Apr 182014

grim_9-fullConfounded by people’s strong attachment to Deathism, I posited that they’re probably just automatically reciting back the answers they’ve heard. I thought better results would be achieved by asking “If you could live young and healthy for as long as you wanted, how many centuries would you want to live?” Get people to stop and think, ya know?

So recently when I was the TopicsMaster at a ToastMasters meeting I tossed out that topic, and then picked a random person from the audience. Turns out I had been naively optimistic (again!). The reply was “Just one”, with a standard Deathist elaboration about not wanting to live on without their friends/family.

This was partly my fault for not making it clear that this ability would be society-wide, and not unique magic.

But, with yesterday’s post about emotions being the biological tools of alliance-building still in my mind, I came to another realization. People are being alliance-smart when answering like this.

Right now, biological immortality is impossible. Saying “I’d like to live for hundreds of years” gets you nothing, any more than saying “I’d like to fly and be invisible!” does. When making such fanciful proclamations, the only thing to be gained or lost is the respect of your allies (or potential allies). For someone to say “I am so dedicated and committed to my allies that I would not want to live without them! I would rather die first!” sends a signal that one is a good alliance-partner to have. Loyalty unto death is a highly prized trait in allies. And while sometimes making this claim can be costly (maybe if someone needs an organ donated, or is in trouble with the mafia), it literally costs absolutely nothing to make such a claim in the face of eventual-death-from-old-age, since that’s currently unavoidable anyway!

All this time I think I’ve only been making the Deathist position stronger, by making supporting it have a social payoff. Dammit!

New strategy then – try to flip the tables, and make it look like supporting Deathism is a strike against your allies instead. Because, honestly, it is. You’re taking the position that you’re cool with all your allies dying due to inaction. New phrasing:

“If science cured aging, and your children & loved ones could live young and healthy as long as they wanted, how many centuries do you think we should limit them to?”

That’s probably too crass. But it’s a starting point. And supposedly this difference in thinking can help. When finding that women who ask for raises are much less assertive than their male counterparts, they were advised to stop thinking that they were asking for a raise for themselves and start thinking that they were asking for others, such as their children or family. Apparently that made a big difference. So, from now no more appeals to a person’s own survival when fighting Deathism – EVER. Only appeals to the altruism of preventing the deaths of their loved ones.

Apr 172014

animal,love,cat,dog,goodnight,kissYesterday I managed to screw up my back when I ignored proper form while putting down some weights. Yay me. :/

Now I’m all hobbling around in pain. Which reminded me of something I’ve observed several times, but haven’t commented on yet – when I’m ill or injured, I feel the emotion of love more strongly.

Not constantly, of course. Mostly I’m grumpy and achy. But when I’m around others I feel a greater desire to interact with them. I feel more warmth at that interaction, and a great deal more happiness when talking with or being around others. Touch is especially nice. I even feel a heightened level of love and affection for my SO (who, presumably, I love all the time).

This seems to simply be the other side of the much-publicized studies that show The Powerful feel less empathy. When you have power you don’t need other people as much, so you simply care less for them. For the most part I’m doing alright. I have a decent job which I feel secure in, and enough money for all my basic needs/wants. I’m a white male in a society that gives huge privileges to white males. I live in a safe neighborhood in a stable country, and I’m still young and healthy and (I’ve been told) somewhat attractive. I don’t really feel I need others in a visceral sense (even though I know that I do, intellectually), and thus the intensity of my emotional attachment to others is muted.

But every now and then I get sick. Or I suffer some injury. And all of a sudden everyone is wonderful, people are the best things ever, and I love all my friends and family. This seems to me to be alliance-strengthening behavior, in times when it is biologically obvious I need some allies! The blatantly exploitative nature of my emotions is embarrassing. As is their short-sightedness. This is the least appealing time to have me as an ally. My emotions should have been cementing alliances back when I was strong, and a desirable ally to have! It’s a bit late now! “Digging the well after your home has already caught fire”, as my parents would say (they’re from the Old Country).

But evolution is a short-sighted and stupid creator. Mainly I just feel frustration at being reminded that yes, I am just a conglomeration of hormones and chemicals that act subconsciously in ways that tend to ensure my genetic survival, rather than in ways I would consider morally or intellectually appropriate. Evolution ain’t ethical, and my surge of love is another damned example of it. I guess I should try to enjoy it while I can. It’s nice to feel that warmth among others coming so easily for a while.

Apr 152014

writeAn acquaintance asked a group of us to motivate him to finish his story for a writer’s workshop in a few days rather than attending the local book festival coming that weekend.


There will be other book festivals. If you go to this one, what lasting impact will you have on the world? What will be left of your life after you are gone? If you go to a book festival – nothing. Temporary enjoyment, and then it’s gone in a flash. If you work and produce something – possibly a great work of art. Perhaps not this one that you’re writing, but it will be one more stone laid in the foundation for what will become your legacy.

Do you want to fade to nothing like almost everyone else who’s ever lived? Or do you want your life to mean something?


Apr 112014

drowned citiesBy Paolo Bacigalupi

Synopsis: Child soldiers in a crumbling American South try to survive.

Book Review: An interesting mix, because this is marketed as “YA”, but the subject matter really pushes the boundaries of that. It’s rare (to say the least) for YA to feature amputation, pre-teens using drugs/alcohol and visiting brothels, and committing war crimes. However the writing style often feels like YA, which is unfortunate.

The book has an extremely strong setting, I loved the over-grown jungles and crumbling cities of a war-torn South. The characters are all vibrant and distinct. They really grab you, and you feel like you would love to meet any of them (not because they’d be pleasant to be around of course, but because they are so interesting). The plot moves along at a good clip, and there are a lot of things in this book that will stay with you for quite a while.

On the other hand, the prose itself is lackluster. It lacks a strong voice, and never gets very intricate. It is also sometimes too un-subtle (and I am not a subtly fetishist). I often hear “Well, it’s YA, you have to make allowances for the book due to the target audience. It won’t be as intricate as an adult novel.” And frankly I think that’s intentionally setting the bar low. It’s the same complaint people have about self-published stuff. With the excuses of “Well, it’s self-published, you gotta let some things slide” it just lowers the level of the entire field because no one strives for excellence. This is one of the reasons I don’t really like to read YA. Drowned Cities could have been an amazing novel. But the excuse of “it’s YA, it doesn’t have to be as polished” let it aim lower.

Also there is too much reliance on Tool to solve every problem, and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying.

However the book is so good in so many other ways it’s really hard to come down hard on it. It is, overall, good. If you like YA (and can handle some atrocities), I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re like me and tend to avoid YA, I’d wish the fates were different but say not to make a special effort to pick it up.

Book Club Review: We had a massive turn out for this meeting. Everyone had things they wanted to say. Things they loved that they wanted to enthuse about with others, and things that rubbed them the wrong way that they really had to get out of their system. I mentioned in my introductory postthat generally the best books for book clubs are ones that have great highlights and also substantial flaws, so there’s things to talk about other than just repeating “Yeah, that was great.” This is one of those books.

It also, like all of Paolo’s writings, has a lot to say. Political/moral/social things, which people can agree or disagree with at length. It was pointed out by another member that this book takes the position that there is no such thing as a just war, or as virtuous violence. If fighting erupts in an area they only sensible thing to do is walk away, leave the animals to wipe each other out, then maybe come back later to pick up the pieces. Violence only ever feeds more violence. Intervention, even for good reasons, will only make things worse. I don’t know if this is the author’s personal position, but it was well presented in the story and made for some interesting comments.

The discussion was insightful and fun, and no one disliked the book. Definitely a solid win. Recommended.

Apr 102014

The-PrincipleTell everyone you know – a Christian documentary says famous physicists and cosmologists accept the word of God: the Sun revolves around the Earth!

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle recently about many well-known scientists “participating” in a documentary that claims modern cosmology is coming to accept that the earth is the center of the universe. And which Kate Mulgrew (of Star Trek Voyager) lent her voice to. Of course none of this is true in any sense that matters – their voices are in the documentary, but they have been lied to and extensively quote-mined to make it sound like they are saying the opposite of what they actually believe. The standard, sane position that the Earth circles the Sun, which has been settled for centuries.

Naturally a lot of people are saying this is reprehensible. But I think this is one of the best things a group could do to discredit biblical literalism.

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. Like all fundamentalist religions they can’t abide evolutionary theory, and they have their own handbook on how wrong it is. Like any good Jehovah’s Witness, I studied it so I could be ready for my biology teachers. Being a very geeky kid, I would argue online with non-theists and non-JW christian kids. It was through the wonder of the internet that I was first exposed to fact-checking, and was shown that the many biologists that were quoted in the JW book as coming out against evolution where doing nothing of the sort. Their quotes were plucked out of context to make them sound as if they were saying the opposite of what they were ACTUALLY saying. In one case it was almost literally a case of a biologist saying “I would never say that evolution is a crock of shit” and the part of the quote that made it into the book was “[…] evolution is a crock of shit!”

As an idealistic child who had always been proud of how honest and upstanding Jehovah’s Witnesses were, I was shocked. And I came to realize that if they were this deceptive about the scientists they quoted… they would twist around just about anything to seem to support their conclusion whether or not it actually did so. Evidence presented by the JWs was NOT TRUSTWORTHY on its face, because it was being presented by the JWs.

If I wasn’t an argumentative and precocious geek kid, I may never have stumbled across this information. Evolution is still seen as controversial by many people, almost no one questions a quote presented in a printed publication, so what trusting christian would go look up the quotes of every scientist (in a book their church presented!) in order to get the original context and intent?  Who knows how long it would have been before I realized these people are liars?

On the other hand, nearly everyone realizes that Flat-Earthers and Geo-Centrists are complete idiots. That the Earth orbits the Sun is common knowledge. If you see someone saying the Earth is the center of the Universe, you already know they are crazy, simply because they are claiming that!

And if you see a religious group producing a movie filled with respected scientists that have been quoted agreeing with them, no one thinks “Huh, they must be on to something,” or even “Those scientists are clearly idiots.” What they think is “Oh, a group of liars has taken a bunch of scientists’ quotes out of context, manipulating their words so it sounds like they’re saying the opposite of what they really believe.” It creates a very strong association between “Religious groups claiming things contrary to science” and “Liar idiots.”

It makes them look so incredibly sleazy and awful, that everything they say going forward will be more suspect. This act of deception makes them look so bad that it behooves us to spread their message far and wide.

I don’t think they could have hurt themselves more if they tried. It almost makes me think that this could be a false-flag operation by an atheist group to discredit religious fundies.

I’ve long suspected the same thing of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, incidentally. That group has done wonders for the gay-rights movement, by making the anti-gay bigots look so fucking ignorant, hateful, and despicable. Honestly, could a gay group wanting to turn popular opinion against the anti-gay hordes do ANY BETTER than to pretend to Hate All Fags, and then picket military funerals in the most despicable manner they could get away with? It’s genius. I don’t think it’s true, and that makes it soooooo deliciously ironic as well. Thanks for making gay-acceptance come quicker Fred Phelps!

But I’m getting off topic. Share this far and wide!

Apr 092014

You’ve probably already heard of the HeartBleed Bug. If not – here you go.

In short – Do you use passwords on the internet? Unless you use a unique password for every site, it’s time to change all of them. ALL OF THEM. (Although maybe wait a couple days for everything to get patched first, or even your new passwords will be compromised.)

I have been referred to a couple good unique-passwords-for-every-site-without-having-to-remember-a-million-password/site-combination resources (LastPass and PasswordMaker).

Obviously even unique passwords will have to be changed on compromised sites. And it may still behoove you to change everything.

But the really interesting part was the passwords I didn’t necessarily have to change. Of all the sites I use, exactly two have completely unique passwords. My bank account, and my podcast. It became immediately apparent what is most important to me.

Apr 032014

1148969_738229362884591_762369565_nThe Secret Gnostic Key to Aronofsky’s “Noah” that Everyone Missed - I always thought it was pretty obvious to anyone who really read the bible (at least the English/Protestant version that I got) that the OT god was the bad guy. He managed to win, and so He re-cast the serpent as evil and everyone worships Him in error, but somehow the record of his actions managed to survive (even with the spin). I’m glad to see there’s a whole lost religious tradition that agrees. It means there have always been some people in history that have at least one skill point in Reading Comprehension.

In the decade leading up to the big coal-ash spill, West Virginia had been deeply slashing regulations to appeal to the Coal Dragons. To the point that the government couldn’t even effectively go after willful violators. Humans – reaping what they sow, since forever.

Breaking through nihilism -
“The actual fundamentals of the universe that we have learned from centuries of investigation are so completely and utterly alien to we tiny little humans and our worldview that they cannot even be called malicious!
… Because the universe lacks any agency, it cannot actually stop us.”

Avoid Catholic hospitals, they might kill you if it means not having to end a pregnancy that isn’t viable anyway. Unfortunately, some people don’t have any non-Catholic options, as the Church keeps buying up hospitals. Why the hell are we allowing religious organizations to buy hospitals???
Oh, right, because religions are big business. 
“doctors … did not tell her that the fetus could not survive or that continuing her pregnancy was risky and did not admit her for observation.

She returned the next morning, bleeding and in pain, and was sent home again. That night she went a third time, feverish and writhing with pain; she miscarried at the hospital and the fetus died soon after.

the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops … require Catholic hospitals to avoid abortion or referrals, “even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk.””

…”imagine that you’re one of those people Dan Savage was talking about – a closeted gay guy who doesn’t realize he’s a closeted gay guy. He just thinks – reasonably, given his own experience! -that the natural state of the human male is to be attracted to other men, but that men grudgingly have sex with and marry women anyway because society tells them they have to.
In that case, exactly the anti-gay position conservatives push makes perfect sense for exactly the reasons they say it makes sense.”
It’s sad, but in such a funny way.

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs. The title pretty much says it all, but…
“If promoting democracy and other liberal values is on your agenda, he says, health care and disease abatement should be your main concern.”
Still a new idea, so take it as informed speculation. But worst case scenario, you’ve still helped to prevent/cure diseases, which is awesome in its own right even without the democracy bonus.

Due Process When Everything Is a Crime
“a popular game in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York was to name a famous person—Mother Teresa, or John Lennon—and decide how he or she could be prosecuted”

“the actual decision of whether or not to charge a person with a crime is almost completely unconstrained. Yet, because of overcharging and plea bargains, the decision to prosecute is probably the single most important event in the chain of criminal procedure.”

8 Reasons Straight Men Don’t Want To Get Married
I’d also like to add #9: If both partners work, there are almost no tax benefits to being married, and nowadays almost always both partners work. Can’t even bribe people into marriage anymore.

Did you buy almost any piece of electronics between 1998-2002? Fill out a 3-minute claim (easiest one I’ve ever seen) and get back $10+. Unless you make more than $3/minute already, this is worth your time.

A friend’s Facebook flare-up reminded me of this. A large black dude talks about what it takes to keep strangers from being scared around him. White guys often don’t realize this is a thing for women *all the time*.
Thinking people should automatically be comfortable around you just because you’re such a great guy is a hallmark of privilege, and the most privileged people never realize it.
“Now there are two ways I could react to these encounters. I could rail against people for being racist and sexist and size-ist (if that’s a thing) – I’m so gentle and warm and loving! How dare they act as though I’m not? That’s one way – and it’s the stupid way. The other way is to recognize that while I strongly dislike the fact that people see me as dangerous because of how I look, it is up to me to decide what to do with that information. If I don’t care about spooking my neighbours, I don’t have to shuffle my feet – let them deal with their fright. But if I do care, then I have to find some way of mitigating that fear so we can coexist harmoniously.”

Cory Doctorow: Cold Equations and Moral Hazard
“Every time you hear that education is vital and taking care of the poor is our solemn duty, but we must all tighten in our belts while our lifeboat rocks in the middle of the precarious, crisis-torn economic seas, ask yourself whether the captain of our lifeboat had any role in the sinking of the ship.”

If you click no other video this day… 50 Cent dubbed over Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to get deaf people to stop masturbating

and the translation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytYykOop6HI
(don’t know sign language so I can’t verify it’s accurate. However it does accurately represent what I was taught as a kid.)

I am forced to approve of this. Moonrise: A MLP Symphonic Metal Opera

Apr 012014

Rebel-Without-A-CauseMe and my SO saw Rebel Without A Cause for the first time yesterday, which has long been considered a classic. It didn’t age well. Specifically, changes in social norms have made it impossible to relate to anyone we were supposed to relate to.

Before before we begin, can I ask if there was a shortage of teen actors in the mid-50s? I’ve never seem so many 30-year-olds attending High School gathered in one place!

Back on topic. Overall this is a pretty good flick about being an isolated teen. No one understands you, your parents suck, and bullies are making life terrible. It has a great “things spiral out of control and tragedy ensues” arc, which I normally enjoy quite a bit. But unfortunately, there is no way to identify with anyone in this movie anymore. The creatures on screen are weird alien lifeforms that you don’t want to associate with, and so it’s much harder to identify with their angst.

James Dean’s character – the protagonist in this piece – isolates us in the first scene of the movie. He complains to a cop that his mother is too bossy with his dad, and then says (direct quote) “If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop picking on him.” Yes, that’s right. The lovable rogue is an advocate of spousal abuse. If only his dad would beat his mom then she’d be soooo much happier, and everything in their family life would be great! This is the reason I can’t watch most things set in the 50s/60s (I couldn’t even finish the second episode of Mad Men). They make my “murder all of society” levels rage into Hulk-Smash mode, and I can’t enjoy shit.

This isn’t an accident either. Later in the movie his dad is shown to be a weakling that his son can’t respect because, when he drops a plate of food he was carrying, he crouches down and starts cleaning it up!! “WTF Dad?? Cleaning is WOMEN’S work! Get off the ground and make the bitch do it!” These aren’t Dean’s exact words, but that’s the message that comes across.

And this makes it very hard to relate to him in his other trials, particularly his girlfriend issues. The female lead in the movie is established to have an abusive father, and so we figured this would be a movie about the cycle of abuse, and how victimizers seek out victims, etc. Nope. Instead they make lovey-eyes at each other, and have a typical teen romance. Which was so nausea-inducing that we kept interrupting the screen with things like “I can’t wait to make you my wife, so I can beat you every day,” and “Once we live together in this mansion, I won’t have to go to your father’s house to beat you.” Etc. I guess in the 50s it was considered cool to beat a mouthy woman unconscious. You could be a proponent of that and still be taken seriously as a gentle romantic lead. But morality has progressed to the point that all you can think of when you see James Dean’s character is “Vile Wife-Beating Piece of Shit.”

The other major character we’re supposed to feel sympathy for is a younger boy who has basically been abandoned by his parents. He hasn’t seen his father in years, and his mother leaves him alone for weeks. In the end it’s the family’s housekeeper who weeps over his body crying “This poor baby got nobody! Just nobody!” It would have been a powerful scene, if we could in any way feel sorry for the kid. But honestly, we’re glad he’s dead.

Because ALSO in the first scene of the movie he’s introduced as a serial-killer-in-training. Seriously, he gets his mother’s gun, gets some puppies, and then MURDERS THE PUPPIES. I guess in the 50s they didn’t realize that cruelty to small animals (especially killing them) is an early warning sign of psychopathy? The cops let him go with, I dunno, a warning?

I seriously thought he was being set up as the villain of the movie. That in the end they’d have to fight off his crazy murder-spree or something. And I kept thinking I would be right! The kid always talks and looks creepy. He stalks James Dean throughout the whole movie. He’s shown constructing elaborate lies about their past relationship. Every single sign points to “this kid is just a step away from being Ben Foster in “Hostage”” (fucking amazing movie, btw). But then at the end it turns around – he gets picked on and bullied, and we’re supposed to feel sad for this poor broken kid, and sympathize with him. No. Nope. Nuh-uh.

I think we (me and SO) need to restrict ourselves only to movies made post-1980-ish. The morals of the past are so bizarre that it’s hard to relate to them. My Fair Lady had a similarly shocking ending. It’s hard to imagine that our grandparents grew up in this sort of environment. I am much more impressed with their ability to adapt and grow as morality evolves, based on this.

Mar 272014

Tregillis-SomethingMoreThanNightBy Ian Tregillis

Synopsis: A murder-mystery set in the near future, told by two protagonists. The murder victim is an angel. One of the protagonists speaks entirely in 40’s Noir patter, and is also an angel. The existence of angels is not well known.

Book Review:  I don’t know where to begin on this review. The narrative style is amazing. If you love over-the-top-Noir like I do you will get a huge kick out of this. There are some beautifully crafted sentences. If you don’t smile while reading Bayliss’s POV chapters you may have misplaced your soul.

The plot is good, and manages to avoid several common tropes which I don’t want to get into for risk of spoilers. Let it be said that if you groan and /facepalm when running into received-wisdom Deathist tropes in standard fiction, you will be pleasantly surprised by their avoidance here. There is a strong thread of transhumanism throughout.

On the minuses, the settings/sense-of-place was sadly lacking. And while it starts strong and ends strong, it drags a bit in the middle. Finally, the climax is a bit lacking in catharsis.

Also – have Wikipedia open nearby while you’re reading. It’s not necessary, but it did increase my enjoyment of the book. It is quite obvious that the author works at Los Alamos. I, for one, love learning while I’m reading. :) You will be entertained and challenged at once!

All in all, a good read. Recommended.

Book Club Review: There was a fair bit to talk about in this. It had some flaws to offset its successes, which is always a plus. It gives people something to disagree about. Several of our members thought the Noir patter was over-the-top and should have been dialed down. There was also a strong bit of disagreement over whether the author “cheated” near the end, which was exciting.

Unfortunately there was no theological debate to get into, because the angels in SMTN are not religious entities. They are extremely-powerful, trans-dimensional, immortal and semi-incomprehensible beings. Their physical descriptions are informed by biblical accounts, and there’s theological influences on the narration, but ultimately there are basically zero ties to religion as we know it. This isn’t a bad thing– Tregillis simply wasn’t writing a religious story. That would have been a very different book. But don’t go into it expecting this to spark theological conversation.

There are, however, discussions to be had about the choices made by both the angels and the humans at the end. Themes of responsibility vs servitude. The book also comes down on the practical side of the power-vs-morality struggle, which is fortunate for the humans in the end, but feels like it was left unexplored. It’s a bit too pat that the human heroine managed to find such an optimal solution that was near perfect in every regard. Maybe that’s just my dislike of happy endings. At any rate, I look forward to a sequel that reveals all the choices made at the end where actually disastrous. ;)

Yes, also Recommended.