Apr 132017
 

I basically don’t read posts in color. The amount of effort it requires to differentiate them from ads doesn’t seem worth it at all. And usually they’re basically contentless anyway. (I know, that’s judgy…) Combined with in-line ads, I scroll past like 1/3rd of my feed now. Way to go, Facebook.

I assume this was to make it harder to ignore ads, but it’s backfired, at least in my case. Now I’m gonna go out and finally get Facebook Purity.

Apr 112017
 

A few years ago a wrote a flash fic piece called “Communion” for the NPR 3-minute fiction contest. The story had to take place in the form of a voicemail message or messages, which I thought was fun. It didn’t win, and I tried a couple other venues, before forgetting about it.

Then not too long ago I discovered Sub-Q, a market for Interactive Fiction. And I thought “Oh, this could be neat! Since I wrote the story entirely as voice-mails, and I have a lot of experience doing audio fiction/podcast stuff, I bet I could make the entire thing audio!”

My first attempt didn’t pass, because it was a linear story, and Interactive Fiction has to be interactive. (doh!) So I expanded on it, doubling in word-count to give it multiple endings and a couple branches. Then I resubmitted.

It still didn’t pass muster. So now I’ve got this bizarre little story that is basically unpublishable in any other market, since half of it is audio and there’s clicking and stuff that needs to be done. What does one do with such a thing?

Well shit, why not self-publish?

If you’d like to read/hear a short Interactive Fiction piece by me (15 minutes-ish), here you go:

Communion, by Eneasz Brodski (Twine version. This is the official version, and looks best)

Communion in HTML, by Eneasz Brodski (HTML version. Not as pretty, but it works as a back-up for people that can’t get the Twine version to work for whatever reason. The choice options are links at the bottom.)

Apr 072017
 

Yesterday my dad came out to me as atheist.

Specifically, he said “Remember when you came out to me as an atheist? We were driving home from work? I thought to myself ‘Oh thank goodness, he’s not crazy’.” Background – I often went to work with him on the weekends to help out and make some spending cash. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was around 15 yrs old when this happened.

Apparently he’s been atheist-ish for over two decades. He did he whole “Going to church and putting on a religious facade” thing in order to provide me & my siblings with religious/moral grounding and for the community benefits of having a tight-knit high-trust in-group ready made when arriving in a new country full of strangers that spoke a different language. (From my observations, the first objective failed spectacularly, and the second one succeeded equally spectacularly. And since me & brothers developed a good moral grounding anyway, a definite net win)

This has thrown me for a MASSIVE loop, though, because it means everything I thought I knew is a lie. Slight hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an influence my relationship to religion has been on my life. I still hold to this day that if the claims of religion are true, the Spanish Inquisition is not only morally good, but a moral requirement.

I took the religion thing seriously. The first time I committed a sin (masturbation) I was in shock for nearly two days. When god didn’t strike me dead I had a severe crisis of faith, and it was one of the cracks that helped to eventually bring down my belief. When my belief crumbled, so did everything I knew about the world, because if god wasn’t real, what was left that I could trust? I had to re-examine everything. It caused me to jettison everything my parents and society at large had ever told me and do my best to start over. It led to an overhaul of my moral system, my epistemology (rah empiricism!), and my ability to trust any sort of authority. It’s basically my Rationalist Origin Story. If it wasn’t for my rejection of religion, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

 

Not only that, it also helped to iron out some of my character. My religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is extremely insular. Any contact with the outside world is discouraged. Most of my life all my friends and my entire social circle consisted of other believers. And the Witnesses have a strong Shunning norm. Anyone who leaves the faith is to be cast out entirely. Often in church we heard great stories lauding people who cut off all ties with family members that strayed from the faith. In particular I recall the praise heaped upon a mother who would not speak with, look at, or in any way acknowledge her daughter after she left the religion. For years. Even when the daughter came crying and begging outside the mother’s window. Eventually the daughter returned to the faith, huge success!

I didn’t think my parents would really go that far. But I knew it was a risk. I didn’t come out to them until I (in my teenage hubris) figured I could survive being kicked out of the house and having my entire social net stripped away. I have a lot of mental issues that led me to have a very isolated and lonely childhood, but this preparation to be alone forever was certainly one of them.

And once I did come out, the courage of my conviction helped me to learn how to stand up for myself. To read deeply about the issue I cared about, and be ready to defend it. To accept being the weird one that didn’t fit because I was right goddammit, and you can’t take that away from me!

It led to me feeling like I don’t have a family. It led to me struggling all my adult life to find a surrogate family to fit in with.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t want children of my own. I look at my parents, and I ask “What did they get out of having children?” We have abandoned their religion, one of the most important things to them. We have abandoned their morality. We are memetic strangers. We drained their resources for 20+ years, and in return they got strangers who have left and don’t have anything in common with them. I’ve always felt like we’re intense disappointments to them. Why would I want that for myself? I can have far more memetic influence on the future by writing (both blogs and fiction, mehopes) than by having children. Not much influence, but maybe more than the zero I would get from kids. And I value memetic contribution to the future far more than genetic contribution.

Speaking of memetics… while everything I do is influenced by this past, a lot of my writing directly addresses my conflicted religious past. Both “Of All Possible Worlds” and “Host” are directly religious, and my bios for those stories include “He was raised in an apocalyptic sect of Christianity, which has heavily influenced his writings,” and “Eneasz was raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect dedicated to saving every soul possible. At the time, he couldn’t figure out why far more direct action wasn’t being taken,” respectively.

And now I find out all that time, I was rebelling against… nothing?

I could have had a parent that I could talk with about these things, and relate to about it, all this time?

Do I have a family now? Suddenly, magically, I feel like I can relate so much more with my father. Although in actual reality, nothing has changed. Only my perception. What the fuck does all this mean?

My entire life up to now has been a lie. If everything was different and nothing was the same, who would be sitting in this chair right now? Would it be someone happier and better adjusted? I’ve always been a bit envious of my secularly-raised friends, who had parents as allies in a crazy and hostile world, working as a unit rather than out there alone.

Why did my dad choose to be alone all these years?

Apr 062017
 

Here’s two replies from a recent post, where my responses became long enough to make into their own post.

Daniel:

>But quite often the intended interpretaions will prove more important. On your Star Wars prequels example, imagine if that fan theory became widely supported before the release of episode III. Then, the creators of the films say “no, that’s not what we mean”.

I think Star Wars is a fascinating example, because the creator of the film (Lucas) did at one point say “No, that’s not what I mean” and changed one of the most iconic scenes of the movies, the one where Han shoots Greedo in the Cantina. And en masse everyone said “Screw you,” to him, and the world continues to accept that Greedo never fired, despite Lucas’s assertions (and film-doctoring) to the contrary. So, while Word of God is considered very influential, it doesn’t have the power to alter the actual work, and is often just considered a very well-reasoned opinion on the piece to be taken into consideration. The piece itself still stands on its own though.

Darius:

> How much of the text has to support an interpretation before it can be considered valid?

For you? However much you want. For others – however much is needed to convince them. This depends a lot on how convincing one is, and how friendly the audience is. :)

> If the author isn’t, in fact, dead and makes a statement that a given interpretation is incorrect, could that statement be considered a part of the work’s canon and therefore invalidate the interpretation?

Canon is a weird thing, because it is determined by a central authority. In the USA, this is generally whoever owns the copyright. The day that Disney said “The Star Wars Extended Universe is no longer canon. Now what we licence and produce is canon instead,” that became true. When the Catholic church declares which books (and which translations) are canon and which aren’t, that’s true for them as well.

But on the other hand, that’s only true insomuch as people accept it. When a protestant sect says the Book of Judith isn’t canon, that’s true for their followers. And when the entire Star Wars fan base says “We don’t care what Disney or Lucas declare, we don’t accept that Greedo shot first,” then Han Shot First is the story that lives in everyone’s mind regardless of what “official” canon may be.

My big run in with this was in Redshirts. At the end of the novella Scazli ends a chapter with:Several months later, an asteroid hit the ship and everyone died. The End. (paraphrased, I didn’t look up the exact wording). I was reading on an e-reader, and so I couldn’t see the next page. And that ending really shook me. I sat and thought about it for quite a while. And finally I said, “No. The author is wrong. That didn’t happen. The story in my head does not end that way, because fuck that ending.” And that was that. Then I turned the page and saw the next chapter started with “Just kidding.” My friends who read the physical version said that the end of the previous chapter and the start of the next chapter are both visible when the book is laid open, so they never had any such moment, they could see the “Just Kidding” right there. I am sad that they did not have as profound of an experience as I did.

Of course I can do that because Redshirts doesn’t have an entire community built around it. The Star War Extended Universe erasure was far more contentious, because it creates a bit rift between those who had their universe “taken away” by Disney, and those who don’t care because they’re too young or weren’t interested in the previous EU. Even if the traditionalists refuse to accept the erasure and continue to call the old EU canon, they will eventually be supplanted by a new generation, and their tradition will die out. It is a sad thing. :(

So yeah, canon, bleh. What is it good for?

Apr 042017
 

Synopsis: An orphan child prodigy is held by the military, who conduct bizarre experiments on her and her classmates. The outside world appears to be crumbling.

Book Review: The good parts of this book are REALLY GOOD. And basically all the good parts are the ones focusing on the eponymous protagonist Melanie. She is an absolute delight to read. She reminds me very much of Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres of HPMoR. Prodigious, with tons of book-smarts, but no idea about social conventions or how to relate to other people.

And very very isolated from the world, due to her captivity by the military. We realize quickly that Melanie has never seen the outside world. Here’s a fantastic depiction of a super-smart kid with huge gaps in her knowledge trying to describe a new object her teacher has brought in from the outside world:

> The big stick breaks into smaller sticks, and again and again, so there’s more and more of them, like breaking down a great big number in the long list of its prime factors.
“It’s a branch,” Joanne says.

The entire first part of the book is full of this sort of stuff, and it’s a delight to watch. Plus Melanie has the most adorable puppy-crush on her teacher. And we get more and more clues as to what’s going on with this research project and why the outside world seems to be falling to pieces, until at some point the reader realizes what The Thing is, and we go “Ooooooooh shiiiiiit!! That is a really good thing!”

I’m being as vague as I can, because the moment of realization is really cool, and it’s as easy to spoil as “Snape Kills Dumbledore.” You cannot even read most blurbs or reviews without risking spoilers. So try to avoid those. It’s worth it.

That being said, about a quarter of the way through the book the focus shifts away from Melanie. She and a handful of adults (both scientists and soldiers) escape from the military facility, and after that the book becomes pretty boring. It has a few bright spots here and there, but nothing worth the slog.

I mean, it’s not painful or anything. But it’s just the exact same thing we’ve seen a thousand times before. Some running, some hiding, some shooting, some yelling. There is nothing new here at all. It’s color-by-numbers. It could be cut-and-paste from any of a thousand shlock stories.

But then we get to the ending, and the ending is once again freakin’ amazing. It’s the bright nova at the end that inverts everything that we were presented with in the first quarter of the novel. A perfect mirroring, and it feels so right!

This book was adapted from a well-regarded short story, and one can tell exactly where the short story ideas are. They are the first quarter of the book. Up to page 150 or so. The ending is a fantastic follow-up to the story itself. But everything else, the 3/4ths that’s in the middle, is basically just filler. It feels like Carey was just running up the word count so he could get a novel out of this, and it’s NOT a novel-length idea!

Unfortunately, with the publishing world being what it is, only novels make money. So if you have a brilliant story idea, the only way to be financially rewarded for it is to write the cool story, and then bloat it with lots of meaningless extra stuff until you’ve got enough mass to sell it as a novel. Bleh.

As published – Not Recommended. But if you read up to the point where they leave the military base, and then skip to the second-to-last chapter (and maybe ask me or someone who’s read it for a quick summary of what happens in between) – Totes Recommended.

Book Club Review: I’m torn on this. It has the benefits of being accessible and fairly easy to read. It’s mostly enjoyable, and there’s several cool things to talk about, as there would be with any good short story. However there isn’t a ton there, because like I said, there’s a lot of filler. On the other hand, that makes a topic in itself, sort of. And also may bring on conversation about the state of the genre in general (the book is a very specific genre that everyone will be extremely familiar with). And the good parts really ARE good. Several people in our book club didn’t mind reading through the formulaic parts.

I guess, since it’s unreasonable to ask a book club to skip the majority of a book, I have to go with Not Recommended. That being said, your mileage may vary, I’m pretty unsure about this one.

Apr 012017
 

I don’t review movies, cuz I’m not a film guy. But sometimes I have thoughts on things? And I grew up with cyberpunk, the original Ghost in the Shell, and Stand Alone Complex, so I went to see the movie, and I thought a few things.

No Spoilers:

I really liked it. It was cyberpunk as hell, and for the most part felt very GitS-y. The interjection of a traditional american villain was meh, but aside from that, was very close to the earlier works in feel and theme.

And ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS visually.

I had a hard time getting into it at first, because it’s a reboot, and I’ve had so much of the earlier versions in my veins that it was hard to separate. But once I fully internalized that this is an alternate-universe story, it really clicked for me.

It was unfortunate that they tried to recreate several of the classic scenes, because you just can’t force in something that like. The recreations were OK, not as good as originals. Anywhere that the movie stuck to new stuff it was quite good!

One sorta-spoiler below, stop here if you want to avoid it!!

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I was surprised that they addressed the “ScarJo is white” thing! On the one hand, it’s not really an excuse, and it was slightly immersion-breaking. But on the other, it demonstrated they were at least aware of the issue? Dunno, kinda weird.

Mar 282017
 

I.

The concept of “Death of the Author” in lit circles just means that once an author has put a work of fiction out into the public, the work speaks for itself, and the Author doesn’t get to speak for it. If a reader can make a case for the Star Wars prequels portraying Padme and Obi Wan carrying on an affair, and point to in-text support of this, then the author’s protests that “This is not what I intended” don’t really mean much. Whether or not they intended it, it’s in the text. As the old joke about the rabbi’s goes, his is just one opinion*.

(*for those unfamiliar, the joke being that five rabbis are arguing with one novice rabbi about scriptural interpreation, and all five disagree with him. They tell him “It’s five and against one, surely you can see you’re wrong!” and he says “Even so, I know I’m right! I call upon God himself to side with me!” The voice of God booms down from the heavens “The kid’s right, actually.” The five older rabbis confer with themselves for a while, then finally turn to the young rabbi and say “Ok, so now it’s five against two!”)

It’s not unlike highfalutin Fan Theories, come to think of it.

II.

Not too long ago I discovered my interpretation of an old Neil deGrasse Tyson quote was wrong. He’s famous for observing that the more educated some one is, the less likely they are to be religious, going through categories of increasing education and showing decreasing rate-of-belief, until he ends up at the elite scientists at the NAS having a belief rate of only 7%. He then went on about those 7% for a while. My interpretation of his point was “What is wrong with these 7%? Until we can find out what’s going on with those 7% of scientists, we can’t truly fault anyone else, cuz if those 7% can get bamboozled, so can anyone.”

Turns out what he actually meant was “Look, even 7% of the most elite scientists in the country have religion. So until you can convince even those 7%, you can’t say that religion is entirely wrong.”

Which, wow. Boy was I way off!

III.

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. They have a hymnal book and everyone is expected to sing a couple, as a congregation, at every major meeting (Of which there’s two per week). One of the songs contains the lyrics

Kiss the Son
Lest God be angry,
And you’ll perish in the way

There’s two ways to interpret this. The most obvious is as a threat. You should “Kiss the Son.” If you don’t God may be angry, and you’ll perish (be killed).

The less obvious is an injunction against hypocrisy. If someone “Kisses the Son” merely because they are afraid that God will be angry, then they’ll perish anyway. It is important to actually mean it and really love Jesus, rather than just going through the motions because you’re scared of a threat. Yes, it requires that one assume an implicit “If you” at the beginning of the verse, but people assume implicits all the time. (Like the assumption that #BlackLivesMatter ends with an implicit “Too”)

For as long as I was religious, I clung to this second interpretation. I knew, even then, that it was a bit of a stretch. It was my personal interpretation. I didn’t share it with anyone, because I was scared they would tell me that no, it really was supposed to be a threat. Even back then I couldn’t accept a hateful, wrath-filled god.

IV.

Nowadays, even though I realize my interpretations in both cases were factually incorrect, I stand by those interpretations. I take the principle of Death of the Author and extend it to further domains. Meaning is where you find it.

When NdGT laid out his progression of disbelief and drew attention to the final 7% he made a hell of an observation. He demonstrated was that there is something seriously wrong with humans, to the point that even 7% of the most elite scientists in the nation can be snookered by religion! And I do not care if that is not the point he intended to make. It is the most important point that this line of thinking leads to, regardless of his intention. Death of the Author.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses used poetic language to threaten their listeners, someone coming from a background of “God is Love” and “Hypocrisy is Bad” can interpret those lines to say “Don’t be a hypocrite, it won’t help you anyway.” If one assumes that “God is Love,” it is the only consistent way to interpret those lines, regardless of what their intent was. Death of the Author.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Interpretation of facts or statements in a light other than that which they were first presented in has lead to some pretty fascinating insights and advances by humanity. It’s what much of Copenhagen Interpretation vs Many Worlds comes down to, right? (Yes, I know, both sides are now furious at me.)

So long as no one tries to quote those people to misrepresent their true position, I think this practice should be embraced. Don’t attribute an intention to anyone unless they’ve publicly declared that intention themselves! But feel free to borrow and interpret things in a way that is beneficial as long as it is consistent with observable reality. (Or in the case of religion, any which way you want, since religion doesn’t have anything to do with observable reality anyway).

V – the caveat

Just be careful about this in your personal life. I found myself interpreting the actions and statements of someone close to me in the most positive way possible for a long time, for emotional reasons. This led to a distorted view of reality, and really bit me in the ass once that view was abruptly corrected. Someone’s intentions don’t particularly matter when you are in the abstract world of interpreting data. They matter a hell of a lot when you entangle your life with someone and much rides upon their disposition and intentions.

Mar 212017
 

When I saw Noah, I was confused about why the Red Tribe in American (social conservatives) hated it so much, and the Blue Tribe (liberals) seemed to like it. This is an attempt to be less confused.

Putting aside the religious angle for now (which may be the dumbest idea ever), it originally seemed to me that this movie espouses strong Red Tribe ideals. The thing that most strikes me about the conditions portrayed in this movie is that Noah’s family is rich because they are Good Land Owners. They have their own section of the word, away from the Looters and Takers, and they take very good care of it. They reap the rewards of their superior management accumen in the form of a comfortable life in beautiful surroundings. They are basically the stone age equivalent of an ideal corporate CEO. Or Wise Patriarch.

Then the hordes of lazy, violent outsiders show up. They destroyed their own lands via shortsightedness and greed. Now they’re here to take our hero’s stuff. The only solution is Strong Borders defended by a superior military force, keeping the barbarians in their blighted lands to suffer the fate they brought upon themselves, and allowing our heroes to continue to profit from their virtues. (When the borders fail, Nuke ‘Em All)

Of course I didn’t much like Noah’s family in this portrayal, as they’re kinda elitist bastards. But I could understand them and their position, and the other side was even worse, so it was an enjoyable movie of greys and flawed people trying to survive.

So, proposition #1 – The viewer gets a feeling that Noah and his family are awful 1-percenters, and since the religious folk don’t like that feeling about their mythological heroes, they hate the movie.

But I dunno.

Another way of looking at this is by focusing on the cause behind the conflict. The desperate hordes have fallen into the classic Malthusian trap. Their population outstripped the land’s capacity to support them, until there was only bare mud left, and they were forced to invade Noah’s land or die. This matches the angry rhetoric calling Noah an “extreme environmentalist” or something, because I guess nowadays conservation is no longer a conservative position, which is weird.

Noah’s family, OTOH, followed the practice liberals are fond of to avoid the Malthusian Trap – Breed Less! They restricted their reproduction, to a point that I would consider downright dangerous honestly. As far as we can tell, there is no extended family here. Noah’s father doesn’t have any siblings, and Noah is an only child. Noah’s wife doesn’t have any relatives anywhere either. There’s no aunts, cousins, nephews, or even close friends. In terms of family (“biological wealth” as it’s been called), this family is impoverished. But hey, they have a great quality of life–not having to murder and cannibalize their neighbors while living in a grey hellscape. So there’s that.

This is anathema to Red Tribe values, which (in my experience) puts a great deal of value on family ties and having large families. A story that portrays the creation of large families as leading to damnation would really irritate these sorts of people. And doing so with a mythological figure they think they have a claim to could enrage quite a few of them. (OMG guys – it’s cultural appropriation! I think I’ll start asking Regressive Leftists how they feel about the Noah movie.)

So proposition #2 – The movie portrays large-family practices as leading to Malthusian tragedies, which is a direct attack on Red Tribe values.

I feel #2 is stronger, not only because it explains the “enviromentalist” claims, but also because it explains why Blue Tribe people like the movie. In Prop #1 Noah & Co are pretty unlikable, and I wouldn’t expect Blue Tribe to enjoy it as much as they did, because if they identify with Noah they should feel slimy and elitist. Under Prop #2 he’s more relate-able.

I briefly entertained Prop #3 – that the movie was disliked because ultimately the answer to “What do you do with this problem” is “Kill everyone who doesn’t share your viewpoint.” Instead of searching for some better sort of solution, technological or otherwise. Portraying one’s God and/or heroes as genocidal monsters is bound to make anyone grump. I don’t think this proposition has a leg to stand on, partly cuz no one said anything about that aspect, and partly because the entire Old Testament is full of genocides. It’s kinda God’s thing back then. It’s the most scripturally-accurate portion of the movie. To say anything negative about that part would be to admit that God is a genocidal maniac, and I don’t see that happening. So prop 3 is discarded.

If anyone hasn’t seen the 2014 Noah movie, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I recommend it. Not as good as Last Temptation of Christ, but certainly an interesting take!

 

Mar 172017
 

100 Ghost Soup, by Robert Chansky

Synopsis: An orphan adopted by a fox-spirit becomes a pawn in a centuries-old plot to save a village of ghosts from damnation.

Personal Note: I am familiar with Rob Chansky, I see him a few times each year and we often critique each other’s work. I do my best to be impartial in this review, but my personal liking of him invariably must color some things.

Book Review: It’s been said that you can’t read a piece of good fiction without getting a feel for its author’s personality. This is never more true than when you actually know the author in person. You can read read Fifth Season and get a sense of simmering anger and the Will To Justice. You can read The Martian or HPMoR and get a feeling of optimism and joie de vivre. But those are impressions. When you read a piece by someone you know personally, it’s surprisingly like having them in the room with you, engaging in conversation.

100 Ghost Soup is like this, and if there’s one word I would use to describe Rob, it’s Contemplative. Reading this novel is much like slowly building a giant pot of rich soup, adding in bits and simmering and stirring. It is comfortable and warm, and spends a fair bit of time ruminating.

This has both good and bad effects. On the good side, there is a lot of wonderfully evocative prose. Turns of phrase that linger in your mind. A gorgeously realized ghost town that makes you feel like your inside it, and memorable characters. The plot resolution is delightfully trick-sy and wordplay/loophole-ish in EXACTLY the way you feel a trickster archetype would hoodwink the gods and laugh at them afterwards. It feels foxy.

In addition, it really captures the alien afterlife of a Very Different culture, the same way Ghost Bride did. It’s bizarre and fascinating for someone as steeped in the Western tradition as myself to read of a heaven that is very much a spiritual bureaucracy, often set in opposition to the material world. This heaven has their own affairs to concern themselves with, and doesn’t have time for your petty mortal whinings. It feels terrifyingly indifferent to me, TBH.

On the minus side, the plot does move rather slowly, in part because it is so contemplative. The denouement in particular went on for too long. More unfortunate is that the protagonist (Jimo) doesn’t really do much of anything. He is a pawn, along for the ride and witnessing what’s happening without any hand in the events. The lack of agency makes him forgettable and makes me wonder why this story wasn’t told from someone else’s perspective.

As if to emphasize how little agency Jimo has, he’s written as extremely naive, to the point that one wonders if he suffers from a disorder of some sort (No, you do NOT engage in blood rituals with a stranger you just met in an abandoned train station in a ghost town, no matter HOW rude it would be to not give him tea, are you freakin’ kidding me??). I suspect this is to hand-wave some of the more implausible tricks Jimo falls for, such as his extremely unlikely return to Beijing after the ping-pong match. I kinda consider that cheating, and I don’t particularly enjoy super-naive characters.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read and I don’t regret it. The conceit of my reviews is “would I recommend the book to myself-from-one-month-ago,” and that throws me for a tiny loop on this one. I still would recommend it to me personally, because I know Rob and reading this added an extra bit of enjoyment due to that fact. (In related news, I highly encourage people to go see local bands if there’s a friend-of-a-friend in the band, and to otherwise participate in art and activities on the local level with people they can interact with in meatspace. Highly fulfilling!) However if I were to consider a person just like me but who didn’t actually know Rob, that doesn’t apply. And for someone with my tastes, this book is a bit too slow, and the protag a bit too non-agenty, to really be considered great. It’s still a perfectly fine book, but given how little time for reading there is, I have to go with Not Recommended.

As an additional note, the climax contains the best sensory description of eating delicious food that I’ve ever seen in print. It made me really want some of that soup.

Book Club Review: Basically everything I said in the Book Review goes for the Book Club Review as well, writ slightly larger. It makes for some fine chat, especially about trickster spirits and cultural differences. And a bit of talk will go into trying to decipher the twisty illusions near the middle. It feels like something that could be discussed over a friendly dinner. :) But again, there’s nothing truly compelling that makes me want to grab the person sitting next to me and say “Oh man, I really gotta bring up Thing X!” So again, with feelings of warmth and not to say it’s bad or anything – Not Recommended.

Mar 142017
 

This article is eye-opening, but not necessarily in the way it was intended. What Happens When We Don’t Believe The President’s Oath makes a number of observations and claims about the new Trump presidency, but what’s most revealing about it is what it reveals about the writer’s world, and the way his class interacts with power.

Consider:

“If you’re a liberal, one who voted against George W. Bush twice, do the following thought experiment: Did you ever doubt, even as you decried the Iraq War and demanded accountability for counterterrorism policies and actions you regarded as lawless, that Bush was acting sincerely in the best interests of the country as he understood them? Yes, people used the slogan “Bush Lied, People Died,” but how many of them actually in their hearts doubted that Bush was earnestly trying to do his duty by the electorate, even if they differed in their understandings of what that duty entailed?”

Are you fucking kidding me? First of all, I view Bush as the hapless pawn of Cheney. But I’ve never for one second viewed Cheney as even the slightest bit concerned about the country. Nothing but his own self-interest, and a very myopic one at that. Doing his duty my ass.

Consider also:

“Conversely, if you’re a conservative who voted against Obama, do the same thought experiment in reverse: Did you ever doubt, even as you decried Obamacare and fumed that Obama was weakening America, that he was acting sincerely in the best interests of the country as he understood them? Did you ever doubt that he was earnestly trying to do his duty by the electorate?”

I have in-laws that are the polar opposite of me. And yes, they very VERY much believed Obama was intentionally destroying the country.

The article quotes Obama:

“first of all, George W. Bush, despite obviously very different political philosophies, is a really good man.”

 

I have a lawyer friend/acquaintance. He’s pretty good at his job, to the point that he’s argued before the US Supreme Court. He displays an attitude similar to that of this article’s author – a belief that the system is fundamentally well-intentioned. He can (and does) often disagree strongly with law makers or judges on political matters… but there is (almost) always a belief that the disagreement is due to philosophical differences or different ways of assessing available information. IE – they are wrong, but they are not reprehensible. These are all reasonable men and women, and we can address our differences like adults in good faith. The System is here for all of us, we’re doing the best we can, even if we differ.

I have never felt that way about The System. It is not For Me. Sometimes its interests align with mine, and I hope to maximize the occasions where this is the case. But I’ve never thought that the group served by those who are in power (ostensibly “The Country”) includes me. Most people I know feel the same. We exist in this system, under these rules, but it is not a system For, By, and Of us.

Every single paragraph of the Lawfare article drips with inclusion. With, dare I say it, privilege. “Sure,” it seems to say, “we may squabble a lot. We may have drag-out fights. But in the end we’re all in this together. We’re kinda a big, dysfunctional village.” They all belong to a class that interfaces with the government. They are, for the lack of a better term, The Represented Class. They believe the government actually has some concern for them and their situation.

And Trump doesn’t belong to that class. At the end of both the questions quoted above – querying the reader about their opinions of Obama/Bush – there is this thought:

“Now ask: Would you answer this question the same way about Trump as you would about Bush [or Obama]?”

For what looks like the first time, the author doesn’t feel that those in power have any interest in taking his life into consideration. He is no longer Represented. He goes on for thousands of words about how bad this is, and the repercussions it has.

To which most of us can only say – welcome to the party. Not quite as nice down here, is it?

I must admit, there is a feeling of schadenfreude about this reversal. There was a period of a few weeks, before it became clear just how awful Trump is, that I kinda entertained the thought of voting for him. For exactly this reason. It’s satisfying to say to those ruling “This is what it feels like to be the rest of us. I wish you could internalize and remember this forever, since I know you’ll be back in power soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy your stay, haha.”

Not that Trump represents me either, of course. Not even close. But the fact that he also doesn’t represent those who’ve spent their entire lives being Represented does, sometimes, bring with it a feeling of joy.

Of course the article has some very good points, and I do recommend reading it. It really does have major repercussions when the entire class of people who work in the Government Apparatus do not feel like they are being represented. As incompetent and awful as Trump is, the fact that he’s working in a system that is hostile to him certainly isn’t making things easier. He needs to replace the entire Represented Class currently working the system with people from his own class, and there aren’t nearly enough of them with the skills and experience needed. Could be Interesting Times ahead if he doesn’t assimilate eventually.