Friday, February 27, 2009


I have bible studies/Christian ads in my Google Ads bar.

Stupid artificial intelligence!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I vividly remember Philip Jose Farmer's science fiction from when I was a boy. I associate it with warmth. I think that's probably because I spent a lot of sun drenched summers reading the World of Tiers and Riverworld series.

When my parents drove us all out to the California coast one year, my mom bought one of his novels for me to read in the car. Dark is the Sun is set in the far future, when human beings are savages and the sun is about to blow up. Just the magnitude of the idea was astounding to me: that human beings would be alive at the end of the world, that humans would be reduced to savagery, that whole other races would evolve in that time and live side by side with us. It had giant plant-centaurs! HOW COOL IS THAT!

I like to think the warmth I feel when remembering his books is also because there's a fecundity about them. Not in a directly reproductive way. I didn't read any of his sexual themed stuff until high school, but of all the fantastic qualities it shares with his other titles, sexiness is the least visceral.

Farmer's fecundity was the power of pure Geek awe, total explosive four color fun. He wrote Gonzo science fiction, seeming to embody the maxim "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." He made shit up like crazy. The World of Tiers series is all about demigods who use super science to create whole universes and populate them like fever dream doll houses. When I started running Dungeons and Dragons games, I kept returning to themes of mortals transcending to the level of world building gods, but the pallet was never quite big enough. Farmer's raw, visual inventiveness had crazed my young brain.

He also wrote a lot of pastiche, or fiction using other people's characters, what would be called fan fiction today. He wrote about characters like Tarzan and Phileas Fogg, some of the pulp fiction characters that birthed the souls of every genre character ever created. The one that really spun my head around was A Barnstormer in Oz, in which he attempts to explain the Oz universe in loosely rationalist terms. I read all of the original Baum books, and loved every one of them for their dizzy inventiveness. A Barnstormer in Oz, in which a mortal ends up in an Oz on the verge of civil war, was probably the first time I saw characters of raw whimsy given more granular, day to day motives. It was maybe the first inkling I ever had that whimsy could be an adult emotion, that wonder had a place in adult life.

In high school, when I found a copy of The Image of the Beast, it reminded me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show steeped in hard core pornography. But the pornography, as disturbing as it was, paled in comparison to the basic premise, that all the monsters and myths that mankind had ever imagined were immortal aliens stuck on earth in an ancient crash, each trapped in their monstrous form by the human being who first encountered them and imagined them that way. The fact that they were trying to blast off to their home planet or dimension or whatever by generating energy with a huge orgy was just, well, window dressing.

I based a character in a high school writing assignment on the were-boar from Image of the Beast. Minus the naughty stuff, of course.

Everything I loved about Phillip Farmer, I love about science fiction and fantasy fiction: Baum, The Justice League, Imagica, New Croubazon, Underdog, The Uplift Series, Norse mythology, homebrew Dungeons and Dragons, The Golden Compass, Wildcards. A whole mythos of spastic and witty xeonophilliac waking dreams. It might not all be good... but it's fun.

I think Phillip Farmer was a huge influence on my imagination, on the scope and particularity of it. His totally unbounded imagination made entire worlds out of whimsy and passion and seized other people's characters and historical figures to turn them into explosive adventure stories. Science Fiction has always been a beautiful kind of Gonzo literature because of him, joyful even when it is grim because imagination is the seed of possibility. He died yesterday, but man, that cat left a trail of brilliant images behind him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Crass Commercialism

I have been losing patience with complaints about triviality of holidays. As far as I can tell, the prime argument against holidays is the crass commercialism doctrine. I guess the point is that people feel manipulated by the suggestion that they buy a presents for a given occasion. Everybody resents feeling manipulated by the combine, right?

Crass commercialism is Opportunity Maximization. You don't need to be told what or how to celebrate. But homo sapiens sapiens, especially puritan descended Americans, can be a dour lot. Sometimes we need to be given permission. So Hallmark made an excuse for me to buy people expensive chocolate? Horrors. Even cheap chocolate. Mmm.
At the very least, it's hard to find cards for Lupercalia.

You can celebrate Lupercalia instead of Valentine's Day, if you'd like. I encourage it, anyway. And my word is as good as gold with any supernatural law issuing authority you can imagine. Any excuse to celebrate is a good excuse. And the nice thing about the information revolution is that we can make our own cards, now.

But the nice thing about Opportunity Maximization is that other people are also celebrating. Or at least expecting to celebrate. This is "game theory." They're game to have fun at the same time you are. None of my co-workers get excited about Winter Solstice, but many get excited about Christmas. They don't know, or I imagine care, that I venerate Santa Clause far more than J.C. But we can celebrate Christmas together. And celebration is of limited functionality alone.

Crass commercialism also provides the implements to celebrate. Candy Hearts! Nothing makes chocolate taste better than being molded in the shape of a heart or a rabbit.
This is function of the limbic system of our brain. I can't explain the complicated neuroscience behind it. But to borrow a trick from Neil Gaiman and Capitalize Every Word in a Phrase: Everything Tastes Better With Meaning Attached. The crass commercialization allows us to celebrate more effectively. It is the institutionalization of joy*.

The thing that can make holidays really unpleasant is our expectations of them. Also, our families, but some people enjoy that part of it. Nothing hurts more than seeing a celebration of something you don't really have, whether it be romance or family or togetherness.

The solution for this is largely ambition and game theory (as outlined above). Be willing to celebrate. Find someone to celebrate with. Just asking usually helps. It's hard for people to do that, though. So if you have company to celebrate with, then offer. It's kind. In kindergarten, we gave Valentines to everybody. Try it again, except with golden apples this time.

At the heart of the matter, celebration is the elevation of the trivial. Triviality is the essence of joy. If you complain about crass commercialism, it seems you are complaining about joy. Allowing triviality expands your horizons, and allows you to take pleasure beyond the boundaries that a celebration has been given.

Hail Eris!

*Which is certainly better than the institutionalization of other things, like marriage. Institutionalization is generally Bad. Institutionalization of joy is Good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Say and Do 3, entirely tangental

Listening to The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Talking about salesmen, he talks about a sort of conversational syncronocity, which is a tendency of people to mimic each other's movement's during conversation. He offers pretty anecdotal evidence that this kind of non-verbal communication influences people's feelings about communicators and what they're saying, and therefore the decisions the make about them.

I'm not convinced, but this reminds me something that gets talked about sometimes in management seminars, Neuro-linguistic programming, where you influence people by subtly mirroring their behavior.

It's a creepy but compelling idea that I think offers explanations for memes, charisma, and empathy, in that we respond to people largely based on emotional, not rational cues. It also makes me feel a bit robotic, that I can be programmed on a subconscious level.

The Tipping Point seems a little new agey to me. I think maybe what's missing is some discussion of how ideas are resisted. Because it's casually obvious that idea transmission is not a hundred percent even for good ones.

How do you teach that in order to arm people against harmful ideation? And would the end result of teaching people to resist this kind of empathic communication be harmful, cutting people off from community?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I love Rock and Roll!

Because of Pandora, I remembered how much I loved Pop music, which I call Rock and Roll, no matter how goony it is. Pandora is an online radio station. Sign up for the site, type a name, band, music style, or song title into the create a field station. Pandora then generates a playlist of music like that music, and keeps playing it as long as you have it up.

You can "culture" or grow a station by thumbs upping songs that you like, and adding bands and song titles. I've grown three or four stations this way: my Hippy Bastard Station (rocky folk), my New Weird station (80's/New Wave/Emo), and my Happy Fun Time (Hair/Heavy Metal) station. I'm in the process of growing a station based around a seed of Joan Jett tunes, but don't have a name for it yet.

For some reason, Pandora stopped working for me at work, often stopping in the middle of song. At home, I have my huge collection of music, and no real need of Pandora, though it works fine. Despite this annoying technical difficulty, it's a better product for listening to music than YouTube, if for no other reason than you don't have to search for and create playlists like you do in YouTube, and selections don't mysteriously disappear from Pandora.

Because of the suggestions from Pandora, I rekindled my interest in funky rock acts like Bif Naked, The Cars, Garbage, and Joan Jett.

More importantly, the Internet, including Pandora, brought me to: AC/DC, John Coulton, Get Set Go, Anya Marina, the Donnas, the Dollyrots, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Salvation of the Righteous... (Say and Do 2)

And the economics of the afterlife.

So I was walking in the graveyard today, and yes, I am hard core. I was goth before goth was goth. Anyway, digression.

So I was walking in the graveyard today, and I read a psalm carved into the bottom of one of the stones: "Salvation of the righteous lies in the Lord." I normally don't consider the bible too much, but for some reason I wanted to turn that psalm over in my head like I would work a smooth pebble in my hand.

It interested me as a logical proposition. Something like (if = to or greater than Righteous) than (The Lord is = to salvation). Be Forgiving. Been awhile since I took logic.

It often seems like the standard proposition of evangelical Christians is something like this (if = to or greater than believe in God) than (Jesus is = to salvation). I've always been a little uncomfortable with that. I can see how it would be comforting, but it seems, on the surface, to excuse evil in the name of faith.

As I understand it, this question amongst the Christians is a argument of works vs. faith. Some of them believe you have to be good, others only that you have to think good thoughts (about Jesus). I don't like the latter school much because it means they are essentially given dispensation to fuck with me and mine.

This is the excuse that many of the religious right wse to fuck around with other people's rights via DOMAs and suchlike.

So the psalm I saw on the tombstone seems like a better proposition to me.

It solves the problem of evil. It looks like it says, on the surface, if you are a Righteous dude, then the Lord will save you. However, it makes God seem impotent. If you are unrighteous, then he cannot, whether or not your are down with Jesus. I can see why authoritarian religious types don't like it. It kind of requires that you be humble around your fellow human beings, not just your all powerful God.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I don't believe in Superman, Frankenstein, or Peter Pan.

Nor do I believe in New Years. I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but it's the worst time of year for me to make any new plans, which is what a resolution is. Planning to do something new.

A much better choice would be the Vernal Equinox, actually. Also, I'm big on scientifically recognizable holidays.

Frankly, this year's doldrums has been worse than most for doing things, between hosting the holidays, playing too much Warcraft, and a computer malfunction. So this is my New Year's post.

In 2008, I did none of the things I set as goals. Zip. I don't even feel a little shitty about that. Largely, they are things I will wait to do until I retire anyways.

In 2008, I had an immense amount of fun, though. I went on vacation, made some new friends, finished my last novel, realized it was crap, and set about rewriting it. Started a second novel.

I found great new things, too, although this time the specific led to the general more than the other way around. I will blog about these over the next couple of days, because I loves to share!

In 2009, I'd like to take my blog in a different direction, or at least my blogging. I'm not sure what this would be. I think I would love to comment on pop culture, but have also thought that a blog with fiction bits might be interesting. I practice my flights of fancy, and the bits might be interesting.