Friday, January 31, 2020

Fates and Furies

My book review of Fates and Furies by Christine Lucas is live at Strange Horizons. (Currently on sale for $3 from the publisher!)

The best stories in the book are the last two, “A Thousand Waves from Home,” and “Leaping over Bonfires.” In the first of these, an old woman, Athena, her children long grown and gone, is visited by a strange wizened creature, starving and misshapen. We learn that this is an alien, a refugee from a dying world. At first Athena is wary of this creature, but later she befriends it, leaving it food and gifts; and later still she follows it—into the cave of the Mother Goddess.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Seems to be the Case

I was listening to NPR yesterday, and yes, this seems to be their defense.

Vote the GOP out in 2020. Vote them all out. It's the only way to be sure.

The sad truth

Not just our parents's generation, either.  I wish.

The thing is, there is peer-reviewed evidence available to show that playing video games can actually make kids smarter and more literate. (Depends on the games, clearly.) Equally, there is a ton of peer-reviewed evidence showing that watching Fox News or getting your information from the Daily Mail or Breitbart or similar outlets -- the real "fake news" -- makes you, not less intelligent, but more gullible and less able to tell a credible source from a bad source.

Willful ignorance feeds itself, in other words.

Which explains about 1/4 of our country right now.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Look at this good news!

Congratulations!  Your sabbatical request for Fall 2020 has been approved!  We look forward to your campus presentation.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

What I'm Reading Now

Sandra Newman, The Heavens

The Heavens by [Newman, Sandra]I read Newman's first book, The Country of the Ice Cream Star, though I don't seem to have reviewed it here (hmm!), and I remember liking it well enough. This one, The Heavens, sounded interesting from the blurb I read on someone's blog (I think here), so when it showed up at the library, I checked it out.

It's pretty good -- the writing is excellent, and the story is intriguing, if depressing, in this darkest time-line. Basically, our main character, Kate, is psychically linked to the Dark Woman of Shakespeare's sonnets. She keeps jumping back in time, while she dreams, into that woman's life. While she's there, she can, and does, change things.

The result is that every time she wakes, in her own life, the world has changed -- and never for the better. When we first meet her and her friends, they're living in a semi-Utopia. It's not a perfect world. People are still depressed, economic disparity still exists, the climate is still messed up. But things are getting better, and people are working together.

Each time Kate returns, she finds everything is worse. Cars are still burning oil. Bush is President. Africans were enslaved. Then she finds she's not the only one who is dreaming changes to the world. This is where the novel gets interesting.

I don't know that I like the ending, exactly. But the rest of the book is great.

Mira Grant, Kingdom of Needle and Bone

A novella from Seanan McGuire, under her pen name, this starts out really well. Or I guess I should say if you like books about pandemics this starts out really well. An eight year old gets something like the super-measles and dies, but not before spreading the disease to half of Florida; and from there it is spread to the entire planet.

I mean, I'm in.

But then the book sort of wanders around, and nothing much happens. There's some information about herd immunity, and why vaccinations matter -- information that doesn't really connect to the narrative -- and there's a lot of time spent on scenes that are entirely non-essential, like six or seven pages devotes to a boat ride. And then we just skim over what seems like it should be the important part of the story, which is building and defending the sanctuary communities, and finding a cure for the disease. Also the big reveal at the end does not work at all.

Extremely readable, but nothing I would recommend.

Micheal Gilbert, Blood and Judgment

Another Michael Gilbert mystery novel, this one from 1959, and pretty good. A young detective goes out to investigate a body found by a reservoir on Guy Fawkes Day, and is involved in the ensuing investigation. Again, this is more interesting (at least for me) for the details about life in England in the 1950s than for the quality of the mystery. But the mystery is pretty good too.

Also the main character in this one, the young detective, is also fun.

Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang

I liked this one, though not as much as Nothing to See Here. It's a lot less coherent, and Wilson seems less sure of himself. Still pretty good, though.

The Family Fang creates performance art. That is its raison d'etre, the entire reason it exists. The parents married as a kind of performance art; their children, Annie and Buster, exist to be performers in the performance art. All their lives, one act of performance art after the next. We get many descriptions of these acts of art, some of which are hilarious, all of which are appalling.

As Annie and Buster grow up, they grow less certain that their parents are right about the importance of this art they are creating. The conflict between the insulated world of the (maybe demented?) parents and the world that Annie and Buster move out into powers most of the novel.

Nice writing, great characters. Kind of hard to read in places.

D.E. Stevenson, Mrs. Tim Christie, Mrs. Tim Carries on

More books from England in the 1930s and early 1940s. These are just cozy. They're fictional diaries of a military wife, a woman to whom nothing bad ever happens, not even when WWII has begun. Things happen around her -- people get married, children are born, officers are shipped off to India -- but nothing bad happens to any of them either.

Read these if you want something charming and safe. TW for occasional offhand racism.

Friday, January 24, 2020


I'm working on my (useless and boring) annual evaluation. Have some links!

This XKCD comic crushes me

Despite what TERFs claim, puberty-blockers are good medicine

 A nice pushback

I feel this


Image may contain: text

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Good news!

Your wellness appeal has been APPROVED by the UA System Office and UMR.

You will be receiving a new health insurance card in the mail once UMR has completed this revision.

Irrational Hatred Makes One Irrational

This is about Rod Dreher again, but it's really about, oh, a third of the country.

A third of the country has been convinced, by talk radio, by Fox News, by various other propaganda sources, that immigrants, black people, trans people, and "leftists" (as if we even had any actual leftists in this country), are criminals, fanatics, monsters who are bent on destroying them -- them, personally -- and their children, and their jobs, and everything good about their lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the closest thing to a leftist most of these cowering dupes will ever meet, I can tell you I spent about ten seconds a week thinking about them -- usually just after I have checked Rod Dreher's page in a fit of boredom.

But Rod, like the rest of them, is constantly encouraged in his quivering terror by steady infusions of lies and propaganda. Here, he has been fed a pack of lies by (as he puts it) a "former" "Soviet-bloc" scientist.

This "scientist" agrees with Rod that American liberals are just like Nazis. Also, he agrees with the disinformation -- the propaganda -- being pushed by Murdoch-owned newspapers, claiming that the fires in Australia aren't, in fact, caused by Global Warming, but by the ignorant laws passed by Leftists.

So what does it have to do with the Australia fires, you ask?
Contrary to the popular belief that a fraction of a degree temperature increase set the place ablaze, there is another explanation. For millennia the Aborigines have been practicing ritual bush burning. A while ago the practice was banned because of ecology concerns, environmental protection; to save some odd shrew from being upset. Dead wood accumulated. The whole place burned to the ground. (you can google for it.
We did the same thing to the culture. We banned ritual control burns. We allowed dead wood to accumulate. A single spark and the whole place will be ablaze. We will burn.

First off, his claim is wrong. That's not what caused the fires in Australia, despite what Fox-News outlets claim. Failing to rake leaves in the forests of California is not what has caused the huge fires there, either. Global climate change, by drying out the landscape, is causing these fires.

Second, pay attention to the conclusion this "scientist" draws. The culture, he says, has banned "ritual control burns," allowing "dead wood" to accumulate. And now we will burn?

What do you suppose he means by that, this "scientist"?

And why do you suppose Rod gave him a national platform to voice such an appalling point of view?

This is the real danger of ignorance combined with a steady infusion of propaganda. That such people don't understand, or willfully refuse to understand, the cause and effect of every day events, is a problem, though not a huge one, since most of them have no real influence in the world.

No, the big problem is that ideas such as this one -- that people not like them are "dead wood" to be "ritually burned" in order to protect "us" -- gain currency among the willfully ignorant who have gorged on lies and propaganda.

And that is a real danger.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Snow Day

We got about an inch of snow here today. Freezing rain coming tonight.

The university cancelled morning classes, but since I don't teach on Wednesday, it's all the same to me. I'm bundled up under a blanket drinking coffee, wondering about classes tomorrow.

Our new yard is lovely in the snow, by the way!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Monday, January 20, 2020

Making America GREAT

God help us:

Dystopian USA

If we read about this happening in some other country, we'd be appalled. But hey, we can buy seventy different types of sugared breakfast cereal, so yay capitalism!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reading 20th Century SF: Brain Wave Chapter 4 -

This is a new idea I'm trying out. Basically, I'm going to read SF written from about 1940 to about 1970 -- see here for more details.

We're starting with Brainwave, a book published in 1954 by Poul Anderson. The first three chapters are covered here, but to recap, everything on Earth with a brain has been abruptly uplifted. Everything, and every human, is now five times as intelligent as they were a week ago. For some characters, such as the "moron" Archie Brock, this means they have a genius IQ -- they're smarter than our smartest humans, with an IQ somewhere between 250 and 300. Others, such as our genius physicist Peter Corinth, are now scoring in the neighborhood of 800.

Note: the text used the term moron, which was in standard usage in those days, to describe someone with an IQ of between 50 and 70.

So on the one hand, this is just the word that was proper then. On the other hand, moron and the entire notion of classifying people by IQs was then and is now closely linked to the eugenics movement. Inferior people (morons), according to the thought of people in that era, and according to many, many people still today, should not be encouraged or allowed to breed; only "good" people (people who score well on IQ tests and people who are rich and people who are the right "type") should be encouraged or even allowed to breed. This led to the sterilization of "inferior" people, which was commonly practiced at the time this book was published.

This book has a strong eugenics component, which will lead to its disturbing conclusion. More on that later.

Chapter Four

This starts -- as do several later chapters -- with assorted headlines from The New York Times. We learn that the stock market is tumbling, that there are mutinies in China (and later in the Soviet Union), and that both the Iowa and the Oregon senators have reversed their "isolationist stance," giving speeches to that effect in the Senate. Also a new religion has been founded in LA.

These are all effects of the huge increase in intelligence, we are meant to assume. More intelligent citizens would not put up with communist governments, apparently, and also no one with any brains would be an isolationist. The stock markets are falling -- as is later made clear -- because Super Intelligent people aren't interested in capitalism. No one with an IQ of 500-700 is going to work in a factory, or sell potatoes, or run an elevator.

The loss of elevators is the first big change in Peter Corinth's world, by the way. At first the elevators are being run by eight year olds, who are too bored to go to school but not too bored to run elevators. Later, no one will run the elevators. And apparently someone with an IQ of 800, like Peter, is not clever enough to figure out how to run an elevator himself.

Automatic elevators haven't been invented yet, obviously, but also no one in this brilliant future is smart enough to invent them.

This is a feature of science fiction written before the 1990s, by the way. Things like handheld computers and automatic elevators and the internet had not been invented yet, and very few writers (almost none with the internet) guessed that they ever would be invented. So we have Heinlein famously sending out space ships in which the navigators have to use books filled with logarithms and who work navigation problems with slide rules; and we have books like this, where super-geniuses are forced to climb 17 stories to their apartments because there is no one to run the elevator.

Back to Chapter Four!

After the newspaper headlines, we move to Peter's apartment, where a "conference" is in progress. Sheila has "insisted on putting out her usual buffer of coffee and sandwiches." Then she retires to a corner with the other wife, and they talk quietly, though they continue to keep an eye on their menfolk.

Ah, 1954: when women knew their place.

The "conference" is between Peter Corinth, Felix Mandelbaum, Helga, and Nate Lewis, Peter's buddy from work. They're here to decide what they should do about this new world.

First Mandelbaum points out that smarter doesn't necessarily mean people will act right, or even wisely.

"Basic personality does not change, right? And intelligent people have always done some pretty stupid or evil things, just like everybody else."
Peter thinks intelligence matters most -- he says a higher IQ means people are better able to grasp data and reason, so of course they'll do the smart thing, which is to say the right thing. He says if everyone had been this smart before the war, Hitler could have been stopped before he was even started.

Mandelbaum scoffs. He says IQ tests don't measure the ability to reason for anyone except educated WASPs, and that being smarter doesn't mean as much as your general nature does anyway. He talks about what's being going on with the union workers, who want to go on strike and demand that they be put in charge of the government; or have "crank" ideas about rebuilding society. (Mandelbaum himself has such an idea, as we'll remember from Chapter Two, but we're not supposed to think he's a crank.)

"People think a lot more today," he notes, "but they aren't thinking straight."

Mandelbaum makes a better argument, but it's undercut by those sample headlines, which seem to be meant to support Peter's point of view.

Helga, who is as upset and emotionally fragile as Sheila (women, you know), tells the others that John Rossman (owner of the institute and also Archie's farm) has gone to D.C. to advise the government about how to weather this catastrophe. Also, that he wants the men at the Institute to work on finding the cause of the change.

Meanwhile, the group discusses how to keep society going.

"The janitor and the elevator man...quit yesterday," Helga said. "Said the work was too monotonous. What happens when all the janitors and garbage men and ditch-diggers and assembly line workers decide to quit?"
"They won't," said Mandelbaum. "Some will be afraid, some will have the sense to see that we have to keep going...I agree we're in for rough period of transition. What we need is a local interim organization to see us through the next few months. I think the unions could be a local nexus. I'm working on that."

Sheila, meanwhile, is having (very quiet and well behaved) hysterics through all of this. That's her job in this book, to fall apart, as your typical woman does. Helga doesn't fall apart, but she's your genetically superior woman; and of course Mandelbaum's wife is a comfortable, happy old woman -- which is to say invisible. She might as well not be in the book, for all she does on the page.

Chapter Five

More sample headlines. Revolutions continue. The economy is crashing because people are quitting their jobs. A tiger (its intelligence quintupled) escapes from the zoo and eats a zookeeper. The US Government is considering resigning en masse, since (after all) governments are useless and stupid. (Unless they're local, I guess? Anderson is a libertarian, remember.)

Chapter Five moves to Archie Brock on the farm. He's five times smarter than he was, but so are all the farmhands who didn't start out with IQs of 50, and they're all quitting. They're going back to college, or taking off to travel, or just bored with farming. Only Archie and another farmhand, Voss, who also started off with a mental disability, are staying.

Voss is spending his time reading novels about murder and sex, and Brock is contemptuous. He thinks that Voss might have a "better" mind, but the rest of him hasn't changed. "He just doesn't want to think," Archie tells himself.

Meanwhile all the animals have gotten smarter too. The pigs have escaped and set up their own society in the woods, and Joe the dog is brilliant -- but still loyal to Archie, since that's his nature.

And the bull -- true to its nature -- uses his intelligence to attack Archie, and almost kills him, except Joe attacks the bull and saves his master. (Joe is all right, don't worry.) Archie shoots the bull just in time.

Voss is so upset by this that he quits too. Archie is left alone on the farm with Joe and the remaining animals.

The next chapter jumps ahead in time a bit, so we'll quit here.  More later!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Someone at Amazon is High

Y'all remember when Amazon recommended this $1400 dollar wine cooler to me (get one for home AND the lake house!).

Today it recommended this to me.

Seriously, I don't care how rich I ever become (fat chance); I won't be spending nearly $150 on a butter dish.


Some of the reviews are kind of funny, though.

MAGA America

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Greatest Healthcare System in the WORLD

So obviously I have terrible health insurance. We all know that.

For the past six or eight years, our administration had been giving us a $1000 discount on our health insurance if we complete a "wellness check" in November. (Basically a check on our BP and other details.)

In the past, doctors came to the university and did the check there. The last two years, we've been told to see our primary care physicians for the check.

You can imagine the paperwork this generates, as well as the opportunity for errors.

This year, I get to be one of the errors! I went to my PCP in November for a wellness check, but somehow the insurance company has decided that my visit didn't count as a wellness check. No discount for me!

There's a way to appeal, but I'm not optimistic, since the insurance company is the final arbiter, and I can see them letting go of $1000. Not likely.

Also: the sheer amount of paperwork that this nonsense generates has to cost a ton of money. That's why American health care costs so much -- administrative costs.

When a chart speaks a thousand words…

Monday, January 13, 2020

Retellings on the Inland Sea Cover Reveal

My story, "Little Bird," is in this anthology. Drops in June 2020.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

People Clutching their Pearls on Twitter

Y'all know I did classics -- Greek and Roman literature, studying Greek and Latin, writing my dissertation on Greek poetry of the first century A.D. -- so you know how much I like Greek and Roman literature.

On the other hand, I have no delusions about (a) how terrible the Romans actually were as a culture and (2) how we have over-valued them in constructing our own culture. (You can blame the British for that one.)

So watching a herd of Twitterites have tantrums when confronted with a simple fact (the Mongols were a bigger empire and better warriors than Rome and Romans; and furthermore, may well have had more influence on world culture) IDK, it cracks me up.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Reading 20th Century Science Fiction

This is a new idea I'm trying out -- I'm going to read Science Fiction written from about 1930 to about 1970 (when the Second Wave more or less began) and critique it for your reading pleasure.

Some of these books will be written by women. But I have to be able to access copies of the texts, and science fiction written by women before, well, 2010 or so, all too often is allowed to go out of print. So a larger percentage will be written by men.

I'm not going for the low-hanging fruit. These will (almost all of them) be books that have won critical acclaim, and even awards. I imagine they will all supply lots of fertile ground for our critical pleasure, though.

We'll be starting with Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson, published in 1954. This book starts with the premise of a uplift, if you know the term, for every creature with a brain that possesses a brain. An uplift is a massive gain in intelligence. There's some sciency stuff about how the uplift occurs (lots of sciency stuff in this book), which seems fairly handwavium to me.

I've never read any Poul Anderson before, so I'm new to his writing. According to Wikipedia, he started as a liberal and became a libertarian/conservative in his later years. He seems to have written a heap of SF adventure novels, though this isn't one of them.

Chapter One:

This is an effective chapter. Anderson gives us several vingettes, ranging from a rabbit in a trap to a 10 year old kid, of beings whose intelligence is increasing rapidly. The rabbit figures out how to escape from the trap; the kid invents calculus. We're interested.

Chapter Two: 

More vingettes, but we focus on the main character, a physicist named Peter Corinth. He suddenly understands how to solve a major problem that has been plaguing him. He works for the Rossman Institute, which seems to be an NGO of sorts, dedicated to solving technological problems, with the aim of helping industry. (Rossman's industry, mainly.) Cornith has been working on a way to analyze the structures of crystals. He explains all this to his wife, Sheila, in tedious detail.

The wife, Sheila, like all the women in this book, makes me wince. Sheila is -- at least before the change -- stupid. Sweet and pretty, but dumb as a rock. Why has Peter Corinth, who is a certified genius, who worked on the Manhattan project, who makes his living doing super-genius physics, why has he married someone who is just barely bright enough to wash dishes?

I mean, I guess because women are all stupid, so what else was he going to do?

In this chapter, we get interplay between Peter and Sheila, in which she demonstrates that she knows nothing about Greek mythology, and worships Peter, though she doesn't understand a single thing he's saying.

As for Peter, he's very fond of his stupid wife:

She was kind and merry and beautiful, and she could cook -- but she was nothing of an intellectual....He had sometimes thought she lived in a child's world, with nothing very well known, but all of it bright and strange.

We get Sheila's point of view after Peter leaves for work. She's delighted to be an "ordinary" housewife.

Her friends before had always been ready for a good laugh at the shibboleth-ridden boredom that was bourgeois existence, but when you got right down to it, they had only traded one routine and one set of catchwords for another, and seemed to have lost something of reality in the bargain.

This is Sheila after she's been uplifted, and she immediately stops and wonders why she's thinking such complex things. So not like her! She starts to sit down a read a mystery novel (now that the dishes are done), but then frowns and goes to pick up a "real" book instead, a well-worn one that belongs to Pete -- Lucky Jim.

Sheila sets the tone for the (very few) other women we're going to meet. Even the single working woman we encounter, Helga, who works at the Rossman Institute, isn't a scientist. She's a secretary. Useful, but only as a support for the real people men.

First Pete Corinth has to encounter our other main character, Felix Mandelbaum (it's nice to see a Jew), in the elevator. Felix has also figured out a difficult problem, though his has to do with how to organize labor unions. They note this odd coincidence, and then separate as they leave the building.

Pete rides the subway to work at the Rossman Institute, meanwhile ruminating over his past -- his work on the Manhattan Project, his useless time trying to organize scientists after the way, his brief period in academia. What's the point, he thinks, and then, like Sheila, wonders why he's thinking all this.

He also thinks about the Rossman Institute, and how it's the only way to get science done. Governments and universities can't do science, Pete knows: the former because governments interfere with scientists and the latter because of all the politics and back-biting. (The government seemed to have done science with the Manhattan Project, but okay.)

The elevator man in the Institute is also uplifted. He and Pete have a conversation which leads to Pete suggesting the elevator man should go back to college.

Pete works in his lab. He gets a call from Lewis, who has noticed something strange in his lab. They go to lunch to talk about it, and Helga shows up.

She was a tall, rangy, handsome woman, her long blonde hair drawn tightly around her poised head, but something in her manner -- an impersonal energy, an aloofness, perhaps only the unfeminine crispness of speech and dress -- made her less attractive than she could have been.

Worse, we soon find out that Helga can't keep a man. Horrors! Not only not as attractive to men as she could be, she also has not been able to marry. What a terrible fate!

Helga tells them that the institute's computer (yes, there's only one, this is 1954) isn't working right, and also that everyone in the institute has suddenly had "bright ideas" that they want to try out, via the computer and other technology, so everything is a mess.

Lewis tells them about his own lab, where he's finding that the neurones (nerve cells) he's been studying all of a sudden are reacting much faster than before.

This is the key to the uplift: electromagnetic transmitters transmit more quickly, including those in the brain. So everyone is thinking faster, and apparently this makes them more intelligent. (I'm not sure this is how it would work, but okay.) It will take our Heroes, despite their new brilliance, quite a while to reach this conclusion.

Chapter Three

We're on a farm, with one of the characters from Chapter One -- Archie Brock, who was a mentally-challenged farmhand before the uplift. Like Lennie from Mice and Men, who he seems to have been modeled on, he was just bright enough to work at manual labor so long as he had someone telling him exactly what to do.

The person telling him what to do is Mr. Rossman, the one who funds the Rossman Institute.

Here on the farm, all is chaos. The chickens, pigs, horses, and other livestock have all gotten smarter, and they are using their intelligence to escape from their pens and (in the case of the horses and pigs) rebel against their oppression.

The dog is still loyal, though.

We learn that Mr. Rossman lives alone of the farm, since his daughters have all married and his wife is dead. We also learn that the wife of one of the other farmhands washes and mends Archie's clothing. Women live to serve men.

Will the uplift cause women to become other than adjuncts to men? Will they, like the other livestock, rebel?  I'm betting not, but maybe Anderson will surprise me.

Archie notes that his head feels funny. He figures out that he's getting smarter, just like the animals.

He could see how people would be scared if the animals started getting smarter. If they were really smart, would they keep on letting humans lock them up and work them and castrate them and skin and kill and eat them?

He goes to talk to Mr. Rossman, who tells him what's happening -- how everyone is getting smarter, and how the government is trying to keep that news from getting out, so that people won't panic. "They'll hang on to their stupidity to the very end in Washington," Rossman declares.

Rossman says he's heading to the institute, to see what they're learning about the event. Archie is afraid of being left alone on the farm, but he gets over it very quickly, and asks Rossman for a book. He thinks he can read it now.

This cheers Rossman up, and he takes Archie into the library to look for something simple-minded enough for Archie to read.

That's enough for today. So far, aside from the sexism and ableism, this is pretty good. I like Anderson's point that enhanced intelligence leads not to happiness but to existential despair. Archie gets happier (not yet, but soon), because he's been uplifted into normal intelligence; everyone else begins to suffer from anxiety, dread, and despair.

More soon!

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Cat Pictures

Junti in her favorite perch 

Jasper in the bedroom window:


Wednesday, January 08, 2020


Thing Explainer (this is a link to Randall Monroe's site, challenging you to explain something complicated using only the most common 1000 words in the English language. It's an interesting challenge!)

ETA: The Kid uses the Thing Explainer:

Valgus Knees

Most animals can't walk on two legs. But humans can. This is because we have cool parts in our legs. The parts make our legs go straight down from our bodies. Some animals have two legs, but they don't have the right parts in their legs, so they don't go straight down. These animals can't stand up without leaning over, even though they can stand up. Because we have the cool leg parts, we can walk really far without getting as tired as other animals.


Most animals eat things that grow. Some animals eat dead things. When bad stuff happens, the second kind of animal has a better time than the first, because things that grow are less strong. Animals that eat dead things are stronger and are happier when bad things happen to animals or leaves. If something really bad happens to the world, animals that eat dead things will live longer than animals that eat things that grow.

Why to avoid almond milk (Chidi on The Good Place kept SAYING almond milk was problematic)

I remember this change

You shall have my axe

Emergency Responder: "Philosophy Emergency Hotline, what is your emergency?"
Caller: "I'm at a dinner party and my friend is carrying on about how postmodern neo-marxists are corrupting our youth by teaching them that everything is as true as everything else."

Emergency Responder: "Okay, i need you to stay calm. Did you try explaining to him that Marxism is a modernist philosophy and is fundamentally at odds with postmodernism?"
Caller: "Yes, but he just said that both philosophies were against “Enlightenment Values”, so they are basically the same."
Emergency Responder: "Good god, we'll send a squadron right away."

[description]: Aristotle bursts down the door.
Aristotle: "We don't debate with people who haven't read a single book on the topic they want to debate!"

Aristotle, through the door: "Philosophy Swat Team, open up!"
PERSON: "Never! I just want a rational debate."

Aristotle: "You are under arrest for philosophical slander, strawmanning, bad faith arguments, and just generally being a dumbass."
PERSON: "Help! Censorship! I'm being censored because they are afraid of the truth."
Aristotle: "That's enough out of you, we are taking you downtown."
PERSON: "Wait, this isn't jail... it is just the library."
Aristotle: "Exactly. Now read a god damn book."

Sunday, January 05, 2020

What I'm Reading Now: The Murderbot Diaries

Martha Wells, Murderbot Diaries

All Systems Red - The Murderbot Diaries 1 (cover).jpgThese novellas took the Science Fiction world by storm more than a year ago, so I'm late in reading them. In my defense, they were priced really high -- ten dollars for an e-copy of a 160 page novella. That's something Tor has been doing with its popular writers, such as Seanan McGuire: pricing their very short works at ten or twelve dollars a pop.

Now you know me, I'm a junkie. I budget book purchases first. I'll spend food money on books without blinking. But even for me, ten dollars for a very short e-book was a deal-breaker. So for a long time I didn't read these books. (The library has Seanan McGuire's books in hard copy, so no problem there.)

But I got some Christmas money from my parents, and also I am still recovering from multiple surgeries, so I went ahead and bought the first one, which was $3.99.

All Systems Red

This novella introduces Murderbot, a Security Unit robot/cyborg. (Murderbot seems to be mostly robot, but it had cloned human bits, like a face and flesh-coverings on its arms and other places. It doesn't need to eat or drink or breathe or sleep, which hit my now-wait buttons. How does it maintain its human bits without eating or breathing? Also it heals really fast, though only with special help.

But all right, let's postulate an advance in technology that makes this possible. That bump aside, this is a great story, though not as good as later stories in the series.

Most Security Units are controlled by a governing module, which will punish them if they stray outside the parameters of their programs. Murderbot has hacked its governing module. Its main desire is to be left alone to watch media -- various adventure series about improbable human characters. (Actual humans it finds tedious at this point in the story.)

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don't know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

However, it has been programmed to protect the humans who have its contract, and it also sees that protection as part of its self-interest, since it has already failed once -- there's a mass murder in its past, which it doesn't remember, having had its memory of the event erased.

Here in this episode, we also meet Dr. Mensah, who will be part of the arc of the entire series, as well as other members of Murderbot's crew. (A kind of a romance develops later between Murderbot and Mensah, though I hesitate to call it that, exactly. Murderbot is entirely asexual, and Mensah's feelings for Murderbot, while fierce, also seem partly parental.)

What makes this work -- the pacing and the writing, and Murderbot's character, which is resentful about being forced to deal with humans, and also terrified of dealing with humans. (Later, when it has to pass as human, this becomes a rich field for Wells to explore.) Murderbot's voice is filled with dark, mordant humor, which makes us like the character a great deal, even if Murderbot doesn't seem to like itself very much.

We also like that it does its job so well and so fiercely. And we like that Dr. Mensah recognizes that Murderbot is not a machine, but a trapped (enslaved) intelligent being, as important as any human life.

Artificial Condition

I liked the first one so much, I went ahead and bought the second, though I couldn't help fuming at the high price.

This second installment is one of my favorites. Murderbot makes a friend!

Murderbot travels by hitching rides on semi-intelligent bot ships, trading its stored media for rides. On one of those rides, it finds itself on an actual intelligent bot ship, whom it names ART. Their relationship is the main focus of this novella, though the plot involves Murderbot returning to the scene of the mass murder it was involved with to try to find out what happened, and what its role was in the crime.

Again, Murderbot's voice and the writing, along with the wonderful characters of the bots, carry this story.

Rogue Protocol

The second was so good, I bought the third. This is probably my least favorite novella in the series. Murderbot travels to a terraforming platform to get the goods on GrayCris, who is the overarching villain of the series.

It's not bad, mind you. But it's overly complicated, and at times I had trouble keeping track of the action. You probably need to read it since the events figure in the overall arc of the story, but don't be surprised if you're a little underwhelmed.

Exit Strategy

I was a little reluctant, given the lower standard of the third, to shell out another ten bucks for the fourth, but in the end I went ahead and did it. I'm glad I did. This is the best of the four novellas, and the last so far. (An actual novel is supposed to be released in May 2020.) Dr. Mensah returns, and the plot is a nail-biter. Also, Murderbot is wonderful.

Here's a review on NPR.

Well worth reading, but I'm still a little bitter about the price. Something over $35 for all four novellas. That just seems excessive.

Friday, January 03, 2020

True, Tho

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Losing Reality

It's been a while since I checked in on Rod Dreher. Frankly, he just got too bizarre to be interesting.

But I dropped by this morning,

You'll be glad to know that trans people are a poison in our cultural groundwater.

Also that Rod is still racist, even though he's stopped screeching about how "black culture" is destroying America in favor of screeching about how Trans people (World War T, he calls this) are destroying America.

More racism here. (Multiple studies have shown that black children are far more likely to be punished and punished harshly for the same behaviors that white children are indulged in. Rod's claim that black kids are punished more often because they behave worse is simply not the case.)

And of course white men are the real victims.

So yeah, I haven't missed anything. He's just sliding further and further into Old Man Yells at Clouds territory.

Of course, that's where his remaining readers -- pretty much all MAGA Americans -- live, so he gets plenty of affirmation for these views. If you want to be really horrified, read his comment section. Horrifying bigotry and horrifying ignorance. And Rod encourages all this, because of course he does.

Obviously, none of this is worth reading, and I don't advise anyone to read it, except that it's useful for knowing exactly how appalling and hateful the "Religious Right" had become. There truly is no bottom to these people.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Year's End

Good-bye 2019. Here's hoping 2020 will be better!

Top posts of 2019:


Trans, Bi, Genderfluid


Trigger Warning


The Kid




The Great Flood






The Move


Also the Move


Yet more!


The Impeachment Hearings


Ending the Year with a Howl