Jul 252017
 

Stolen from a friend: “Since conservatives are an underrepresented minority in academia, and having more conservatives in academic disciplines would raise the cognitive diversity among researchers in most fields, I think we should probably use affirmative action-ish policies to make universities cheaper and easier to get into for conservatives.”

This is a surprisingly good point.

Of course, AA is primarily meant to help those who have been traditionally disadvantaged by systemic relics of oppression. It’s not actually intended simply to increase diversity for its own sake. But to the extent that diversity is a goal worth achieving, this idea has some merit. I do think diversity is a good thing, something that we want more of, and this looks to help advance that goal.

There’s also the stealth-attack aspect… Higher education tends to make conservatives more liberal, so this would get more conservatives into the ideological killing fields. So to speak.

A different friend objected that this would only be acceptable if and when conservatives start supporting AA for disadvantaged groups. I don’t think this is legitimate though. Should disadvantaged minorities only get AA benefits if they endorse AA policies? And if the principle at play here is “affirmative action programs should not apply to folks who would not apply them to other folks” does this mean we should disallow affirmative action for minority folks if they don’t support it for conservatives?

Of course then someone had to ruin all the fun by requesting actual data. We turn to the great google, and we find:

Since 1980
% of Far Right students remained even at 20%
% of Far Left students increased, from 20% to 35%
% of Middle/Moderate students decreased from 60% 45%

So conservatives haven’t actually decreased in representation… the far left has swelled greatly instead, at the cost of moderates. The rise in radicalism and polarization isn’t due to lack of conservatives at all, but rather an increase in one fringe.

Suddenly I’m of the opinion that perhaps increasing the amount of people on the opposite side isn’t actually a great idea. That may very well simply lead to more radicalization on the right. Which could feed back into increased radicalization on the left, and so forth. If there’s too much weight on one side of a scale, adding more weight to the other side may break the scale entirely, rather than returning it to balance.

The hell of it is, moderates aren’t sexy. “Boring” is the last thing passionate young people want to be. Can we go about creating and popularizing a form of Radical Moderate movement? People who are vocal and passionate about being reasonable and considering consequences and viewing others as incorrect rather than evil mutants? It seems this was what much of the Rationalist movement was about, but I’m too far removed from university life to know if anything is growing there (god I’m old). Has anyone begun a Rationalist and/or Moderate version of campus activist groups?

Jul 192017
 

The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

Synopsis: A fleet of Death Star-esque biological space stations are slowly dying. Their inhabitants will die with them, so they fight bloody wars over the few healthy stations remaining.

Book Review: This could have been a good book if it had been given the attention it needed. The premise has promise, and the world Hurley has created is intriguing. But this feels like a first draft that was rushed out.

We are often not given any description of our surroundings or the objects our hero (Zan) interacts with, which is a problem in science-fiction. I need some idea of what a space station’s interior looks like, aside from “biological.” When Zan goes to the hanger (how big?), looks at a “vehicle,” repairs it, takes off, and gets into combat, it wasn’t until she was already zipping through space that I realized it was basically a space-motorcycle that she was riding on. Until then I’d defaulted to a Star Trek-style shuttlecraft.

This sort of thing is rife throughout the book. The dialog can be clunky, as if it was a placeholder for something to be fleshed out. Whenever anything with color is described it is always just one or two simple primary colors that are mentioned. I got sick of everything being either Green, Yellow, or Purple–it felt like I was watching a low-budget cartoon. Some of the action didn’t quite make sense, as if Hurley wasn’t really keeping track of where in the room everyone was, just jotting down fighting motions.

All this led to boredom with the story. Reading a slightly-filled-in story outline doesn’t make for exciting reading. When I got to the first sex scene I thought “Oh thank goodness, at least this will be interesting.” But it turns out that an author rushing through a narrative can even make sex boring.

Hurley also starts the novel off with an amnesiac character (already a very tricky thing to do) and then has a second POV character. Who is intimately tied up in these events, but without anmesia. Which, like, at that point the jig is up. We’re in the POV of someone who knows the mysterious thing in the recent past that is supposed to be providing narrative suspense. Hurley tries to get around this by simply concealing it from us. At least once I read something like ‘She thought about the thing in her past, the really bad thing she tries not to think about.’ The POV character literally thought about the thing while we’re in her POV that we’re not supposed to know about, so it’s just marked as “the thing” she’s thinking about. Is there any way MORE clumsy to hide info from the reader?  /fallsonfloor

Hurley does do a very good job of conveying rage, which is her trademark. So anytime there was rage to be felt, I felt it. But then there’s the other 95% of the novel…

The thing is, Kameron Hurley is a good writer. Both The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have To Live and We Have Always Fought are very well done! I’ve heard from numerous sources that God’s War is really good, and I regret we didn’t read that one instead! Why was Stars Are Legion written so carelessly?

In Horror Novel we are told that Hurley has Type 1 Diabetes, and can only afford to live as long as she keeps a day job that provides Health Insurance. This is, in fact, the primary reason that most people who would otherwise take risks working for themselves or starting a new business instead continue working for The Man. Our government makes it extremely difficult for anyone with dependents or not in perfect health to do anything other than work as a cog in the corporate system. If I recall correctly, in a more recent post she’s mentioned that she aims for two novels a year. Plus her day job, family/relationships, etc. That’s a crazy pace.

You hear about this sort of thing a lot in music. A band puts out their first album, and it’s the culmination of years and years of effort. And then they’ve got six months to put out the follow-up album, and it’s just not enough time to make something as great, something that was refined over years. Authors often sign multi-book contracts, because I guess that’s what publishers want nowadays? If something comes up in personal life, or work life, and you can’t find the time on weekends and evenings to make this what it should be–tough. The publisher wants a manuscript, and the contract has a deadline and a word count, and you can’t fuck that up if you want to keep a career in fiction writing. So instead, one is forced to hand in an early draft and go to print with that.

This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if we had sane healthcare. If people weren’t forced to work 40 hours a week to get access to the insurance-industry-paywalled medicine that keeps them alive. If an author could choose to live on low wages and take the time they need for a book, rather than having that choice mean death. What I’m saying is, America’s shitty healthcare is to blame for all sorts of things, and this is just one more of them. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not everyone was as disappointed as I was. The coolness of the setting kept a number of people hooked through the end. One of our readers said the real story is in the last 25 pages or so (which I never got to) and this would really have been better as a short story or novelette. But there’s not much wider conversation that this novel brings up, and I can’t see any reason to inflict this on a book club. Not Recommended.

Jul 172017
 

The Welcome To Night Vale live show came to Denver yesterday. It was great fun, I loved it! And one of the best things about it is that everyone in the audience is the sort of person you want to know. There’s a very strong “these are my peeps!” feel there. :)

The show, as usual, involves a bit of audience participation. A friend sitting by me didn’t participate very much, for which I teased them a little right afterwards (the participation makes it so much more fun!!). They responded that they don’t participate in ritual lightly, and weren’t comfortable joining in this one. My initial reaction was “lol, audience participation isn’t ritual,” but after about ten seconds of reflection I realized “Oh yeah… it kinda is.”

Which got me to thinking.

Rationalists are aware of the power and importance of ritual, and there are ongoing attempts to harness that power. They meet with various levels of success, depending on group and area. In Denver they haven’t taken hold. A fair number of us here are rather allergic to the trappings of religion. Personally I have no problem with anyone else doing it, but to me it feels forced and hokey. Like putting on your parents’ clothes as a kid and pretending to be adults. Religious ritual works because the participants think it really does tap into a higher power. Mimicking the form without believing in the substance feels… uncomfortably silly.

A different friend has recently asked if Universities could take the place of Churches in the secular community (after reading the excellent “Man As A Rationalist Animal” post by Lou Keep). I think that if they could have, they would have by now. They’re halfway there. They have the instinctive respect of the populace, the arcane credentialing and clergy, and of course the miracles. But they’re missing the interface with the common man–the language of ritual and community.

Welcome To Night Vale has that. WtNV is the start of a church for the modern urban/suburban areligious person. It tackles the fundamental question that plagues the educated proletariat–the meaninglessness of existence in a post-community capitalist society, where everyone is interchangeable and replaceable. And it answers it not with speeches or therapy or advise… it answers it by giving us a mirror made of myths. Modern myths, spun just weeks ago.

The podcast creates the foundation of myth that informs the spiritual layer of all its listeners. On its own it doesn’t do much. It is interesting art, of varying quality, that can sometimes touch deep emotions. The true power of WtNV comes about in its live shows. Here they take the common base of myth that the audience shares and they do something wonderful with it. They transform it into ritual. They bind the audience together, guiding their emotions down the tracks of a mythical story, until it resolves in a catharsis and an instruction (“be good to each other”) that means something.

But VERY importantly – it does it tongue-in-cheek. It is funny, self-referential, and irreverent. Because that is what it means to be areligious in a world that doesn’t need you. Taking things seriously simply does not work. Life is a farce, and we all know it. So the absurdity is played up. We are here to have fun. To make jokes and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about how stupid all this is. And when the merriment is high enough we can all join hands are jokingly chant to a story book character, because in it’s fun to do so in the spirit of the story. And if, along the way, we manage to say something deeper and more important, and feel uplifted at the end, well, so much the better. We came for the lols, and we left having touched something within that united us all for a few hours.

It only worked because no one comes SEEKING a deep experience at WtNV. We came for fun, and the masterful story led to something deeper. It’s like dating–if you’re seeking a relationship, it is apparent, and it doesn’t work. It’s only when you’re just dating around for the pleasure of an evening with interesting company that you are in a state where a relationship can begin.

This is what Rationalist Rituals get wrong. They are trying for deep experience and wonder, like we had in our childhood when our parents took us to church. That is not available via the same route of reverence and worship that the religious rituals used. The mindset of one who doesn’t instinctively revere the greater power being channeled is inimical to that sort of ritual. The ritual of the educated areligious must start in a different place. Our priests are comedians as well. Our religion must laugh first, or be rejected by our immune system.

Someday a Welcome To Night Vale community theater will form at a university. A group of fans have a lot of fun reenacting favorite WtNV episodes, and form strong bonds, and the university institution will lend them support and prestige in other aspects of life. And maybe, a couple generations down the line, their children will have a fully-formed religious life tailored for the concerns of an early 21st century proletariat, which fulfills their emotional needs with myth and community, while slowly becoming less relevant as the centuries grind on. And it’ll all have started with people needing to laugh at the absurdity of this sort of thing happening in the first place.

Until that happens, check out the live Welcome To Night Vale show “All Hail,” even if you aren’t a listener of the podcast. It’s good, and it’s instructive. Likely even if you don’t listen to the podcast.

Jul 112017
 

Guys, guess what?? I have made a thing (again)! A small collection of my published stories is available for purchase!

You can get Red Legacy and Other Stories as a printed book at Amazon, or as an ebook at all the major ebook sellers (including Amazon and B&N, of course). You can read most of the stories in it free here, so you can decide up front if my fiction is the kind that you enjoy. If you do, and you think the enjoyment was worth a few dollars, buying a copy would help me. And buying it comes with a bonus — the collection includes “Host,” my latest story which is otherwise only available in the March/April issue of Analog magazine.

If you can’t buy a copy, but you’ve read or listened to most/all of the stories before, leaving a review also helps a ton. :)

Jul 082017
 

From The New Yorker. Even they are getting in on it.

THE “EFFECT IS TOO LARGE” HEURISTIC – “a Radiolab episode…mentioned a famous study on judges handing out harsher sentences before lunch than after lunch. …the percentage of favorable decisions drops from 65% to 0% over the number of cases that are decided upon. This sounded unlikely.”

 

In Defense of Individualist Culture – A strong counter to the current pro-communitarian trend. Still don’t know if this is great or awful.

“The idea of mankind as arbitrarily malleable is an appealing one to marketers, governments, therapists, or anyone who hopes that it’s easy to shift people’s behavior. But this doesn’t seem to be true. It might be worth rehabilitating the notion that people pretty much do what they’re going to do.
…Once you’re aware that you can pick your favorite way of life, you’re a modern. Sorry. You’ve got options now.
Which means that you can’t possibly go back to a premodern mindset unless you are brutally repressive about information about the outside world, and usually not even then.”

((I’m assuming a bit of background knowledge, based on what’s been floating around the Rationalist Sphere lately, but it does have a good summary:
“The behaviorist or sociological view of the world would say that individualist cultures are gravely deficient because they don’t put any attention into setting up healthy defaults in environment or culture. If you don’t have rules or expectations or traditions about food, or a health-optimized cafeteria, you “can” choose whatever you want, but in practice a lot of people will default to junk. If you don’t have much in the way of enforcement of social expectations, in practice a lot of people will default to isolation or antisocial behavior. If you don’t craft an environment or uphold a culture that rewards diligence, in practice a lot of people will default to laziness. “Leaving people alone”, says this argument, leaves them in a pretty bad place. It may not even be best described as “leaving people alone” — it might be more like “ripping out the protections and traditions they started out with.””))

 

This is goddamn poetry!! Seriously good writing.  ‘Glow’ Star Betty Gilpin: What It’s Like to Have Pea-Sized Confidence With Watermelon-Sized Boobs
I feel it does it injustice to quote only a small snippet, but here’s a tiny bit: “at some point I realized the obvious truth that I was a hideous goblin under a bridge, that the sound of my voice was like audible feces, and the presence of my body in a room was like bringing a moose carcass to brunch. […] And then puberty was like, WA-BAM.”

 

Fascinating perspective. And unusually short for an SSC article!
ordinary conversations are hard to predict because they’re designed to be so.
There was some interesting discussion about this on Autistic Tumblr, which centered around: why would someone do this? Why can’t people just say what they mean?
And the best answer I saw …explained that people were trying to spare their friends the burden of rejecting them.
But if there are people who are unusually bad at understanding social cues, like autistic people, then any cue calibrated to be on the exact border of neurotypical understanding is likely to fail for them more often than not.”

 

Sheep want to die?

 

Living Ohio man Donald Miller ruled ‘legally dead’

 

Surprising! “You are wrong about Adam West’s Batman” I am revising my opinion on the 60s Batman. Might even check out an episode or two when I have time. It’s strange how many opinions we simply inherit from our culture.

 

It’s a decent start, and I’m glad Colorado is leading the way. :) Gov. Hickenlooper signs controversial civil asset forfeiture bill, calls it “important first step” in addressing problems with practice.
I still surprised people are willing to go on the record being FOR forfeiture… which I think just speaks to my stupid naive optimism about humans, given the entire political landscape we currently inhabit. :/

 

Interesting bits from a flyer regarding police training on Phone Forensics Tools:
* Before an officer views or extracts cell phone or tablet data during the course of a criminal or administrative investigation, he or she will obtain a search warrant or “signed written consent” <— Remember this part and don’t give consent, so you can maybe get the case thrown out afterwards if they do it anyway.
Data that can be extracted includes:
 Text and Picture Messages
 Videos and Pictures (in some cases with GeoTag-location info) and creation date and time
 Audio Files
 Emails and Web Browsing Information (in some devices)
 GPS and Location Information (in some devices)
 Social Networking messages and contacts (in some devices)
 Deleted Data – Call Logs, Messages, Emails (in some devices)
 PIN Locked and Pattern Locked Bypass & Data Extraction – (on some devices – not all phones bypassed)

 

YES!!! The future is *slightly* less dystopian!! Supreme Court Rules Patent Laws Can’t Be Used to Prevent Reselling
“This was one of those fundamental-right-altering cases of which your average American tends not to be aware.”

 

The Social Justice Warriors are right – “the fight over Confederate symbols is just a thinly-veiled proxy for the biggest moral question that’s faced the United States through its history, and also the most urgent question facing it in 2017. Namely: Did the Union actually win the Civil War? Were the anti-Enlightenment forces—the slavers, the worshippers of blood and land and race and hierarchy—truly defeated? Do those forces acknowledge the finality and the rightness of their defeat”

 

A fantastic review of Logan. It’s more a video about how genre evolves, using Logan as a case study, and stating that we are right at the cusp of one such evolution right now. So good, must recommend! Plus NerdWriter is generally awesome.

Donald Trump supported me when I was wrongly accused of murder. What do I owe him? – “I owe my freedom to those people who saw reason beyond loyalty.”

 

“Let’s be honest: the recent success of Catholicism is the ultimate sign of our inability to deal with the world through anything other than a late capitalist lens of standardizaton, corporatism, and carefully-packaged pablum. It’s the perfect religion for the Age of Trump.
(yes, it’s satire)

 

A Brief History of Goths. So neat to learn the word’s history!

 

People Around The World Throw “American” Theme Parties

 

An actual transcript of an actual interview with the actual president.
“Look at those very nicely dressed people. It’s religious liberty out there.”
(ending his answer to the question “Do you need to get Democratic support to get this tax plan passed?”)

 

Doing Business In Japan – ” “Most people want to become wealthy so they can consume social status. Japanese employers believe this is inefficient, and simply award social status directly.” The best employees aren’t compensated with large option grants or eye popping bonuses — they’re simply anointed as “princes”, given their pick of projects to work on, receive plum assignments, and get their status acknowledged (in ways great and small) by the other employees.”

” It is socially mandatory that your boss, in fulfillment of his duties to you, sees that you are set up with a young lady appropriate to your station. He is likely to attempt to do this first by matching you with a young lady in your office. There are, at all times, a number of unattached young ladies in your office. Most of them choose to quit right about when they get married or have children.

You might imagine that you heard a supervisor tell a young lady in the office “Hey, you’re 30 and aging out of the marriage market, plus I hear you’re dating someone who is not one of my employees, so you might want to think about moving on soon.”, but that would be radioactively illegal, since Japanese employment discrimination laws are approximately equivalent to those in the US. A first-rate Japanese company would certainly never do anything illegal, and a proper Japanese salaryman would never bring his company into disrepute by saying obviously untrue things like the company is systematically engaged in illegal practices. So your ears must be deceiving you. Pesky ears.”

(In contrast, the entirety of “The Personal Touch” section (just over halfway down) is rather heart-warming.)

 

“In late March, Hypatia, a feminist-philosophy journal, published an article titled “In Defense of Transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, as part of its spring 2017 issue.
…Tuvel is now bearing the brunt of a massive internet witch-hunt..The biggest vehicle of misinformation about Tuvel’s articles comes from the “open letter to Hypatia” that has done a great deal to help spark the controversy.

It’s remarkable how many basic facts this letter gets wrong about Tuvel’s paper. Either the authors simply lied about the article’s contents, or they didn’t read it at all. Every single one of the hundreds of signatories on the open letter now has their name on a document that severely (and arguably maliciously) mischaracterizes the work of one of their colleagues. ”

 


This is just a text post on facebook, link here, but I’ve pasted it below for those without the FB. It’s the most depressing thing ever.

> “The Endless September has ended and we’re in some kind of other state of internet discourse. The lack of reliable information and discussion means the open internet isn’t really a usable tool as a communication platform. Things have gotten weaponized very quickly – far faster than people seem to be capable of defending against. The Endless September was a coarsening of discourse, whereas what we have now is a directed corruption of communication tools, as well as the corruption of search and matching. Multiple actors (including state actors) pushing as much noise and propaganda into view that usability plummets. It does feel like a new era of internet trust/usability/identity crises that we haven’t actually pointed at and named.
> If I look at any article my default reaction is “I have no idea if this is real.” and often “No, really, I can’t tell if this is real or illusion.” If look at any science reporting my default reaction is “this is probably not what the paper actually claims, also the effect may not be reproducible, also whoever wrote this may have a political or social objective.” Forum comments are all suspect, analysis is questioned. The underlying theme is to ask “who wins if I were to believe this”? Sure, these are all good threads to run in any information environment but it is taxing and the answer is negative more often than positive.
> Tools that should enable us to reach out and observe beyond our immediate capacity are now suspect, as we have no way of ensuring the source of the observations are reliable and the number of unreliable signals has significantly grown. The problem here aren’t the obviously unreliable sources of information, it’s the persistence and ubiquity of just-reliable-enough-to-influence-beliefs and unreliable-in-increasingly-non-obvious-ways.”

— Brandon Reinhart (quoted w/ permission)

 

From Eliezer Yudkowsky – “I was just browsing Hacker News, and somebody called the Ethereum currency (one of the first genuinely different successors to Bitcoin, in which ether pays for arbitrary computing services) a “cult”.

So here’s my bad idea of the week: Let’s just call everything we don’t like a cult, and see how far we can spread the habit on Tumblr. If the Internet calls everything that exists a cult, people will be used to hearing themselves called a “cult” for the crime of voting Democratic or eating meat, and distrust it when others are called a cult; the word will become meaningless through sheer overuse and people will be allowed to be odd again, since the English language will no longer have a handy derogation that means “weird people” as opposed to generically “people I don’t like”. I mean, English will still have words like “weirdo” but it won’t come with the scare-factor of “cult” whereby all weirdos are tarred with the brush of Scientologists.”

 

Also another from Eliezer Yudkowsky on Markets as Post-Human Optimizers that can be broken very easily if you Disrupt The Ritual.  Too long to quote, sadly.

Jul 042017
 

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

Synopsis: When the God of Fire dies unexpectedly, forensic accountant/mage Tara steps in to keep the infrastructure that ran on his power from collapsing. She soon uncovers a conspiracy from the first days of the God Wars.

Book Review: This is a snappy modern piece that hits all the important notes and left me admiring the ease with which it flowed.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, Gladstone has a fascinating setting crafted. His world is in the early stages of the industrial revolution, featuring very cosmopolitan urban centers still surrounded by rural countrysides full of superstitious villagers. But this industrial revolution uses gods and a scientific renaissance in human-directed magic as power sources, rather than coal and gas.

A while back it was noted (by Winston Churchill) that if magic actually existed, it would be a branch of applied engineering by now. There’ve been a number of explorations of this over recent decades, and they are neat to see. I think this is the first time I’ve seen someone expand this to the financial system. Which, now that I’ve read it, makes complete sense. Of course it wouldn’t stop with the engineers. The quants would get up in that shiz and find a way to leverage and create financial instruments and soon half the world’s economy would be wrapped up in arcane contract law (pun actually not intended). Published in 2012, this is a very post-2008-financial-crisis book, and it pulls it off  with aplomb! It also marks this as a very modern work, despite being set in an industrial-revolution era.

The language and sensibilities are very contemporary as well. This feels like reading a modern urban fantasy. Except in urban fantasy the magical part of the world is always somehow hidden from the rest of humanity, and the entire genre is pretty tedious because of this. Here all the magic is out front and integrated into society, while keeping the modern parlance of urban fantasy. Our protagonists speak with our speech patterns. When a sleeping vampire wakes to find that someone has slid their wrist into his mouth he spits out “Haven’t you ever heard of consent?” It’s basically Steampunk Buffy + The Big Short, and it’s a delight to read. One of our book club members called it “Dark and Fluffy,” which is a perfect description. :)

There are some problems with pacing around the middle. It really drags for a while after a plot-transition, during which time we don’t really have anything invested in the protagonist succeeding. The threat of her losing her job doesn’t seem very threatening (even though, in theory, we know why it is, this isn’t conveyed in a compelling way). In a lesser book I might have abandoned it at this point. But the strength of the extremely relate-able characters and the enthralling setting pulled me through, and it started to pick up again.

And then the climax! This is one of those books where the climax lasts for the entire final third/quarter! I started into it a bit late in the night, and then I couldn’t put the book down until I was done, so I was up for far longer than I should have been. It is so good, it just keeps growing and topping itself and slamming new twists in which were well set-up before. Every character contributes in a meaningful way until it all cumulates in a glorious cresendo.

The book has some rough edges, but it’s got some real beauty in it too. Good story, imaginative setting, great characters – definitely Recommended.

Book Club Review: An interesting mix! While my overall impression was shared by most, the specifics that different people liked varied. Some weren’t as into the modern voice, others were less happy about the dark bits, and so forth. But they liked other bits of it more to balance it out, so comparing notes on what really spoke to people was neat. (Though everyone agreed the middle dragged). Only one reader disliked it, she didn’t find anything there that spoke to her and viewed it as lost time. Which happens sometimes, not everything works for everyone. Overall though, everyone else enjoyed it and was glad to have read it.

The difficulty comes in that there isn’t all that much else to talk about. There are obvious ties being made between the fantasy world and our own, but they aren’t used to say very much. The book could have made much stronger “Capitalism Will Take Everything True And Good, Dissect It, And Then Sell It Back To You In Super-Efficient Soulless Pieces” statement. It was obvious that was the theme that the book had originally been going for. It is a very pertinent theme, I’m seeing it more and more, and seems to be one of the biggest points of existential suffering in modern life. I really like works that explore that theme.

But somewhere along the way, Three Parts Dead got distracted by the evil-lich-is-evil, lets-all-stop-him game. Which is fine, it makes a good story. But the theme was lost. Now the villain was just a standard Nefarious Bad Dude, instead of The Systemic Forces That We All Embrace.

It’s still a good story. I’m just sad it isn’t the great story it looks like it was aiming for. I would give it a very mild Not Recommended. Depending on your book club’s moods/tastes, it might slip into recommended? Also it’s decently well known by a lot of people now, so that may give it another point in its favor.

Jun 292017
 

From Arkansas News Online http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/jun/28/ten-commandments-monument-arkansas-capitol-toppled/

Yesterday a man destroyed the Ten Commandments monument that had been installed on the Arkansas Capitol grounds, less than 24 hours after they’d been put up. He appears to be a fervent Christian who believes strongly in the separation of church and state.

I have a complicated set of feelings with destruction of property for political purposes. And my instinct emotion is to cheer this man. Most of this post is scattered thoughts about my intellectual vs emotional reactions to this.

For a long time I didn’t understand why people would riot in their own neighborhoods. Why destroy the infrastructure you rely on? The businesses you patronize, and/or work at? It didn’t make sense. It was wasteful and self-harming. I heard that Riots Are The Language Of The Unheard, but why aren’t they rioting where it would make sense to riot?

Lou Keep provided my answer. That infrastructure is not an economic asset to those subjected to it. It is the tool of the oppressor. The society was functional for its residents, until an outside force came in and imposed order to make the neighborhoods legible to government. While this certainly improves the economic metrics that the government is interested in, it ignores the social destruction that these “improvements” bring. The riots aren’t just empty rage. They are an attempt to purge the controls and “gifts” brought by a power trying to make the area legible to the state apparatus. To revert the area to local control.

Finally, nearly 30 years after the fact, I understood why I loved a key scene of Do The Right Thing. In the middle of a brewing riot, a Korean shop owner screams “I’m black!” at the mob. And they leave him alone. (clip here) It’s a beautiful scene, and still gives me shivers of frissons when I think about it. I was never entirely sure why, until now. It is an affirmation that society can tell the difference between invasion by the state apparatus, and its own members. It will burn out the infection that poisons it, while leaving unharmed those who are a part of it. It is not random violence, it is an entity that protects itself. That is the power of art – to give us that feeling on an emotional level, to impart that knowledge to us beneath the skin without giving us an explicit lecture.

(yes, I know it’s an idealized version of riots, and things don’t always happen this way. It’s still beautiful.)

But…

I.

Property is blood and sweat

Creating anything takes effort and time. Energy that could be used in pursuit of artistic expression, or enjoying social bonds, or myriad other pursuits. Destroying someone’s property is destroying a small part of their life. It may also be destroying a part of their future, if that property is used to enable someone to make a living or continue living (by destroying the car they use to get to work, or torching their house or workplace). I recently had a large amount of money taken from me, money that I could have used to support myself for well over a year, or embark on adventurous new projects with. It sucks.

And I’m very much on the record as being strongly against extra-judicial violence. This post by The Friendly Atheist states in strong words that people should not take the law into their own hands, and we must stick to the civil solutions of court challenges and public speech. Isn’t destruction of property also violence, used to intimidate rather than convince?

II.

Choice of Targets

I get annoyed when attacks on military targets (army bases, warships, etc) are referred to as “Acts of Terrorism.” A military target is a legitimate target in a war. Such attacks are not terrorism, they’re acts of guerrilla warfare. There’s a huge difference. Many of the weapons and tactics that are banned by international agreements (such as chemical weapons and landmines) are banned because they are indiscriminate in their killing. Their use cannot be confined to military targets, and so they are not deemed acceptable tools of war.

Thus, choice of targets matters. It can add a bit more legitimacy to a tactic if its focus is narrow and its target is chosen for strong reasons. In this case, the target was an object that was placed in direct defiance of the constitution. The very document that functions as the foundation of civil life in the United States. It underlays all our laws, at least in theory. An assault on it can be viewed as an assault on all of us, and by attacking an object that undermines it, this man could be said to be working in the interests of protecting civility. His target was specific and well-chosen. And importantly, it was a piece of art that is not vital to anyone’s life, and paid for out of excess funds. This doesn’t excuse that destruction, but it does make it less morally reprehensible. It is a mitigating factor.

III.

Vigilante Justice is the Worst Sort of Justice

That being said, he still went outside the bounds of the law. The law has the power to protect itself, and was in the process of doing so via court challenges brought by the ACLU and others. For random people on the street to decide they have the power to interpret and implement the law themselves, without going through a court, is a recipe for the chaos of all-against-all. Vandalism can’t be excused just because the vandal feels they have a darn good reason for it, this time. There will always be a darn good reason to destroy the stuff of people you disagree with, just this one time.

IV.

Principled Opposition

Yet there is something to be said for principled opposition to laws that are unjust. Martin Luther King Jr and his supporters intentionally and publicly violated laws that they thought unjust. They accepted arrest and legal consequences, so that all could see how the law is being used to destroy the lives of good people without justification. They were holding a mirror to society saying “Look at what you have wrought!”

This man did not try to hide his actions. He posted publicly about what he was doing, and why he was doing it. He accepted arrest, and is now awaiting trial. He might not have been right in his actions, but he has the courage of his convictions. I admire this. I also consider this to be mitigating circumstances in his favor.

(Yes, I would have admired the Richard-Spencer-Puncher somewhat if he’d stayed at the scene of his assault and accepted arrest and trial for his actions. And no, this doesn’t excuse violence. I still think people shouldn’t be punched. Assassinations are still repugnant, even when done in broad daylight and without attempt to flee. Suicide bombers certainly face the consequences of their actions rather than trying to dodge them. But it does say something if someone is willing to stand by their act of vandalism, and defend it, and take the punishment for what they’ve done.)

V.

Corruption in the System

I believe much of the debate comes down to “What Can Be Done When The System Is Corrupt?” Extra-judicial action is what people fall back on when they have no faith that the system will fairly enforce the laws, or that the laws themselves are unjust. As far as I can see, the system is still strongly against any sort of ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, the system has demonstrated that is has some severe weakness in defending itself from encroachment by the majority religion. After all, the Ten Commandments monument was placed with the local state’s approval, and it is outside parties that are in the process of defending the US Constitution that the state claims to support.

VI.

Alexander’s Principle

Alexander’s Principle states that one should never destroy the tools that society uses to correct errors. Doing so locks you into the errors of the past, without the ability to change them as our ethical systems or knowledge improves. Freedom of speech is a very strong tool used to correct errors. You cannot change what you cannot criticize. So using violence to silence others violates Alexander’s Principle. Destroying the Ten Commandments monument, while certainly uncivil, doesn’t attack the tools we use to correct systemic errors. As far as I can see.

VII.

Conclusion?

While not in support of vandalism or rioting generally, I can understand how they are at times useful as tactics. I don’t think this man’s destruction of the Ten Commandments will achieve his goals. It’s more likely to anger the majority that doesn’t care about that part of the constitution. However, he’s attempting to fight for important principles, against a system that is unwilling to support those principles. He did so in a narrowly targeted manner, openly and in acceptance of the consequences, via a symbolic attack that I believe doesn’t violate Alexander’s Principle. He didn’t harm anyone’s person or personal property, and the target of his destruction isn’t vital for anyone’s way of life.

All in all, I find myself admiring this crazy bastard, even if I think he would have been much better off donating his car to the ACLU rather than wrecking it against a stone monument. I hope this sort of thing doesn’t repeat itself, though. And I’m not firmly set on these opinions, and very open to having my mind changed. :)

Jun 282017
 

Should include sub-checkbox “Have You Been Harmed By This? Yes/No”

A friend recently came across a tick-box in a scholarship application asking if he was gender nonconforming.

An interesting question for him. Because in many ways he is gender-conforming, and in many ways he isn’t. I won’t get into the details, but it was definitely up in the air, which is why he asked for help as to whether he should tick the box or not. It was pointed out that he is literally gender nonconforming, in the sense that he does what he likes and doesn’t conform to gender expectations. It was also pointed out that the doesn’t actively identify as “A Gender Nonconforming Person”, which is what the question really wanted to know.

Except the question wasn’t really even asking that. The hidden question, what the scholarship reviewers really want to know, is “Do you suffer the societal penalties that nonbinary people do, and should we help offset that with this money?”

The question “Do you suffer the societal penalties that nonbinary people do” is subjective. I wish these sorts of surveys would just ASK THAT QUESTION. Because whether you suffer social penalties depends hugely on your society. There are places where being extremely non-conforming doesn’t get you any penalties at all, and there’s other places where simply not being manly enough will get you massive penalties. Yeah, you gotta trust the person to answer honestly, but at least then we’re all clear on what the purpose of the question is. This way we’re just asking people to be honest, as opposed to asking them to guess at the hidden intentions of the question.

I hate the way these questions are currently phrased, as they discriminate against people who only use words as descriptors. A friend said: “I think the correct thing would have been to check the box so as not to participate in the disprivileging of people like yourself who want to use words to refer to underlying features of reality.”

I mean, we literally had to form a committee to figure out what the question was asking and how to answer it. I don’t feel like this is one of those situations where plausible deniability of misunderstanding needs to be preserved for face-saving. The True Question should be made explicit.

I am white, well-assimilated, and raised in the US. I was born in Poland, and my parents escaped when I was an infant, with a suitcase of clothing and aprox 2 months wages in currency. When I am asked on these sorts of forms if I am an immigrant, I check yes. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at me. Now I have to wonder “Do they literally mean Are You An Immigrant? Or do they mean Have You Been Harmed By Not Being A Native Citizen?”

And how do I even answer? I don’t think it’s harmed me in my adult life. I had a funny accent as a kid, and got picked on for that. I had no extended family as a support network. My parents struggled with English as their second language — did these things deprive me of opportunities I would have otherwise had? Why am I second-guessing a question with a factual, easily-verifiable Yes/No answer?

Likewise, I am part of one of the most hated religious minorities in America. Up until 2016 I was the most-hated religious minority in my country. It’s only in the last year that Muslims have surpassed Atheists in unpopularity.  And the advantages of belonging to a religion are well known, and I’m deprived of those. Yet I live in a liberal metropolitan area where people normally don’t talk about their religion, and try very hard not to discriminate. I don’t think that’s ever been used against me when renting or seeking a job. I suspect there are people out there who would object to my identifying as a religious minority.

From now on I’ll try to get clarification when answering these sorts of questions. But when that’s not possible, I will generally default to “answer the question factually.” I hate being forced to answer a question with a falsehood because someone can’t be bothered to actually ask what they want to know.

(In the end, the friend did not tick the “gender nonconforming” box)

Jun 232017
 

I hear tell of bygone days of yore, where a writer could actually make a living and support a family by writing short stories. Apparently short-story markets paid well enough (relative to cost of living) for this to be a viable career up until the 50s or 60s. I was surprised when I first learned this, because it’s never been the case in my life.

No one writes short stories for money. You do it to learn, or to make a name for yourself, or for the love of the form. The pay for short stories is beer money, or maybe fancy new shoes. It’s not “I can pay rent and eat!” money. One must keep a day job.

So many authors, once they get a book deal and start writing professionally, basically stop writing short stories. This is saddening, because I really like short stories by my favorite authors. But I understand the need to pay rent and buy clothes.

There’s been a trend over the last decade of moving to series. More than a trend, really – nowadays every publisher wants to know if your novel could be a series, and a majority of authors (at least in genre) all aim to write a multi-book series from the start. If it’s not the default yet, it will be before the decade’s out. And the reason is the same. Series pay better. Most authors can no longer support a family writing individual novels.

I really hate this trend, because it leads to the Marvelization of everything. The Marvel Universe is one of the most annoying things to have happened to cinema. Within that “universe” of tied-together movies, there are no movies that are worth seeing for their own sake. Every movie has to string the audience along, acting as an advertisement for the next movie in the series. This degrades the quality of the story in the current movie, often by a great amount. Nothing truly interesting can happen, because it would disrupt the universe, and the production schedules of coming movies. Characters can’t grow or change very much, due to the fact that they must be re-used continuously. How many life-changing character-arcs can a human have in one lifetime? Three, maybe four, if they have a very rich life and live for quite a long time? Certainly not 1-2 every year. And yet that’s how often we’ll be seeing them on screen. So most of the time they’ll simply be going through the paces without changing.

Marvel audiences no longer go see a movie because the movie itself tells an interesting story, but rather because they fear falling behind on events, or missing an important development (ha!). They’ve become hostages to the universe, continuing to sacrifice attention and money on the alter of an emotional obligation.

This emotional obligation was probably very useful back when everyone you knew actually existed, and learning about what had happened to them recently was valuable on it’s own, and strengthened your bonds. Emotional obligations to the intellectual property of Disney simply gives them a way to get your money without having to put in the effort of telling a good story. They can reneg on their creative responsibilities and still profit.

When it was movies, I just stopped going to extended-universe-style movies. But the fact that it’s taking over genre writing as well is depressing. Yes, some stories need to be told over multiple books. And the art of “series writing” is an actual thing, which is different from novel writing. But mostly what I see is writers abandoning the art of writing a good, strong novel, in favor of stretching a story out over 3+ books in order to make it a series.

This invariably degrades the quality of the novel. And it wastes the readers time (I’m very jealous of my time nowadays). And it exploits the same emotional obligations of readers, holding them hostage to characters that have stopped developing.

On the other hand, it’s very hard to say to someone “you should write in a way that removes this as a career option for you.” Writing is time consuming, and it’s hard to write while holding a full time job. Writing a series can make the act of writing a viable career for many. If someone is willing to dilute their art in order to be able to do it for a living, I feel like an elitist asshole to speak against that. Who am I to say “You should either be independently wealthy, or condemn your children to living in squalor?”

But dammit, who are they to say “Because this is the work I would rather be doing, I will use psychological tricks to get you to support my career, instead of actually producing an amazing product?” I hate this trend. I want to shake people and say “Stop devaluing your product! You’re just writing soap operas at this point!” :(

Jun 202017
 

I’m somewhat outspoken about preserving a civil society, because I prefer order over chaos. It is important that people not resort to random vigilante justice against targets of opportunity. Determining guilt via the evidence and meting out punishment via an orderly justice system is what separates us from the barbarians. Is what I WOULD say, except for the fact that even barbarians had systems of trials or tribunals to keep personal violence in check.

But for this to work, the system has to actually do the job of punishing the guilty and defending the innocent, at least most of the time. If there is a group that is systematically denied protection by society, there is no reason for them to conform to the restrictions that society requires. A society that denies protection to any group is not a civil society, it is a system of violent subjugation.

We have a huge problem in America. Philando Castile was murdered on camera. Unarmed, seatbelted in his car, his girlfriend and child with him. The prosecution called expert witnesses and other police to testify that a reasonable person should not feel threatened in that situation, and should not resort to deadly force. And yet his murderer walked away without a conviction, because he’s a cop.

How are we supposed to have a civil society if our police are never held liable for murder?? In the past week I’ve reiterated that violence is not an acceptable response to speech. You know what violence IS an acceptable response to? Getting murdered. This is the sort of thing that justifies riots. This is the sort of thing that could justify civil war. Why would anyone respect the law if the law is only used to hurt them, and never to protect them? I do not want to be hurt, I do not want my property or my work place to be burned down. Yet I understand entirely why someone would lash out against a society that is there to subjugate them and protect their killers.

I don’t know how to fix this. If it was just one case I could be convinced this was a single aberration, or I’m not aware of all the facts that came out in the courtroom and maybe the cop really should walk free. But this happens constantly. I hate to say this, but I’m starting to lose faith in the jury system.