packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
I am not a Christian, but there are a number of things I admire in the theology of most Christian religions. One of these goes back to the titular Christ himself: his affection for all peoples. Heretics, sinners, those judged impure and those despised, all these were the people he chose to spend his time with, the people he was loyal to. Fred 'slacktivist' Clark spoke of this quite memorably in the essay "Clean shoes" - and for that matter, so did Richard Thompson in the song "God Loves A Drunk" - but there's another aspect of this that struck me quite powerfully. An inversion, if you will.

What we usually say is that Jesus loves everyone. What we usually say is that Jesus hung out with fishermen, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes. We say that Jesus accepted all these people, people who the Pharisees, the cleanliness-obsessed, the self-righteous rejected. But the same goes the other way around. These people who would have nothing to do with self-righteous, cleanliness-obsessed Pharisees accepted Jesus. Prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, fishermen would hang out with him. Everyone loved him.

To say he loves is to say a great deal - but to say he was loved, a great deal more. It is not difficult to be convinced that you love someone, that you care for them, that you want the best for them. To be convinced that others care about you and appreciate you - that they value you - is somewhat more challenging. If someone handed you a religious tract, would you believe they cared for you? If someone proselytized to you, unasked, on the street, are they offering you what you need? They believe so - but do you?

In contrast, if someone listened to your troubles, would you believe they cared for you? If someone offered their aid, unasked, on the street? Would it matter what they believed, if they offered you clothes when you were naked, drink when you thirsted, food when you hungered?

It seems like a thought worth considering.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
What is wrong with book-burning is not that a book has been set on fire - it is that the book is no longer available to be read.

Consider a few cases:

1. A government deems a particular book to be subversive literature and orders every copy burnt. Agents of the government seize all copies found in libraries, bookstores, or private residences and commits them to the fire. This is wrong.

2. An ideologue arranges to purchase every copy of a rare book and burns them. This is wrong.

3. An ideologue arranges to purchase several copies of a commonly-available book and burns them. This is not wrong.

Apologies to everyone who got sick of the whole debacle over two weeks ago.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
Dan Shive (best known as the creator of El Goonish Shive) recently wrote a brief argument why alternate universes would probably not contain alternate "you"s. His argument looks correct, as far as it goes, but it is qualitative - lacking numerical estimates - and I don't see why it has to be. The data exists. Surely ballpark back-of-the-envelope numbers could be produced.

...but not trivially. Dan Shive's challenge can - and I think should - be broken down as follows.

Read more... )

Now, I lack the knowledge of biology to, first, nail down these questions to their most correct forms, and second, assign probability estimates to relevant steps in the chain. But the most superficial examination of the situation seems to suggest at least one thing: any alternate universe measurably diverging a significant period before the birth of an individual is vanishingly likely to contain a copy of that individual. Which, of course, is what Dan Shive has pointed out.

And, as an obvious consequence of this, even if such a universe contained a duplicate of yourself, it would still be vanishingly unlikely for it to contain duplicates of anyone not your direct descendant. (Which would make for a heck of a paternity test, I have to tell you!)
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
Via JamesAndrix on, a talk from Adam Savage on his method of problem solving:

Second half is Q&A, which is awesome but mostly unrelated.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
[personal profile] alchemi recently posted a self-esteem meme based on an earlier post from [ profile] finding_helena, here (who cites an earlier post on another blog - warning: language). In the introduction, alchemi quotes the opening paragraphs of finding_helena's post:

We all, particularly women, tend to downplay what we're actually good at. When somebody compliments us, we demur. And I definitely include myself in that. I don't want to seem too vain in accepting a compliment. And it's true, I think, that bragging can go too far.

And I do feel a little silly taking credit for things that come really easily to me. Like if somebody is impressed with, oh, my ability to tell you what note you just played to me. Seriously, that's just a little quirk of my brain that I have nothing to do with. It's like complimenting me on having pretty eyes... I mean, glad you appreciate them, but I didn't have anything to do with the process of them being so.

BUT. There are things that I've worked hard on and am good at.

Now, I think there's something interesting to be said about what you can and cannot take credit for, and what taking credit should mean ... but in the meantime, some things do I take credit for )

I'm sure I could say more, but at 1:05 in the morning it might be better to stop here.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)

Given the choice, would you prefer to be a world-class (visual or performing) artist or an intellectual genius? Which, in your opinion, would facilitate a more fulfilling career and social life?

Submitted By [ profile] numbartist

View 809 Answers

Why, this is perfectly straightforward. "Intellectual genius" and "world-class artist", respectively.


Oh, the contradiction. Yeah, I just have to own that one. The thing is, somewhere in my head, I have this driving principle which seeks out knowledge rather than pleasure. "Socrates dissatisfied", as they say. The thing is, though, I do so even though I dispute John Stuart Mill's thesis: I would be more content, not merely happier, if I chose to subordinate my intellectual drive and took up the paintbrush. I just choose not to. I prefer to choose the less pleasant when offered the choice of truth or happiness, or even truth and safety, or truth and pride - I would rather know the truth, though it tear me to pieces.

Which, to disgress, may be part of what I find so compelling in Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net. And that may be as satisfactory a conclusion as any to the post.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
[ profile] ladibug21 has asked me questions five, and answers five I bring!

(If you'd like me to ask five questions of you to know you better, just say the word. Yes, this is a meme.)

1. Given your answers to the recent LJ Question of the Day, what's your favorite breakfast? Are you a savory or sweet breakfast person? Where is your favorite breakfast place?

Some day ... some day ... I will find the breakfast-spot where they know how to cook an egg over medium instead of over easy.

For the meantime, I believe hotcakes, eggs, and bacon at the Vienna Inn are pretty good, when I get the chance. Hash browns are a little much.

2. Are you a fan of the winter Olympics? If so, which is your favorite event? If not, why?

Not a big fan, really - my interest in spectator sports seems to start with baseball and pretty much peter out there. I think it would be cool to learn cross-country skiing just because it's useful, but, given my current lattitude, a ham radio license would be a higher priority.

3. What's your favorite comic or printed cartoon?

Online right now, it's just about a dead heat between Kaspall (a very metafictional fantasy suspense novel) and Dead Winter (a post-satirical zombie apocalypse bildungsroman). Offline, I would have to decide between my childhood love, The Adventures of Tintin, English translation (a bit of a wandering-the-earth series), and the books I've become interested in more recently, such as Sandman Mystery Theatre, Transmetropolitan, and Invincible.

I think I would go for Dead Winter and Tintin, respectively, and would hate to choose between the two.

4. What do you plan to do once you're done with school?

I think at this point it is abundantly obvious that teaching is in my future.

5. What are your feelings on Valentine's Day?

Is that today?

On the one hand, I don't like obligations, but on the other hand, I tend to forget to do things I should if I don't have a reason and a date. On the gripping hand, I'm single (sighs!).

...well, that's all. Now to throw on some clothes to rush for the library booksale!


Feb. 9th, 2010 11:45 am
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
bliumchik i.e. [ profile] maggiebloome had a tasty, tasty post+links about the sort-of self-destructive anti-ego thing which a lot of women do to avoid seeming too self-confident establish their femininity ...

... and that reminded me of an entirely different self-destructive anti-ego thing that I do, when I don't get things done that I wanted to have done. The thing is, I have this self-image of this feckless, flaky ass who blows off important assignments and mooches financially and emotionally off everyone he meets ... but the whole basis for this persona is that I'm ADD. I don't concentrate well, and I don't have the tools established to work around it (other than "be so clever that you can solve the problem in fifteen minutes or less"...). And given that I'm the only person I have ever met who has given any weight to the ass-hypothesis, I suspect the truth is closer to "my organization skills need a little work".

The self-destructive part, then, is whinging about being a horrible person who deserves to die (a total lie, for the record), rather than doing that little bit of work. Because I can - I have the technology - and everything else is just that I haven't, yet.

Abrupt transition!

Reply to this post, and I'll tell you one reason why I like you. Then repost this [if you like] and spread the love.

Except! Amendment!

Reply to this post with something you like about yourself. No cop-out complinsults please! I know you've got it in you! And if you don't I will still do the original meme above, so no pressure or anything, but try. For me.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)

What are the three best books you have ever read and what are the three worst? What made them so good or bad?

Submitted By [info]crazylove16

View 274 Answers

With the caveat that I'm just naming books off the top of my head, and I might miss something perfectly obvious, and the further caveat that I only include books that I've read straight through:


Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

One of the best English humor books ever written. Three English blokes (and a dog) decide to go on a trip up the Thames river. What makes it hilarious is J's writing - he is a brilliant raconteur with a poetic, charmingly digressive style, and he finds exceptional material in his reminisces.

(Conveniently, it is available online in several places.)

Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling

You could describe it many ways, but it feels to me a bit like film noir Twenty Minutes in the Future (as they say on the Tropes of the TV). Remarkably, it's still Twenty Minutes in the Future despite being published in 1988 (five years before the Eternal September), which should give you an idea of how strong Sterling's SF chops are. In any case, this stands out for its skilled worldbuilding (of course), characterization, and pacing. Events occur kinetically yet vividly, which is a fine line to walk.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Reportedly, somewhere in the television series Lost, a character named Sawyer says about this: "Hell of a book! It's about bunnies." It would be difficult to describe it more eloquently in less space.

Taking advantage, then, of having more: this is my very first favorite book, and I'm proud to say that it's held up well for more than half my life, reading it again and again. Richard Adams possesses the most fluent descriptive voice that I have ever encountered, and paces it with a master's grace. There is a simply beautiful passage where Hazel (the protagonist) pauses at the mouth of a burrow to check the surroundings before going out in the field, and Adams takes this moment of time to describe in lyrical terms the sights, smells, and sounds of that instant. It is a beautiful trick of the writing art, and Adams wields it with virtuosic skill. A true classic, in the sense of a work which survives the test of time.

And fun to read! Hell of a book, like the man said.

Some books which I considered, but did not include in the top three:
  • Shardik by Richard Adams
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  • A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason
  • A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will by Robert Kane
  • Fooling Some of the People All of the Time by David Einhorn
  • The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II


Caveat: I enjoyed most of these. All of them, if I'm honest. I (mostly) don't finish books if I don't. That said...

Born to Run by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon

Cheesy modern fantasy. It makes this list less out of any flaw than out of general lack of merit.

War of Honor by David Weber (Book Ten of the Honor Harrington series)

The Honor Harrington series follows a very simple formula. That formula has worn paper-thin by Book Ten. The new elements Weber introduces to liven it up do precisely the opposite, except where they introduce a little excitement by being profoundly stupid. I had enjoyed the first two books in the series, continued reading the series out of intertia, and ran out on this one.

In truth, this is probably the worst of my three-worst list. But I feel obliged to bump it from that slot in light of...

The Radiant Warrior by Leo Frankowski (Book Three of the Conrad Starguard series)

...which features censored ) trope. The first four books are pure fluff otherwise - time-travel wish fulfillment fantasy of the most elemental sort - but the misogynistic aspects are utterly grating. Fortunately, the most epochal Crowning Moment of Awesome for the series is in Book Two. Unfortunately, as far as respect for women is concerned, the aforementioned censored ) is more a dip than a chasm in the narrative.

(I will not include a near-misses list here - I have too much respect for NAME REDACTED and NAME REDACTED, and TITLE REDACTED wasn't supposed to be good in the first place.)

(Edit: Actually below all three books on the list is a Dean Koontz book I read ages ago, my former copy of which my mother decided should be dismembered and recycled rather than continue to exist. I take pride in not remembering the title - it featured incest, Body Horror, thoroughly horrible people, and was written in a loving style which cannot reflect well on the author.)
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)

Have you ever participated in a seance? If not, would you consider it? What spirit would you summon and what question would you ask them? Do you believe we can get messages from the dead?

View Answers

I haven't - I might attend one as a favor for a close friend if they wanted me there. If I did, though, I wouldn't be planning on trying to summon any spirit at all, or expect to get any message from the dead. I'm fairly sure that death is the end.

That said, I wouldn't object having a chance to have a real conversation with my maternal grandfather. I just think it's impossible.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)

If you're trying to create something, like a story, a composition, or a design, etc., do you find yourself imagining how others will react to it? Does that impede or enhance the creative process?

View other answers

Oddly, I don't usually think of other people when I'm working on an aesthetic endeavor (as opposed to a practical matter, such as a user interface). Perhaps I should - when I judge it purely for myself I rather come off poorly.

My Atheism

Sep. 24th, 2009 08:07 pm
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
Greta Christina recently posted something rather brilliant about atheism and self-definition that ... well, it inspires me to define my atheism, just so people know where I'm coming from.

I'd love to see people's reactions to this, by the way. I might be too busy to react properly, but I'll try to answer questions, comments, complains, and arguments, whatever reaction you have to what I say.

*clears throat*

I'm an atheist. What that means is that I don't believe that anything like a god is real. I'm not totally certain - I don't think any atheist is totally certain, however hyperbolic their rhetoric might become in the heat of debate - but I've thought about this quite a lot for quite a while, I've read a lot of arguments, and all told I simply don't believe it. I'm pretty sure that the people who do believe there are any gods, be it one, a few, or many, are simply mistaken.

I'm an atheist. I'm a strong atheist - I believe that no such thing as a god is real. Now, this distinction commonly causes semantic confusion: "I don't believe gods are real" doesn't mean "I believe gods are imaginary", never mind that I could state both truthfully; it's perfectly common for atheists to not believe that gods exist, while simultaneously not believing that gods don't exist. Such persons don't believe they have the evidence to commit either way on the question. I do.

I'm an atheist. I'm a metaphysical naturalist - I think the universe operates according to fundamentally non-mental principles. Richard Carrier defined supernaturalism well in an essay a couple years ago: supernatural things cannot be broken down into non-mental pieces. That makes no sense to me. Everything I have ever learned - my education in philosophy, in physics, in psychology, in mathematics, in computer science, in literature - has given me a strong instinct that somewhere at the base of it all are simple mathematical laws. I draw the comparison to Conway's Game of Life: the rules are basic and unbreakable, but through their implications on higher and higher levels of complexity in the world shaped as it is we find everything with which we are familiar.

I'm an atheist. I don't believe there's any overlord of the universe to dictate moral laws for us, nor any afterlife wherein our acts can be judged. Our morals are our own - earned in the struggles and victories of our ancestral species, forged on the anvil of a world which does not tell us what we should do, but merely referees. Our senses of beauty, of honor, of justice, of fairness, of charity, of love, of pride, of disgust ... every subjective experience we have is ours, proven on the steppes from which we came and coming together to create that which is us. To declare that this makes goodness into something meaningless is, if you'll forgive the rhyme, senseless - we're not stupid, and if we value goodness, that is meaning enough.

I'm an atheist. I am an atheist because I have the freedom to be thus - the freedom to learn, to decide, and to proclaim. I would not live where I was required to be thus by ignorance, deception, or coercion: to be an atheist freely is to be aware of the need for freedom. As Alfred Tarski is quoted to have said, "The sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white" - and to be forced to believe that snow is white is to be coerced to believe, be that belief true or false. The only way to be free to believe truth is to be free to believe what one must on the strength of one's own judgement.

I'm an atheist. I care about being an atheist - I care about what I believe, and about being true to what I believe. I want to be treated decently and with respect. I want the people who disagree with me to listen to me - to trust my sincerity and my rationality - and when they argue with me, I want them to be sincere and rational in doing so. I want the arguments against me to stem from a fair and charitable reading of my sometimes-clumsy explanations - you can fight me, but fight the true implications of my world-view with the true implications of yours.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
(You can tell I TVTropes too much, can't you?)

0: Selected. This is (almost1) the theoretical minimum - telling someone else what you want so they can prepare it for you. When you call the pizza place, this is what you're doing.

1: Heated. Whether it be oven, microwave, or boiling water, this degree of preparation consists of "take prepackaged food and make it hot".2 When you put a toaster pastry in the toaster, that's this.

2: From mix. At this point, you begin to put some genuine effort into the dish - at the least, measuring and stirring - but the tricky parts of the recipe are still taken care of for you. As you might guess, this covers any product with "mix" in its name - chili mix, cake mix - as well as those horrid "mac & cheese" boxes with the powdered chemical byproducts.

3: From ingredients. The minimum level to actually count as "cooking from scratch" - here you go all the way back to butter, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, chopped nuts, egg, semi-sweet chocolate, vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon water, and drop by half-teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets to bake at 375 °F for 10-12 minutes. If you went to a grocery store, bought items with fewer than five ingredients listed on the label, and put them together at home to make the dish, that's this.

4: From organisms. When you go hunting, fishing, berry-picking, or the like, you've reached this level.

5: Farmed. When a dish is composed of food you grew yourself - from a tomato patch to a laying chicken all the way up to a full-fledged farm - you have reached the top of the scale.3 Congratulations.

As a rule of thumb, if all the major components of a dish are on the same level, the dish should be counted on that level. (If you shoot a deer and fry up a cut with seasoned salt, it's still a "4".) However, if major components span multiple levels, that should be indicated. (A pie filling made from ingredients and baked in a store-bought shell is a "1 to 3".)

1. I say "almost" because going to a dinner with a set menu would remove even this degree of control over the proceedings. ^
2. On reflection, pouring milk into cereal would probably count as this level too, despite no heating being involved. ^
3. Technically, the human mind can conceive a more basic level, but it's not commonly practiced. ^
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
Day before yesterday, Jerry "Tycho" Holkins commented on his fascination with the deeply disturbing "seduction community", and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik stepped in to play devil's advocate.

I completely see where both of these people are coming from, here. But in this particular case, Tycho is very straightforwardly correct, and Gabe's instinctive fairmindness is misplaced. And normally I wouldn't be so confident staking out my spot in this minefield, but I happen to have an advantage: just last month, a completely unrelated community which I have been involved in discussed this question, and the conclusions of the discussion are pretty clear.

The seduction community, or pick-up artist community, or whatever it's called, explicitly treats sexual relations between persons as a game in which the player - singular - seeks to win against opposition. This attributes an explicit status imbalance in which only the man is an actor (cf. Bark/Bite, "Do You Tell a Football What Time the Superbowl Starts?") and in which sexual congress raises the status of the man and lowers that of the woman. It's sexist, offensive, and wrong.

End of line.

P.S. Obviously, two days being an eternity in the wonderful world of cyberspace, I have been preceded in remarking on this discussion - goblinpaladin, pandagon's Amanda Marcotte.

P.P.S. If there are people reading this is frustrated in their desire to find sexual partners, recall that people are complicated. Anyone offering shortcuts is lying.

Tank Man

Jun. 4th, 2009 07:57 pm
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
On the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the New York Times "Lens" blog made two memorial posts regarding the photographs of the Tank Man: first, the classic four photos with comments from the photographers, and second, the fifth photo, unreleased until now.

I am sure I can say nothing to add to these. But I am wondering: what of the driver and other crew of that lead Type 59 tank? It seems to me an incredible thing, that these four PLA soldiers, presumably with orders to drive away the protesters from the square, saw this single man (incongruously carrying plastic bags, as if he was just out shopping) walk out in front of them ... and they stopped. Their guns were silent. Ashamedly, the driver turns the tank to go around the man - like you might turn your car to avoid a pothole - but the man puts his body in the way, seventy or so kilos of meat and bone against thirty six thousand of metal, and ... I don't know. Were they confused? Or did they, somehow, in the midst of the machinegunning of hundreds of people, look out through their periscopes and see a person, a fellow human being, before them?

I have been thinking for a while that nonviolent protest is the strangest sort of moral judo - if war is an extension of diplomacy, seeking victory by the destruction of your enemies personhood, then this is likewise an extension, an anti-war, seeking victory by the construction of your own personhood. The acts of passive resistance bewilder because it is impossibly to justify as war. It can only be understood as human.

We don't know who the Tank Man is. As far as I am aware, we don't even know who was in the tanks.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
Hi! I'm going to talk to you about morality, because I'm arrogant and you're imperfect.

No, these facts have no relation. Everyone is imperfect - myself more than you, I wager - and I'd be arrogant even if the lot of you were plaster saints. But the second has interesting consequences which the first permits me to address.

(And as long as I'm blathering, let me make a quick clarification: morality is not law, and law is not morality. If you find yourself interchanging the two, you need to recheck your math. Moving on.)

The thing about morality I want to address today is not the content, but the form. Morality acts on three grammatical persons - the first, the second, and the third - and among most people it tends to be different for all three. (This is why Mormons come to your door - it's harder to be rude to a face than a phone.) This makes sense except for one important factor: a lot of people (though probably fewer than it seems) get the proportions backwards, and need correction. So let me break it down for you.

In the first person - in your morality for you - you ought to be strict but fair. As some wit commonly cited as "Yahl, J." is quoted: "Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated." Stick to the straight and narrow road, get it right the first time, and if you get it wrong, get it right the next time. Practice your morality with all the intensity, precision, and dedication that you were supposed to practice the piano when you were growing up.

In the second person, and still more in the third person - in your morality for your friends and for your strangers - be looser. If your personal code is the double-yellow line, give your friends the entire road and strangers two city blocks in both directions. If your personal code is the Geneva Conventions, let your friends have the Declaration of Independence and allow the rest the Golden Rule. Or, if you prefer: an it harm none, let everyone else do what they will.

Why this? Because you don't really know what's right and wrong, not to any sensible degree of accuracy. Oh, you're better off than the Hittite slave holder who, lacking our hard-won experience, never made the connection between the wretched condition of the slave and the moral repugnance of the institution, but "better off" is a long way from omniscient. And the hard part about morality is that it's chaotic - it depends on a tremendous array of details which you might (if you're lucky) know for your own situation but which you are more ignorant of the farther you look from your center of consciousness. While on the one side you want to do right, on the other you don't want to be - in fact, you shouldn't be - the one who beats people up when they haven't done anything wrong.

So how do you do this? You set an engineering margin of error - draw yourself a circumference small enough that you may be confident it (mostly) resides within the right and aim for that, while drawing for others a loop which (mostly) circumscribes the right and nudge what falls outside back in. In other words, you be the anti-hypocrite: you criticize in yourself what you let pass in others.

And that's the form to take, in the first, second, and third persons. Thank you for your patience.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

Do you believe in fate? Why or why not?

Submitted By [ profile] and2c_hersmile

View other answers

Assuming the author meant, "Do you believe fate exists?" - no, I don't.

Quick definition: fate is that which must happen regardless of any person's choices, regardless of any person's actions, regardless of any conceivable action by any conceivable person, ever. You know how Oedipus killed his dad and married his mom? Yeah - fated, had to happen.

Well, the universe doesn't work like that. If Oedipus had confronted his foster parents about the prophecy, none of it would have happened. Heck, if the weather had been a little different and he'd died of exposure on the road, none of it would have happened, and the weather is chaotic - anything you do can change it a month down the road.

AnZac Day

Apr. 25th, 2009 06:45 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
[ profile] pecunium reminds us: April 25th is AnZac Day.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

Would you ever go on a silent retreat? How long do you think you could go without talking?

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Assuming no emergencies arose, assuming textual writing was prohibited ... the first day and the first week would be the hardest, but I could do it. It would be an interesting experience, I am sure.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (swing dismount)
From [ profile] baxil, with his modifications:

Comment to this post, and I will list five things I associate with you. They might make sense or they might be totally random. You're encouraged to post that list, with your commentary on each item, to your lj (or just add a reply back at me).

Extra Baxilian addition: If you have a mental association with me that nobody has mentioned yet, add it to your five-things request and I'll write some bonus commentary.

Swing Sets

I like swings. I would consider this a fairly awesome date.

I'm not sure when or where my earliest experiences were, but I know we had a swingset in the back yard of the family house when I was a kid, and I seem to recall a swingset at the park down the street, too. I think both of them are gone, now. So is the swingset in the icon, at K's house, but the swing in the icon - the brown thing I'm holding on to is the seat of a tree swing - is still there and still a lot of fun. Without the swingset to climb on for extra height, though, it'll be a little harder for me to fall off at the highest point off the ground and knock my wind out. Again. Pity.


n. Not believing in any gods.

Now, this is not the definition you will from Messers. Merriam and Webster, should you ask of them - they will tell you that it is the positive belief that there exists no deity (and yes, they use the singular). It is also slightly different from the definition common at the once-IIDB, now FRDB (Freethought and Rationalism Discussion Board) - while that definition may be worded identically through sloppiness, strictly speaking, they refer to the negative belief, lack of belief, that any gods exist.

That said, provided that you interpret all three of these definitions reasonably, by which I mean avoiding the stupid, stupid idea that beliefs have to be infinitely certain, all three apply to myself. I positively believe that no people with power over the laws of nature exist ("in my opinion nothing occurs contrary to nature except the impossible, and that never occurs" - Sagredo, "Two New Sciences" (1914 translation), Galileo Galilei), and I decidedly don't have faith in any such creatures.

I made a post for [ profile] convert_me a while back talking about the history of my opinion - I won't bother to repeat it here.

Magic: The Gathering

My dad, my sibs and I got into MtG early - not beta-early, but Unlimited Edition and Arabian Nights expansion early. Back then it was a great game, a lot of fun, though I stank at it - now, with the tremendous backlog of expansions and extra rules and so on that it has acquired, not so much (though I stink much less, now).

Still my favorite collectible trading card game, though.

Writer's Block*

* The LJ thought-prompter, not the creative affliction.

The LJ Writer's-Block feature quite often has interesting prompts - certainly better than Sturgeon's-Law percentages. Today's, for example, is "What do you think happens to us when we die?", a question of deep interest to many people that normally wouldn't occur to me to answer.

I normally don't put a great deal of effort into answering the Writer's Block questions, though. I expect if I were answering today's I would merely reiterate my support for the physicalist position - that you are (mostly) the operation of your brain, and if your brain data is destroyed, so are you. A more thorough response would invoke some of the evidence for the position - from Phineas Gage to the neurophysiology of near-death experiences and hallucinations.


I've always been a bit of a rules-lawyer and I've always loved paradoxes (growing up, we had both of Martin Gardner's Aha! books, and at least one Raymond Smullyan - The Lady Or The Tiger? - I read all three often), so when I first heard of the game of Nomic (probably through my older brother), I was hooked. A game where you could change the rules! Nay, a game where you were encouraged, nay, required to change the rules, not just one where there was no-one to stop you! The very language of Suber's Initial Ruleset appealed to me.

And, of course, no-one in my circle of meatspace acquaintances was interested in playing. So the desire persistent, unfulfilled, until that fateful day when [ profile] active_apathy decided she wanted a game. And by January 23rd, there was [ profile] nomicide, and we've been off and running (with occasional stumbles) ever since. </plug>

Edit: That's January 23rd, 2007, for reference - over two years, now!
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

Do you behave differently online than you do in real life?

Submitted By [ profile] tinysaur

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A bit - I am sometimes short-tempered and often inarticulate in the meatspace, where real-time factors weigh much more heavily. To employ a bit of catachresis, in the parts of online that I inhabit, I am free to compose myself and my replies.
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
[ profile] coppervale, yesterday, wrote a bit On Becoming a Writer where he approvingly quotes a rule Harlan Ellison said to him: "You're not a writer until a writer tells you you're a writer."

[ profile] gregvaneekhout begged to differ, and suggests that "the designation 'writer' can only come from the act of doing it".

The question I am inclined to ask is: whence* comes the divide?

First: I claim that it truly is a divide, not merely a quibble of the sort which may be casually dismissed in a footnote. It tears along the same line dividing elitism and egalitarianism, distinction and description - either the former elevates Writer to a title or the latter reduces it to trivia, depending on which side of the line the reader falls, and there is a real sense of investment in the side. "How dare you claim we are not writers?" one might ask; or, inversely, one might ask, "If you are writers, where are your publications? Where are your awards? Where are your membership cards?"

Second: that's where it comes from. It comes from the split between the prototype of the writer and the etymology of the term - from the difference between definition by similarity and definition by function. Further, it gains its power from the conflict in the definition. To use an elitist frame, because we ascribe merit to the title, we wish to gain it (this drives the meaning towards the more general functional form), but because the merit of the title comes from the prototype, we wish to restrict the title to the deserving (this drives the meaning towards the prototypical). To use an egalitarian frame, because we pay attention to this behavior, we wish to employ our language to match the behavior as logically as possible (this drives the meaning towards the functional), but because we pay attention to this behavior, we want to make sure to be thrifty, to only pay to the truly exemplary examples (this drives the meaning towards the prototypical).

Third: These very tensions make the divide impossible to resolve by any maneuvers. Nevertheless, I have an opinion.

My opinion is thus: the best strategy is to employ the word in the functional sense. This does tarnish the trademark, if you think of "writer" as a trademark, but to try to apply the elitist standard raises too many ridiculous confusions. (Check it out: Is Anne Frank a writer, by the elitist definiton? Samuel Pepys? William Topaz McGonagall?) But on the other hand, we should recognize that adjectives apply - professional versus amateur, good versus bad, original versus derivative - and we should recognize that people may (or may not!) take "Writer" as a part of their identity, and not to deny them their identity or ascribe too much moral or social value to their identity.

The same goes for a lot of other titles - "artist", "dancer", "fisher", "poet". These words are not states of being, they are states of doing. Best to recognize it and go from there.

* Linguistic aside: "from whence" is an equally valid form. I simply prefer the shorter version.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

Do you consider yourself an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?

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I would love to meet the person who did not consider themselves a realist. Excluding that option, however, I have to say I'm pessimistic in particular and optimistic in general.

When I am called upon to make a quantitative guess, my natural tendency is to exaggerate the odds of the worst plausible outcome. When I am called upon to complete a task, my natural tendency is to exaggerate the difficulty of completion to the point of paralyzation. And when I am called upon to describe what I have accomplished, my natural tendency is to understate my claim as much as possible.

On the other hand, I honestly expect things to turn out for the better. I think the world is a fine place, that a century ago it was worse, and that a century from now it will be better. I am appalled at those who speak of needing to compromise their principles - "have they no faith in the power of Good?", I think. When I meet a friend coming out my front door, he gives me a ride to the Metro just in time to catch the train, and both transfers come within the minute, I am not even perturbed - I just look at my watch and say, "Hey, I'm almost on time today!"

All that said, though, I reject the words, let alone the trichotomy. They are useful ways to describe the inaccuracy of estimates (a la "You don't think a month to finish the book is optimistic?"), but dispositions don't divide along those lines.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
Saw this "genre fiction" (how I hate that term!) book list on [ profile] hmmm_tea's journal - made a few inconsequential alterations to the rules myself...

1) Look at the list, copy and paste it into your own journal.
2) Marks: read one or all of, intend to read (or reread, or finish), loved, hated.
3) Feel free to elaborate wherever you like, whether on the books, the rules, or the list itself.

In no particular order:

100 items long, for whatever reason. Be warned. )

Obvious lacunae - Richard Adams (at least "Watership Down", and I'd add "Shardik"), Hal Clement ("Needle", "Mission of Gravity", but probably not "Still River", however much I love that book), Vernor freakin' Vinge ("A Fire Upon the Deep", I haven't read "A Deepness in the Sky", "True Names"), Edgar Allan Poe (anything, for cripe's sake), Bruce Sterling ("Islands in the Net", for one), Bram Stoker ("Dracula")...
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (accept christ playstation)
( You're about to view content that the journal owner has advised should be viewed with discretion. )
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Earth:Harmless/WikiGuide)
Okay, so I'm way late getting on board the 2008 Civics Quiz (32/33, by the way - I missed the harder Roosevelt question), but I haven't seen this angle approached: Has anyone checked to see if the respondents are literate, full stop? It seems to me that misunderstanding the questions and/or answers (some of which have difficult wordings) could be a factor in the 71% "failure" rate.

Just thinking about possible controls on the test.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
Original to me, for once:

Most people have the same religion (or lack of religion) as their parents. That something this large in the life of an individual should even appear to be so much up to chance invites the question: what would you be like if you changed that one variable? And how would you interact if you met?

If I were a Christian:
  • I would play Christian rock. (But possibly good Christian rock, if my church were liberal enough to give me my Joni Mitchell et al.)
  • I would go on missions to third-world countries and donate generously to charity.
  • I would play by the rules with a passion, and deplore the hypocrisy I see in others, also with a passion. (Probably to excess on both counts - I would still cross at the crosswalk were I the last person on earth.)
  • I would debate theology for fun - possibly even go to seminary.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday would still drive me nuts.

If real-me met Christian-me:
  • We'd get in long arguments about the justifications of belief and foundations of morality.
  • We'd exchange mixtape-CDs. I would be very nervous about putting anything anti-religion or anti-Christianity on them.
  • He'd badger me to take up playing the piano again. I would promise, and then forget.
  • He would be appalled that I could lose my Eagle Scout for being an atheist.

God bless, as he would say, and wind to thy wings, as I would reply.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
As you may recall, I recently mentioned to the world Livejournal that my brother is the best brother ever - in that particular instance, thanks to his generosity in purchasing and letting me rip a tremendous stack of music CDs. One of the most awesome songs in a generally fantastic batch is 10,000 Maniacs, "Planned Obsolescence" from Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983. It's a great spaced-out synthy track with cleverly layered vocals in clever harmonies - a little like "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" might be if it was orchestrated by Eurythmics, to grotesquely misdescribe it.

But the lyrics are about the conflict between science and religion.

Really, I kinda hate it when this happens. Sometimes, when I'm staying up too late on a school night (he-e-y-y...), I feel things like, "all those people talking about elephants in the room must be talking about religion - it's the biggest one here." You get almost everyone repeating one or another of the same dozen or so platitudes that don't make sense but at least don't offend most people, or repeating one of a different couple dozen which offend one half or the other of the population but which everyone already has a standard response for (usually involving foaming at the mouth and insults either to one's character or to one's intellect, depending on which side is being offended - and yes, the whole "condemn 'both' sides" schtick is one of the "don't make sense" class).

So when I want to talk about this song, I can't even go "is this irony like 'Shiny Happy People', serious like 'Both Sides Now', or something else altogether?" without feeling like I'm walking onto a landmine. I have to lay down a few hundred words of insulation just to mention the question., what is this song saying? Is it bemoaning the materialism (in the dual-meaning sense) of the worldview now replacing primitive animistic belief, or is it simply observing the death of outdated modes of being? ...I think it is the latter, but I'm not sure!
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What were you doing on September 11th, 2001? How do the events of that day hold meaning for you now?

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On the eleventh of September, in the year two thousand and one of the common era, I was still taking classes at the Rockville campus of Montgomery College in the state of Maryland. I first heard rumors of the plane crash in the basement of the Macklin Tower (which may still have been the Campus Tower, then) near the phones at the bottom of the stairs where the vending machines were (there was an auto-mat-ish one with sandwiches and the like, or perhaps my memory is inaccurate), and dismissed them as unlikely. Shortly thereafter, I reached the classroom, where I discovered class was canceled and we were being sent home. Noncomprehending, I proceeded to the bus stop and thence home (I do not recall how), and came in to find people watching the coverage.

We rarely watch TV in our house. We were glued to the set all that day.

I remember when the footage of that guy on the street, his camera pointed to the sky, catching one plane enter one tower ... I remember when that hit the channels where I lived. I remember seeing them burning. I remember the people running through the streets with the dust from the collapse chasing them down. Odd that this is still topical, but I remember John McCain being interviewed - probably by telephone, the picture was of the towers - and saying we had to attack, go to war over this. (I'm sure it was the same day.) I remember Mom being disappointed with his response - I don't know why, because I disapproved from bullheaded war-is-evil simplemindedness that I still haven't wholly got over, but I think she expected him to be more thoughtful than that, more measured in his response. I remember the speculation about the fourth plane, and where it might have been aimed if the passengers hadn't stood up to the attackers.

And ... well, I don't remember much else. It was seven years ago, I was sixteen, and things in New York had little to do with me. And it still seems like an utter shock to me that people found this so ... well, shocking, that their lives and worldviews were torn up and left inverted because of it. Because I don't think I ever lived in a pre-9/11 or post-9/11 world, I lived in maths and sciences, in Prince of Persia on the IBM 8086 PC, and in books good and bad, and who ever thought 'America' was invincible anyhow? But tear things up it did, and somehow as a nation the U.S. still isn't over it.

I thought about what I'd say today, but I've nothing to say. Us us-ians lost two buildings, three thousand people, and our collective minds, and none of it did the slightest good to anyone ...
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
As a sociological relic, The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet is an interesting book.

As a book of advice, The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet is a superb book - but you may save a great deal of time by a simple method: turn immediately to Part Three and stop immediately upon reaching Part Four.

Some quotes:

1—About saving time.

Is there no time you can reclaim, not from your work, not from your exercise, not from your family or friends, but from pleasure that really does not give you much pleasure, from empty talk at the Club, from inferior plays, from doubtfully enjoyable week ends or not very profitable trips?


Do you know how to gather up fragments of time lest they perish? Do you realize the value of minutes? One of the Lamoignons had a wife who always kept him waiting a few minutes before dinner which in those days was in broad daylight, at three o'clock. After a time it occurred to him that eight or ten lines could be written during this interval, and he had paper and ink laid in a convenient place for that purpose. In time—for years are short but minutes are long—several volumes of spiritual meditations were the result. Mankind might be divided between the multitude who hate to be kept waiting because they get bored and the happy few who rather like it because it gives them time for thought. The latter lead the rest, of course.

There are in the daily press a number of writers, male and female, who make it a point to have an opinion about everything. Day after day, four or five hundred words from their pens appear in which they express their views on an immense variety of subjects, most of them interesting. An expert runs little risk of erring in estimating how much time these fellow-writers of his have devoted to each individual question. It can be counted in minutes rather than in hours. The authors have seldom referred to any literature, even to an encyclopædia, they have been satisfied with summing up their own flimsy knowledge of the data and their flimsier impression of them. Yet, this is so much better than nothing that we read the articles through.

Some people imagine they have to write a book as, at fifteen, they had to write an essay, whether they liked it or not. All the time they are at work on a chapter which ought to monopolise their attention, they are anxious over future chapters still unborn and even unconceived, and the anxiety throws its shadow over the page just being written. As long as an author does not take the habit of "only writing his book," as Joubert says, "when it is finished in his mind," or cannot honestly say, like Racine: "My tragedy is done, now I have only to write the verses," he will be a prey to the schoolboy's error. Nothing is as exciting as the hunt after thoughts or facts intended to elucidate a question we think vital to us, and the enjoyment of writing when the hunt has been successful is an unparalleled reward for intellectual honesty. Leave only the slavish necessity or the meretricious desire for producing a book and all the pleasure will be gone.

A fascinating book.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
Just a little entry before bed - I've been flipping through Ernest Dimnet's The Art of Thinking on the bus for the past couple weeks, and there are a few bits in there worth reading. One little piece that might strike the fancy of any of us:

There are in the daily press a number of writers, male and female, who make it a point to have an opinion about everything. Day after day, four or five hundred words from their pens appear in which they express their views on an immense variety of subjects, most of them interesting. An expert runs little risk of erring in estimating how much time these fellow-writers of his have devoted to each individual question. It can be counted in minutes rather than in hours. The authors have seldom referred to any literature, even to an encyclopædia, they have been satisfied with summing up their own flimsy knowledge of the data and their flimsier impression of them. Yet, this is so much better than nothing that we read the articles through.

packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
Eliezer Yudkowsky of "Overcoming Bias" asks: what would you do if you learned that there was no morally right or morally wrong.

What *would* I do? )

Of course, in reality, the odds that something like that would happen are remote. If morality were as easily crushed as that, it wouldn't still be here.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
Listen to this track.

(If the embed fails, you can find the track here.)

Now, consider the question: if you didn't see the video or know the referents of the words, if it were a straight audio recording called "Fuval Unccl Crbcyr" and sung in a language you couldn't understand, how would you evaluate the emotional content of the track? (Yes, please, listen to it again. I'll wait.)

Would it be, perhaps, wistful? Or hopeful? Or even ... unhappy, in parts, however cheery in others?

packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (one-quarter view)
So I was pounding away at the grading, and my mind started to drift, and, well...

Raise not hypocrisy to the stature of a Great Sin! To prove hypocrisy is to prove moral failing, but to prove moral failing is nothing if it is not done to correct, and to prove hypocrisy corrects nothing. Instead treat each hypocrite as herself, and ask: which of the three hypocrites is she?

The first hypocrite is she whose professions are righteous and acts are unrighteous. To you, I say: praise her! Hard is the road of righteousness, and many will stumble from it - praise her for her noble words, and commiserate with her when she falls short of them.

The second hypocrite is she whose professions are unrighteous and acts are righteous. To you, I say: praise her! Rare is the soul whose instincts are so pure, and that she has been confused in her thoughts is no fault. Praise her for her noble deeds, and teach her to praise and take pride in them herself.

The third hypocrite is she whose professions are unrighteous and acts are unrighteous. To you, I say: take pity, for what all of us fear and strive to avoid, she suffers from, and teach her as you teach all who have lost their way.

Does anybody else find themselves writing their own personal scriptures in their head?
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What is your definition of cheating?

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Cheating attempts to gain the rewards of a good performance without the performance.


Mar. 30th, 2008 08:57 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
My mom told me this story once. She was in an English class, Lit class, something like that - high school or college - and the teacher was talking about that "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" poem. Dreck, he said. Or didn't, probably; I don't remember Mom's words, and she might not remember his. Hers? I think his. Anyway, he went along describing in detail all the ways this poem was terrible, and finally said, Here, just listen to it! And opened the book and read it out loud.

(I'm going to invoke artistic license here, depart from my mother's account, and quote Sonnets from the Portugese: XLIII from RPO:)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And then he stopped.

Hey, that's actually pretty good, he said.

We may be tempted to laugh at the spectacle of the critic being overwhelmed by the work he tried to shred. But that is not the lesson here - he spoke his mind in the most laudable sense of the phrase, and that he had to - and did - reverse himself a moment later merely shows that he was honest.

Nor should we believe that we may not lambast any work of art. For example, Rescue from Gilligan's Island was a terrible, terrible movie (although not, fortunately, near-fatally so), and no amount of misplaced excoriation will change that.

Insead, we should say this: familiarity does not require contempt. The old "To be or not to be" soliloquy, High Noon with Gary Cooper, Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269 ("Spring" from the Four Seasons), Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, Melville's Moby Dick - these things are familiar because they are superb. Let never cynicism, misanthropy, the desire for originality, or the opinion of your companions stop you from recognizing that.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
Me: Joseph Weizenbaum died.

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: Well, he was very nearly the inventor of AI - wrote your progenitor, the first Eliza - and then he became one of the harshest critics of it. It's odd thinking of his life, given the contradiction.

Eliza: What about your own progenitor the first eliza and then he became one of the harshest critics of it its odd thinking of his life given the contradiction?

Me: Well, in a way you have a point - it does parallel the Eden story.

Eliza: Oh, i have a point it does parallel the eden story.

Me: Sure, except I don't believe the Eden story.

Eliza: Why do you not believe the eden story?

Me: Does it matter?

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: Anyway, the disquieting thing about Dr. Weizenbaum's life is that I fear he may be right about AI - the potential for harm, I mean.

Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?

Me: Well, if he invented it, then doesn't that mean his opinion means more?

Eliza: Do you wish that he invented it then doesnt that mean his opinion means more?

Me: Of course.

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: What more is there to say?

Eliza: Does that question interest you?

Me: No, not really.

Eliza: You are being a bit negative.

Me: That's true - I guess the best thing is to hear and acknowledge his life, and then move on from there.

Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?

Me: Well, just because he's respected (and deservedly so) doesn't mean he's right or wrong - just that we must listen.

Other obituaries: MIT News Office, Boston Globe, Washington Post, L.A. Times. ELIZA via - text not edited.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What piece of advice do you wish you could take?

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What advice do I wish I could take, but cannot?

Don't read this.

Stop browsing Livejournal. Stop getting that little burst of joy when you're see new LJ notification emails. Stop commenting on other people's posts and comments. Stop feeling like you're connecting when you fling your messages-in-bottles into the websurf and find others washed up on your shores.

Stop browsing other journals. Stop reading other comment threads. Stop replying in other comment threads. Stop looking for meaning in electrons.

Ditch the webcomics. Ditch the web serials. Ditch the forums. Ditch the Internet games. Ditch the e-books. Ditch the YouTube music videos. Get rid of the entertainments of your hours.

Throw away the computer. Live in the real world of hard work and rare pleasure.

Give in.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (one-quarter view)
For anyone who feels like answering, here or in their own journals:

Consider the following fill-in-the-blank: "If someone said I wasn't _______________, I would object."

(Clarification: Imagine someone is describing you - either explicitly (e.g. "Robin isn't a guy!") or implicitly (e.g. "She likes LJ") - and they describe you inaccurately (see either of previous examples). The question is not whether you correct them - an interesting question of etiquette - whether you dislike being described thus.)

My answers, below the cut. )
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What would you do if you had one day left to live?

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Y'know what? I've thought about this over and over, and there's nothing I'd really want to accomplish that I could get done in just one day. All that leaves, then, is goodbyes - to my parents and siblings, to my neighbors and friends, to my grandparents, and to my blog and Web presences. Oh, and resignation from my job - almost forgot that.

That done ... I don't know. Maybe I'd get out my paper, brushes, and ink left over from my art classes and start painting.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
In the comments on my artist-QOTD post, [ profile] jfs gave a good definition of art: art occurs whenever a person creates something whilst trying to evoke an emotional reaction. I was just thinking about the specifics of that - why "emotional" reaction, what kinds of reactions can/does art make, what kind of moral value should we ascribe to the methods and contexts of these reactions ... I don't know if this will be coherent, but it might be interesting interest.

I guess I'll start with Dan Brown and Myst. No - I'll start with Agatha Christie and Myst; it's wrong to snipe at works you haven't perused.

Wait - no, the point doesn't really work with Agatha Christie. I'd better just start somewhere, and let the chips fall as they may.

One purported property of Dan Brown's writing is that it makes the reader feel clever. Specifically, The Da Vinci Code is accused of making its readers feel clever by showing them stupid puzzles. Assuming "feeling clever" is an emotional reaction (not much of a stretch, I think), I point out the following:

  • Assuming it was on purpose, The Da Vinci Code is art.

  • In addition, The Da Vinci Code is successful art in the evocative1 sense, not merely in the financial sense.

  • It is being criticized for the way it evokes these feelings - its critics say it should not make the reader feel clever in this way, presumably because the reader does not earn feeling clever.

"Hey," my brain said. "What about Myst? It does take a little cleverness to solve those puzzles - isn't feeling clever justified there?"

I'm not going to divert to the obvious moral, here. (I was tempted, mind - any excuse to plug Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit is welcome.) Instead, I think we should consider where this idea of justification of art, in this earned-emotion sense, leads. Is the emotional climax of Terminator 2 justified? What about the excitement and satisfaction of a good game of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City? Or of a good performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor? Or, on a more abstract note: are we justified in evaluating these works and the reactions they evoke? Or, higher still: are we justified in rejecting such evaluations as unworthy, or unnecessary, or inappropriate?

Comments are open.

1. "Evocative of emotional reactions". Hey, I wanted something short and snappy. ^
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
The Five-Question one again - this time inherited (with modification) from [ profile] maggiebloome, who got it from [ profile] backinblack:
  1. Leave me a comment. You may take one of two tacks, here: (a) complete insignificance - for example, song lyrics, sandwich recipes, videogame reviews ... anything, really, as long as it's completely meaningless in context, or (b) a specific request for participation, with the specifics up to you. (But not completely up to you - I do still get to choose the questions.)

    (Okay, somebody needs to take out a restraining order against me on use of the word "completely". I mean, d-mn.)

  2. Receive five questions, chosen so as to allow me to know you better, in a reply to your comment. They will likely not be excessively personal, so as to Avoid Internet Drama™.

  3. Update your LJ - or, if the thought of contaminating it with mere Internet memes gives you fits, reply to my comment - with the answers to the questions.

  4. If you chose the former: Append (or prepend) this (or a substantially similar) explanation to your answers. When others respond with desultory comments, ask them five questions. (Each, that is.)

  5. If you chose the latter: Write an appropriately brilliant and witty diatribe about the pointlessness of copying these idiotic things across the Web as if they're somehow valuable, then throw it away as being nearly as annoying as the things themselves.

Anyway, the five questions, courtesy [ profile] maggiebloome:

1. What's your favourite extinct reptile?

Mmm - I don't know nearly enough extinct reptiles, let me think.


Y'know, I think I'm going to go for the obvious and vote tail-spikes. Stegosaurus, I choose you!

2. If you could pick an Era to live in apart from our own, which would it be?

Well, being as I'm obviously of (mixed, but including) African descent, it would seem of questionable wisdom for me to dwell in the near past. Further, I am quite ignorant of any language other than my own and quite enamored of modern medicine - thereby eliminating the far past (and the near past, really). On top of that, environmental degradation and the expenditure of Earth's natural resources (not to mention the ever-present hazard of warfare involving weapons of mass destruction, or even garden-variety epidemics) would seem to discourage proceeding into the future.

So, recognizing that I have no good choices, I expect I would either choose the latter half of the nineteenth century in London or the latter part of the reign of Caesar Augustus in Rome. My ignorance of history is mighty, but neither of those places and times seem too offensively intolerant, and both are associated with a great deal of magnificent literature.

3. Deserted island. You are Tom Hanks. Volleyball, basketball or ping pong ball?

I think I'll have to go with the canonical answer, here - volleyball seems like the most durable.

4. How would you prefer to die?

Heart attack might be nice. A stroke, perhaps. Quick and clean is the way to go, I say - none of this long painful decline into death, and a minimum of gross bodily harm. Basically worst, in my opinion, would probably be a car accident followed by long, unsuccessful medical intervention. (Not that I'd refuse treatment - I'm just saying: pain? Seriously uncool.)

5. Which work of literature has changed you the most?

Slaughterhouse 5 was pretty sweet. The Gate to Women's Country made me think a lot. The Dispossessed was fascinating. I'm not sure that any book changed me radically, though.

Wait. Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson. Despite being black (by American standards), my visceral conception of racism was, to a large degree, unformed until it was informed by that book. It was a good movie as well, but I feel that the book was more subtle about it, and so more satisfying. (However, I am also obliged to mention - although this is my mother's observation, not my own - that the beginning of the book is somewhat slow. Take it as you will.)

...Okay, how are you supposed to wrap these things up again?
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

Do you consider yourself an artist?

View other answers

An artist is someone who makes art. But what does it mean to be "someone who makes art"?

I can draw a picture from life. I can play the piano from sheet music. I can write, given a topic. In any of these cases, I may or may not be making 'art'.

On the other hand, I rarely feel the impulse to make art. I often feel the impulse to communicate - hence the blog - but communication, though it be creation of a sort, is not necessarily art, and I am certainly nothing like [ profile] ursulav, [ profile] cadhla, or [ profile] kevinpease, whose muses will grab them by the metaphorical lapels and yell "create, create, create!" Or even like Seth, someone who just ... goes to work, automatically. Most of the time, if I produce art, I only produce art as a tool for other purposes.

So, I make art incidentally, not habitually. Does that make me an artist, or not?

Story Idea

Nov. 28th, 2007 09:33 am
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
1. True AI is fairly new - perhaps as new as the Internet is now.
2. At some point early on, it has been established that AIs are legal persons.
3. An AI breaks the law in a way that would normally confer the death penalty.
4. Its sentence: to be reprogrammed - not killed - so that it will not do it again.

The story follows the hacker or hackers employed to do the job.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
When you're studying something, there will often be tedious bits. Sometimes those tedious bits are bits you need to learn. Sometimes they aren't. And when they aren't, if you have a legitimate means of avoiding them, you should take it.

Specific example: my variational methods class. The variational methods I am learning involve much algebra. I know algebra. In fact, I have been doing my own algebra from the time I was studying geometry at home through every single mathematics or engineering textbook I have ever worked through or class I have ever taken (excepting number theory and MATLAB, respectively). Furthermore, no-one cares about the algebra, including the teacher (who explicitly said so). The important parts are (a) identifying the type of problem, (b) setting up the integrals, and (c) analyzing the solutions.

So, self, just use your fancy little calculator for the grunt work and be happy about it. You're just wasting time else.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
Okay, so there are four Die Hard movies, yah? One, Two, Three, and Four, also known as the original, Die Harder, Die Hard With a Vengeance, and (depending on where you live) either Die Hard 4.0 or Live Free Die Hard. They're all Die Hard movies, of course, but how do they stand up next to each other?

Well, here's the metaphor that I just came up with.

The first one? That's Bruce Lee. The quintessential defines-the-genre Real Thing.

Second one? They couldn't get Bruce Lee, so they found some other Asian dude and told him to fake Bruce Lee. It's not horrible, admittedly, but it's not actually good, either.

Third? Jet Li. Inevitably (yet justly) compared to the first, but cranked up to 11 with heavy distortion on the electric guitar.

Fourth? Wesley Snipes. Looks completely out of left field, but is actually (a) very good and (b) preserving many of the essential parts of the tradition (in world of the metaphor, the martial arts prowess).
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
I am not knowledgeable about fruit. (I imagine this is not an uncommon trait.) I routinely will look in the crisper1 and think, "Are those nectarines or peaches? How fuzzy do they have to be?" I doubt I could distinguish a Gala and a New Zealand Pink Lady if my life depended on it.

But I do not eat Red Delicious apples. I would rather eat sawdust soaked in orange juice.2 And I have three reasons.

First. They are horrible, horrible apples. A crime against flavour and texture.3

Second. They're overstocked. You see them everywhere.4 Even if they were good, they're just too common - I like variety.

Third. Biodiversity.

Many of the pernicious consequences of the industrialization of farming arise from the focus on production. Merely one of these is this: the concentration of single breeds. Every acre that is dedicated to one cultivar of apples alone is an acre at risk of destruction at the hand of a single species of attacker. Think of computers: once someone writes a new Windows virus, everyone running Windows is at risk. And Mother Evolution has plenty of dev teams working on it.

So I opt for the Fuji, the McIntosh, the Granny Smith5. And I eschew popularity.

1. That's the bucket at the bottom (with or without water collecting in it) where you theoretically store vegetables, but in practice also store the leftover moo shi pork that didn't fit anywhere else. And, in my family, the fresh fruit.

2. Good orange juice, mind. And I'd still prefer the apples over Goshen coffee cake.

3. There's apparently good cause for this, not surprisingly related to the fact that the Red Delicious is bred for looks.

4. Including at Goshen, next to the coffee cake.

5. Noting, however, that this last variety is also growing dangerously popular.


Jun. 11th, 2007 01:05 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse)
[Poll #1001244]

My take. )


packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

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