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Journal of No. 118

April 26th, 2016

Prop 50 @ 10:51 am

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Only one prop on the CA ballot.

Seems like a good idea, but maybe isn't.

Currently, CA legislators can be suspended (with pay, it turns out, after this happened for the first time ever) by their fellows with a majority vote.

Or they can be expelled with a 2/3 vote.

Prop 50 would change suspension to be without pay, but now requires a 2/3 vote.

Lawmakers could have very easily closed the loophole, by just changing the way pay is handled. But instead it also sets the bar for suspension as high as it is for expulsion. Rather than making this a harsher suspension, it may have the effect of becoming a lighter expulsion. Or making legislators safer in general from censure in general. Fortunately, both suspension and expulsion are so rare that it probably won't make much difference no matter what happens.

It'll probably pass, because people will angrily shake their fists with their non-voting hand as they think of their anger at those criminal lawmakers keeping their pay. But I say NO.

April 21st, 2016

Today in government sponsored comic books @ 12:55 pm

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Bicycle safety - "The cyclists who ignore the advice end in a pool of blood, crushed by a truck and, in one case, apparently dead."

Don't date foreigners - "The scholar, named Dawei or David, showers her with compliments, red roses, fancy dinners and romantic walks in the park, and convinces the girl to provide him with internal documents from her government propaganda workplace."

April 19th, 2016

Cats are still better than dogs @ 06:35 am


But at least dogs now also come with levitation power.


April 16th, 2016

Islands of Space / Evolving in Monkey Town @ 06:28 pm

Islands of Space by John W. Campbell is the kind of gee-whiz space opera that makes Buck Rogers look nuanced. A passel of superscientist men effortlessly invent multiple impossible inventions and generally behave like 12-year-old boys with their new godlike powers.

"The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women..." FAIL

"Islands of Space is generally credited with introducing the concepts of hyperspace and the warp drive to science fiction." So that's something, anyway.

It's also interesting that the book interpolates the plot from his story "Dead Knowledge," which I liked quite a bit. Here, apart from the bare bones of the plot, all of the atmosphere and emotion has been drained away, probably because it would not have meshed with the whizbang mood of the novel.

I'm glad even the people of long ago smelled this one as a stinker. Ted Sturgeon thought it was crap (and he, of all people, would know). "This is a real lousy book."

Rachel Held Evans is probably best known for A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, chronicling her attempt to live according to the Bible's rules for women. But recently she was quoted in an article in (I think) Smithsonian about her hometown of Dayton, famous as the site of the Scopes Trial in 1925. She intimated that the attitudes in Dayton haven't changed much, and her story of asking too many questions in a community that has all the answers (and doesn't like pesky questions) was published as Evolving in Monkey Town. I couldn't pass up a title like that.

Sadly(?), the creationism/evolutionism angle is not really a major part of the story, just useful as a title that would get me to buy it (it worked!) [I gather that the title was originally the title of her blog]. It's actually a little maddening that what little she says about it seems to indicate that the question is still an open one in her mind. The book has since been retitled "Faith Unravelled", though that's a bit of a misnomer as well. It's more a story of her journey of faith. She starts as a model member of the local community, multiple winner of her school's Best Christian Attitude award, and a graduate of [William Jennings] Bryan College, a place literally founded in the wake of the Monkey Trial to defend a Biblical worldview. More recently than the book, Bryan College changed its statement of faith to include the belief in a literal, specially created, Adam and Eve, resulting in the departure of some faculty members.

As a thoughtful, reflective, skeptical, millennial, she navigates her theology to come to a place where she can recognize that (although no one wants to admit it, and some may be too unreflective to even be aware of it) every Christian 'picks and chooses' verses and interpretations of the bible based on their own particular biases and experience. I generally like her picks and choices, and it must be tough to swim against the stream. Asking questions no one wants to hear, and then coming up with unpopular answers. "I was called a socialist and a baby killer. People questioned my commitment to my faith, and my country, some suggesting that I may face eternal consequences for my decision [to vote for Barack Obama]."

At the same time, it's clear that her questioning has its limits. "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue."

My answer to that is a quote from the Great Beast. Crowley may have been an extravagant old fraud, but he sometimes had a piquant way with words:

"I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening;
I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning."

April 11th, 2016

Mexico City @ 04:51 pm

First off, hard drive went kaput, taking most of my photos with it. Veratrine has hers up, and there's still a slim chance I'll be able to recover mine.

We arrived in Mexico City Sunday afternoon. My first attempt to get money from an ATM was declined, but Becca's bank was less fussy. We taxied to the hotel, the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, which is right on the main square, the Zócalo. The hotel is an Art Nouveau treasure with an enormous Tiffany glass ceiling, and ironwork elevators. Originally it was a department store, the Centro Mercado, but the initials worked well for Ciudad de Mexico when it was converted to a hotel in preparation for the 68 Olympics. Much of this we learned from Freddy the porter, who led us to our room. We had a gorgeous room with windows overlooking the square itself opposite the National Palace. Although the President no longer lives there, he dropped by for a visit -- On Monday, they hung red swags from the balcony, there was twice as much security as usual (which is usually a lot) and a couple dozen black SUVs arrived. Apparently, he and the president of South Korea had a summit meeting there.
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Ancillary Mercy / Science Religion & Reality @ 03:36 pm

Ancillary Mercy is the third of the trilogy. It ties off a lot of loose ends, but with not quite as grand an ending as I had anticipated. Some iffy motivation here and there, I thought, and some references to stuff earlllly on in the trilogy that might have paid off better for me if my memory were better. Certainly, there are some great scenes and some snappy dialogue. If this had been the first book, I might not have gone on, but still a good read.

Science, Religion, & Reality is an anthology of essays on these topics. My edition is from 1950, but the original was 1925, the same year as the Scopes Trial. On the whole, the essays are long and dull. Perhaps the most interesting 'controversy' is the one between vitalism and mechanism. The essay gives both a fair hearing, but clearly (and correctly) shows mechanism in the ascendance. The other interesting thing is, being just at the time of the Scopes Trial, the thinkers in the book generally regard religion as having ceded the territory to science. In the main, true, but from Scopes on, the anti-scientific crowd in religion has gotten stronger.

"It is amusing to reflect that the theologians were so adequately punished whenever they were indiscreet enough to interfere (in scientific judgments); they always backed the wrong horses. ... There can be no conflict as long as theology does not tamper with scientific controversies which are irrelevant to religion itself. Theologians have finally realized it; the best of them know that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose in such conflicts, and they will not stick their necks out any more. ... Whom must we trust in a scientific controversy, the competent people or the untrained and the irresponsible?"

Arthur Eddington has one of the better essays, with an interesting take on the objective/subjective. "The motive for the conception of an external world -- a world that will remain significant when my consciousness ceases to be--lies in the existence of other conscious beings. We compare notes and we find that our experiences are not independent of each other. Much that is in my consciousness is individual, but there is an element common to other conscious beings. That common element we desire to study, to describe as fully and accurately as possible, and to discover the laws by which it is modified as it appears now in one consciousness, now in another. That common element cannot be placed in one man's consciousness rather than another's; it must be placed in neutral ground -- an external world."

On writing physics problems: "The examiner, exercising his ingenuity, begins ... as follows: "An elephant slides down a grassy hillside..." The experienced examinee knows that he need not pay heed to this; it is only a picturesque adornment to give an air of verisimilitude to the bald essentials of the problem."

Haldane was pretty much on the nose, decades before the discovery of DNA: "The cell-nucleus must carry within it," he says, "a mechanism by which reaction with the environment not only produces the millions of complex and delicately balanced mechanisms which constitute the adult organism, but provides for their orderly arrangement into tissues and organs."

This discussion reminds me of Dan Dennett in Breaking the Spell, where he tries to allay the fears of those of faith that studying religion might 'break the spell' of religion: "Some religious people, it is true, have too frequently given cause for thinking that interest in religion is mere prepossession. They fail to realise that truth is the supreme religious interest, and they even seem at times to treat religion as a sort of germ which would die in the sunlight."

March 31st, 2016

The Seedling Stars, by James Blish @ 05:09 pm

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I gave up on this anthology of linked short stories about a third of the way into "Surface Tension", which "was among the stories selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards." But I just couldn't cotton to the gimmick of little microbe-sized 'humans'. So sue me. I'll feel no regrets selling it on ebay.

At least there was an interesting idea that links the stories together. We normally think of terraforming: changing a planet so humans can live on it. The book is predicated on the idea of pantropy [Blish's neologism]: changing the humans so they can live on a planet.

March 14th, 2016

This may be the greatest, most informative post, ever, on christianforums.com @ 08:24 pm

Is Hillary Clinton a Lesbian?

It could be that she is a Lesbian, or at least bisexually if one believes the statements of some lovers of her husband, Bill Clinton. According to the statement of one of his lovers, Bill Clinton shall have said the following about his wife: "She has licked more twats as me in my whole life ". (original quote)
Since Hillary often was with her husband in Europe and she has studied at a woman college, I regard it as possible if not even probable that she is bisexual or lesbian. Your comments on it?

The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin @ 05:07 pm

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This is the follow-up to The Three-Body Problem. I thought the translation wasn't as good/clear -- if nothing else it was done by a different person.

The plot wanders, as I suppose it must in a multicentury story of preparing for alien contact, settling into various distinct eras in human history. A lot of ideas get run up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes, but many of them are pretty dubious... I can't work up even a half-hearted salute for some of them. I'm not sure I still care enough to finish the trilogy -- at the moment the decision is made for me, as the last volume has not yet been translated into English.

March 4th, 2016

Science Fiction: What It's All About, by Sam Lundwall @ 03:06 pm

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A history and critique of SF, originally written in Swedish in 1969 and translated to English in 1971. Picked it up at an estate sale for 50 cents. Thought it would be interesting #1 as a time capsule, and #2 for more insight on European SF, and #3 more insight on what Europeans think of English language SF. Pretty useful on all three counts. Bonus, the dude is super-opinionated. Generally speaking, he derides American SF as a product of violent, puritanical morons. And don't get him started on film. And seriously, do not bring up TV with this guy. Comics? Do you even have to ask? It's fun when he shares your right-thinking bias, not-so-fun when he's totally wrong. Some notes...

Oxygen och Aromasia, some early (1878!) Swedish science fiction of the year 2378.

"In our time, the Utopian novel has found a worthy successor in works like those of Mickey Spillane, with their almost erotic dreams of fulfilled sadism."

"There are, of course, writers who don't give a fig for logic, being content with presenting the idea all by itself. The grand example of this is Ray Bradbury, who is scared to death of anything remotely connected with science and obviously doesn't have the faintest inkling of elementary scientific facts. ...which literally drips with sentimentality..."

He spends some time correctly lambasting early-ish American-ish SF for its disinterest in women as anything other than the professor's beautiful daughter (at best). A Startling letter to the editor from a 1939 issue of Startling Stories is illustrative:


There Is a great deal of significance, I think, in the fact that the four stories of the September issue of Startling Stories did not contain a single female character. Of course. I would be the last to claim that ail females be abolished. Women, when handled in moderation and with extreme decency, fit nicely in scientifiction at times. However, the September Issue goes to prove that good stories can be written even with the total absence of the weaker sex.

There are some fans that claim "human Interest" a necessity in stf. since otherwise stories degenerate into uninteresting scientific or semi-scientific recitals. That Is a very correct stand, or would be if it were not that these one-track-minded fans know no other form of human interest than the love interest.

Well, let them read "Bridge to Earth" and tell me what it loses in not possessing a heroine. Where would the story have been improved In having a heroine get caught by the microscopic creatures and having the hero rescue her, getting her caught again, having the hero rescue her again, then the hero getting caught and the heroine rescuing him... [The author may want to think a bit more about the plot elements that go into an icky 'love interest' story]

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Journal of No. 118