delphipsmith: (Hepburn)
A group of technical folk from Silicon Valley have initiated a pledge called 'Never again', by which they state their refusal to create or contribute to databases that would be used to oppress and exclude.

This makes me happy.

The full text is posted online, but here is an excerpt:

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable...
delphipsmith: (Cicero books)
A wonderful interview with him over on Huffington Post:

"In my view, all these ideologies have destroyed literary study in the graduate schools and in the academies...All these "isms" are preposterous of course; they have nothing to do with the study of literature or with its originality. As I've said before, the esthetic is an individual and not a social concern..." Read the rest ==>

He says the influence of Derrida and Foucault has been "pernicious," heh heh. Such a great word. But what do you suppose grad students would be talking about today if those two hadn't come along? Bloom also recommends reading aloud as a way to "get inside" a writer, which I totally agree with. I've always loved reading aloud; my mom read to me and my brother until I was twelve or thirteen. When the final Harry Potter book came out, neither Mr Psmith nor I could wait for the other person to read it first, so we read it aloud in turns -- I think it took us three days but it was wonderful. There's something really special and different about reading aloud: you can taste the words, roll them around in your mouth, listen as they fall onto your ears. It adds a delightfully physical component to what is otherwise a purely mental activity.

I am insanely jealous of those lucky few who get to attend the small seminars Bloom says he teaches at his home. Oh, what I wouldn't give!!
delphipsmith: (BA beta)
Normally when I go to a conference there are at least one or two sessions where I skive off to do something else -- take a walking tour of whatever city we're in, have a nice long lunch and sit in the sun, whatever. Not this one. For every slot there were multiple sessions I wanted to go to; if only I could have cloned myself! This is super long, so I've put the session summaries behind cuts.

So, 8am Thursday I jumped right into "Gender and Sexuality Politics in U.S. Television Culture" with three excellent papers. The first one, "Queered Telefeminism and Female Friendships," among other things showed clips from a very funny episode of Designing Women in which Suzanne encounters an old beauty pageant colleague/competitor who announces she's "come out." At first Suzanne doesn't get it ("Well ah do think forty is a little old to be a debutante, but ever'one deserves a pahty" lol!) but then she assumes the friend must be in love with her. Later she and the friend are in a sauna and Suzanne says, "Ah'm sorry, we just cain't be anythin' more than friends" at which point an older woman who has been listening to their conversation leaves in a huff, and Suzanne leans out the door to shout, "Y'all have a lot more problems then lesbians in your sauna!!" *snerk* The second paper looked at masculinity in Buffy, and raised the interesting point that traditional "macho" masculinity is more often than not portrayed negatively in the series. Examples given include Adam is hyper-strong but constructed, unnatural; Riley's excessive strength and macho abilities come from a drug; Warren is a brilliant engineer but also a misogynistic murderer; Caleb represents classic evangelical viewpoint, women are meant to be dominated. Buffy and Willow, on the other hand, have natural in-born power. The third paper, "The Cinderella Scientist: A critical reading of The Big Bang Theory and Women in Science," really made me think: the presenter reviewed the episode where Leonard is tasked with speaking to a class of high school girls about women in science and pointed out that although the alleged mission is encouraging women in science, the actual women in science are off at Disneyland getting dressed up/made up as princesses, the men ultimately fail at their task and yet they are rewarded (Howard gets to role play as Prince Charming, Leonard gets all hot over Penny in her princess dress, and Amy is lying on the sofa being Snow White and waiting -- in vain, of course -- for Sheldon to kiss her awake. This didn't make me like the show any less, but it did make me think about the degree to which it truly shows women as equals in STEM fields.

Next, a Stephen King session with three papers drawing on his latest novel, Doctor Sleep. Since I'd recently finished reading it, this one caught my interest. The first argued that Dr. Sleep and Joyland, which were written basically during the same time period, could be read as companion texts -- that is, having read one gives you a richer reading experience of the other. King of course is notorious for interlocking people, phrases, ideas, etc. across his entire body of work. The second paper, "Filing/Defiling in Stephen King," explored the extended metaphor of files/memory, and was the most interesting for me as an archivist. At the start of The Shining, the man who's interviewing Jack Torrance for the caretaker position has all these files on him; the Overlook sucks Jack in by pushing its files at him -- the scrapbooks, the boxes of clippings in the basement (like a virus?); in Dreamcatcher Jonesy hides information from the alien possessing him by visualizing his mind as a room of file cabinets and hiding information by misfiling things or putting them behind the cabinets; in Dr. Sleep Abra and Dan share "files" mentally (including the "meme" of a cartoon pedophile that they modify and send back and forth) and Abra visualizes her mind as a room of file cabinets in order to entrap Rose the Hat. It was quite interesting, made me think of Caryn Radick's excellent paper on an archival reading of Dracula. The third paper was about teacher/student relationships in King, specifically Danny/Halloran in The Shining (though of course there's also his father's relationship with his students), and then Danny/Abra and to a certain extent Rose/the girl she turns in Dr. Sleep.

Next session: "Fans Crossing: Cross-Textual, Cross-Media, Cross-Fandom." The first paper was my favorite, about how frustrated viewers of Angel were that Fred and Wesley never had a chance to get together, and then Joss cast them as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. The larger point was about creators whose body of work functions as a unified whole that's greater than the sum of its parts, something called (if I wrote it down correctly) "hyper-diegesis." Hyper-diegetic casting, then, is where one character gets to do something as another character, through the medium of the actor playing them both. Like Fred and Wesley, who (sort of) ended up together as Beatrice and Benedick, because Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof played both parts. Then there was one about Walking Dead and how it keeps the fans going through "transmedia storytelling" -- that is, through tv, video games, comic books, etc., so there really is no "off season." The last session was particularly interesting to me as a writer of fanfic: it explored what makes a crossover fic work. Essentially the presenter's argument was that crossovers work when they are able to inhabit a larger universe in which the "strange" elements of both worlds can coexist and neither breaks or conflicts with the other. So for example, a Harry Potter/Twilight crossover in which Lupin grows up in the werewolf community in Forks is perfectly reasonable. She referred to these as "second degree imaginary worlds" which I thought was kind of cool. This is why I love Discworld/Harry Potter crossovers -- all those witches and wizards seem perfectly compatible :)

I was really tempted by the Gothic Classic film session (Dracula, The Haunting, I Walked with a Zombie, Jane Eyre) but instead fell prey to my love of Star Trek and Star Wars. Among other things, I learned that every single one of the Star Wars movies follows the 17 stages of the classic monomyth, that Kirk=Dionysos and Spock=Apollo, and that the Enterprise may be a representation of the Divine Feminine. Yes, really. One interesting snippet of argument is that in Jungian terms one could view Kirk and Spock as each other's "shadow self" which may explain why they're the original and most enduring slash couple: because we perceive them as two halves of a whole.

The last session of the day was maybe my favorite (though it's hard to pick): The Borders of Fandom, Female Desire in Fandom. The first paper was about fan edits like The Phantom Edit which re-cut Episode II to remove all trace of Jar-Jar Binks :D He drew a parallel between this and Hollywood's now-familiar habit of releasing alternate cuts, extended cuts, director's cuts, etc. suggesting that the latter was an outgrowth of the former, and listing some of the informal rules that the fan-edit community has evolved in an attempt to respect copyright. The second paper, "Fake Geek Girls": Who Called the Fandom Police?" was brilliant; it started with Tony Harris' rant against cosplay chicks, then talked about how badly Twilight fans were treated at the 2009 Comic-Con, and questioned the definition of a "real" fan. Does it depend on real-life participation, knowledge of the source material, breadth or depth of engagement? Ultimately (she argued), questioning the authenticity of female fans arises from an assumption of male heterosexuality: "Women do this to get attention from men because." Very interesting and provocative. The last paper was on Johnlock erotica so it was just plain fun :D However, she also made the salient point that good erotica relies on satisfaction for the characters, not just for the reader.

Along the way I also learned an excellent quote from Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant; we have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Whew, OK, that was fun! If anybody wants to know more about any of the sessions, let me know. For now, I'm off to bed so I can get up at 6am to catch a 7am train ::cries::
delphipsmith: (HPvsTwi)
I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Alignment: Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race: Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class: Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?
delphipsmith: (gumbies)
The AlgebraistMy first Iain M. Banks novel, and I'm sad to find that I have discovered him only, as it were, to say farewell, since he died last month of cancer. He's best known for a series called the Culture novels, a far-future sci-fi epic series, and also for his literary fiction which he published under his real name, Iain (no M.) Banks. I've got Crow Road on my list to try next, to see how it compares.

So, The Algebraist. This novel was:

a) amusing
b) bizarre
c) complicated
d) decadent
e) elaborate
f) freaky
...[insert g through v of your choice]
v) versatile
w) weird
x) xenophilic
y) yonder, out
z) zany

If you picked "All of the above," you'd be right. FTL travel and secret wormholes let the main character, Fassin Taak, hopscotch across the known universe in less time than it takes a villain to talk too much and get destroyed. The author takes full advantage of this to introduce Taak to everything from sentient brambles to a species that collects dead other species to Siamese-twin AIs that finish each other's sentences and possess some mad superpowers.

Others have complained about the Jeeves-and-Wooster ambience of the Dwellers, but I rather liked it: as with the English upper crust of a certain era, they seem to have unlimited resources and rather too much time on their hands. As a result, they've turned war into a sport, planetary defense into a club activity, and their own children into prey (surprisingly, this isn't as icky as it sounds).

Others have also complained about the exaggerated villain, the Archimandrite Luseferous, but again I rather enjoyed him. Like the Joker and the Penguin from the old Batman series with Adam West, he's in love with his own villainy and you can't help but admire his thoroughgoing EVILNESS. The fact that he's defeated almost indifferently by what amounts to Boodle's Nasqueron Defense Club also bothered some reviewers, but I found it entirely consistent with the overall point -- or perhaps a better word is punchline -- of the book: that everything, in the end, can be reduced to zero. All of Taaks' running and searching and hunting amounted to nothing. All of Luseferous' deep-dyed villainy was thwarted in the blink of an eye. And the mysterious wormholes were right there at the center of the planet all the time.

If Taak had ended by saying to the old Gardener, "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with," I would not have been at all surprised.

I was a little puzzled by the subplot involving Saluus Kehar and Kehar Heavy Industries -- he's like a 43d century Tony Stark, all wound up with the military-industrial complex, yet his story never really goes anywhere big. Instead it devolves into a personal, intimate story about cowardice, lust, friendship, revenge. Which I guess could be considered epic, since those emotions have helped power everything from The Iliad to Beowulf to the Bible.

There are some deeper themes threading through the novel (e.g., prejudice against artificial intelligence and the relativity of morality), but for me the fun was in the trip -- and what a long, strange trip it's been.
delphipsmith: (thinker)
The town of Corigliano d'Otranto has gone all brainy. They've put up ceramic plaques around town with quotes from the likes of Augustine, hand out conversation-starter postcards with questions like "Why were you born?" and even hired a Municipal Philosopher.

Does this not astonish you, in this age of tweets and sound bites, knee-jerk ideologues and their blind followers? It does me..

Graziella Lupo, the first person to hold the position, actually trained as a philosophical consultant at the Ca' Foscari University in Venice. I didn't even know such a degree existed!! Had I known, I might have made different choices as an undergrad ;)

So, the Philosopher is available for consultation on Friday afternoons to help you clarify your thoughts and puzzle over Deep Junk. Is this not a wonderful creative fascinating thing? Are not amazed at the intellectual fire of this tiny (pop. 5900) town?? Of course it is and you are! (I wish MY town had a Municipal Philosopher.)

But guess who thinks it isn't? The local branch of the psychologists' professional organization. They say that the use of a consulting philosopher is "not only misleading and confusing, but utterly perilous" and state that they will take "all the most appropriate actions to combat any offence that may be identified".

Well, thinking has always been a little perilous (all those highly volatile IDEAS, you know?). But somebody whose job is helping people's minds work better objects to...somebody whose job is helping people's minds work better? (This bit of course is not surprising at all. Rather depressing, but not surprising.) It's almost enough to make you question their dedication.

Perhaps I shall institute the habit of starting each day with a little Marcus Aurelius or Socrates :)
delphipsmith: (BA beta)
[ profile] rivertempest recently posted her contribution to an interesting meme, so I commented on it in order to be able to play along.

The rules are thus: Comment to this post and I will pick seven things I would like you to talk about. They might make sense or be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.

She gave me seven very interesting word-prompts to play with: Books, Writing, Editing, Philosophy, Libraries, Wine, and Travel. So let's dive right in, shall we?

1. Books: Books are such a core part of my life and always have been that talking about them is sort of like talking about breathing. I started reading at a pretty young age, before preschool, and just never stopped -- since my mom has been both an English teacher and a librarian, I suppose there wasn't ever any question that this was my fate! Books go with me everywhere and have colonized almost every room in the house (I think the bathroom is the last holdout). I feel nervous if I don't have something to read within reach. Books have been companions, teachers, entertainers, mentors, guides and tools, both defense and weapon. Some people have comfort food; I have comfort books. Some people pack a book or two for a trip; I have to bring at least six, because what if I brought only two and it turned out I wasn't in the mood for reading either of them?? Calamity!!! When I visit someone's house, the first thing I do is troll their bookshelves. When I used to go visit my dad for two weeks in the summers, I brought two suitcases; one was full of clothes, the other was packed with books. My list of books read (which is incomplete) shows what a glutton I am for the written word. My to-read list demonstrates why I will never die, because I refuse to do so until I've read everything on that list. And yeah, I own a Kindle, but give me a proper book every time, complete with pages to turn and that great book-y smell :)

2. Writing: I love putting words together almost as much as -- and occasionally more than -- I love reading them. There's something magical about translating a story in your head into a form that other people can read and share. My plan as a kid was to be a writer. My goal as a much much older kid is still to be a writer, though I need to be more industrious about working at it. I belong to a very good online writing workshop, but need to carve out more time in my day for BIC HOK TAM. Not counting technical/non-fiction, I've had exactly one very short piece published and one unofficially accepted by Big Name Magazine (which operates on a Big Name Schedule, meaning it may be Big Name Years before it ever sees the light of day...). My goal for 2013 is to apply to the Clarion West writers workshop; it's pretty much the gold standard of FSF/speculative fiction workshops and counts among its alumni literally dozens of award-winning authors. All you do for six weeks is write, write, write, which is my idea of bliss. "That is one reason I write: as a kind of spiritual practice, to force truth to emerge from my habitual state of lazy dishonesty." (George Saunders)

3. Editing: In addition to my day job, I have a side business doing editing, proofreading and indexing. The most satisfying thing about editing, and why I love to beta, is helping someone say what they have to say, assisting in the birth of a piece of writing. That might mean finding exactly the right word the author was searching for, or spotting a plot hole so they can plug it, or simply tightening a phrase so that a sentence is honed to a point. (Or, occasionally, identifying anatomically impossible sexual positions LOL!) Much of my freelance editing is non-fiction -- dissertations, theses, papers to be submitted to journals -- which has its own limitations of form and function, but many of my authors are not native English speakers; if I can untangle a syntactical or grammatical knot so that their argument runs free and clear, I feel as though I have brought a tiny bit more order in the world.

4. Philosophy: The closest match for me is Stoicism. I believe that reason is the most important tool we have for understanding ourselves and the world, and that our highest purpose is to use that reason to improve ourselves as ethical and moral beings. As Marcus Aurelius says, "Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones." We need more philosophy in our daily lives, because it makes you think about why you do the things you do; too many people, personally and socially and professionally, act on the whim of the moment, without ever knowing (or caring) why. The book that best explained to me why that matters -- why a moral code isn't an abstract theory but a matter of great practical importance -- is Atlas Shrugged. "Isn't it odd? When a politician or a movie star retires, we read front page stories about it. But when a philosopher retires, people do not even notice it." "They do, eventually..."

5. Libraries: Given my response to Item 1, you'd have to be pretty slow on the uptake not to realize that in my world, libraries = win. Mom took me to libraries from a very early age; in fact the first time she took me to a bookstore, apparently I was still operating under the library mentality and picked out two dozen books :) I got my MS/LIS in 2004 and I currently work at an academic library in the rare books and manuscripts department (kind of like the restricted section at Hogwarts) which is BLISS. As you can imagine, I love stories about libraries and archives and mysterious manuscripts and letters and diaries and so on and so forth. Libraries rock -- we need more of them, and more money for them, and everyone should visit/support them, frequently and generously.

6. Wine: Wine is A Good Thing. I like the way it looks in the glass. I like the way it smells. I like the way it tastes. I like the way it inspires my fics -- as Hemingway famously said, "Write drunk; edit sober." (I don't like the calories, however, so I recently gave it up for a month to see if that would allow me to lose weight while still consuming all my other favorite stuff -- i.e., garlic, chocolate, cheese, etc. Sadly, it did not.) I am a down-to-earth oenophile, so I enjoy laughing at pompous and pretentious descriptions ("Historic almost overcooked Chardonnay. Throws out raspberry, focused lemon and atomic traces of smoked bacon. Drink now through Friday." HAHAHAAA!) Favorite white: Mud Pie Chardonnay. Favorite red: Rosemont Shiraz. Favorite bubbly: Veuve Clicquot (New Year's tradition at our house!). Favorite fictional wine: Benden red, beloved of the Masterharper of Pern.

7. Travel: I don't do so much now, but I traveled quite a bit in and just after college. I've been to most of Western Europe, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, France, England and Scotland. On one memorable trip we mistakenly bought tickets for the slow boat down the Rhine rather than the fast one which, while highly picturesque, meant three days on a boat and two nights sleeping in the shrubbery ashore, since you couldn't stay on the boat overnight. (We did meet some very nice young Brits who were on vacation from medical school, and assisted them valiantly in building up a very large tower of empty bottles at a wine bar in Cologne the first night. This probably explains why we were able to sleep so soundly in the shrubbery.) Switzerland was memorable for vividly illustrating how out-of-shape I was, when we hiked from Interlaken up to Gimmelwald (GORGEOUS place, complete with the cleanest cows I've ever seen wearing big clonking cowbells). Immediately upon leaving Interlaken there was a sign that said "Gimmelwald 40 minutes." An hour later, after panting our way up perpendicular hillsides, we passed another sign: "Gimmelwald 20 minutes." Gimmelwald was also notable for the curious hot-water arrangement at the hostel: the shower was down the end of the garden, but the meter for hot water was in the kitchen. So you dropped your francs into the meter and then had to sprint down the path in order to get there before the timer ran out :D

Thank you, [ profile] rivertempest, for seven highly useful words!
delphipsmith: (IDIC)
I love LZ Granderson :)

"I'm sure you've heard a lot about the gay agenda, but may not know what's in it. Here's what you do: Download a copy of the United States Constitution, read it. Everything the LGBT community wants is in there. Sounds like an oversimplification? It's not..."

Read the rest of the article here.
delphipsmith: (DamnNotGiven)
The other day I ran across this interesting take on the Hunger Games phenomenon. The author presents her theory as somehow related to being a Christian, but I don't think that matters -- her points stands just fine without bringing religion into it.

[V]iolence in The Hunger Games...serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But...We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction. That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object...[I]ronically, The Hunger Games' greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.

An interesting thought. What if they released Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty and no one bought it? What if not a single person paid to see Saw [insert any roman numeral]? What if the audiences for Maury Povich, Bridezilla and Hoarders dropped to zero? What if we simply stopped being complicit in the cheap nastiness and ugliness that's marketed to us in the guise of entertainment?

I'm not saying it has to all be fluffy bunnies and puppies, because yuk. But we don't have to mindlessly suck up the worst of what's on offer either. More thoughtful choices: Why am I watching this? Is it truly entertaining, or does it feed my own sense of superiority or my wish to mock others? Am I gaining my pleasure from someone else's pain/problems/weakness? When you put it in those terms, it doesn't sound nearly as harmless.

Columnist George Will wrote a great essay on this back in 2001, which I still have tacked up on my fridge. Among other things, he says this:

The historian Macaulay famously said that the Puritans opposed bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bears but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. The Puritans were right: Some pleasures are contemptible because they are coarsening. They are not merely private vices, they have public consequences in driving the culture's downward spiral.

Full column is here. Something to think about.
delphipsmith: (ooooo)
A random list of stuff that made me go "Oooooh..." today:

The US highway system as a subway map

Goldilocks Reviews the Sunshine Mary Jane Pump on Zappos

The program for the Pop Culture Association conference in Boston, with four panels on Buffy, eight on fairy tales, fourteen on fan culture (including "Girls, Geeks and Politics: Gender, Race and Identity in Fandom"), eighteen on horror, twenty-five on women, and an amazing TWENTY-NINE on sci-fi and fantasy!!

Where I want to stay when I become obscenely rich

J K Rowling's book for grownups has a publisher; title and publication date TBA

Hamlet's cat's soliloquy and Grendel's Dog: Brave Beocat, brood-kit of Ecgthmeow / Hearth-pet of Hrothgar in whose high halls / He mauled without mercy many fat mice...

A recipe for tequila hot chocolate - mmmmmmm....

The Daylight Atheist blog: smart, thought-provoking, honest

And my girl scout cookie order arrived, hurrah!!! They will go well with the tequila hot chocolate. Nom nom nom nom nom...
delphipsmith: (thinker)
Re-read Atlas Shrugged (warning: link has spoilers!) over the past couple of weeks. The first time I read it was during Christmas break of my senior year in college and I still remember feeling like an enormous explosion had gone off in my head, a "Wow, so that's how it works!" Now every time winter sets in I get the urge to revisit it. It's better every time I go back to it which to me is the sign of a Really Good Book: only something with a lot of substance can stand up to repeated re-readings. (Though Glenn Beck also reportedly likes it, and I must admit to vast annoyance that Glenn Beck and I agree on ANYTHING.)

Ooh, and I read it on the Kindle, which means a) I didn't strain my wrist and b) I was able to mark ALL MY FAVORITE QUOTES as I went and then -- hold onto your hats -- view them ALL AT ONCE! Now that is cool. Most of them are too long for this venue (John Galt's speech LOL!), but here's a sampling of my favorite short ones:

"If one's actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception."

"There are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think."

"When one acts on pity against justice, it is the good whom one punishes for the sake of the evil; when one saves the guilty from suffering, it is the innocent whom one forces to suffer."

"What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can't stand still. It must grow or perish."

"Whether it's a symphony or a coal mine, all work is an act of creating and comes from the same source: from an inviolate capacity to see through one's own eyes–which means: the capacity to perform a rational identification–which means: the capacity to see, to connect and to make what had not been seen, connected and made before."

"People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I've learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one's reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one's master, comdemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person's view requires to be faked."

"Love is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another."

It's a shame that the book's message has been so misunderstood; from her phrase "rational selfishness" everyone remembers the "selfishness" but forgets the "rational" part even though that's a critical component. I'm pretty sure Rand would have been horrified at the banking collapse and probably at much of modern finance, since it consists largely of merely shifting bits of paper around (and a lot of it is automated these days). After all, it's the value you add to something that entitles you to compensation for your effort, whether mental or physical; if you add nothing, you deserve nothing.

She'd have been Ron Paul supporter, no doubt :D
delphipsmith: (library)
"The Obsolete Man," starring the small but indomitable Burgess Meredith (try not to think of him as The Penguin).

"I am a librarian! That is my occupation! That is my profession! If you people choose to call that obsolete--"

"Since there are no more books, Mr.Wordsworth, there are no more libraries, and of course, as it follows, there is very little call for the services of a librarian."

"[Y]ou cannot destroy truth by burning pages!"

"You have no function. You are an anachronism...You're a librarian, Mr.Wordsworth. You're a dealer in books and two-cent fines and pamphlets in closed stacks in the musty mines of a language factory that spews meaningless words on an assembly line. WORDS, Mr.WORDSworth. That have no substance, no dimension, like air, like the wind. Like a vacuum, that you make believe have an existence, by scribbling index numbers on little cards...You inject into your veins with printer's ink the narcotics you call literature: The Bible, poetry, essays, all kinds, all of it are opiates to make you think you have a strength, when you have no strength at all! You are nothing, but spindly limbs and a dream."

"I don't care. I tell you: I don't care. I'm a human being, I exist....and if I speak one thought aloud, that thought lives, even after I'm shoveled into my grave."

And then the old man proceeds to show him just what librarians are made of. No wonder this one ranks #8 on the list of Top 25 Twilight Zone episodes. Yay for my chosen profession :)
delphipsmith: (thinker)
Finished my annual re-read of Atlas Shrugged, yay! I do enjoy spending time with Dagny and Francisco and the rest of them. I recently heard it referred to as nerd revenge porn LOL!! I suspect he has entirely missed the point. Who better to hang out with than intelligent, motivated, honest people who want to be the best they can be? Not to mention it's a great antidote to stupid television, idiotic , rabid pundits and the rest. (Speaking of pundits: I'm annoyed, but not surprised, to learn Glen Beck is also a fan of the book. I hate to share anything with that guy!)

At one point during the re-read I happened to glance at the front page of the New York Times and was startled to realize that having been immersed in that world had quite altered how I viewed the headlines in this one LOL! I should have expected it, remembering how he experience always leaves me in an interesting mood: a mixture of disaffection with 99% of mankind and determination to live my own life better. Personally I think we need more books that have that effect...
delphipsmith: (IDIC)
OK, this is geeky but I have to share: I made myself a mouse pad at zazzle with this design on it (see icon). Why is it totally geeky? See here.

delphipsmith: (library)
Second (or maybe third?) trip through the wonderful Sweet Dreams by Michael Frayn. A strange, intriguing, delicate little book, with much more to it than meets the eye. Frayn himself described it as "an ironic examination of the illogicality of the idea of heaven." I'd describe it as a loving satire on the nature of mankind (i.e. "Humanity i love you because you are perpetually putting the secret of life in your pants and forgetting it's there and sitting down on it").

Boring average Howard runs a red light and suddenly finds himself driving down a broad highway leading to a huge glittering city where (it turns out) everything is so perfectly Howard-esque that it might have been designed just for him: his wife, his house, his children, his job, his attitudes, his friends, the mysterious dark-haired girl he keeps meeting for the first time. And although here one can do and be anything -- fly, or eat toasted X-rays for breakfast, or build a house out of purple, or become a wombat, or explore the stars -- what Howard chooses to do and be is an even more Howardy Howard than he was before (though with a great deal more pleasure and even joy, one suspects). He designs the Matterhorn but then gets worried that people will fall off it and hurt themselves; he drops out of "the system" when he concludes that they're designing Man all wrong and acting like they know better how the world should be run, but then thinks himself around to the idea that, well, perhaps they DO know better after all, and wouldn't the world be a nicer place if it was all safe and comfy? He's just as much a mediocrity as he was before, and yet in an endearing way (his friend who is designing Man uses Howard as a model because he's so perfectly average: everything and nothing at once). Howard's innocence somehow robs the story of cynicism while at the same time making you feel rather sorry for the poor putz who doesn't seem to realize just what he could do if he only would.

It's a bit like an antimatter version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

And of course it makes you wonder: If we were truly free to be whatever our minds could conceive of, how many of us would be capable of leaving behind all our entrenched notions of who and what we are and leaping into it wholeheartedly? How many of us would retreat fearfully into the comfort of convention, being who we've always been only because we know it better and it reassures us? Would Heaven be something new and eye-opening for me -- or would it just be a big library where I would become the perfected version of the book nerd I am today?

I like to think I'd be bold enough to try eating toasted X-rays for breakfast.
delphipsmith: (kaboom)
My mom, of all people, had me track down this book, The Coming Insurrection. It sounded intriguing, so I got myself a copy as well. The alleged authors ("the invisible committee") were arrested by the French government who labeled it a "manual for terrorism," which means I'm now probably on everyone's Watch List from Homeland Security to the French Foreign Legion (thanks, Mom!).

It's a strange little book. These folks are clearly anarchists; while some of their criticisms of modern society ("Today's work is tied less to the economic necessity of producing goods, than to the political necessity of producing...consumers") have merit, their solutions (shoplift, plunder and loot, but also learn how to grow tomatoes so when the stores are empty you'll have something to fall back on?) don't seem to have much long-term viability. Much of it is just plain incoherent (one review called it "elegant...eloquent" -- all I can say is they must have had a different translation from mine!). Here's an example of their daffy logic, talking about the evils of work:

Individuals are possessed of so little life that they have to earn a living, to sell their time in exchange for a modicum of social existence...[but] the commune eludes work...they put their benefits in common and acquire clothing workshops, a bakery, putting in place the gardens that they need.

What they fail to grasp, seemingly, is that keeping a garden viable is work. In fact, it's a hell of a lot MORE work than sitting in an office. As is making your own clothing or running a bakery. So where's the benefit? How will I have more free time if I join a commune where I have to make or grow all my own food (which maybe I don't ENJOY doing) instead of getting a fair wage for work I DO enjoy, which I can then exchange for tasty goodies grown by people who also enjoyed their work?? There's just no sense to it. Here's another: Things like jogging, karate, fishing, what have you are, they say, all artificial hobbies invented by a desperate need to fill up spare time, yet they argue that going their route we will have MORE spare time which, presumably, we would fill with...what?

They tear down everything but have nothing to offer in its place. Money is evil, work is slavery, capitalism is exploitation, education is pointless, yadda yadda yadda. Well now, I think barter's all very well -- but once civilization has broken down into their ideal of tiny little communes, how do they think a commune in northern Europe will avoid scurvy if all they have to offer the traveling merchant from Egypt as barter for his lemons is some nice Roquefort Blue, which will melt or go moldy (ok, moldiER) long before he can get it home to Cairo? (Where they won't want it anyway because feta's so much better, and local to boot, ha ha!) Growing your own food is great -- but who's going to run their nuclear power plants so they don't have to take time out from cultivating haricots verts to make candles? Will we start paying the local doctor in chickens again -- and what if he doesn't want any more chickens but chickens are all you've got?

Pfffft. They've stated the problem in some interesting ways but their solutions are just plain wacky. The French government (and Glen Beck, of course) gave it WAAAAAY more attention than it deserves.
delphipsmith: (thinker)
Finished this one by Alexei Panshin last night. In Mia's world (which is a giant spaceship built out of an asteroid), on their thirteenth birthday kids get dropped onto a planet solo except for a horse; if they survive for thirty days, they get to come home and be adults. If they don't, well, they don't. It wasn't bad -- interesting premise -- but the characters are one-dimensional and never quite came alive for me. One thing that jarred me was the kids leaving for their Trial; if this is really such an important rite of passage in society, there would (one would think) be more ritual, pageantry, emotion, etc involved. But nobody comes to see the kids off, and Mia's father doesn't even say "Good luck," he just says, "Bye, Mom and I will see you when you get back." Weird.

Panshin does raise some interesting ethical questions -- always a good thing -- but it's done more in Mia's head than in discussions with her tutor or fellow students, which would have brought the debate more to life. Minor spoilers involving tigers and murder ). Easily the most interesting debate was that at the Ship's Assembly at the end, on what to do about Tintera; I have to say I was pleased Mia fell out with her father on this question. All things considered, though, the book suffers from too much tell and not enough show.

And perhaps this is why: Today I discovered this interesting essay by Panshin (the website appears to be maintained by his son), explaining why he wrote Rite of Passage and how it was largely a response to Robert Heinlein's open support of nuclear testing and his rabid antipathy towards Russia/Communism. Panshin's question "wasn't whether or not we ought to confront Communism whatever the cost, but whether being locked into anti-Communist postures skewed our behavior and made us small-minded and self-favoring." An excellent question, but Heinlein appears to have been uninterested in it, preferring the lock-in. I continue to be disappointed by my discovery that there are people whom I otherwise admire that became, in the 1950s, rabid anti-Communists and thought they were an elemental threat that should be obliterated. Maybe they were, then; it's hard for me to comprehend that era's mindset and how afraid everyone was. But I expect better of my favorite writers and I'm sorry to learn this about Heinlein, and even more sorry if Panshin's account of their correspondence is accurate.
delphipsmith: (books)
I love, love, love this book and always have. She does it even better in This Star Shall Abide, but this one's near enough to our own world that it touches me closer to the heart. I know I'm weird; most people don't like philosophy and ethics mixed in with their adventures or romances or what have you. Me, that's the first thing I go for. If there were a "philosophical fiction" section at B&N, that's where I'd be. If I ran a used book store, I'd have a special shelf for "books that make you actually THINK." 'Nuff said.
delphipsmith: (gumbies)
Wow. During Anaximander's four-hour oral exam for admission to the Academy, everything she knows, or thinks she knows, gets challenged. Quite a lot of the things I knew, or thought I knew, got challenged as well. Genesis is a terrific philosophical adventure with a real bang at the end. Like a darker version of Sophie's World spliced with a debate about artificial intelligence, evolution, and what truly makes us human. I wish it were longer, but at the same time that makes it so tight, so focused. Wow.
delphipsmith: (books)
What fun this was!! The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was a noted paleontologist, and his tale of Dr Magruder (whose degrees include AChA3*, whatever that means) who falls from his research lab in 2162AD through the gap between time quanta (tiny discrete packets of time) into the late Cretaceous period, is a terrific read. My only complaint: too short! The frame, if you will, is the discovery of seven or eight stone tablets, reliably dated to 80 million years prior to the story's setting, containing Magruder's description of what happened to him and how he survived amongst T. Rex (vicious but stupid and not very agile) and other nasties of that era.

First off, I love time travel stories; the paradoxes and questions that they raise make my brain feel funny, like stretching a muscle you don't use very often. Spouse and I regularly get into an argument every time we watch "The Prisoner of Azkaban," over how Harry could survive the Dementors in order to get to the point in time where he could go back and rescue himself from the Dementors. That's the kind of thing that makes time travel a fun topic. In the second chapter the Universal Historian outlines the two universes that we all live in: the present, which has motion but not duration or growth, and the past, which has growth and duration but no motion. He compares it to the tip of a live plant: all the growth and change and movement goes on at the tip (the present), while behind it is left a static and ever-increasing "deposit" of experience, memory, etc (the past). There is no future, just as there is nothing for the plant beyond the tip of its branch.

The manuscript, which was found in Simpson's papers after his death in 1984, was probably written about 1970 but has a kind of H.G. Wells-ian flavor to it, maybe because Simpson was born in 1902 so grew up in an era more sympathetic to that style of writing. (He surely grew up reading that kind of writing!) The book starts with a question, posed by the Universal Historian, "What would you do if you knew you were going to be utterly alone for the rest of your life?" and (fittingly enough) ends with the answer to it. And no, we're not talking about the trite "If you were marooned on a desert island" question, since that presupposes a society to be marooned from and therefore the hope that someday you might be rescued; we're talking about the complete and utter nonexistence of any chance of another human being ever. What would you do? How much of what we do is based on the existence of other people? When you take away every aspect of our lives that assumes, relies on, or is meant to capitalize on, the existence of others, what's left?

I won't spoil it by giving it away, but it's an answer I like, since it fits with my own belief. And it's surely a question worth thinking about. As Tom Bombadil says, "Tell me, who are you? Alone, yourself, and nameless?"


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