Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr

Today (heh, only just barely, as I'm posting this near midnight) was the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.
I think you'll agree with me that that's an event worth celebrating. I also hope you'll spare a thought for the many unsung heroes of the struggle to create a better world.

I read his letter from a Birmingham jail earlier today, and found myself very moved. It's really worth at least skimming through. It's actually somewhat uplifting, seeing how far we've come. Although I found myself thinking "Man, I wish I'd done something that productive in jail...."

Here is a YouTube link to one of his most famous speeches too.

Prejudice and discrimination of any sort is inherently counter to the best interests of humanity at large. Xenophobia is a deeply ingrained part of our neuro-psychological make-up, yet examples of overcoming this limitation abound. A heterogeneous society is strongest, it's diverse sociological and genetic make-up allowing it to weather the broadest range of physical and idealogical disaster; allowing the most evolution and advancement.
Thus I think it's important that we continue to advance in a societal revolution, overturning social norms that create the rigid paradigm that allows such destructive behavior, such as sexism, racism, and other expressions of xenophobia to continue.

Lobby your politicians, your mayors, senators, congressmen and school boards to revolutionize our education system. Education is a self-renewing resource. The more and better educated our citizens are, the more people there will be to educate each successive generation. Don't bother trying to impose "tolerance" from the outside, but teach rationality, and that horse will drink all the water it needs.

Heh, I think you can tell this is something I feel passionately about.
The world can be better than it is now. Let us stand on the shoulders of giants, giants such as Martin Luther King Jr, and continue our climb higher.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Recently Deflowered Mind

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what I could say about this.

Edit: I fixed the link. It went down for some reason.

Also, Jesse, I'm so happy for you, and you have all of my support.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Robert Talks About Some Books

So I started that "Read 50 Books in a Year" last year in September. Being an 80 minute bus ride from my school campus, I made some pretty good headway into it.

I'm gonna talk briefly about the books I read during that challenge, and some others I've read since. This might actually have to turn into a series of posts. Since I'll mostly only be able to say, "This was cool" or "Eh," this probably won't tell you much aside from the kind of books I like. But there's the off chance you'll skim through and find something you'd like to pick up. If this happens even once, it'll all have been worth it.

I've linked to Powell's Book Store if they have the book, Amazon otherwise, but —assuming you live here— don't forget about Multnomah County Library. I'm a big fan of libraries, mostly because I'm poor, but also because I almost never reread books anyways.

Maybe someday I'll become some big-shot blog guy, and I'll come back and change these all to Amazon Affiliate links.

Starship Troopers
One of the most interesting observations on reading this book was noticing how very very different it was from the movie. So of course, I looked it up. Turns out, the movie was about half-way through production before they realized how similar it was to the book, Starship Troopers, and, in a fantastic lesson about making lemonade from lemons, licensed the rights rather than be sued.
To make a proper movie about the book you'd have to change a few things. More people need to die (oh, gee, you mean people pass on during war time? Thanks for letting us now Heinlein!). There needs to be more sexism: despite powered god damn armor, women aren't in the terrine shock troops, and Rico often drifts off into musings about his protector complex for the sainted inhabitants of womandom. Really, that's a persistent theme: Rico drifting into la la land and telling you about it. The movie would be seventy percent long shots of Rico sitting there, as his voice-over begins a thoughtful philosophy lesson (about corporal punishment, stratocracy, or how much the modern historic US armed forces sucked), which would fade in to just Robert Heinlein talking to you as it went on.
Later this week, look for "Old Man's War" which has some interesting comparisons.

The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
If I need to say anything about Terry Prachet's work, you have either been living under a rock for your entire life, or are not worthy of continued breath.
That said, it's really interesting to go all the way back to the beginning and watch his work evolve as you read through. None of these are my most favorite Discworld books, but they're all worth reading.
I'd be pretty surprised if you didn't know that Terry Pratchett is a sterling, shining author of some of the best fantasy parody out there. He's also probably contracted early onset Alzheimer's :(
Please, let's all cross our fingers for some of the new therapies that've been developed recently (even if one of them requires weekly injections into the spinal column...).
What I've always most enjoyed about the Discworld series is that even while it's poking fun at the absurdities of fantasy, it does so in a loving way that never turns farcical or grotesque.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Some of these books I'd read before, but the last time was years and years ago, so it was a bit like unearthing buried treasure to find some of the gems like A Wizard of Earthsea.
Ursula K Le Guin's writing has that poetic and mythic flair that differentiates fantasy escapism potboilers from fantastic literature.
I know a lot of people disagree with me on the subject of Tolkien's work. I found the world fascinating, but the books wouldn't have held my interest without the sublime poetry of the words.
For me, Wizard of Earthsea is much the same. But please, don't let that throw you off. Though it has that same artistic quality, Le Guin's writing is a uniquely wonderful experience.

Blood Music
Greg Bear writes some interesting hard-ish Sci-Fi. Aside from Blood Music, I've started two of his other books, Forge of God and Legacy. I quite enjoy the themes and ideas of his work, and he's far from a terrible writer, but he lacks that certain quality that makes the best authors so engaging.
Blood Music is a bit difficult to describe without giving away the plot. It really feels like a fascinating idea that's had a bit of narrative hung off it, rather than a fully fleshed out tale. Do read if you're interested in the possibilities of future bio- and nano-technology.

Tad Williams is also the author of the Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn trilogy, as well as the cyberpunk Otherland series. Otherland's first book, "City of Golden Shadow" took too long to start for me, so I think that says something about it. However, Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn is very nearly everything I think a high fantasy novel should be, so I was really looking forward to Shadowmarch.
I was a bit disappointed, but maybe my expectations were too high? It comes off as a decent but not superlative fantasy tale. The fae creatures want to take their land back, and at the same time, the empire south of the sea wants to take some land period. What's a small highlands kingdom with a kidnapped king to do?
What with the strange mystical enemies to the north, complex multi-sided wars, constant political strife, and more than one viewpoint character, comparisons with A Song of Ice and Fire are inevitable. I'll spare you the suspense and just tell you that Shadowmarch loses, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading. I'm heartily in favor of more fantasy books putting a strong focus on political conflict instead of trotting out the same dusty old clich├ęs.
I'll probably pick up the next one one of these days, and if you're a fantasy fan that needs something to kill time during a bus ride, maybe you should too.

Wizard's Bane
Wizardry Recompiled
Hmm. I think today's post may have to end on a low note.
Honestly, I'm not sure I would've read these if they weren't available free on the Internet. They have their moments, but it just doesn't follow through on the execution.
Your brand of fantasy escapism is obviously a pretty personal choice. For myself, real people pulled into the world of fantasy has always been a bit of a turn off. I think it dilutes the purity of the experience for me.
But I liked the unique touch here. A programmer whose knowledge of algorithms, abstraction and automation gives him an interesting edge over the hidebound wizards. Still, when one of the linchpins of the story (how the "Wiz" does his magical thang) is so poorly defined and inconsistently treated, the books burns through their goodwill rather quickly.
These are another relatively light fun read, but probably not worth your time, unless you're dying to read anything.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Internets is serious business.

So I've noticed this phenomenon, it occurs when people, particularly on the Internet, decide to have an intelligent, rational discussion about their beliefs in certain matters.

Yes, this does end in fire.

Typically, these individuals people have quite unremarkable and moderate opinions, which they will go on to state in relative terms to one another, and then continue into what some would call a "full and frank exchange of views".

It often happens that these people's positions are markedly similar to one another's (though don't try to tell them that!). Now, of course there are real differences of opinion here, but they're typically obscured by the way they're stated. Mostly, we state things in relative terms, but apply them to differing baselines.

Give me leave to tell a little story.
Alice and Bob are arguing about welfare affirmative-action Iraq abortion gun-control net-neutrality the price of apples.

Alice says, "I think apples are too expensive."
Bob says, "Apples should cost something."
They aren't specific and never say, "I think the apple should be two dollars," (we'll say it's three right now) which they both believe.
Bob is arguing against people who think apples should be free, and paid for with fairy dust.
Alice is arguing against people who want to jack the price of the apple up even further, to line their fat Corporate greed holes.
But they both think they're arguing at each other.

Then, this cross talk will also obscure other, real issues. (Bob, for instance, thinks genetically modified apples may not be safe, whereas Alice believes that in this particular instance the modifications are well understood. Both of these positions will be discussed, not in terms of the actual information of them, but as part of a larger position into which both are walling the other into caricatures of.)

There are complicating factors. For instance, Carol, who things apples should be one fifty, and Dave who thinks apples are fine at their current price. But Bob feels like a dick with nothing to say if he can only say "Um, one-fifty is too cheap," so it requires him to "demonize" Carol, and portray her as the communist she's not. (And vice versa.)

And of course, don't forget Eve, who really does think three bucks is too cheap for an apple, and Fred, who doesn't really think apples should be free, but says he does because he likes being a dick.

Now... I'm sure that while reading this, you've realized, quite correctly, that there's nothing particularly Earth shattering about this revelation. But I've written it all down because the fascinating ability of humans to store information externally can give rise to interesting insights.
Sure, it's obvious that there are a lot of people out there that think different than you do. Equally obviously, these people are wrong. But the next time you become upset with someone, or even find yourself nodding along to what they're saying, take a minute to figure out whether those words mean what you think they do. With perspective, a lot of disagreements disappear.

Thursday, January 1, 2009