Mar 072017
 

My short story “Host” is in the March/April issue of Analog Magazine, available right now. I’m ridiculously happy this got published, I was worried that due to its structure it would be unpublishable. My attempt at portraying Very Alien minds probably could have been much more explicit.

This story is more autobiographical than any of the others I’ve written. That’s not necessarily saying a lot, as I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible for a writer to NOT write everything at least partially autobiographical. At least if it’s any good. Some part of you will always suffuse what your write. Your fears, your passions, your formative experiences. All fiction is a window into the writer’s mind.

But in this particular case, chunks of the story were lifted directly from my teenage years. The isolation, the dissociation, the loss of The One Friend. Obviously not the Space Zombies. :) It was a shitty period, despite the fact that by almost any objective measurement my life was peachy. Mental issues don’t give a fuck. In that time of my life I welcomed human annihilation, if it would have made things un-broken. Especially because this is what the religion I had been raised in promised as the desirable end-state for humanity anyway. The apocalypse was already ingrained as a good thing in my mind.

Which is where the real autobiographical stuff comes in. This pro-apocalypse position was one of the many things that drove me away from my religion. NOT the death-worship, mind you. Rather, the fact that no one seemed to take it as seriously as it should be taken. I’ve said this a few times before, and I still stick with it – The Spanish Inquisition was doing The Right Thing in a world where their beliefs are objectively true. It is everyone’s moral obligation to act as they did, and anyone who doesn’t is a monster. The paltry sufferings of human life are so utterly irrelevant in the face of eternal suffering/joy that absolutely any price is not only justified, but required. They were Doing The Most Good, by far. The only problem is that in the world they operate in (ie: the real world) there is no God, and they were torturing and murdering people for no reason. Objective facts fucking matter. And since we’re fallible, we should also temper our actions with some degree of uncertainty.

But my religion didn’t preach uncertainty. They knew, as did I, that God existed, and what fate awaited non-believers. And all they did was… knock on doors and try to pass out cheap pamphlets? Guys, that level of failure to actually save people is disgusting. It’s as if Singer’s Well-Dressed Man stood at the edge of the pond and shouted encouragement to The Drowning Child, rather than wading in and doing something. It’s unacceptable. And while I could understand that the Laws of the Corrupt, Fallen Government may be against us, hampering us in being really effective… we nonetheless were NOT talking about how to subvert them, or how to really SAVE people. No one gave any of this the urgency it required. It was like a casual hobby.

I’m a big fan of Ted Chiang, and his ability to take a premise and assume it’s true, and then write the world that would exist under that assumption. I tried to do the same here with my religion’s false premise (and, frankly, the premise of many fundamentalist evangelical religions). I don’t think I really worked out any of my issues, but I stand by Julian’s parting words to his father.

 

Unrelated but fun note — When I submitted “Host” for critique to my Writer’s Workshop (who made it a lot better, thanks guys!!!) they said that starting with the “In The Beginning” snippet was a mistake, and I should move it to later. So instead the first scene is Julian exiting his high school and describing the space station. Literally the week after I made those changes I came upon a satirical SF story that started out with the protagonist describing a giant piece of impressive human engineering in his daily life. The second paragraph began with (paraphrased) “Of course John Doe saw this every day on his way to work, so there was no particular reason for him to really ponder upon it today. But he knew that if he didn’t ponder right at the top, this would never get published in Analog Magazine.” I thought “Haha, maybe this’ll help me sell to Analog, lolz.” Lo and behold, I ended up getting published in Analog Magazine. :P

Feb 102017
 

The founder of my writer’s group (and 2x Nebula winner) Ed Bryant passed away in his sleep last night. I’d seen him for several hours every month for coming on three years now.

This is the first time anyone I’ve known personally in my life has died. I’m not sure what to make of it yet.

This picture is basically the Ed I knew, expect the shirt is wrong. He never wore anything but Hawaiian shirts. I don’t know how they got him into something this formal.

I owe Ed a lot. As I said, he started the Northern Colorado Writer’s Workshop. I learned more about my craft, in a shorter period of time, in that group than I could imagine was possible. It was a rocket burn of learning.

He attended every single meeting. We’re supposed to keep our comments to a reasonable length, to keep the meeting moving, but exceptions were made for our elder statesman. :) He would go on at length about all sorts of topics, sometimes not all that related to what we were doing, but generally interesting. He imparted insight into the world of professional writing, and kept us very much informed of his personal goings on. It was like having a grandpa, I imagine. I don’t know, I’ve never known my grandparents, they’re in Poland.

Sometimes he went on a bit too long, but no one ever complained, because come on… he’s Ed. He deserves to go on as long as he likes. And he’s just so damn accepting and caring. He smiled all the time. His laugh was a huff that came up from the belly, and sparkled from his eyes.

Almost every meeting he would doze off at some point. Just a thing that comes with age, right? It was endearing. He’d look up bleary-eyed when it would come his turn to offer a critique on a work, take a breath, and jump right in.

He has read almost everything I’ve ever written. And commented on all of it. He read every single word of the first draft of the novel I just finished. He called it “Bravara Writing.” :) I didn’t keep most of the manuscripts I got back, because who can keep 3000+ pages of printouts with notes scrawled over them? When I get home today I’m going to go digging. I hope I kept one or two with his handwriting. It just… didn’t occur to me that he’d be gone.

Even when his kidneys failed last year, and he had to start dialysis. Even when he had a bad turn last month, and missed an NCWW meeting for the first time in as long as I’d been coming. I just thought “Well, he’ll be better by next month. Ed is always there. Good ol’ Ed.” I sent him a get-well card. Maybe I should have gone to visit too.

People often say “I won’t ever see X again,” but that doesn’t seem to apply anymore. There’s photos, there’s video. And I’m not that visual. What weirds me out is I won’t hear his voice again. He had a very deep voice, like an old bear. A little scratchy and rumbly in his old age. He spoke slowly, deliberately, which was frustrating at times, but it was distinctive. It was him.

As far as I know, he wasn’t signed up for cryo. He’s just… gone.

Fuck. :(

Feb 072017
 

I know everyone says that, but it’s one of the nice things about human psychology that we can know it’s not true but still believe it on a gut level, because we like where we are so much. I live in the South Denver Metro area, in an area called “DTC” (the “Denver Tech Center”). It’s my favorite combination of density and nature.

As I’ve said many times before, I hate the suburbs. They sprawl and they’re ugly and inefficient. Dense living, such as multi-story apartments, are far more efficient both for energy- and land-use. And by not sprawling across miles and miles, we reserve that land for ACTUAL natural wilderness, rather than the aesthetic horror that is lawns.

And just on an aesthetic level, I love large, imposing buildings. Sided in glass and given a decent architect to make them structurally interesting, it feels like living among giant cut diamond artifacts, gleaming in the sun.

The problem is that in many cities, the space between these soaring buildings is ugly. It’s cracked concrete and sooty asphalt. It’s chainlink fences and deteriorating lampposts. This dirty sterility drives me away from many highly-dense urban settings.

Fortunately, there is DTC. It contains towering glass structures, surrounded by corporately-maintained strips of well-mimicked wilderness. It’s like someone took the best parts of our neon post-cyberpunk future, and blended them artfully with tolkeinesque elven forests. Here’s a few pictures taken between my apartment complex and the Starbucks I walk to most days.

As one can see, even the deer were fooled into thinking they were in a pretty nature place. :) This is not a common occurrence, but man was it cool. I’ve posted a video below that shows how close they let humans get to them, they’re mostly unconcerned with us. I could probably have touched one if I wanted to, but I think that’s probably a bad idea. Plus, the three bucks with very pointly antlers made me cautious of scaring them.

Jan 222017
 

In mid-November I was laid off from my accounting job, and decided to finish my novel by year’s end. Despite a huge shock to my personal life right about that time (of which there are still all sorts of aftershocks), I managed to do so. :) I wrote the final line on Dec 30th, 2016.

I’m in my revision pass now, which looks like it’ll take a couple months in itself. But a couple things I’ve learned so far:

1. Working for yourself is far more intense than working for The Man.

I thought working for myself would be relaxing. A nice change of pace from the demands of corporate life, since I could work when and where I liked, and no uniform is required. Oh how wrong I was.

I should perhaps put “working” in quotes, because there’s no guarantee I’ll ever see any money for this. But that being said – when I’m working The Man and I’m at the office, I get paid for every hour that I’m there, period. I don’t have to be at the top of my game. If I show up Monday after a big party weekend, and I’m hungover and working at half-efficiency? No big deal. If I surf Facebook or chat with my coworkers for an hour? Still getting paid.

My posts to this blog have dropped off quite a bit over the last few months. I’m behind with most of the blogs I read, as well as not following the news as much, and I’ve abandoned several podcasts I used to listen to religiously. Because I just don’t have the time anymore. Every single minute I’m NOT working is time that I’m not getting paid, so to speak. Every hour of my life is now divided into “productive” (meaning may support my continuing to be alive) or “non-productive” (which feels like it’s wasted entirely). It’s intense. There is no such thing as “time off” or “down time” or even “slack” when you work for yourself. There’s only Doing The Thing, or Not. And getting sick is a double-whammy. It makes me more jealous of my time, and I was already fairly jealous of it.

I used to work on the Methods of Rationality podcast at the office, during my lunch hour. It was a lot like getting paid to work on my podcast. Now I have to chisel out 6-8 hours of my life every two weeks, taking time away from my writing, or my friends/family, or just rest, to do so. I used to always be a full episode ahead, now I rarely get it finished more than 3 days before it goes live. I still love it, but before it was something I used to fill my “free” time, and now it is a more dearly-felt cost.

I can honestly say I have worked far harder during my last few months of unemployment than I ever worked when I was grinding away in the last decade at the 9-5 (with the exception of some very hairy Quarter-End months.)

2. Starbucks is awesome, cuz work environment matters.

I discovered pretty quickly that working at home just wasn’t working for me. It was too easy to get distracted. There was always something to read, or to do. More than anything else, my bed was right there, and the nap times called me.

“How can I write well when I’m this tired? I can’t. I must rest my brain, and I’ll write afterwards. Whoops, it’s two days later.”

It just felt like such a hollow pursuit. I was floating in a strange limbo and nothing I did mattered. So I went to Starbucks.

At Starbucks, there are other humans. Those humans are always looking at me and judging me. If I am typing away, being productive, they smile, and judge me worthy. If I am surfing the internet or chatting on Facebook, they see how I am wasting my life, and scowl.

I know this isn’t actually true. No one gives a shit what I’m doing, they don’t look at me or my screen. But now I’m no longer in some weird dreamtime, I’m among humans. I’m grounded in the real world. And I’m reminded why I write. It’s for these people around me. To some day be seen and validated and maybe maybe even admired. So I sit, and I write, and I feel good about it. I know this isn’t psychologically healthy, but fuck it – do what works. Cuz in the end that’s all that matters.

Also, no bed nearby, so naps are not an option. :)

 

Anyway, I still need to do a full revision pass, and find an agent, and find a publisher, so I’m only like halfway through the process. And I’ll have to get a day job pretty soon to pay the bills too. But I’m happy to have discovered that if I ever get the chance to do this sort of thing for a living for real, I have the self-discipline to actually sit down and write a novel, rather than sliding into sloth and hedonism. :)

Jan 082017
 

I despise what the Republican Congress is doing. These motherfuckers bring out hatred in me. For example – Republicans Confirm Planned Parenthood Will Lose Federal Funding As Soon As Next Month.

I.

Aaaaaaand then a friend of mine states that all Republicans are horrible people, and there are no decent people who are registered (R). I’m horrified that many of my friends are turning into the sort of sweeping-generalizations mob that I used to see from the Right. How is this any different from “All Muslims are horrible?”

II.

I’m told repeatedly that hating someone for taking away your rights and humanity is acceptable. And yeah, I also hate the Republican Establishment. Everyone has every right to feel as pissed off and angry at this bullshit that’s coming down the pike as they want. We’re going to NEED a lot of anger to fight it.

But there are good Republicans, just like there are good [any group you care to name]. The more the message “ALL X ARE EVIL” is repeated, the more it makes it acceptable for people to lash out in violence against anyone who is, or is perceived to be, X. It’s the constant repeating of the rhetoric that creates an environment that leads to violence. We were complaining about the Trump rallies doing this, but we’ve seen it happen many times before. Hundreds of times in history. Have we learned nothing?

There are a lot of people who hate Trump, and want diversity and coexistence, and who identify as Republican. It is immoral to say they’re all evil.

III.

So I’m told I’m an example of the Banality of Evil.  A poster-boy for “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But that’s kinda the opposite of what’s happening, isn’t it? I’m standing up for my few republican friends precisely because I refuse to sit down and do nothing. It sucks being called evil by my own community, simply because I won’t throw a couple people I know under the bus.

IV.

They ask: What makes a Republican a “good one?” What steps are they taking to protect the weakest among us? Where are all these “good people”? What are they doing?

I provide links to the Republicans Who Have Renounced Trump, and the Log Cabin Republicans, but my reply is that this is the exact same question as “Where are are the Muslims decrying the terrorist violence? Why aren’t they policing their community? Why aren’t they telling us about the attacks the extremists are planning?” Are these fair questions to ask of the Muslim community? If not, do you know why not?

The Republican Party has some vile shit in its platform. The Koran has some vile shit in it as well. If you think the Republican Platform is bad, look at the founding documents of any of the three Abrahamic religions. And yet we all accept that people who claim that these are the most important books in their lives, and that their highest ideal is to live by them, can still be good people. If we can do that for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but we can’t do it for Republicans, why is that?

V.

I’m told plenty of religious people are great: they negotiate with their religion and try to live by it but also seek a separate peace from the nasty stuff that has no business being a part of a modern mindset. People phrase things all sorts of ways, and “Living by” means different things to different people. What would it mean to “live by” the ideals of the Republican Party at this point?

Which is exactly my point. This does mean different things to different people, and for someone from the outside to say “THIS is what it means to “live by” your ideals!” to a different group isn’t any different than someone saying socialists want to starve 50 million people to death. Or pick your choice of slander.

In practice altering an entire ideology is slow and difficult work. In the real world everyone has to worry about procedure, convincing the majority of their constituents, power grabs by people who are more conservative than you are, etc. The Democratic Party’s change on gay marriage, for example, was no quick whim. It took decades of struggle. DADT and DOMA (for non-US readers, these are anti-gay legislation from the 90s) were both signed in by a smiling Clinton. Just a few years before Obama “evolved” on the issue he was speaking about how marriage should be between a man and a woman, while Dick-freaking-Cheney, one of the most evil men in the US, was defending gay rights. I know, right?? The world is a weird place.

So what do people do? They stay with the ideology they were raised with, that of the community around them, that broadly looks more like it represents them than the alternatives, or at least enough to the point that it isn’t worth the loss of your community for switching, and just cherry-pick their beliefs! It’s damned infuriating. But it doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them human.

And by cherry-picking, and standing up for their gay/women/whatever friends, they are making a change. (incidentally, that’s why I’m standing up for my R friends. I want to see our group be less myopic and viscous.) Some of them even join groups that attempt to make direct change! Calling those progressive voices that are trying to bring it back to moderation horrible/despicable people hurts the reform movement.

Both political parties are evolving. Let’s not evolve away from what made us the right side in the first place.

Dec 132016
 

This is a tale of two blog posts. The first is a Tumblr post that made me FEEL STUFF, and did so fantastically.

There are a lot of arguments about why the FDA is bad. Scott Alexander has posted about it several times on his site, and he’s far from the only one. A person can read these articles and say “Why yes, this is a travesty! The FDA must be reigned in before it destroys us all!”

And then someone posts something like this (specifically the part by KungFuNurse) and the imagine of a snake-oil salesman killing innocent people with Patent Tonics and then skipping town with their money is simply so emotionally compelling and super-available that it’s hard to not be swayed by it. It requires a real effort to remain committed to what I can see is the case via calculating costs vs. benefits, rather than the image of my poor mom being swindled and killed. :(

So I am eternally grateful when someone comes forward and puts it in no-nonsense SUPER EMOTIVE terms why the FDA is fucking them and ruining their lives. Especially because these regulations are ones that I know happen to people I KNOW PERSONALLY, rather than the snake-oil song-and-dance that touches almost no one. Because I know click-through is awful, here’s the full text from the link:

your regulation is #problematic, statecucks

So, the shitlib FDA apologists etc. just love to peddle the bollocks that regulation protects the vulnerable, the marginalized, the badbrains, the executively dysfunctional, the people every PC cuck loves to pretend to give a shit about while actually cucking us over every single chance they get.

And it’s bullshit. Here’s what the nanny state actually looks like to its victims:

> you have a medication you’re going to be using every single fucking day for the rest of your goddamn life or at least until you get an artifical gland installed to produce it endogenously
> you cannot do the sane thing of simply placing a regular order for it online and having it delivered to your home,
> you need to walk how fucking many* kilometres (or take the goddamn bus) to one of the few pharmacies in town (because the state regulates their numbers) to buy your permitted refill (because it’s either completely illegal to buy more than 3 months supply at a time, or the pharmacies just never sell more because the public medical insurance limits its coverage to 3 months at a time)
> you need to keep renewing the prescription all the fucking time

> you have a very useful medication which requires a special permit
> and of fucking course you need to keep renewing the fucking prescription
> only a few doctors in the entire fucking county even know how to apply for the special permits
> your doctor, naturally, is not one of them
> you need to get the papers the previous doctor wrote about it from the county public healthcare shitstem office something department of fuck you
> you cannot go ask them in meatspace because there is no fucking person who could do it
> you cannot ask them on the phone because “””security implications”””, even if you ask for them to be delivered via mail to the exact home address the motherfuckers have on file so the only way for them to not end up to the only person who should have access to them is for some creep to intercept the mail, after lying in wait for something like a couple of weeks because they can’t be expected to deliver shit on time, so basically zero chance, but nonetheless ~*~in theory~*~ it might not work that way so fuck you
> you need to write a fucking letter to some fucking bureaucrats to pretty please ask them to give you your medical files uwu
> there is no ready-made template because fuck you
> you’ve been trying to do it for six months but unable to get it done because you have no fucking idea how to write a fucking information request for some fucking intentionally obtuse statecuck bureaucracy

> drug A basically cures your ADHD-related anxiety
> of course it has no sales permit so you cannot get it even though it has been used elsewhere for decades and has no demonstrated risks or addictive potential
> because fuck you

> drugs B and C seem promising for treating your ADHD-related anxiety and they have no abuse potential either
> they even have sales permits
> but not for ADHD-related anxiety so the doctor will not prescribe it because fuck you

> what you can get is legendary-sized massive overprescriptions of Valium and other benzodiazepines with a respectable street price because those are approved for sale
> because the State wants to protect people from potentially addictive and/or risky drugs, duh
> because fuck you

To every goddamn socdem shitlib FDA apologist statecuck:

#problematic, #problematic, #problematic!

NONE OF YOU ARE FREE FROM #PROBLEMATIC

(as an aside, I guess “cuck” is now basically a synomyn for “fuck?” That happened fast…)

I will keep this forever, because it drives home the frustration and real harm that is actually caused. I love this post!

OTOH, this isn’t really something that you can use to change minds. Is it? It’s not like it’s something that anyone would propose a counter-argument to, because it just plain isn’t amenable to that sort of engagement. And if something can’t be counter-argued, it shouldn’t be allowed to be an argument either. So this is purely to align emotional-motivation with intellectual-motivation. I’m already on record as saying this is a wonderful thing, so props for that! But it’s basically for the choir, right?

And then the OP went and translated the whole thing into Respectable-Speak, which can be counter-argued if one wanted to:

The Violence Inherent in the System of Rationing Access to Drugs

In popular imagination, especially in left-leaning memeplexes, it’s common to think of barriers like FDA approvals and prescription requirements as helping people by protecting them from being harmed by the medication they use. However, I would like to argue that this has great harms to many vulnerable populations, especially (but not limited to) people with insufficient material resources, executive functioning issues, many kinds of disabilities, etc.

One common failure mode is where people will be on a steady dose of the same drug for the rest of their foreseeable life. In that case it would definitely seem reasonable that people would be able to keep using that drug without any unnecessary hassles, as the typical objections of “can we know it works for them”, “do they know how to use it” etc. are utterly moot.

This is not usually the case. The exact details vary (it’s definitely different in the US than in Finland), but around here prescription-only drugs will require constant renewals and refills under “professional supervision”. I cannot simply go to the website of a pharmacy and order my estradiol like it’s vitamins from Amazon; I have to waste the time of us both by getting the purchase rubber-stamped by a real person, either physically in the pharmacy, on the phone, or in an online chat service.

While this may seem relatively convenient (and admittedly it has been made as easy as the rules allow), it doesn’t change the fact that one cannot observe any solid reason for such barriers to access, and it doesn’t take much to render that convenience substantially less consequential if one has eg. movement difficulties, social phobia, or any of the other weird brain things reality in its persistent insistence to be inconvenient tends to heap upon the unfortunate and underprivileged.

When ones needs move outside the ordinary, things get even worse. I’m a modafinil user lucky enough to have an actual prescription for it, or more accurately, I would be if I was able to deal with the bureaucracy around the special permits required. My current doctor doesn’t know how to apply for the special permit, so I need to get the permit application the previous doctor wrote.

I cannot get the documents by showing up physically at desk whatever of building N of the county healthcare department of something.

I cannot request the documents via phone because of alleged patient confidentiality issues; not even with the limitation that I would request them to the address the healthcare department has in their patient records, which would effectively eliminate any potential privacy issues as the mail could not be redirected without physically intercepting it, and any adversary capable of consistently intercepting my mail already has full access to my confidential info anyway. Common sense and realistic threat analysis don’t matter to bureaucracy.

There obviously is no convenient web interface where I could use my online banking credentials to order them mailed to me, let alone view them right there (Finland has a system where people can use their bank logins as official ID for many government functions; this has exactly the uncomfortable implications around privacy and government-corporate collusion one would expect, yet it fails at actually solving some of the problems it would naively seem inherently suitable for).

The only available way to request those documents is to write a physical paper letter to the county healthcare archive whatever offices. There naturally is no ready-made template for it, so I would have to whip up an Official Request in the language I’m less comfortable doing written communication in (long story) which happens to be even worse than phoning strangers without explicit invitation. Unsurprisingly I’m now over six months without modafinil because of this.

The harms created by regulating access to medication obviously get even worse when one moves outside the category of drugs that have actually managed to gain official approval for treating your issues; a distinction which uncomfortably often tends to be outright orthogonal to whether they do work for treating your issues.

Semax is an OTC drug in Russia, and has been in use there for decades. It also effectively cures my ADHD-related anxiety. It is not even manufactured and sold in the West except for some obscure companies which produce/procure it for not human consumption, and I have personal communications from the customs office that importing it would be considered a repeat offense. The fact that it has no demonstrated abuse potential nor has there been any evidence of significant harmful side effects doesn’t matter, as the law treats anything which could be used for treating illnesses, ailments etc. a regulated drug, unless it has been exempted as homeopathic or certain categories of herbal.

(It shouldn’t take much astuteness from the reader to notice that the law, while judging intent and purpose instead of eg. risks or abuse potential, specifically carves out an exception for homeopathy. This obviously undermines the common argument that regulations are keeping homeopaths and other quacks in check; in this case the regulation explicitly favors the homeopaths.)

Clonidine and guanfacine are approved as blood-pressure medications in Finland, and in the US they also have approval for treating ADHD-related issues. I haven’t tested them so I can’t conclusively say that they would help significantly (unlike semax which definitely does), but the fact that they are approved for sale doesn’t help as they are not approved for this particular purpose in this particular country. Despite once again lacking in addictiveness, abuse potential etc.

The US famously not approving thalidomide is often quoted by proponents of the notoriously strict FDA regulations (note how in this case the situation in Finland is even worse than under the yoke of the FDA), but empirical evidence shows that there is no meaningful difference between rich western countries in how often drugs get recalled for safety reasons: the number is consistently around 3-4%. This implies that a very unambitious and safe reform would be to categorically permit the use of any drug for any purpose (even if not officially approve) as long as it’s approved in one such country.

Now one would expect that at least such a strict system would do a reasonable job of protecting me from harm and addiction risk.

However, such reasonableness is nowhere to be found. In the past I have been prescribed the notoriously harmful atypical antipsychotic quetiapine for mere sleep issues, as that combination is approved. Currently my anxiety issues are kept in check by intermittent benzodiazepines (diazepam aka. Valium, and oxazepam) which not only do have substantial abuse potential as evident from their respectable street price, but they also are the substance I know I would get addicted to if I ever do (or specifically, the combination of benzodiazepines with stimulants; in perfectly prescription-conforming dosages even), and the prescriptions are (due to a quirk of the system how refill sizes are calculated; my “worst case dose” is multiplied under the assumption that I would take such amounts every day) sufficiently large to make not getting addicted a matter of individual choice as the rationing of amounts is incapable of having such an effect.

TL;DR: local bureaucracy valiantly protects trans person from harmless but unusual treatments, prescribes drugs that can cause severe long-term brain damage or actual abuse and addiction instead.

Now, while this is far more respectable, and something that’s more likely to get linked on my Facebook, it has no emotional resonance. I basically fell asleep reading it. It honestly felt like a long, exaggerated excuse that some FDA-hater came up with to propose all the most outlandish worst-case-scenario things that never actually happen to anyone. And even if by some coincidence they DID happen to someone, the otherside is grandma being killed by Dr Terminus, so I’m just gonna step back and figure the government’s got this one handled, K?

And so I’m greatly torn between things that have emotional relevance, and things that put forth reasoned arguments. I guess this is why we need both. We determine what is the best course by using dispassionate, reasoned thinking. Then we find a way to motivate ourselves to actually care by seeking out the emotive pleas that drive it.

I’d like to end this post by dropping IMMENSE gratitude on Scott Alexander, and Eliezer Yudkowsky. These are two writers who have consistently (and for long periods of time over many subjects) done the nearly-impossible. They’ve put forth reasoned arguments that have all the substance and grounding of the sober 2nd post, and infused them with much of the emotive persuasion and visceral appeal of the 1st post. They literally explained important and sobering things to me with tons of support, while making me care on a personal level, and being entertaining to boot. It’s an incredibly rare skill, and I am deeply grateful there are humans who can pull it off, and are willing to use their powers for Good.

<3

Nov 022016
 

470282394I dropped out of college after a year, for a number of reasons, not least among them that I was tired of schooling and I wanted to actually participate in the Real World. I got a job as a office clerk at 19.

Since then I managed to work, jump, and slide my way up the ranks. I’ve been working as a full-on accountant for 15 years, despite never having official Accounting Schooling. You can learn a lot on the job, especially if you like numbers.

But it always felt like I was getting away with something. Especially over the last five years, I’ve been getting promotions I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified for, and been given work that I simply didn’t understand when it first landed on my desk. It would take months of flying by the seat of my pants to get a grasp on what was going on, and in the meantime I still had to make the numbers balance and file the appropriate reports.

I would have nightmares about people asking me what I do in an account (in detail), cuz fuck if I know! Every quarter I was convinced THIS would be the quarter they figured out I had no clue. And every time I didn’t get laid off or fired, I was shocked that I had gotten away with it for one more quarter. A lot of my efforts were put into saving up for when this house of cards came crashing down.

Last month, they finally caught on to me.

Which is kinda ironic, because I had only recently finally gotten almost everything figured out. I feel like I know what I’m doing more than ever before. (And OK — it’s not entirely fair to say they “caught on to me” — as far as I can tell everyone still thinks I was doing a great job.)

Regardless, I no longer have to pretend I know what’s going on, and worry constantly that someone will notice I’m faking it. Today is my last day at my current job. :) Thank god my long personal nightmare of security and prosperity is finally over!

They gave me plenty of warning and a nice severance, so I can’t complain. I’m taking the rest of the year off to finish my novel, and then I’ll dive back into the Real World come January.

Oct 282016
 

allbirdsskyAll The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

Synopsis: A pair of outcasts meet as children and overcome social isolation and opposing ideologies to become friends and save the world.

Book Review (Rational Fiction version): This must be done in two parts, because first I must address the Rational Fiction flavor of this book! This is the most only novel I know (so far) that captures the style of Rational Fiction without being Rational Fiction itself. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, so let’s start with the conflict.

A foundation of RatFic is that there aren’t “good” and “evil” sides (per se)–there are factions with conflicting values who are intellectually consistent and morally good to themselves, but who clash over their differences. All The Birds does this thing, as the two protagonists are from opposing ideologies and are each other’s antagonists, and whenever you are reading a chapter from the POV of one of them you identify with that character, and you realize how right and proper their actions are, and why of course they must fight the stupid/bad actions of their opposition. The next chapter switches to the other character, and you feel the exact same thing from the other side. I love that sort of thing.

Secondly, both protags are child prodigies who are socially isolated because of their gifts. This isn’t a defining feature of RatFic per se, but it is a common theme, and it’s very HPMoR-esque, which kicked off the whole RatFic genre in the first place.

Third, it is comfortable in the language/culture of transhumanism. It isn’t a treatise on the movement or anything, but the author is either familiar with the movement, or had a lot of input from people who are. This feels like it was written by someone in the scene, and it’s refreshing to read something that comes from my culture! You don’t realize how alien the overwhelming majority of the world is until you stumble across something that feels like it came from your home group, and you can love it for the comforting family tale it is. I get fuzzies just thinking about it.

Fourth, the humor is straight-up Yudkowskian. If you liked the humor of HPMoR, you’ll likely enjoy the humor here too! It is slightly absurdist, but in a way that is delightful, like the assassin’s guild that requires its members to perform pro bono hits from time to time to remain in good standing. The word play is top-notch. And there are a fair smattering of the geeky pop-culture references, done just right, that we all love (ala Forks +2).

That being said, this is explicitly NOT Rationalist Fiction! The male hero starts the novel by crafting a 2-second time machine which apparently anyone can make if they have internet access, but most people don’t, and which isn’t abused or munchkined at all. There’s a TON of these throw-away things in the novel which could potentially break the world if an enterprising hero were to munchkin them into abuse, but which are never exploited in that way, because this isn’t RatFic. It’s a story of friendship, and love, and growing up, and it focuses on THAT. As long as you don’t expect RatFic-style exploitation, and accept this as a surreal fantasy story where everyone has a blindspot as to the game-breaking-potential of all the magic/gadgets around them, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. :)

Book Review (Traditional Version): This is a beautiful story. I don’t know if anyone read the works of Daniel Pinkwater as a kid, but this novel feels exactly like I remember those. It is surreal in a way that allows the author to focus on the parts of reality that really MATTER to the story, and seriously drill into those. The story does not give any fucks about “realism.” In Pinkwater’s Lizard Music, for example, there are talking lizards who play jazz music on public access television after midnight. In a world that otherwise makes sense. There is no explanation given, it’s just a brute fact of the story world. All The Birds In The Sky has many similar things, straight-up absurdities which are fun and which don’t need explanation (like the 2-second time machine). They are quirky and delightful, and put you in the frame of mind that this is a fantasy for precocious, imaginative people that are willing to revert to a more child-like play state for the duration of a novel.

This is important, because much of this novel is an exploration of how we move from being wonder-filled children to jaded adults. Sooooo much of it is a commentary on Adulting. On trying to stay true to yourself in a world filled with mundane madness, with a sanity waterline so low it drives you to exasperation… and maybe conformity? This is a paean to anyone who still uses Adulting as a verb to proudly describe things they sometimes do, rather than a noun describing what they are.

And oh god, the childhood of these characters. It is my childhood. It is angst and isolation, and thinking if maybe you can do this one glorious thing it will all be different… but it never is. The parents are absurdly extreme in a way no real humans are, but in a way that speaks to the emotional reality of what it is to be a child. It sacrifices literalism to get to the emotional core of a world dominated by overwhelmingly powerful beings who cannot relate to or fully understand you.

The teen years too! The sexual struggles of the male character are the most true-to-life of any novel I’ve read, and I think it says something that a surrealist YA novel has come so much closer to portraying realistic sexuality than anything trying to be Serious and Literary.

The prose itself is just fantastic too. After a love scene between the male protagonist and his then-girlfriend, the final paragraph ends with

“When Laurence got back to bed, Serafina had fallen into a cold sleep, and her elbow jutted into him.”

It just ends like that, flat. And it’s the most beautiful way to say “They do not fit together. This relationship is awkward and uncomfortable and doomed to failure.” Because instead of just telling us that, it shows us it in the most physically-literal way possible. In just one sentence, describing a single action. And yet everything is wrapped up in exactly that one line, and it hits you and lingers, because that one line is all it took, and it did it via demonstration. There’s a number of these literary feats sprinkled throughout this book, and it’s perfect every time.

Also, it is written exactly the way I would talk with my friends! For example, there’s even a part where the two characters try to speak at once, and the next sentence is literally:

Then they were both like “You first.”

Which is awesome. :)

The book has a few weaknesses. Patricia’s stay at the Magic School (and the resulting Siberia Incident) never felt very fleshed-out or compelling to me. And the ending was a bit weak. But the beauty and wonder made up for it, for me. I don’t want to over-hype this, because nothing can live up to too much praise, and then one is disappointed. But I certainly enjoyed it. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: This review has gone on for quite a while already, so I’ll try to make this short. Not everyone liked this book as much. A couple of our members just couldn’t swallow the absurdist aspects. However, as a commentary on what sort of world we have built for ourselves as we became adults, and how we changed to accommodate that, it did give a group a couple interesting lines of conversation to talk about. The way it portrays environmentalism vs humanism, and the recklessness of over-ambitious leaders, is also intriguing. The fact that it isn’t too long and is a pleasant read helped with completion and turn out as well. Overall, this is makes for good book club reading/discussion. Recommended.

Oct 262016
 

palace-of-solitudeFirst of all – thank you to everyone who replied to my last post. It helps. :)

 

Recently I received an email about my flash fiction piece, wherein a reader expressed appreciation for it. In addition to making me feel happy, it reminded me of something Seth Dickinson said the first time I wrote him, years ago now, about his piece “A Plant (Whose Name is Destroyed)“. He thanked me for writing, because no one ever engages with short fiction. I didn’t know what he meant by that at the time. But now I do.

It’s very hard to gauge reader reactions to stories that are published in more “traditional” venues. There normally aren’t comments/likes to give feedback, and even in venues that DO provide a comment section, the vast majority of people never post any comments at all.

The artists I know feed on validation. It could be a general artistic thing, or a general human thing, or maybe I’m just stuck in a very weird social bubble. /shrug. I almost wish I’d gone into one of the performance arts… When you act, or play music, or do stand-up comedy, you have immediate feedback from the audience. That doesn’t happen with the written word. Which means that those of us that feed on validation but don’t perform are starving.

There is some recourse. I go to WorldCon regularly now, and as Robin Hanson noted, it’s a long party to celebrate the authors we admire. But even there, interaction is a bit limited. If I had to guess, I would say this is exactly why serialized fiction has become so popular again. People actually leave feedback on serial fiction. Scott Alexander could publish Unsong as a single completed novel. But he’d never see more than the smallest fraction of the community interaction that comes from telling a story to a collective audience over time.

Fanfiction is the same, I previously quoted a friend who observed “I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.”

I am also guilty of this. I’ve read stories that really moved me, and then never said a thing. Like, almost moved me to tears, and the author has no clue.

This is unfortunate, and I want to do my part to help change it. From now on, if a work takes my breath away, I will leave a comment on it, even if to say nothing more than that. If commenting isn’t an option, I’ll spend five minutes trying to find an email, website, or twitter of the author instead, and send them thanks. Reading something like that is rare, and it’s not fair for someone to not know they’re appreciated. In fact, I’m going to go back and do that right now, for several works I’ve read in the past year that I left uncommented. They deserve no less.

 

(That being said, this is not the thread to say good things about anything of mine that you’ve liked. If you agree with any of this, please find something you’ve loved by someone else, and comment/tell them instead! Spread it outward. :) Thanks!)

Oct 212016
 

shinjiGloomy mood today. I have to go watch some Steven Universe or something.

 

I.

I remember the first time I got lost/separated from my mother at a grocery store. I think I was seven or eight years old? The world switched in a heartbeat from safe and familiar to alien and hostile. I was alone in a confusing landscape. I had never been in this situation before, completely isolated and unable to find my way back to safety. For all I knew, recovery from this disaster was impossible. I would spend the rest of my life alone. And at the mercy of uncaring passing forces.

Fortunately, it turned out things weren’t quite that dire.

 

II.

The religion I was raised in (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is ideologically purist, and very insular. It is very important that Witnesses not have very many contacts with the outside world, as they will corrupt you. Ideally only those absolutely required to make a living. You should not have any friends who aren’t Witnesses, and limit your interaction with non-Witness family members. My extended family lived across the Atlantic, and I was a very shy and nerdy kid, so those were kinda my default anyway. I was lucky to have the one or two friends within the church that I did have. I was grateful to the church for forcing us together.

The religion also uses shunning as a control mechanism. It is frequently brought up in church meetings that anyone who is kicked out of the church must never have interaction with current members. Not even a phone call. Not even if they’re your son/daughter. This doesn’t actually happen very often in practice, because most people aren’t monsters, but I didn’t know that. I took ideas seriously, even as a child.

Every now and then at church we would be told of the Super Virtuous Mother who kicked her teenage kid out of the house and never even made eye-contact again, even when they were crying and begging outside windows of the family’s home. She, and other examples like her, were held up in glowing terms as shining examples of what we should all strive for, and everyone would nod and murmur in wonder at her great devotion, and clap in approval. Every now and then we would hear about how this family’s devotion would be rewarded by God, when the wayward child finally came back months or years later, humbly returning to the church with a renewed faith. A soul saved, a family reunited! Because they were strong, and never wavered in the exile.

This was horrifying, even as a believer. It got worse as I started to have doubts. It was the start of my tendencies to try to limit how much I care about others.  They can’t control you if you don’t care about their love, right?

 

III.

Dan Savage, sex-advice columnist, is often asked by young gay people how to deal with rabidly homophobic parents. The first step, of course, is to not be dependent on them. As long as they are in charge of whether you have protection from the elements and food to eat, they have a stranglehold on you. But the next step, the only step available for adult children who’ve already moved out, is to remove yourself from your parents’ life. To let them know that you are deserving of respect, and you WILL NOT sit idly by while they abuse you. You are under no obligation to sit there and take their hatred. You can simply leave. And you should.

Often, parents will eventually come around. Because generally, parents love their children, and miss them when they’re gone. They will moderate their views, and they will hold back their vile opinions when in your presence, because they know you won’t stand for it. Eventually, they often even change their minds entirely, and come to accept and love their children for who they are. As Dan says: As an adult, your only leverage over your parents is your presence in their lives.

This is wonderful advice. And it requires that you be more willing to cut someone out of your life than they are willing to cut you out of theirs. This sounds very familiar.

 

IV.

I dislike the way the world works. I dislike that we live in a gladiator universe, where the final arbiter is violence. I dislike that even if we were to eliminate physical violence, there is emotional violence that can still be inflicted. I don’t know how to compare the two, though I assume physical violence is far worse. But the shitty part about emotional violence is that, while physical violence can be used against anyone, emotional violence’s power is directly proportional to how much people care about you. The more someone loves you, the more you can hurt them.

The ultimate winning move is to weaponize your Self. Do whatever you can to get everyone to love you as much as possible. And simultaneously, you care for them as little as possible, so you are not vulnerable to their attacks. It’s gross. It feels like the subtext of every relationship one can have, though.

Maybe this is the result of having been raised to see love as a weapon, used to control those who love you… but I don’t want to have that sort of violent power over another person. Right now I’m hurting someone, and I hate it. I wish I could see some way to avoid this trap, because I don’t want to be alone either.