embrodski

Feb 212018
 

“Utopia, LOL?”, written by Jaime Wahls, is a finalist for this year’s Nebula!! The first piece of explicit RatFic (I believe) to be up for a major award! While there are other things put up that we all point to as great Rationalist Fiction, I don’t think those authors were aware of/writing as RatFic (esp since many of them pre-date the genre). This is pretty freakin’ huge, guys. :)

Feb 182018
 

My first reaction to Black Panther below, so spoiler alert.
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Erik Killmonger was *absolutely* the hero of that movie. He rose from nothing, infiltrated Galt’s Gulch, defeated them at their own game by simply *being better* than them, and did it all in order to raise 2 billion people out of subjugation and bring them justice. And in the end, even though he is slain by the uppermost pinnacle of the 1%, he *still* managed to bring his home country out of isolationism and engaging with the rest of the world in what will be the greatest boon for (the rest of) humanity since antibiotics were discovered.

And he was just so fucking awesome. I love characters that run on rage. Jesus. I really REALLY wish we got to see a lot more of him in the movie.

Feb 162018
 

I graduated high school the year before the Columbine shooting. Columbine was a neighboring high school, only a few miles from mine. That day was a bad day for me. I kept thinking “that could have been me.” In retrospect, I don’t think it could have. I don’t think I could’ve ever brought myself to do such a thing. But I understood the urge. The despair and the rage.

The initial post that started this semi-diary blog was an emotion dump after a mass shooting. I guess here’s another one.

I feel lucky to have survived high school. Many of my peers feel the same way. High school is torturous on many levels, and it’s commonly accepted that analogies to prison aren’t far off, though not to the same scale. Sleep deprivation, social gangs, enforced idleness, and helplessness rule the day. I’ve never heard anyone in high school say it was anything but various levels of awful. I have heard someone say “I wrote myself a letter about high school when I graduated, because I knew it was likely that in the future I would look back on that time with rose-colored glasses. I’m glad I did, it helps me to remember how bad that place is.”

Yes, “depression,” granted. But depression isn’t one-way. It’s not only causal, it’s also caused, and the high school experience certainly kindled my years of depression just as much as the depression made high school worse. High school shouldn’t have to be a thing that young people must survive. Even if nearly all of them do manage it.

I have a friend a couple years younger than me with a complicated relationship with Columbine. After the shooting, life in school got significantly better for [them]. Because now other social gangs were far more reluctant to engage in abuse of [their] social group. It feels disgusting to say anything that can be mistaken as an implication that Columbine was justified. Murder is monstrous. How fucked up is the situation in our high schools if an act of terrorism can make life better for a significant percentage of students?

Among all the calls for gun control and mental health services, no one is saying anything about what it is that breaks a lot of people. No one mentions this environment, which many people have to spend untold dollars and many years of therapy recovering from once they escape. No one talks about what could drive someone to pick up that gun and lash out in rage at the place and the people they view as responsible for their pain.

I know, this isn’t the only cause of school shootings, nor the only type of shooter. And even for those who may fit this template, there are many inputs that lead to this, from our American history of violence, to social contagion, to personal psychological pathology, among dozens more. Yet high school remains horrible and torturous for many young people. And it should not be this way.

I don’t have much faith in my society to fix this. We’ve known for at least a decade that simply pushing back the start time of high schools leads to improved mental and physical health for teenagers, as well as improved education outcomes. And yet we can’t even manage to take that first, simple, step. Instead, our schools become more and more like prisons every year, with stricter security and greater authoritarian control. Things are trending the wrong way.

But for the first time in my life, I think I am at a point where I can actually say this sort of thing out loud, rather than just emotion-dumping on a blog. Our schools must stop being places that damage those people we force into them.

Feb 132018
 

John Dies At The End, by David Wong

Synopsis: Two small-town slackers trip into combating universe-devouring elder beings, with plenty of jaded humor along the way. Kinda a cross between Clerks and Buffy.

Book Review: An odd duck, in that this was originally a web-serial rather than a novel, much like Wool and The Martian. As such, it doesn’t really feel like a cohesive whole. It’s not a single grand arc, inasmuch as it’s a series of related short stories that follow the same characters. This causes it to sag in a few places, but the strength of the individual stories is strong enough to overcome this artifact of its production.

I really liked this novel, and that might be because it’s aimed squarely at my generation. It’s a horror novel that points out the horror of our existence in a universe that is ultimately and inalienably built upon the application of violence. It made me viscerally feel why a greater being would want to destroy this reality, filled with suffering and predation and horrible tiny things tearing at each other for their entire existence. In real life I basically ignore my non-veganism as much as possible, but Wong reminded me how disgusted it would make something better than us when it sees humans digesting the flesh of other sentients.

The novel reacts to this awful state of affairs the way many of us have been for a while now–absurdist acceptance. Because we have no other choice. We embrace jaded humor, acknowledge this sucks, and get on with things anyway. Wubbalubba dub dub. It’s not the soaring transhuman defiance I prefer, nor even the rage-filled lashing out against the unacceptable that also excites me, but it’s not an uncommon reaction. Many readers will probably know David Wong from his stint at Cracked, where he wrote (among other things) one of the first the highly insightful explanation of what Trump provides to the half of the electorate that voted for him. This novel gives the reader a strong emotional taste of what living in Desolate America feels like. The small-town poverty. The grinding hopelessness. The fact that no one cares. What else can you do in the face of that? What difference does an extra World-Eating Horror or two make? It’s a novel of despair, and enduring through it is the only victory you get, even if it’s a shitty one.

It’s also well-written, really neat in several places, and makes you think in several others. Near the end it really threw a wrench in my view of my own sub-culture, in a way that I didn’t expect. It did it in a way that only good speculative fiction can do, by reframing everything you know in an alien context. And it was enjoyable to read throughout, even with some terminology that dates it (and makes me wonder what term we use casually now will become a slur in ten years? “Insane”, maybe?) Recommended!

Book Club Review: A good book for discussion. The social commentary is more buried than I like it, with most of the focus on action and humor, so you gotta dig for the morsels. But that also makes it more readable for people less like me. :) But they are still there. And the overall theme of the novel can get you talking about culture in small-town America, which is interesting, especially if some members of your book club hail from there. You get to learn several new things. Also opinions tended to be a bit scattered, with some people liking this significantly less than others, which leads to multiple views being explored. The biggest drawback is the occasional sagging sections I mentioned above, which can lose some readers. But overall, this went over well. Recommended.

Feb 122018
 

In appreciation of all the joy that porn stars bring into our lives, and in recognition of the fact that they get shit on by society a lot and they shouldn’t, Today, the day before Mardi Gras, I am saying thanks to all porn workers. And in celebration, I’ll be taking the unorthodox step of paying for some porn! I hope y’all will join me, and continue to do so annually on the day before Mardi Gras. :)

Feb 082018
 

From GinnyDi:

“Okay, here’s the problem with the idea that oppressed groups can “alienate allies” by not being nice enough:

You shouldn’t be an ally because oppressed groups are nice to you. You should be an ally because you believe they deserve basic human rights. Hearing “I hate men” shouldn’t make men stop being feminist. Hearing “fuck white people” shouldn’t make white people stop opposing racism.

Your opposition to oppression should be moral, and immovable. Your belief that all humans should be treated with equal respect shouldn’t be conditional based on whether or not individual people are nice to you.

(emphasis in original)

 

That last line is extremely important, and I wish the world was more like it. Principles fucking matter!

That being said, I think Ginny is conflating adherence to principles with support for a group, a little bit. I’m very pro-Free Speech, to the point that I support Fred Phelps’s right to say that gays are causing hurricanes, and neo-nazi’s rights to have peaceful protests, and communist’s right to say that our society should be burned to the ground. But I abhor all these groups, and would never consider myself an ally of any of them.

Likewise, if some person or group said “I hate men,” then I’m not an ally of theirs. Nor do I need to be to promote gender equality. My commitment to the principle of equality does not depend on my being bestowed with an “ally” token by every/any group who also supports that thing. So yeah, my “allyship” to any particular group is totally dependent on whether that group also treats me with some modicum of respect. For someone to claim that just because I’m not an ally of their particular circle, that means I’m a racist or sexist or pro-censorship or whatever, is manipulative and unethical.

Jan 292018
 

Religion is evil. Yes, there are many good things provided by religious institutions (community, social trust, support for the local poor, shock cushions, counselling) which are valuable, and which partially offset religion’s evils. But the foundation of all religion is vile, and we would be far better off if we were to remove the good things these institutions provide from the root of religion, so we can offer them without that moral millstone around our necks.

So when someone asks me to respect something because it’s from a person’s or group’s religion, they’re already starting off on the worst possible footing.

And when Kids On The Internet proclaim something as their Spirit Animal, they are rescuing one of the good things from the slathering maws of religion. They now have a quick term that intuitively encapsulates “The thing I adore, an aspect of the person I wish to be – that which represents a part of my soul if it was refined to its highest level and I was the best, purest person I could be.” This is a good thing.

Likewise, anyone who gets a quest from their Spirit Animal should be honored and overjoyed for such a thing. I get the feeling that the above meme was supposed to be some sort of threat? But someone truly dedicated to an aspect of themselves would embrace such a thing. A chance to stand against adversity, to test your values, to be judged and prove yourself worthy. This is what character is made of. I would be honored (if perhaps terrified) to receive a quest from Face.

Jan 252018
 

This is still not a proper review like I usually do, because I couldn’t make it to our book club meeting again. A close friend got in a car accident not an hour before book club was to start, and I rushed over to help them and get them to the hospital and all that. They are fine physically, although the financial blow is going to suck. :/ And of course I didn’t get to discuss all the beauty and wonder that is Borne with my homies!

But here’s a few quick things anyway.

Synopsis – in a post-apocalyptic world were humanity is slowly dying out, our protagonist finds a new form of life (“Borne”) that she raises from infancy into adulthood.

Review – Gorgeous. Just fantastic. First, Borne is a Data-type character (overly literal and doesn’t understand how humans work. See also Spock, Anya (from Buffy), Castiel (from Supernatural), etc. I love these sorts of characters, and so this had my heart very quickly.

Secondly, the whole novel was so beautifully written that it was almost a book of poetry. This is what master-class word-smithing looks like. Polished, precise, perfect. And the emotion throughout was heart-breaking. As the humans died out and saw themselves being replaced by the things that come next, the ones that are suited for this world, the bug-eye children and bears and foxes and Bornes… it felt like a story of the old generation dying, and seeing the new generation coming up to take their place. An old woman passing the torch to her young granddaughter. Whose values she can barely recognize as her own. But what can you do? The world isn’t for you anymore. Sooooo pretty.

As usual, VanderMeer doesn’t quite hit the ending. Most (all?) of his novels don’t end in so much as they peter out and kinda grind to a halt. This was no exception. Still, totally worth it. Recommended.

Notes from others – I did briefly chat with a couple members from my book club later on. Not a full-fledged meeting, but there was an interesting counterpoint brought up: The world doesn’t make sense. There was no world-building done, and it shows. To quote:

“We’re told they’re mostly scavengers, but what are they looking for? Nobody hunts or finds canned goods or grows anything; what do they eat? …VanderMeer never even tries to convince me anyone would ever have thought it was a good idea to create a giant man-eating flying bear and a zillion regular-sized poisonous bears, he just wants to have them roaming about.”

etc.

This is all true, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I think there’s a couple reasons why.

First, I’ve come to expect it from VanderMeer. All his novels are equally incoherent, just with various levels of hand-waving, which has gotten progressively thinner. He basically eschewed the handwaving entirely for his latest, and he led me down the path to accepting this via reading his works in published order. Oops. Also, by starting right off with something as ridiculous as a giant, flying bear, and simply having us accept it or not, he smashed through the “this is supposed to make sense” barrier right at the front. So afterwards I was willing to go with basically whatever.

Secondly, this is one of those lyrical works that doesn’t try to build a coherent or realistic world, it just tries to evoke a particular sentiment in the reader. Many of Cat Valente’s works do the same thing, and I love those just as much. Heck, I even enjoyed the most recent Star Wars, and that has so much buffoonery that you have to actively repress your brain in order to not sprain something. I appreciate works that do put in the work of making a coherent universe much more. Perdido Street Station is in my Top 5 books, and Borne is not, and this is part of why. But I guess I don’t always require it to still enjoy the story. You can get away with a lot, for me, by being pretty.

But this may not appeal to rationalists due to the non-care for world building, so use your best judgement there. :)

I can’t give it a book club yay/nay, as I wasn’t there and don’t know how conversation went.

 

Jan 232018
 

In the wake of my disgust with the reporting on last week’s Trump scandal, I’ve been thinking there should be a Porn Star Appreciation day. It’s a physically demanding job, very few people are cut out for it psychologically, and they get shit on by society non-stop. The ratio of derision for the profession to the amount of joy they bring into people’s lives is likely one of the most skewed in existence (currently). It’d be nice to say thanks now and then.

And one could even go further, and engage a few Units of Caring on the issue. Upon the excellent suggestion of a friend, I propose that on Porn Star Appreciation Day, everyone do the unorthodox thing and actually pay for some porn. Few things say “I appreciate you” like helping someone’s career.

As for a particular day – unless there’s better suggestions, how about the day before Fat Tuesday? It’s thematically appropriate and thus easy to remember. And it’s not as kitschy as something like the June 9th, or the 69th day of the year.

Jan 202018
 

“Let he who HASN’T raw dogged a porn star just after the birth of his fifth child with his third wife cast the first stone.”

Everyone is pro-feminism until they can score some cheap political points by throwing women under a bus.

In this week’s Trump scandal, it turns out he had an affair a decade ago. Not a big deal, except that the Other Woman was… <music ascends into a sharp pause> a porn star!! <DUN DUN DUN>

And I am seriously grossed out at this reporting. Every popular media source out there cannot stop trumpeting that the woman he was sleeping with was a porn star. It’s the most important thing you need to know about her, and it has to be the first thing you know about her! It makes the affair so much worse than any normal affair with a normal woman.

I expect it coming from the right, but it bothers me that even the left is leading with this sort of thing. That meme at the top? It was shared by a dedicated leftist colleague. I particularly love the lurid description of the sex itself, the same way gay people used to constantly have all references to their relationships reduced to descriptions of anal sex. The leftist colleague explained it away as not attacking sex workers–rather just pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP and their railing that sex work is bad, porn is a sign of moral decay, and multiple marriages are because of a lack of godliness.

I consider this bullshit. All these headlines and memes are feeding off the derision of sex workers. Feeding off it, legitimizing it, popularizing it, and spreading it. You don’t get to call yourself pro-women while helping to degrade sex workers. You don’t get to use “but this is an attack on Trump, and anything we do to hurt him is good!” as an excuse. This sort of thing marks a group as an underclass who don’t deserve the same consideration and protections of everyone else. You can’t reform the social narrative about sex work while reblogging things that reinforce that narrative.

I spoke with a friend about this, and they gave me permission to post the following (paraphrased, and with some alterations for anonymity’s sake)

I was married to a sex worker. I was pro-sex-worker long before that… but there’s a difference between being theoretically for rights/respect, and living the reality yourself. I felt the impact of society’s casual disregard of sex-worker’s humanity much more viscerally when it was directed at a person I loved and shared a life with. I realized some things were a bigger deal than I had thought. And the casual contempt is part of that. It’s what makes it OK to mistreat “those people”

There’s groups you expect it from. The religious fuckheads, the GOP, and all the scum on the right. It still sucks, and it’s awful. But it was when it came from the left that it really hurt. Because I guess I bought into the whole “we’re on the side of women’s rights” thing. And then one’s supposed allies treat one as just as dirty as anyone else. A supposedly liberal comedy show like Archer uses “When they’re dead they’re just hookers” as a laugh line, and it makes you want to throw up.

My spouse learned this long before I did. She didn’t trust anyone, didn’t count any group as an ally. She was completely alone in a hostile world. I want the world to be better for her, and others like her.

I dislike the refrain of “Listen to [group]!” because it always comes with an implicit “…and shut up.” I don’t want anyone to shut up. Say what you want, but realize it comes at a cost that some of your allies will feel. I stopped considering the generic-left an ally a couple years back, and this was one of the reasons why (although, of course, not the only one).

For reference:

Yeah. Fuck that shit.