Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Banned Literature

Talking about controlling what people read. The wet dream of the likes of Mr. Dawkins. The perfect world created through careful control of what kinds of ideas people have access to.

Here's something you won't find in libraries anymore, not even in German ones; where I first read these, in translation, some years back. I say that, because I checked. This is forbidden literature; something belonging to another age and mindset; something we wouldn't want to allow to pollute the minds of anybody.

If you look at the covers, you'll see the mindset in action. Squeaky-clean, perfectly ironed white colonialist confronting tribesmen from the darkest Africa.


Never mind that the stories are among the most accomplished ever written, in terms of structure and style, as well as just story-telling. But we're not interested in that anymore today.

Mr Revise is alive and well in our libraries. And we have the gall to complain about the censorship in countries like China. It's mind-control, no matter how you package it. And mind-control is never, ever benign, no matter how benign it looks. It always amounts to oppression and a removal of choice from those being controlled.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Promotion Scams

Seriously, would you even consider, for the slightest instant, using the services of someone offering to 'promote' your self-published book, if you got an email that contained, inter alias, the following phrase(s):

BOOKWHIRL.com is an online book marketing company, specializing in providing affordable, effective online book publicity marketing services for authors. To empower authors all around the world by offering highly-effective online book marketing services at easily affordable rates.

I do believe you are the author of the book entitled “Fontaine”. I came across your book and we are very much interested in helping you in promoting your book online and exposed it to vast number of audience wherein it could attract not just your potential book buyers, but as well as your general audience.

I shit you not! And then you can go to the web, where they advertise their services, and you get stylistic gems like:

Even if this is your first time self-publishing, there is no excuse for you to commit mistakes. Committing mistakes with your self-published book can project the perception that your work is made in an unprofessional way and this can significantly hinder your success.

I'm sorry, but who writes this crap? Did they commit the mistake of outsourcing their promotional copy to some non-native-English-speaking country? If so, it is definitely hindering their success. I'm thinking Nigeria...

Or maybe it won't make a damn bit of difference. The success of email scams suggests that there may be enough dimwits out there who will fork out the preposterous fees these people charge.

Yeah, that's got to be it...

Whenever we write, it is natural to miss a punctuation, or make a spelling and other typographical mistakes. But to allow these mistakes to appear on your book, will make your appear very unprofessional. Just imagine readers reading the blurb page and finding mistakes which could have been avoided if you only had somebody review it for you before printing and distribution.

Just imagine that...

Aside from marketing, some self-published authors also tend to make mistakes in distribution. Make sure that your target audience gets to have a chance to buy your book. Some authors overlook online distribution. There are cost-efficient online distribution channels where you can have your book made widely available to a targeted and hungry audience. the internet is becoming a convenient place for people to buy stuff that they want and need, so don’t overlook the online sales and distribution channel for your product.

Nigeria. Right?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And a very happy holiday to you all...

Appreciate the time you have...if time you have. I know of at least two instances where people are dying or maybe already dead; said event representing for them the ultimate catastrophe, and for their relatives and friends grounds for sadness.

I won't even mention the millions without reasons for any holiday-cheer whatsoever—and while I'm not one to wallow in guilt at my good fortune and masochistic I-suffer-with-them paroxysms, it appears to me that anybody reading this blog is probably not a member of that group. And so I feel perfectly justified to suggest to them that, should they lose their sense of perspective or get drowned in trivia that aren't worth a second thought, or about matters that aren't going 'right' just-so, to get a damn life.

As I sometimes do, I responded to one of those I-don't-really-give-a-shit-but-I-am-obliged-to-ask queries by a shop checkout-op by saying: "Well, I do have a pulse." I got one of those looks of helplessness from the questioner—you know, like, "WTF do I say now?"—who then decided to comment, very cautiously, that this didn't sound very cheery, I pointed out that it is. It just depends on what you consider important—with a pulse being right up there with...well, right up there at the top. I suspect the next customer in line immediately reverted the bewildered op's thoughts back to matters more germane to the season; like the price of cherries at Christmas, or the rains, which are finally starting to set in; meaning our grass is going green and starting to grow like crazy.

As for me, I decided, and it was easy, that the fact that after three years we finally had a full nuclear-family complement present and accounted for at Christmas day, was what mattered. Presents under the tree these days leave me indifferent, except maybe for the fact that those who give them do actually feel pleasure at giving them, surprises or not. So, my own pleasure was indirect, but that's cool, too, I guess.

Let the likes of Richard Dawkins fester and rot at the notion that Christmas is, as he would have put it, 'a lie', and that the whole damn world seems to buy it. It's not a 'lie', but a narrative that people buy into. Fortunately for many, it's also a narrative they can use for profit, to fleece those who buy into it, but instead end up spending, spending, spending—all of which 'powers', as they say, the economy.

This is, of course true, and yet carries implications that aren't; because it implicitly assumes that economies need to be powered by 'consumerism' of the kind that even those currently not able to afford 'consumption' of fatutous and utterly useless goods would happily indulge in, if only they were given the chance. That, of course, simply isn't so (the necessity, that is); but it is the way things are, and that's that. Trivial consumerism, which gave us the social obscenities known as 'shopping malls', is a direct parallel to the kind of perspective loss I started with.

Of course, it's also possible that I'm just running along a course paralleling that of Richard Dawkins's narrow-gauge railway track. Because one person's 'consumerism' is another's pleasure and indulgence; and that, too, is a part of the great multifaceted canvas that is life and human society. Its consequences, on a personal as well as global level, may be potentially disastrous, but we'll just have ot do our best to muddle through. Neither of the non-existent guides offering themselves—fictitious deities and dumb-ass know-it-alls alike—are available for assistance.

Anyway, I'm certain that by now—with Christmas being over—some of you will recall occasions during the last few days where you wish you hadn't lost perspective over a really, truly, dumb-ass irrelevant issue or two—or three. Well, better luck next time, eh?

Accompanied by that cheery thought, have a happy 2010, and, paraphrasing Yoda: "Don't make New Year's resolutions. Just do better than you did this year."

But why wait until next year? Right now is good, too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Richard Dawkins: Atheist Standard Bearer

Last night on Australian ABC, Andrew Denton interviewed Richard Dawkins, a man who is as obsessed with the non-existence of God as your average religioid is with the existence of this phantasm.







I never thought much of Dawkins, whose writings, some of which I've wasted time on, strike me as infused with a fervor rivaling that of...ahh, never mind. After last night's interview the impression has been confirmed beyond a doubt. Denton managed to lay bare a deeply troubled man, who, but for a quirk of circumstance—whatever that was—could have been a fundamentalist preacher/demagogue. (Actually he is just that. He's just not, say, a Christian, Muslim or Communist.)

For a few moments, listening to some statements by Dawkins, I found myself nodding, because I heard things that I could not but agree with. The next instant though I realized just how deep the gulf is between the likes of Dawkins and the likes of me. And, as if it required confirmation, then came the killer, when Dawkins revealed himself as a zealot of the kind that thinks that there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to think; and that indeed—and he said this very carefully, but the message was very clear indeed—certain kinds of stories should be eliminated from the treasury of our imaginations, and indeed that 'imagination' should be in some form directed toward particular content; which, so he clearly thought, would be more appropriate for the development of the human mind.

Though sounding like a man of truth, science, compassion and free-thinking, it occurred to me that, given the right stimuli, he would have been one of those secretly cheering the burning—or at least the discrete elimination from libraries and general distribution—of 'unsuitable' books, all in order to eliminate pernicious influences on the mental development of our young and maybe also the not-so-young. Surely, he's a major real-life instance of creatures like 'Mr. Revise' from Bill Willingham's Jack of Fables comics. (Though, as it turns out, Revise isn't the real evildoer! But that reference is only for readers of Fables. The rest of the world wouldn't even understand what I'm talking about; Mr. Dawkins least of all.)

It is ironic—though maybe not that at all, since this seems to be the way things tend to go in the 'extremism' business—that one of the major standard bearers of a movement that is ostensibly anti-religioid is a man of such conceptual narrowness, who is fawned upon and held up as someone who actually has to say something of significance. A man who conflates having emotions with spiritual depth and understanding. A man who actually is naïve enough to believe that anybody will ever be able to create a scientific theory that explains 'why' the universe is and why it is as it is and not different. (Talk about being a religioid in search of his God!) A man who will be hailed as a leading 'thinker' at atheist conferences, where, like all good religioids, they're really just having group-think orgies promoting dogma and their agenda—and damn whatever may be 'truth'.

Am I being harsh on the man and his faith alike? Maybe, but I make no apologies. The arrogance of extremist atheists like him is just too close to that of every extant monotheism. Still, unlike Dawkins and his ilk, I believe that we are free to choose what we believe. It may be hard to do so, and it probably is for a lot of people. But that's life. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Though Dawkins's books could all have been edited into a single volume, and not a very thick one, they do contribute to the richness of human thought; and though his narratives about 'reality' are deficient, simplistic and, at least in my view, wrong in so many ways—and right in some others; as we must not forget, because that's important, too!—they belong into that vast pool of 'diversity' that is the source of human spiritual evolution.

But there is a difference between 'Being an Atheist' and just not believing in God. The two may overlap in many ways, but at heart they are different. Atheists just need to believe. God-Free-Zone people, like good old Absurdist me, just refuse to 'believe' matters that we may not actually ever be able to know about—and want to figure out as much as they can, within the scope of their intrinsic limitations, about what is, if you will, 'really going on' with life and the universe and every-damn-thing.

And the answer is not going to be '42', because 42 isn't prime. That, at least, is my theory—which I offer to anybody for disproof.

Meaning, it's probably '43'. But that, too, is conjecture.

Facebook Obsession

Since viewing this article required you to actually sign up for the NYT—something you might be reluctant to do—I quote it verbatim here. It's worth reading.

Facebook, while useful for 'networking' purposes and, say, finding people one may have lost contact with and so on, has a very dark side, which may turn out to be more costly than the benefits it purports to bring. A much simpler way, for example, of keeping up with people you know, and to communicate with them may be to have a shared blog or something along those lines. The technology infrastructure for that exists, and it's really easy to use. It also makes it easy to keep the social network to a sensible size, and to stop things like 'friend' requests that one would rather ignore, but for fear of offending feels one cannot.

Another way out is to use Facebook as an interface to find people you may have lost contact with, and then switch over your comms to another medium, like emails or blogs, with the latter probably being the nicer and more visual interface.

To Deal With Obsession, Some Defriend Facebook

Published: December 20, 2009

Facebook, the popular networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who, collectively, spend 10 billion minutes there every day, checking in with friends, writing on people’s electronic walls, clicking through photos and generally keeping pace with the drift of their social world.

Make that 9.9 billion and change. Recently, Halley Lamberson, 17, and Monica Reed, 16, juniors at San Francisco University High School, made a pact to help each other resist the lure of the login. Their status might as well now read, “I can’t be bothered.”

“We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it,” Halley said.

By mutual agreement, the two friends now allow themselves to log on to Facebook on the first Saturday of every month — and only on that day.

The two are among the many teenagers, especially girls, who are recognizing the huge distraction Facebook presents — the hours it consumes every day, to say nothing of the toll it takes during finals and college applications, according to parents, teachers and the students themselves.

Some teenagers, like Monica and Halley, form a support group to enforce their Facebook hiatus. Others deactivate their accounts. Still others ask someone they trust to change their password and keep control of it until they feel ready to have it back.

Facebook will not reveal how many users have deactivated service, but Kimberly Young, a psychologist who is the director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pa., said she had spoken with dozens of teenagers trying to break the Facebook habit.

“It’s like any other addiction,” Dr. Young said. “It’s hard to wean yourself.”

Dr. Young said she admired teenagers who came up with their own strategies for taking Facebook breaks in the absence of computer-addiction programs aimed at them.

“A lot of them are finding their own balance,” she said. “It’s like an eating disorder. You can’t eliminate food. You just have to make better choices about what you eat.” She added, “And what you do online.”

Michael Diamonti, head of school at San Francisco University High School, which Monica and Halley attend, said administrators were pondering what the school’s role should be, since students used Facebook mostly at home, although excessive use could affect their grades.

“It’s such uncharted territory,” Dr. Diamonti said. “I’m definitely in support of these kids recognizing that they need to exercise some control over their use of Facebook, that not only is it tremendously time consuming but perhaps not all that fulfilling.”

In October, Facebook reached 54.7 percent of people in the United States ages 12 to 17, up from 28.3 percent in October last year, according to the Nielsen Company, the market research firm.

Many high school seniors, now in the thick of the college application process, are acutely aware of those hours spent clicking one link after another on the site.

Gaby Lee, 17, a senior at Head-Royce School in Oakland, Calif., had two weeks to complete her early decision application to Pomona College. Desperate, she deactivated her Facebook account.

The account still existed, but it looked to others as if it did not.

“No one could go on and write on my wall or look at my profile,” she said.

The habit did not die easily. Gaby said she would sit down at the computer and find that “my fingers would automatically go to Facebook.”

In her coming book, “Alone Together” (Basic Books, 2010), Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who is director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses teenagers who take breaks from Facebook.

For one 18-year-old boy completing a college application, Professor Turkle said, “Facebook wasn’t merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was,” and he opted to spend his senior year off the service. He was burned out, she said, trying to live up to his own descriptions of himself.

But Facebook does not make it easy to leave for long. Deactivating an account requires checking off one of six reasons — “I spend too much time using Facebook,” is one. “This is temporary. I’ll be back,” is another. And it is easy to reactivate an account by entering the old login and password.

For Walter Mischel, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, who studies self-control and willpower, “what’s fascinating about this is that it involves spontaneous strategies of self-control, of trying to exert willpower after getting sucked into a huge temptation.”

Professor Mischel performed a now-famous set of experiments at Stanford University in the late 1960s in which he tested young children’s ability to delay gratification when presented with what he called “hot” temptations, like marshmallows.

Some managed to stop themselves; others could not.

“Facebook is the marshmallow for these teenagers,” Professor Mischel said.

Rachel Simmons, an educator and the author of “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” (Penguin Press, 2009), said Facebook’s new live feed format had made the site particularly difficult to tear oneself away from.

“You’re getting a feed of everything everyone is doing and saying,” Ms. Simmons said. “You’re literally watching the social landscape on the screen, and if you’re obsessed with your position in that landscape, it’s very hard to look away.”

It is that addictive quality that makes having a partner who knows you well especially helpful. Monica said that when she was recently in bed sick for several days, she broke down and went on Facebook. And, of course, she felt guilty.

“At first I lied,” Monica said. “But we’re such good friends she could read my facial expression, so I ’fessed up.”

As punishment, the one who breaks the pact has to write something embarrassing on a near-stranger’s Facebook wall.

After several failed efforts at self-regulation, Neeka Salmasi, 15, a sophomore at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich., finally asked her sister, Negin, 25, to change her Facebook password every Sunday night and give it back to her the following Friday night.

Neeka quickly saw an improvement in her grades.

Still better, she said, is that her mother no longer visits her room “every half an hour to see if I was on Facebook or doing homework.”

“It was really annoying,” she said.

...

In his follow-up work, Professor Mischel said he found that some of the children who delayed gratification with the marshmallows turned out to be higher achievers as adults.

Halley said she and Monica expect their hiatus to continue at least through the rest of the school year. She added that they were enjoying a social life lived largely offline.

“Actually, I don’t think either one of us wants it to end,” she said.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

'Knowing'

Sometimes I feel that I'm saying things here—into the void of cyberspace, and is it a case of "in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream" and/or "do you really make a cyberspace sound if nobody hears it?"—that are so dazzlingly obvious that they should require no elaboration. Yet I elaborate. Why is this so?

Here's a case in point.

Question: What does it mean to 'know somebody'?

Like when you say "I feel I know you!" or maybe "Sometimes I think I don't know you at all!"—whatever the case may be.

What say with this is effectively: "I know what's going on one your head." And even more importantly: "I know what you're going to do in a given situation."

If we're wanting something more profound, we may think of 'knowing' someone's 'soul', whatever that's supposed to be. But basically it boils down to something that's ultimately concerned with explanation and prediction.
  • Explanation of why some person acted in a particular way in a particular context.
  • Prediction of how some person is going to act in a particular context in the future.
That's really all there's to it. Our 'knowing' of another is confirmed either by the consistency of our post hoc explanations or the success of our predictions. It is called into question by the lack of said consistency or predictive success.

But is that really all there is to 'knowing'? And, even if it is, is there something 'behind' all this, that is the actual thing to be known? And what, if anything, is that 'thing'; that element of what there is to be 'known' about a person?

To any self-respecting Aburdist or non-religious Existentialist, 'the Soul' obviously won't cut it as a suitable answer. Besides, we then have to ask further: "What about the soul is it that we claim to 'know'?" It's likely way to respond to this or that situation? That's basically, as any half-decent philosopher should know, a naïve form of materialism, where the soul is some object of substance, no matter how esoteric, which takes the part of the body in defining the 'real you', or something along those lines.

A much more useful question to ask about 'knowing' is: "What characteristic of our beings, what property, events, cause-effect relationships, and so on, can actually be held to be broadly causative of our actions and therefore need to be properly understood, or their detailed nature or contents identified and characterized, in order to serve as suitable explanatory frameworks for explanation and prediction—and thus qualify as the things that we need to be able to claim to 'know' if we want to make any sensible statement about 'knowing' a human being?"

Yeah, that was a long and convoluted sentence—offending my own sense of 'Plain English, please!' So, I apologize, but I'm not going to rewrite it.

The answer—and you could have predicted it, coming from me—is, of course, that it's the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the people around us and the world and the universe. Know the stories and know the person. It's a simple and complex as that.

What changes as we go through life—in some people more than in others, driven by their dispositions and life experiences—are our stories. And when someone says to someone else "I just don't know you anymore!" that's all they're saying: "Even if I once knew your stories, I know don't anymore; at least not the ones that matter to our relationship."

Think about that next time you look at another person. Think about what it means for your relationship, and for what you have to do—and the other person has to do—to make it better.

A quick note about fiction writers—whose business it is, of course, to tell stories that usually aren't true, except maybe in a metaphorical, symbolic or allegorical sense. Any fiction writer, however, will, by implication or intent, incorporate portions of the stories they are telling themselves about themselves and the world into their fiction. Even those who think they don't, do. They're just too naïve to realize it.

Because of this, if you have a good friend who is a writer of fiction, it will almost certainly help your 'knowing' of him or her, to read what they write. If you don't do this, then those who actually do read what they write, even though they may just be a part of the 'general reading public' may well know your friend better than you do. They may know more about his aspirations and dreams, about his views of life and the universe, about what matters and what doesn't.

It's possible, of course, that the kind of fiction your friend writes isn't your cup of tea. Like maybe, you're a detective fiction fan and your buddy writes sci-fi. Or maybe you like 'literary' fiction, but your friend writes what you consider trashy romances instead. Or invert those things, if you will.

Your friend not worth that much to you, that you'd step out of your "this-is-what-I-like" circle and into his to see what really going on in his or her head? Interesting. Why is it so? Is it because you actually don't really want to know about your friend, but would rather cling to the image you've built up over years, maybe decades, and it would be disturbing for you to have all that shattered by a dose of what's really going on in his head?

And take this one step further, because that's the next logical place to go. Because, say, your friend doesn't actually write fiction; but almost everybody reads it; or watches movies or TV series. I know, one will argue that of course the choice of reading and watching material consumed by a person in their 'option' time will leave clues as to what they think and like and are interested in and aspire to and dream about. But nothing, nothing at all, will reveal this as directly and pointedly as the fiction they consume 'for fun'. Meaning that which isn't work related or in any way obligatory. We're talking about the books they read themselves to sleep with, or inside of which they'll spend endless hours in preference to doing other things, some or all of which may appear like they must surely be hugely more important that reading this book or watching that movie—and possibly not just for the first time, but again and again and again.

The fiction consumed in people's 'optional' time will tell you just about anything worthwhile about a person; not only what they are like now, but about what made them into the people they are—because where they were at one time on the way to where they are now is just as important to understand someone as a current-state-of-affairs analysis. Every psychoanalyst will tell you that, but how many of them will actually try to find out what kind of fiction their patients/clients like, and liked, to consume? And it's all such a total giveaway!

So, if you want to 'know' your friend, your mate or whoever you choose to have a close relationship with, in this dullwitted urban 'civilized' world of ours, where true life-trials as character-revealers and 'I-know-you' testers are rare indeed, have a look at the fiction s/he consumes. And, of course, if s/he's a writer, or, more generally, a story-teller, look at the stroies s/he tells. If you don't do this, you may indeed not be in a position to 'know' your friend.

And, yes, this is personal. Very, very few of my oldest—sometime very 'old'—and closest friends, people I've known for decades, haven't read a single line of what I've written; and certainly not a single one of my novels. I do understand partially why this is so: because sci-fi—and especially the rattling-yarn, adventure, romance, sex and violence kind I tend to write—is basically below the level of what they consider 'literature'; and often is, indeed, unless it makes obvious pretenses to social or philosophical commentary, considered somehow irrelevant to their lives.

I have good reasons to 'know' them to this degree, because I know what they read, have read some of it; and I know the movies they watch, and those they watch again. I'm a 'library spy', and a bookshelf tells me more than you know; especially the fiction. So, yes, I can claim to know their stories to some significant degree. Yet it strikes me as somewhat ironic that they know far less of mine than any stranger who has actually bothered to, for example, read the entire Tethys series.

This is not something one holds 'against' one's friends, of course. Friendship, if the evidence is anything to go by, obviously can transcend such apparent trivia as 'knowing' one another. At least as far as certain individual-stories are concerned. There are more important things; other stories, sufficiently shared to create a social bond, which can be very strong.

So, no judgment is implied, and I want to make this clear. But there is irony nonetheless...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Remaining new Tethys series covers

All the Tethys novels are now available with the new covers from lulu.com. Because of distribution logistics, this means that Finister and Tergan now exist as second editions, which are available in parallel with the original first editions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Terrible Asymmetry of Death

There's a big farmer's market every Sunday in a town not too far away, starting at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. or thereabouts, though in winter people tend to arrive later than that. But in summer at that time in Queensland it's bright daylight, and by 7 a.m. you can get seriously fired by the rising sun. One gets to know people at the market, some of them anyway. There are stalls you return to for your fruit, vegies and things you intend to plant in the garden, like herbs, flowers, trees, fruit-trees, aquatic growths like water lilys, and so on. If you're that way disposed, you talk to people at those stands, especially those who run these stands basically by themselves. And you get to know them, in a way, and as far as they're prepared to let you know of them; what with you being a stranger, someone who just drops by their stall a for a few minutes on an early Sunday morning.

There's a guy I buy lettuce from, plus occasionally, when he has them, free-range eggs. In his 60s somewhere, I'd say, judging from appearances—which can be deceptive, of course—and the fact that his oldest offspring is in his 30s. The guy reminds of your archetypal Santa Claus, and would fit into that role in a mall, with kiddies on his knee and "ho ho" and everything and sundry.

And then, yesterday he told me that he'd just had a car accident, the car was scrap, his lettuces are scrawny because of the heat and dry weather, he had more back problems than you could shake a stick at, with some of them dating back to his youth, and basically, as he told me, he would not be indisposed toward putting a gun to his head to end his dull, boring and basically pointless existence—if it weren't for the fact that he didn't want to inflict this on his wife and three children. Otherwise, what was the point of continuing this anyway? Nothing's there before you are born and nothing's there after you die. So what?

It's been a while since I heard the extinctionist† case put forward so pithily. And I actually believe that he meant it.

People die everyday: this is a fact. We're all going to die someday: this is another fact. Even if we manage to postpone that day for a long, long time—as some of us intend to!—it'll come. 'Living forever' merely means that today and every day after today isn't that day. Living forever therefore means living in eternal vigilance, such as there has never existed before, to make sure that this situation will prevail.

Of course the non-religiously-inclined ones might argue, as did my buddy at the market, that we should stop making such a big deal of death, since it's pretty much the same 'state', if you will, that someone found themselves in before they were conceived. A 'state' that isn't a 'state' at all, but the non-existence of any kind of 'state'. The religious folk will, of course, dispute this version, but that's unsurprising.

While I think the religiously-inclined are speaking from a point of view of very little evidence, so, of course, do the extinctionists, who are in a position not unlike that of those on either side of the current Global Warming debate; seeing and hearing only what they want or expect to see or hear.

Thing is, of course, that, even if one accepts extinctionism as one's basic death-paradigm, that it still means that the extinction at the end (death) is something completely different to the non-existence before the beginning (birth). This is so because of the asymmetry of time and its arrow. Before the birth—or conception, or somewhere in between; draw the line wherever it pleases you—of an individual there was no individual, and no universe that contained said individual. There were possible universes, each of them different from the other, but none of them existed as such.

After the point of 'birth', wherever it is placed, there definitely existed one universe, which by itself gave potential rise to a gazillion possible branches, in which the individual in question did exist. In that universe—whether there also can be said to have existed others is entirely a matter of speculation—said individual had the thoughts and feelings it had, and performed the actions it did, each time, by virtue of its existence; shaping the universe in some, albeit small way; thus determining, again even if only in a tiny way, which branch of the possible universal history was being taken. You should really treat yourself to Continuity Slip. Download is free—for the time being anyway.

By this simple existential expedient, post-death extinction is not the same as pre-birth nonexistence. It doesn't matter—again assuming that the extinctionist view is correct—that the individual, extinct as it is after death, will never 'know' that it is dead or what 'death' actually is 'like'. The question may indeed be in principio meaningless.

And there is another difference, a very important one. Because pre-death-extinction the individual is capable of thought and action, and of reflecting on, for example, the nature of post-death extinction. It was, however, never able to reflect on this, or life, before it was born. The individual may also, indeed it probably will, find that it does not want to be made extinct; and there will be a profound cognitive, judgmental and, insofar as these feelings are involved, emotional asymmetry in the individual's attitude toward its non-existence prior to birth and after death.

Therefore the atheist same-after-as-before argument is existentially null and void, in a very 'cosmic' way, if you will. And that, by the way, is also what makes contraception and killing two very different things, while abortion and killing are not; thus making a nonsense of the conflation of the two (contraception and abortion, that is). If I had a dollar for every time a conflation of un-conflatable concepts is performed in arguments about just about anything that qualifies as moderately important, I'd be rich. That and category mistakes, of course.

† This is not, just in case you feel inclined to 'google' or 'wikipedia' the term, the kind of extinctionism you might find in the venerable game of NetHack. Rather it refers to a philosophical position towards death, which states that with the cessation of neurological function everything having to do with awareness, cognition and 'mind' ceases to exist completely. There is nothing left. Not a trace. Might as well never have been born, as fas as the dead person is concerned. Actually, 'dead person' is an oxymoron. A person is only a 'person' when they're alive. When they are dead, there's just a corpse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Then Shall We Die For? The freedom of the seas.

Pirates again! After a time...

The latest potential victim of Global Warming and the general psychological malaise afflicting the people of this planet apparently may be the freedom of the seas.

UN may curtail 400-year-old 'freedom of the seas'

Not that I much hankered for living a life on the oceans—though being on a ship does strange things to me and invokes odd yearnings—but having someone officially take it away, no matter how cogent the reasons (though when it comes to the UN, 'cogency' probably is an oxymoron when applied to anything they do), is a serious blow to a dream. All the more urgent that we work harder to find a way to sail the space-seas beyond our world. Mankind needs open frontiers, or it will destroy itself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creepy, creepy

Things people do...

Way I see it, we should do all we can to put this whole damn industry and anything related it out of business. Is that really too much to ask? Just think of what all the money we waste on trivia and irrelevancies could do. We could even find a way to retrain the death-profiteers for something better and more productive maybe? Stranger things have happened.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Ahmadinejad comedy hour: and you thought OUR politicians were dimwits

How's this for a change. I'm not sure what would be more unsettling: that this guy believes what he says, or that, much more likely, he believes that enough of people he rules over are sufficiently stupid to believe it...

Quoting from the article:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the United States is attempting to thwart the return of mankind's savior, according to reports from Al Arabiya, a television news station based in Dubai.

Ahmadinejad reportedly claims he has documented evidence that the U.S. is blocking the return of Mahdi, the Imam believed by Muslims to be the savior.

“We have documented proof that they believe that a descendant of the prophet of Islam will raise in these parts and he will dry the roots of all injustice in the world,” Ahmadinejad said during a speech on Monday, according to Al Arabiya.

"They have devised all these plans to prevent the coming of the Hidden Imam because they know that the Iranian nation is the one that will prepare the grounds for his coming and will be the supporters of his rule," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

This was brought to you by the Ahmadinejad comedy channel. But I think he may have maxed out with this. It really will be hard to beat.

Monday, December 07, 2009

FINISTER New Cover

Next one coming along. Just as well I have the layered Photoshop original images. Makes it easier to use the bits and pieces that are required for this format.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cover Designs...again!

Still tweaking these. Still not happy with them.

Here's the latest for KEAEN: whole wrap cover and what is the effective front page. The wraparound theme, which you can also see on the owlglass.com home page, is an update on what was there before. I think I prefer wraparound. It means, of course, that the front-cover images have to be re-thought, and this is how I have re-thought them.

Below is the version of Keaen appearing soon on lulu. A new interior, somewhat tweaked, has also been uploaded, since the printed versions with the old headers can have problems, due mainly due to the quality of the POD printers, with whose services and quality I continue to be unimpressed. I had expected better from Australia.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Teen Angst

'Teen Angst' (or 'Teenage Angst') is a term-couplet bandied about by many people from all walks of life, from the obviously naive to those who think they aren't. It's also very poorly understood and used too-often in a condescending manner; usually by those not 'teens' anymore.

So, basically, teenagers don't really 'get' it because they're living through it; and non-teenagers don't get it because they're not teenagers any more. Psychologists don't get it, because they're asking the wrong questions, and philosophers don't care, because they don't care about anything that smacks of being less than something 'mature'. Parents don't get it because parents, by and large, are hopeless at parenting, and especially those aspects that require putting themselves into their offspring's emotions. Media people don't get it, because they also don't really care about anything but the notions of dimwitted adults about what it's like to be a pre-adult. Educationalists don't get it, because they are obsessed either with controlling or 'managing' the phenomenon—it being very inconvenient to them, as might be expected.

And yet Teen Angst is not only essentially simple, but indeed an element of 'growing up' that the likes of me would consider essential for creating a rounded, aware and emotionally developed human being.

It is nothing but the juvy version of the same angst faced by every more 'mature' Absurdist or Existentialist—an angst that has its roots, as you may have guessed, in our awareness of our mortality, and which is especially pronounced in those who, for whatever reason, are unable to live in permanent denial-mode about the dreadfulness of our ultimate extinction. Teens—Young Adults!—usually do not yet have the sheer body of life and experience 'context' required to deal with it in the manner 'adults' would. And since they haven't learned yet to displace and prevaricate about it, it all comes out in those symptoms that we know so well, and some of which may be very dire indeed.

And, yes, it is as simple as that. Add to that a brain developing toward some form of neural maturity, plus a hormonal system in a state of acute turmoil, and...well, that's what you get. Nothing mysterious about it at all. And certainly nothing that requires the condescending, paternalistic attitude displayed toward it by adults; many of whom will deny their own former experience of the phenomenon, because they feel it's almost embarrassing that they were ever subjected to such silly emotional upheavals. And it also is nothing to fear by those undergoing it, and I wish the apparatchiks running our educational systems realized that the best way to deal with it is not to deny or try to 'manage' it, but to help those in their care to welcome it with open arms and accept the dread it brings to their lives.

It is through facing dread that we grow. Pretending it doesn't exist isn't only cowardly, but, above all, simply stupid.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Global Warming and Scientific Corruption

I would hope that by now even the most withdrawn from reality will have heard of an instance (or instances, or a culture of) of what can only be called 'corruption' at the highest levels of the GLOBAL WARMING debate.

I really don't give a sparrow's flatulent greenhouse emissions about the reasons for such deliberate dishonesty. Said reasons may range from genuine Save-The-Planet zealotry to genuine self-serving research-fund grabbing. It is possible that those who would withhold scientific information supporting the 'warming doubter' position—or who would at least cast into doubt the influence of the human element, such as those expressed by David Bellamy—do so in a spirit that, in their own minds at least, makes them into great human beings, who are in some way actively saving the world. Like haven't we heard that before...

The point is that it still amounts to corruption. And every instance of such a thing, no matter how justified, will serve to enhance the credibility of other attempts to withhold data, falsify them or simply make them up. All it will require are reasons qualifying as 'beneficent'.

Of course, someone can challenge my argument by, for example, suggesting scenarios where the corruption becomes so grey-in-grey that one gets stuck in an argumentative mire. Like, how should one view this scenario, which may be more familiar to readers of sci-fi:

There's this scientist—or person with a scientific background, though he may or may not be employed as a 'scientist' per se—who discovers or invents something that might change the world. Some of my favorites are:
  • A way to generate unlimited electrical energy (even if it doesn't involve potentially world-destroying sources, such as balack holes etc).
  • A method to take mankind to the stars at minimal effort and cost (my favorite here is the 'phase ship' approach explored by Gordon R Dickson in Mission to Universe, because that's got such obvious flip-side implications).
  • A way to create something like real 'force fields' that can act as physical protection.
  • 'Real' honest-to-goodness 'teleportation' (see Stephen Gould's Jumper).
You get the idea, I'm sure. All of these things have potentially huge benefits and also serious word-destruction potential. So, what is the ethical situation here if someone, for example, finds a way to create unlimited electrical energy without pollution, but he or she also realizes that it doesn't take a lot to use the same technology to create weapons that are seriously world-destroying? Or, maybe even if there aren't dangerous consequences to the world, revealing such a discovery could definitely pose serious threats to the welfare of the person involved, or his family or friends. Yoy can surely work that one out, too.

So, what does he do? Conceal it and let the world continue to pollute itself? Reveal it and try to do it in such a way as to retain some control? Just publish it on the internet and let the world run with it?

Remember the law of unintended consequences: there are always many more of those than intended ones and most of them fall in to the Rumsfeld category of "things we don't know we don't know".

Should he choose to conceal his discovery/invention, would that make him 'scientifially corrupt'?

Well, no. It would make him corrupt if he published information in a scientific context—peer-reviewed journals, for example—in which he deliberately falsified or withheld information relating directly to his discovery/invention, thus leading to a conclusion by the 'scientific community' that whatever he discovered/invented could not be discovered/invented. By such communication of misleading information—even if it is in the way of withholding it; i.e. lying by omission—he could commit an act of scientific corruption, because 'corruption' is a social concept, whereby someone agrees to abide by certain social standards, but in truth acts contrary to them, for whatever reasons. One who has not made such an agreement, either explicitly or implicitly, cannot acts corruptly, because the term just doesn't apply. If Joe Blogg, in his workshop, invents a machine that can provide the world with unlimited power, but chooses to conceal it, because he judges the unintended consequences to be so dire that they outweigh any potential benefits, then Joe Blogg makes a personal decision—but it isn't one to which one can apply a standard that one pin the label 'corruption' on.

But scientists living and working within the framework of 'the scientific community' deliberately withholding information about something that may influence the lives of billions...that's something else completely. It is akin to the citizen of a country placing his religion above the social contract he was with his fellow citizen. It's the real reason why a soldier went out on an army base in Texas, shouted "God is Great" and killed people who implicitly trusted him not to do such a thing. He is the ethical equivalent of these scientists; as they are of him.

The damage these morons inflicted on the case for GLOBAL WARMING—and continue to do, because some are are actually defending their perfidy!—is incalculable. This is quite independent of whatever the merits of that case happens to be, which isn't something I'm discussing here. In other words, they, too, have just become the victims of the Law of Unintended Consequences of their own stupidity and zealotry. Whatever that means for the planet and the issues under dispute remains to be seen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Massacre at Mary Smokes Creek — Carl Hiaasen, we love you!



I've previously commented on the ugly, poisonous brutes called 'Cane Toads'. If you haven't read the blog, it would be a good idea to do so, because sometimes life does play rather off-color jokes. You can take the following as a metaphor for a lot of things, but I'll leave it up to you. No particular meanings are implied. But you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

I have developed the most humane killing method I can think of, which transports the creatures from the land of the living to that of the dead with alacrity. I must confess that the idea was brought to me by that famous fairy tale The Frog Prince, wherein the spoilt princess tries to dispose of the pesky frog by throwing it against a wall—not by kissing it, as the sanitized versions would have it!

Well, I am no princess, and I don't throw the beasties against walls, but usually, with significant force, on hard ground or against a concrete water tank. They have yet to turn into anything but splayed out toad-Jesuses, with limbs spread out from the final neural shock of the fatal impact—and maybe the similarity with the crucified one lacks in conviction because the rear legs are spread out just as much as the front ones. You gotta do it hard though, because these blighters are tough. A princess, especially a spoilt one, would probably not even make a dent.

Anyway, so I thought I had my relationship with Cane Toads all worked out (I see 'em; I kill 'em)—until today, when I walked down to our 'dam'—which is what they call the water-collection ponds that dot the countryside around here. Ours is more than 150 sqm, and I was going down there to plant some Irises. The level of the water, after months of very little rain is rather low, with the vegetation verge well away from the water's edge.

What I found at the pond induced a moment of what was almost panic.

This is a tiny section of the pond's rim, and the objects you see are thumbnail-size Cane Toadlets. I estimated there to be something like 2000, give or take 1000. They saw me come and leapt into the water in a tiny-toad kind of Mexican Wave, swam out for maybe 0.5 metres, then returned to the shore. Our newly-introduced Water Lilys were covered with them, to the extent that the leaves were submerged like overloaded refugee boats.

I looked at this and my brain had something like a metaphor-explosion going on inside it.

W—T—F ???

I tried to calm down and work out how to deal with this. Scenarios ranged from beating the shits out of them with a spade (yeah, like that would make a dent!) to pouring petrol over them (too expensive and poisonous) and finally, as my wife suggested, scooping them up with a fishnet or something (very difficult, since the things were mostly on land).

More metaphor moments. Was there really a deeper message in this for me? For all of us? Were these tiny f---ers a sign from a morbid deity of some sort? How can you kill a few thousand of these things and not pollute the pond; or spend the rest of your days chasing them down?

Victory by numbers. Victory by exhaustion. The devils! The devils!

We are so screwed!

Salvation did come though, because I knew there had to be a way. Damn it, I'm a human being and I have a brain larger than the mass of all these little f---ers put together! Am I going to be licked by a few thousand little toads?

Not me, chickadee. A solution came; one so ingenious, original and, let's face it, completely and utterly sick-in-the-head, that Carl Hiaasen would have been truly proud of me. (Hell, I am proud of me!) The key words here are 'Chemo' and 'weed-whacker'—the latter known in Australia as a 'whipper-snipper'.

Hiaasen fans will instantly make the connection, and they would have watched in awe as I, representing humankind, accomplished the impossible. My 2-stroke Ryobi weed-whacker was a dealer of death, such as Cane Toad-kind has never seen before. Within less than 15 minutes the phalanx of (living) tiny toads had been reduced to a few hundred max—and those will experience the wrath of the weed-whacker-wielding-human tomorrow morning. In the heat of the day (35+ºC) the whirling blades delivered judgment day.

I even caught, quite by accident, one of their progenitors, who leapt forth from a clump of grass and was caught in the whirling nylon-of-death, with limbs and bits and pieces flying here and there and everywhere, mingling with the corpses of its offspring, which were floating in the water—in the characteristic kind-of-toad-Jesus pose, of course.

A swimming insect—a larva of some kind, I guess—swam past and dragged one of the tiny corpses into the depths of the murky water. I guess somebody will be having a feast right now.

So, peoples, here's a great way to start solving the Cane Toad problem. About this time of year, everybody in the vicinity of a dam or pond take your 2-stroke weed-whacker and deliver some serious Armageddon to Cane Toad-dom. Within 15 minutes I removed about 2000 of them from circulation. Think of the potential here! It's so much easier to get them this way than having to do the spoilt-princess thing with them—which I'll be doing, I guess, on a regular basis for as long as I live around here.

The sale of 2-stroke—as opposed to electrical—weed-whackers should skyrocket, too. But that's just a fringe benefit.

On a cheerier note, here's a pic of one of our resident Green Treefrogs.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In the Moment, but nor for it. For the Future, but not in it.

People seem to have issues with the 'living in the moment' thing. It appears that there's some mystery associated with the notion. I never could figure out why, but never had the words to explain it. Invariably, it ended up long-winded and convoluted, worthy of some academic philsopher's attempt to explain in plain English a simple concept that he doesn't actually understand himself, but has to pretend to understand. There, I got my dig at philosophers in yet again. Whoopee!

Anyway, one day, when I was struggling with significant problem—which usually mean that one's attention is focused on them and directed away from the moment, in terms of attention and appreciation alike—the simple solution almost fell into my lap. It did not require grand philosophy, but merely a few words; like a simple formula might provide an explication of what might initially have appeared a puzzling physical phenomenon.

The title of this blog is actually too long-winded It could be said even more pithily:

In the moment. For the future.

This is snappy enough to be remembered, even by the densest. I think.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Existentialism, Immortalism, Teen Angst and Twilight

Two guys from Channel Nine's Today show, co-anchor and entertainment reporter, today admitted that they had read the Twilight-series books. The two women, co-anchor and newsreader, said they hadn't. Given the whole thing about these being teen-girl books and movies, makes you wonder, don't it?

And here's the ultimate irony, right at the end of Twilight, that flick based on a book written by a Mormon. Life and irony—what is it with those two anyway??

SPOILER WARNING. THIS IS DIALOGUE FROM THE END OF THE MOVIE.

Edward Cullen: Shall we?
Isabella Swan: You're serious?
Edward Cullen: Oh, why not?
Isabella Swan: [sighs] Hmm.
Edward Cullen: See? You're dancing.
Isabella Swan: [giggles] At prom. Edward why did you save me? You should've just let the venom spread. I could be like you by now.
Edward Cullen: You don't know what you're saying. You don't want this.
Isabella Swan: I want YOU. Always.
Edward Cullen: I'm not gonna end your life for you.
Isabella Swan: I'm dying already. Every second I get closer, older.
Edward Cullen: That's the way it's supposed to be.
Isabella Swan: Alice said she saw me like you. I heard her.
Edward Cullen: Her visions change.
Isabella Swan: Yeah, based on what people decide. I've decided.
Edward Cullen: So that's what you dream about, becoming a monster.
Isabella Swan: I dream about being with you, forever.
Edward Cullen: Forever?
[Bella nods]
Edward Cullen: And are you ready right now?
Isabella Swan: Yes.
Edward Cullen: Is it not enough, just to have a long and happy life with me?
Isabella Swan: [after a second of thought] Yeah. For now.

This is immortalist, existentialist and a dollop of 'feminist' thrown in for good measure—though I fancy Germaine Greer would have issues with that last label.

I also heard the entertainment reporter, in his comment, alluding to 'teen angst' in relation to the sequel. I've always considered that aspect of teen-hood probably its most productive. It's where you are still allowed, by society and your elders, to have a general unease about 'being' and its uncertainties. Where you can still, with license, truly worry about what and who you 'are', and whether life is about anything but your own angst-ridden self and its current preoccupations, like love affairs and the 'meaning' of it all, and shit like that.

As you get older and become an 'adult', entertaining the same kinds of thoughts and feelings becomes suspect to the rest of the world around you. You're supposed to be a 'grown-up' and all that. Grown-ups may have their difficulties in life, but they're not supposed to fret over them—not unless you have some license by virtue of being not-quite-normal, like artists of all types, for example. And if you're a woman, you definitely have more license to have your 'what is the meaning of my life?' days than your average guy, who is supposed to be pretty much immune to getting emotionally worked up over life-philosophy. Women who agonize over their lives are far less likely than men of being accused of things like 'irresponsibility' or being asked to 'get over it'.

Is this a good thing? Well, yes and no. It's good that one learns—some do anyway, though their proportion is invariably overestimated—to take responsibility and look at things through lenses of 'rationality' and the wisdom of years and 'experience'. But the price for that learning and for adopting the attitude that comes with it is very high indeed. In many ways something very precious—what we somewhat derogatorily label 'teen angst'— is being brow-beaten out of us.

But in truth, at least for some, it doesn't actually go away, but lurks there, not that far below the surface at all. And if you're an Existentialist/Absurdist (which few are) or an Immortalist—that's even fewer, because few want, or can bear, to live with the constant awareness of, as Isabella puts it: "I'm dying already. Every second I get closer, older."—then it's not just a matter of it 'lurking'.

Some while back I had a blog about the 'Fire Inside', with reference to a Bob Seger song. It's basically the same thing we're talking about. And in far too many, the fire is either quenched beyond the point of flaring up again; while in others it merely smoulders, with its smoke polluting the psyche to the point of poisoning it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Seven Dwarves and Snow White?

Well, so I came across this version of the tale of the seven dwarves. Not quite as elaborate as the Disney version, and nowhere as nice. But I thought I'd share it anyway.

The Swiss Version:

Auf einer der Hochebenen zwischen Brugg und Waldshut am Schwarzwalde wohnten sieben Zwerge zusammen in einem kleinen Häuschen. Da kam einmal spät Abends ein junges nettes Bauernmädchen verirrt und hungrig des Weges und bat um ein Nachtlager. Die Zwerge hatten nur sieben Betten, dennoch stritten sie sich, denn jeder wollte dem Mädchen sein Bett abtreten; endlich nahm sie der Älteste von ihnen zu sich in seines, kaum aber ging's ans Einschlafen, so kam noch eine Bauernfrau vors Häuschen, klopfte und begehrte Einlass. Das Mädchen stand gleich auf und sagte ihr, wie die sieben Zwerge hier selber nur sieben Betten und sonst keine Platz mehr für jemand übrig hätten.

Darüber wurde die Frau sehr zornig und schalt in ihrem Argwohn das Mädchen, in welcher sie die Beihälterin von sieben Männern vermutete, ein Lumpenmaitschi. Unter Drohungen, dass man einer solchen Wirtschaft bald ein Ende gemacht haben werde, ging sie grimmig davon; noch in derselben Nacht aber erschien sie mit zwei Männern, die sie vom Rheinufer her geholt hatte, und diese brachen sogleich ins Haus ein, und erschlugen die Zwerge. Man verscharrte die Leichen draußen in dem Gärtchen und verbrannte das Haus. Das Mädchen war darüber den Leuten aus den Augen gekommen.

A translation: (I very slightly modified the one on the web page.)

On one of the high plains between Brugg and Waldshut, near the Black Forest, seven dwarfs lived together in a small house. Late one evening a nice young peasant girl, who was lost and hungry, approached them and requested shelter for the night. The dwarfs had only seven beds, and they fell to arguing with one another, for each one wanted to give up his bed for the girl. Finally the oldest one took the girl into his bed. Before they could fall asleep a peasant woman appeared before their house, knocked on the door, and asked to be let inside. The girl got up immediately and told the woman that the dwarfs had only seven beds, and that there was no room there for anyone else.

With this the woman became very angry and berated the girl, whom she suspected of being a slut, cohabiting with all seven men. Threatening to make a quick end to such business, she went away in a rage, and that same night she returned with two men, whom she had brought up from the bank of the Rhine. They immediately broke into the house and killed the seven dwarfs. They buried the corpses outside in the garden and burned the house. With all of that happening, the girl disappeared from sight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twilight: on the difference between beliefs and values

I finally got around to watching the first flick in the Twilight series. Yeah, I know: I'm behind the times, what with the second one just out. But there's a time and a place and whatever. Last night was it, and that was that.

About the movie: it was very good. Teen flicks, more so than other movies, tend to be inflicted with endless strings of cringe-factor-TEN dialogue lines; the stuff written by people apparently incapable of crafting believable, yet original dialogue. This is one possible explanation. The other is that they think the vast majority of the teenagers watching these flicks are linguistically shallow, unlikely to respond to a anything but stereotyped prefab lines, and possibly also intellectually challenged, because it seems like they need everything explained at length and in platitudes. Neither is true, and the attitude smacks of self-serving contempt.

Twilight's dialogue didn't go that way, though it was definitely 'teen'. It also spanned very nicely the spectrum of teen vernacular: from the laconic/reluctant/surly, to the chatty and 'whatever' and 'so' and 'like'. The dialogue also didn't make it appear like every teen was somehow mentally deficient or incapable of having thoughts that were definitely adult. For those having read through recent blogs of mine, you can see how I found that refreshing.

So, yes, I liked Twilight. It took the vampire/un-dead mythos, soon to be added-to with some more werewolf elements, and put a 'Young Adult' 2009 spin on it. Very cool.

Now to beliefs and values. Twilight got me thinking about this, in a thinking-about-thinking kind of way. As I mentioned before, the author of the Twilight series is a Mormon; and when you come to think about it, the fact that so many Mormon value elements are incarnated in vampires, of all people—'people'?—is quite remarkable.

It certainly doesn't appear conform to what you might call 'Mormon Beliefs'. These are the kinds of things that people believe actually happened. Like the Angel Moroni (sic!) handing Joseph Smith some golden plates with the contents of the Book of Mormon. Or the veracity of the biblical stories woven, in particular, around the figure called 'Jesus'. The kinds of things, in other words, where people, when challenged, will sit back defiantly and say "That's what I believe!"

What Twilight does very deftly, is to separate mythos and 'belief' of that kind from the values associated with it. One very important element in Mormonism is the significance of the family.

Rosalie Hale: [after Edward asks her to put on Bella's coat to distract James] Why should I? What is she to me?
Dr. Carlisle Cullen: [Hands her the coat] Bella is with Edward. She's a part of this family, and we protect our family.


And, yes, there's the patriarch, too; which tends to turn a lot of people off, but let's face it, it could be a matriarch also—though maybe not in the context of Mormonism—with the basic element being that 'family' and a strong 'family head', who acts as a kind of family guide/preceptor/conscience, often, if not almost always, go hand-in-hand. This may be in the nature of human social organization. Most people need someone to turn to for reference. That's just the way things are.

But the quote from Twilight above isn't a statement about 'beliefs' but an assertion of life values, which may result from certain 'belief' elements in a given 'faith'. But they are not the same thing. Of course, one needs to 'believe', if you will, that certain values have 'value' and that therefore one should endeavor to live by them. But those are 'meta-beliefs'; that is, beliefs about beliefs and their consequences. This is where we run into terminology issues, as one often does when discussing philosophical concepts.

It is probably a very good idea to consider the difference between beliefs and belief-associated values; because in the course of this one might that:
  • Just because some 'belief' may be demonstrably 'wrong', that doesn't mean that the values associated with the belief are therefore also wrong by association.
  • One may indeed have the same values as people whose beliefs one does not share.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, of course, but unfortunately it does. The majority of people will conflate 'belief' and 'value', or draw a direct connection in order to judge the 'value' of 'values'. This is both, wrong and very, very destructive, to human understanding.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Toasty Today

So, this is what it was like much of the day...

Right now, at 7 p.m. it's a mere 30º C, and it feels slightly cool-ish!

KEAEN 2nd Edition - DOWNLOAD FREE for a limited period only!


Until the end of November you can now download a copy of the 2nd revised edition of Keaen for absolutely nothing. This copy can only be read on-screen. Printing and copying have been disabled.

The Second Edition has been revised majorly to:
  • Bring the narrative of the first book in the Tethys series into line with the sequels.
  • Get rid of some quaint-isms I'd rather not have in the book.
  • Remove some of the linguistic 'flattening' that happened as a result of the publishing process for the first edition.
  • Restore story elements that were removed in the process of preparing the book for the first edition.†
In return, I only ask for this: that you write and leave a review here.

This is, of course, a promotional exercise, intended to suck you into the story of Tethys and its people.

Warning: Some of these elements involve the deliberate violation of deeply ingrained social taboos.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peter & Max, Fables and Bill Willingham: Sheer Genius


It may require someone nursed on comparatively unexpurgated, original language, versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales, to fully appreciate the genius of Bill Willingham. Well, I was, and I do.

For those interested, here's a sympathetic review that I almost entirely agree with.

The whole Fables universe, including the satirical allegory that is the Jack series spin-off, represents not only a long-overdue resurrection of fairy tales, but also runs counter to the current trend to sanitize the tales until their are limp, pathetic ghosts of their former selves. I found out that apparently this trend wasn't just a recent thing, but dates back through the whole series of fairy-tale revisions. This is just one example. More can be found in the links on this site. For those interested in such matters—and especially the evisceration of the true meanings contained in the original fairy tales—it makes for grim reading.

The popularity of Fables does give me hope though, as it appears to demonstrate that, while the majority of our species— at least in the Western and Western-influenced world—is drowning in a cloying morass of conformity and fear of anything that may threaten our currently prevailing delusions about our human nature, there are quite a few who at least sense that this is not only wrong, but—as Willingham obviously believes and tries to put across, sometimes very overtly—indeed destructive of the human spirit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

People-People Time vs. People-Computer Time — The Rise and Imminent Demise of the Intelligent Peripheral

"A laptop for every child!"

"We're going to refurbish 1000 classrooms, to bring the best modern technology has to offer to our children to become computer smart for the future." (Paraphrasing that strage creature, the current Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh; whose name should indeed sound familiar!)

This is the kind of verbiage coming form those who want to appear as if they cared about the education of our children. Because anybody who advocates or promotes the advancement of 'computer literacy' must care—about the future of the planet, our society, our children. And the Australian Prime Minister—and in this I find myself agreeing with someone I universally disagree with by default: Rupert Murdoch—is definitely obsessed with the future of the planet; to the point of OCD and with a grandiose naïveté that borders on, and maybe crosses over into the territory of, dangerousness. But he's not alone. Whenever anybody who's got anything to say about the subject, for reasons of self-advancement of self-opinionation, such catchphrases as "a laptop for every child" will be dragged out of the closet and intoned like the national anthem. And throw in "internet" and "research'" as well, because that makes it sound like it was really, really useful.

Trying to stop this hysterical mania is the social equivalent of trying to avert GLOBAL WARMING. And, like G... ahh, you know what... the best one can do is to try and learn to live with it, and salvage what can be salvaged—which in this case means as many children and Young Adults as possible.

For those who don't 'get' what I'm talking about, consider this.

To achieve 'computer literacy' for a person under the age of, say, 18—and especially given that said person is very likely to find a computer in their home environment as well!—takes almost no time at all. Making a big deal out of littering classrooms with computers and what's referred to as 'technology' is something that belongs into the last century, not today or tomorrow. It may make a difference in areas where children are unlikely to have access to computing equipment for socio-economic reasons; but that's about it. For the rest of the kids it may have use as a tool to "find information", as some people put it, but that, too, has a dark side. For, like just about anybody else using computers and the internet for extended periods on a daily basis, I find my research habits changing, to the point of being afraid that I may slip into a kind of ADD territory, though I am missing the hyperactivity component of the syndrome. And I'm a very disciplined internet user, who very rarely 'surfs', but almost always tries to find things using search engines, and then very occasionally follows links he may not have had on his radar. Those not exercising such restraint will almost invariably waste incredible amounts of time learning nothing at all—not in the long term anyway, because most of the things they find will go into short-term memory and disappear from there into neural never-never-land.

The consequences of the increasing ubiquity of computers at school as a major component of 'schooling' are grim. They relate closely to what I said in the previous blog. Human-human time gets muscled out by human-computer time, because, contrary to the promotional imagery, human-computer time is mostly one-on-one. It is not a social activity, except in the case of such things as tele-communications between, for example, groups of people separated by distance, but connected by some audio-visual link-up system. But that's not the way these things are used. Most of the time it's human peripherals staring at screens. And while at one time, these human peripherals merited the attribute 'intelligent', this may well be redefined once homo computerensis takes over the world.

For computers do not make children smart. They just change them and reconfigure their cognitive spaces. Whatever lies at the end of that, nobody knows. But I don't think it's good.