Mar 252019
 

In my previous post Guys, Take A Knee, I had several people express confusion as to what I was talking about. I turns out I’m taller than average, and most people cannot take the action I was recommending.

I realize that, at nearly 6’3”, I am statistically taller than average. But aside from rare occasions when my tallness is being called on for a specific purpose, I never feel tall. I simply feel like a standard-issue human.

Back when I was overweight, I never felt fat either (surprisingly, that came after I lost the weight). I just felt… normal.

I have two exceedingly short friends who both have told me they never feel short. They feel like they’re on par with everyone else, and are surprised to see themselves in pictures standing next to taller people and being significantly smaller. Or about the rare rude shocks of being reminded of their shortness when a typical task for everyone else is beyond their reach.

I wonder if this is a similar phenomenon to the Typical Mind Fallacy? They don’t seem like they’re the same, as TMF often is a result of the fact that no one is explicit about their mental processes (most of the time), and since we can’t read other people’s minds we can only assume they work similar to ours. TBF doesn’t have that problem, since we CAN see our bodies, and how they compare to others nearby. How the heck would one miss the fact that they are taller/shorter than most people around them? But they seem to both tap into a sort of invisibility-of-the-self, a lack of awareness of oneself as a distinct thinking unit (or physical object). I am not a body in the physical world. I am not a brain running a prediction engine. I simply am.

I think this is also why I can never remember what the protagonist of a story is supposed to look like. They become the Invisible Self, a Me by other means, and so physicality drops away.

Except, of course, not everyone is like that, as another commenter pointed out. It’s fascinating that there are so many ways to be human. :)

Feb 222019
 

To be clear: I agree with this pic+caption and love everything about it. :) I’m speaking of not-this.

In most *written* secondary-world Fantasy, and far-future Science Fiction, race doesn’t much matter. Because those worlds aren’t contemporary, and written word is a non-visual medium.

First, a character’s race certainly matters in stories set on our world (or a recognizable facsimile) any time in the past, present, or near-future. Race matters a lot in the real world, it has major impacts on a character’s life and experiences that are very pertinent to the reader. A black character in a Urban Fantasy is still dealing with hostile social forces, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and common stereotypes. A Hispanic kid in a cyberpunk world still has to deal with similar issues. These things inform who the character is, and how we relate to them, because these are forces we experience (or at least are intimately familiar with) in our real lives. Describe a character by their race and we internalize and remember it. Simply the fact of how they look has shaped their lives in ways the reader will be familiar with.
In a secondary or far-future world, this is not the case. In a world where the ruling majority have dark skin and people with light skin are the foreigners… so what? Or one peoples have straight hair, the others kinky. Or one peoples have folded eyes, the others not. Or mix and match, and alter other features as well. It doesn’t really matter, because there are no social or experiential implications to any of these traits for the reader. We aren’t immersed in the politics and culture of the non-contemporary world. We may be told that “the flat-nosed people oppressed the sharp-nosed people for centuries,” but there’s no emotional history that goes along with literally living our entire lives in a world like that and seeing the consequences daily. Of seeing photos of men murdered in the street.*
These things can make for cool cosmetic differences, sure. It’s boring to have everyone look the same, and mixing it up can give each group a distinctive flair. But it doesn’t mean anything on an emotional level. And I’ve found that, for that reason, I very quickly forget a character’s racial characteristics in any non-contemporary novel.
In one novel, set in the very far future, the protagonist was introduced as black. Ok, great. A hundred pages later this was mentioned again, and I was surprised. I had forgotten his skin color. In large part, because it didn’t matter. It had no effect on the story, as humanity had advanced beyond such prejudices (and had better things to be prejudiced about). I don’t really have visual representations in my memory of any character that isn’t on the cover of a novel, so if it doesn’t matter in other ways, it fades from memory quickly. When I was reminded of his race again, about 150 pages after that, I was surprised again. Doh.
I’m reading another novel, in which the character’s racial features are mentioned a fair bit more often, and do matter somewhat. But when they aren’t specifically commented on, my awareness of them disappears. It’s hard to keep track of what the various racial groups are in that world, what they look like, and how they interact. And you can’t tell who belongs to which group just by looking at them, because they are physically invisible except in any paragraph where the author is describing them. To be completely honest, I kinda wish they were over-the-top exaggerated features that really stuck out in memory. Like pointy ears. Or horns. Or scaled skin. Or short & stocky & fond of beards. Different skin tones and eye-shapes is hard to keep track of once the cast of characters is greater than three.
Secondly, a character’s race does matter–even if it’s not story-relevant–in any visual medium. That’s why it’s good to have the multi-ethnic cast of a Star Trek, or the new Star Wars. It’s why the non-whiteness of the Avatar: The Last Airbender characters is refreshing. Even though their races explicitly don’t matter (except perhaps to separate people into teams), we see them every second they are on screen. Humans do update on fictional evidence. Seeing someone with dark skin treated like an equal does matter on a visceral level. Even in a completely fantastical setting.
Sadly, the written word is not a visual medium. You only see that which the author is talking about at the specific moment. And unless they’re talking about a person’s racial characteristics, they’re pretty invisible.
So, while race doesn’t need to be left out, I don’t think it’s nearly as important as writers seem to think it is. Unless the character appears on the cover, or the work is optioned for adaptation into a visual medium later, it doesn’t make much difference for non-contemporary settings. I guess in the end this doesn’t matter, except for making me grumble about people thinking they are being progressive when in fact nothing is being accomplished, because the medium they work in isn’t a visual one.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
(As an aside, while I have trouble remembering a character’s physical characteristics, you can tell me their sexuality once and never mention it or any effects of it again, and I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if this is common among humans, or if I’m much more sex-interested/motivated that most?)

*For this same reason, race does actually matter in contemporary settings. Hermione could certainly have been black as written. Not a single word would need to be changed in the books. But, unless English culture is drastically different from American culture, it would mean something different *to the reader* for a black character to have her story. For her to go through seven years and never have anyone comment on her skin color, or make assumptions based on it, or treat her dismissively because of it, says a lot about the society she is living in. The reader would have noticed, and would have inferred things about wizarding society. I’m fine with a re-imagining of Hermione as a black character. I’d actually be really interested in seeing that, it sounds awesome. But to pretend that she could have been black all along without it changing anything about how the story is read is disingenuous.
Feb 072019
 

UBO, by Steve Resnic Tem

Synopsis: A number of ordinary men are abducted and forced to relive the crimes of infamous psychopaths in recent history as part of a bizarre research project.

Book Review: After I finished it, it took me several days of thinking about this book to decide how I felt about it.

It is exceptionally well-written, as one would expect from a long-time, award-winning author. When I read this book, I really felt like I was in the UBO facility. I could see it and feel it around me. But it’s very dark. Like, ugly dark. Many parts of the novel made me feel ugly reading them, and I wanted to purge myself afterwards. Which is also good writing, just not a trip some people want to take.

The thing is, when you get to the end, you’re left wondering, what was all this for? In the penultimate chapter the protagonist gives an answer to that question, but it’s not a satisfying one, and it seems to be contradicted by the final chapter of the novel. And that final chapter… wow. It’s like emerging from underground after being trapped in a collapsed mine for twenty-one days and finally seeing the sky again.

In the end, I think every reader will have to come give their own meaning to this story. For myself, I view it as treatise on depression. The entire book up to the last chapter is what living with depression is. Everything is crumbling and dirty and rotting. All of humanity is wicked, and you are literally unable to gather the will to fight it due to subconscious sabotage. Merely existing is an ugly act. And one keeps asking oneself – why? What is all this for? Why are we enduring all this, what’s the point?

Why am I reading this?

And then the final chapter gives you your answer. It gives you the bloom of color that keeps you going, in spite of it all. Because there is some beauty out there that’s worth it.

I kinda like books that makes me think for days before I know if I like them or not. And I have a long history with depression. So in the end, I’ve decided I love this novel.

In fact, looking back on the past couple years, it seems that I’ve really liked all three horror novels we’ve read. I never read horror, because I associated it with torture-porn and sadistic grossness. But maybe I’m a horror guy at heart? And I should be reading a lot more of it? Something to ponder.

In the meantime: Highly Recommended!

Book Club Review: There’s definitely quite a bit to talk about here. The book is very open to interpretation and imposition of meaning. But as someone pointed out, people often force meaning onto unpleasant and awful things, perhaps in an attempt to make the experience have some value aside from just suffering. “If you were unavoidably hit by a baseball bat every day, you’d find meaning in it…” and so forth. And much of my book club did not think the payoff of having this book to ponder over was worth the price of having to read through depictions of being a killer. I think this is certainly not a good choice for people with certain sensitivities, so I can’t give it blanket recommendation.

But on the other hand, I would have never picked this up myself, because I thought I hate horror. I only read it because it was part of the book club reading, and I’m so glad I did. If you do pick it for a book club, it’s probably best to warn people beforehand. I’d give it a recommendation for provoking discussion, but only with caveats and some knowledge of your members’ personalities.

That being said, if you are me or sufficiently like me, read this!

Jan 162019
 

If you’re like me, then:

1. For the past 15+ years you’ve either lived alone or with a housemate whose level of dirtiness tolerance is much higher than your own, and thus you are the primary/sole cleaner of common spaces,

and

2. You urinate via external genitalia.

Sometimes when I use a public restroom I see cute signs over the toilets or urinals that say “We aim to please! You aim too, please!” As a often-cleaning person (trait A) I absolutely sympathize with these signs. However I’m pretty sure the people who place them don’t have experience urinating with external genitalia (trait B). My penis is, perhaps sadly, not a precisely crafted piece of rigid machinery. It’s a floppy, biological pee-tube. Its physical characteristics vary widely based on temperature, excitement, and recent storage conditions. It sometimes hides subtle kinks or pinches that are not apparent from sensation or visual observation. And there’s no way to “set it to true.”

What I’m saying is, when first one lets loose to pee, ain’t no damn way to tell what’s gonna go where. You just point in a direction, hope for the best, and quickly adjust if expectations don’t match reality. If that’s possible… On occasion a weird pinch will get you a sorta split-stream effect, and adjusting for one makes the other go haywire, and oh god, why is this happening, what did I ever do to deserve this??

This isn’t normally the case, of course. 97% of the time you point, the urine goes basically were you expect, and everyone’s happy. But those other 3% can be a killer.

But even that’s not entirely true. Because even in those 97% of the times that go according to plan, there’s splash. Have you ever let a garden hose trickle from waist-height into a shallow pool of water on the ground? Or held a straw-full of soda a foot over your almost-full glass and then let the liquid drop into the glass? Imagine that effect for 21 seconds. A toilet bowl is deep enough to catch almost all the tiny flying droplets that splatter everywhere… but not quite all. There’ll always be a few little buggers with Olympic aspirations making a leap for freedom that get up onto the seat or rim, or sometimes even further. (This is why carpet in a bathroom is the most disgusting idea known to man. Yes, even worse than pineapple on pizza).

I’m sure that for marking one’s territory far and wide, external genitalia was a godsend. But in the modern era, it is the undisputed inferior way to pee.

And yes, while in theory one could sit to pee like our internal-genitalia’ed brethren, very few people do so.

First, it’s weird. Sitting is what I do to poop. When I sit down on a toilet but I don’t have to crap, my butt gets confused. “What am I doing here?” it asks. “Should I go now? Is it my time? I’m not ready, but ok, here I go…” and the rest of me is all “Wait, no, goddammit! It is not your turn!” And then there’s just chaos.

Second, it’s slow. I gotta take down my pants and undergarments, and turn around, and lower myself, before I can even start. And then I have to do the whole thing again in reverse. Ugh, such a pain. Ain’t no one got time for that.

Third (this is gonna sound kinda sexist, but dammit, I’m stuck in this same patriarchal bullshit as all the rest of you so don’t judge my socially-instilled bad instincts) it feels girly. I know girly isn’t bad. I know this is a stupid emotional reason to not do something that makes sense. But I still live in a time/place where I’ll be looked down on and thought less of for sitting down to pee, but not for spraying urine all over the bathroom stall. Or at least, looked down on less.

But there is one action that solves all of these problems. One blessed act of physical strength and dexterity that turns one from a hated pest to a noble defender of virtue. I speak, of course, of Taking A Knee.

First, Taking A Knee is not weird. There is no confusion with any other common actions, unless one is in the enviable position of being knighted frequently, or in the unenviable position of owning a pair of shoelaces that will not stay tied. Either way, not your butt’s problem.

Second, it’s basically just as fast as standing and peeing. Ok, there’s a split second of extra action required, but it’s barely noticeable. Kneeling has been the preferred way of getting closer to ground for Men of Action since time immemorial, due to how quickly and efficiently one can go from standing to kneeling and back again. It’s literally closer to the starting-spring position of a sprinter than standing is. Should an enemy kick down your door while you are kneel-peeing, you are in a perfect position to launch right into an up-the-wall-flip emergency parkour move to turn the tables on them.

Third, it’s manly as hell.

And it solves all the problems of peeing with a squishy meat hose! No matter how that urine stream bursts forth, when you’re starting out at the same level as the toilet’s rim it’s nearly impossible for the pee to travel up and over it. And being mere inches away from the porcelain means it never gains enough velocity to splash more than a smidgen.

Obviously you don’t want to do this in public bathrooms, where everyone else has been peeing on the floor and your knees will be soiled. But in your private dwelling, doing this will save you a ton of cleaning and unpleasantness. My life has been much improved by this simple fix. And if you are at the private residence of someone who you like, and who’s bathroom looks well-kept, consider kneeling at their place too. They’ll thank you for it later. Except, only in their head. Not literally, out-loud, to you. That’d be weird.

You’re welcome.

Dec 212018
 

Unholy Land, by Lavie Tidhar

Synopsis: An Alternate Universe fic where the Jewish state is created in Uganda in 1903 (actual thing that came close to happening).

Book Review: I didn’t like it, mainly for personal reasons.

First, the writing style was unbearable. I know I lean purple in my taste. I like flowery, lyrical writing. I love everything Catherine Valente touchers. I even enjoyed the overwrought gothic style of Twilight. Unholy Land is the opposite of that. The prose is utterly flat. It just lies there, dead on the page. Like so:

“He said nothing. His breath was labored and it was loud in the room. The room was underground. The walls were strong.”

or

“The sunlight was white on the hills.”

It made reading difficult, because I was so bored my mind would wander. I had to force my attention back to the page. I guess he was trying to do the spare Hemingway thing, but it didn’t work out well IMO.

Second, he had lots of cool things that were briefly introduced, but never did anything. Like introducing the kabbalistic Tree of Life as a map for travelling between the various realities, and using kabbalah to twist them. But it’s just a hint and then it’s dropped and it’s frustrating as hell to be teased in this way. It gives the distinct impression that Tidhar thought “This would be cool if it was ever developed, so I’ll just drop it in,” but doing so without developing it or thinking about it just makes it feel shallow and tacked-on. Pointing out a part of you world to say “This could be really cool if this thing was done!” only highlights how lame it is in comparison since that thing wasn’t done. It would have been better off not introduced at all. At least IMO. Again, my complaints about this book are personal-taste in nature.

Thirdly, Tidhar goes to pains to point out–from within the text–that this novel is just pulp trash and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s a “Haha, only serious,” kinda thing, because obviously he does want it taken seriously, he has some serious things to say. Which is fine. Pulp can say serious things. But when on more than one occasion the author lampshades how trashy and pulpy the novel is, so you can just ignore anything that doesn’t make perfect sense because none of this is Serious Literature anyway, it infuriates me. Genre Fic has long had Serious People looking down their noses at it, saying it can’t say anything of substance because it’s not Real Literature. For Tidhar to buy into this and perpetuate it, especially as an excuse to preemptively deflect criticism, soured me on the novel. If you’re gonna say serious shit, say your serious shit, and don’t go making excuses and abasing yourself before the EarthFic Snobs who’ll never accept you anyway.

That being said, there are a few parts in here that really do shine. When Tidhar does decide to get philosophical he does so really well. The blurring of identities when you switch between realities was fascinating. His portrayal of someone trying to escape from themselves is great. I enjoyed his use of 1st/2nd/3rd person and the way it allowed him to seamlessly transition between viewpoint changes, although I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity… he could have done more with it.

And the theme is one I love. The theme comes down to “You can change details, change circumstances, but ultimately that doesn’t solve anything. Because the problems are bigger than some details. The problem is within the person. No matter how much you change things, people stay the same, and so will their problems.”

But… well… I’ve seen this theme done before. And done far better. Tidhar shows us one alternate reality, and how things repeat even when the circumstances are different. He hints at others. There’s a book that shows us this process occurring again and again, with the same cast of characters, repeating the same tragedies over at least a half-dozen universes, in a half-dozen different bodies. But always the core people are the same, and nothing is different because the fault is in them, to the point that they can be reified into god-like archetypes and myths that span millennia and societies. It’s not a fair criticism of Tidhar’s book to say “I read a different book that did this better,” so I apologize for doing so. But I’m just not that impressed with Unholy Land since I have Vellum to compare it to.

In short, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: As a book club book, this went pretty well. Despite its flaws, it does have several things to say, which will prompt discussion. Since the things I disliked about the book were primarily personal taste things, most other people didn’t dislike those things. But I hold to the idea that most of what this novel does have to say is pretty surface-level, and the novel doesn’t seem to aspire to the levels it should or could (…and very consciously so). It’s better than your average book in terms of book clubs and discussions, but it falls short of a strong recommendation. I suppose… Mild Approval, If You’re Curious.

Dec 172018
 

The problem with blind judging for an award is that sometimes awards are given to people we don’t like.

The Parsec Awards announced their 2018 winners yesterday (edit: link removed, as the page has been taken down). I have been a two-time finalist myself, in 2015 and 2016. One of the things I really appreciate about the award is that it is judged blind. This means that someone like me, who has a relatively small audience, can still potentially win if I put together something really good. I love that it’s based on artistic merit rather than popularity/fame.

I understand why publishers generally don’t read submissions blind. They are in the business of selling novels and/or stories. The name of a well-liked author on the cover of a magazine or book will sell more copies. This is an important consideration, because paying rent is important. Likewise, the name of a hated person who is being shunned or boycotted may sell fewer copies, and may even hurt the publisher’s brand.

But on the rare occasions where money isn’t important (like an award) and it’s feasible to pull off (unlike something that involves the artist directly, like acting), I really like it when things can be blinded. I would prefer for all art to be judged just on it’s artistic merits.

One of the winners of this year’s Parsec Awards is apparently a horrible person. I don’t know who, I don’t keep up with these sorts of things. But their awards committee is being flooded with emails about this person’s reprehensible behavior, and based on the tone of the email I received, they are very worried. They’re asking for time to figure out how to handle the situation.

I think they should let the award stand as it is. I don’t know what the circumstances or allegations are. I understand that it’s possible the award went to an actual violent rapist. Maybe a murderer. But the award was not presented based on the person, it was presented based on the artwork itself. It is unfortunate, but sometimes really awful people make really great art. People who you wouldn’t want breathing the same air as you, predators who should be kept under watch at all times.

That doesn’t change that the art is great. People who are unaware of the monstrosity of the creator may still enjoy it. Ideally, that would be how this art is always enjoyed — without recognition of the artist.

I am glad that blind awards exist. To withdraw an award after the blinding is removed insults the entire process. It says that there is no such thing as artistic merit for its own sake, that in the end everything must be subject to the courts of popularity and politics. Don’t remove one of the few blinded areas that are left. Let the award stand. Sometimes bad people will get an award. This is a price that is worth paying for this thing to remain in existence.

UPDATE: They aren’t withdrawing the award. Hooray!

Dec 052018
 

Well I’ll be damned. Major dark web drug suppliers have started to voluntarily ban the synthetic opioid fentanyl because it is too dangerous.

 

Who did CNN get to be their E. Coli expert? The Food Babe. The lady who claims there’s yoga mats in your bread. Yeah, of course everything she says is going to be made up bullshit, and put CNN viewers at risk. Jesus.

 

“The [baby] boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens.

dealing with these problems has simply been irrelevant to the largest political class in the country — the boomers.”

 

Google Employees: “New York Times article […] stigmatizing depiction of polyamory and BDSM counterintuitively hurts victims and makes them less likely to speak out.
… Our existence as sex-positive and polyamorous people is not inherently abusive or scandalous. The abuses reported in the New York Times arose from corporate power dynamics and misogyny, not from polyamory or BDSM.”

 

Warcraft Classic is coming back. I will disappear for 3 months this summer.

 

From Robert Wiblin, who took it from Cards Against Humanity’s research:

“39.1% of Democrats think that it’s wrong to negatively stereotype people based on their place of birth… AND that Southerners are more racist.

65.2% of Republicans think that people shouldn’t be so easily offended… AND that Black Lives Matter is offensive.

64.6% of Democrats think that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body… AND that selling organs should be illegal.

48.5% of Democrats think that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body… AND that prostitution should be illegal.

57.9% of Republicans think that people should be free to express their opinions in the workplace… AND that athletes should not be allowed to sit or kneel during the national anthem.

Over half of Democrats think that Men and women ‘are equal in their talents and abilities.’ AND that women are ‘better at multi-tasking’ and ‘better able to feel empathy.’

More than half of the people who support Trump’s border wall believe that they could get past it.

34.5% of Democrats say that they trust the scientific consensus… AND that GMOs are not safe to eat.”

 

Just found out that you’re not supposed to drink hot tap water. Why did no one tell me??
The copper alloy pipes within the house could be up to 8% lead before 2014 (tho industry standard was no more than 5%, and some used even less).
In a pilot study, multi-day stagnant hot water did accumulate some lead. This was particularly prevalent in new pipes (since after some time all the readily-accessible lead has been leached out), so you’re actually better off with a few years on your pipes.
The CDC recommends not using hot tap water for drinking or cooking
I assuage myself that the levels to be found nowadays are probably too low to worry about much, since all pipes are either made under the new standards, or are already several years old. Especially if one takes the precaution of running the hot water for a while to clear out everything that’s been sitting in the pipes. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll be using hot tap water for cooking or tea.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody Performed in 42 Styles

 

Three things from the midterm elections that [a friend] feels haven’t gotten enough attention:

1.4 million people in Florida just gained the right to vote – that’s over 10% of the currently registered voter population. It’s the largest expansion of voting rights in decades, a long-overdue rebuke of a shitty Jim Crow relic, it empowers marginalized communities, and will make it much harder for anyone running on a platform of bigotry and cruelty to win the state in future elections.

In Texas, a democrat who ran on impeaching Trump and abolishing ICE lost by only 3 points, with coattails that flipped an impressive number of downballot races in the aggressively-gerrymandered state. Texas is purple now.

The withered husk of the GOP was destroyed in the under-45 demographic, especially among women. The existing trend appears to be growing stronger as people who came of age under Bush, Obama, and Trump have developed basically the political attitudes you would expect given that background. There’s a myth that this is a common pattern of past generations: they start off liberal and get more conservative over time. That’s not really true. First: political distributions within a generation don’t change that much as they age. Second: the gap among millennials and gen Z is much bigger than any American political generation gap in the modern era. The effects of the Bush and Trump administrations on developing political attitudes are as real as they are lasting, and barring a dramatic change they have destined the Republican party for irrelevance

 

LeBron’s tattoo artists are suing the video game company making NBA 2K for portraying him with his tattoos without getting a licence from the tattoo artist.

 

The Planet Money halloween episode was pretty great. A spooky tale of haunting economics!

 

The History Behind “Hocus Pocus.” The entire history is worth reading, to get context on how the protestant reformation led to:
“…into this colossal mess walks the Great Hocus Pocus of London! With his billowing stars-and-moons cape and his gift for lifting an object over his head, intoning the solemn, allegedly Latin magic phrase “Hocus Pocus!!” and BOOM, his scarf just becomes a bunny wabbit, or something. He was a great illusionist of the early 1600s. There was no Vatican II yet, so every Catholic liturgy was in Latin and most folk didn’t know Latin. So, it was a common misconception at the time that when the priest lifted the bread and blessed it, he was performing a work of Magic, transforming the bread to the body of Christ, and the wine to the blood. Transubstantiation was something scholars could debate until they were blue in the face; the working class, many of whom still celebrated Yule and Samhain and the rest, knew it was Magic. So the Great Hocus Pocus of London would hold up items, mimicking a Catholic priest, and intone solemnly, “Hoc – us poc – us!” And BOOM! The item changed to something else. Hocus pocus was a seventeenth-century corruption of the Latin phrase “hoc est corpus” (this is the body) from the Eucharist.”

 

European Court of Human Rights comes out *in favor* of blasphemy laws. From comment: “Saying that blasphemy laws don’t breach human rights is tantamount to saying that freedom of speech and freedom of (from) religion aren’t human rights”

 

A bunch from Wiblim this month!

Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions. Ever since the stone age, self-reinforcing myths have served to unite human collectives. Indeed, Homo sapiens conquered this planet thanks above all to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories,

…I am aware that many people might be upset by my equating religion with fake news, but that’s exactly the point. When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion”

 

What The Social Network is *really* about

 

Amazon’s Ring Police Portal For Mass Surveillance
A lot of discussion in the Ycombinator comments, but basically Amazon is offering the police access to all video from their Ring doorbell camera devices. The customer has to opt-in (currently), but as long as the video is on Amazon servers rather than your own, I consider that shaky as hell.
“Ring is just giving this to cops for free and offering customers a discount for letting their video surveillance from their home / doorbell be shared with the police in this portal.

over 50+ local police departments are now partners.

…There is no legal protection for privacy of citizens face’s caught in these cameras and added to their facial recognition algorithms.”

 

The “In The No” series from Radio Lab is fantastic. (pt 1, pt 2, pt 3)In-depth discussion about today’s social climate around sexual harassment, from many perspectives. Some of the best reporting I’ve seen on this.

 

Somehow, I missed this in the initial Final Exam sprint. Delightful. And I lol’ed at the best comment:
“I just came in from clicking “random subreddit”, read this whole thing, and now have absolutely no idea what the fuck is going on here”

 

We Need to Share the Real, Gory, Painful Details of Postpartum Life
“Yes, these details are disturbing, bloody, brutal, messy, gross and uncomfortable. (Did I mention bloody?)
…Why do we hide? Who are we protecting? Not ourselves. When we stay silent, we don’t get the help we desperately need. Not other women. When we stay silent, we simply perpetuate a system that prioritizes babies at the expense of moms.”

Nov 262018
 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Synopsis: Two landed British gentlemen of the Napoleonic era flounce about being prissy, ineffectual twits. Also there are fairies.

Lately I’ve finally been picking up books that I’ve heard great things about for a long time, to great success! To continue this trend, I moved on to “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” next. I’ve heard from many sources that it’s an astounding novel.

Holy crap were those sources wrong. This is the most tedious, plodding, overhyped exercise in fiction I’ve come across in a while. I began to dread returning to it.

The basic conceit is that the landed gentry of Britain don’t have much to do, and so spend all of their time in frivolous pursuits like reading about old magics, and talking about old magics, and holding sessions about magics and writing great essays about the history of magic, but never actually doing any magic themselves. Until Mr Norrell comes in and changes all that by, I dunno, actually doing some of things they all read and discuss at length. But Norrell is just as ineffectual as everyone else, and the focus of all the action is not about the magic, or the Napoleonic wars, or the machinations of the fairies, or anything of the slightest bit of actual INTEREST. Rather, it focuses on how prissy and shallow and pompous everyone is.

I get that this is supposed to be a comedy. It’s just a type of comedy I find boring to the highest degree. A bunch of befuddled idiots faffing about because they’ve got way too much time and money? I realize this is a popular British thing, a sort of Comedy of Manners or something, and I’ve always found it stupid. This was just like all those. The only thing it did was convince me that all landed gentry need to be rounded up and executed for extracting the wealth of the working class to chase their own worthless follies. We (in the US) didn’t revolt hard enough, dammit. There’s still nobles left!

I read for several hundred pages. Nothing happened. In a book with fairies and the Napoleonic wars! And I didn’t even get halfway through this brick.

The worst part was the teasing. The novel is always right on the edge of interesting. I was always sure that on the next page, or maybe just in the next chapter, something really cool was going to happen. All these neat things are shown just enough to get our attention, and then quickly buried under more tomfoolery with manners and courtesies and being stymied by someone’s utter lack of proper decorum! Until eventually I lost all hope, I realized nothing would ever be fulfilled and I was just being strung along, and I gave up in disgust.

I realize some people find this sort of thing delightful. Some insane reviewer said ‘How can a book of over 800 pages still be too short?’ (paraphrased), because I guess if you love nothing happen it can very well keep not happening forever. But I’m not one of those people. Yeesh.

Nov 212018
 

A few years back, Rainbow Rowell wrote a post titled “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love.” Sadly, it’s been taken down, but it can still be found in pdf format around the web, because it was important to many people. Myself included.

It compared the love of reading to addiction. It pointed out that reading is an escape from reality. “Sometimes I worry that I’m not really living. That I’m spending as much time in secondhand lives than I am in the real thing.” Give it a read, it’s short.

I feel I’ve pretty much overcome this addiction. But I worry about the lasting effects.

I often feel detached from the world. I find myself unable to fully trust anyone, to get fully attached to any person or group of people. I don’t trust anything to last, and I live my life so that anything can be dropped if needed, and nothing and no one can be used against me as a weapon.

I suspect one of the reasons for this is that fictional worlds are fraught with peril. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be fun. In these worlds, people you care about die. Hundreds of people across dozens of lives. Everything is stripped from you, again and again, to put you through an arch of struggle which you can grow from as a character and leave you with a satisfying resolution. You begin to question the wisdom of growing close to anything, knowing it’ll be taken away.

And in the end, regardless of how pleasant the story and the fact that no one died and it was a wonderful fairy-tale ending… in the end, all your friends leave you anyway. Because you reached the last page, and that world ceased to exist. Every single book you pick up is another chance to grow connected, and then to have those people leave you and never return. Even a 20-novel series eventually has to end. Everyone dies.

It gets to the point where you have a hard time remembering people’s names in real life, or remember many personal details about them. Because in all the lives you’ve lived, the emotional lesson you’ve learned is that people are disposable. They will be with you for a time, and then they will leave, and you will pick up another book and replace them with someone else. If everyone is interchangeable, how do the little details matter?

Of course, this could all just be a way for me to excuse my rude treatment of others. I certainly don’t have trouble remembering the names of authors I like. It could be a way of avoiding going to therapy and dealing with a childhood of isolation. Maybe I should just consider that I might be depressed. Or maybe there are real effects to running many high-fidelity emotional-trauma simulations in your mind every year. Despite the title of this post, I think it’s not possible for human brains to not update on fictional evidence, at least to some degree. The more engaging and gripping stories are–the “better” they are–the harder it is for the emotional core of the brain not to update on them. After all, the whole point is to “be moved” emotionally in a way beyond one’s control.

That being said, the first chapters of my novel are now available, and more are coming each week. These things are self-perpetuating.