Posts tagged ‘books’

2017/01/02

January Second

So yesterday we made 144 dumplings (or 145, or possibly 143, or even 146); this seems like a small number!  The Records are surprisingly spotty in recent years, but apparently we made 203 in 2013 (I don’t recall noticing the coincidence before)and 159 in 2012.  Older records are currently inaccessible because of the whole “I’m not entirely sure who it was that used to be hosting my personal websites, but they’ve stopped” situation.

I ought to do something about that sometime.

Anyway, although they were gross (haha!), the dumplings were as always delicious. Possibly even more delicious than sometimes, due to every last spoonful of an entire jar of Hoisin Sauce going into the mix, which it’s possible we don’t always do.

I finished The Throwback Special, which the little daughter gave me for Solstice, and Said Things about it on The GoodReads:

The Throwback Special
(4/5 stars)

A relatively mundane (if odd) event, told in often sparkling, lovely, mordant, satirical, effulgent, ironic, occasionally entirely over-the-top prose. The characters constantly overthink everything, and the author overthinks on top of that, so every event is garlanded with emotion, dilemma, philosophy, elation, dread. It is funny, silly, deep, insightful.

You will annoy those around you by reading sentences aloud.

and I did in fact annoy (and/or amuse) those around me by reading sentences aloud, and also sent the little daughter random texts like

Tommy’s face looked weird because he was doing exercises to strengthen his pelvic floor.

which is in fact a quote from the book.

Oh, and Happy New Year! Here is my Second Life New Year Card, whose sentiments apply to all y’all RL (as we say) persons as well.  Kindness and compassion, kindness and compassion.

(The people in the picture are, as is traditional, both me.  I have never lured M into Second Life; I suspect she thinks it is weird.)

Back to work tomorrow!  Which, despite involving getting up entirely too early and spending hours away from home and all, I am in various ways looking forward too; still loving Google, and the commute, and the City.

Now to choose another book to read.  And to continue mostly not playing WoW!

 

 

 

 

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2014/08/25

Fifteen years!

Wow, you’d think something would have changed after a week away; flying cars, or aliens walking around Manhattan, or at least a new subway line or something, but NO, everything is pretty much just the same!

Weird.

Extremely attentive and/or precognitive readers will suspect rightly that we were away for a week because we were in Maine; the first time that happened was in 1999, and this is 2014, so it’s been fifteen years!

And since that first Maine trip was when I started writing a weblog, and this is in some sense the same weblog as that, this is the fifteenth anniversary of the weblog!

Woot!

Here is a picture of Maine:

Renewal

Isn’t that gorgeous? Along with M’s sister’s family, and their father and stepmother, we rented a house on top of Dodge Mountain, overlooking Rockland and the bay and points East, with a lovely deck, and chairs to sit in, and tables to put your book and your wineglass on, and beds to sleep in, and all.

It was great.

I did a lot of reading, as usual. That book there is “Karma and Rebirth” by Christmas (sic) Humphries. I wrote it up for GoodReads (hope that link works for not-me people).

(I will resist the obvious temptation to produce lots of weblog content by pasting in all various book reviews I have written instead of just linking to them!)

I read that because I happened across it in some used book store (perhaps Hello Hello Books?), shortly after watching Hemant Mehta’s rather offputting “Can Atheists be Buddhists“, and it seemed like a nice synchronicity.

The Mehta piece is offputting for a few reasons:

  • His conclusion is basically “no”, and I’m sort of both of those things, so yeah.
  • The reason his conclusion is basically “no” is that, he says, although Buddhists don’t believe in a deity, they do believe some stuff (specifically Karma and Rebirth) that Isn’t Scientific, and therefore atheists won’t believe it.
  • This implies that for Mehta “atheist” doesn’t just mean “doesn’t believe in God” for some value of “God”, it means “only believes stuff that is Scientific”, and that seems like just sloppy thinking or sloppy word-usage or something,
  • His conclusion that Karma and Rebirth are Not Scientific seems very offhand and not particularly well thought out; as for that matter is his assumption that all Buddhists believe in either or both of them in any form.

Some day I will have to write a post on Buddhism and Scientificness and Karma and Rebirth and all, and why atheists can in fact be Buddhists, and vice-versa, at least when they are me. Not today, though. :)

Another book, that I’m sure I bought in Hello Hello Books (which is a great bookstore, by the way), and then I read and enjoyed very much, is Doris Grumbach’s “The Pleasure of Their Company”, which I also wrote up for GoodReads. It was good.

I do love lying about in Maine, feeling the wind and reading books and thinking about things.

Also I went out on a boat! And held a lobster!

Here is a picture from on the boat, with the notable deck hand Dana holding the lobster in question:

Dana with the lobster

and here is the lobster, with parts of my hand holding it:

Lobster

and a little girl looking dubious in the background.

We did many other things in Maine! I took three of the four kids to the beach one day, but the sun was behind clouds and the sand was too wet and rocky and the waves too small and they got cold, so we didn’t stay very long.

Here are some rocks!

Rocks

They do look coldish.

We went into Rockland a couple of times (although sadly we were not in town for this

Internet Cats

which I bet would have been noteworthy), and into Camden a couple of times (here is a classy black-and-white shot of some water in Camden:

Water in Camden

just because we are posting lots of pictures; more and/or different ones can as usual be found on the Insta-Gram).

Reading back through some of the various Maine and post-Maine postings in the weblog over the years, I see lots of variety in terms of thoughtfulness, randomness, introspection, and so on. I did feel introspective, in a good way, and renewed, in a good way, by it all this year, but in writing about it I’m mostly just writing random things, I think. :)

Maybe largely because I didn’t feel like writing about it at all while I was there (too busy doing it?), and now am writing about it retrospectively, having been home for a couple of days and back to work one day, so somewhat back in the quotidian mindset. Or something?

Here is another picture :) this one of ol’ Red’s Eats (where we didn’t eat this year) as randomly enhanced in its usual drive-by way by Google Plus:

Red's Eats

Kinda neat, I thought.

What else? I read some other books, acquired some other books, sat zazen a bit, had some thoughts, drank some wine, ate some lobster and some blueberry pie, enjoyed some sun and wind.

And I’m not unhappy to be home. :)

About all one could ask for, really!

2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2013/11/11

Extra-solar pond slime

So today I went to a talk by Lee Billings, author of Five Billion Years of Solitude (which, note, I haven’t read yet, although I now have a signed copy; I’ve just heard the talk).

He is all about how incredibly cool it would be to find out that there is life on some planet outside the solar system (by deducing, say, a particular unstable mixture of gasses in its atmosphere that we can’t account for except by life), and that we are not investing nearly enough resources (money) in building the just-now-becoming-possible huge honking telescopes that would help us find such planets.

Or alternately, he says, it would also be extremely important in some way to discover that there isn’t life on any extra-solar planets that we can find, and that therefore we are even Specialer than maybe we thought.

There has recently been an Enormous Boom in the finding of planets outside the Solar System, apparently; an inneresting fact that I hadn’t known. Significant numbers of them are sort of vaguely Earth-like in various ways; also inneresting.

Extra-solar planets

But, as I said during the Q-and-A period (for which I may appear on the YouTube at some point in the future!) I’m not sure how interesting it would really be to know that there is, say, probably pond-slime on Kepler 22b.

The two reasons the speaker gave for the importance of looking for extra-solar planets with life (besides raw coolness, which I don’t think is a good reason to spend billions of dollars, really) were (1) having more places for humans to live by the time the Sun swells up and eats the Earth or whatever, and (2) knowing whether or not We Are Alone In The Universe (hence the title of the book).

In terms of having more places to live, I think that by the time the Sun swells up (a few hundred million years), and even by the time we’re conveniently able to go in large numbers to other solar systems, we’ll long since have just remade ourselves so that we don’t need certain sorts of planets with particular chemistries to live on, so that particular issue will be moot.

And in terms of knowing whether or not we are alone, I think it’s far more important to know whether there’s anyone sentient out there than it is to know whether there’s any carbon-oxygen-based life out there. Given a few dozen billion dollars and the choice between looking for photosynthesis, and looking for intelligent signals, I’m going for the latter.

The extra-solar pond slime is just going to have to wait…

2013/07/20

Avid fans of mediocre fiction

There are all sorts of fascinating things going on.

One fascinating thing is the breathtakingly rapid evolution of media of all sorts; and one fascinating part of that thing is these here “e-books” which are available “on-line”, more or less directly from the authors.

The web-site Amazon Dot Com, to pick a very notable example, has a whole ecosystem, one might say polysyllabicly, built around these essentially self-published and to a great extent disintermediated artifacts, where one can buy (or acquire, for the significant numbers that are nominally free) copies of these books (and the associated licenses to read the copies, which are enforced by one’s own computers and reading software, in an odd and facially improbable bit of co-optation), and rate them with small integers, and leave comments on them, and rate and comment on other people’s comments, and see what other books people who have purchased this one have also purchased, and so on for quite some time.

(Here is a link to this stuff, or at least a link that, at the moment, when followed by me, leads to something like the “Books” subtree of the largish “Kindle” tree, which also includes the Amazon-branded reading devices (you can also read these e-books on various other devices), and non-book things (magazines, who knows what-all) that can also be read on them.)

Not all of the e-books are all disintermediated and self-published; some number of them are also acquired and edited and published by publishing houses large and small and new and old, brought out at the same time as, or before or after, old-fashioned non-e versions of the same book, actually printed on paper in ink. These I am not talking about so much here today; there are interesting things to say about them, but to the extent that they are selected and polished and marketed in roughly the same way books were a decade or three ago, they are not, comme on dit, in my fovea at this time.

(Haha, the WordPress spell checker does not know the word “fovea”. I suggests that perhaps I mean “forgave”. Also, it scolds me for writing “WordPress” with a small “p”, even though the publishing software, obnoxiously in my opinion, automatically capitalizes that “p” for me automatically at publishing time, heh.)

So anyway, he said loquaciously, about those e-books that are all disintermediated and self-published and all.

Many of them are really badly-writen.

(This may not come as a huge surprise.)

Some of them are in fact very good. For instance I discovered by following some winding path through the Internets the Wool books by Hugh Howey (looks like the first one is available free, which is nice; I recommend it). They are books that might not have made it out of the slush pile at a publishing house (or they might have; who can tell), but eventually bubbled to my, and lots of other people’s, attention via the ecosystem of self-publishing, and are now apparently doing rather well. There are rough edges here and there (I recall something about what the protagonists’ wife was said to be doing at the start of the first book that by the end of the third it was unlikely anyone would have been allowed to do, and seemed to be from some earlier and now-abandoned version of the plotline, for instance), but no worse than in many normally-published books I’ve read.

But many of them, even most of them I would dare say, requiring for their publication only that (1) the author thinks it is good (or at least would like to publish it), and (2) the author pushes some buttons on their computer (significantly fewer buttons than it took to write it, in most cases), and therefore having successfully vaulted only a pair of very low bars, are not very good at all.

And yet some of these not-very-good-at-all books have, or appear to have, avid fans in the ecosystem, who rate them at the top of the set of possible integers, post glowing reviews comparing them favorably to all other books previously written in the genre, give “unhelpful” ratings to negative reviews posted by others, and so on.

It makes one wonder.

For instance, is the difference between Post-human, by David Simpson, rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, and Wool by Hugh Howey (linked above), also rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, just that I personally thought the latter was pretty good (my review gave it five of five stars) and the former pretty bad (my rather scathing review gave it just two)?

Once the magnetic field was in place, he was free to bolt upward, unhindered by friction, air pressure, temperature, or anything else. In seconds, he was above the stratosphere, using his mind’s eye to plot an automatic course for Venus.

I think Howey’s book is better than Simpson’s in ways that don’t come down to just my personal opinions. Simpson’s contains technology howlers about glowing green magnetic fields that allow humans to fly through space at interplanetary speeds without benefit of spaceship; Howey’s has just some rather powerful psychoactive drugs that unreliably suppress memory and alter behavior. Simpson’s has an evil antagonist with god-like powers who keeps the protagonist alive to allow him to do something he (the antagonist) would clearly have had no trouble doing all by himself. Howey’s bad guys are subtler and more realistic, and in that way more terrifyingly evil.

Simpson’s protagonist is the most intelligent person in the solar system (scientifically measured!), and everything goes right for him, pretty much all the time. Howey’s various protagonists are more ordinary people, more conflicted and confused, and when they have any triumphs at all they are partial and sometimes worrying ones.

(And nearly every time one of Simpson’s comic-book superheroes turns on the stupid all-powerful magnetic field, Simpson has to say that he “ignited” it. Drives me up the walls, I tell ya.)

I don’t want to pick on Simpson’s book in particular, really; I’m sure there are other four-and-a-half-star ebooks that are worse. But the case of Post-Human is notable for at least a couple of reasons (and here we will segue gracefully into the lazy weblogger’s device of unordered lists):

  • For awhile, Simpson was offering a free book to anyone who gave him a five-star review on Amazon (he has since apparently stopped, and I hope it was because it’s against the rules).
  • But there are still four and five star reviews being written, and many of the negative reviews also have an unusual number of “unhelpful” ratings, so that last point can’t explain the whole effect.

What now? Just a bunch of thoughts:

  • Maybe the many glowing reviews and downratings of negative ones for the Simpson book are just fake; results of bribery, or posted by Simpson himself, or by some entity hired by him (I would not be surprised if there were companies that will create shadow-puppets who will boost the Amazon rep of a book for money). It would be interesting to look at the other reviews posted by people who have given very glowing reviews of very average works.
  • Maybe only some of them are fake and/or a result of the above-mentioned bribery, and the rest are from people who wanted to get on the bandwagon, in some to-be-determined sense.
  • Maybe some of the people who accepted the Simpson bribe are experiencing that interesting psychological effect whose name I forget and have decided that (since they can’t be bribed that easily!) they really did love the book, and go around downrating negative comments just to prove it.
  • Maybe I am wrong, and the Howey book is not objectively any better than the Simpson one, and it’s just that the problems with the latter happen to bother me personally more than those with the former.
  • Maybe I am not wrong, and by my objective criteria the Simpson book really is worse, but there are a significant number of people who don’t care about those objective criteria to speak of at all, but enjoyed the book greatly for some other reasons that I don’t really understand. That is sort of an interesting thought.
  • I have a vague impression that there is sort of a whole subculture of people on the Internets who write and read and praise and advertise not-very-good books, either (see above) they have never really read a good book, or they actually prefer books that are objectively (in whatever sense) bad, or for some other reason. I recently came across a weblog reviewing some mediocre self-published Amazon ebook as “an Amazon Bestseller!”, where that phrase was apparently copied from the book’s own page on the author’s website; I was nasty and posted a polite comment pointing out that the only sense in which it was an Amazon Bestseller was that it has an Amazon Bestseller rank, which every book on Amazon appears to have, and that in this case the rank was somewhere over one million. So “best” only in the most technical of senses. Presumably, though, there is some in-crowd feeling to be had in posting a positive review of a Best Seller?

Looking at many of the glowing reviews of the Simpson book (and for that matter other books I find poorly-written), my impression is that many of the reviewers are somewhat less than literate themselves, and/or less than civil, that in particular people who leave negative comments on negative reviews and otherwise defend the books in the commentary part of the ecosystem, tend to sound like trolls (broadly construed). What sorts of things do these people have in common? What are their motivations?

And, sort of conversely, will we eventually have a system in which I can mark those people as having opinions generally Irrelevant To My Own (or even Contrary To My Own), so that the system could take this into account in its own recommendations? “This book has a 4.5 star rating, or 2.25 stars if we count only people whose opinions you are likely to care about.” Is anyone doing that yet?

And that is about the end of my thoughts on the subject for the time being. Reading over it I see that I come across as something of an elitist jerk, but when it comes to books I am rather content being an elitist jerk. :)

Good reading!

2013/01/18

Reading the first paragraph of Durrell’s Justine

The sea is high again today,

What do we know, or think, or guess, or assume, from those six words?

The narrator is by the sea. Not necessarily, of course; there could be satellites or telephones involved, or there could be no narrator at all but just an omniscient narrative voice. But the spatial immediacy of “the sea” (rather than “the sea at Brighton” or “the sea outside her window”), and the temporal placedness of “again today”‘ both suggest a particular person by a particular sea, speaking at a certain time.

Justine coverThe sea is high. With wind most likely; high waves and whitecaps rather than high tide. The sea has been high before, we suspect yesterday at least. It is probably daytime now (“today” rather than “tonight”).

Is the height of the sea a good thing, or a bad thing? A joy or a challenge? We don’t know from the first six words, so onward.

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind.

Now that is a sentence.

Probably this is not someone clinging to a piece of wreckage in mid-ocean, or hoping for calm seas to launch a tiny fishing boat. This is someone in a position to thrill to the wind.

But notice that it is a flush of wind. “Flush” and “thrill” call to mind the cheek flushed hot with blood from some personal thrill. So here the blown surface of the ocean is the skin, thrilled and flushed by the wind; the wind is the blood of the sea. But the wind also flushes cheeks from the cold. Chill and thrill, wind and blood, skin and sea. And only a dozen words in!

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter

A specific time now, and a cold one. Is this favoring the cold side of the previous sentence, chill and wind over thrill and blood?

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring.

Balance is restored. The second sentence mirrors the first, calls out the cold and the warm more explicitly, and more abstractly.

Notice that there is now someone in the text, and it is you. He did not write “I can feel”, “He could feel”, or “can be felt”.

Note also that it is not the warmth of Spring, or its coming, its approach, its flavor or texture. The inventions of Spring!

Also it is “winter”, but “Spring”. A subtlety of balance here? The concrete winter by the sea in contrast with the symbolic or idealized Spring that invents? Or just some typesetter’s quirk?

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday,

Now, looking up above the sea, there is the sky; a sky of hot nude pearl. What a phrase! Is it hot as in actual heat, or hot as in glare? Pearl is a color, the texture of color; what is it for pearl to be nude? Bare, simple, unadorned. So my eyes imagine the sky bright and (of course) pearlescent (nacreous!), hotly pale to look at, but not enough to heat the air (my cheeks still flushed with the wind).

And we’ve been aware of the sky in the morning, before midday, and at least up until midday; perhaps all morning, or a good piece of the morning, standing on a headland watching the sea and feeling the wind (and the inventions of Spring).

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places,

Sheltering from the wind, and also from the hot glare of the sky. This is a place with crickets, and also a place with some shelter. Think of sheltered places large enough, small enough, for crickets. No mention of people, of whether there are any people seeking shelter also.

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes,”

Here is the wind again, crossing a sentence and a half to thrill again, and this time to unpack the great planes. What great planes? Is this a pun on the Great Plains? Is the wind blowing into the cargo holds of enormous airplanes, scattering underwear from suitcases and printouts from briefcases out across the runways? Probably not. :)

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes…”

Not just unpacking, but actively and violently unpacking, ransacking! The printouts and underwear are scattered far and heedlessly, the wind is looking for something (for what?) in those cargo holds. Or the great planes are (more likely) the planes of the sea, the earth, and sky. The wind violently unpacking the plane of the horizon, flushing the cheek of the sea, bringing both the cold of midwinter and (with the hot nude sky) the inventions of the Spring, as though it were searching for something. For what?

And that’s the entire first paragraph. We aren’t entirely certain we know what the great planes are (spoiler alert: eleven pages later I’m still not entirely certain), but we have had built in our minds a balanced structure of warmth and cold, winter and spring, blood and sea water, topped by hot nude pearl, and underlain by those sheltering crickets. Earth and Air and Water, and we can either allow that heat to stand for Fire, or let that spot stay empty, and be left, after this first paragraph, with (among other things) a missing place for Fire, like a missing tooth, that might (or might not) be resolved in later paragraphs.

Yes, this is a somewhat pretentious reading! :) But when I started reading this book (which regular readers will remember we bought in Boston the other week), I was so struck by the language (not in a Barthelmian or Leynerian way, but in an entirely or mostly entirely other way) that I stopped and read the first few paragraphs over and over, and then the same for the first page, the first two pages. And I decided to write a weblog entry about it!

(A serendipitous and perspicacious airline seat-neighbor suggested that I ought to be reading poetry that way if I like reading that way; I agreed while admitting that I’d never really managed to do that. What poet should I try it on? The burning tyger? The mistress going to bed?)

And that’s all! :) I’m incredibly sleepy at the moment, having gotten home from the airport and Secret Expeditions this morning at about 3am. I am still awake mostly because I am hoping Verizon will call back about whether or not they can actually give us what the salesmen promised to get us to switch to FIOS, and also because I wanted to actually post this (actually to post this) before it went out of my mind. But now I think I will give up on Verizon for the night and go to bed and/or to sleep. And you can post comments! :)

Night!

2013/01/13

Reviews: “Belief or Nonbelief” and “Pallas”

Two of my reviews have just Gone Live on Amazon, my “email” informs me, so I will stick them here as well so that they are in more places, and my fame can spread more quickly.

Belief or Nonbelief, by Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (non-ebook version)Belief or Nonbelief
Two out of Five Stars

This is billed as a spirited exchange between a believer and a non-believer, but really it’s much less than that. Eco is a barely-lapsed Catholic intellectual, and as he says himself the basic structure of his thinking is still very much based in Catholicism.

Except for the final brief pair of chapters, the book consists of Eco asking Martini to talk about the Church’s answer to something, and Martini answering with the Catholic party line.

And because this is the Father of Semiotics and a Catholic Cardinal, the language is full of fifty-thousand-dollar words and content-free metaphors. Here is Eco, for instance, perhaps imitating one of those online Random Postmodern Text Generators:

“Christianity invented History, and it is in fact a modern incarnation of the Antichrist that denounces History as a disease. It’s possible that secular historicism has understood history as infinitely perfectible — so that tomorrow we improve upon today, always and without reservation, and so that in the course of the same history God reconstitutes himself and in a manner of speaking educates and enriches himself. But the entire secular world is not of the ideological view that through history we understand how to look at the regression and folly of history itself.”

Say what? Secular historicism has understood that God educates himself? You don’t say!

And when Eco asks how the Church knows when human life begins, Martini’s answer is that it’s at the moment of conception, because that is when there is a new being with a face. Which must be a metaphor for something (since a fertilized egg is way to small to have a face), but we’re left to guess for ourselves exactly what it’s supposed to be a metaphor for.

In the final exchange, Martini finally asks a question of Eco rather than vice-versa. The question itself is nothing impressive, just the usual “how do atheists justify their morality without an invisible friend in the sky to do it for them?”; but Eco’s answer is solid and almost clearly stated. There’s nothing all that special, he points out, about basing your morality on a deity (believers are just as prone to immorality as anyone else), and our own desire to be treated well and our natural tendency to empathy make a fine alternative.

So anyway. Most of the book is throwaway concepts couched in needlessly elaborate prose, but at least it’s short. The last chapter is worth a read.

Pallas, by L. Neil SmithPallas
Three out of Five Stars

This is a good solid yarn; strong and smart good guys you can root for, nasty evil bad guys to boo, interesting SF ideas, rockets and personal helicopters, a hooker with a heart of gold, old ladies packing heat, and all sorts of fun stuff.

Like so many stories with political intent, it completely cheats on the political message. No one in the socialist polity is good, no one in the capitalist one is bad. The capitalist society doesn’t need to tax anyone because it doesn’t need police or real courts, because everyone in the society is basically an angel (for some reason the society doesn’t even need fire stations; this is noted in passing but never explained).

Showing that your favorite politico-economic system would work for a society of angels is not a very big challenge!

The one nod that Smith makes toward reality is that when the entire world (asteroid) is threatened by a natural phenomenon, the “freeloader problem” arises, and it’s not clear how the rather expensive solution is going to get paid for without something icky like taxes. But the solution is just that Our Hero pays for the whole thing himself, and the problem is solved.

This isn’t realistic, though; if Our Hero had any actual competitors, the resulting extra costs he bears would put him at a disadvantage to them, and he would go out of business. Fortunately for the story, he has no actual competitors, because he is the only person to realize that in a society where everyone wants to be armed and guns are expensive to import, it might make sense to open a (wait for it) gun factory. Ooooh!

(The real Freeloader Problem here, which Smith ignores entirely as far as I can tell, is the environment envelope around the asteroid, which requires constant maintenance by guys with rockets and space-suits. Who pays for all that, exactly?)

Definitely a fun read. Just don’t try to use it as a guide to public policy in the real world.

2013/01/04

Dumplings, Dastards, and Drivel

(Before I decided that the dumplings really belonged in here, I was considering titles like “Douchebags and Bullshit”, which is somewhat coarse, or “Rotters and Rubbish”, which wasn’t bad.)

So this year we made 203 New Year’s Dumplings. The little daughter having come home special for the ceremonies, and the little boy being home from school between terms, we were four healthy adults, and the leftovers of that 203 didn’t even last through the end of January Second.

(See prior New Year’s post for prior history of dumplings.)

Here is my New Year card over on the Secret Second Life weblog. The sentiments apply to all Real Life friends too also. :)

On dastards (cads, bounders, douchenozzles, arseholes), see quite a few of the comments to this Asher Wolf posting on why she left the CryptoParty movement that she founded or co-founded, and how the hacker community contains too much, and too much tolerance of, sexism and misogyny and general nastiness.

Many of the comments are supportive, but many are also just facepalmingly awful. (I posted what I thought was a satire of that kind of comment, and despite my having tried to make it obviously absurd, it was enough like the run of actual negative comments that I had to put in a followup saying that it was intended as satire, because people were responding to it as though it, well, wasn’t.) And the evil-density in the twitter comments was even higher (if harder to link to).

I understand why people come in and carefully and condescendingly explain how she is all wrong, and bad things happen to everyone, and it’s not misogyny, and rape hardly every happens, and things like that; they are just blind to their various degrees of privilege, and are shoring up the bulwarks of the protective walls they have up around their egos.

Pretty standard human stuff.

I less understand why people come in and say that someone “needs to shave her pits”, or says that some particular person attacking her is “way hotter” than someone else is. I mean, wut? How is that even remotely relevant to anything?

Either (1) this is actually the way that they think, (2) they are just rather nastily trolling, or (3) talking about the way they “think” is a bit of an overstatement, and they are basically being Eliza machines in this instance.

Also pretty standard human stuff, I suppose, as are the strings of obscenities and the attacks on her website; I just don’t understand it as much, and it makes me (even) sadder.

And on drivel (or rubbish, or bullshit), I am reading Belief or Nonbelief, and while I’m not done with it (despite how short it is), I cannot keep myself from fulminating, or at least weblogging, about it. It’s a series of public letters between Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who is a Cardinal (a Hat Cardinal, not a Wings Cardinal, obviously).

Eco is sort of The Semiotics Guy, so he is all into signs and how and what they signify (if at all), and so on, so it’s not too surprising that he can wander up big ethereal staircases of language until he gets so far above the concrete that his words not only fail to signify anything material, but fail to signify even any identifiable concepts. And of course Martini is an intelligent person in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and spending most of his thought-time in environments as far from real life as possible is probably one of the few ways it’s possible to be one of those for very long and stay sane.

Hilarity ensues.

The first bit is about hope and life and ideas of the end of the world and stuff; it was written somewhere in the late 90’s. Eco, referring to the last book of the New Testament, writes

Revelation can be read as a promise, but also an announcement of an end, and thus gets rewritten at every step, even by those who never read it, as we await 2000.

Say what? People who have never read the book are constantly rewriting it? Squinting at the whole paragraph really hard, what he means is something like “people are always thinking about how the world might end, and Revelation talks about trumpets and hailstorms and stuff, but nowadays we think more in terms of acid rain, nuclear waste, global warming, and stuff”.

It does sound cooler and less obvious if you talk about the constant rewriting of a book by people who have never read it, but that way of talking has the disadvantage of being incoherent and/or wrong.

Here’s another great passage:

In this way, each one of us flirts with the specter of the apocalypse, exorcising it; the more one unconsciously fears it the more one exorcises, projecting it onto the screen in the form of bloody spectacle, hoping in this way to render it unreal. But the power of specter lies precisely in its unreality.

Yowza! We unconsciously fear the end of the world, so we flirt with it by projecting it (“hey baby, ever been… projected?”) onto the screen (does that mean “we imagine”? or “we make movies about” or…?) in the form of bloody spectacle (we imagine global warming as bloody spectacle? could well be true of the movie version, I spose) in order to (unconsciously, still?) render it unreal (because things on the screen are unreal I guess), but in vain because (as our unconscious is apparently not clever enough to recognize) making it unreal just makes it more powerful.

And the sentence just before it is about “irresponsible consumerism”, which is somehow linked to all that other stuff.

There’s probably some unpacking of this that is actually making a coherent truth-claim that might perhaps be falsifiable, but in essence I think it’s more like poetry; a bunch of words piled on each other not to make some coherent truth-claim, but for some more diaphanous aesthetic reason.

The very next paragraph deserves copying down here also (perhaps only because I’m getting more into the spirit of the thing):

I’d be willing to bet that the notion of the end of time is more common today in the secular world than in the Christian. The Christian world makes it the object of meditation, but acts as if it may be projected into a dimension not measured by calendars. The secular world pretends to ignore the end of time, but is fundamentally obsessed by it. This is not a paradox, but a repetition of what transpired in the first thousand years of history.

Leaving aside the absurdity of referring (as I think he is doing here, but really who can tell) to the years 1-1000 CE as “the first thousand years of history”, it’s hard to say what most of these words might plausibly mean.

Just how common is “the notion of the end of time” in “the secular world”? He has presumably said “the end of time” rather than “the end of the world” for some reason, but I don’t know what it could be. “The end of time” is a notion that barely makes any sense at all in “the secular world” (since time is not something that can end, absent something really weird and non-secular happening), much less being extremely common. The dimension that is “measured by calendars” is time; I’m not sure what it means to say that the Christian world acts as if the end of time occurs in (or “may be projected into”) something besides time. Is he saying that most Christians think of the Apocalypse is a metaphor for something moral or aesthetic, rather than something that will actually take place at some point? That is most likely true, but as far as I know the Official Story of the “Christian world” is that it’s going to happen (for some value of “it”) at some actual time, perhaps any day now.

Maybe he’s just saying “your typical actual Christian person doesn’t actually believe that the world is going to end, or at least doesn’t act that way, whereas your typical secular person worries alot about global warming”. But he sure says it funny if so.

Here’s another character-string, that I don’t think I’ll even try to tease a meaning out of (although the first few words seem like a real screamer, in the “obviously false unless it means something different than it seems to” sense):

Christianity invented History, and it is in fact a modern incarnation of the Antichrist that denounces History as a disease. It’s possible that secular historicism has understood history as infinitely perfectible — so that tomorrow we improve upon today, always and without reservation, and so that in the course of the same history God reconstitutes himself and in a manner of speaking educates and enriches himself. But the entire secular world is not of the ideological view that through history we understand how to look at the regression and folly of history itself. There is, nonetheless, an originally Christian vision of history wherever the signpost of Hope on this road is followed.

On rereading, I’m suspecting more and more that Eco, that wag, is using some prose generator here. (Secular historicism has understood that God reconstitutes himself? Orly?)

Cardinal Martini’s response to this first burst of words isn’t quite up to this standard, but he does use a huge number of words to basically say “oh, well, Christians don’t really have to worry about the end of the world because God is going to take care of them, after all, so naturally the secular types are the ones who obsess about it”.

He does, though, note that

History has always been seen most clearly as a journey toward something beyond itself and not immanent… this vision does not extenuate but solidifies the meaning of contingent events into an ethical locus in which the metahistorical future of the human adventure is determined.

which is getting there.

(And which, once one spends a few minutes picking it apart, turns out to box up considerable volumes of likely-false assumptions inside words and passive-voice constructs like “always” and “most clearly”, “been seen” and “is determined”, which are just the post-graduate version of sprinkling one’s Internet postings with “clearly”, “obviously”, and “certainly”.)

(And for that matter uses a quaintly archaic sense of “extenuate”. Hm, is this a translation, or is the English the original?)

In the next exchange (and the only other one I’ve finished reading), Eco turns the discussion toward the meaning and beginning of life, and the question of abortion, not so much as to get closer to real concrete questions as to show that even on a subject like this he can mostly avoid them.

Here is Eco:

When the banner of Life is waved, it can’t but move the spirit — especially of nonbelievers, however “pietistic” their atheism, because for those who do not believe in anything supernatural the idea of Life, the feeling of Life, provides the only value, the only source of a possible ethical system.

which is bullshit in both common senses: it’s false, and it’s not clear that it’s actually concerned at all with true and false, but just wants to sound good.

(The quotes around “pietistic” in reference to atheism are rather bizarre, as it suggests that “pietistic atheism” is a term that someone else has used, and that Eco himself is using referentially, although he has shame-quote-level reservations about it. But in fact the term “pietistic atheism” is actually pretty rare, so… I dunno.)

And of course just “waving the banner of Life” doesn’t necessarily move the spirit; some people’s spirits are (quite healthily) resistant to being moved by the waving of any banners, and there are all sorts of sources of possible ethical systems besides “the idea of Life, the feeling of Life”.

And so on and so on.

Eco then makes the very good point that a key question is exactly when a human life begins, that we don’t have a really good answer to it, and that it seems like a question that we may never have a really good answer to, even though it’s so important. (I like him saying this, because in my own analysis of the whole abortion issue, these facts are at the core of why it’s so hard.)

The Cardinal responds by subtly taking issue with Eco’s emphasis on “Life”, saying of course that it’s really all about God, and “the life of a person called upon to participate in the life of God himself.”

“Participate” is a great word there, like when the news says that a person is “linked to” some terrorist group. The postmodern “informed by” is another one. They all let you sort of draw a narrative line between two things without actually making any truth-claim that might turn out to be wrong. I have no idea what it actually means to “participate in the life of God himself” for Cardinal Martini, and I’m not convinced that he really does, either. At the high cloudy levels that he’s talking, “participate” is all that’s needed.

Moving on to just when there starts to be “a concrete life that I can label human”, Martini uses some more “obviously” words:

But we all know that we have … a clearer sense of genetic determination starting from a point that, at least in theory, can be identified. From conception, in fact, a new being is born.

There ya go! “We all know” that “in fact” a new being is born at conception.

Here “new” means as distinct from the two elements that united to form it.

This may be a nice definition of “new”, but the more important term is “being”. When someone ingests a couple pieces of food and they start to dissolve in the stomach, there may be some point at which they squish together and there is a “new” food-glob which is distinct from either the hotdog or the bun, but there’s no “new being” here to worry about, unless and until the relevant molecules make their way into a developing fetus which is (say) eventually born.

So he’s doing an end-run to try to slip “identity begins at the moment of conception” (something that the Church has believed for only a small fraction of its history, as Eco mentions and Martini ignores) into the discussion as though it was something we now know as a fact.

Okay, that’s par for the course. :)

Here is some more novel and amorphous stuff, on the topic of why the product of conception matters, and why we should protect it:

Beyond these scientific and philosophical matters lies the fact that whatsoever is open to so great a destiny — being called by name by God himself — is worthy of enormous respect from the beginning.

Why is that? Is there anything that God himself can’t call by name? Does God have names for people in a way that he doesn’t have names for animals, or fruit, or dust-motes? This is a piece of Catholic doctrine, or something, that I wasn’t aware of. Why would being called by name by God, as opposed to any other aspect of a putative relationship to God, be the thing in particular that makes a person “worthy of enormous respect from the beginning”?

If it turned out that God also had names for individual rocks, would we be morally obliged to make sure that any rock that begins to split off the side of a mountain does in fact split off, and to have “enormous respect” for it from that point on? Why or why not?

And yes, the question seems absurd. But it’s directly implied by the Cardinal’s words, so I will refer him to you on that issue.

We are talking about real responsibility toward that which is produced by a great and personal love, responsibility toward “someone”. Being called upon and loved, this someone already has a face, and is the object of affection and attention.

I think we are still talking about a just-fertilized egg here. The great and personal love must be God’s (since, sadly, not every instance of conception involves great or personal human love), as must be the affection and attention (since, this early in the game, no human is aware that anything exists to lavish affection and attention on).

But the someone already has a face? What could that mean? A fertilized egg most definitely does not have a face; it is too small. Is this a metaphor for something? If so, it’s not clear for what. Does he mean that he thinks the look of the face of the eventual person (if any) resulting from the fertilization is already determined, by the genetics of the sperm and egg? That’s probably not true, certainly not before the gametes are all done fusing (when exactly is “the moment of conception” at this level of detail, anyway?). And why “face” rather than “form” or for that matter foot-size? Are those less important, or is it all just some metaphor and “face” sounds better?

The next sentence is:

Every violation of this need of affection and attention can only result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

How did we get from the fertilized egg’s being the object of affection and attention (from God), to a need for affection and attention? In fact the fertilized egg, at this point, doesn’t have any need for affection and attention, unless there’s some religious claim here that it needs it from God. But presumably nothing could violate God’s affection and attention. (I’m not sure what if anything it means to “violate” a “need”.)

The claim being made here seems to be that from the moment of conception there is a new being that as a need for affection and attention, and any failure to provide for that need will result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

But that’s false. Something like half of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise spontaneously aborted very early (and so presumably their needs aren’t being provided for?), and no one who isn’t God ever knows they existed. No conflict, no profound suffering, no painful rending.

The obvious counter here is that the good Cardinal didn’t mean that. And that’s likely true, but then we’re just left wondering exactly what he did mean.

The end of this letter doesn’t help much, except to suggest that it’s all about faces again.

There is a splendid metaphor that reveals in lay terms something common to both Catholics and laymen, that of the “face”. Levinas spoke of it movingly as an irrefutable instance. I would rather cite the words, almost a testament, of Italo Mancini in one of his last books, Tornino i volti [Back to the Faces]: “Living in, loving, and sanctifying our world wasn’t granted us by some impersonal theory of being, or by the facts of history, or by natural phenomena, but by the existence of those uncanny centers of otherness — the faces, faces to look at, to honor, to cherish.”

Which, I think, is nice, even profound, as poetry, but as any sort of discussion of a subject falls rather flatly short of, well, of meaning anything.

Living in our world was granted us by the existence of faces? You don’t say!

2012/12/21

Various things!

Russel Brand is pretty funny. (The one with the Westboro Baptist Church loonies seems viral at the moment, but there’s lotsa others, with less icky persons. Including Sarah Silverman, on whom I must admit having a slight enormous crush.)

We went up to Boston to retrieve the little boy yesterday (and came home today). So with that and that I was in two big cities in three days, neither one because of its airport. I suspect this is a New Record for me!

Boston is cool.

We wandered Newbury Street, all the way from the I-90 entrance to the Common and back. Lotsa stores and stuff, which weren’t all that interesting, but also people and graffiti —

Oh, wait, that reminds me of a picture I took! Hold on a sec whilst I find it and put it onto flickr…

Here:

Newbury Street sidewalk

(Anyone know who w.i., or perhaps w.t., is?)

There was a whole wall of multiply-overlayed graffiti also (including another instance of this one), but for whatever reason I didn’t get a shot of that.

(Since the drop of every sparrow is now multiply noted, here’s someone else commenting on this adage (basically noting that it does not, either), and here’s a Tweet wondering whether or not.)

We stopped at one of the three (!) cupcake places on Newbury Street and got some small and overpriced but really quite yummy cupcakes (I had chocolate ganache, mmmm).

We stopped at Raven Used Books, which has really really good books, and I got a copy of “Justine” (Durrell’s, not de Sade’s) (this edition, assuming Abe Books links are relatively long-lasting), and a copy of “The Dissident Word” (The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1995) from the discount table out front, and then a copy of the Oxford University Press “Islam: A Very Short Introduction” (I think I know a bit about it at this overview level already; on the other hand I’m sure there are holes in even my relatively shallow knowledge) and the Shambhala Dragon edition of The Sutra of Hui-Neng, Grand Master of Zen (With Hui-Neng’s Commentary on the Diamond Sutra), which I’m pretty sure I don’t already have.

Then for an early dinner we stopped at Trident Booksellers and Cafe (why does any store bother not selling books, eh?), and had yummy food items and looked at all various books. I noticed there was a guy with a laptop and a beard at another table looking through an issue of Buddhadharma (to which I (also) subscribe), and a little later he passed by our table and saw I was holding the Sutra of Hui-Neng, and he remarked that it’s one of his favorites and we talked for a few seconds.

Oh yeah and at Trident I also bought John Powell’s “How Music Works” for possible use in upcoming (someday) versions of my algorithmic music composition programs. I was going to just put it into some wishlist and maybe get the digital edition, but (a) it was on sale for a nice low price in Trident, and (b) it includes a free CD, and can a e-book include a free CD? I mean, it could, in principle, contain all the bits from the CD, but does it?

In some free newspaper stall on the street I picked up the latest Phoenix, and looking through it while resting in the little boy’s room (before or after Newbury Street, I don’t remember) I found a pointer to Howling Dogs by the impressive porpentine, which reminded my (in color scheme, even!) of my own Forked Stick (which I never finished, but that might not matter, and you might enjoy poking around in also).

I thought that was some nice synchronicity.

When we finally got to relatives’ house for spending the night, I was tired.

Here is me, being tired:

Tired

So after that I slept, and we got up this morning, zoomed back into Boston in the rain and wind and scooped up the little boy after his last final, and drove home. The wind and rain calmed down as we drove, and by the time we got home it was fine really.

So that’s those things!

2012/08/13

And people call me a packrat!

So I’m cleaning out my office here in preparation for moving to a different office (a bit closer to home yay!), as vaguely alluded to the other day, and in this ancient dusty briefcase with amusing random stickers all over the top, that I’d forgotten was pushed behind a file cabinet a decade or two ago, along with like the number 17 bus schedule from September 1991 and a bunch of ATM receipts from the 90’s, I find a book review from rec.arts.books.reviews, posted on 30 January 1995 and probably printed out not long after, for Anatole Broyard’s “Kafka was the Rage: a Greenwich Village Memoir”.

And reading it over it sounds quite interesting, so I click a few buttons on the computer here and a copy should arrive at home in a few days. (I could have had it arrive instantly on the iPad over here, but it would have cost more than twice as much, and it seems like the kind of book one wants an atomic copy of anyway.)

So who says it doesn’t pay to keep random bits of paper around for ten or twenty years just in case? And, plus, also, by waiting this long I had a much easier time getting a copy, and paid probably less than half as much.

Although maybe not in constant dollars…

2011/10/10

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do we have “foodstuffs”, but no other stuffs? What about “clothingstuffs”? Or “drinkstuffs”? “sexstuffs, drugstuffs, rockandrollstuffs!”

It’s an odd world.

The Ghost of Dibble Hollow

So driving the little boy home from orchestra, we heard something on WNYC about Christopher Columbus, and that reminded me of how in at least some movie version of Little Women or something the protagonist would exclaim “Christopher Columbus!”, and that on the old (old!) Superman teevee show Perry White would exclaim “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” (which in at least one episode caused that ghost, or someone pretending to be him, to appear), and that in some book that I read as a child there was a ghost (coincidence, that) who would exclaim “Crimenentlies!” or something by way of a satisfying exclamation that would not get them in trouble with the grownups.

I told the little boy that I suspected the book was “The Ghost of Dibble Hollow”, and I wondered if that book was on the web. It is, in fact it is more or less all over the place, including many copies of the same cover that my edition had.

And for that matter there is even one person mentioning it for exactly the same reason I am here, albeit with the exclamation spelt slightly differently.

That was a good book. I haven’t read any kid books recently; I really should. Doesn’t take long, and is good for the soul. Maybe I’ll reread A Wrinkle in Time or somefing.

The kind of libertarian I still am

So reading Griftopia has, at least for the moment, substantially changed the sort of libertarian I am. The change centers around an observation something like “small government would be great, if we had only small crimes”.

The thoroughgoing libertarian will probably respond to this by saying that the only reason we have big crimes now is precisely that we have big government, but that does not seem very likely to me. Certainly the massive fraud perpetrated by Goldman-Sachs and friends in recent years did exploit the government in lots of ways, but it also exploited investors big and small, and various other parts of the private sector. I see no reason to think that if the government was small, there would not be other things (large popular investment firms, pension plans, leading banks) that would be large, and these (and large numbers of private persons) could easily be defrauded of enough money that the fraudsters would be rich enough to buy off the government and prevent their own prosecution.

So, sadly, I think we need a relatively large and expensive government, if only to keep an eye on the inevitable large and wealthy potential criminal organizations. (Not to mention defending the borders.) Of course it’s still a hard fight to keep it from getting corrupted, too! But at least it seems like there’s a fighting chance.

Tweeting Twits

My Second Life self has a Twitter account, which started out being all Second Life type twitterings, but recently has started to be about more and more political stuff, as I observe with benign interest the Occupy Wall Street folks and etc, and get into the occasional squabble with some right-wing type, one or two of which I follow (“follow”) out of general interest.

Had a bit of a frank exchange of views with one Joe Brooks, who seems to be sort of a halfway sensible conservative, at least sometimes. He is quite anti-Occupy, and more pro-TeaParty, whereas I am rather the opposite. He thinks Occupy Wall Street and so on were started by and are controlled by Communists and Labor Unions and things, whereas I think the Tea Party was started by and is controlled by the Koch Brothers, their (shudder) Americans for Prosperity, and the Republican machine in general.

My impression of the Tea Party is that they took some “stop giving money to rich people!” sentiment around the time of the TARP bailouts, added some “Lower my taxes!” to obtain a general “The Government should tax and spend less!” which could then easily be bent into “Less government regulation!”, which is of course exactly what the rich people want, so that they can continue to become richer, some of them by more or less blatantly illegal and/or immoral means. Quite an ironic circularity there.

I can well imagine someone co-opting the Occupy Wall Street folks’s “stop financial industry fraud!” into “more regulation of Wall Street” and then “more regulation of business” and then “more government power”, which tends to become “more power to the already powerful!”, which is again what various of the bad guys want.

So one has to be careful. But in the case of Occupy, I don’t think that’s happened (yet?).

Here is a very excellent open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement all about co-optation and stuff. Everyone should read it.

The kind of Obama fan I (still) am(n’t)

So I am really not hardly at all happy with Our President.

I mean, WTF.

Got rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; that’s good. But…

He’s surrounded by the same Goldman-Sachs crowd that destroyed the economy for their own personal gain, and they are as far as I can tell now working to make sure that they and their cronies still in the private sector can do it again next time they want another few billion dollars in the kitty.

He’s not turned off the absurd waste of Federal money on the stupid and immoral practice of prosecuting and persecuting medical marijuana providers who are doing things that are completely legal under their state laws. He promised he would do this, and he very simply isn’t.

He’s kept us in stupid wars, expanded those wars, and gotten us into new ones. He pretty much promised that he would do this, too, but I think most of us assumed he was just saying that to get votes. That’ll teach us to hope that someone is being a hypocrite!

(In, ironically enough, his Peace Prize speech, he basically announces that America will wage war not just to defend itself and its allies, but to make sure that every nation in the world respects “the inherent rights and dignity of every individual”. I mean, excuse me? Not with my children, you don’t!)

He has claimed the amazing ability to execute American citizens without trial, on the unilateral say-so of the President. I mean, what the F’ing F? This is completely hideous, unconstitutional, unAmerican, nasty, dangerous, and wrong. We were horrified when Dubya merely claimed the ability to imprison (“detain”) citizens without due process. How can we be calm when Obama claims the ability to kill us?

Anyone who is thinking, well, this was a special case, and it was Obama after all, please consider:

2014, President Romney dies from a bad batch of Botox, and Vice-President Bachmann gets the top spot. Shortly afterward she has a vivid dream in which God tells her that America is at war with atheism.

Two weeks later simultaneous drone strokes take out the national headquarters of American Atheists and the Ethical Culture Society, as well as Richard Dawkins, in the U.S. on a speaking tour. Casualties are in the hundreds.

The Bachmann administration claims that it was a legal national security action, and cites the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki as precedent.

Couldn’t happen? Well, if the Obama administration’s assassination of al-Awlaki was legal, you will have to explain to me why the hell not.

This is why we have warrants, judges, checks and balances, separation of powers.

Phht.

So the President seems to be a not particularly Progressive statist with ambitions of American expansionism. The potential Republican nominees are all either insane, lying hypocrites, or both. I am not overjoyed!

But this, too, shall pass.

In other news

Here is a Stanford (related) AI class that anyone in the world can take and apparently some hundreds of thousands of people intend to. I understand their servers are needing some upgrading. :)

And today’s candidate for Shortest 419 Letter, presented in its entirely:

Be my partner in this huge $17.3M deal.

Enticing, eh?

The evils of convenience

I am pretty fond of this here WordPress theme. On the other hand I am not fond of the right-justification (nearly always a bad idea on computers except in the most thoroughly-typeset documents), nor of the egregious grey lines around all my images. Guess that is the price I pay for not having to hand-code and SCP-upload all these here words!

Hm.

2011/09/21

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

That’s how I used to title all of the entries in the original weblog. Well, not exactly like that. But you get the idea.

It was easier to be rambling and stuff with titles like that, since they don’t even hint at subjects or anything. And/but you can really only post once a day…

I thought today, since the list of random books lying around in a previous entry was so wildly popular with our readership, I would post a list of random books that are lying around on the iPad.

It’s very book-oriented, in some sense. It’s the size and shape of a rather thin book, it opens book-like (’cause I have a cover of that kind on it), and it has all too many apps (“apps”) for reading books (none of them really as good as one might expect, but there one is).

So anyway!

In the “Kindle” app:

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Raganiemi. I’m about twenty percent through this; pretty good if not wildly original (so far) vaguely singularitarian SF. I think I saw it recommended in one of the magazine digests below, and prodded at the screen until I had my own copy.

Parmenides, by Plato. zomg what a random collection of meaningless statements! Of course that’s what they may say in (um) a couple thousand year-equivalents about anything a philosopher (or even me) might write today.

And the one that is not, being altered, becomes and is destroyed; and not being altered, neither becomes nor is destroyed; and so the one that is not becomes and is destroyed, and neither becomes nor is destroyed?

True.

I find the easiest way to read this is as Plato showing that if you get overambitious and reify things like “The One”, you end up all tangled up in knots. But that doesn’t seem to be the general consensus interpretation.

Anyway, I finished reading that, as it is a quick read once you stop trying to figure out how to read it as actually saying anything.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, Free Exclusive Digest, Sep 1, 2011. I haven’t figured out how to subscribe to any SF magazines on the actual iPad (Amazon has a bunch, but they are downloadable only to actual Kindles, due to evil). But I can get this free Digest of F&SF, which has most of the non-fiction columns, and like one short story. (The short story in September is a kinda fun if sorta obvious “being an imperfect human is good” thing.)

Griftopia, by Matt Taibbi. See previously. This is contributing to the current turmoil in my economic and political theories, as mentioned.

The Celtic Twilight, by W.B. Yeats. This was in the pile of books in the basement, as mentioed also previously, and as speculated there there is indeed a digital version (of at least this part). Free, even, I think. I ain’t read in it to speak of yet.

“The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois (ed). Some pretty good SF, all of which I have now read.

Treasure Island, by R. L. Stevenson. Famous! I may eventually read this.

Retro Demonology, by Java Oliver. I’m not sure why I have this, it looks awful, um, that is, not really my thing. It’s one of the Enormous Raft of popular “soap opera with some magic or vampires or something for spice” books that seem to exist, and having read a few pages I don’t see any reason to continue. Maybe it’s just a sample, or it was free for some reason or something. I think it’s like book 4 of 9 or something, like these usually are.

Aesop’s Fables, tr. George Fyler Townsend. “A Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him.”

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. One of my favorite books ever, only partly because I first read it while riding in trains in England, a situation in which I very seldom find myself.

In the “iBooks” app:

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, by Alastair Reynolds. Two longish short stories or novellae or somefing. “Diamond Dogs” was a well-written but somehow shallow “big alien plot device posing puzzles to the characters” story; “Turquoise Days” was more interesting, if rather apocalyptic.

Pellucidar, by E. R. Burroughs. “The roar of our rifles was constantly shattering the world-old silence of stupendous canyons upon which the eye of man had never before gazed. And when in the comparative safety of our hut we lay down to sleep the great beasts roared and fought without the walls, clawed and battered at the door, or rushed their colossal frames headlong against the hut’s sides until it rocked and trembled to the impact.”

Songs of Innocence and Experience, by William Blake. Tyger, Tyger, burning bright!

Writings of Thomas Paine — Volume 1 (1774-1779): the American Crisis. Free I think, and I haven’t read much of it. People did go on so back then! But Paine’s always been a favorite, the ol’ heathen.

The Manga Carta. In case of emergency.

A Goodly Apple: Narrative desire and the problem of truth in The Good Soldier and La vida breve, by the little daughter. “Regenerative truth, then, takes place within the framework of the events handed us by life; its function is to make that life bearable as far as possible.” I greatly enjoyed this short but incisive essay, even though significant swathes of it are in Spanish, which I don’t strictly-speaking speak.

Desire is Death and Fulfillment: The fear of women in Light in August, by the little daughter. In this altogether admirable paper, Ms. Daughter claims, and thoroughly convinces us, that in Faulkner’s novel “the fear of women is an indication of the primal conflict between the heart and the heart’s flesh, between immortal volition and the finite vessel of the body.” Also it is entirely in English!

(The reader may not have an easy time acquiring the latter two pieces, at least until the little daughter’s Complete Collected Works are published.)

The Future of the Internet and how to stop it, by Jonathan L. Zittrain. Ironically or fittingly, this book which I am reading on the iPad is largely about why “tethered appliances” (like say iPads) are bad in various ways compared to more “generative” devices like ol’ fashioned general-purpose PCs, and what we might do about this. I’m about half-way through this, and while I think Zittrain is wrong about various things (how important viruses and malware are in the move toward appliances, how well-defined the notion of “generativity” is, and some others), it’s still an interesting overall thesis, and I’m eager to see what solutions he’s actually going to propose.

In the British Library 19th Century Collection app:

Em, or Spells and counter-spells, by Mary Bramston. I’m not actually sure whether or not I have this locally on the iPad; the app sometimes implies that I do, but then sometimes won’t let me read it if I don’t have a network connection. Another disadvantage of appliances! Anyway, this is (so far) a heartwarming love story about loyalty and patience and stuff, written in 1878, and containing lots of cultural references that I don’t get at all, but in general it’s possible to tell what is going on and why.

And that is probably about it, he said, frowning at the iPad ummmm desktop-analog, wondering if there might be some things sufficiently like books filed away in some ummmm folder-analog besides the one called “Books”. Probably not.

Of course thousands and millions of other books could be caused by be on the iPad with minimal poking at the screen and expenditure or zero or more dollars or pounds or quatloos, but that’s what I’ve got at the moment.

Maybe I will go read the Magna Carta…

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