Jul 082019
 

By ancient tradition, our book club reads the online-available Short Stories and Novelettes that have been nominated for the Hugo Award every year. Here’s my reviews.

 

Best Short Story Category

The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker

A fantastic tale about our quest for knowledge, and the price we’re willing to pay to understand. This is perhaps a tragedy, or borderline horror? Which means it’s perfect for me. :) But in the end, after the narrator asserts that the protagonist has given up, in the very last line we learn that the protagonist is still asking “How?” He still wants to know how the magic works, and I am willing to bet he could still cast the Spell if he wanted to. Which fills me with hope and happiness. Much like us, his desire to know is too deep. Even when he thinks he’s given up and moved on, it’s still there, prodding him and shaping his life. :) I liked this one.

 

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher

Oh man. There’s this tension in awards, or at least, in the Hugos, between “This should be a great work of merit that will be remembered for decades” and “This was so much fun it’s my favorite yaassssss!” For an award as prestigious as the Hugos, I think the works SHOULD have great SF/F merit. OTOH, it’s hard not to cheer for something that you love just cuz it’s a ton of fun.

I bring this up because this story is pure fluff. It’s literally a wish-fulfillment sex-comedy. And the thing is, I love it. I love Rose, I had a huge amount of fun reading this. I still brings a smile to my face. But, like, really, this is not award-worthy material. It’s pure candy. One member of our book club was actually angry, because its nomination took away a spot that an actual deserving work could have been in. I wasn’t angry, because I enjoyed this story so much, but I agree. This should not have been nominated. So, Recommended, but wtf Hugo voters? What happened to standards?

 

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark

This is not a story. This is nine vignettes that are probably world-building exercises for a novel that will be great. I say this because the world-building is absolutely fantastic. Revolutionary America with wearwolves and voodoo magic and all sorts of amazing mythological/magical forces that have their own vested interests in this war and it’s outcome. I’m super excited to read a story set in this world! I’m kinda sad that we don’t have one yet. There are no characters in this world-building exercises. There is no plot. It’s just setting a foundation.

I immediately compared this to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, because famously, it is another story without any characters or any plot, it’s simply a description of a world. And it’s one of the most well-regarded short stories in SF history. But there’s a major difference. Omelas has something to say. It takes utilitarianism, and it asks the reader “Do you really believe this, in your soul? Are you OK with this?” It is a critique of a moral philosophy, disguised as a story. And it’s only a few paragraphs long. Nine Teeth goes on forever without saying anything of substance. Maybe “slavery sucks”? But that’s not really interesting, and we all already know that. It’s certainly on the same level as “A major school of current ethical thought has this consequence, can you live with it?”

Not Recommended

 

STET by Sarah Gailey

I admire this story for its ambition. It tried to do something amazing, to tell a story through implication, wrapped in the footnotes of a dry tech analysis. It’s demands work from the reader. Doing this sort of thing is hard, and so it’s not huge strike against it that the story fails. What should land as a gut-punch is instead a glancing blow. The revelations are interesting, but lack the eye-opening character. A good effort, but it didn’t quite work for me.

I guess I’m reaching an age were I can compare new things to older things now, which is kinda weird. But this story immediately brought to my mind Kenneth: A Users Manual, which tries the same trick, but gets it RIGHT. Kenneth is gut-wrenching and beautiful, and tells a story in the addendum and footnotes of a “user manual.” I would recommend that story instead, it’s everything this one wanted to be, and still makes my blood sing.

 

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander

Another one of those stories that are fun but don’t have any substance. It’s basically a straight-up adventure with some jokes thrown in. Less pure-campy fun than Rose MacGregor, this story is completely forgettable. I actually forgot it already, and I had just read it like 10 days ago. Pass.

 

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

The most beautiful and heart-wrenching of all the shorts this year. Holy crap guys. Remember that tragic and soul-searching essay by Rainbow Rowell, “Learn To Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love“? This story is basically an exploration of that, but taking the opposite stance. Escapism is important, and for some people, absolutely vital. There is only so much real-life that some people can take when their lives are absolute shit. And SF/F provides an escape world that is so much better than most other options of escapism. It’s heartwarming in parts. It’s wrenching in others. When you learn what these kids are going through, and you learn how the protagonist failed them before, it’s just… man. It’s hard. You feel the feels.

In the end I was left wondering, though. Is that escape REALLY a good thing. The kid that our protagonist helped… is he better off? And is this story dangerous, a memetic hazard, for those of us in the real world that DON’T have magic? It made me feel, and it made me think. It’s so good. It deserves all the awards, Strongly Recommended!

 

Best Novelette Category

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho

At first it seems this will be a story of the value of perseverance, which we’re not exactly lacking, ya know? But then it turns into a story of failure. The story of how to continue on with your life once its clear you never will achieve your goals, you have failed in your ambition in life, and you will never be good enough to fulfill your dreams. Basically what 99.9% of the population goes through when it reaches middle-age. This is not a story we have in abundance, at least not in the SF/F genre, and it was a refreshing change to read. What do you do after failing at life? It’s not like you’re going to kill yourself. You just have to keep on keeping on, and find joy in other things. Like relationships, and family. And, again, the despair makes it the sort of story I enjoy.

But then in the end it returns to “Actually, it’s never too late to achieve your dreams, just keep on trying and you’ll get there!” Which I guess makes for a feel-good ending, but felt cliche. Overall, I thought this one is OK.

 

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly

A revenge story, with beautiful, mouth-watering descriptions of food. The protagonist doesn’t actually do anything, which is unusual. She basically just tells the reader about how her husband exacts revenge on the bloodthirsty tyrant via clever trickery, and describes the poisoned treats he passes on. It’s strange to have such a passive protag, but overall a pretty good story.

 

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory

Frankly, I didn’t understand this story at all. It’s nine vignettes, describing nine days in the protagonists life, starting in his childhood and ending in late senescence, when he’s in his 90s. But like… there’s no story? And no theme? And we see how the character evolves over the years, but since each vignette is so brief we don’t really feel any life-changing moment. Smarter readers in my book club said that it’s basically a story about the human race adapting to circumstances beyond our control, fitting ourselves into the changing shape of an unfathomable world. Looking back over the story, I agree that there’s a theme of slow, gradual change and adaptation in the character arc. But overall, this felt like a literary story without much meat to it. All style and mood, without any point. I didn’t like it.

 

The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer

Meh. The protag cares for her mother as she slowly dies of Alzheimer’s, putting the rest of her life on hold. Afterwards she feels empty and doesn’t deal with the grief, since what was her mom died slowly over many years, and by the time the body passed her mother had long ago faded away. The ghost of her mom leaves the protagonist a sign that she’s OK, and she’s proud of her daughter, and there is a sense of closure. This basically reads like MFA Lit Fic, with a ghost thrown in. I disliked it. Interestingly, I was alone in this, everyone else in my book club loved it. Maybe I’m just jaded and grumpy.

 

When We Were Starless by Simone Heller

Now this — THIS was fantastic! For starters, the author makes the reader do some *work*. You aren’t spoon-fed anything, and the world in this story is drastically different from our own. As the people within it are used to the world, the reader has to slowly piece together from clues and descriptions what’s actually happening in our terms. It’s a delightful puzzle, and it’s not so hard that anyone can’t do it with a bit of perseverance. I don’t want to spoil the puzzle by giving away anything, but rationalists will find this world right up our alley.

More importantly, the story sparks within the reader a joy of learning, and the wonder of scientific advancement. You know that feeling you got when Harry shows Draco the photograph of astronauts on the moon, the feeling of “This is what we can do at our best!” that just gives you shivers? Yeah, that feeling. This story fills you with that just shortly after you resolve the puzzle.

Then soon after you realize that this is a crapsack, only-survival-matters world, where people who expend energy on anything other than survival will be wiped out. And you despair for the protagonist, who has discovered science but now can never use it. It is a goddamn tragedy. Except… maybe it’s not. Because the way that Heller resolves this tension is beautiful, and leaves one with hope and triumph in our souls, afterall.

This is an absolutely fantastic story, I loved every bit of it. Highly recommended.

 

Final Notes: Our book club is a liberal bunch. There’s only one person in our group that falls right of center, everyone else is leftist to various degrees. And yet, even we couldn’t help but notice that this year’s choices were nearly all, to quote a fellow member “very woke.” It’s obvious, and by the time you come to your 8th woke story it’s a bit of a distraction. Like, I hate to say it, but it does make one think “is it really the case that every work of SF merit this year happened to be woke?” Maybe. The world of everyone-who’s-not-a-Trumpist has been strongly affected by the rise of Trump, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this sort of thing is a constant weight on the minds of authors, and reflected in their work. And readers are likely to be drawn to things that speak to their current fears as well, thus resulting in the ballot we have this year. But man, there were a couple places it felt forced, and when it’s in nearly every work it starts to feel like a subconscious/unspoken requirement. Hopefully as the world reverts to sanity this sort of thing will occur less.

 

Book Club Reviews: As always, I highly recommend doing this once per year. You’re exposed to a lot of disparate things at once, and you get to learn a lot about the tastes of your fellow book clubbers. The reading goes fast, as there’s much less word count than a novel. And basically everyone will find something they like. It’s fun, quick, and a nice change of pace.

Jun 272019
 

I recently discovered that the term “woke” originated in the African-American community and referred to awareness of police violence against black people, as well as other forms of structural oppression. In retrospect, I should have guessed at its origin simply by the beauty and fitness of the word.

It was such a good term that it was promptly co-opted by the Leftist forces.

I find it more than a bit amusing that the same group that loses their minds over any slight against racial purity by shouting “cultural appropriation!” have, in fact, appropriated a word that used to do meaningful work for an important cause, and now use it as a label for their catalog of slights.

I propose that we endeavor only to use the term “woke” in its original, helpful form. And whenever we see affluent white people expressing outrage that someone doesn’t have enough bloodline purity to eg: drink certain teas, or wear their hair in a certain way, or attend Yoga sessions, that we instead refer to that as “whitewoke.” To highlight that it’s privileged white people taking power away from a phrase that did real good and using it for their own outrage porn instead.

Yes, it should be a slur, used against those who deserve it.

Jun 242019
 

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee

Synopsis: I only got 60 pages in, which wasn’t enough to discover the plot. It seems to follow the primary actors in a rebellion against a space empire.

Book Review: This series has been a downward slope for me. I loved the first book, and was kinda meh on the second one, and just found the third one so tedious that I couldn’t even finish it. I think I know why.

The attraction of the first book is the awesome, bizarre world that Lee creates. The laws of physics are shaped by people’s beliefs, and must be reinforced by worship, rites, and ritual human sacrifice. It’s a really cool premise that grabs the novelty-seeking portion of the brain.

However by the time you get three books in, that novelty has worn off. By the time I started Revenant Gun, I’d come to realize that there wasn’t that much being done with this premise, it was basically just another form of Space Magic. Which is fine, there’s lots of great novels with Space Magic, but those novels have other things that carry them once that novelty has worn off. Revenant Gun doesn’t.

The plot is pretty basic where it makes sense (empire is evil, rebels want out), and is often annoyingly disjointed. Problems are frequently solved through liberal application of Space Magic. The atrocities don’t ever make one feel much. We’re told of the nuking of a population center, and that the sacrifice rituals involve “lots of blood,” but come on, that’s not gripping.

Most of the characters are flat. They speak wooden lines and act like they’re there to move a plot forward, rather than be real people inhabiting a world. There is one exception, a character with depth of personality and interesting drives, but unfortunately he has to split screen-time with several other people so I didn’t see enough of him often enough to keep me interested.

Lee switches protagonists in each book, which doesn’t really work in this case. And his habit of keeping things from the reader for a big reveal later on is obvious and hurts the story, rather than building mystery.

Honestly, there just wasn’t much there to keep my attention after the cool concept behind how the universe works is explained. Even that could have kept me going if there was more to it… if something interesting was done with this idea that changed my perspective on the world. Instead everything worked more or less the same, except with magic added. That’s not enough to hold me if there isn’t a cool plot or interesting characters that I care about. I wasn’t sure why I was even reading this after a while, and so I stopped. Heck, I’m even getting bored writing this review. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Interestingly, this had a wide(ish) variety of reactions. I say wide-ish because we only had a sample set of four. More than half our book club didn’t come to this meeting, perhaps due to summer arriving, or perhaps because the novel didn’t interest them, or perhaps due to a coincidental confluence of personal issues. This is a strike against the novel for book clubs, as suppressing turn out is the opposite of what’s good for a book club… if that is indeed what happened.

However, among those four, I was the only one who hated it. Another reader thought it was kinda ok, and she got through to the end. One reader was new to the book club and hadn’t read the first two books. As this was his first time in this universe, he was super excited by the physics-manipulation thing and the weirdness of the world in general. He reminded me of me when I read the first book, which makes me think that anyone reading one of these novels for the first time will like the first one due to the great novelty-hook. It was fun going over all the cool stuff that grabbed me the first time again. :)

And the fourth member was a fan of the series, and didn’t particularly mind what I saw as the weakness. He though the world was interesting enough that it was worth reading even if the characters and plot weren’t very noteworthy. This range of opinions did strike up a bit of conversation, and it was a pretty decent meeting over all. I’m still prejudiced by my personal dislike of the novel, and the fact that so few even showed up for the meeting, so I can’t give it an actual recommendation. However, maybe consider it, if this sounds like your thing?

Jun 142019
 

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente

Synopsis: The human race must prove it is sapient to a galactic counsel or be destroyed. The proof is done via a Eurovision-style music competition. Unfortunately, the galactic community has terrible taste in music.

Book Review: This is a book that would have received a drastically different review from me if I’d stopped before the last two chapters.

What I would have written is that Catherynne Valente is one of the most gifted writers of our generation, without reservation. And, as is well-known, gifted people often become bored with doing the same thing, regardless of how well they do it. So they are constantly exploring new territory, new styles, different methods, etc, to keep themselves interested in the work. Therefore, as much as those of us who have fallen in love with an artist’s earlier works want to see more in that vein, the artist inevitably will be trying new and different things. It is part of the nature of being outstanding.

Space Opera is written in the style of 80s British SF humor; and specifically in the style of Douglas Adams. It is impossible to read this and not immediately understand you are reading a spiritual child of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe (HHGG). It is dry witty humor absolutely drenched in absurdism. Even the cover is reminiscent of Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  As far as I can tell, it does a good job of pulling this off. It reads just like HHGG did for me… which is to say I didn’t really like it.

I know I’m a heretic for saying this, but I never liked HHGG. I’m just not a fan of British humor in most cases. And in particular, I don’t like reading it. Every single thing that is described must be described for paragraphs, sometimes for PAGES, because it’s important to keep heaping absurdity upon absurdity in a spiraling comedic typhoon. I just find that tedious. And the fact that nothing is ever really taken seriously irks me. It makes it feel like nothing in the story matters. Anything can be waved away with “C’mon, it’s part of the absurdist joke!” and if everything can be overlooked, why bother paying attention?

Of course it seems churlish to complain about a genius author writing in a style I don’t personally care for, because that comes with the territory of being a genius author. To ask for this sort of thing not to happen is to ask for the author to not be so gifted in the first place, which is just shooting yourself in the face. You have to take both.

I would have also said that what kept me reading all the way through anyway is that sometimes Valente’s signature style shines through. Not despite the brit-humor, but alongside it, beautiful gems of emotional writing that snare your heart and pull it up into your throat. Passages like this:

In order to create a pop band, the whole apparatus of civilization must be up and running and tapping its toe to the beat. Electricity, poetry, mathematics, sound amplification, textiles, arena architecture, efficient mimetic exchange, dramaturgy, industry, marketing, the bureaucratic classes, cultural critics, audiovisual transmission, special effects, music theory, symbology, metaphor, transportation, banking, enough leisure and excess calories to do anything beyond hunt, all of it, everything

[…]

Well, even that is not quite enough.

Are you kind enough, on your little planet, not to shut that rhythm down? Not to crush underfoot the singers of songs and tellers of tales and wearers of silk? Because it’s monsters who do that. Who extinguish art. Who burn books. Who ban music. Who yell at anyone with ears to turn off that racket. Who cannot see outside themselves clearly enough to sing their truth to the heavens. Do you have enough goodness in your world to let the music play?

Do you have soul?

Which, first of all, that first part is a great distillation of the idea that a pop band is an artifact that proves the existence of a species with a culture. And the second part is just an achingly beautiful distillation of what it is to be human. There are amazing things like this throughout the book, which remind me why I love Valente, and kept me going. But, ultimately, I would have conceded that there’s a lot of silliness that doesn’t do anything except be silly, and you have to read through a looooot of it to get to those scattered gems, and one is probably better off reading one of her other works and passing by this one if one doesn’t have an abundance of time. I would have said “Good if you like Douglas Adams, but for people similar to me, Not Recommended.”

Except… I DID get to the last two chapters. And oh my god. At the end there, Valente steps out of the glamorous rhinestone-studded leathers of brit-humor and screams a full-throated Glitterpunk anthem of pure Catherine Valente into the glare of a hundred spotlights. I will give no spoilers. But it is raw. It is bleeding regret and pathos and perseverance. The undiluted struggle of being a flawed human in a broken world smashes into your soul and rips you bodily through this wrenching emotion. It is glorious.

And afterwards, it’s impossible — for me at least — not to have everything that came before it suddenly tinted with rosey light and silvered edges. Because that was the journey that brought me to this place. I may not have cared for it at the time, but man, that payoff! That made all the build-up worth it. It’s all much better in my memory, in retrospect.

So yes, yes — absolutely Recommended!

Book Club Review: Reception varied widely at my book club, which surprised me! Since I’m in the minority of not liking HHGG, I expected everyone else to be much more bullish on the bulk of the novel. But one of the HHGG fans made the observation that absurdist humor of the Adams style must be somewhat simplistic. It has to be easy and fast to read, a literary equivalent of a cartoon. Valente is simply too eloquent. She uses sentences that are a step too complex, words that are a step too big, and doesn’t keep it light and fast. It isn’t all just bold lines and solid colors. I found that to be a very interesting observation. Unfortunately it had been so long since I read HHGG that I couldn’t compare, but I certainly concede that Valente demands a higher level of reader engagement than average. A couple readers found it tiring/tedious and it didn’t hold their attention enough to finish.

Nonetheless, there were a great deal of interesting things to talk about, which is always my primary measure of whether a book is good for a book club. There were several memorable scenes that were replayed at the table, akin to when people alternate recreating lines of the “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” scene. There was discussion of the choices the characters made, and of course of the ending. And, in a delightful turn, several of us reflected on how the book would have been different if written for our generations. To explain, the book is written for the 80s glamrock generation, and a lot of the truly good artists of the era (like Bowie) are name-dropped as people who weren’t chosen to compete, since the aliens have terrible taste in music. In my personal case, it would’ve been written for the grunge generation. Everyone would be shocked that the aliens wouldn’t take Alice in Chains or Nirvana, and instead ended up taking Nickleback. XD

Anyway, also Recommended for book clubs!

Jun 122019
 

A recent episode of Making Sense was basically an hour of two people being confused about consciousness. It was bad, and led quickly to “and therefore it’s probable that fundamental particles are conscious,” which… wow.

However it did bring up one good point. Consciousness is biologically expensive. It’s vanishingly unlikely to have been preserved under evolutionary forces unless it was providing some benefit. And considering how expensive it is, it must be a massive benefit just to survive. And yet, not only has it survived, it’s taken over the planet. And still we cannot discern any survival advantage that consciousness gives us. It seems to cost a ton with literally no benefit.

(aside: this is the reason we regularly see Science Fiction with advanced non-conscious aliens. It seems intuitively obvious that a non-conscious species would have a huge advantage over a conscious one, and contact with one would lead to our quick extinction. This is also how the Harrises fell into the “the answer must be that consciousness is a fundamental property of physics” trap.)

By coincidence, at about this same time Scott Alexander posted his review of “The Secret of Our Success”. A truly fantastic book which argues, in short, that our species survives and thrives due not to our individual intellect and reasoning ability (which isn’t even up to the job of keeping us from starving to death in a friendly environment overflowing with natural resources and food), but due to the creation and transmission of cultural knowledge. Read Scott’s review at the very least, and pick up the book if you can, you won’t regret it.

Wherein it occurred to me – perhaps consciousness it necessary for culture. In order to be incensed that food isn’t prepared in the right way, and that dress norms have been violated, and that god will become wrathful if our children aren’t taught the special way of planting corn that honors Him, one first needs to have a sense of self. If there isn’t an object at the center of self to feel aggrieved at decorum not being followed, there will be no decorum.

Consciousness is partly that which distinguishes the Self from all that is non-Self. Culture is partly that which separates Us from Them. Our shared dialect, dress, food, taboos, norms, etc, make us distinct from those who are not Us. One must first have a Self to locate before one can locate it within an ethnic group distinct from those who don’t share our culture. And the more complicated and refined one’s culture is, the greater the consciousness needed to support it, until you get to the crippling sack of neurosis that is the human psyche, constantly demanding to know why it exists.

A barely-conscious agent like a bat will barely squeak past basic reciprocity. But a completely non-conscious stimulus-response process will never develop any culture. And an intelligent but non-conscious rational agent bound purely by observable inputs and outputs will never stumble into a process that removes cyanide from manioc. Only a tangle of neurosis, awe, and confusion has the required depth of social architecture which can act as the scaffolding on which such a complicated process can arise. A process that is unbeknownst even to the user of it. That takes a rich cultural hivemind, built upon countless generations of taboos and group-signifiers that separate the Us from the Them.

Obviously culture didn’t start out this complex. The book argues that culture co-evolved with technology. And if culture is indeed built upon the foundation of consciousness then consciousness very likely co-evolved with culture as well.  Which is to speculate that we are very literally more conscious than our human ancestors of even a few millennia back. And our descendants will be more conscious than us.

 


 

These are just some initial thoughts I wanted to get out while I was still having them, and are pure speculation. If anyone has similar thoughts, and in particular can think of reasons or examples of how Culture Depends On Consciousness (which is what I’m most interested in), please let me know. And/or point me to links which explore this.

May 312019
 

Holy crap, I guess I missed my last archive checkpoint, and now I’ve got almost 6 months to do? blaaaarg.

 

Serj from System of a Down sings Rains of Castamere. I got goosebumps.

 

Both interesting and touching (and fun!) How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams)

 

Your laws have to be pretty terrifying if making them public is an act of terror, Georgia
“Consistent with its strategy of terrorism, Defendant freely admits to the copying and distribution of massive numbers of Plaintiff’s Copyrighted Annotations,” reads the lawsuit in part. Because suing someone and claiming its terrorism is a better idea than subsidizing the annotations from the state budget?

 

Quoted friend: “I can’t think of a more concise-but-thorough, from-the-bedrock-up description of rational epistemics, and genuinely think that if schools had a solid, yearlong class just on the contents of this video, maybe around 7th grade, society’s sanity waterline would be so significantly higher that you would see ripple effects throughout it.”

 

All the signs were there. This is a short video hosted on reddit of GoT actor’s reactions when asked about the final season.

 

This is why I, too, bathe once a week. Hide your wives!

I just learned that the best game of 2015 is getting a sequel this year!

 

Long Lost ‘Zork’ Source Code Uploaded to GitHub, But Few People Understand It.
I realize all art is transitory. We’ve lost most of the epics of the ancients, and in a thousand years it’s likely we’ll only have fragments of Shakespeare and Beethoven. But the digital natural of today’s art is speeding all this up drastically. Art is being lost at a ludicrous pace in our own lifetimes. In the same vein as this article, Icewind Dale II couldn’t be rereleased because Beamdog had lost the source code. World of Warcraft Classic barely avoided the same fate just 14 years after its original release. Myspace lost uncounted hours of music very recently. Most novels written, and most art drawn, never see physical incarnation. 100 years from now, what will be left of contemporary art?

 

This is one of those haunting, beautiful episodes that reminds me why I love WtNV

 

When it is written that Katie Bouman is the woman “behind the black hole photo”, it is objectively true. She wasn’t the only woman, but her work was crucial to making all of this happen. When Andrew Chael says that his software could not have worked without her, he isn’t just being a stand-up guy, he’s being literal.

 

It Could Happen Here is the most interesting new podcast I have found in this year.

 

“Reminder: Anything you “buy” that has copy protection is a rental. People who “stole” these books still have their copies, people who paid are seeing their “libraries” deleted. Again.”

You also lose all notes and annotations you made in those books.

“Starting today, Microsoft is ending all ebook sales in its Microsoft Store for Windows PCs. “Previously purchased ebooks will be removed from users’ libraries in early July,” … “Even free ones will be deleted.”

 

A Bill Decriminalizing Teen Sexting Passes the House, Causing Republican to Scream About Anal Sex on the Floor

 

Ecuador legalized gangs. Murder rates plummeted.
“The country allowed the gangs to remake themselves as cultural associations that could register with the government, which in turn allowed them to qualify for grants and benefit from social programming, just like everybody else.
…they’d undergone a stunning transformation. The members were still very active in their gangs, but these were functioning more like social movements or cultural groups. Previously violent Latin Kings were working in everything from catering to crime analysis. And they were collaborating with other gangs they’d warred with in the past.”

 

Alex Winter puts into words what I’ve been low-level feeling for a couple years… the internet has been completely seized by the normies. What the cybergeeks of the early era remember of as the internet now exists only as “The Dark Net.”

I think I will look more into this Dark Net thing.
Also, this should probably be called a Bill Talk XD

 

 

Remembering The Tragic Death That Gave Life To Temple Of The Dog & Pearl Jam, On This Day In 1990 (cw: depressing)

 

Meet the Woman Who Invented Cosplay. This sounds like a well-lived life, and I would have loved to meet her. Maybe in the future, if she’s been suspended. /hope
(also, I always thought cosplay had started in Japan, was really surprised by this)

 

Venom genuinely does not understand why Eddie refuses to admit humans have a hivemind

 

Boeing has a history of covering up deadly design errors in its planes.

“… if the spring and the end cap were slightly misaligned, the slides could extend beyond their design limit. This would cause a “rudder hardover,” where the rudder suddenly moves to its maximum deflection…
[after a crash] investigators wanted to test [the valve], so they took it to the manufacturer for analysis…The remains of the valve were taken from the United Airlines headquarters to the headquarters of Parker Bertea, the company that designed and built the valve, in Irvine, California. Investigators discovered upon their arrival that someone had made off with the spring and end cap, but at the time they did not know the significance of this act. [Boeing] tried to steer the NTSB toward a conclusion that the crash was caused by a wind rotor, a phenomenon similar to a sideways tornado that could sometimes be found along the Rocky Mountains. The NTSB did not buy the theory, but it also could not find any evidence that the dual servo valve had failed…

While the investigation was ongoing, it adopted a philosophy of trying to avoid paying out damages to families of crews because this could be legally interpreted as an admission of responsibility. It had tampered with the PCU from the Colorado Springs crash and repeatedly tried to misdirect the investigation with “alternative” theories. It is widely suspected that Boeing knew about the problems with the PCU for decades but had done nothing, despite the hundreds of reported incidents. Because no one was collecting all the accounts of rudder deflections, it was likely that no one except Boeing realized how common they were. It was not until people started dying in crashes that enough scrutiny was placed on the 737 to uncover this history of ignoring the problem.

…The crashes also highlighted the vulnerability of the NTSB to corporate meddling. In 1996, According to the Seattle Times, the safety board had only 90 employees and relied on manufacturers to provide technical expertise in cases like the United 585 and USAir 427 crashes, which made it much harder to investigate cases where the manufacturer knew that it was responsible. Boeing’s obfuscation at every turn was pure corporate expediency: fixing the problem would require a massive recall costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention millions more in compensation that would have to be paid out if Boeing admitted responsibility. Even when the flaw began to result in deadly crashes, Boeing stuck by this policy. Had the failure been easier to detect and prove, they might not have been able to get away with it, but—thanks in part to Boeing’s muddying of the waters—they never faced the massive backlash that they should have received.

 

 

The Paradox of American Friendliness.

 

“What McCrae Dowless did under the direction of Harris is hire a bunch of people to go and collect the absentee ballots of mainly people of color and the elderly. For North Carolina, third party individuals are not allowed to retrieve your absentee ballots, only immediate family members, so already we have a crime being committed. They would pickup the ballots and ENSURE THAT THE VOTER DIDN’T SEAL THEM. That’s important.

In the testimony in front of the NC General Elections Board, multiple individuals testified that what happened is, they would take the ballots back to Dowless’ house and review the ballots. Most people don’t vote for everything on the ballot. Or they do straight ticket. So, at Dowless’ house, multiple individuals would review the ballots and ensure that app unmarked votes were marked Republican and this is where as one above pointed out, they would destroy a ballot and replace it with a new one and then forge the signature. Or on a majority of the ballots, simply mark the votes for ‘whoever the Republican was’.

Once that identity theft and forging was finished, they would seal the ballot and mail it in on the behalf of these trusting individuals.

Harris up there is crying because his son; a deputy US attorney; testified that he informed his father on 3 separate occasions that was he was doing was illegal and felonies under federal law.”

 

A big first step against Civil Asset Forfeiture, in a *unanimous* decision! Supreme Court Limits Civil Asset Forfeiture, Rules Excessive Fines Apply To States

“Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense,” Ginsburg wrote.

She also noted that the ban on excessive fines was added to the Bill of Rights for the purpose of protecting individual liberty. “Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties.”

She noted that those fines could be used to retaliate against political enemies and have been used as a source of revenue.

 

A tax on using people’s attention!

“Young men are staying at home to play video games instead of going out to find jobs. There seem to be two related reasons for this: Video games are amazingly good; and there is no such pleasure to be had from anything else you might buy on a minimum wage, so why bother earning one? If this seems a sorry state of affairs, here’s a solution: tax media companies for the hours of human attention they consume. Give them an interest in reducing the hours that people spend staring at their screens. (This first paragraph is a summary from The Browser) …

Over the past few decades, labor force participation has sharply dropped for men ages 20-34. Theories about the root cause range from indolence, to a lack of skills and training, to offshoring, to (perhaps most interestingly) the increasing attractiveness and availability of leisure and media entertainment. In this essay, we propose that the drop in labor participation rate of young men is a result of a combination of factors: (i) a decrease in cost of access to media entertainment leisure, (ii) increases in both the availability and (iii) quality media entertainment leisure, and (iv) a decrease in the marginal signalling utility of (conspicuous) consumption goods for all but the highest earners…

One potential solution would be to tax the unproductive leisure activities which people prefer over work. This is perhaps not as crazy as it seems, because (i) the true cost of these activities is already distorted from a consumer perspective by the advertisers who subsidize media consumption,and (ii) we already tax income and productivity – if time and money are fungible, you might just pull the idea of income tax ‘above’ the decision of how to spend time, and say that each person is responsible for investing some amount of sweat (in the form of time or money) into the public good.

Of course it would be impossible to gain political support for such a radical idea, especially when people today enjoy leisure time for free. No one would support a policy that required them to buy this time back from the state in the form of a tax.

Since media companies are capitalizing and profiting on a huge amount of attention that might otherwise be spent productively, however, taxing them for the share of the citizenry’s time that they consume could be more sensible and more practical than taxing citizens themselves.

One view of the status quo is that media companies are aggregating human attention and selling it at a discount–far below minimum wage–to advertisers in a massive arbitrage on human capital. So, the state could set the price of an hour of human attention at the minimum wage rate, and charge media companies 12% (the federal income tax rate on minimum wage) of that wage rate for each hour of human attention they consume.”

 

How Colonialism Actually Worked. I’m beginning more and more to see the imposition of legibility by states as great evils.

 

The top 26 billionaires own $1.4t, out of a global wealth pool of $317t, so 0.44%. Which is still a lot, ~1/200th of all wealth

 

Chipotle may have outsmarted itself by blocking thousands of employee lawsuits over wage theft. Chipotle engaged in wage theft, then claims thousands of workers cannot engage in a class action lawsuit because they signed arbitration clauses. Hidden ones, in an online document that they couldn’t edit. The Judge agreed because morality doesn’t exist.

Then when the class action lawyers took the unusual act of deciding to continue to represent their clients through the arbitration process, Chipotle tried to get an injunction saying they couldn’t, because of course they don’t want anyone having recourse to legal help. Thank god the judge dismissed it out of hand.

Chipotle is now claiming that having to go through so many individual arbitrations will drive it bankrupt. The numbers say this is total bullshit, but I hope they do go bankrupt. And I hope every Chipotle executive involved in these decisions has a severe health crisis and has to spend years of their life with disfigurement or chronic pain.

 

Well that’s an interesting take! – “The primary function of privacy is not to hide things society finds unacceptable, but to create an environment in which your own mind feels safe to tell you things. If you’re not allowing these unshareworthy thoughts and feelings a space to come out, they still affect your feelings and behavior– you just don’t know how or why.

 

The hottest take of all: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” played a pivotal role in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism

 

Ever tried to copy a link from a Google search result, and got a ridiculous mess that won’t even paste correctly because it’s too damn long? And wondered wtf was even happening, why do I have to click through and then copy from the browser’s address bar?
“Because nobody cares, Google records every click that you make from a Google search results page, except they use JavaScript to fake the links that you’re looking at so that when you mouse over them it looks like the real link but if you actually try and copy to the fucking clipboard it’s this gigantic shitty link to Google with all kinds of tracking information. This is a website that removes all that shit and give you the real link, because when you’re on a cell phone it’s all you’ve fucking got.”

 

This is from December 2018, so probably outdated and things are worse now. —

TIL that in Venezuela, the minimum wage is the median wage – more than half the country makes only the minimum wage.
AND that a day’s work at this rate is enough to buy 900 calories if buying only the cheapest available foodstuff.

So, assuming no other expenses at all, a day of labor gets you 900 calories. Not enough to live. This is literally working to starve to death.
Oh my god.

 

What you’ve heard about “Nanette” on Netflix is true. Go watch it, it’s really good/interesting, and often very funny. OK, it’s downright fantastic, and it will be with me for a long time.

 

I read this back in high school, so over 20 years ago now (god I’m old). It’s still with me. A Person Paper on Purity in Language by Douglas Hofstadter

 

You can still vote for What Lies Dreaming once a week at Top Webfiction: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=what-lies-dreaming

May 292019
 

I’ve posted a few times before that one can read my novel serially online, as I’m publishing a chapter per week at What Lies Dreaming.com. If you’d rather have it all in one place, the ebook and physical book will be available July 2nd! Which means one can read to the end about 2.5 months before the final chapter is published online. And, for those who are forgetful and would rather place their order right now, you can also preorder the ebook starting today!

Right here. :)

 

May 232019
 

Please put down the tomatoes and hear me out for a sec. :)

Season 8 was, I believe we all agree, even worse than anyone had anticipated (and I had anticipated something pretty bad). But if you can overlook everything that was built up before in the series and then shat on, the last episode was pretty good.

I know that is a lot of sin to overlook. One doesn’t build up something this beautiful and then murder it (in the artistic sense) and get off without a lot of anger. And I realize that if it was evaluated purely on its own merits without that series-murder for context, the final episode is still bad. Anyone who hadn’t watched any other GoT would just see idiot characters making stupid choices to drive a bad narrative. Characters who contradict themselves and make nonsensical arguments, which no one else seems to notice.

But when you take it all together–the amazing series, the precipitous decline, and the absolute travesty of Season Eight… it final episode comes through as a good mood piece. This episode was the final death rattle of a show we once loved. It was a funeral for vision and beauty. Everything was dark and dreary and awful, and even the sunny day at the end was basically a spiteful sun-god laughing at all men’s follies; rather than cheerful.

In form and structure, it followed what we’ve been conditioned to accept from Season Eight. Failure and despair at something once-great reduced to ash by inhuman callousness. The audience is feeling this emotion one level up, despairing for a show they used to love, reduced to crap by writers who just don’t care anymore.

So it didn’t matter that characters acted idiotically and contradicted themselves. This episode was about us as modern viewers, being sad about a show destroyed… rather than us as vicarious participants being sad that a family/city was destroyed. The contradictions and nonsense arguments are par for the course at this point. That only drives in the point that all is lost.

But it’s not just that I was sad because the series had died. Many series have done the same. Phantom Menace did it to a cultural institution. Why don’t I say those things were “good” in their way? Well… the final GoT episode was, itself, all about the aesthetic of despair. We were sad for different reasons, yes. Nonetheless, this episode gave us all the visuals, music, pacing, and depressed acting to revel in that emotion. I wouldn’t have said it was a good final episode if it had been like ep 5, with all the explosions and fights-to-the-death, or the frantic idiocy of ep 3. Those were also bad episodes that nailed this coffin shut. But only this episode had the proper aesthetic of loss and despair. I liked that.

Good bye, show that I used to know. All is mourning.

May 182019
 

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Synopsis: A G.R.R. Martin-esque exploration of power — its sources and its uses, its gifts and its pitfalls — told in the style of a fairytale. For real.

Book Review: I’ve grown a bit tired of fairytale-retelling novels, mostly because there are so many of them, and they’re never very inspired. I should have remembered that Novik wrote the Nebula-winning “Uprooted” and had some more faith. My lowered expectations were completely blown out of the water, and I devoured this novel.

The story centers on a Jewish girl in medieval Russia. The rest of the village despises them and takes advantage of her father. When she asserts the power of the law (and her rich Uncle living in the capital) to protect her family, she begins to understand the limits of laws-on-paper without immediate physical power to back them up.

She also displays rock-hard bad-assery in terms of realizing that reputational effects are extremely important, and a single slip can ruin them forever. She might as well have “A Lannister pays her debts” as her personal motto. There are several amazing moments were we see her forced into stone-hearted acts because failing to carry through with them would leave her open to predation in the future. It’s done very well in its own right, but the contrast of pure Grimdark themes in a fairytale world is awesome.

Speaking of faeries, we got those too! They present the super-human threat that really complicates things. They are alien and fascinating, and I loved everything about them. I kept thinking “If Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell had been awesome instead of shitty, this is the book it would have been!” Their presence escalates the story from one of personal struggle in a village to an existential threat against all humans in the country, and possibly the continent.

My major complaint about this book is that the sequel was inexpertly sewed onto it. “Spinning Silver,” as I recognize it, ended about 2/3rds of the way through the book. The sequel is then smashed in, and the sequel is reeeaaaaally not to my taste. It’s a standard Romance book of the Beauty and the Beast style. Female lead is captured and imprisoned by a misunderstood male lead, they fight a lot, but eventually she comes to understand him, and he comes to respect her, and they fall in love. uwu.

I assume that it’s a very good Romance. Novik is a great writer, and I’ve really loved the two other books of hers I’ve read (Uproot, and Spinning Silver). But Spinning Silver 2 just isn’t the sort of story I like, so it wasn’t for me. I regret reading it, I only did so because it was in the same book as Spinning Silver 1, and I didn’t realize it was a different novel. :(

So: Spinning Silver 1, Recommended! Spinning Silver 2, Not Recommended. If you have taste similar to mine, stop after the first climax. (You’ll recognize it when you see it).

Book Club Review: Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to our book club meeting for this book, so I got nothing here.