gender parent. So the idea was that your same-gender parent’s academic culture would be strongly influenced by his/her educational background, and that then they would pass that culture on to you, and so you would in the end have an academic culture derived from your same-gender parent’s educational background. And so a spouse whose same-gender parent had the same educational background – e.g. who studied the same subject as your same-gender parent – would naturally have a similar academic culture. Similarly, your different-gender parent’s casual culture would be strongly influenced by the place that s/he grew up, and then they would pass that casual culture on to you, and you would have a casual culture developed from your different-gender parent’s country. And so a spouse whose different-gender parent grew up in the same place as your different-gender parent would have much the same casual culture. See?

Some examples

Let’s look at a few examples of how this kinship system might end up working. First, here’s a chart of a small family and their descent group signatures.

1

In this diagram, men are triangles and women are circles. For each person, I show his/her given name first (e.g. “Surila”), then his/her area of study, a slash, and his/her same-gender parent’s area of study (e.g. “Bêafuǎqsiâ/Tôhǎqsiǎ”), and then the place s/he grew up, a slash, and his/her different-gender parent’s country (e.g. “Alashtian/Kakabâi”). So you can see here how Kulas, a boy, took his father’s area of study but his mother’s country, and how Tibâ, a girl, did the reverse.

Let’s add a few generations and see how that would work out…

2

Now here’s a question. In this system, would you be able to marry your cousin? Let’s add a few people and find out…

3

Aha! See Tibâ and Nǎralǒi down there? (Feel free to click on the diagram to see it larger.) It could work. But if Jâihara had married someone who had studied something different…

4

…it wouldn’t work, since now the second part of Nǎralǒi’s signature, the subject taken from his father, is different from Tibâ’s. So it depends – sometimes you could marry your cousin, sometimes not.

Now here’s a super big diagram that you could study if you want, showing how a large family might end up.

5

Phew! I was really running out of names at the end there.

Numbers, probabilities and how you could possibly find a marriage partner

With any system that restricts marriage like this, it’s enlightening to see how likely you are to find somebody who’s eligible to marry. Let’s crunch some numbers and figure this out. First of all, let’s see how many possible combinations of attributes there can be in somebody’s descent group signature. The first attribute can be one of 5 subjects, then the second attribute, the subject taken from your same-gender parent, came be one of subjects, since it’s impossible for your first and second attributes to be the same. Then the third attribute can be one of 5 countries, and the fourth one of 4 countries, since again it’s impossible for the third and fourth to be the same.

5 x 4 x 5 x 4 = 400, so there are 400 possible combinations of attributes – 400 types of people that could be in this system. Wow.

Now let’s calculate how many possible combinations of attributes a person eligible for marriage could have. The first attribute could be one of 4 subjects, since your potential spouse can’t have the same first attribute as you. Then the second attribute can only be 1 thing – the same as yours. The third attribute could be one of 4 countries, and again the fourth attribute could only be 1 thing.

4 x 1 x 4 x 1 = 16, so there are 16 possible combinations of attributes that a person you could marry could have.

So then out of a pool of 400 different people with all the different combinations of attributes, 16 would be eligible for marriage (not considering gender!), or 4%, or 1 eligible to every 25 ineligible. If you do take gender into account, then only 2% of people would be available to marry, or 1 eligible to every 50 ineligible. Yikes!

How on earth could you ever find someone to marry?!

Here’s how. First of all, as you saw with the charts above, it’s often possible for cousins to marry. So your parents would probably keep track of the descent signatures of any cousins you might have, and if any were eligible for you to marry, they might try to prepare you both to marry each other from when you were young. This was quite common in the Thomoraii empire.

Also, if two friends of opposite genders grew up in the same place, it very often works out for their children to marry each other. Consider Firliǎir and Koslai at the top of the chart below.

6

They both grew up in Kakabâi, and so perhaps they were friends. They had to marry other people, of course, but because Firliǎir and Koslai had different subjects of study, and Firliǎir’s husband specialized in the same subject as Koslai’s wife, and Firliǎir’s husband and Koslai’s wife grew up in different places, their children Amjâi and Surila could marry each other. So your parents might keep tabs on old friends who grew up with them, and then perhaps try to arrange a marriage with any of their children who were eligible to marry you.

So you can see that often a Thomoraii scholar’s parents would be able to find somebody for him or her to marry from a family they already knew. However, they would probably also hire a matchmaker to search for an eligible marriage partner, and then the scholar in question might travel around visiting different people who might work…which encouraged more traveling, which was just fine by the people who developed this system! And so generally it was not too difficult for Thomoraii scholars to find good spouses.

How this system worked in practice

After getting married, if they were planning to have children (and most did), two Thomoraii scholars would generally move to the country that would be their children’s country so they could raise them there. This actually was not required – the country of a person in their descent group signature just says where s/he needs to get his/her degree, not where s/he needs to grow up. (Please do note that an empire-era Thomoraii academic degree was quite a bit different from the type we have on Earth. For instance, your final project was usually collecting a number of books about a very specific subject and then writing what was basically a glorified library catalog of them.) So you could grow up in any random country and then just move to “your” country to get your degree. But most parents chose to raise their children in their children’s country, mostly to make it easier for them when they did eventually study for a degree.

After getting a degree, if a scholar was female, she would probably try to get married right away through her parents, a matchmaker or both. This was because female scholars generally wanted to have children early while they were young and healthy, and then continue on in their studies and their work once their children had grown up. Men, however, generally kept studying and working for a while before seeking out a wife.

Here are some answers to some other questions you might have.

What if you didn’t like the subject decided for you by your descent group signature?

Well, the subject that your signature determines for you is quite broad. There are all kinds of different specialties you could go into within any of those subjects. For instance, take shǐwinǎqsiǎ. If you enjoyed stories, you could study literature. If you hated reading but enjoyed things like math and science, you could study logic. Or jawâǎqsia. If you liked math, you could go into one of the engineering branches of jawâǎqsia. If you hated math but enjoyed interacting with people, you could be involved in public administration. So you still would have a lot of choice. It would probably also help that your parents had been preparing for you to study this subject from before you were born, and that you were always expected to go into it.

That being said, it would still be possible to get a degree in the subject decided for you, then go and get another degree in something else you preferred. Or you could just leave the community of scholars and not get a degree at all.

What if you didn’t want to marry another scholar? E.g. you wanted to marry somebody from a different social class?

You could. But if this person was from a lower class, this would definitely hurt your reputation in the community of Thomoraii scholars, and any children of the marriage would have to re-enter the kinship system on their own (see below). If the person was from a higher class, on the other hand, then your fellow scholars would probably consider it that you were being promoted out of the restrictions of being a scholar and into that higher class – you were leaving the community of scholars and its restrictions for a more prestigious community

What if people outside of the system wanted to become scholars? How would they have joined it?

They would take on just the first and third attributes of a descent group signature – their subject and the place where they got their degree in it. They could then marry any people who had different subjects and places of study, and their children would have normal signatures. Do note that if they got any sorts of degrees from places other than the five places included in this kinship system, Thomoraii scholars wouldn’t consider them proper Thomoraii degrees. Our hypothetical person would have to get another degree in Ôbtobâi, Kishmorai, Kakabâi, Piskovǎi or Alashtian like a good Thomoraii.

Why did people do this to themselves, anyways?

For the high-up scholars who ran the system, it was worthwhile because it helped to encourage the interaction of ideas and established a structure for people to find fellow scholars to marry. For the rank and file, they had to follow the system in order to be part of the scholarly community, which gave them the opportunity to study and have a respected place in society. And many lower-rank scholars believed anyways in the value of forcing people to move around and interact with others in different areas of study.

What happened when the Thomoraii empire fell apart and people couldn’t keep using this system anymore?

At first many scholars still stubbornly tried to stick to their kinship system, but they soon started to relax the rules and eventually gave them up altogether. Many of them had to leave their scholarly pursuits anyways once the empire fell, since they needed to focus all their energy on keeping themselves and their families alive and well. Once Thomorai grew more stable, the scholarly community never revived the old system – it really was too much of a pain.

The system’s impact on society

Just as its founders intended, this crazy kinship system forced different people with different ideas to interact, which helped to generate new ideas and created a strong synthesis of learning. The scholarly community in the Thomoraii empire was incredibly prolific, doing huge amounts of research and producing many significant theories and ideas, and this kinship system probably contributed to its success. More practically, the system aided in the formation of a standard scholarly dialect of Thomoraii, which was used in the administration of the empire’s government and in trade all over Thomorai. This kinship system also made the scholarly class seem more exclusive and prestigious, which helped to give it more power. Today, this kinship system is no longer used, but scholars are still highly respected (thought many more Thomoraiis are educated these days – the scholarly class is much less exclusive than it used to be). Thomorai is still a center of education and research, drawing scholars from all over Sheesania. And a descendant of that scholarly dialect of Thomoraii is still used today as a lingua franca in Thomorai and parts of Fircudia.

There’s one more mark this kinship system has left on modern Thomorai. You see, scholars in the Thomoraii empire used to cite each other in their books and articles using each other’s names and descent group signatures, as Thomoraii names by themselves generally aren’t enough to identify one specific person. Today scholars still cite each other using a modified form of a descent signature. For instance, in the novel I’m currently writing, my academic protagonist puts this in at one point in a formal report:

…See Thesolaî Hualai H. Ô. Ô. pub. 13 “Silence in Traditional Thomoraii Religion”.

Thesolaî Hualai is the man’s name, and H. Ô. Ô. is an abbreviation for “Hoipiǎir Ôbtobâi Ôbtobâi”, showing that his field is hoipiǎir, he got his degree in Ôbtobâi, and his mother was from Ôbtobâi. The second attribute, the same-gender parent’s subject, is gone, and the fourth attribute now only indicates where your different-gender parent was from, not where s/he got his/her degree. But it’s still based on the descent group signatures of the old kinship system.

Mysteries, Plot Holes and Unanswered Questions in Super Paper Mario

This is part of a planned series of posts analyzing, discussing and generally having fun with Super Paper Mario, my favorite Wii game. If you find it ridiculous that I am spending so much time analyzing a very cheesy Mario game, you should probably ignore this.

MULTITUDES OF SPOILERS LURK WITHIN!!

Super Paper Mario may be a wonderful game, but even the best of stories have their plot holes. And so I’m sorry to say that the story of Super Paper Mario, which isn’t even the best in the first place, has rather has a lot. The best of stories also often have many unanswered questions, and Super Paper Mario, not being the best, has even more. But Super Paper Mario is good enough that I wanted to catalog all those plot holes and unanswered questions…mostly for my own use as I came up with insane theories filling the holes and answering the questions, but who knows, maybe you could find some use for this list too!

  • Did Tippi fall in love with Mario? At the end of chapter 3, after the heroes save her, Tippi is very happy and is “full of concern,” thanking Mario for rescuing her. Then after chapter 4, Tippi says that she “could just hang around with Mario forever,” only to suddenly pass out. (Supernatural punishment for showing interest in someone other than Blumiere?) After she’s revived, she says, “I want to be near Mario…” And then we have chapter 7, where Luvbi teases Tippi mercilessly about being interested in Mario, and Tippi can only stammer and blush. (Though how a butterfly can blush is rather beyond me.) But after this it seems that she begins to remember her past and realize who Count Bleck is, so any feelings she had for Mario are set aside…or are they? Does she just decide to disregard any love she has for anybody else so she and Blumiere can save the world with the Power of Love™…?
  • What exactly is the chronology of the whole story? Blumiere is supposed to have been part of the Tribe of Darkness, yet Nolrem, who is only a descendant of the Tribe, seems very old. Does that mean Count Bleck is even older? In that case, is Tippi quite old too? Perhaps she’ll die of age as soon as she gets transformed back into human form?
  • Why did Count Bleck tell his minions to stay put before chapter 6? I quote Nastasia in the Castle Bleck scene after chapter 5: “YOU GO NOWHERE! We wait! It’s the count’s direct order! His word is absolute! Be a good little minion and DO NOT MOVE UNTIL TOLD!” (But then Dimentio shows up and convinces them to go and try to defeat Mario and co. anyways.) Why did Count Bleck order this? Was he afraid his minions would get destroyed if they went to Sammer’s Kingdom, since it was on the verge of being obliterated by the Void? Was he beginning to give up? (Particularly after the previous Castle Bleck scene, in which Nastasia said that she wasn’t sure they could succeed, and spoke of Timpani.) Or did he just want his minions to rest and regain their strength?
  • Exactly who counts as a hero? Sometimes it seems like Mario is the central hero and the other members of his party are subordinate, but at other points it seems like they’re all heroes of the same rank.
  • Why does Bleck do nothing to investigate the possibility of Timpani being alive after meeting Tippi in chapter 6 and beginning to wonder about her identity? Had he lost hope of finding her? Had he lost hope of stopping the prophecy? Both seem quite likely; he says in the Castle Bleck scene after chapter 6, “Could that Pixl have been…Timpani? No, no. Completely impossible. I should know that better than anyone. Besides, it’s far too late to do anything now.” And then after chapter 7, he says, “The prophecy can no longer be stopped by Count Bleck. No one can stop it.” But did he also give up hope of Timpani caring about him anymore after his conversation with her in chapter 6 (when she graced him with such lovely lines as “Why would you want to do something so…unspeakable?”, “That’s…horrible!”, “You’re wrong…and sick!”, etc.), and after he heard Dimentio report that Tippi had said, “I must stop Blumiere”? (By the way, that’s not actually what Tippi said. She said, “We have to stop that Blumiere.” But then, Dimentio is not known for his reliability.)
  • Why, in the ending, does Bleck say (multiple times!) that he does not “have long to live”? Was he weakened enough by his fight with Mario that he would die soon? Perhaps he was being sustained by the power of the Chaos Heart or maybe the Dark Prognosticus, and so once he lost them he couldn’t stay alive for very long? Maybe this is because he’s very old as I hypothesized above?
  • What happened to the Dark Prognosticus, anyways? The narrator says at the very end that “the Dark Prognosticus again faded into history.” But what happened to it?! The best answer I can come up with is the Awesome Nastasia Theory.
  • Did Blumiere kill his father or destroy the Tribe of Darkness or something along that line of things? The only clues we have are that 1) the Tribe of Darkness disappeared at some point and 2) in the Blumiere and Timpani scene (for lack of a better name) before chapter 8, Blumiere says to his father after stealing the Dark Prognosticus, “I will erase every inch…of this blasted world!”, and then at the end of the scene we hear crashing and smashing sounds. But seriously, are sound effects canon? What if I had had my sound off? What if I had trouble hearing it? And what if, like I did when I first played the game, you thought that the crashing and smashing sounds were part of Tippi’s memory that she apparently recalled right after the Blumiere and Timpani scene, where she says, “No! Blumiere! You mustn’t! Darling… How could you… Oh… Darling… You… Why…”?
  • How did Nastasia know that Bleck and Tippi would be in Dimension D in the ending, as she apparently said to O’Chunks and Mimi that she “felt” they’d be there? And how did she know to shield Count Bleck from Dimentio’s blow? Did she realize Dimentio’s scheme? Does she just have a fictional character’s near-perfect intuition? Or is the Awesome Nastasia Theory correct…?
  • Who is the “sweet lass” that O’Chunks wished he had declared his love to in chapter 5? Nastasia? Presumably, from what he said at the end of the game and if you talk to him in Flipside after the game is finished…
  • Did Dimentio write the Dark Prognosticus? This seems to be quite a popular theory among fans, despite the fact that the only evidence I can find for it is in Carson’s story about Dimentio. He says that Dimentio pursued Count Bleck of his own accord, but Bleck initially turned him away. Then the count read about someone like Dimentio in the Dark Prognosticus, and so he agreed to let Dimentio join him. Carson comments, “Why was he mentioned in the Dark Prognosticus? Sounds fishy to me!” So, obviously, Dimentio wrote the Dark Prognosticus so he could orchestrate his whole plan with having the heroes defeat Count Bleck and then destroying the world himself! Except why then did the Dark Prognosticus include prophecies of other events, as the prologue and quite a few of Garson and Carson’s stories indicate? How did Dimentio know so much about those other events, and about the power of the Chaos Heart and the Void, etc., for that matter? And then to have written the Dark Prog he would either need to be really old or be capable of time travel…
  • Why on earth didn’t Mario respond or even look surprised when Tippi and Bleck had their dramatic conversation right before the fight with Bleck? Shouldn’t he be alarmed if the antagonist and his faithful sidekick start calling each other “dear Timpani” and “my Blumiere”? Is Mario just stupid? But then how come the other heroes (who were out of commission during that first conversation) weren’t surprised when Tippi and Bleck had another dramatic conversation after Bleck was defeated? Are they all just stupid? Or are they all just used to this kind of thing happening, since they live in stories? Or what?

There you have it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve come up with other explanations for these mysteries and plot holes, or if you’ve found some of your own!