Saturday, October 28, 2006

The way of peace is the way of war - parte secunda

Well, it's done. The five days of pretty relentless sword swinging and associated movements under the watchful eagle eyes of Sekiguchi Sensei—henceforth referred-to as 'sensei'—are done. He's left, with a promise top repeat the visit next year about this time. Cool. I think.

I am remarkably un-broken—my body, is what I'm talking about. Only my ankles and feet are still somewhat puffy, from being exposed to sitting in unnatural positions, called seiza and tatehiza, which are 'traditional' but have little else to recommend them. For fighting purposes give me the slightly raised position of the TSKSR style any day, and if possible, better stand. Some of the apocrypha associated with the sitting positions hold that they were invented to freeze the poor blighter forced to sit in them for extended periods of time, and made to do so by decorum, etiquette and/or protocol, into a state of being virtually unable to stand up quickly and effectively, thus rendering him helpless to the attacks of his enemies. Hence we learn how to defend oneself without being able to get up quickly. The truly wise man, of course, ignores
decorum, etiquette and/or protocol when his life is on the line. Only then can he live to fight another day. As Otake Risuke once said in a BBC programme—and I paraphrase and extrapolate on his remark—there is a tradition of dying, often for 'honor'; but there is also a tradition of living on, even in a state of 'shame', and doing what one can to make the world a better place; and be that only as a way of making up for what one may have done wrong.

I also lost 3-4 pounds, and might have lost more, but increased the volume, if not actual cell numbers, of muscle tissue at the expense of burnt-up fat. Just goes to show what a good workout can do. I recommend the procedure to anyone requiring some slimming. Though it helps if you don't have too much excess in the wrong places.

Age, by the way, is no barrier. We have a lady in our dojo who does sword and naginata work, She's older than I, was in far worse shape, and had definite body-coordination issues. Nothing more 'serious' than would be considered 'normal'; but 'normal' isn't really good in this regard. After more than a year of regular attendance at the dojo she has developed muscles where previously there was flab, and her physical coordination is better than that of most 20-year olds I see walking around town.

The younger members of the dojo—those who managed to attend; mostly students whose exam time tables (bad timing!) interfered with participating even more—also benefited from exposure to some serious drilling; provided by someone of an...I guess, 'exalted'...status such as none of them would ever have met before. Sekiguchi Sensei is one of Japan's living treasures. The title isn't bestowed on every ordinary Joe! I hope some of the students will return next week with a somewhat 'enhanced' attitude to training and the context of what they are doing. Not that I expect them to accept all of the philosophy of the style and/or sensei, and/or make it their own, but I'm sure it gave them a lot to think about: things they hopefully hadn't thought of before. That's almost always a good thing.

As one of the teachers of our dojo I received a share of both praise and cutting-down-to-size. On two occasions my practices were imitated by sensei in a manner that had everybody in stitches; me included—though there was a seriousness behind the joke; and I know damn well that sensei was right. I just needed someone who knows the practice to discern the essential elements of the flaws and point them out through exaggerated imitation. On the other hand I was also told that I'd taken the style, as much as I know of it, and made it 'mine'—which I presumed to mean that it was MJER with a definite 'Till' stamp. This I regard as just about the highest praise possible; next to a comment that I should regard my current state of skill as just the beginning. That, too, is how I see it; and it was nice to find some kind of validation in sensei's comments—no matter why he said it.

Actually, I got the impression that he might have had problems figuring out just exactly why I do this stuff; and I did nothing to enlighten him. Maybe next time, if there is time.

Being away from 9-9 for five days in a row, with little time for anything but a quick bite of lunch and some errands in between, and then a late evening catchup with my favorite recorded TV serials (CSI Miami, NCIS) to switch off from a day's sword work,
before dropping insensate into bed, there was no time for exposure to 'news'—as has happened before; and again it occurred to me that one can actually well live without them. Now things are rolling back to normal, and I'm wondering if I should maybe pretend for a while that there are no 'news'. See what happens.

Another interesting thing happened in my work environment the day I came back; and I discovered it was just as well—critically important possibly— that I decided not to take that Friday off, as some might have and did, to rest their weary and sore limbs and joints. And, perchance, I also was offered, at a steal-price, a camera I've been long wondering how to get hold of without paying a mint. So today I bought it, with accessories and a tripod; at a price about half of the new-price, and hardly used. Which means that fate may indeed be nudging me in new directions.

About time. Bring it on. Just let it be good.

And here's the camera. Works just peachy and been used at most for a few days. So, I'm a happy chappy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The way of peace is the way of war — parte prima

This is a photo of the gentleman from Japan, Sekguchi Komei, who is currently torturing us —with our full consent, I might add. 'Us' is the people in our dojo studying Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu.

I may also add that he would strongly disagree with the assertion contained in the title. It is mine; not his!

More later.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Here a really cool loco from this weekend's celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Dunedin's railway station. Makes you think of Westerns, don't it?

Here a real cool loco from this weekend's celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Dunedin's railway station. Makes you think of Westerns, don't it?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Be serious!

When Heinlein's 'Lazarus Long' wrote that “Not one shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious” it was no doubt taken by many to mean that life isn't serious and/or that absence of evidence for the former implied the latter in some way.

[Note: this quote is also attributed to one Brendan Gill, though my money is on it being Heinlein's originally. I also doubt that Gill would even have come close to understanding the meaning of the sentence in the way someone aware of General Semantics would have done.]

The reasoning outlined above is, of course flawed.

First of all evidential absence does not necessarily provide for any conclusion whatsoever, except about...well, evidential absence. Given the right context, this may lead to conclusions that reach beyond that, but here the absence of evidence is merely a small part in a mosaic of reasoning. Such a mosaic doesn't exist here. Unless its that constructed by people's fantasies.

However, there is an even deeper flaw in the reasoning, which has nothing to do with syllogism but assumptions—these being that there can indeed exist anything at all that might provide something that qualifies as 'evidence' for the validity of an assertion about a value.

As a good existentialist I am aware that this is patently absurd. There is indeed not a shred of evidence, except for that provided by opinion—and its evil older cousin, 'faith'—for anything in 'value'-land.

Why 'evil'? Isn't 'faith' a good thing?

Sure, but like everything it has a dark side, and I'm beginning to suspect that the dark side is much more potent that the light one. Faith in the actual existence of some 'value' or other—of its reality over and above its spectral version inside peoples' heads—comes with a horrendous price tag attached. Because if 'values' are 'real' in the sense just mentioned, then it is obviously important for us to find out what's what; what's good and bad and what's serious and what isn't. That means people will either decide that they themselves know what's what, or else look around for someone who they think does. There's no other alternative, given the initial premise.

If people think they can figure it out themselves, they will invariably turn into arrogant egomaniacs—this is an inevitable consequence, and nobody has ever escaped it; though I admit there's a question of degree.

If they can't work it out they will turn to someone else for assistance and that someone must needs be one of those egomaniacs I just alluded to.

It must be noted that most existentialists are not exempt from the 'value' trap and everything that goes with it. They still think, somewhere deep down that there's some substance somwehere to thsi value business. It comes out whenever they tell you what life's really about about, and what you or I ought to do in order to, for example, live 'authentic' lives and similar fatuosities. Whenever someone reveals that s/he has an opinion of what's 'really' worthy or good or valuable or 'ought-to', run for your life. It's just another bunch of value-mongers.

No, I'm not saying that they're bad people. That would make me into a value monger. I'm just giving you some advice and confronting you with a question, which is this: do you think, deep down, that there is anything, over and above the decisions you make about what's what, that actually is 'just so' and not some other way, no matter what you may think or choose?

Think about it for a while—and try to be honest, at least with yourself. I'd bet that the vast majority—a really vast majority—will end up having to admit that they think that maybe, just possibly, in some way they don't understand but...—that somewhere they do think there's some substance to this 'values' thing. If only one could figure out just exactly what it is! Right?

Ahh, yes, it's a terrible trap, that. Deep down we all want these things to have some substance; something that transcends us and our miserably small existences and short lives.

But evidence? I don't think so, Tim! Leap of faith; that's all it is—and one usually doesn't even realize that one is leaping.

Now, as some anonymous wit noted, the dumbest thing you can possibly do, is to try to leap a chasm in two bounds. The problem of adulterating existentialism with a secret agenda of underlying meanings of life-the-universe-and-everything, whatever they may be, is that you're basically doing that. Because you end up not leaping far enough on the first bound.

Where are you leaping from and where to? From this clinging notion of some externally provided of built-in basic cosmic meaning to that of the clear realization that there really and truly isn't any such thing. Zilch. Nada. Nix. Zero. Null. And that leap, oddly enough sets you free. It is, of course, also a leap of faith—in that it is all right to jump off the built-in-meaning bandwagon and find something in the nothingness that you're apparently leaping into.

What could one possibly find in the nothingness? There's nothing there.

Thing is, once you've jumped you are there—and the nothingness isn't 'nothing' anymore. And this is, of course, what everybody is doing: filling the meaningless void with the meaning, the values, the purpose that we bring with us. And we bring it through our thoughts and deeds. We make meaning.

The catch? Since we are imperfect, so is the meaning we make. Since we are different, so are the meanings we bring. Since there is no meaning beyond that we bring with us, we are free to choose this meaning—indeed, we have no option but to choose; even those who think they don't. And so, in the void, we end up with many meanings, most of them in competition with each other.

Does this begin to look like a form of 'meaning evolution'? If so, it's a process even more inefficient—yet ultimately qualifying as 'successful'—than the biological kind.

Last question: how did all this come up—today and in this blog?

As usual, there's a good reason—'reason' in the sense of there being a discernible cause-and-effect chain I can trace back far enough for it to make sense. I was going over the pentalogy—that's five books—that started with Keaen, and noticed that it falls nicely into line with most other things I wrote in at least one sense, which is that it avoids preaching morals. Of course, there is an underlying morality, which is mine—what else could it be?—but it's not, I'd like to think, a morality that I hold up as being 'right' in some fundamental sense. But these books are all about choices or decisions, and people who make them; and who, despite their—sometimes ubiquitous, sometimes sporadic—awareness of the double-edged nature of those decisions and their, ocacasionally planned but usually unintended, consequences, are willing to decide; knowing usually that the categorical imperative (Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.) is probably the worst principle according to which to live one's life.

I guess every teller of stories has a thread of some sort running through his or her work, and this may well be mine. This, too, is a decision, with consequences both desired and unforeseen. In some ways it's a message that people would rather not have thrust at them, because it doesn't give them the clear guidelines they might be seeking in their reading. On the other hand it might help those who are struggling with meaning, morality and the complications associated with open-eyed choices.

Anyway, that's where this came from. And that's the last lengthy blog for a few days. Have a nice week, all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Secondhand smoke signals

This is from the Acknowledgments at the end of Michael Crichton's novel Timeline. It is a sobering and thought-provoking statement. It reminds us—yet again!—that historical 'evidence' provided by the writings of anybody needs to be supported either by 'hard' evidence to back it up, or else by a framework of contextual sensibility that is so unassailable that it may be considered as 'evidence'.

Using the latter is inherently dangerous, for invariably what constitutes 'solid contextual sensibility' is subject to significant potential abuse and self-serving attribution. I'm afraid that solid evidence, such as that provided by 'hard' archaeology, is a much more reliable indicator, if we are to make such evidence the basis and backbone of our assessment of what was. The CSI approach, if you will. Follow the hard evidence; not your wishful thinking and your biases.

As far as the 'Dark Ages' are concerned, I agree with Crichton that, comparing ourselves with them from our point of view today in a way to suggest that matters may have 'improved', is unjustified. Indeed, the only real improvements I can see are in the solid knowledge we have acquired about the physical universe and human-beings-as-beings-of-the-world-around-us. In other words, the only progress I can see is in that body of knowledge provided by the evidence provided by the practice known as 'science'. It may not be a perfect practice, but nothing in the human realm ever is. Still, again and again, it may turn out to be the only thing that differentiates us—as a species—today from what we were as a species a thousand years ago.

The practice has some solid spin-offs, the most significant of which currently is the body of biomedical science. Living in the Dark Ages was definitely less pleasant when it comes to matters of health. Such basics as oral hygiene stand out. There are others, of course, many of which make our lives better and safer, individually and socially.

But, but but...

For many people this is not the case. They might as well be living in those Dark Ages. Not that I'm saying we should bring modern-day civilization to them and make their lives 'better' that way. As many centuries of missionarydom have demonstrated, bringing 'improvements' isn't necessarily the best thing to do, and the road to hell is indeed with good intentions—and, more often than that, the intentions of the whole plethora of religious and crypto-religious proselytizers and ideologues; whose 'improvements' are, at best, folly and at worst, and indeed most of the time, a thinly veiled kind of spiritual and cultural genocide.

But we don't have to look into the Third World to find just how little science has made in some respects when it comes to people's personal lives. Just go into your average public toilet. Chances are that the hygiene conditions pretty much rival anything—or may be worse than some conditions—one might have encountered in those dark days. The occasional acrid stench of disinfectant mingling with that of human wasteproducts should not deceive one about the still-dismal state of public hygiene and health consciousness. And as far as religion is concerned, don't get me started. The hidden and open war between Islam and Christianity is alive and well and kicking and bigger and badder than ever. Stupidity is still the most common element in the human universe, and basically, on the large scale at least, people haven't learned a damn thing. That is, of course, because people keep dying far too young to really be able to apply what, if anything, they might have learned to improve who they are and their societies with it. But that's another matter and for another day. Maybe.

Timeline, by the way, was also made into a movie—far less complex and 'deep' than the book, and thereby trivialized somewhat; but in some ways more entertaining. Cool swashbuckling stuff, and definitely worth renting out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cutting air

Next week there'll probably be a big break in this blog—or else the posts will be small and crisp. That's because from Sunday to Thursday our dojo will be visited by one Sekiguchi Komei, who will spend something like 10+ hours/day for five days relentlessly drilling us how to draw, and cut air with, wooden and metallic swords alike. That will be something like 50 hours of training, for a pittance of a fee, something like $5/hr. Let that be a lesson to those who might feel inclined to subject themselves to 'sword training', or maybe general 'martial arts training', provided by rip-off artists whose most outstanding feature are their overinflated Egos.

By the end of the last such visit we had from Sekiguchi Sensei, I had lost 3 kg and a significant amount extra fatty tissue. This time it will be somewhat different, since I have to watch my left knee, which currently doesn't like being twisted into and loaded down in a particular way in a certain squatting position that's a style favorite—and so I'll be having to assume a somewhat less damaging pose. Still, you do a lot of getting up and down, and after a couple of days you'll know all about just every muscle in your legs; not to speak of all the others.

Musi Jikiden Eishin Ryu is a style that favors a larger kind of sword, and Sekiguchi Sensei's version favors swords that qualify as 'massive'. Every now and then I borrow one from a fellow dojo member, who actually owns one of these elephant killers; just to remind myself how it's supposed to work. Then, when I pick up my own, comparatively light, weapon, it feels like a damn toothpick. But it is inherently faster; both, because it is shorter and because it has less inertia.

I'm all for weapons that are what you might call 'handy'. You can get 'personal' with 'handy' weapons; develop a relationship with them that makes them into true extensions of your body. The big stuff has its place—large-caliber machine guns, massive katana, 6-foot bo, naginata—but as for me, I prefer handguns, smaller and fast katana, wakizashi (very cool weapons) and jo. And if you don't have a firearm and need 'distance' weapons, learn how to throw knives! There's your complete traveler's kit of portable killing implements. Maybe it's my 'travel light' inclinations that make me disposed toward small weapons.

All of which puts me at slight odds with my style, because a style's conventions and practices are closely bound up with the kind of sword commonly used in their practice. Every aspect is influenced, from footwork, drawing and cutting, to such issues as distance considerations on multi-person kata. And, above all, there's speed and precision, which have to be intimately connected; yet at the same time this connection is completely different for different kinds of weapons.

Still, a lot of 'sword training' is less about a particular style—though lots of practitioners are prone to not understanding that and end up thinking that there's something 'special' or superior about their style, while in truth it is but an adaptation to a particular set of weapons—than it is about training one's brain to observe, correlate, relate-to-oneself, adapt and execute physical movements with precision and 'appropriateness', and learn how to extend this into considerations of tactics, strategy and ultimately one's personal cosmology.

I've always thought, and still do, that robbing a martial art like koryu iaijutsu of its 'martial arts' aspects is the spiritual equivalent of the heinous practice of declawing a cat. A cat without claws is a mere shadow of what it once was or might have been; a creature to be pitied. Doing this to a martial art with an incredible amount of history and philosophy—not all good or palatable and to be taken with a pinch or two of salt; but most is good and noble and I wish we had more of it—leaves the 'martial arts' field open to practitioners of whatever modernity has brought the world; and most of that really isn't good, because these idiots think it's all about 'fighting', which, of course it isn't—even though it is. Not.

Anyway, next week is 'sword week'. At the end of that I'll probably be limping; and during those five days anti-inflammatories are likely to be my best buddies. And knee-pads.

Meanwhile I'm working on the actual contents of the cover image. Here's a current possibility of a full-wrap layout—with a place-holder picture plonked onto the space on the front cover.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Opportunity knocks

So you have these plans how thing should go. But they don't. Then, after a long time, you realize that it was better that they didn't go the way you had planned and that, had they gone another way, matters would probably not be as they should; while, with all the apparent troubles and tribulations and delays and nothing-happening in between, everything right now may indeed be as peachy and auspicious as it could possibly be.

So, here's the question: random screw-ups that happened to work out OK or 'fate' lending a helping hand and knowing better than you did and do?

Heinlein once wrote: “Free will is a fact, while you are living it. And predestination is a fact, when you look at any sequence from the outside.” (Put into the mouth of 'Maureen Johnson Smith' in To Sail Beyond the Sunset. One could rephrase this in terms of random chance and fate.

Well, which is it? My 'scientist' persona tells me that it's chance, and things just happened to work out right. I just pay more attention to these things and make them stand out as examples of fortuity, while ignoring those that don't suit this line of thought and belief. My other persona—the one willing to engage in 'suspension of disbelief'—files such instances away for further reference and is willing to at least consider them as possible 'existential data' that may or may not support an alternative theory, namely that randomness itself not only contains, but serves to conceal, even from mathematicians who probe deeply into it, the reality of its nature, which is that randomness itself it a form of constraint. We just don't have the conceptual and mathematical tools—yet!—to analyze it. We never might. Maybe therein lies one of those forever-implicit 'mysteries' of all existence. Who knows? I certainly don't. Just putting the thought out there—without much hope that anybody will actually pursue it much further. It's too damn headache-producing.

Reason why all this came is is that this kind of process described at the beginning is a common feature of my life. I'm looking back at this now-quite-extended sequence and I find myself thinking something along the lines of Arthur's pronouncement (King Arthur, 2004): “I now know that all the blood I have shed, all the lives I have taken, have led me to this moment.

The last and currently most visible example is the completion of the first draft of Tethys and what it implies. I mean, suppose that somebody had decided, even just a year ago, to buy, say Finister and publish it; and maybe even the other two sequels then in existence. That would have been it/those out of my hands and my rights, with editors swarming over it/them, tweaking this and that and making it harder and harder for me to retrofit the narrative, so that ultimately the entire series becomes a consistent whole, without glaring internal inconsistencies—and the only published book that requires some narrative retrofitting is Keaen. That's annoying, but something I can live with. A small intro note in the first Finister edition should cover it, and eventually there will be that tut-tut! phenomenon: a revised edition of a novel; something along those lines of George Lucas's endless tweaking of the original Star Wars, which tends to set cinematographic purists into paroxysms of horror and shock.

All that is possible only because:

A) I actually had the chance to finish and think-out not only all the four sequels, but, in the back of my head, also the prequel, Turillian Odyssey, and it's basic narrative parameters—as well as those I need to consider in the eventual re-write of System Crash, the first ever in this whole historical arc, as well as what I have to change in Coralia, which is the second.

B) Keaen doesn't qualify as a 'best seller'. I wish it had, but it wasn't. Classic case of getting what I needed, not what I wanted—then. But this way I will get the chance to tweak it, and make it better. It's got a lot of smaller issues that I really need to deal with; without editorial interference.

And then there are the covers. Right now I'm thinking that when the complete series is on someone's shelf I would like it to look like something maybe like shown below from the spine point of view—with a similar, linked, scheme applying to the other three.

This arrangement—which will be repeated on the front of the book(s)—not only serves to help people arrange the books on the shelf in order without having to remember what title went where, but also implicitly advertises, for those who are facing just one book in a store, that there is a series, quite without one having to say 'Book X in the Blablahblah Sage/Series/Cycle'. Much more elegant, I think. On the front the only other writing, except for the author name, will be 'a novel of Tethys', and let everybody make of that what they will. I suspect that 'everybody' will figure it out without too much trouble, even though publishers often seem to think their readers are morons by throwing extra details in their faces: "Looky here! This is the second novel in the best-selling Bombastic Saga, where more incredibly exciting things happen that'll blow you away." Do they really think this will make a difference—or is it just that the designers suck?

I noticed, by the way, that System Crash, Coralia and Turillian Odyssey also make up a total of five words. Cool! The words are longer, but that can be dealt with. Just thinking ahead. Big committment, this...

So, random crapshoot of life or fate looking after me?

Who knows? In the end, does it matter? Of course, it does! For, while one might argue that such apparent 'hidden variables' cannot be influenced and so Heinlein's dictum applies in full force, it is also true that my behavior and the handling of my life is significantly determined by how I interpret these 'data' and their relevance.

Anyway, work on the cover proceeds apace...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Questions questions

Yesterday I talked to a guy (30s, science degree, intelligent, opinionated, identity withheld), who is married to a philosophy student (doing her Ph.D. right now). In the course of the conversation he made an implicitly derogatory comment about Wittgenstein, and, upon my response—something along the lines of "What are you talking about? Ludwig rocks!"—noted that, after all Wittgenstain had never been 'properly peer-reviewed'. That somehow seemed to justify the notion that what he wrote was crap, and that, possibly, either proper peer review would have revealed that he was crap, or, on the other hand, that it might have served to either support his philosophical investigations or else may have helped to amend them to better fit whatever passes for 'truth'.

Now, I have some acquaintance with peer review, scientific and philosophical, and it's possible that my exposure to the latter hasn't contributed to my respect for it, or made me inclined to take the bizarre notion of 'philosophical peer review' seriously. With the exception of something I've mentioned before, namely Experimental Philosophy, how could anything produced by the 'thinkers' of academia and reviewed by other 'thinkers' be taken more seriously than your average fashion show or political opinion-club debate? The whole edifice of 'Philosophy', with the notable exception again of the 'Experimental' kind is, after all, nothing but a self-referential, essentially tautological and mostly un-grounded edifice of opinion. 'Un-grounded' because most of it remain detached from the considerations that make scientific peer review, by and large, into something valuable—though it, too, has instances of dismal failure, based in politics, fashion and stupidity.

In other words, philosophy on the whole is exactly the sort of 'language game' Wittgenstein wrote about. Played by people whose intelligence is wasted. I hesitate to use the epithet that leaps to mind, but it's in the subtext.

The notion of using a 'peer review' process to assess a philosopher's merit-of-thought, in the same way as one might apply the process in a scientific context is somewhere between preposterous and absurd. I exclude Experimental Philosophy, because that has some degree of grounding. But when we move away from there into areas like metaphysics, or anything that relates to 'meaning of life' and similar matters, all we have is a bunch of people who know just as little as everybody else about something that may or may not be 'so' or 'not so', and whose scholarship can at best encompass others, who said and wrote—and sometimes just maybe said and wrote—on related things from point of view of equal or grater ignorance. So we have this pissing contest between bunches of 'peer groups' who either think this or that, all of whom are basically blowing hot air, and all of whom think that they know something—which they don't, except in their feverish imaginations.

'Reasoning' is dominated by the GIGO principle. (Garbage In, Garbage Out—for those who don't know this FLA.) So is 'scholarship'. Self-referential systems of thought—which pervade philosophical thought, and especially at the academic levels, where people make a living out of this crap—allow for only one thing: self-referential reasoning. And don't get me started on theology or 'religious studies'...

The history of 'human thought'—insofar as this is usually considered to be the thought of people who, for some reason or other were considered 'thinkers', as opposed to the common ruck of dumb-ass know-nothing I suppose—is, by and large and with few notable exceptions, the history of self-referential GIGO type of reasoning and scholarship. If there's anything we may label 'progress' surely it must be that we truly 'know' more about the 'grounding' elements of what is 'true' than we ever did before. Collectively, that is; as a species; the sum-total of the knowledge we can gather and use to find a reference for our thought that may be called 'solid'. Of course, we are still groping, but at least we have learned that we can reach out and touch and feel and discern things.

I cannot take seriously any 'thinker', who purports to produce thoughts about what 'is' and what, if anything, it's all about or what's important and what isn't—if said thinker is not willing to start his or her thoughts from what we can actually know—which includes consideration of how we can know and what it means to know and to 'think', and where thought takes place and how it connects to the universe outside of thought and everything else.

Everything else in philosophy not asking those questions or not basing itself on them and the possible and grounded answers, is talking hot air.

'Philosophical peer review'?

Sure, but review of what?

And here's a thought exercise, on the lighter side:

Remember that survey I pointed you at, about who watches what?

Obese people watch: Numb3rs; Criminal Minds, NCIS, Las Vegas, Ghost Whisperer, House, Medium, Cold Case, CSI, Law and Order, Survivor, Crossing Jordan, My Name Is Earl, Grey's Anatomy, Prison Break.

Underweight people watch: Smallville, 7th Heaven, American Dad, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Malcolm in the Middle, Friends, Charmed, South Park, America's Next Top Model.

People whose weight is normal for their age and height watch: The O.C., Sex and the City, Dr Phil, Will and Grace, Supernanny, Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars.

The obvious question, asked in the article, was "why do obese/thin/normal-weight people have preferences for different shows, as shown in this usrvey?"

Sounds sensible, right?

But is it?

Exercise: what's wrong with the question, and what's the right question?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ponderings about covers

With reference to the previous post and the numbered images, here are some comments.

left image: interesting layout; very much for a 'one-off' cover
right image: layout suitable for single-themed series; rather small image and pedestrian layout

left image: nice 'realistic' background and setting; notable for using standard fonts
right image: semi-abstract image, but evocative; layout suitable for single-themed series

one of the most beautiful wraparounds on a hardback I've ever seen

left image: one-off with emphasis on author's name; using photos but still 'abstract'
right image: vertical band on the right is interesting; huge emphasis on author name; image style had ptential; layout suitable for single-themed series

left image: alternative layout suitable for single-themed series; image rather small
right image: very moody; interesting way of using standard fonts to show author and title close together

to of my favorite Vance trade paperback covers; image dominates in each case, with lots of detail on each

a completely different artistic style; still full wraparound cover

not a cover, but the illustration was used for one; typical Luis Royo—strong, sensual juxtaposition of 'hard' technology, representing a form of 'male', with the 'soft' aspects of live, instantiated in the female form; though the ladies are very often quite pugnacious and occasionally evil

9) & 10)
possible artistic styles of images

for promotion of Kill Bill; almost completely stylized, even though the elements are 'realistic'

very strongly adjusted to the theme of the book

an interesting artistic style from my friend Joeal Anderson, though it does not suit the Keaen series

11) & 12)
alternatives of 'older' cover designs, each representing a different layout option

interesting picture and style; layout not suitable for a series

17) - 21)
a variety of drawing styles to consider

another variation on the band-on-the-right layout; fonts fairly standard


Some basic considerations:

When you look through the work of 'fantasy' artists from Caldwell and Vallejo to Royo; plus many of those of lesser reknown (such as the one who did the first version of the Keaen cover) , you'll find some clear strengths and weaknesses with regards to the representation of:

• landscapes (backgrounds)
• people
- bodies
- garments
- poses
- faces
• 'connection' to the story at hand
• richness of 'narrative' image content

Almost all of them suck at faces. Their dismal failure in that area is what upsets the otherwise quite magical compositions of, for example, Caldwell and Vallejo—which also tend to be very obviously posed, something that is obviously acceptable to the wide audiences attracted by the work of these artists, but which just doesn't 'work' for me. Faces are unbelievably subtle aspects of how we perceive a human, and getting them wrong destroys so much of the effect.

Luis Royo is an exception to that rule, but only partially. He basically always draws the same female face, which must be like an archetype for him. And his males are either harsh, and/or soulless and/or evil-to-brutish-and/or-monstrous, or they look like halfwits—the latter being a feature common to the faces represented by many artists. I mean, don't they see what's wrong themselves? How can they miss it? How can a visual artist miss such a thing? Especially today. One might forgive Leonardo for being a slave to perceptions and paradigms of his age, genius though he was. But today we live in a world where visions and notions of what is 'true' in the kind of representational/artistic context have become so much more varied and, as a result, have aqcuired much more of something I'll call 'verisimilitude', though that isn't quite what I want to say.

By the same token it must be said that many of these artists are incredibly good at depicting just about every other aspect of the human body. The reason why they can is that we can look at these things almost clinically. We can't do that with faces.

I must confess that I admire Royo's œuvre. Much of it is brutish; much is blatantly sexual; some of it is outright disturbing and definitely not for those who are troubled by explicitness. But he has, more than anybody, captured something essential about life that's missing from even the most colorful and grandiose images of virtually all of his contemporaries; a strange mix of the very dark and disturbing with strong and life-affirming sensuality. He's also produced a number of artworks that are so comparatively unposed that it comes almost natural to ask what scene in what story it is we're looking at.

The image of a girl kneeling before and kissing the Statue of Liberty, buried in the ground up to its neck, has so many questions attached to it that I could write a damn book just woven around this. One day I might.

Or the wayfarers coming upon...what? Why? Was this what they were looking for? What influence will it have on their quest?

I'll be doing the cover art myself. My experience with letting someone else mess up what should have been there has been grim, exasperating, frustrating, humiliating and and disheartening—just as I have learned to dislike a certain brand/type of editor, whose utility for 'proofing' one's work is more than canceled out by their noxious proclivities for interference where they shouldn't.

A daring leap from writing to doing cover art? Yup. But sometimes you just gotta leap. I'll start with the big picture: the unified layout of the cover. I'm thinking of it being half-wraparound maybe. I kind of like the band on the right had side, as in 4) and 22), but with a different context and thinner, with more variations on what else there is. It kind of half-frames the cover, and I think that's a good thing. There is something...unbalanced...incomplete...about a full-bleed picture on a book. The picture itself needs to provide the framing then, and that makes it really complicated.

Anyway, just rumnating over the landscape of possibilities...

And, to close and for your amusement and interest, here is this...

Monday, October 09, 2006


The word count for the 1st draft of Tethys, at the time of the first hard-copy print-out.

In other words it is done. Started an incredibly long time ago: early March this year, which means it took me a full 7 months to pen 134k words. Pretty dismal performance, even if I say so myself; and I will not accept the gazillion 'reasons'—a.k.a. 'excuses—that made it take so long.

Anyway, it is done. Not finished, but 'completed'. The story has a beginning and an end, and all the bits in the middle are filled in. I have created a major mystery, whose discovery I have to retrofit onto my draft of Fontaine, but that's not designed to allow me scope for further sequels. I just like to have mysteries in among all the bits and pieces that were nicely wrapped up. And I think I wrapped it up quite well. There was also no introduction of major new central characters, but the resurrection of some familiar old ones, who in the end mattered more than I had anticipated when I started the story.

134312. Whoo-hoo! Pat on the back and time to break out the special wine.

After completion of such an opus—which, because of the time it's been with me, I'm probably even more 'engaged' with than the others—some form of letdown usually sets in. Post-novel blues. Yes, I'm not immune to that. A vacancy in one's life. More free time for people and things that ought to have been paid attention to. But also a strange void; the feeling of something torn away, dismissed. Friends leaving; their future now their own, without your guidance.

Some might attribute this to a sudden cessation of the flow of 'creativity'—from head to page, as it were; and from there further out, in due course. I'm not very anamored of the whole concept of 'creativity', since I believe that the process to which these labels are attached—'creative', 'creativity', 'creation'—is misunderstood at a level so profound that not much sensibility can come out of any thoughts making use of them. Most people don't use vocabulary in an extensive manner in the way General Semantics would see it, but instead become slaves to its intensional aspects. Hence the issue with 'creativity' which is profoundly associated with the notion of bringing forth something that hadn't existed before it was 'created'. Such a thing, I maintain, simply doesn't happen. Which of course would imply that the very concepts of 'creative', 'creativity', 'creation' refer to things that appear to us as if they were of one nature, but in truth are of a very different kind. Meaning that we have to explicate how it is that they are understood in this way. Ahh, yes, Wittgenstein would have had a filed day with this one. Herein may lie something whereof one must needs remain silent...

Speaking personally, I don't think of the whole process as 'creative' but of it being a matter of internal narrative, prompted to proceed with some intensity as the story is being written; and then, when it is over and apparently done with... Well, what then? Does it just stop? Can it? The internal version, I mean.

It's not like an endless TV series to which one has become attached—like Gilmore Girls, now starting its final season— that's finally come to an end with the last episode, and now there are no more, and all you can do is watch re-runs. The stories told there are someone else's. You are a recipient. You may get very close to the characters, but can never ever really be inside their heads and hearts. You can guess, but you cannot know. The author knows, and though it sometimes appears as if s/he were uncertain, even that uncertainty is just of the degree one might have about one's own state of mind, motives, emotions. Indeed, a twist of story usually reflects—at least in my writings—a twist inside myself; prompted by life in general, or emerging from engagement with the world and the story flowing onto the page.

But how can one just stop a narrative that's become so much a part of oneself? All in all I've written about 3/4 of a million words about Tethys and its people, with the focus on a small bunch of characters. This might not sound like a lot to those to ruminate through the landscapes of a Robert Jordan world, where a single installment takes a huge chunk out of that 3/4 million. My chunks are smaller and always seem to end up somewhere in the 120k-140k region; a pitiful size compared to the tomes of others. But Keaen was written almost ten years ago. How can the narrative in my head cease? How can I stop wondering?—not idly, as one might about what happens after that TV series is finished, but engagedly; since it's so much a part of me?

The void in my life is the one of the stalled narrative; of pretending that somehow either time basically stands still, or that whatever happens next somehow doesn't involve me. None of which makes sense. The best I can do for the time being is to tread water and proceed with the publishing process. Some minor editing on Finister to begin with, fixing mistakes found by the umpteenth reader and never found by anyone else before. That's why you want to have as many different readers as possible. Don't trust editors; they're just one person, and often they genuinely suck at finding the little things that matter; often because they look for little things that don't matter. The non-editor reader is much more free to discern the obvious the professionals will miss. But different people will see different things. Hence the need for diversity.

I'm hoping that the next major focus of my agonies is going to divert my attention from my friends in that other world—though already I am trying to find reasons not to let them go after all. As usual though, when they're ready, I'll hear from them. Or not—in which case they're fine without me. Is it that personal? You bet. How could it not be?

The agonies to come? Well, the next big thing is cover design: general theme and consistent layout and—most importantly—the style of the illustration. What, I ask myself, am I looking for that I can sustain and carry through all the covers—and even apply to the retro-fitted eventual version of Keaen? What is it I want to show, and how best to do that? Below is a collection of options at least representing potential styles, from a variety of artists and of varying degrees of complexity. Not that I am even remotely aiming for the same 'theme or layout, but there's something very basic inherent in the covers or images shown that sets a tone for what can be represented—and I'll have to decide on how it resonates with the contents of these books.

A few things I know for sure: It'll be nothing like the first or final cover for Keaen, which has, let's face it, done nothing whatsoever for promoting the book.

Here's a sample of cover styles and illustration styles—not all of them necessarily to my liking, but shown here anyway—that qualify as potential candidates and provide an overview of the range of the possible. I have my favorites, but I'll have to take into account that the same style of layout and illustration needs to 'work' for all of the five books. And all of those books have something else to say and have a different emphasis and content. Tough choices have to be made here.

Ultimately I look at it like I look at a story. Indeed, I look at the cover as a part of the story. What really pisses me off about the Keaen cover, original and the final version, is that it in no ways reflects, or provides an imaginative support for or introduction to, the story of the book and what it 'is all about'.


By the way, as per a scheme I've devised some time ago, I'm now at 8 writing points for the year 2006. With editing and cover design coming up, I'm happy to make that a good ten for the year.

The scheme:

10 points per calendar year, distributed as follows:
• New screenplay: 2 points
• New novel: 5 points
• Re-written/edited screenplay: 1 point
• Significantly edited novel: 2 points

If you can't measure it, you can't control it. Basic engineering axiom. It's important to have measurable goals. There's nothing wrong with quantifying, cold and clinical as it sounds. Some do the 1000 words/day thing. I do writing points/year. Works for me!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sometimes you need to forgive people for using Comic Sans

I know it's hard, but I found this. Despite the font, this is a very thoughtful little page. Not very exciting for those needing 'excitement', but worth sticking around to read.

Canna talk more because gotta finish a novel.

The Final Inspection (a.k.a. A Soldier's Judgment)

We're at that time of year where, for about two weeks, the sun rises across the expanse of Pacific visible from our house. So there it was, this morning...

I'm in the middle of writing a blog on a newly discovered human subspecies, known as the 'Überloser'. However, I will put this aside for today, because contingency threw this my way, and it connects up to what I wrote in my last blog. It is this poem, author unknown. As most of you know I'm not favorably inclined toward religions and their precepts; but it occurs to me that this poem can be taken quite unreligiously—dealing with the judgment of a person of him or herself at the end of their lives.

I'm also generally untouched by most 'poetry', which I tend to find either obscure, or it just seems pretentious, or both. There are occasional exceptions though. One of them is Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle—rendered into song by the amazing Jeannie Lewis—and the other is this one here, and I heard it yesterday for the first time, and subsequently googled it, based on one remembered line. Where would we be without the web and search engines?

The Final Inspection (A Soldier's Judgment)

The soldier stood and faced his God, which must always come to pass.

He hoped his shoes were shining just as brightly as his brass.
"Step forward now, you soldier, how shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek? To My Church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't.
Because those of us who carry guns can't always be a saint.
I've had to work most Sundays and at times my talk was tough,
and sometimes I've been violent, because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny, that wasn't mine to keep.
Though I worked a lot of overtime when the bills got just too steep.
And I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear,
and sometimes, God forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place among the people here.
They never wanted me around... except to calm their fears.
If you've a place for me here Lord, it needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much, but if you don't, I'll understand."

There was a silence all around the throne where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly, for the judgment of his God.
"Step forward now, you soldier. You've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets, you've done your time in Hell."

And...and and and...if you're really looking for a way to waste some serious time just watching something, go here. Aynia pointed this one out in a recent blog, which is cool, too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The History of the World

Cool new show on TV. Of course, it's a whole 'Season' late, but what else is new? Anyway, it's called The Unit and very loosely based on a book called Inside Delta Force, which I read a couple of years ago, and it provided endless food for thought.

[There was a video clip here, but it's been removed now.]

For someone who was very disdainful of soldiers when he was...younger...I've certainly done some significant adjustment in that area. In fact, looking at it closely, I notice a fascination and a basically benign attitude toward the 'rough men' George Orwell refers to, who are making it possible for us to sleep soundly in our beds. Truth be told, by and large I've come to consider them more positively than I do your average social do-gooder.

Sometimes I wonder what made that happen. It predates 9/11, which I had considered as a possible trigger; so that can't be it. Maybe it's got something to do with just growing up and understanding the difference between what matters and what ultimately is bullshit—or, in other words, between the essential and the optional. Or maybe I've just got different notions now of what's 'essential' and what's 'optional' to those I had when I was in my early 20s.

Or maybe it's just that I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to figure out what 'matters'; what makes people choose or be driven into doing the things they do? Without answers, I hasten to add. Maybe a few tentative ones, but they're just a drop into an ocean of answers provided by every self-styled answer-giver who's ever propounded on his or her theories or pieces of wisdom. Much better to ask questions...

As for the influence of time on all this. it's been said that 'conservatism' increases with age; but my observations don't support that. What increases for most people is the degree of mental sclerosis—and, yes, the kind that happens in the arteries as well; that being an oddly parallel process; funny how things work, huh? What appears as 'conservatism' is really just resistance to change. Doesn't matter what you're resistant to changing from and into what.

This is, of course, mostly a result of what, in general terms, may be described as the growth of 'established context'. In terms of neurophysiology it just means that certain connection and activation patterns have become so firmly established that they can't be un-established any more. Also, with people actually learning less as they get older—not perforce, I hasten to add!—it now appears that new neurons being created by cerebral stem cells actually find nothing to keep them alive—that being usage!—and therefore wither away.

'Established context' is a good thing, but in moderation, like everything. The brain has limited resources available. They may be huge, but there is only so much of it. In order to become something else than one was it is necessary to discard something that was there. It's got to be—not 'destroyed', because that's almost impossible—transmuted, altered, transmorphosed into whatever other thing is to take its place. This isn't necessarily more difficult as one gets older—provided, that is, one has adapted one's brain to being able to change. Right now I have nothing but observation to support this, though there may be related research out there I'm not aware of—but I think that 'mutability' is as much a property of the brain as any other property we care to discern about it. Some brains simply are less mutable than others. Genetic or environmental? I suspect it's both, as usual; distributed across the human populace; a combination of predispositions of varying degrees of predeterminative power, working in synergy with the environments produced by contingency and the effects of being populated by people with particular degrees of said dispositions.

The story of humanity.

The history of the world.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm an Experimental Philosopher!

Another photo of opportunity. Yes, Aynia, it's exactly what you think it is!

I wish I could claim that I suspended the sphere in mid-air using my telekinetic powers. Alas, it's just a cheap trick, with Photoshop figuring majorly in the removal of the thread suspending the object. Still, even with the thread it looked quite cool, because of the light and everything just coming together to produce this little gem.

Why am I an 'Experimental Philosopher'? Well, it's just a label; but one I can identify with. I'm also very fond of the concept of Autopoiesis. Just throwing these notions into this blog to maybe stimulate folks to click on the links and some across thoughts they might not have had before.

And that's my good deed for the day...

Oh, yes, and persistence has finally paid off, and I finally found a place from where I might be able to get Season 4 of that lovely show Ed without paying $US250 for the DVD set of the whole 4 seasons; which seems to be the only other way of getting hold of it. As is typical for the disregard NZ TV has for its minority viewers—that being people of discernment like me and others who liked Ed!—they never showed Season 4 here. Damn shame and the pocks on them! When I emailed them about it, I got a reply from some PR dimwit, who had no idea that there were four seasons and made several truly stupid assertions regarding the series that only served to further establish the degree of ignorance in TV2's 'spin'—a.k.a. 'PR'—department.

Anyway, maybe now, finally, years after the show finished its run in the US, might I get to see the final episodes.

And another photo of opportunity, from the window of my office; the one and only in a series of 20+, where the bird was doing what I wanted to catch it doing. Long live digital photography! Talk about conserving much needed resources of silver—not to speak of the money I saved by not having to get the damn film developed...