Jun 272016

Lilith_Third_ImpactThis post will have tons of spoilers for The Fifth Season. If you want to read this book (and again, I suggest you do!), it’s a good idea to skip this post for now, and maybe come back when you’re done.

OK, let’s continue.

There are a number of moments that really stick to me. When young Damaya is told the foundational myth of their culture, and is swelling with pride and excitement about how she’s going to be just like the hero, and then is told in no uncertain terms “You are the villain. You are the monster we are defending ourselves from. You are Other.” The punch of being forced into the role of the hated enemy is visceral. And it allows us to feel empathy for this culture, and the things it must do to survive. That will be handy, since our protagonists are the villains of this world, and we will have this touchstone of learning to fear and hate the villains to come back to, established from very early on in the story.

Honestly, starting out the story with Alabaster destroying the world and wiping out humanity was an equally genius move. It tells us right from the start that this culture’s fears are justified.

Of course what makes a Tragedy a Tragedy is that the Tragic Figure (in this case, the Sanzed Empire) brings about their own destruction. Fifth Season portrays this beautifully, showing us exactly how Damaya is turned from a normal, spirited child, to the very monster that their society so fears. Much of the book is dedicated to showing this process, so I won’t restate every case of it, but my favorite is when she and Alabaster are forced to breed more children. In the initial scene, she comes to the realization that Alabaster is more traumatized by this than she is. He fears it more, and hates it more, and that fear is partially reflected as fear of her. And she LIKES this. She’s no longer entirely a helpless victim, this gives her a measure of delicious control. She is more the aggressor in this rape than he is, and that is a comfort. That sort of “the abused comes to embrace dealing out abuse of her own” is the type of detail that makes this novel so moving. Not because Jemisin thought to include it (something to this effect is required in this sort of story), but because she made us feel it too. We felt that measure of joy and relief in getting to be the powerful one, this one time, even if it does make us monsters. That is good writing.

But what really sealed this for me, and why I found this book so effecting, is a scene very early on. After the mayor of her town helps her to quite an extant – and does so without hedges or questions or compulsions! He puts himself at some personal risk to use his power to help her, because he is a genuinely good person and believes that is the Just thing to do – she is forced to kill him (and at least a dozen other innocent people near her) in order to fuel the magic to defend herself. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. Because he is part of this society. She just saw her husband murder their son, out of fear and hatred. And:

“The kind of hate that can make a man murder his own son? It came from everyone around you.”

The internalized revulsion that leads a good man, a man she loved, to this sort of hate-murder of his own children, is not a flaw in a single man. It is not an incidence of mental illness. It is the well-known (and at least partially desired) result of this society. It cannot live in one man. It is the product of all of society, of everyone who participates in it, who accepts it, and does nothing to change anything about it. EVERYONE is complicit, and EVERYONE is equally deserving of condemnation for participating in and profiting from it. So when the complicit, even the friendly ones who smile and shake your hand, are caught up in the cycle of death they helped create, they are only getting exactly what they deserve. Very similarly to this excerpt from The Woman’s Room:

“Like a Jew just released from Dachau, I watch the handsome young Nazi soldier fall writhing to the ground with a bullet in his stomach and I look briefly and walk on. I don’t even need to shrug. I simply don’t care.”

Perhaps we’re bothered by this scene, occurring as it does very early in the novel. This scene is letting us know where we’re headed. Because the thing that this novel does is take us from the point of being just another average reader, to embracing that the world must be destroyed.

I spoke of this in Episode 7 of The Bayesian Conspiracy (“Kill All Humans?”), but if you haven’t heard it – when I was in college, I was pro-annihilation-of-mankind. Because all life is suffering. On net, existence is more pain than joy, and the most moral thing to do is end it all as quickly as possible.

I feel a lot better about life now, and no longer hold these views.

But a part of me still feels that. A part of me looks at the sealed box of Neon Genesis Evangelion DVDs on my shelf and thinks “Maybe I should watch that again…” A part of me suspects maybe I’m just in a local-maximum in my life right now, and eventually things will revert to misery, and that’s the natural and inevitable state of all human life.
This novel guides the reader to that place. It takes an entire novel to do it, because you can’t do it in less words than that. But it shows anyone who is willing to read it how one can come to that conclusion. No, not just shows – it makes the reader feel it as well. It brings understanding of that emotional state, on an emotional level. It allows others who read it to be, however briefly, Broken in the same way that I am/was Broken. And I appreciate that deeply.

I assume not everyone will get quite there. And I’m not sure people who have never felt that state in their past will feel as strongly about this book as I do. But to me, it was absolute perfection. That’s why I loved it so much. I hope others do too.

[EDIT: prediction time – since Alabaster has already doomed humanity to extinction, but *still* wants Essun to make it worse, his ultimate goal isn’t just the destruction of humanity. I’m thinking he has a plan for restoring/recreating a moon, which requires this level of destruction to make it happen, and he can’t do it alone. So even in this, he’s still trying to heal the world. :) ]

Jun 232016

5th SeasonThe Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

Synopsis: This is a story of how the world ends.

Book Review: Holy shit guys.



I’ve read a number of Jemisin’s works. 100,000 Kingdoms was good. Killing Moon was great! Fifth Season is phenomenal. She just keeps. Getting. Better. This is what mastery of the art of written storytelling looks like. This is the sort of book that awards were created to celebrate.

2/3rds of the story lead up to an apocalyptic event. 1/3rd of it takes place after (not a spoiler, you find that out almost immediately, as the book jumps around in time), and has a very The Road feel. Grey ash coats everything, the protagonist is literally traveling on a road with a young boy in tow, bandits are starting raiding, etc. But this story takes place in a world were apocalypses are not uncommon. Every few hundred years, most of humanity is wiped out. So the entirety of their religious and civic culture is focused on how to survive an apocalypse.

This is embedded all the way down to how people identify themselves. Everyone has a Personal Name (Eneasz), a Community Name (Denver), and a Use Name (Accountant). Your very name tells everyone else what you are useful for, in case of apocalypse. Everyone is always evaluated (and evaluating others) on how useful they are to society. Your usefulness decides if you live or die. This is a culture whose most fundamental value is that people must be treated a Tools Of Survival. As Things rather than People. It is the only way humanity can survive.

It is very Grim Dark.

Also, our protagonists belong to a class of magic users who can accidentally kill everyone around them if they aren’t very careful. Constantly. They can never rest. As they grow in power, they can accidentally (or intentionally!) wipe out entire cities. This causes the muggles of their society to put them under extremely strict controls, because the magic users are SO useful for preserving society and preventing apocalypses, that they can’t just wipe them all out. This is a familiar theme for Dragon Age players, but it is done far better in Jemisin’s book. The sadistic-yet-loving control that the Guardians exert is deliciously creepy.

But more than anything, I love how angry the protagonists are. Because I love angry characters. I love when their anger is justified, and I love seeing what it drives them to do. I love it even more when those who are abusing our characters actually have a damn good reason to do so! (“We don’t want you to explode the world, tyvm”) This book is an exploration of slavery, and systemic oppression, sure. But it’s not about that, per se. It is about what drives a person(s) to extremes, and it immerses you completely in that journey.

This is the best book I’ve read in many years. It rocketed directly to #2 on my “Best Books I’ve Ever Read” list. The reasons for this are full of spoilers, so I’ll get into them in a separate post, because everyone should have a chance to read this book fresh. I know not everyone will have the same reaction I did, because this novel is for exactly the sort of person I am. Our protagonists are broken in the same way that I am broken. Do you know how good it feels to see that sort of broken portrayed? To see your rage, and hurt, and doubt, mirrored by an author you’ve never met, but who obviously feels all those things too? This story reached directly into my soul, grabbed hold, and squeezed. It left me breathless.

The wordcraft is masterful. The plotting—slowly revealing the layers of mystery by exploring them in the story, and adding new layers as old ones are uncovered—is flawless. The characters are deep, and true. I literally cannot say enough good things about this novel. Go, read it!!

Be advised it’s the first book in a trilogy.

Highly Recommended!

An Aside: If you liked Neon Genesis Evangelion, you will probably like this book.

Book Club Review: To get things rolling in our book club, we start by having everyone say a handful of things they liked about a book (in turn, going clockwise). Then everyone says a few things they disliked about a book. Discussion is allowed between points, of course.

The “What I loved” went as usual. But when we came to the “What we dislike about the book” part, everyone had one small quibble or annoyance they mentioned. Then they went right back into talking about more things they loved about the book. No one intended this, but there was just so much to love, and so many things to talk about, that even mentioning the one thing that irritated you just reminded you of more amazing stuff you had to mention.

Everyone liked this book, most people loved it. There is an overflowing bounty of things to discuss. You will not lack for conversation topics, or for enthusiasm. Again – Highly Recommended.

Jun 162016

brodski dcc

First – I’ll be at Denver Comic Con this weekend. You can find me presenting at these two panels, feel free to come up afterwards and talk to me. :)

Panel Room Day Time
The Writing Process of Best Sellers 506/507 Saturday 1:00 – 1:50
Can’t We Get Along? Cultural Exchange vs Appropriation in Writing 506/507 Saturday 4:45 – 5:35


But to the meat:

I go to a lot of panels at lit cons. And I’ve found that the topic of a panel almost never matters – the important part is the quality of the panelists. If I find a good one, I’ll follow them around for a day or two. Cruddy panelists can make the most interesting topic boring, and great panelists can make the simplest panel fascinating. Now that I’m in charge of putting together literary programming for DCC, I’m trying to nudge more people to be better panelists. For that reason, a couple days ago I sent out this email to all our lit panelists. I’m keeping it here for easy reference, so I can send it out again in coming years. But I also think it’s good advice for anyone who is going to be on any panel.

When you’re on a panel, you’re selling yourself, and not your books. The audience is there to see interesting humans saying interesting things, and interacting with each other in fun ways. They are there to participate vicariously in a conversation. And no one in a real conversation tries to sell their book (or if they do, their friends always groan at this point). Last year Anaea Lay published a fantastic article on this – “On Marketing: Don’t.” – which lays out exactly why this is a bad long-term sales strategy, and how to be more effective while being less overbearing. I highly recommend it.

Of course, we’re all here to expand our audience. At the beginning of each panel, panelists will introduce themselves, and that is a perfect opportunity to mention your current book. Do so then! But afterwards, make the audience like you by giving them what they came to the panel for – an interesting conversation, or informative advice. This doesn’t mean you can’t mention your books at all. If it is relevant to the conversation, please do so. But keep these mentions as supporting details, rather than the focus of what you’re saying. (eg: “When writing I often ask myself, ‘can this character be a woman’? And in the case of Story X I decided yes, and this made the story better because [anecdote demonstrating how story-telling in general is improved, or whatever]”) To quote Anaea Lay (from above) “forget your product … sell you. You’re a complete person with a full range of interests and you’re willing to share a part of that with people.”

Be interesting and entertaining. If you are, people will remember you, and seek you out to buy your books. Have you seen actors and directors being interviewed on TV? Do they give plot synopses, and talk about the magic system of the world, and discuss the backstory of the character they played? Or do they talk about what it was like to work on that movie, and the people they met, and things they learned in the process? (It’s usually the second one). So talk about the process of writing, not the product of it. Otherwise you’re just like the parents that go on for hours about their kids, and everyone is too polite to say how boring that is.

Jun 142016

I ain’t gonna say much, cuz there ain’t much to say. I will link this though:

“9. When I turned twenty-one, I could go to the clubs. Get dressed up, wear a coat to hide the outfit, pile into a car with friends, roll down the windows in the summer, sure, blare the music, sing along, roll the windows up when a car or truck pulled up alongside and shouted threats, hope they don’t follow, drive to the club, look around before parking to make sure no-one is staking out the street or parking lot, hide anything valuable in the car, lock it, walk to the club. Wait in the line to get in, all laughter and flirting and nervous grins and nervous shuffling and happy nervous everything, be grateful for the door-minder who was watching the sidewalk, pay, walk in.
Walk in.
Walk, strut, ease on in, breathe, breathe deep and happy and smell the smoke and beer and sweat and none of that matters because here, here no-one waits to catch you in the act of being gay.
Put vigilance down.
Put vigilance down, and dance.
14. The shooter went to a place of refuge, of joy, of celebration. He went to a place where queers go when we are told we are too queer to be seen anywhere else. He went to the place where all the shoving and flaunting of queer would have been hidden away from him.
I cannot stop anyone from murdering anyone else. I don’t have that power. But I am … done. I am done with letting the jokes and remarks slide by. I cannot continue to passively agree that I am a punchline, a threat, a bogeyman, a cautionary tale. I just, … I am done.
I can’t stop the Orlando murders, or any other murders of queers.
But I am done being complicit.”

– Sigrid Ellis, The road to murder is paved with microaggressions

(and yes, I dislike the use of the term “microaggression” here, but whatevs, it’s just a word and this essay is powerful)

Jun 132016

Muse-Madness-YouTubeIn the wake of last week’s revelation about this mysterious “romance” feeling, I sought out romance-feeling friends. After talking with them a bit, I think I have some idea of what this “romance” thing is. And if I’m right, I’m glad to be rid of it.

Features that differentiate “romantic liking” from “friend liking”:

* intense affection

* exciting, thrilling feelings

* feelings of emotional vulnerability

* intense feelings of euphoria when thinking about or interacting with your crush/partner

* intensely missing the crush/partner and strongly longing for them when they’re not around

I recognize all those feelings! Particularly those last two — That is what I called “Lust”. I experienced it in high school, and then intensely in college. Allow me to say right now – those are SHIT feelings, and I don’t ever want them back. They are literally crazy-making. I did the stupidest, most insane things of my life in relation to those feelings. They were exhilarating, and crushing, and in the end I terminated all contact with the focus of these feelings for my own sanity. It still took me a year to functionally get over them.

I can see why those feelings are enticing. They are a powerful narcotic, as good as any drug, and with just as much behavior-changing ability. And they’re destructive as hell, IMHO. Why would I ever want to go back to that place? That feels like a terrible idea to me. I’d much rather stay being myself, rather than a hormone-led crazy-person. At least I know the love I feel for my best friend/lover is real, and a part of my core self. Not some biological high.

Jun 102016

TOOL_TwitThis is just me complaining.

Tool is coming to Denver in October. Tickets went on sale today at 10:00. I was waiting at the tix-buying website at 9:58, and started refreshing regularly.

As soon as the tix went on sale the site crashed.

Kept retrying, finally got through at 10:03!! :) All the good tickets are gone!! :( Oh well, screw it, it’s Tool, I’ll buy crappy far away tickets. I click confirm and… crashes again. Reload. The whole show is sold out at 10:04.


Resellers are charging over $170 for far away tix, and I’m not willing to pay that much to be half a mile away. The good tix I’d be willing to shell out $200 for are actually over a third of a grand! Guess I’m not going to see Tool. :( God I love Tool.

But hey, all is not lost! There’s this promising new band in Denver. They’re playing at a local venue tomorrow, and I *LOVE* small local venues because they are intimate as hell and you get to be right up next to the artist and see them freakin’ bleeding into their instruments and wailing their souls into the heavens. I’m hoping this will be a case of specialized tastes allowing one to save money while retaining pleasure. :)

Jun 092016

windlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher

Synopsis: Exactly what you’d expect if Jim Butcher switched to writing steampunk.

Book Review: Jim Butcher is most famous for his Dresden series, a popular urban fantasy series focusing on the secret magical underworld of modern-day Chicago. (I reviewed one last year) Fans of that series will find a lot to love here, because this is exactly more of that, except in a steampunk setting.

Butcher’s greatest strength as a writer is his fantastic world-building. The world he’s weaving here is engrossing. It is complex, and fantastical, with tons of details that really bring it to life, and what seems like an infinite amount of compelling story hooks! I want to read stories set in this world! I want to know what broke it, and observe how these island-societies function, and find out what’s lurking down in the surface mists. Which is why I really wish Jim Butcher would license his worlds to other authors. This world is extremely fertile fan-fiction material, just begging for a good author to till it.

Because Butcher has two big flaws, as I see it.

The first is that he doesn’t do character development. For me, this is a killer.

Every character in this novel is a stock character, ripped directly from TVTropes. The aristocratic heiress, the rugged sea captain, the kooky inventor, the working class hero, etc. You can call them stereotypes or archetypes, depending on how charitable you wish to be. However the thing you can’t call them is REAL PEOPLE. They are pre-rendered personalities.

Now, Jim Butcher is good at the craft of writing. And his world-building skill serves him well when he slots these characters into it. They are beautifully depicted. You will never find a more exquisitely-painted rendition of the rugged sea captain – he will play that role to its fullest until you are bursting with rugged sea captain flavor!

But that still doesn’t make him a person. That’s a problem for people like me, who read to see characters displayed, and to see characters develop. The dialog doesn’t much matter, because it will never reveal an aspect of the character you didn’t already know about. It will always simply confirm “Yup, rugged sea captain!” For this reason, almost all the dialog boils down to adolescent one-up’s-manship. Lacking anything else to do, it can merely entertain us by being “witty” and “snappy.” Butcher does this well, but it feels empty. How many words of that sort of thing can you really read?

Likewise, the action never serves to expose hidden depths of a character, because we already know everything there is to know. It simply reinforces “Yup, she reacted exactly like an aristocratic heiress would!” The characters will never change. They’re all unique and likable, and cartoonish in that way.

Butcher also manages to make all his action boring because of this. None of the characters ever feel like they have much at stake in anything. They’re rushing from set piece to set piece, participating in highly-cinematic action scenes, and I’m bored because they’re meaningless. Just a few days ago I linked to a video on why the actions scenes are often the most boring parts of modern action movies. The same applies here. Butcher doesn’t give me any reason to care about his cartoon people.

Butcher’s second major flaw (again, IMO) is that he doesn’t know what NOT to write. This book is massive – well over 600 pages. Nothing compelling happens in it. I started skimming very early on, and I don’t think I missed anything. A few books back I praised Novik’s Uprooted because it told a novel-length story in the space of a novel. It couldn’t be shorter. And it wasn’t padded out. Butcher is famous for churning out 15 (16 now?) Dresden novels of a planned 20-novel arc, many of which are pretty long. And yet he hasn’t told even ONE novel-length story in all those pages! I strongly suspect that by the time he’s done, a better author could have told that same story in the course of a novella. I do not have that much of my life to waste on someone who can’t tell a succinct story. Aeronaut’s Windlass is written with the same strategy. Every page feels like it’s preparing me to sit down and grind through 20 years of daytime soap opera with nothing to say.

And ultimately, that’s my problem with Jim Butcher. He provides endless pages of word-based entertainment product, but there is no substance to it. It’s popcorn. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Honestly, I couldn’t finish the book. Even skimming it. I could not justify sinking that many hours of my life into something so meh.

Butcher’s very popular of course, so there are clearly a lot of people who love this sort of thing. Good world building, vibrant stock characters, witty quips, and lots of running around and fighting for the heck of it. If that’s your thing, I’m not here to say it’s bad or stupid. Hell, I love Chuck Tingle, which is just stupid gay erotica satire. But this is a recommendation blog for people like me, and for people like me: Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: It’s really not a bad book for book clubs, I suppose. The nice thing about light fare is that it can entertain a broad cross section of the population. The main thrust of the discussion at our meeting was the world building. It can be a lot of fun to discuss just what is going on, and how we see things. Most people picked up on the “this is far-future Earth after an apocalypse, with people using technology they don’t really understand and therefore thinking it’s magic” aspect, which was cool. So I cannot say this is a bad book for book clubs.

Honestly, if you want to give Butcher a try but you don’t want to start 15 books behind in a series whose first couple books even die-hard fans admit are pretty subpar, THIS is the book to start with. And it’s just like every other Butcher book, so you know you won’t be missing anything. ;) But that said, there’s a reason I go with a Recommended or Not dichotomy. As much as this book ain’t bad, I can’t say “Yes, you should read this!” I cannot actually recommend it, so… Not Recommended.

Jun 082016

the-princess-brideSo in the process of creating the two Bayesian Conspiracy episodes on Polyamory, I think I may have discovered that most other people have a secret sixth-sense/emotion that I’ve been blind to this whole time. And boy howdy, is THAT ever confusing!

I got in a bit of a misunderstanding about when it’s appropriate to use the term boyfriend/girlfriend (I’m gonna default of female gender for the rest of this, since it’s about me, and I’m basically straight). I had thought that if someone has a friend, and they sleep with that friend with some regularity, that’s basically what a girlfriend is.

When I interact with other humans, my level of “liking” them can be (roughly, with some cajoling) split into two axes – Feelings of Friendship (“liking”), and Feelings of Sexual Attraction (“crushing”). Of course there’s feedback loops between the two. But that’s basically it. The qualitative difference between my best male friend and my best female friend is that “crushing” axis. Since the sexual attraction is what every romantic movie/book/etc focuses on, I used to call this the “romantic” axis, rather than the “crushing” axis.

But that’s not what romance is, I guess?? I was informed there’s a qualitative difference between “friend I sleep with” and “girlfriend.” That if one becomes too good of a friend with someone, they can “cross a line” into a different type of feelings that are called “romantic” feelings. Those feelings are qualitatively different. And NOT in the sexual-attraction way.

I suddenly felt entirely lost. I feel like the guy who found out in his 30s that he has aphantasia, and everyone else in the world can see things with their brain whenever they want, like some kind of super-power! Is there some sort of thing I’ve been entirely blind to my whole life? All I know is that I really like some people A LOT! Suddenly that doesn’t count as love? Then what have I been doing my whole life?

And a number of things suddenly made a lot more sense.

  • Like when I was trying to learn to be social, so I started up a conversation with a guy at a local rock show, and afterwards my best friend asked me “Dude, why where you hitting on that guy so much?” And I was like “WTF? I was just being friendly!” And he said “No, you were TOTALLY all over him.” And I’m all “But… I don’t even like guys. I was just chatting…”
  • Or why I was the only one who was always scarred and hurt when my friends moved away or lost contact or whatever. Every time it was like a chunk of me being ripped out. And it was just me. The friend just moved on, they never made that same connection. Not to the level I had. (I tend not to do that anymore, as a defensive measure)
  • Also why not everyone is just open about everything in their life with everyone else. I am a super-transparent person, and I’m happy to talk about nearly anything in my life with anyone. But I guess that’s a thing people reserve just for one “super-special” person? And such intimate talking with others would reduce the meaningfulness of their conversation with the super-special person.
  • Maybe being uncomfortable with Public Displays of Affection falls into this too?

It’s because all this is stuff that falls on the “romance” side of that friend/romance distinction. I never knew there was a distinction. To me there’s just varying levels of “friend!”

The first thing I did was google “aromantic” and read up on that, because I obviously didn’t have this “romantic sense” other people do. But that doesn’t really seem to fit. A common list describes things like “not understanding what a crush is” and “not understanding why people make a big deal out of crushes and/or falling in love”. I totally crush on people, and I love the hell out of falling in love/NRE. (Oh god… are those two different things too??) Various aromance tumblrs also seemed to focus on the not-having-strong-emotions-of-attraction part, which is the opposite of my experience.

My next thought was “OK, maybe I’m the opposite – panromantic(?)” I can/do get these strong feelings toward anyone, and it has nothing to do with sex. I would gladly marry my best guy friend, as long as we didn’t have to do any sex stuff. And all these tumblrs keep saying aromantic and asexual are separate things.

That makes sense, right? Maybe my mistake was that I confused the word “romantic” as meaning “on the sexual axis” when it should have meant “on the friendship axis”.

But then what the hell is a friend? What does THAT mean to people? And why do some straight people claim that “[straight] men and women can’t be friends”?  Apparently some married people don’t consider their mate their best friend?

Googling panromantic really didn’t bring up much though. Not nearly the same level of stuff as aromantic. Maybe I’m searching for the wrong term? What do you call someone who doesn’t grok the difference between “friend I like a ton, and enjoy sexing with” and “romantic partner”?

Like, seriously, does anyone know?

Jun 072016

John Oliver buys $15M of very old debt for $60K, forgives it, and touts that as the world’s largest televised give-away, nearly double the famous “Everyone Gets A Car!” moment from Opera.

I’m not an economist, so maybe I’m missing something… but isn’t this bullshit?

He gave away $60K. Regardless of what number was in their spreadsheet, the debt was worth $60K. The sleazeballs would never have gotten $15M. They fully expected to get less than $60K, which was why they sold it for that much in the first place.

Notably – that $60K of cash went to the debt-buyers rather than any of the debtors. What did he give-away to the debtors? Well, one can argue he gave them relief — a reduction in suffering. I really doubt it was $15M worth, though. That debt was past the point of viable collection. John Oliver reduced the volume of harassing phone calls that some people receive. Maybe helped to improve their credit score a little? I’m not sure about that second one though.

(Although I will admit, those harassing phone calls can be extremely nasty! I would love for the government to organize a task force with the sole mission of prosecuting assholes who basically are running a harassment racket)

OK, the ep was funny, as John Oliver always is. But we already knew some debt collectors are the sleaziest jerks ever, and $60K isn’t that big of a give-away. And yet, multiple news (“news”?) sources are spinning this as a massive give-away.

Mother Jones – John Oliver Gave Away $15 Million
Time – John Oliver Gave Away $14 Million
Slate – John Oliver Just Gave Away Nearly $15 Million

At best, this could have been called “John Oliver gives away $60K of debt relief.” Not $15M.


Why do I care how this is spun? “It’s just a joke”, etc.

As I said above, I consider the claim that this was a giveaway of $15M to be flat out inaccurate. By orders of magnitude. For those on the other side of the political spectrum, who are uncharitable, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to say this is basically a lie.

And I don’t like to see my own side lying. It gives ammo to the other side. Now they don’t have to take his arguments seriously, because he’s a liar who’s doing it for the publicity. And everything else he said can now be dismissed out of hand, “cuz that guy is full of shit anyway, didn’t you see him claiming he gave away $15M?”

It weakens our argument when a major spokesperson for our side presents the case against our fucked-up debt laws, and packages that case with a giant, easily-dismissed stunt/joke/lie. It immunizes those who aren’t already convinced against all the GOOD arguments when they are bundled together with something like this.

Do not give your own side a free pass just because it’s your side. Demand intellectual honesty at all times!

Jun 012016

Star Wars Princess Bride quotesFandom is Broken. “Back in high school I had a great religion teacher. He used to have us bring in quotes from pop culture that could be applied to religion because he wanted us to understand how pervasive religion was to people a thousand years ago, as pervasive as music or movies are to us today. He believed that the future would see people no longer killing each other over interpretations of God but over bands…
I think he was on the right track when it comes to the way pop culture has replaced other things that used to give us meaning, but I don’t think he could have ever guessed it would be comic book characters and Ghostbusters that would motivate the 21st century’s holy popcult warriors.”

Why Modern Fight Scenes Put You To Sleep

I hope this sort of thing gets more traction. I love fictional violence, but violence is very rarely about the *actual violence*. case in point: aside from the awful choreography, why else did last season’s Dorne fight scene suck so much?

Yesterday I learned that most people don’t feel any pain when drinking carbonated beverages! WTF? I thought drinking fizzy drinks was like using habaneros or other super-spicy things in your food – it was a thing crazy people did because they liked pain. How much of my life has been a lie?? (no actual link)

Latest round in the ongoing court case between Google and Oracle goes to Google! Yaaaay!
The reason for the fight explained:

“Google wanted people who wrote programs in the popular programming language Java to be able to reuse their code in Android apps. To do that, Google had to ensure that Java code written for other purposes ran exactly the same on Android. But negotiations with the company behind Java, Sun Microsystems (which was later acquired by Oracle), broke down, so Google decided to create its own version of Java from scratch.

Google’s version of Java didn’t reuse any code from Oracle’s version. But to ensure compatibility, Google’s version used functions with the same names and functionality.

This practice was widely viewed as legal within the software world at the time Google did it, but Oracle sued, arguing that this was copyright infringement.
[…] a landmark 1995 ruling in which an appeals court held that the software company Borland had not infringed copyright when it created a spreadsheet program whose menus were organized in the same way as the menus in the more popular spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3.

The court held that the order of Lotus 1-2-3 menu items was an uncopyrightable “method of operation.” And it concluded that giving Lotus exclusive ownership over its menu structure would harm the public”

Oh shit. This is incredible. But trigger warnings for sexual violence.

Star Trek + Nine Inch Nails = Closer

How to Take ‘Political Correctness’ Away From Donald Trump
“A Martian following election coverage via GoGo in-flight WIFI would never know that Trump’s pledge to revenge-kill family members of terrorists—a war crime—violated more important Earth-taboos than his calling a campaign rival “a pussy.” Watching CBS or NBC or ABC, the Martian would likewise conclude that Trump calling Ted Cruz “a pussy” was worse than calling Mexican migrants rapists. Only the former comment was censored.
And Trump benefits from their dearth of discernment. It frees him from the burden of carefully deciding which taboos ought to be challenged and which safeguard life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Instead of careful critiques, he rants off-the-cuff, knowing that the bad press will look basically the same regardless of whether he attacks Rosie O’Donnell or the taboo against torture. His supporters are as inclined as the press to treat every utterance as an undifferentiated instance of political correctness”

Google’s AI is writing eerie post-modern poetry (when given a starting and ending sentence and told to fill in the gaps)

I *had* always wondered why there was no AmericaPox the Europeans contracted! Now I know.

Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots. There is no more unethical treatment of laborers.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist
If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable. But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:
When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.
When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.

And here I had no idea Subaru’s are loved by lesbians!
“For their first Subaru ads, Mulryan/Nash hired women to portray lesbian couples. But the ads didn’t get good reactions from lesbian audiences.

What worked were winks and nudges. One ad campaign showed Subaru cars that had license plates that said “Xena LVR” (a reference to Xena: Warrior Princess, a TV show whose female protagonists seemed to be lovers) or “P-TOWN” (a moniker for Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular LGBT vacation spot). Many ads had taglines with double meanings. “Get Out. And Stay Out” could refer to exploring the outdoors in a Subaru—or coming out as gay. “It’s Not a Choice. It’s the Way We’re Built” could refer to all Subarus coming with all-wheel-drive—or LGBT identity.
The delight among niche audience groups in “uncoding” the hints in Subaru ads surprised the marketing team—and in the case of its gay-friendly ads, so did straight audiences’ ignorance. While gay and lesbian consumers loved the shout outs in the license plates, straight people would only notice features like a bike rack.”

Also – oh, right. I remember the early 90s. Damn, that feels like a long time ago.

“the attitude of most businesses toward LGBT advertising was: “Why would you do something like that? You’d be known as a gay company.”
In the 1990s, Poux worked at Mulryan/Nash, an agency that specialized in the gay market. Early in his career, he made cold calls to ask companies for their business. “All the rules of marketing went out the window at this fear” of marketing to gays and lesbians, he says. “People would choke up on the phone. It was tough.” ”

The Tingler strikes again :)

LOL! Every fight anime ever!

If UNO Was an Anime

Bizarre situation in which I find Glenn Beck saying things rationally and self-consistently. Did he recover from the crazy or something?

“I sat there looking around and heard things like:
1) Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.
2) Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.
3) We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.

It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.

I sat there, looking around the room at ‘our side’ wondering, ‘Who are we?’ Who am I? […]
What happened to us? When did we become them?”

I didn’t even know we were supposed to wash reusable bags! If you factor in the environmental impact of washing a bag after each use, is it actually better at all?
“97 percent of consumers don’t regularly wash their bags, according to a report from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. Their researchers swabbed 84 bags for bacteria, and the findings were outright nasty: coliform bacteria in half, E. coli in 12 percent.
When San Francisco banned plastic bags, the number of E. coli infections spiked. Even worse, the number of foodborne-illness deaths rose a whopping 46 percent in the three months after the bag ban began.”

“It’s most likely that this is just another example of YouTube’s Content ID system automatically taking down a video without regard to actual copyright ownership and fair use. As soon as FOX broadcast that Family Guy episode, their robots started taking down any footage that appeared to be reposted from the show — and in this case they took down the footage they stole from an independent creator,” Lyon says. (sign the petition from TakeDownAbuse.orghttps://www.takedownabuse.org/familyguy/ )

It begins! :) Uber tests self-driving cars in Pittsburgh


Fantastic essay on The Iliad.

“The puzzle the Iliad poses in the persons of Achilles and Hector is, How do we train selfish men to be violent killers, and then convince them not to fight each other, but to die for their nation?

The answer is clever. […] the Iliad invented self-interested, libertarian, civic virtue.

They should fight, the Iliad argues (though not directly), because life is overrated. Life is an endless cycle of flailing about helplessly in a universe that doesn’t care. Life is being the plaything of the gods. The best thing for you, personally, is to win glory for yourself; that’s more valuable than more of this life stuff. It doesn’t last anyway.

This was a very interesting pivot point in the history of the West. […] The obvious choice was for Homer to say that a man should fight for his people because he loves them and he loves his family and wants to defend them. The obvious choice would be to say civilization should be based on morality.

Homer didn’t do that. He said civilization should be based on selfishness.

And that’s when Western civilization was created.

Selfish civic virtue was eventually diluted by morality, but the West still honors selfishness and individuality more than other civilizations. This is a large part of why the West has been so successful.”

I’d heard of aphantasia* before, but this article really brought a lot of it home. The “Twenty most common questions I get” was especially interesting. I’m still not sure I can imagine what this must be like.
(*unable to visualize things in one’s mind)

Tingle Trolley Problem
“Benedict Cumberbatch legitimately looks like he’s never jumped before.” GIF of pre-CGI superhero jumps

My life will not be complete until I have participated in the running of the balls.

MIKA’s “Grace Kelly” song is delightful!

Why the FDA’s new e-cigarette regulations are a gift to Big Tobacco (and could actually harm public health)
“The most significant part of the FDA’s rule is a requirement for government approval […] this means that just about all e-cigs must go through a new approval process if they are to continue to be sold. This is a costly process — an estimated $1 million or more per product — and must be done for each and every model, flavor, etc. For tobacco giants such as Reynolds and Altria, this is no big deal. For smaller e-cig makers, however, these rules could be the kiss of death. […] the e-cig market will shrink, and Big Tobacco will be in a better position to dominate what’s left. A vibrant competitive market will be replaced with a cartel, much like the one we see in the cigarette market.”

Snowden is the president we need, but not, it seems, the president we deserve. :(
“As someone who works in the intelligence community, you’ve given up a lot to do this work. You’ve happily committed yourself to tyrannical restrictions. You voluntarily undergo polygraphs; you tell the government everything about your life. You waive a lot of rights because you believe the fundamental goodness of your mission justifies the sacrifice of even the sacred. It’s a just cause.
And when you’re confronted with evidence — not in an edge case, not in a peculiarity, but as a core consequence of the program — that the government is subverting the Constitution and violating the ideals you so fervently believe in, you have to make a decision. When you see that the program or policy is inconsistent with the oaths and obligations that you’ve sworn to your society and yourself, then that oath and that obligation cannot be reconciled with the program. To which do you owe a greater loyalty?

Perhaps today’s culture wars can be viewed largely as the continuing clash of America’s earliest settlers in the 17th century. Kinda feels like humans are simply a substrate that a larger process (a “civilization”) runs on.
“If America is best explained as a Puritan-Quaker culture locked in a death-match with a Cavalier-Borderer culture, with all of the appeals to freedom and equality and order and justice being just so many epiphenomena – well, I’m not sure what to do with that information. Push it under the rug?”

‘Star Trek’ Lawsuit: The Debate Over Klingon Language Heats Up
Oh ho! When I was a young geek, an online-friend related a story of how he got lost while visiting Russia, and cursed in Klingon on the bus. A fellow Klingon-speaker asked him what was wrong, and though he spoke no Russian, and the Russian dude spoke no English, they communicated very well in Klingon and he was soon back on his proper way.
“This argument is absurd since a language is only useful if it can be used to communicate with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate,” stated a plaintiffs’ brief

Now, with 250,000 copies of a Klingon dictionary said to have been sold, Klingon language certification programs being offered, the Microsoft search engine Bing presenting English-to-Klingon translations, one Swedish couple performing their marriage vows in Klingon, foreign governments providing official statements in Klingon and so on, the Language Creation Society is holding up Klingon as having freed the “bounds of its textual chains.”

no court has ever addressed the issue of whether a constructed spoken language is entitled to copyright protection.

The best explanation for the 10 Commandments yet! Head Canon accepted. :)

Neurons Gone Wild. Expanding on Society of Mind – this post proposes that neurons compete for biological resources by being useful to the organism, and are “motivated” to be productive, likening the brain to an economy.
“agency isn’t intrinsic to a system, but rather something we ascribe to it. It’s a way of describing a system at the level of abstraction that includes goals, obstacles, motivations, etc. If you look too closely (at a sufficiently low level of abstraction), the agency might seem to disappear. A plant, for example, is ‘merely’ growing its stem according to the concentration of auxin, just like we (humans) are often ‘merely’ acting on our drives and instincts. But zoom back out, and once again it will be productive to describe the system at the agent-level of abstraction. Thus explanatory power, not free will, is the hallmark of agency.

agency is a fundamental property of the brain. Not only is agency the function of the brain — and thus it’s very reason for existence — but it’s also built into the brain’s fabric and architecture. Because even neurons have agency, in the form of (metabolic) selfishness, higher-order brain systems don’t need to create agency ‘from scratch’ out of mindless robotic slaves. They inherit agency pretty much for free.
The brain is thus uniquely hospitable to agents, who can be said to take root and grow in the brain quite readily.
There’s actually a more general principle here, namely, that rich substrates are more fertile, more conducive to growth. […] Computers, though technically capable of supporting agency, aren’t particularly hospitable to it. The brain, in contrast, is already teeming with agency (in the form of billions of selfish neurons), and is thus uniquely fertile.”

Non-Places destroy cities.
“Non-Places are areas of the city where nothing happens. If we look at the Traditional City, we see that it is mostly Places. […]To the degree that we can eliminate cars, the Traditional City can become almost 100% places.

A pedestrian street is a Place. When it becomes dominated by cars — to the point where a person is not comfortable walking down the middle of the street — it becomes a Non-Place.

Green Space was invented to make our other Non-Places less horrible. It basically doesn’t exist in the Traditional City. The Traditional City doesn’t need Green Space because it doesn’t suck to begin with. There is no problem we are trying to solve through the introduction of acres of mowed lawns.

It is difficult to explain, to someone who has never experienced it, that the Traditional City is actually a very quiet, lovely sort of place — even the largest Traditional Cities, with the Tokyo population well over 30 million. […] The residential university campus is about the closest experience most Americans have to a no-car urban place.”

Just in case you need another reason not use KU (Kindle Unlimited) (except for the one-month free trial to read a dozen Chuck Tingle shorts) Much of the money goes to scammers, and Amazon doesn’t care.

Life Is Pain. The numb are the lucky ones. What It’s Like to ‘Wake Up’ From Autism After Magnetic Stimulation. “I’d fantasized about really understanding other people’s emotional world. I imagined a world of sweetness and light — emotions I’d been missing all my life. But when it happened, the reality showed me what a fool I’d been. Now, I could look at a person and sense all their emotions. And most were downers. […] I realized that I’d deluded myself all this time. The world is not a wonderful, happy place. ”
His recollection of working for KISS and Pink Floyd on the road is fascinating as well. I can’t recommend this article enough.


As I’ve been watching this gash in my hand heal over the past few weeks I keep thinking “Holy crap. I am made out of a vast amount of biological nano-bots!” And none of them have any idea I exist (which I realize is crazy anthropomorphizing, but I can’t help thinking it). I, likewise, have no way to directly control them. And yet here we are. WTF, reality? (again, no link)

I linked this in an earlier post, but – “almost no pop celebrities write their own hits. Too much is on the line for that, and being a global celebrity is a full-time job. It would be like Will Smith writing the next Independence Day.”

Smashmouth’s Allstar, but everyone’s playing at slightly different tempos. Actually not stressful, and sorta weirdly hypnotic.

The best succinct explanation of culture I’ve seen yet. Includes the first coherent explanation of what “cultural appropriation” is that I’ve ever seen! (in an interesting twist, one of the examples explaining cultural appropriation argues that the “Fake Gamer Girl” trope is basically a complaint of cultural appropriation) This is long, yes. But extremely worth it.

A small taste –
“… So imagine you’re an evangelical Christian. All the people you like are also evangelical Christians. Most of your social life happens at church. Most of your good memories involve things like Sunday school and Easter celebrations, and even your bittersweet memories are things like your pastor speaking at your parents’ funeral. Most of your hopes and dreams involve marrying someone and having kids and then sharing similarly good times with them. When you try to hang out with people who aren’t evangelical Christians, they seem to think really differently than you do, and not at all in a good way. A lot of your happiest intellectual experiences involve geeking out over different Bible verses and the minutiae of different Christian denominations.
Then somebody points out to you that God probably doesn’t exist. And even if He does, it’s probably in some vague and complicated way, and not the way that means that the Thrice-Reformed Meta-Baptist Church and only the Thrice-Reformed Meta-Baptist Church has the correct interpretation of the Bible and everyone else is wrong.
On the one hand, their argument might be convincing. On the other, you are pretty sure that if everyone agreed on this, your culture would be destroyed.”

For fans, this is basically a “yeah, I remember that, soooo good!” video. :) For people who haven’t seen it yet, consider it a teaser, and another endorsement to check it out. Note that *MAJOR* spoilers appear at 4:08 and are rife thereafter, so stop before then if you’re not familiar!

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

Reddit’s warrant canary is gone. Odds are very high that they have been served a national security letter.

I’ll just leave this here…

does it move