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Journal of No. 118


December 28th, 2016

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds @ 05:26 pm

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I found Revelation Space tough going. It's a pretty big book, but even so, I found attention wandering, and it's taken me quite a while to get through. The prose is perfectly functional, but it plods rather than sparkles(*). Lots of big space opera-y action, and some interesting ideas, but the motivations of the characters grow increasingly obscure; seemingly they are wired to seek out the next idea Reynolds wants to reveal, no matter how obviously dangerous that would be. One character is basically on a relentless quest from page one to pick up Chekhov's gun.

* Actually, the most amusing phrase is (I assume) a happy mistake -- "It was like gazing into the moonlit depths of an arboreal forest." I mean, what other kind of forest can there be? And then I started pondering a tiny forest that lives in a tree. And cracked myself up.
* The second most amusing mistake is the misuse of etymology where entomology was meant.
 

November 24th, 2016

View Park Views @ 01:55 pm

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Morning from a few days ago.

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New neighborhood signage

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DTLA with a hint of snow. Nice view of the Wilshire Grand and its bullshit spire to make it the 'tallest' building in LA.

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November 22nd, 2016

Life among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson @ 05:31 pm


A $1 find from an estate sale. My eye caught the name of Shirley Jackson (of "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House fame). But this did not seem to be in the same vein...

It's novel-length, but clearly is stitched together from short stories originally "published individually in women's magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Mademoiselle, and others."

They are amusing vignettes of domestic chaos that are semi-autobiographical, definitely with a women's magazine tinge. Perhaps the oddest thing about this particular book is that it was published by Scholastic and the blurb is pitched at the younger set. I mean, certainly there are children in the stories, but everything is from mom's viewpoint (rather than that of the savages). As I said, amusing and interesting as a mid-century artifact and a very different look at an author whose eponymous award is given for works of "psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic".

I think Dr. Pookie's mom might enjoy it.
 

November 14th, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons has been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame @ 06:48 am

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Each year, The Strong National Museum of Play inducts a new group of toys to the National Toy Hall of Fame. This year, the museum inducted three new toys: Dungeons & Dragons, Fisher-Price’s Little People figures, and the classic swing. The recognition for fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons is long overdue, as its innovative approach to playing complicated, creative games has had an outsized impact on the larger gaming world.


I love the inclusion of a non-commercial thing like the swing. It's also adorable that one of the previous inductees is the cardboard box.

But I confess this is the first I can recall hearing of the Strong. Or its benefactress, Margaret Woodbury Strong, who may well have married into some distant part of Dr. Pookie's family.

"Developing her youthful interests, Margaret became a skilled competitor in golf, archery, bowling, flower arranging, and collecting. She recalled later that her collecting began with miniatures, when she was allowed “to carry a small bag to put my dolls and toys in, and to add anything I acquired on the trips.” That small beginning led to an expansive task that dominated her later life. Margaret’s collecting included everything from fine art to the ordinary, all linked by the common themes of play, imagination, “let’s pretend,” and fun."

Another great detail is her father's perspicacity in selling high: "Margaret travelled the world with her parents beginning around 1907 after her father retired and sold the business started by Margaret's grandfather, The Strong and Woodbury Whip Company."

Buggy whips have become one of the go-to examples for product obsolescence. Getting out in 1907 was a pretty good move. (As was subsequently investing in Eastman Kodak.)

Anyway... field trip? Rochester, NY is a ways away, but maybe someday.
 

November 12th, 2016

The Better Angels of our Nature, by Steven Pinker, ultimately devolving into an election rant @ 04:11 pm


Why Violence Has Declined takes a long, long, too-long look at rates of violence over the past umpty-thousand years from our hunter-gatherer forebears to today. Pinker has marshalled a shitload of facts and statistics, and though there may be some niggling details here and there, on the whole, he's pretty convincing that rates of murder, war, and violence have declined per capita. This does require an explanation, and I think Pinker certainly outlines many ideas that contribute, but he doesn't seem to present a very strong thesis for an explanation. Rather he takes us on a plodding journey through the museum of ideas that every political philosopher has considered. The book plods so much that I found much of it a chore to get through. Reading through the outline in Wikipedia is good enough -- just feel certain that each point is held up by a few hundred footnotes each.

One of the ideas that did stick with me was that many violent acts are considered acts of justice by their perpetrators. They are not doing wrong, they are taking justice into their own hands. That bitch stole my man -- smack. That driver cut me off -- blam. Obviously, these solutions are not terribly rational, and generally frowned upon by Leviathan. I think it could extend to larger actions -- riots in Watts and LA. It doesn't make any fucking sense, but there was some ache for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels.

Now, I have plodded so slowly through the book that that idea lodged some time ago. And then as I mulled it over in my mind, I considered the Trump voters in the lead-up to the election. Can a vote be an act of violence? A stupid plea for justice when you're aching for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels? Mmmmm... no, I can't quite bring myself to consider a vote for Trump to be an act of violence. And then the vote actually happened, and Trump won. I still can't quite elevate it to an act of violence. But I think a lot of my friends may consider it to have been an act of violence. And certainly we have seen (even given some level of pernicious fakes) that some Trump supporters have been emboldened to enact actual violence. And we've also seen protests of Trump that have also risen to the level of violence.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I think there are significant differences between the two sides. It is not just that I am trapped in my bubble and not their bubble (and I'll get to the bubble later, especially since almost everyone who will read this is in my liberal bubble). At the same time, the people (considered as people) in the two camps. Are not all that different.

Now apparently the worst thing I could possibly do is to suggest that we should reach out and hug the other side and unite. Which is fine, because I'm not suggesting that. When Trump has rotten plans, they should be fought. And many of his plans are rotten.

But possibly I'm saying something even worse. That people are people. And people on both sides are not all that different. And to realize that, it definitely helps to spend time outside your bubble.

Many of you know of the long years I've spent in the mission fields of Christian websites, spreading the good news of rationality and fact-based argument. It is not easy work, because they are beset by demons that deceive them. And again, it's not about compromise -- I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they think it's 6,000 years old. I'm not looking to compromise at 2,250,003,000 years old. Wait, I'm rambling a little too much, but maybe we'll come back to this.

Another bit of bubble escape was listening to the infuriating drive-time talk show on a Christian radio station, though I haven't in many years. Until election night. As I drove home, feeling pretty confident that it was going to be close (my prediction: Hillary 278 EV) but would go blue, I turned that station on hoping for election news and... delicious Christian tears. Because that's a thing now. Enjoying people's tears. And because I'm a bad person.



And I got those tears. But I did not find them enjoyable. pout

A young Latina called in to the show. Her voice shook with raw emotion, clearly crying. Hillary was going to win, and as everyone in the conservative Christian bubble knew (as did I since I'd been visiting), Hillary believed that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs have to be changed". And as it was being spun in the bubble, this young woman knew that President Hillary was going to forcibly change religious beliefs in America. She was genuinely, fearfully afraid that hers was the last generation that was going to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

All bullshit, of course. But the tears and pain in that bubble were real. Just like they were real when Obama was elected in 2008 and was going to take everyone's guns.

Anyway, fast-forward a few hours, and suddenly the tears were on the other foot. (Shut up.) There were organized cry-ins. And, and... the other side mocked it. They were enjoying those tears! How could they be so cruel?



Not all that different.

But they're all racists!

Yes, half of Trump voters hold implicit bias against POC. And only a third of Hillary voters do.

Not all that different.

But Trump's spouting ugly racism!

Well, yeah. Again, I don't want to rest on any false equivalencies. But if you want to characterize the GOP as full of racists, then you should step inside the other bubble and look at yourself.

You support murdering babies. You literally want doctors to crush the skulls of infants with forceps.
You want perverts to molest our delicate American girlhood in the bathroom at Target.
You want religious expression to be locked inside the walls of churches.
You let the biased(*) lame-stream media do your thinking for you.

[* I'm too tired, but to its credit, the media finally decided that he said/she said journalistic equivalency was no longer valid. Trump was lying. They called him on it. They endorsed Hillary. But... it does feed the narrative that the media is biased against Trump.]

You want them to stop being racist and join the correct party? Well, maybe you should stop killing babies, and join the correct party.

You scoff when people say they aren't racist, but voted for Trump? Well, what do you think of Tim Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, but stood for VP of the Democrat Party? And he's by no means alone. There are Democrats who think abortion is murder. If you can be against baby-murdering, and vote for a baby-murdering candidate, then surely you can be a non-racist and vote for a racist candidate. Sure, it must be a terrible internal conflict. Sucks to be them. But they got their racism/baby-killing just like the people-of-yesteryear got Skinemax with the package.

Not all that different.

But they are so very fact-challenged!

Well yes. That's what I combat the most. You give them a snopes link, and they don't believe snopes. You provide the links on the snopes page to the NYT, and they don't believe the NYT. There are some people there whose solitary (it appears) information source is infowars(*). They were primed and ready to believe crap like a Kenyan born Obama, or a Jade Helm takeover of Texas. Because it fits their narrative.

(* I'm too tired, but if you're getting info from occupydemocrats or Huffpo... Not all that different.)

In our bubble, the narrative is that Trump is a sexual predator. And I'm morally certain that Trump has grabbed more unwilling pussies than trans people have assaulted anybody in a bathroom. So the woman who accused Trump of raping her when she was a teenager fits the narrative. But when the press conference was announced, my baloney detector started beeping. Because (for better or worse) before I am a Democrat or a liberal, I am a skeptic. A court of law is where these things are decided, not at press conferences or FBI memos. And when the press conference was cancelled due to 'threats', my suspicion grew. It was not impossible that threats had deterred some poor woman, but I was not buying it at this point. But a lot of other people were. They railed against the Trumpeters who had cowed this woman. Maybe Trump had bought her off. How many millions did it take him? And then two days later, she dropped the suit. No cause given. Bought off? Full of shit? We may never know. But a retracted anonymous accusation is not much to hang something on, unless the narrative is more important than evidence.

And if you point to snopes articles showing that some cases of 'postelection Trump supporter racism' are imaginary... some people don't want to hear that shit. It doesn't fit the narrative.

I've showed dozens of snopes articles to conservatives, and know what it feels like to be ignored. So when it comes from the other side, it just shows that...

Not all that different.

We all laughed (I did, I'm a bad person) at that stupid bint who cut a backwards B on her face.



But we were also mad. She perpetrated a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate.

We were furious. She lied to say a black man did this. I hate her.

And now Trump supporters tore the hijab off a woman. Stole her wallet. That feeds the narrative.
But it's bullshit. All a lie.

C'mon now, everyone. Let's laugh at her. And hate her. C'mon. She made a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate. She lied to say white men did this to her. I hate her. I really do. But more importantly...

Not all that different.

As promised, this book review has devolved. Let me pull it back, at least briefly.

"According to Hofstede's data, countries differ along six dimensions. One of them is Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: 'Long-term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of 'face' and fulfilling social obligations.'"

Those are not bad descriptors of the two societies living in their bubbles that exist within America. The liberal and the conservative.

One of my regrets about the election is that so much was about the personalities and less about the issues. I have read that the Clinton campaign gamely released insightful policy statements to the media, but they never reached me. Since the Donald sucked all the oxygen in the primary fight, one would have thought that the Clinton team would strive harder in the general to make sure its message got out, but it didn't. Honestly, perhaps I'm giving them credit for having a message, because from my standpoint, most of what I heard from the Hillary campaign was...

It's her fucking turn. She cashed in her chips to keep the competition away. Only that asshole Sanders and McWhatever didn't get the memo. "Trump is awful. I'm not Trump."

Though true, this is not compelling. She could've done better with "I will be the third Obama term."

Anyway, one of the few policy things that did come out (because I watch closely) is for the coal miners of America.

HuffPo:

"Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers that covers everything from education and infrastructure to tax credits and school funding.

Donald Trump’s coal plan is a duckface thumbs-up in a miner’s hard hat and a rant about hair spray, President Barack Obama and China."

Retrain coal workers? That's "adapting to changing circumstances". That's a Long-Term society strategy. And it's right.

A duckface thumbs-up? Well, if you can see through the HuffPo bias, that's a strategy oriented on today. Short-term. For the white working class families that are struggling.

And now, for you in my liberal well-informed bubble. Surely you are cognizant of the current spot price for coal.

No? Well, there are lots of reasons for it, but coal prices have tripled recently. And although US miners have not (yet) seen much of a boon, due to the horrible EPA, and Obama rules about coal-fueled power plants, a Trump presidency is clearly going to change that. Yes, there are certainly problems with burning coal like there is no tomorrow, but... if you are a part of an unemployed coal-mining family in Pennsylvania or Ohio focused on today... then you are part of the Short-Term Society, and I can see reasons other than racism to vote for Trump. And they did. And they are legitimately mad when we say their votes were racist.

In conclusion:

WE'RE ALL A BUNCH OF APES WHO ONLY RELATIVELY RECENTLY LEARNED TO WEAR CLOTHES AND NOT KILL EACH OTHER SO MUCH.
 

November 9th, 2016

President Trump @ 06:25 am


While I don't want to minimize how awful this is, it reminds me a lot of 2000 when we also elected an incompetent moron. All that cost us was our budget surplus, one or two hundred thousand dead brown civilians, and a few thousand dead American soldiers. We got through that, right? Right?

 

October 21st, 2016

The Atlantic Abomination, by John Brunner @ 05:32 pm


I didn't have high hopes for this book, but I heard there might be some Lovecraftian elements. In the sense that a big monstrous being with some powers of mind control was in hibernation deep under the water and gets woken up by the sciences straining too far in one direction, yes it is Lovecraftian. But in any real sense, it is not Lovecraftian. John Brunner wrote many great novels; this is not among them.

Favorite moment: male scientist hero type assumes that attractive female scientists without boyfriends must have something seriously wrong with them. Fortunately, he overcomes this prejudice and marries attractive female scientist.

Anyway, go read Stand on Zanzibar.
 

October 20th, 2016

Torches and Pitchforks @ 11:06 pm


So there's been a bit of a kerfuffle.

The enigmachat email list has, over the years, died down in frequency to near moribund levels. But it perked up again with the campaign and questions about ballot initiatives. I gave my opinions. And there was a little back and forth. And then Darnell stuck his nose in with his usual flat-affected poorly-expressed stupidity. Now, I've only met Darnell in person a couple times, and nothing of much note occurred, but most of his email conversation has been repugnant and poorly thought out and expressed, as was this instance. So, because for me, he is only an object of disdain, detestation, and occasional humor, I tried to elicit further commentary from him, hoping to hear him express more poor, repugnant opinions for the edification of all (i.e. so that everyone would know he's an idiot with repugnant views).

But things took a turn. thefayth went off. "I am deeply distressed by the email I received today on the EnigmaChat mailing list by Mr. Darnell Coleman that continues a cycle of inappropriate statements and behavior over the last 5 years." [my emphasis]

For better or worse, this message hit me before dawn, before coffee, and the first couple responses I saw firmed up my impression, also influenced by certain whispers and gossip, that this was not just about ideas and words, but behavior. And then I fucking went off.

There was a blinding flash of crystal clarity that, although I saw Darnell as an object of ridicule with stupid ideas, and that (only in comparison, mind you) I could be Vol-fucking-taire in amusing myself in showing him up... in actual fact, he was causing harm to people. And so:

Thanks, Faith.

I detest Darnell. I have only met him once or twice, so most of my interaction has been online. But that has been quite enough to last a lifetime.

His opinions are usually offensive, and always poorly thought out and expressed.

Current leadership will have to decide whether his poisonous contributions to the club require action within the guidelines of the group.

I am sensitive to the issue of viewpoint discrimination. I wouldn't want him to be removed simply for holding, or even expressing, unpopular beliefs. But it may well be that his behavior has reached a point that necessitates action.

Looking back, Enigma has from time-to-time had its own little basket of deplorables. From the painfully socially inept, to the gropy, to the political morons, to the religious bigots, to the anti-religious bigots (hi!).

The (rarely used) solution has generally been to encourage the deplorables to 'self-deport'. Make it clear that many people in the club don't want them there. And maybe the best way to make that clear is for many people to actually express it to him.

For the sake of our inboxes, people should write to Darnell personally. However, it might be useful as a record if you could also post a comment in Faith's post to the Enigma Facebook group, so that the powers that be can gauge the sentiment of the members.

But while I have the floor...

Darnell... go away and don't come back. I don't want you in my club. Your negative presence distresses many members and detracts from their experience. I fear you may be a psychic vampire who derives some sick pleasure from distressing others; if so, please find help. Or at least find some other group to infest, because the villagers here are sharpening their stakes. If not, just go already.


I realize (both before and after coffee) that this was an extreme and extrajudicial step. But it was also clear to me that the judicial process had been tried, and those who had complained had received no satisfaction. I do feel for the people in leadership of the club, who are in a difficult position. But I mouthed off.

And pretty soon it was clear that the leadership was taking this seriously, and I tried my best to shut the fuck up, and let them work.

But the response to my incendiary post, and a few like it, was fascinating to me.

>>***: I think using a public forum to do this is unjustifiable and unnecessary, and I don't want to be a part of it.

>Thank you for saying that, ***. I agree fully that such an extremely public discussion is, at the very least, unkind.

Aye ***, well spoken sir.


My visceral reaction to the middle comment was: "Absolutely. Yes, it was unkind. I would be mortified if I was accidentally that unkind, no-- rude, to someone. This was calculated and intentional."

But the weight of these comments coming together in a row finally gave me some insight into what it is like to be 'gaslighted' to use the common parlance.

Maybe I was wrong for backing up Faith. Maybe going through official channels was the best way to deal with it. Maybe I was wrong to be intentionally and publicly rude to Darnell. Maybe this is a witch hunt, and for once I'm the torch-bearing idiot.

Then alpiyn dropped a nuclear bomb. As much as I was feeling gaslighted for picking on a moron who had done nothing worse to me than be a moron, how much worse or more alienated would people feel who had actually been harmed by this moron?




Now, I'm an old fart. And there's a new generation that's taken over. And that's as it should be. But I find it strange that I have (ok, had!) this idea that the younger crowd are much more up-to-date on this shit than the old fart brigade. We old farts roll our eyes at, "Do I have your explicit consent to nibble your left earlobe?" And we old farts who adore the First Amendment are a bit leery of the new guard's desire to curtail unpleasant speech. But I had this idea that the little pupal SJWs of today are out trying to make 'safe spaces' for everyone to enjoy. And at least in this case, it turned out to be a bunch of crap.

But at least I was right about the fuckdoodly First Amendment cuntborking.

When the official response came, part of it was this.

1) Many of these grievances spawn from online interactions and statements from this individual. In particular, many of them come from threads in the enigma-chat emailing list that is primarily populated by older alums of the club. The individual has been removed from these lists, as well as blocked from this group. That being said, it must stated that some in the officership were unaware of the existence of this list, and we believe that many of the current members who attend weekly meetings were also unaware of its existence. In light of this, we wish to formally disavow the enigma-chat list and leave it in the hands of the alumni. The enigma-chat list will remain as an opt-in option for all members, but we will not be responsible for its content. The transition of moderator responsibility shall take place in the coming week.
2) As for the individual’s continued membership in the club, we have yet to reach a verdict. We are speaking with our advisers on the best course of action to take to avoid repercussions.


Now again, I realize the leadership is in a tough position, and everything does have to be done in accordance with the guidelines (as I called for in my original rant), and this may take time. But I still think it's sad that the old farts on the email list get unceremoniously shitcanned, while judgment is reserved in the case of the malefactor. To be fair, this message was released before alpiyn unleashed hellfire.

It's also interesti.. no, infuriating, that some of the messaging has been that all of the complaints have been about just ideas and words. But Faith's message does mention behavior. My message explicitly protects ideas and expression, but draws the line at behavior. Again, I hope that the official response, when it comes, takes into account whether it was merely expression of unpopular views, or if it was behavior that created a hostile environment.

But getting back to one of the shortest of the many soapboxes I've stood on in this rant, enigmachat is too full of the free discourse of ideas and poopoo words to be a part of what the club wants to be in this day and age.

So in conclusion...

Fuck you in your fatherfisting cloaca!

/mic drop
 

October 9th, 2016

On the Beach, by Nevil Shute @ 11:05 am

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Not entirely realistic, but this 1957 novel is a depressing peek into those days of yesteryear when we all lived under threat of nuclear annihilation (and hey maybe those days are coming back, better than ever!). A nuclear war has killed the Northern Hemisphere, and as the airborne radiation slowly crosses the equatorial barrier, spreading further south, the various inhabitants of Melbourne slowly come to terms with the inevitable and do what seems best with their remaining months, weeks, days, and hours, as they lose contact with other cities in the southern hemisphere one by one. If you need a book that will grind down your your sense of hope, this will fit the bill nicely.
 

October 6th, 2016

Proudly Ignorant @ 01:23 pm


"My child's personal religious beliefs were violated,” said Edmisten, adding that her seventh grade daughter took zeros on the section on Islamic history after a teacher didn’t allow her to opt out of the curriculum and standards and do alternative studies. “Those are zeros that we proudly took and we will not compromise.”

Some people can't even face learning about something.

When I first saw the story on HuffPo, it seemed like it was just one crazy mom, but sadly that's not the case.

She got applause for her rant, and a board member made a motion to remove the textbook “because it does not represent the values of the county.”

And then there's this:

Hughes said Sullivan County must follow the law and standards “"whether we like it or whether we don’t.”

“I think everybody on the board agrees with the public. We live here, too,” Hughes said.
 

Journal of No. 118