Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ernie and Bert(ha): the Continuing Story

Well, our locally-resident Magpies now obviously have young, somewhere hidden inside that nest in a crotch of a nearby gum tree. I conclude this, because Bertha is going through the cheap-mince like it was going out of fashion, packing up her beak with stuff, only to zoom off to her nest. In the mornings, it's like Sydney airport here, what with the Magpies and the Lorikeets, the Friarbirds and Australian Ringneck Parrots; and, new addition, a pair of King Parrots. Plus whatever else comes along. Who needs pets? Who needs an aviary? And where the hell is air-traffic control when you need them, especially in the narrow confines of our wrap-around verandahs? Sometimes, when Bertha alights on a railing, she's accompanied by a flanking patrol of irate little Friarbirds, who try to make sure she doesn't get too close to their nest. It's like a couple of F-15s escorting a Russian Bear out of the local airspace!

Today, while I was away in distant Brisbane, Bertha, ever the forward and daring one of the Magpie pair, decided not just to take a sneak-peak into out kitchen, as she's done before...

...but also to make an inspection of the rest of the house.

My wife let her, and mercifully the bird decided not to do what she might well have done, namely pooped on the carpet and/or the furniture.

I wonder what's going to happen when the young become capable of flight! Mum and the 2-5 little ones... It's going to be like flier's apprentice central around our house.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Spanking and IQ

Here's a bit of very troubling science. Assuming the methodology and the conclusiveness of the methodology are credible, this would indeed have serious consequences.

Children who are spanked have lower IQ

...there are two explanations for the relation of corporal punishment to lower IQ.

First, corporal punishment is extremely stressful and can become a chronic stressor for young children, who typically experience corporal punishment three or more times a week. For many it continues for years. The research found that the stress of corporal punishment shows up as an increase in post-traumatic stress symptoms such as being fearful that terrible things are about to happen and being easily startled. These symptoms are associated with lower IQ.

Second, a higher national level of economic development underlies both fewer parents using corporal punishment and a higher national IQ.

Definitely food for thought.

And here's something else from biology, which represents a refreshing twist in looking at a question in a new way by completely rephrasing it. The article will take some thought to read, and many of you won't be interested; but those who are may find it intriguing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Getting PUBLISHED! Or not. Or maybe, but not as you thought it would happen.

Once upon a time I would have given an arm or a leg to be PUBLISHED. Well, amend that: not an arm and a leg, and indeed no body part, or my health, or my family, or a number of other things that are more important. Far more important! But you know what I means, yes? Getting PUBLISHED is the DREAM. That's what you work toward. That's the validation of what you're doing. That's why you're crushed when yet another slushpile submission never gets responded to, or when it gets rejected. Somewhere I still have one of those filing boxes full of rejections, dating something like 30 years back. Haven't looked at them again, but they are there somewhere, just to remind me of what really matters in this game:

Now, lest someone takes that to mean "never give up trying to get published"...well, not quite. Though I agree with Heinlein that a work of fiction should be placed before a publisher for the purpose of publication, it must be taken into account that Heinlein wrote this at a time when placing works before a publisher in order to have anybody else but your family read them was the only realistic way to get them out into the public arena. This isn't so anymore, though a lot of people continue to live in a past where the measure of a man's, or woman's, writing was whether it got published or not. Rejection was tantamount to a declaration that what you wrote was shit. There's no other way to put it. Shit at least in comparison to the works of those who did get published. You get my meaning, yes?

Anyway, that's not the "never give up" I was referring to. What I meant was the "never give up what you do and like doing; and don't let the bastards get you down". Said 'bastards' range from publishers to booksellers to other members of your favorite waste-your-time writers' club. Sorry, writers' clubs, but I believe that the only way—and I mean the ONLY WAY—to be a writer is to write, and to be prepared to write all the shit out of oneself, and then, when one is ready to write good stories about something other than oneself, when one is ready to engage one's characters and their plight, when one has learned how to manage words and sentences and plots and all that good stuff...then it's time to produce the good stuff.

Traditional 'publishing' and its persistent influence as the de-facto judge of who is worthy of receiving public exposure of their work, is a Jurassic hangover from the days when there weren't computers, Adobe Creative Suite and POD. Admittedly, the democratization of publishing has its drawbacks. Everything has; nothing only has 'up-sides'. But I believe that the market, and not publishers with their dinosaurean attitudes and jealously guarded hold on markets, should decide who is read and who isn't. The snooty attitude of some, surely mediocre, writer—if that!— whose 'writing advice' I came across on the internet, and who told people that if they intended to publish their work on lulu they shouldn't even bother to start writing, is not just arrogant but just plain dim-witted.

With the situation as it is, the goal to be PUBLISHED has completely changed in its very nature. Meaning that people can stop obsessing about it and get on with the business of devising and putting into words the stories they're wanting to tell.

As for me, my 'price' has gone up, from five to six figures. That's the 'price' I'd have to be paid— up-front!—before I'd subject myself again to the tyranny of any editor with any more power over my story than that of correcting typos. And even then I'd think about it...

----

In other words, Heinlein was really saying that there's no point in writing unless you try to present the fruits of your labors to an audience, the wider the better. This is almost self-evidently true; for, since writing is always about telling a story—well, fiction writing is—unless you try to share it with others, you might as well keep it in your head and leave it in your daydreams. And when it comes to non-fiction; well, really, what's the damn point in writing unless it's meant as an exercise in communication, which obviously requires an audience!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Boy Who Would Be A Fable — The People Who Are Just Mundys

One of my daughters found this image somewhere on the web, and we both think it's really quite enchanting. It's one of those pictures that has an obvious backstory and will have an obvious after-the-moment story as well. Look at all the details and bits and pieces about the room, and see what they tell you about the boy, and his character and dreams.

And, yes, it is an ancient motif, this thing about going into the world in the picture, but the implicit characterization of the boy—a picture here does indeed speak a thousand words and more!—might make some of you remember back to when you weren't completely inundated in the mundane. In other words, when you weren't Mundys, but thought you might actually be Fables.

(Actually, I read that Fables might actually make it to TV. I don't know if that'll work, but it's a great thought. The comics are basically storyboards anyway! Who needs a damn scriptwriter! All they have to do is shoot the film! But, of course, that's not the way they're going to do it... Damn idiots.)

Anybody out there remember that? I assume that it's a part of growing up: dreaming of being a Fable—in the sense of being somebody who is beyond the mundane. But then again, and thinking about it again, I wonder if this assumption is really justified. I wonder if those who have those memories shouldn't actually consider themselves very privileged; touched either by fate or by an appropriate and necessary disposition that isn't necessarily present in everyone, or even in 'many'.

The more I think about, the more this becomes almost obvious, and my initial assumption becomes unjustified. This, by the way, is the case with many assumptions, if only one allows oneself a few moments to recognize it as a potentially questionable point from which to proceed.

Thing is, I know people, with some close and some more distant, who have never known anything but mundane-ness; whose world view was always colored by that which is, or appears to be, and who have never looked beyond the façades of what is readily apparent. Some, I've come to think, simply are incapable of doing it; congenitally so. Others have been rendered incapable of doing it, through a mix of predisposition and/or upbringing and/or life's contingencies. Yet others have chosen, with more or less deliberation, not to look—or even to admit that there's anything to look for. Yet others—those having 'religious' faith, particularly of the monotheist kind—have decided to postpone looking until they're dead, and meanwhile pretend that 'worship' either provides a guarantee of sorts that they'll actually get to look after they die, or that it provides a suitable substitute, and indeed an improvement on, looking right now. Plus there are uncounted variations on those themes, of course.

It would be easy for me to say that these people are somehow impoverished, but that would be arrogant. But it is true that between those who look while alive—and, yes, that includes the real weird ones, because the spectrum of any human activity tends to range from one extreme to another—and those who don't look, there is an abyss of what some call 'life philosophy', or what might be termed 'cosmic cognition'.

Often, when I visit people, I try to sneak a peak at their collection of books, movies and music. Discreetly, of course, if at all possible; but sometimes 'discreet' is difficult, so it's easier to ask straight-out if they mind, and since they never say 'no'...

The first thing to note is whether they actually have books, movies and/or music, and then how many. Secondly is where they put them.Thirdly,one has to figure whether they are 'display and/or collection' items, or whether they are for actual reading—or both, which tells yet another story. Then there's the type of book (fiction or non-fiction) the general tenor or level (low-brow or high-brow or eclectic), the subjects, and so on.

What kinds of books do people hide in places where visitors, even close friends, can't see them? That's really fascinating!

And then, for the likes of me, I look for books that suggest that the people involved have daydreams and secret desires, aspirations, regrets, yearnings that they might not even admit to themselves. But what they have on their shelves—what they considered important enough to buy, or record/download maybe and burn to CD/DVD, because they wanted to own it, rather than merely having it 'available', with more or less notice and effort required either through libraries or the internet—that stuff tells me just about everything I need to know about their state of 'cosmic cognition'; and what we share and just exactly where lies the bottomless cognitive and philosophical abyss that separates us.

So, back to the real point of this blog entry:

Mundy or Fable? Which would you rather be?

Now
, I mean. Now that you're obviously not a child anymore, but have to live and fend for yourself in the world and all that stuff.

You can, of course, dismiss the question as quixotic or just plain dumb, completely irrelevant and therefore not even worthy of answering. But that in itself is a kind of answer—and a revelation of yourself to yourself, like it or not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"They're shooting at us!" — "Well, start shooting back!"

I was going to make this blog a griping session about certain booksellers and their arrogant assumptions about literally everybody who isn't published according to some, to me incomprehensible, and in my case entirely inapplicable, criteria. However, in the same manner as I wasn't really willing to listen to a certain bookseller's putative 'reasons' for...ahh, whatever...just because he wanted to 'vent', and, I guess, be 'understood' or something...in that same manner let's bury this little bit of futility and not inflict it on my esteemed readers.

Well, actually I have, in the above paragraph, but let this be the end of it.

Instead here's some flow-of-consciousness stuff. These are the lyrics from a song called 'Minstrel Boy', which appeared in the movie Black Hawk Down.



The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him;
His father's sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said "No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery!"


It so happens that I recently saw the movie again, and it hasn't lost any of its impact, despite the fact that I've seen it quite a few times since it came out in 2001.

In the movie, guns figure prominently. There are also a number of vehicles, but here, guns definitely killed more people than the vehicles—which is, I suppose, something that gun-opponents will jump on to justify the continuing and widespread use of cars, despite the fact that they are actually more lethal than guns.

They might also argue that, after all, cars, unlike guns, are not actually intended to kill people. Gun-proponents, on the other hand, will, however, argue that guns, when in the hands of civilians, also aren't really intended to kill, but for such purposes as defense of oneself and those entrusted to one's care.

So, why are cars in such widespread use, even by those ethically incompetent to drive them; while guns are, for example in Australia, confined to people, like most of the police force and 'security guards', who are for the most part utterly incompetent with regards to handling them—and, if the record is anything to go by, are not ethically 'qualified' to be allowed to wield them either?

Could it have to do with economics? Like alcohol and tobacco are legal while marijuana isn't, because they are major money spinners, not least through excise?

Nahh. Too easy. Right?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guns? Who Needs Guns? (II)

The other day, when I stopped at a service station, I saw a car parked there on the rear window of which was a full-width transfer reading WEAPON.

A week later, on a highway whose condition is being blamed for far too many deaths, I again witnessed a double-dose of the simple truth that it's people who are to blame for those deaths; not some innocent object. Way I see it, and I drive that highway several times a week, there's nothing wrong with it. If anything, it's in pretty good condition, and laid out quite sensibly, so that anybody with an iota of driver's sense will be very safe on it indeed. But there's a lot wrong with the morons who drive on it and the pathetic enforcement of sensible traffic behavior by the police—who really, and I know this is a stereotype but it is true nonetheless, are never to be seen here where they're needed. Especially on weekends!

Anyway, one thought led to another, as thoughts often do, and I found these numbers—using US statistics, since the US is at the center of the argument, for reasons that will be obvious:

In the US the average number of cars per capita is about 0.8. The average annual number of road deaths per 100k people is about 15.

Also in the US, the average number of guns per capita is about 0.9. The average annual number of firearms-related deaths per 100k people is about 12.

Yes, that's right: A car is more likely to kill someone than a gun. From the above figures cars win the killing score by a ratio of 1.4 : 1! It may be that tweaking the numbers could equalize the ratios a bit; but it could also make them even more divergent. I wonder if anyone would care to study this in detail—preferably without an agenda, but that of wanting to find the truth. Not that anybody will. There's no money in it.

While gun proponents will no doubt gleefully jump on the above figures to make their case, gun opponents will with equal certainty try to rationalize them away by specious explanations.

However, this isn't about the merits of gun ownership vs. car ownership, but about the simple fact that a car is indeed just as much—or, as it does appear, at least as much!—a killing instrument as a gun. Yet think of how differently states who impose draconian bans on gun ownership, like some US states, nations like Australia and New Zealand, as well as most EU states, treat the two kinds of lethal weapons.

I invite you to overcome your utterly predictable knee-jerk desire to invoke facile explanations for why this should be so—no matter what side of this gun-ownership fence you happen to be on.

Meanwhile I have one possible solution for the problem of drivers who either think they may consider their vehicle as a 'weapon', or who are just too stupid and incapable of making rational and responsible judgments about the obligations imposed on them by being allowed to be in control of a heavy metal potential killing machine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oh, NO! Not BOOKS? Real ones. What is the world coming to??

Google to reincarnate digital books as paperbacks

Google Inc. is giving 2 million books in its digital library a chance to be reincarnated as paperbacks.

Dare I hope that what I was talking about in this blog is actually being reversed, at least to some degree? Is the 'digital revolution' turning into a 'digital revulsion'?

Nahh, can't be...

Can it?

One may hope.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Only in Denmark...

Continuing the Only In... series.

Denmark pulls 'promiscuous' video

A video promoting tourism in Denmark has been removed from YouTube after complaints it promoted promiscuity.

The three-minute clip shows a young blonde woman, trying to find a man whom she had a one night stand with, who fathered her child "August".

VisitDenmark's manager, Dorte Kiilerich said the film was supposed to be a "nice and sweet story of a woman".

But Denmark's Economy Minister, Lene Espersen, said it "was not a very well-thought-out picture of the country".

In the advert, the woman says - in English - that she was "trying to find August's father".

"We met one night a year and a half ago when you were on vacation here in Denmark.

"We met... and then decided to have a drink and, yeah, it's really embarrassing but it's more or less what I remember.

"I don't remember where you're from or even your name."

Critics says the video implied that along with traditional tourism, Denmark was a place to go to have unprotected sex with strangers.

One Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, labelled it "grotesque" and a "waste of taxpayers' money".

The video also prompted a slew of angry comments, with one user saying it was a "tasteless, tactless way of attracting attention".

Ms Kiilerich said she regretted any offence the video may have caused, but the intent had been to tell "a nice and sweet story about a grown-up woman who lives in a free society and accepts the consequences of her actions".

Whatever the merits or demerits of this issue, I want to ask you: how much could this possibly have cost to make?? A thousand bucks maybe? And that would be literally everything associated with it, and including seriously paying everybody involved. I could have made it for fifty (cost of tapes and an hour's editing). Max.

Taxpayer's money wasted? Depends on what you compare it to? Politicians waste a thousand times as much in a single week in the state of Queensland alone, all for their own benefit. I'm sure it's not much different in Denmark or anywhere on Earth, democracies or not. So, if it's a matter of proportion, the 'waste' involved is surely minute.

My opinion is that for sex-education purposes the Twilight series is probably a better role model for young impressionable girls. However, tourism is a strange business, and one might ask onself why 'tourist' in Denmark, rather than somewhere else? After all, expending travel $ or € on this or that is a choice that people have to make. Where are they going and what for? What is considered worthwhile seeing or experiencing?

Depends of the people involved? Most certainly. Meaning, however, that such ads will indeed project certain images, and certain people will respond to such images.

I have sympathy for the declared intention of the clip ("a nice and sweet story about a grown-up woman who lives in a free society and accepts the consequences of her actions") and it is, by itself, very unobjectionable. But putting the video 'out there' assumes that the vast majority of those watching it—and being susceptible to it, and therefore possibly responding by making Denmark their next tourist destination—have the brains, emotional sensibility, intelligence and sensitivity to actually see it as having that intention.

That assumption is muddle-headed nonsense. The majority of men—yes, 'men', because that's whom it is directed at, which is another problem with the clip!—will see it as a hint that in Denmark you can find attractive girls, who are sweet and pretty, but don't have the brains not to get blind drunk with complete strangers from foreign lands, and are quite willing to let them have unprotected sex—and then with those cads leaving them again before they even get to know their names. Classic male wet dreams.

Hard to say if it's already too late now to stop them from coming into the country and trying to see if it works for them. But it's certain that clip can't be 'pulled' anymore, because it has already been duplicated and now it's out there like forever. Ahh, yes, the dangers of the internet.

For those wanting to make up their own minds, as they should, here's the clip (one of the duplicated ones):


HMMFFF, NO CAN DO ANYMORE...

They took if off YouTube. Well, for those really, really wanting to see it, it's still on the BBC site, linked to above.

† Sorry, guys, but you know I'm right. Those who fall into the indicated category will know it and not be ashamed of it either; and indeed some of them wouldn't even understand what 'the problem' is. The rest of you: well, I know we're not all like that, but you know that far too many are.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guns? Who needs guns?

Medical student 'slays burglar with samurai sword'

A US student has killed a burglar with a samurai sword, slicing off his left hand and severely cutting his neck after he spotted the intruder in his garage...

Using a sword requires considerably more skill than a gun; it's more quiet and far less likely to end up killing people in the next room because there are no stray bullets to pass through thin walls.

But "severely cutting his neck"? Hmmfff. Not enough tameshigiri practice! Tut, tut. Back to the dojo for some more serious work!

I would also like to suggest that for home-use a wakazashi is far more appropriate, as it's more manageable and less likely to hurt bystanders.

Afterthought: The guy is probably going up for serious charges. The fact that the hand was lopped off suggests that the cut to the neck was an unnecessary act for the purpose of self-defense. If this is the correct scenario, it would also indicate that whoever taught this guy didn't do a good job of teaching him the self-control required of anybody in the martial arts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Death of a Nice Guy

While I cannot bring myself to waste the slightest of emotions or significant thoughts on the demise, or life, of Michael Jackson, the death of Patrick Swayze left me truly saddened. Not because the world lost a great actor or performer or whatever—which he was, but that kind of thing is incidental—but because I think he was a man worth emulating. Not a lot of those to go around.

In cases like these, death really, really sucks—and, no, the world isn't a 'fair' place.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing Midnight Sun Alone

Yeah, obscure title, I know. But while browsing through some stuff on the internet for background to my last blog I came across an interesting little snippet of information, and it was like "Yes, I get that!"

Apparently there's an unwritten novel in the Twilight Series, called Midnight Sun. It was started and significant parts were leaked to the internet without the author's consent. The author's response apparently included this: "It's really complicated, because everyone now is in the driver's seat, where they can make judgment calls. 'Well, I think this should happen, I think she should do this.' I do not feel alone with the manuscript. And I cannot write when I don't feel alone."

A few things I want to say to this.

First of all, it's very good to hear that someone who is what you might call 'a long way away from me'—in terms of disposition, nature, religion, culture, background, life-experience, age, and not to forget gender—feels about this the way I would. 'Do', actually. I can't 'share' my stories during their genesis and development, or they die. Until they're on the page they are my secret, and I generally don't even want to talk about them in the broadest outline.

I mean, it's OK towrite some generalised teaser like: With the arrival of Gaston Huil, former Controller of the Authority, a new and dangerous game for the future of Tethys has begun. And at the end lies revealed the true secret of Tethys—and why it will change the course of human history.

Paperback edition cover

But that's just the broadest of brushes. It's like a painter telling people that the background of his new painting will be a wash of blue and white; or even more vague, that it's going to have two colors, onto which the details will be painted. That's kind of what the story is about, in plot-thematic terms. Everything else is mine, and in truth not even I know exactly what it's going to be—and I have the freedom not to know and in this way to actually find out for myself. The path between the beginning, which I have written, and the end, which I know, it vague and potentially winding through landscapes and revealing vistas that even I haven't got a clue of.

The moment this kind of tale turns into a committee creature, even to the extent of letting someone else, no matter who and no matter how close they are to you, suggest something like "Why don't you make X confront Y?" or "The relationship between A and B should probably be developed." or things of that nature...the moment I allow that to get into the way of the creative process, the process itself gets...oh, I don't know what word to use to describe it. Maybe 'corruption' is too strong; but not all that much 'too strong'.

The process has a lot in common with dreams. Dreams are your own as well, and considerably more uncontrollable than stories. Dreams have an air of freedom of existence; they are the essence of outrageous nonconformity, of what we like to think of when we say "thoughts are free", which thoughts usually are not, but deliberately-spun stories, fantasies, kind of allow them to become more that way than the narratives that rule our everyday lives. But for the story-creator him- or herself, that effectively get choked off when one allows 'input', as it's called nowadays. The correct word is 'meddling', but 'input' sounds so much better.

There are many reasons why people other than the story-creator like to 'meddle' in the creation. On one hand there's a genuine desire to participate or 'share', in a purely personal way. This is usually the case with people who are close, personally. Family and friends lead the way here. Story-creation is a very anti-social process, if it's done as I've explained above, and for those close to the story-creator, the isolation and thought-process separation involved in the creation and, usually the writing-down, of the story, is an in-your-face reminder that there's something going on in another person's mind that one is excluded from. Such sentiments are very understandable and should be respected. But it doesn't change the fact that things are as they are, and I wonder how many good stories were never told because this conflict could not be resolved—or because it was resolved either by a writer just giving up writing because it was just too hard to deal with all this, or by allowing 'input' to influence the creative process, thus making the story-creation into a social process, which made it into something different than it would otherwise have been. Whether it would have been 'better' is nucupatory. I think that no matter what, it loses what you might call 'authenticity'.

And this is, of course, also what happens when, as is common today, the process becomes 'internetted'. Now it's the fans that want their input to be considered; for all sorts of reasons, which range from a desire to feel that they are a part of the creative process and that they want to experience (read, see, hear) certain things in the continuation of a story or the revelation of the characters and their motivations, and so on—to the much less savory motivation of just the desire to meddle and to acquire some proxy-fame in their own eyes, or maybe in the eyes of people who know them, by said meddling, which they probably see as 'participation'.

'Participation' in stories by people who really shouldn't, is a phenomenon with close ties to a confused notion of the value of 'democracy', which has migrated from politics to all sorts of spheres of human activity. Matters are confused enough in the political realm, but when it comes to the creative sphere, matters go from mere confusion to being actively destructive.

I don't know where this started. Star Trek conventions? I don't know. I could understand why in matters of TV series the fans would eventually and inevitably want a 'voice'. And look at the Firefly series, where the whole thing revealed 'fan power' or major proportions. The internet and universal connectivity—meaning one didn't have to travel to conventions!—provide the ideal breeding ground to make this become a major movement. Nowadays, for authors who sell gazillions even more so, it's becoming almost obligatory to allow the 'audience' to 'participate'. In the case of what might have started out as a mediocre work of fiction—written or TV or cinema—that might actually improve matters. Also, pleasing one's audience by making them feel that they have become a kind of (I hate that word!) 'stakeholder' will contribute to retaining them and thus ensuring continued popularity and therefore sales—at least until they find something else to stimulate their neophilia and promise them more creativity-by-proxy.

It may be that this kind of thing is OK for some authors, and good for them. But I couldn't work that way. Part of the reason why I write stories is because the act of creating them satisfies a personal need. Maybe you can call it a 'passion', but I don't know. In any case, it's something that qualifies as you-do-it-because-you-need-to-do-it. That is not a social thing. And it demands an audience that's not just prepared but actually happy to 'share' your story by allowing themselves to become immersed in it as it is. They may project their own meaning upon it, as one does upon every story one hears, and they may make it their own by projecting those meanings. But those inclined that way will not nitpick it apart or feel that it needs to be improved by their own contributions.

I know this implies a certain 'passivity', if you will, and a certain acceptance; and that's become very un-PC, partially in tandem with that confused 'democracy' thing I mentioned before. But actually there's nothing wrong with it. Speaking purely for myself as a consumer of other people's stories, I have never felt the slightest need to 'input' my own stuff into it. 'Acceptance' actually doesn't imply 'passivity' at all, or submission to someone else's whims or whatever. The 'participation' in the story is through the sheer enjoyment of it, the identification with the characters or the story's message; things like that. And for stories that I like, I'm willing to take whatever there may be that isn't quite along my line of thought and accept it. Not necessarily take it on board, but accept that it is there, because that's the way it was for the story's creator. And that enriches me, because I accept it and because I feel not the slightest need to make it better—mainly because I probably don't know what 'better' actually means. If it's just to tweak the tale so it approaches my own views of 'perfection', then I'm just revealing my own insecurites and inadequacies.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Twilight of our Civilization. The New Moon of Oppressive Nannydom. The Eclipse of Freedom and Reason. Breaking Dawn of...what?


I deliberately inserted all the titles of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series into the title of this blog. Thought I'd capture a number of folks who are googling them. Dirty trick, I know, but I happen to have a comment on the series—despite never having read it (though I fully intend to, or be it possibly as an audio book) and despite not even (as of yet) having seen the first movie of the same name.

Actually my comments aren't so much on the books themselves, but on certain individuals' and organizations' reaction to them. Right now, for example, many, if eventually not all, primary schools in Queensland, Australia, and possibly other states, are pulling the series' novels from their shelves. Those kids who have them in their private possession will be discouraged—whatever that means—to bring them to school.

The public reaction has ranged from "assholes" to "bloody Nazis" to "censorship!" to "good on them for not letting our kids read this filth". Stephen King, the famous and, as it turns out, mind-numbingly small-minded author, who commented unfavorably on Meyer, her novels and her ability to write decent English, would probably approve, though not necessarily of the reasons why the books are being pulled. The reason why they are being withdrawn include that they were too 'racy' and that they 'conflicted with people's religious beliefs'.

Now here's the joke, OK? So sit down, because you're going have a hard time standing up while you're laughing at this:

(Warning: SPOILERS. Even tough I haven't read the books, I have read synopses—which BTW I have no problem with, because unlike a lot of people I have no issue with 'knowing the story', at least in outline. The essence of a story isn't contained in the plot anyway, but in the characters, and so if you happen to know the gist and even the general tenor of the ending, it isn't really a big deal.)

Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. She's an anti-abortionist, doesn't drink or smoke, and certainly, like her main-hero vampire, doesn't believe in sex before marriage, definitely believes in God and an afterlife and has the Mormon notion that families might actually like staying together, maybe even to the extent of living together. So, there's no sex beyond kissing until she marries her vampire, and the heroine won't abort her baby and risks her own life to ensure that it can live.

That's the stuff these people really don't want primary school kids to read? Reverence for life, even if unborn. No sex before marriage. No drugs. Really valuing your family and your connection with them.

Why don't they want them to read the books, which, according to some are 'obscene' and 'filth'? Because they are racy and have sex in them? How sexy can they be, coming from a Mormon? How can they possibly instill the wrong sexual values?

Seriously, what is it with these people?

First of all, I wonder how many of these librarians, or whoever tells the librarians to 'withdraw' the books, have actually read the books? Actually I don't wonder. If more than 10% have read them, I'd be very, very surprised.

Secondly, how many of them, even if they haven't actually read the books, know as much about the author and the books' contents as I have just conveyed to you in a few words above? That would be more than 10%, I'd say. Or maybe not. And then I wonder how many of them, given that 'religious beliefs' were included in the reasons given for withdrawal—hey, should someone point out to these people, about the sexual connotations and possible interpretations about the term 'withdrawal'?—could it be that those 'religious reasons' actually relate to the author's Mormon associations? Knowing what I know about religious bigotry, I wouldn't be surprised; not at all.

And another thing about 'racy'. What's that mean anyway? People have sex? That's probably the healthiest and most satisfying activity people can possibly indulge in for recreational purposes—with due care, of course, and in today's world that's become a major issue. There are some very bad people out there. But the reason why they can exist, those 'bad people' I mean, is that we're living in such a sex-repressed society.

Don't I watch TV or movies or ads, you ask me? Well, I do, and I stand by my statement. Just because sex is out there, doesn't mean we're not repressed over it.

Things is, if we weren't repressed over it, a lot of the sex-charged ads wouldn't work, because they wouldn't have the 'naughty' factor. The sexualization of young children, and especially girls, wouldn't be half as successful for the bunch of cynical commercial exploiters who right now get a huge amount of mileage and profits out of this distasteful business. It simply wouldn't work, because 'sex' wouldn't be fashionable; again, because it would lack the 'naughty', i.e. 'forbidden', factor. Sexual predators wouldn't be able to operate with the same level of success, because kids would talk much more freely to adults they trust about it, and there would be many more such adults around; not like now, where kids are scared to even raise the topic of sex with adults, who by and large seem to have forgotten how confusing it all was for them. Or else they're still confused. Yeah, that's it, I think!

The same people who are ordering, and agreeing to having this done, the withdrawal—go on, think 'withdrawal', 'withdrawal', and I dare you to get the other connotation out of your head the next time you hear of books being 'withdrawn'!—of these books from school libraries, are thereby actually instrumental, and therefore directly responsible, for the continued existence of, and indeed the increase in, all the grim results of social sexuality-suppression I alluded to above.

They'd vehemently deny this, of course. They wouldn't even understand what I'm talking about. But their and their powers' ascendancy is indeed one of the symptoms of the twilight of certain kinds of civilization. And, yes, there is a dark new Moon of oppression of a kind that shrouds itself in nanny-state benevolence. This does indeed show the dark shadow of a major eclipse across such values as personal responsibility, liberty and the use of reason.

The only question remaining is whether this eclipse is indeed like the celestial variant. It if is inherently transient, and will ultimately be followed by a break of the dawn of something more conducive to furthering humanity's development—and if not humanity as a whole, then maybe of some parts of it, who drag themselves out of the paternalist morass which, right now, they're burying themselves in.

A final word and a disclaimer. As most of my readers will probably know, I don't hold religion in much regard. In fact I think by and large most of it is poison. But, like with all things in this life, even the things you dislike often have elements that you might find yourself surprised to share. And so, despite my ubiquitous railings against 'religioids', and despite my usually rude objections to having inflicted upon me visiting missionaries at my door, I find myself wholly on the side of a Mormon—which must surely be terminally ironic!—because I really cannot find fault with most of her values—even though my own heroines usually qualify as 'kick ass', because that's the way I like them best.

Friday, September 11, 2009

911

For the record:

No, it is not forgotten. I still have the images in my head and they'll never leave me. But I have nothing more to say on the subjectt, if for no other reason, but that I'm sick and tired of listening to yet more political and agenda-mongering logorrhoea.

And the dead are still dead and will forever remain thus.

Tongue eaters?

Search me why, but I find this mildly disturbing...
Tongue louse
The isopod was found living inside a weaver fish

A rare parasite which burrows into host fish before eating and replacing their tongues with itself has been found off the Jersey coast.

Fishermen near the Minquiers - islands under the jurisdiction of Jersey - found the isopod, a type of louse, inside a weaver fish.

Marine researcher Paul Chambers, from the Société Jersiaise, was one of the fishing party and identified the find.

He said he was surprised to find the isopod away from the Mediterranean sea.

Isopods are normally about 2cm (1in) long and live in fish, surviving on the animal's blood, in warm waters.

'Quite vicious'

Mr Chambers told BBC Jersey: "When we emptied the fish bag out there at the bottom was this incredibly ugly looking isopod.

"Really quite large, really quite hideous - if you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought 'that's a bit of a nasty beast'.

"I struggled for weeks to find an identification for this thing until, quite by chance I stumbled across something that looked similar in a Victorian journal.

"Apparently there's not too much ill effect to the fish itself except it's lost its tongue."

Experts at the University of Southampton confirmed that the creature was an isopod and that there had been several sightings of them in Cornwall in 1996.

Mr Chambers added: "It doesn't affect humans other than if you do actually come across a live one and try and pick it up - they are quite vicious, they will deliver a good nip."

Doesn't affect humans? What, like H1N1 doesn't?

I wonder what this triggered off in my mind. Maybe I was thinking of creepy aliens? Or politicians?

Of course, politicans aren't exactly 'rare', but seem to breed faster than cane toads; and they are even more pestilential. But then I wondered... Maybe it's like some takeover bid by aliens. You know, like the Goa'uld. They took over high-level US officials, aiming for the Presidency; where else?

I'm thinking here that maybe we need to make it obligatory to have tongues shown, rather than hidden behind teeth-clenched smiles. Maybe... Nahh, I'm just being overly imaginatively stimulated. Still, I'm probably now fixated on trying to see whether people really have their own tongues or if they've been replaced by isopods of whatever.

Anyway, I don't know quite why, but this is damn creepy anyway, at so many levels...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beslan: 5th Anniversary of a Human Obscenity

I'm a few days late, but this should not be forgotten.

1 September 2004. A school in Beslan, Ossetia.

A bunch of people who, one might argue—not without some emotional justification—should never have been allowed to draw even their first breath, take over 1100 people hostage, more than 700 of them children. They wire the rooms with explosives in a way that leaves no doubt that they never had anything in mind but to eventually kill their hostages and themselves; after as much exposure as they could get for their cause. (Never mind their cause. It could have been 'saving the world', for all I care.)

When the siege is over, over 300 hostages are dead, more than half of them children.

For those inclined to be blasé about this, Google 'Beslan' and go to the images pages! I warn you, this is harrowing, gruesome material. There is no 'worst image'. The scale of this thing is mind-numbing.

What makes this 'more terrible', if you will, than other occasions where innocent people are massacred—well, it isn't 'more terrible', but it may hit you that way, just as the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan seemed to have more of an impact than others we hear about—is that this event is set in a context that we, basically meaning 'Europeans', can relate to without any significant cognitive disconnect. It brings home the same thing I said in my blog entry on Neda Agha-Soltan's murder.

It also hits us right between the eyes, because of the way in which it highlights evil. It makes it clear that evil happens when, for whatever reason, people lose their will to think clearly. The deliberate targeting of the Beslan school for a propaganda massacre by the perpetrators represents such a point of mental dysfunction, when evil is allowed to gain a hold. Indeed, it appears to me, that here is one of the ways in which 'evil' finds a definition-by-instance. Evil which happens because it found an excuse for happening. For I am utterly certain that it would never have occurred to the hostage takers that the reasons for their actions lay not in the cause in the name of which they did what they did, but in their own minds. That they chose to do evil because they wanted to, and therefore became its incarnations.

But these are words and little good they do. Beslan was one of those things that happen, but which we all should do our best not to allow to happen. And the victims of our neglect are, as is usually the case, those we call 'the innocent'.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ahh, Cane Toads...



Ugly brutes. I think I have made an inroad to freezing a lot of them on our property out of existence, but you gotta keep looking and freezing.

For those unaware of 'humane' methods of killing them, there are three:
  1. Practice your golf swing with the heaviest driver you can get. Make sure you hit them precisely and hard.
  2. Put them into a plastic shopping bag—either by using the bag to grab them and then just turning it inside out, which is good for a single toad; or else use latex gloves to pick them up and dump several of them into one bag, which means they can die together—then tie up the bag, so they can't get out, and put them into a plastic container into a freezer for a few hours. You want the plastic container in case the bag has a hole and they pee into your freezer before expiry, which wouldn't be nice.
  3. Gas them. (Expensive and requires specialised equipment—and gas, of course!)
I favor #2 because I have spare bags, a freezer and latex gloves. Bag 'em, tag 'em, freeze 'em.

Exposure to night-time expeditions to catch cane toads has caused me to think about their value as a metaphor.
  • They're ugly.
  • They just sit there and get bigger and bigger and bigger and fatter and uglier by the day.
  • They're poisonous to just about anything that touches them, except certain ant species that eat them when they're small.
  • They are too lazy and just plain stupid to jump away when being stalked and ultimately grabbed and bagged, but struggle half-heartedly once in the bag.
  • They have no discernible function in the ecology of anything, and if placed into a system that's not adapted to them, they do great damage—without actually 'doing' anything.
  • They breed and breed and breed.
  • They can populate vast stretches of land one jump at a time.
  • They come out only at night.
  • During daytime they hide in the dankest places they can find, often squeezing together in clumps into places like rocky crevasses, overhangs at the rims of ponds, and so on.
They do, in other words, embody a number of attributes which, were said attributes to be found in humans—as they actually are, though seldom all of them at one time—would cause many people to react with instinctive disgust, loathing, or at the very least, a silent 'yak!'

Hmm. Wonder what it can mean. The cane toad as the embodiment of collective human...whatever. I can't find a word for it.

Maybe we ought to look at the cane toad not just as the pest which it is, but at something more. Maybe it is one of nature's antitheses of everything that is likeable about many individuals our own species.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Internet Speed Mania

Everybody with access to the internet and an opinion about its speed seems to agree on one thing: it's too damn slow.

Always was, still is, and maybe always will be.

Excuse me for sounding like an old fart reject 1980s dumbwit, but I disagree. To explain why, let me deconstruct the internet speed thing a bit, and why more than 10 megabits per second should be good enough for anybody, excepting those who really have far too much time on their hands.

I admit, many of us wish they would get that kind of speed at their home, but I'm setting a pretty high limit here to accommodate some extended communication requirements. In my experience, 3 mbps is probably quite enough for most people, and that includes those who, like me—who works from home and 'tele-commutes' for most of the week—depend on the internet during their daily work.

Having said all that in the spirit of laying out my position, I'd like to suggest that the mania over higher and higher speeds is...well, a 'mania'. Reason for people to jump on bandwagons and many to make lots of money, and the usual mumpitz. Nothing else.

Why am I saying that? What about those, for example, who need the speed for downloading movies at lightning speed? Interactive high-definition TV. Everything pushed into fiberoptic cables so we can put everything through the same pipe. V (voice, video, video-and-voice) OIP. Etc etc etc.

Well, sure, there are instances and applications where the transfer of large amounts of data, like video and images is of importance, and maybe there are good reasons why here and there high-speed networks are a good thing. But let's get real here—and, BTW, let's not forget the energy cost, meaning carbon footprint of high-speed information transmission! this is not a joke; there is a price to be paid in real environmental terms for this obsession!—and look at what's often called 'the average household' and ridiculous transmission speeds of over 20 Mbps or the like.

So we're aiming for the universal pipe for data from everywhere to everywhere? Make it fast enough and, so many will argue, eventually we can deconstruct the other transmission media we're currently using and use 14∞ instead. Well, if that's the ultimate aim, how can I demur? What am I? Some Luddite freak? Geez!

All I want to note is this: If there's only one pipe left through which everything goes, then cutting that pipe will have far more disastrous consequences than if we have backup systems. Specialization is indeed for insects—as is reliance on one-basket-for-all-eggs technology for our information transmission needs. Very, very stupid.

And, let's face it, but apart from those actually needing services which provide for the very fast transmission of very high speed data, just about every bit of information available and falling under the rubrik "information technology" is pretty much covered by a maximum of 20 Mbps, several times over. That includes VOIP, conferencing, scientific research and so on. The lines transmitting such information between network nodes, such as might be found in, say major cities etc, should be very fast, because we're pushing a huge amount of data through comparatively few channels. But the superhighway to every home? Give me a break.

Apart from that, as someone pointed out in a TV program the other day, the faster the network, the faster the hackers of the world can do their dirty work as well. And there are a lot of very determined, intelligent people out there with nothing better to do than to beat the system. And, if experience is anything to go by, the system can always be beaten, and 'security' is a canard.

We need to maintain information-distribution diversity. It's like biodiversity, in the sense that the latter ensures that despite environmental changes life does not die out. Species might, but life per se doesn't. The creation of uniformity in the information transmission universe is a bad thing. Very, very bad. Great material for a sci-fi novel that I'm yet to write.

Come to think about it, I had already written one version of it, and it was called System Crash. Maybe I should revisit it soon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Apple Sucks: 500 Gb internal disk problems persist (beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball...)

It takes a lot—a lot!—for me to trash Apple, but now's the time. I hate doing it, but I am unhappy, and I feel that they're not doing their users a good service, and they're basically, probably for reasons of publicity, playing it down, putting a spin on it, or, as it should be rightly called lying.

The issue is this:

15 inch Macbook Pros, the nice new shiny Aluminium ('Aluminum' to Americans) ones, have a dirty little problem: 500 GB internal disks don't work properly in them (all kinds, which I can attest to from experimental evidence!), and Apple have done nothing to fix the problem.

Oh, I admit, they released a firmware update, which is said to fix 'a rare problem' with certain types of 500 Gb internal disks, but it's no good to anyone if one tries to run the firmware installer to fix it, and all it says that the computer doesn't need the update! Very fucking funny. NOT!

Snow Leopard also doesn't address the problem. I just installed it and a fix is nowhere in sight. I installed it on an internal 500 Gb Seagate Momentus 7200rpm, one of the disk types giving problems. Well, as of now, it's a no-go zone. 1 minute into using the system the hangups start.

Beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball, beachball...

My personal solution: I installed Snow Leopard, which by the way is a lovely OS, and it looks, feels and work great—AS LONG AS YOU AREN'T USING IT ON AN INTERNAL 500GB DISK!!—onto a 250 Gb disk, and it works just dandy. But there is a reason why I want the 500 Gb internal disk, and Apple have done NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING useful to fix the problem.

It's not a disaster: I can work just fine, but it's a pain-in-the-ass. I hope that users give Apple living hell over this, because Apple deserve it. Their spin on this issue is worthy of the worst that Microsoft has thrown at people in the past.

I am disappointed. Very. Just goes to show that you really can't trust anything corporate.

But what else is new?