Mar 032021
 

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin

Synopsis: Five people become embodiments of the five boroughs of New York, as the city struggles to awaken and become sentient, while being opposed by an interdimensional evil.

Book Review: Look, you don’t need me to tell you this is a well-written book. It’s N.K. freakin’ Jemisin, one of my favorite contemporary authors. She wrote one of the top-five most moving books I’ve ever read. She’s a master of the craft, and giant in the genre. But I’ve been putting off writing this post for weeks. I’m dreading posting it. But… we really have to talk about “The City We Became.” Because “The City We Became” is one of the most racist novels I’ve ever read.

I will admit, I haven’t read a lot of racist novels. I tend to avoid them. But the last time I read something this unapologetically racist, it was written in the 70s and I was unable to finish it. Unlike Lucifer’s Hammer, I forced myself to finish this one, because it felt important to be informed on this. It was hard to do.

In “The City We Became” all people can be placed into two groups. Those who “actually love New York” and “those merely occupying and exploiting it.” The former are human beings that may have flaws, but can be empathized with and dealt with as people. The latter are parasites and vermin whose internal experience consists solely of a drive to dominate and degrade all the good people. Fortunately, it’s super easy to tell who belongs to which group. All you have to do is note the color of their skin.

The rest of this review contains spoilers for “The City We Became” because I can’t discuss this without massive spoilers. If you’d like to read the book and be shocked by its overt racism without spoilers, please do so before continuing.

.

.

.

Without fail, every white person in this story is a monster, and all monsters in the story are white. Not just in a passing way, it is explicitly their whiteness that makes them monstrous, and makes them want to destroy and exploit all that is good in the world. In “City”, the only thing you really need to know about someone is the color of their skin to know their moral character. It got to the point that one can tell when a new antagonist or ally is being introduced as soon as their skin color is described. It got to the point of farce when hairstyles that are popular among young white men are called literal signifiers of evil in the same manner that goatees are such in comedy and satire. No, it’s not presented as a joke, it’s presented as bitterly ironic that now such a signifier exists in real life when before it was just the sign of campy script writers.

This isn’t just a subversion of tropes. Having The White Woman be the big bad evil, and having her be the whitest white woman in existance — that’s subversion of tropes. Introducing many supporting characters and side cast who are white specifically to show them being intentionally malicious over and over… that’s not trope subversion, it’s just the standard demonization any hate group engages in

The one attempt to portray a white person in a “sympathetic” light focuses on a mentally handicapped white woman, because I guess only a mental handicap can be considered a plausible excuse for the moral sin of being white. Nonetheless, she ultimately gives in to her hateful white nature, and by narrative fiat Staton Island is ejected from what is the True New York City and replaced with a borough that has the correct racial demographics for a “good” city.

I know it’s hard to believe. Please read it yourself to confirm.

This is a shame, because there are some really interesting ideas growing beneath the pall of hatred in the text. For example, the heroes are presented with the possibility that they might be able to save tens of thousands of lives, at the expense of sacrificing their own families. They reject this option out of hand, but it does make one stop to think… why was it rejected so readily? This is a classic trolley problem, wouldn’t heroes at least agonize for a bit over pulling the lever?

Cleverly, this is a set-up for an even bigger reveal later, where we discover that a city becoming sentient requires the annihilation of tens of thousands of universes. Not planets, not even galaxies, but full *universes.* Uncountable trillions upon trillions of people will die, if our heroes succeed and New York awakens. If they fail, consequences are bad for our heroes — the wiping out of Pompeii happened when it failed to wake up, and the erasure of Atlantis happened for the same reason. On the other hand, the evil White Woman seems to have been getting better at stopping cities from awakening with lessened consequences. Her last victory was preventing New Orleans from waking up. The devastation wrought by Katrina as a consequence of failing to awaken was awful for that city and its people, but it was a far cry from being wiped out. And importantly – even if New York was completely annihilated, it’s still an insignificant harm when compared to killing *tens of thousands of universes* of people. It seems that the White Woman is the true hero, in an objective sense, and our protagonists are the monsters willing to kill any number of innocents to protect themselves. This is a brilliant narrative twist, and it’s exactly the sort of fantastic moral complexity that I expect from Jemisin after reading her Broken Earth trilogy.

And yet, this takes a distant back seat to the constant racial animus. Instead of focusing on the emotional twisting of choosing to become a monster to save your family, we are treated to the spectacle of tolerance being portrayed as a vicious character flaw that evil people delight in.

This leads me to…

 

Why?: What was the purpose of writing a novel-length racist screed? I have a very hard time imaging the author of the Broken Earth trilogy as someone who is committed to racism!

My best guess is that this was done as an homage to Lovecraft. The book itself dons the mantle of a Lovecraftian horror. It names the Lady In White as such in those exact words. The evil city from the other dimension is named R’lyeh. This isn’t a subtle hint, it’s in the actual text. And the thing that Lovecraft is most known for in pop culture (behind C’thulu) is his rampant racism. If one was trying to fully recapture the Lovecraftian experience, but for a modern day audience, one may very well attempt to make it as racist as possible, to really get that Lovecraft stink on it. If this was the intention, bravo. It was pulled off magnificently.

I’m torn as to whether this is a good thing, though. On the one hand, I personally find it distasteful, and I think there are some things we’d be better off leaving in the past. On the other hand, the essence of horror is to make the reader uncomfortable. You are supposed to be squicked out and repulsed by a good horror novel, right? You’re supposed to be fascinated by the depravity, in a “I can’t look away from this horrific thing that’s happening” sort of way?

But then… why are the more standard forms of racism not acceptable when used in that manner? Maybe it’s just because they’re so passe. When I read regular old “Lucifer’s Hammer”-style racism, I throw some invective at the bigotted author and I stop reading. I even said in my review that “it’s always fun to rip on bigots for a while.” I guess that’s only true when they’re in your outgroup. This review was NOT fun to write. I feel kinda sick writing it. If that’s the goal of a horror novel, the goal was accomplished.

I think this wouldn’t have affected me as much if I hadn’t recently read Jemisin’s “Emergency Skin.” A complaint of several other readers was that Emergency Skin felt like a serious representation of the author’s views. I held that it was obviously satire of bad message fiction. It was so blatantly over the top and absurd that it could only have been meant as satire. After all, there’s no way I could imaging the author of the Broken Earth trilogy seriously supporting *exterminationist rhetoric of a minority demographic.*

And yet, I’ve now found myself saying that I can’t imagine something like that twice, and I’m starting to get nervous. I’m starting to feel like the guy at the party who thought we were all laughing at Steven Colbert’s caricature of a racist talk show host, and is starting to realize everyone else is laughing at the joke about how awful minorities are for real.

I dunno. I think we all went a little crazy over the last four years, living under Trump. Everyone’s stressed out, everything is more polarized, the world’s on edge. We’ve had a pandemic and a coup attempt, and people were circling the wagons. Maybe now that Orange Man is gone and the pandemic’s about to be crushed, things will cool off. The last thing I want to see is a resurgence of racism in SF.

 

In summary: Not Recommended.

For book clubs: Still Not Recommended, but you can probably get a lot of discussion out of it if your group is willing to tackle a problematic novel.

Mar 012021
 

Back in 2016 I had a heckuva Chuck Tingle kick. In admiration of his style, I tried my hand at writing my own Tingler — Amazing Man 2: Love Conquors All. It was great fun to write, I tossed it up online, and I thought that would be the end of it.

In the intervening years it seems to have accrued a few fans, which is flattering and awesome. A few of them even got together and made an audio version of the story! It’s really good, and I loved it, and I’m sharing it with all y’all now. I’m really honored and grateful that this was done. Many many thanks to Johnny, GSV, and Hobodemon! :D

For those unfamiliary with Tinglers, this is extremely NSFW. Unless your boss has a very raunchy sense of humor, I suppose. :)

[download]

Feb 222021
 

Antediluvian, by Wil McCarthy

Synopsis: A series of four novelettes in stone-age settings exploring technological advancement.

Book Review: This is a hard novel to summarize. It would be called “historical fiction” perhaps, except that it happens in literal pre-historic times, so that technically doesn’t apply. :) Also, historical fiction usually focuses a fair bit on the actual historical events/people/places that we know from that era, which isn’t a primary focus of Antediluvian.

What Antediluvian does focus on is a sense of wonder, surviving cosmic forces, and technological advancement. It does this from the perspective of very ancient humans, though. So I think rather than pre-historical fiction, it would be most accurate to call this Cave Man Science Fiction. It takes the conventions and interests of classic SF, and puts them in a primitive human perspective.

In this regard, it feels very much like Roots of Progress, or Primitive Technology. Like both of those projects, this novel is fascinating. I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but seeing how our ancestors slowly made their way from banging rocks together to creating cities and sea-faring states that smelt iron is a wonderous thing to experience. There are many ways that telling this sort of story could have been boring, and McCarthy manages to avoid most of them. We get to experience what it could be like to work out how to make floating craft, and discovering that putting a spear tip in a fire can make it harder than before. We even get a peek into what it might have been like to be around when the very first technology was being invented, a tech I won’t spoiler here, but one so basic that it could arguably called that which made us human, and was partially evolved as much as it was created.

Every single one of these stories was engaging and felt like old-school SF to me in terms of tech-dependance, exploration, and wonder. However, it’s not all good. There is a framing story about a guy in the near future with some past-seeing device which, to be honest, seems completely unnecesssary. It felt like a distraction to me every single time. I didn’t care about this professor or his invention, and the framing device felt like something that was tacked on after the fact to tie the dissparate stories together. I didn’t need this, the stories were interesting on their own, and the professor’s story never had any stakes or tension. I just wanted to get back to the good stuff.

Likewise, like the classic SF this reflects, there isn’t much in terms of “characters” in these stories. There is enough to keep you interested and move you from one cool dicovery or action to the next, but they aren’t a major concern. I only vaugely remember any of the characters now, or the personal journies they went through. Normally this would be bad, because that’s usually what novels are written for. But not in this case. The heroes of these stories aren’t the individual characters, they are the human race as a whole. Our continued progress to know more of the world, and make it more managable and livable. In the style of Utopian SF that shows us how amazing the human race can be when we defeat death, conquer physics, and spread out to the stars, this novel shows us the first faltering steps in those processes, as we were first beginning to understand that we can make the world better and safer as we learn how it works and how it can be altered. Ultimately, I don’t need every story to be angst and drama. When its done well, the joy of exploration and science can carry an entire book.

I have to put in a personal disclaimer here – I know Wil McCarthy IRL, and I quite like him. He even wrote a guest-post on this blog when this book releasted. I have no illusions about the fact that this must inevitably color my reading of any of his works. I have strived to be as objective as I can, but there are limits to how much one can disentangle personal emotions when judging something that’s specifically designed to evoke emotions (like all art does). So, that’s a thing to keep in mind? Though if the book was bad, I either would have said that outright, or just not reviewed it at all to prevent hurt feelings.

As for recommendation — my metric is always “would I recommend this book to the me of the past that hasn’t read it yet as a good use of my time?” Initially, I was kinda torn on this. Antediluvian is a fine story, but it doesn’t have the pathos and drama that I so adore in fiction I read. It isn’t like the best thing I read in 2020 or anything. But on the other hand, it’s a lot better than much of what I did read in 2020. And, crucially, it has aged very well in my memory. A lot of novels that are fun at the time fade from my memory very quickly, and I can’t tell you much about them even after six months. Antediluvian, OTOH, still comes up in my mind from time to time, as something unique with an interesting perspective. I am glad I read it. I would put several things before this one in a strict ordering, but I would certainly include this on a list to myself of things I will be happy that I spent the time to read. Thus – Recommended.

Book Club Review: This is a harder call to make. The major problem with this book is expectations. Based on the cover, and the framing story that opens the book, almost everyone in our book club was expecting a near-future SciFi work. It’s not that — it’s prehistory novellas — and the clash of reality with expectation really threw a lot of readers off. They were frustrated by the back-and-forth of the novellas with the framing story, the feeling that whenever they were in the past it was a distraction from the “main story” (even though the prehistory novellas are the large majority of the word count), and the fact that the framing story didn’t have much substance. Again, I believe this would have been a better novel if the framing story was excised completely. After our discussion, several people said “I probably would have liked this if I thought I was reading prehistorical fiction, rather than expecting SF.”

I think, if you can set these expectations, there is a lot in here to talk about in terms of human developement and the history of technological advancement. Sadly, we didn’t quite get to that point. So, as is, probably Not Recommended. But with some initial intervention – possibly! If someone gets a chance to do this, please let me know how it goes, and I can updated this page.

Feb 172021
 

There’ve already been a dozen+ well-written and thought-out pieces about the complete moral deprativity of the NYT’s Scott Alexander piece, and I can’t add anything of value to those. However I can pass on an observation of just how low the NYT has sunk.

Scott Alexander has haters that congregate online. Some of them hate him personally, some of them merely hate the community he belongs to and the way he speaks eloquently for and about them. Regardless, for multiple years there have been groups of people that spend a lot of time online discussing their shared hatred of Scott Alexander and posting about how terrible he is (Sneerclub and RationalWiki come to mind immediately).

And yet, even these internet trolls, basically dyed-in-the-wool internet shitlords, had the decency to use his psyduonym of Scott Alexander and not doxx him. It took the paragons of social responsibility at the New York Times to doxx one of the most socially generous and intellectually charitable writers of the modern day. It wasn’t until several days after NYT shit themselves that RationalWiki finally updated their entry on Scott Alexander to include his full name.

Good work, NYT. You’re literally worse than the internet.

Feb 132021
 

Yesterday I objected to the lies being spread about Gina Carano. I hate lies in general, but I especially hate them when they’re used to tear down people in a guilt-by-association purge.

The problem with Gina Carano isn’t that she’s racist or antitrans, as those are proven lies. They problem is that she’s Red Tribe. Since everyone knows that Red Tribe is super racist and super antitrans, if you can find even a the smallest thing that is kinda cringy you don’t need anything more than that. The vast majority of people I talked to never read any of Carano’s original tweets, they simply read the summary of “anti-trans” or “anti-semitic”, believed it, and spread the narrative with outrage in their voices. Because look at that Red Triber being so typically Red Tribe! We can’t have this sort of bigotry in public society, there must be consequences for this behavior!

The Red Tribe, as it turns out, is not a monolithic group. In fact, it’s more fractured in the wake of Trump’s disasterous presidency than it’s ever been in modern history.

There is absolutley a tight knot of racists and bigots within the Red Tribe.

There are also a lot of people who are Red but are not bigots, and they dislike being lumped in with them.

Their politicians feel they have to court the bigots as well to get enough votes to win elections, and as it turns out, yeah, some of them DO have to court those people to win. It’s a fucking mess over on the Red side right now. Honestly I expect the Republican party will collapse and restructure within this decade, due to this growing divide, which Trump brought into the light. And it’s gonna suck for a lot of them. It’ll probably be better in the end, once the rotten contingent can be excised.

But crucially, this means the rest of us need to acknowledge the part of the Reds that are not Bads, and work with them. Right now what much of the Left seems to want to do is drive those decent Reds back towards the Hate Core. They reject anything short of complete repetanance and baptism within the Blue Way. Since a lot of Good Reds won’t do that, the Blues instead vilify them and drive them back towards the Bigots… and This Is Bad.

(Why is this Bad IMO? It isn’t just a “gosh this sort of thing makes me uncomfortable” problem. The last year has seen riots burning down city centers, and insurection groups declare parts of a city an independant autonomous zone. Just last month we had a failed coup in an attempt to overturn our election, that lead to five deaths.  I think we’re in danger of social collapse and possible civil strife/violence if things continue to escalate.)

This sort of “Driving Good People Into The Dark Recesses” happens even to people who aren’t Red, but simply Aren’t Blue Enough. Fucking Laci Green of all people was outcast. Laci Green! It’s maddness, and I hate what it’s doing to all sides.

It just happened to Gina Carano. Now that Disney fired her, she’s teaming up with freakin’ Ben Shapiro. While I’ll admit Ben Shapiro isn’t the worst person on the right, he’s definitely in the Shitty Person camp, and having Carano pushed towards him has made everything worse. A good Red Person is being driven deeper towards the cruddy recesses, and everyone on the left celebrates? Is this really what you wanted? Has this made the world a better place?

The problem is that any who’s already drowning in the Blue Tide doesn’t see the difference between a Gina and a Ben. I’ve had people ask me how I could defend someone who’s part of a political party that sometimes courts the votes of racists with swastika tattooes. I don’t understand how such a person can consider themselves an enlightened member of the modern world. We were supposed to be the side that looked beyond what group you fell into. We looked beyond skin color, or religion, or lack of education, or accent. We judged people individually for what they themselves did. We do not believe in collective punishment or collective prejudice. We understand that all groups have many people a great nuance within them.

Or we did, at one time. Now all we need to know about someone is that they are proudly Red, and we know that they’re part of a group that includes racists, so they deserve to be outcast. If someone were to point out that some people in the Blue Tribe are violent, unapologetically racist, unapologetically sexist, promote the mass murder of demographic groups, and believe in group punishment, well… those are a small minority. They don’t speak for the Democratic Party. They’re outlier fringe groups. We are a Big Tent that has to represent many people, and we keep the most-radical in check. We are nuanced. But you… you’re a monolithic block. Get fucked.

Sadly, the Democratic Party is far from falling apart, and so unlike the Republican party, I don’t think the knot of horrible Blues will be excised any time soon. If anything, they seem to be gaining power. There’s some people trying to push against that (even little old me, with my miniscule little blog), but we appear to be losing. :/

(And yes, much like what happened to Rowling, I expect that what happened to Carano will push her further and further right, and will end up with her associating with actual bad people, and thus this post won’t age well. That’s a feature of this sort of attack though, not a bug. Good job guys. /s)

Feb 112021
 

Gina Carano has been disavowed by Disney, and fired by her agent.

On the surface level, this really bums me out, because she’s the only actor filling a niche I love. She is one of the very few believable female action heroes. ScarJo is great, but you have to suspend a bit of disbelief in any action scene she’s in. Gina is strong and badass and looks like someone who can kick real ass in a physical confrontation. Plus I love her charecters. She can act very well and is super charismatic.

On a deeper level, it bums me out because Disney owns like half of the entertainment industry, and they are going for Deep-Blue branding. Which means people who are Red Tribe and out about it can’t work there.

 

I.

Let’s first address the lie that Gina Carano is being turned out due to anti-semitism.

As pre-emptive throat-clearing: Anti-Semitism is not acceptable. Racist, bigotted, and mysognistic people don’t need to be indulged.

But not only is Red Tribe not typically anti-semitic, Carano specifically is not anti-semitic. Every allegation I’ve seen points back to this tweet:

“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children. :(
Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

 

Now, this is super cringy. Republicans have no idea how to do the “is this oppresion?” thing, and it’s cringe as hell whenever they try. But I’ve had people say to me personally that this isn’t just cringe, it’s “inherently anti-semitic” and “holocaust denialism” on par with neo nazis! Literally said that to me! So….

Calling Corana’s post holocaust denial is a worse take than Corana’s post! It trivializes actual neo-nazis that actually deny the holocaust. She at least demonstrated a knowledge of how the holocaust was made possible, that it was a bad thing, *and that it happened.*

And let’s take a second to acknowledge the root of where this is coming from. It’s a form of the “First they came for the Socialists” quote of (checks internet) Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

If one is sufficiently misinformed, one can feel they are at the beginning of this process.

Obviously no one is rounding up conservatives. But there are a lot of Red Tribe people who honestly believe that they are being cast out of broader society. That they’re being portrayed as sub-humans that no good American would associate with, and that even being friendly with them (or patronizing businesses owned by them) is enough to get those good American’s a lot of side-eye from their friends.

Of note – they aren’t completely wrong. People who don’t hide their Red Tribe-ish opinions often can be kicked out of their friend groups, or fired from their jobs. Gina Corana, for example, as will be shown below. Furthermore, for even saying that I think she’s being smeared and defamed, I also worry that certain people will think *I* am Red Tribe-ish and I should be avoided. So there is some truth to this.

Some Red Tribers see this process of outcasting to be similar to the dehumanization of minorities that often happens in the build-up to an ethinic cleansing campaign. They are really wrong about the situation on the ground, and what sort of “danger” they are in. But their news sources are things like Fox and InfoWars and other crazy shit that feeds into this paranoia. So yeah, I aboslutely believe someone could be very conserative and… pro-semitic(? Is that word?) and compare the treatment of conservatives to 30s Jews. They’d be wrong, but not holocaust denialists. Certainly not anti-semitic.

II.

So no, she’s not anti-semetic. What she is, is strongly Red Tribe, and not afraid to be public about it. Every single tweet that has been linked in every article I can find about this has been Red Tribe flag-waving. None of them are Bad or Racist or whatever. I’ve had people tell me personally that she’s a “racists, sexist, bigoted, conspiracy theory spewing, science denying […] terf.” More than once, and using those words.

I dug for a while, and these are the tweets I could find. I admit, I haven’t put hours into this. This is just what was readily available. I assume that it’s about the worst anyone can find though, otherwise the even-worse stuff would be what’s being amplified, rather than this.

This is Right Wing. It hints at cheating in the voting system. It’s not remotely evil. It is true that 40% of the country was left feeling cheated by the recent election, and that’s a bad thing. I disagree as to what the cause of that feeling is (*cough* lies and propaganda from the Liar In Chief and Right Wing media *cough*), but I agree that this is a shitty feeling and a shitty result which endangers our system of government. It certainly needs to be addressed. Sweeping it under the rug by saying 40% of the country are conspiracy-theory-believing lunatics and should be ignored or shunned is NOT FIXING the problem. It will only get worse unless it’s addressed.

First of all, this ISN’T EVEN A CARANO TWEET! It’s someone else, and she “Liked” it. You know how often I Like stuff? All the time. I don’t always agree with it. Often I do. Sometimes it’s just to show support for someone saying something that was hard for them to say. Sometimes it’s even stuff I disagree with, but I want to acknowledge that I read their comment and it was civilly-phrased. Or that I disagree in broad strokes, but there was a good point made. But let’s assume that she does agree with what’s said here.

This is Right Wing. It’s not evil. It speaks to a lived experience of feeling physically threatened and powerless. The left would understand this if it was phrased using their words. We can disagree on the truth of the statements in question, but they are obviously someone’s real experience, and quite a lot of Someones if we’re being honest.

 

This is Red Tribe. It’s also just plain true? Except for maybe the “working is a right” part, that’s just silly optimism. Sometimes things are true and also unfortunate, and we have to find some way to balance interests and trade off costs. But where is the lie?

LOL. OK, this is just funny. :) Funny Red-Tribe signalling.

LOL again. :) This is also just funny. This is apparently the height of her “TERF” phase. After months of pressure for pronouns, she added joke pronouns to her profile. Not only was this a fun way to handle the hate she was getting, it was pretty witty too. I don’t even think it’s Red Tribe to think pronouns are gauche, it’s just not DEEP BLUE, and I guess that’s a sin too.

 

Common Red Tribe complaint. Not evil, just waving the flag of “Hey you guys, I’m Red.” Oh noes, her political party isn’t our own, whatever shall we do?

 

And…. that’s it. That’s all the worst stuff I could find.

Maybe she’s like, really really racist IRL, and people have been covering for her because Disney was telling them to keep quiet about it? Dunno. Kinda doubt it though.

III.

You Can’t Be Red (and out) In Disney

So, she’s not a “racists, sexist, bigoted, conspiracy theory spewing, science denying […] terf.” Unless, of course, one uses the definition of “anyone who is Republican is a racists, sexist, bigoted, conspiracy theory spewing, science denying […] terf.” In which case, OK, but also, Fuck You. People using that definition are the reason our politics are in the state they’re in now. That’s the voice of the hate-filled-but-in-denail populace that needs an Outgroup to loath.

Assuming that whoever reading this isn’t one of those people, we now see that Carano wasn’t fired for any sort of extreme bigotry, but for being Red in a Blue Company. Disney is obviously going for deep-Blue branding, so there’s no way this wouldn’t happen eventually. Maybe they didn’t vet her politics before they hired her? More likely, they didn’t expect her character to become so popular. (why would a strong female badass be popular, after all. lul.)

Disney is allowed to fire people if it hurts their business to keep them employed. This is a well-enshrined principle of the entertainment industry, and has been since its inception. Firing an entertainer due to audience demands is pretty common. Moreover, she signed a contract saying she would keep Disney’s best interests, including but not limited to keeping her opinion to herself. So, in legal and business terms, Disney is in the clear.

Her public firing is probably better for Disney, at least in their leadership’s opinion. But I’m more concerned about society than Disney. I don’t like that courting a Deep Blue audience is a thing. I don’t like that we have Blue Businesses and Red Businesses. I don’t like that a company that owns like half of all the entertainment in the world is dedicated to holding a Blue image and a Blue audience and actors have to stay silent or be blacklisted from a huge swath of work opportunities.

Most of all, I really dislike that someone like Gina Carano can be exposed to the toxic underbelly of the internet, and decides to push back against it rather than ignoring it, and is punished by her employer for it. Craven-ass corporations folding to the whim of the worst recesses of the internet makes all of society worse, in a horrible spiral. People standing up against it, even when they are wrong on individual policy matters, are at least fighting the good fight. I admire that sort of strength of character. I hope she finds another good role soon. Preferably one in a show I’ll enjoy watching. :)

Feb 032021
 

This post has WandaVision spoilers through Episode 4. So don’t read it if you aren’t that far and don’t want spoilers. Also, it’s a damned fun show, you should watch it. It has lighthearted humor mixed with creepy horror and that’s *totally* my jam.

.

.

.

I.

In Rationalist circles there’s a bit of a theoretical/fictional divide between people who want their ultimate endstate to be living in a utopic simulated reality cut off from the rest of the universe, and those who find this horrifying. I’ve always been on the side of those who find it horrifying, in large part because I don’t want my continued existence to be at the mercy of unknown powers that I will never fully trust. One of the arguments on the other side is “but you just don’t realize HOW GOOD a utopia can be!” Now WandaVision has presented me with a truely tempting offer.

A lot of utopias are presented basically like what I think of as a Forever Burning Man. Life is great, everyone is happy, there’s fun things to see and do, and basically there’s no strife or problems. It’s a wonderful experience, and I could do it for months, I think. Maybe even years? But I wouldn’t want to cut myself off from reality for it.

WandaVision, OTOH, takes place in sitcoms. And sitcoms aren’t constrained by things like “having to actually exist” like Burning Man is, so they can really dial up the idealism. Nothing too terrible can happen, and you have a wonderful life full of friendship and love. But there’s still enough conflict to make things seem meaningful, enough aspiring one can do to have a purpose, and sometimes plot twists! You get the fun of “having a job you’re good enough at to be promoted, as long as you can get through a high-stakes dinner with your boss” without the drudgery of doing the job. You never have to poop, unless it’s for a bathroom joke! Life is only the good parts, which doesn’t mean just the pleasant stuff, but also the conflict and suffering parts. Except those “bad” parts never lead to death or permanent crippling, and come with things like character growth and ultimate triumph.

If I were forced to be in a cut-off simulation, I would want it to be a sitcom style life. It seems the most fun and fullfilling without being too repetative.

II.

I do kinda wish that the Episode 4 reveal had been closer to the end of the season/series. I was having a lot of fun with trying to piece together what was happening. WandaVision is basically everything Lost promised to be, except it ACTUALLY DELIVERS. It was creepy weird shit with an answer. The writers knew what was causing it and how it would resolve from the very beginning. Suck it, JJ Abrams. This is how you make actual good art!

But now that we’ve been given all the answers, I’m kinda sad. The rest of the show seems fairly predictible. I think it’ll still be a fun ride, but unless Marvel REALLY surprises me and springs something innovative on us, we’re gonna get the tearful reconciliation with reality at the end.

III.

Speaking of which, is yanking Wanda out of her utopia immoral?

Let’s ignore for a moment that she’s imprisoned other people within it to act as her cast members. *IF* she hadn’t done that, *AND* she had left a note to the outside world that this was her choice (so they wouldn’t get the mistaken impression they were rescuing her from some dread curse), would forcing her out of her utopia and forcing her to engage with the rest of the world be a bad act? Adults should be allowed to do what they want, including hiding from their emotions and cutting off contact with everyone else, if that’s what they choose. I can see maybe if they were driven to do it because they need her help for some existential threat, at least they have the self-preservation excuse. But otherwise?

One could make the arguement that creating her own world like this is similar to going full wirehead. A person that’s just in constant pure bliss can’t really be called a person anymore, IMHO. Going full wirehead is akin to suicide. I think people should be allowed to commit suicide if they want to, but I wouldn’t call someone evil for trying to convince them not to. Trying to reach Wanda in her utopia could be seen as the equivalent of trying to talk someone out of suicide?

But that’s assuming that her world can reasonably called equivalent to full wireheading, and I’m not sure it can. She’s still a person in there, right? With experiences and hopes and dissapointments and a variety of mental processes. Maybe her personhood will slowly get sanded down to nothing, as living unceasing centuries in a sitcom fantasy atrophies away the parts of a human that make them real people. It’s an interesting question. Probably one we could only really answer with actual experimentation.

Actually, damn, that would make a really interesting season 2. 1000 years from now, the creepy horror of WandaVision is now “how much of Wanda is left?” and we get to try to figure that out.

I’m all in for that.

Feb 012021
 
Say you lived in a small community centered around a church that provided most social services. Gross, I know, but you can’t help where you’re raised. If you became very successful and covered half the annual costs of the church, well, that’s good for everyone I guess. But if the church villifies you and people like you (gay, or black, or whatever) and every sunday preaches about how bad you and people like you are… I would kinda expect you to want to move away from that place. And if that leaves the church with a big hole in their budget… well, too bad?
The wealthiest 1% of Californians account for 46% of California’s tax revenue. And seeing how much California despises its wealthy tech industry, they’ve started moving away. I’m starting to think the combinationg of “Tax the wealthy to pay for everything” and “Villify the wealthy as monsters” may not be sustainable.
Jan 312021
 

OMG I have a year to catch up on?? What have I done to myself?

Brutal:
from last SSC – quoting a critic speaking derisively of EA/rats
> Until recently, much of the analysis and funding emerging from the [Effective Altruism] community has pointed towards a focus on extremely unlikely but potentially catastrophic risks, such as alien, asteroid or biological catastrophes.
Scott replies —
Weyl wrote this essay a few months before COVID, so his pooh-poohing of the idea that there might be a biological catastrophe is an unfortunate anachronism. But I think it’s important to note that we got this right (and he got it wrong) precisely because we “privilege rationalist approaches over all other forms of knowledge-making”. People like Toby Ord tried to calculate the risk of every kind of disaster and how bad it would be – and at the same time Weyl was making fun of us for caring about biological catastrophes, Ord was writing about how the numbers suggested zoonotic diseases from bats could cause catastrophic pandemics. This kind of work ultimately led to EA flagship group Open Philanthropy Project spending almost $50 million on its Biosecurity And Pandemic Preparedness Program between 2014 and 2019; if other people had taken a few minutes to read our arguments instead of chiding us for how naive it is to prioritize things based on rational methods, maybe the world would have been more prepared

 

Schwarzenegger 2024.

 

Footage from inside the capital building as it was being stormed.

 

“Bets and bonds are tools for handling different epistemic states and levels of trust. Which makes them a great fit for negotiating with small children!
Over time, they’ve learned that my being willing to bet, especially at large odds, is pretty informative, and often all I need to do is offer.”
 

At the level of true mastery, duels between Force-users are fought primarily inside Force Vision, in recursive precognition, in futures that both parties foresee including the effects of the other party’s foresight […] Obi-Wan mostly makes small movements of his lightsaber, to which Darth Vader responds with other small movements. […]  At the end, when it’s clear that Darth Vader wins in every visible path through the future, Obi-Wan raises his lightsaber, closes his eyes, and lets Darth Vader strike him down, accepting his loss with dignity.
This looks exactly like a duel between precognitives should look, and nothing like how a life-or-death duel should look otherwise.

 

“hospital and public officials in Riverside, Calif., have been forced to figure out how best to allocate unused doses after an estimated 50% of frontline workers in the county refused the vaccine.
55 percent of surveyed New York Fire Department firefighters said they would not get the coronavirus vaccine
approximately 60% of [Ohio’s] nursing home staff declined the shot
Frontline workers in the United States are disproportionately Black and Hispanic…the fact that [President] Trump is in charge of accelerating the process bothers” those individuals who refuse to be immunized, adding “they all think it’s meant to harm specific sectors of the population.
“I’ve heard Tuskegee more times than I can count in the past month — and, you know, it’s a valid, valid concern,” said Dr. Juvvadi.
less than 3 million Americans have received the first dose of the vaccine”

 

 

I’m agender, in that when I google ‘agender’ everything that’s said about it sounds right to me. I have no sense of internal gender, womanness feels like a suit I got put into. But the concept of telling people I’m “not cis” feels so bizarre. […] if I used they/them pronouns that wouldn’t *mean* anything. I’d still look and act like I do, and nothing else would change, and nothing about the way they viewed me would change. She/her pronouns are part of my woman suit, and like sure, whatever man.

 

The Haunted Vagina is a book that exists, and apparently it’s actually pretty interesting.

 

A fantastic short, extremely good Halloween fare. No gore, no jump scares, just existential dread.

 

Oh gosh this song is good. Billie Eilish – my future

 

Car Seats as Contraception
“Since 1977, U.S. states have passed laws steadily raising the age for which a child must ride in a car safety seat. These laws significantly raise the cost of having a third child, as many regular-sized cars cannot fit three child seats in the back. Using census data and state-year variation in laws, we estimate that when women have two children of ages requiring mandated car seats, they have a lower annual probability of giving birth by 0.73 percentage points. Consistent with a causal channel, this effect is limited to third child births, is concentrated in households with access to a car, and is larger when a male is present (when both front seats are likely to be occupied). We estimate that these laws prevented only 57 car crash fatalities of children nationwide in 2017. Simultaneously, they led to a permanent reduction of approximately 8,000 births in the same year, and 145,000 fewer births since 1980, with 90% of this decline being since 2000.”

 

The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority – “The Kosher population represents less than three tenth of a percent of the residents of the United States. Yet, it appears that almost all drinks are Kosher. Why?

Someone with a peanut allergy will not eat products that touch peanuts but a person without such allergy can eat items without peanut traces in them.
Which explains why it is so hard to find peanuts on airplanes and why schools are peanut-free

you think that because some extreme right or left wing party has, say, the support of ten percent of the population that their candidate would get ten percent of the votes. No: these baseline voters should be classified as “inflexible” and will always vote for their faction. But some of the flexible voters can also vote for that extreme faction, just as nonKosher people can eat Kosher, and these people are the ones to watch out for as they may swell the numbers of votes for the extreme party.”

 

An interesting thread, “Woke anti-racism is child abuse.” It’s the story of a Mistake Theorist married to someone coming out as a Conflict Theorist. I find it relatable and heartbreaking. My main complaint is the use of the term “child abuse.” That’s bad hyperbole, and I hate it, tho I guess it’ll generate more clicks. 😕 All parents fuck up their children emotionally some how, and some ways are much worse than others. We usually reserve the term “child abuse” for the extreme end of that fucking up. (original tweet has since been deleted)

 

Coco’s Feel-Good Oppression. Good throughout, and it really ramps up in part 3.

 

Those who like government least govern worst. “When you don’t respect, or even like, the institution you lead, you lead it poorly. When that institution is incredibly, globally important — as the US government is — leading it poorly can invite global catastrophe. And sure enough, under the last two Republican administrations, it has.”

 

ROFL. Could American Evangelicals Spot the Antichrist?

 

A great interview (in audio) with Stuart Stevens – “one of the most influential operatives in Republican politics. He was Mitt Romney’s top strategist in 2012, served in key roles on both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns”

 

Jesus this song is intense and awesome. Nick Cave – The Mercy Seat 

The vicious cycle. Thanks youtube recomendations for this random horseshit. XD

 

My GPT-3 Blog Got 26 Thousand Visitors in 2 Weeks – “I would write the title and introduction, add a photo, and let GPT-3 do the rest. The blog has had over 26 thousand visitors, and we now have about 60 loyal subscribers…
And only ONE PERSON has noticed it was written by GPT-3.
People talk about how GPT-3 often writes incoherently and irrationally. But, that doesn’t keep people from reading it… and liking it.
In fact, the very first post made it to the number one spot on Hacker News. ”

 

Burger King addresses climate change by changing cows’ diets, reducing cow farts. “The chain has rebalanced the diet of some of the cows by adding lemon grass in a bid to limit bovine contributions to climate change. By tweaking their diet, Burger King said Tuesday that it believes it can reduce a cow’s daily methane emissions by about 33%.”

 

On White Fragility – “White Fragility is based upon the idea that human beings are incapable of judging each other by the content of their character, and if people of different races think they are getting along or even loving one another, they probably need immediate antiracism training. This is an important passage because rejection of King’s “dream” of racial harmony — not even as a description of the obviously flawed present, but as the aspirational goal of a better future — has become a central tenet of this brand of antiracist doctrine mainstream press outlets are rushing to embrace.”
“DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.

 

Fuck yes. Colorado governor signs police accountability bill, ending qualified immunity defense in the state.

 

Scott Alexander shows that literary criticism has very little to do with the literature, and is mostly about making the critic interesting/impressive and entertaining the reader. It’s absolutely fantastic and funny as hell.
“After spending way too long investigating this, I find strong evidence [that] My Immortal is a description of the Great Work of alchemy. Its otherwise-inscrutable symbolism is a combination of three traditions: the medieval opus, the 17th century Rosicrucians, and the native German traditions encoded in Goethe’s Faust. We’ll start by going over these traditions, then delve into the text to unveil the hidden meaning.”

 

Can you own the minor scale? Why the Katy Perry/Flame lawsuit makes no sense. This answers the question “Should Todd Decker have his tongue cut out?” (Spoiler: yes.)

Best part? This video then got a take-down notice *by Warner* (the party being sued) for “infringing” on their copyrighted material. Thus implictly asserting that someone CAN own the minor scale, and they are correctly being sued for basic music-making activity. Mind-blown. This is some “sell the capitalists rope, they will use it to hang themselves” bullshit. Nuke ’em all.

 

A video
>Trump: “I think mail-in voting is horrible, it’s corrupt.”
>Reporter: “You voted by mail in Florida’s election last month, didn’t you?”
>Trump: “Sure. I can vote by mail”
>Reporter: “How do you reconcile with that?”
>Trump: “Because I’m allowed to.”

 

A great Batman retrospective (starting at 40sec)

 

On “armchair epidemiology”
“A viral article implores us to “flatten the curve of armchair epidemiology”—that is, to listen only to authoritive sources like the CDC, not random people spouting on social media. This was notable to me for being the diametric opposite of the actual lesson of the past two months.

My faith in official pronouncements from health authorities, and in institutions like the CDC and the FDA, was clearly catastrophically misplaced—and if that doesn’t force significant revisions to my worldview, then I’m beyond hope.

if I could go back in time, I’d probably send a slightly different message … DO NOT RELY ON OFFICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS, OR REASSURING ARTICLES FROM MAINSTREAM SOURCES LIKE VOX OR THE WASHINGTON POST. THEY’RE FULL OF IT. […] THE MORE SNEERCLUB WOULD SNEER AT A GIVEN PERSON, THE MORE THEY’D CALL THEM AN AUTODIDACT STEMLORD DUNNING-KRUGER ASSHOLE WHO’S THE EMBODIMENT OF EVERYTHING WRONG WITH NEOLIBERAL CAPITALISM, THE MORE YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THAT PERSON RIGHT NOW FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR AND YOUR LOVED ONES’ FUCKING LIVES.”

 

This a basic encapsulation of everything wrong with sequel/spin-off culture. No one cares about art. 🙁

 

“bringing the economic system of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to the United States would mean embracing more flexible labor markets, light regulations and a deeper commitment to free trade. It would mean a more generous set of social benefits — to be paid for by taxes on the middle class and poor. If Sanders embraced all that, it would be radical indeed.”

 

“In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary. By 2018 it took 53 weeks.”

Can a 6 year old write better poetry than William Blake? Yes. (follow link for extra commentary)

 

Aella, again. Awesome stuff. “if you’re an extremely masculine woman (like me!), this doesn’t make you less of a woman. In the nonbinary gender framework, it seems like this *does* actually make you less of a woman. This is totally foreign to me. My conception of gender has a lot to do with common knowledge appearance – how do you read in the world, and how does the world treat you based on how you read? This mostly equals your ‘gender’. In this perspective, your gender doesn’t belong to you, but to your society. […] the word ‘gender’ is really confusing things for me. I think when I overlay the word nonbinary onto the base gender, like “nonbinary woman”, THEN it makes total sense to me.”

 

Principles for the Application of Human Intelligence – “the replacement of algorithms with a powerful technology in the form of the human brain is not without risks. Before humans become the standard way in which we make decisions, we need to consider the risks and ensure implementation of human decision-making systems does not cause widespread harm. […] Various techniques have been developed to reduce human bias. Unfortunately, these techniques have limited demonstrated success at scale and may even backfire. Until these human debiasing techniques reach the efficiency of our regular auditing, review, and modification of algorithms, we should not implement these human decision systems.” (much more at link)

Jan 222021
 

Does it count as interacting with Twitter if I still refuse to use Twitter, but I reply to it on a blog? Dammit, maybe I’m doing this wrong.

Karen Hao is the senior artificial intelligence reporter at MIT Technology Review. If you feel trepidation at seeing the word “reporter” used in proximity to “tech,” congrats, you’ve been paying attention to the last half-decade. Karen is no exception. In a Twitter thread she says we shouldn’t cure cancer because rich people with profit from this first. Obviously a stupid argument that isn’t worth engaging. But to further my narrative of “Twitter literally makes people stupid, we should check to make sure it isn’t actually an eldritch god trying to destroy humanity,” check out this claim:

name one technology in history that has successfully been redistributed completely equitably from the bastions of privilege and power to the have-nots in society

I can name two without pausing to think – mobile communication and vast computing power. Both used to be exclusive to the ultra rich, and now permeate even typical third-world country populations via cellphones. There are literal homeless people with cell phones. Maybe this still doesn’t pass some strict definition of “completely equitably,” but whatever. That a so-called tech reporter couldn’t come up with “cell phones” before making a public proclamation like this is mind-boggling. Avoid Twitter folks. It may be Literal Evil.

While we’re in her twitter thread, notice this smuggled premise:

Concentrating resources away from the marginalized in society to the richest in society so that the rich can then decide who to bestow those resources to doesn’t make the world a more equitable place.

Many of these techs concentrate resources to the poor, benefitting them, and the innovator takes a tiny cut. Amazon has been bad for traditional retailers, who aren’t marginalized. It’s been good for actual poor people, letting them get stuff cheaper and with less time/effort investment. This isn’t tech-reporting, it’s luddite propaganda being pushed with a kill-the-rich excuse. Only saving grace here is that by using the rich are the current hate-target that you can use to rile people up at least you’re picking a target that can do something to defend themselves, rather than stomping on sex-workers or something.