jducoeur: (Default)
2017-10-13 10:24 am
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A Constitutional Convention is more plausible than you might think, and potentially very dangerous

I call your attention to this fascinating recent article in The Economist. The tl;dr is:

  • There's a little-known (and never-used) mechanism in the Constitution whereby state legislatures can demand a constitutional convention.
  • A quiet but steady right-wing movement has been slowly steamrolling towards this for a number of years now, and are within striking distance.
  • Their explicit goal is to require balanced budgets at the Constitutional level, likely destroying the social safety net.
  • If a convention were to happen, there isn't much stopping it from going off-topic and changing the Constitution more broadly, with far lower requirements than the usual process for changes.

This is pretty scary stuff -- not quite "OMG the world's about to end", but an unsettlingly plausible pathway for the right to force through their agenda, relatively permanently, on a much broader basis. (Even if they just stuck to the balanced budget requirement, that is extremely foolish economically unless it is very well-hedged to deal appropriately with downturns.) And they've made good progress towards it, precisely because nobody's been paying much attention to it.

Not a short article, but worth a read...

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2017-10-11 04:17 pm
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CORE and The Economy

h/t to The Economist for pointing out the CORE project. It sounds really useful: a low-BS introduction to economics, designed for non-specialist students.

Basically, it's a reaction to the tradition of ridiculously over-simplifying economics in introductory classes, and only getting into the real, messy meat of the topic in advanced ones, with the result that generations of students have come out without an understanding of how economics works in the real world.

CORE takes a very different approach: dozens of contributors from around the world, adducing examples of how economics really works in an online book covering the topic from many different angles. They don't shy away from the math, but stick the more complex bits into "Leibnizes", off to the side if you are willing to deal with calculus.

I've just started glancing through it, but it looks delightful. Check it out...

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2017-10-04 08:35 am
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TRoOB: Secret Empire

Welcome back to The Review of Obscure Books, my occasional-but-long-running series of reviews of comics that could use some special attention. Having finally finished it last night, some thoughts on a story that is very much not obscure: Marvel's recent mega-crossover Secret Empire. No, I'm mostly not talking about fight scenes -- ultimately, this is about modern politics -- but there's a lot of superhero trope to wade through before I get to the interesting stuff. If that's a turn-off, just skip this one and move on to my next review. (Probably soon.)

A high-level overview of the main plot helps to explain why a lot of people freaked out really badly when this started:

  • Due to all the screwups in SHIELD in recent years, Steve Rogers (Captain America) is appointed as its head.
  • There occur a set of near-simultaneous crises, nationwide.
  • Congress gives him broad emergency powers.
  • He reveals himself to be a lifelong sleeper agent of Hydra, and begins immediately converting the country to fascism.

Okay, when you just see that, it's a huge WTF???!!!?? The reality is a lot more complicated, though, and the payoff fairly interesting.

Let's get the silly bits out of the way first. What's really going on here is that the Red Skull (Captain America's arch-nemesis) managed to lay hands on a Cosmic Cube (Marvel's official Uber-MacGuffin, capable of altering reality more or less however you like). Having finally twigged to, "If you can't beat 'em, get 'em to join you", he engineers a magnificently Kafkaesque rewrite of history:

  • Steve Rogers was traumatized by the death of his mother when he was young.
  • He swore to do whatever it took to protect the people.
  • He was taken in by Hydra, and during WWII was one of their greatest agents.
  • When Hydra was on the verge of winning WWII (I assume there are Germans involved here somewhere, but they mostly talk about Hydra), the sneaky Allies got their hands on a Cosmic Cube, and rewrote history themselves so that they were winning.
  • As part of that, they turned Steve into Captain America, but not before Hydra planted a sort of sleeper spell on him.

So to Steve's new POV, he has always been Hydra, and is essentially waking up from a bad dream of fighting for the wrong side. This person -- let's call him Hydra Steve -- is very much not our Steve Rogers.

The crossover as a whole is, at best, a mixed bag. There are some genuinely good stories in there: this is a "life in wartime" epic for Marvel, and has a lot to say about fascism and politics and stuff. But there was also a lot of Dumb, and wasn't entirely helped by being so earnest. I mean, Secret Wars was idiotic, but it reveled in its own ridiculousness, and managed to fit a lot of silly fun in its kitsch. This one would have been much stronger if they'd limited it to the writers and stories that had both the talent and enthusiasm to really tackle a harder tale.

Anyway: in the end, the various heroes manage to bring "our" Steve back to reality; he fights Hydra Steve (yeah, yeah -- Cosmic Cube lets you do nonsense like this) and wins; yay, freedom prevails. So much for the superhero bits.

But the payoff (and the reason it's worth talking about) is the final issue, Secret Wars: Omega. As so often, the best comics aren't fight scenes, they are issue-long conversations. This one is what happens when Good Steve confronts Hydra Steve in prison.

The beautiful hell of it is, Hydra Steve is not a villain. Quite the contrary: somewhere mid-story, he executed the Red Skull, his supposed ally, precisely because the Skull was very much a villain. By his own lights, Hydra Steve is, without the slightest doubt, the hero in this story.

The thing is, he's still Steve Rogers -- but he's a Steve Rogers whose life was slightly different, and thus whose priorities are different.

Since the 1980s, Marvel has been very clear that Captain America cares about people, and would give his life to protect them, but his highest priority is Freedom. (The original Civil War, much more clearly than the movie, was primarily about that.)

Hydra Steve doesn't oppose Freedom per se, all other things being equal -- but his highest priority is Protecting the People. And that little difference of priority, followed through, turns him into a true-believer Fascist (and, largely, Totalitarian). He is trying to build a world where the people are safe and happy, and he believes that requires imposition of Order. But he is quite sincere that Order is merely a means to an end, and to him the assumption of power is genuinely a burden (he spends a fair amount of Secret Empire agonizing over it) -- but it's what he needs to do in order to protect the country from itself, so he does it. He was groomed to be, essentially, a good King, and he's going to fulfill this responsibility.

Moreover, he is genuinely angry with Good Steve, and with the Avengers, for their weakness. He is more than happy to point out The Superhero Paradox: that if you aren't willing to stop the bad guys -- and by this, he means quite permanently -- then you are complicit in their later crimes. He lays the deaths of a lot of innocents on Good Steve's shoulders, because The Avengers Don't Kill.

And because of the way the story is structured, Good Steve and Hydra Steve literally cannot agree on history and facts. Hydra Steve knows perfectly well that he has lost (for now), and that he is living in Good Steve's reality, but he also knows to the core of his being that this reality is a corruption of the "real" one that he comes from.

Most damning, he points out (semi-accurately) that he has committed no crimes -- worse, the people welcomed him. He was handed power in full accordance with law, and when he rolled Hydra out as, essentially, a nationwide paramilitary political party, hordes of people flocked to him. He restored their pride, promised them protection, and gave them a sense of unity in something greater. He knows, and says quite explicitly, that this is his real victory: that Good Steve may have won for the moment, but the next time things go wrong, a lot of people will begin to remember the greater dream of Hydra. It is not at all clear that he is all that defeated, in the end.

Yes, it's ferociously creepy, and the metaphor is as dense as a fruitcake, but it's beautifully on-target. I often note that the silver lining of our current political moment is that at least we wound up with as inept a fascist as Trump in the White House: a greedy idiot whose ideals can be summarized as, "MineMineMine". But Secret Empire envisions the opposite: America being seduced by a brilliant, charismatic and idealistic fascist, who is far more effective. It's a story worth keeping in mind -- while we like to think that we are simply Good and they are simply Bad, it looks very different from the other perspective.

So -- despite all the above, I can't actually recommend reading Secret Empire. It's loose and sloppy, full of the stupid, with way too many threads and a story that is baroque even by Marvel standards. But there is a central spine in there that is utterly relevant to our times and very well-designed. I suspect that the same story, told in a tenth as many issues with a tenth as many plots, could have been truly great...

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2017-10-04 07:57 am
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Review: Merrily We Roll Along

A quick review, while I think of it. Last night, we went to see Merrily We Roll Along at the Huntington. You should go see it.

This is one of Sondheim's less-known shows, adapted from a 1930s play by Kaufman and Hart. It tracks the lives and careers of a trio of friends -- in reverse. The show opens on Frank, a successful and decidedly annoying hotshot producer in the mid-70s. He is rich, famous, outwardly chipper, and hollow as a Kinder chocolate egg, having lost pretty much everything he really cared about along the road to success, including his original passion for composing music. (There is a lot of clear "there but for the grace of God" from Sondheim in Frank's story.)

From there, the story rolls backwards, year by year, asking "how did we get here?", exploring the fall and rise of Frank and his two best friends, Charley and Mary. It ends with them as idealistic 20-year-olds, sitting on a rooftop in 1957 as Sputnik passes overhead, feeling their whole lives ahead of them.

In lesser hands, the concept would have been precious, but Sondheim is a master of form and structure. (During intermission, I mused to Kate that it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between him and Alan Moore.) Since the story starts at the end, there is little "what will the end be?", or even "what will happen next?" -- each scene largely post-shadows the one before. This is replaced by a host of nuances that are simply there early in the show, which gradually make more and more sense as you learn more of the history. This is a life story as hologram, only really comprehensible when you see all of it.

The music is quite good: not one of Sondheim's best, but certainly not one of his worst, either, and it has catchier bits than many. (Ironically, given that the show overtly mocks critics who demand hummable music.) The direction is excellent, and the cast brilliant -- in particular, Frank shines in a challenging role, starting as the shallow 40-year-old cad and gradually de-aging into a dorky but loveable idealist. I gather that the original run, in the early 80s, failed quickly -- in fair part because they cast it with very young actors to make the de-aging look good, and they simply didn't have the required depth yet. This time, the stars are seasoned vets, and while, yes, Frank does look a bit craggy for a 20-year-old, having experienced actors in all the major roles pays off.

And for all that you can't avoid a bit of melancholy from the story, there's nothing fatalistic about it: even Frank admits that his situation is entirely the result of his own decisions, good and bad. This is an exploration of the way that our choices -- and the way we allow ourselves to be pushed around by others -- shape our lives, and the consequences of getting what we chose.

It's fine stuff, and the theater was criminally empty even for a Tuesday (the mezz was maybe a quarter-full), so I suspect there are still tickets to be had. It's running for a couple more weeks, and is well worth seeing: check it out...

jducoeur: (Default)
2017-08-29 10:03 pm
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Philosophy and Politics

Today's homework for Cognitive Studies --

Would Donald Trump pass the Turing Test?


jducoeur: (Default)
2017-08-29 05:02 pm
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Signal Boost: Ansteorran Harvey Fund

I'll take it as read that you've heard about how bad things are down in Texas. That's the SCA Kingdom of Ansteorra -- we have a lot of folks down there. An unofficial relief fund has been set up -- details can be found in the EK Gazette.

jducoeur: (Default)
2017-08-25 12:47 pm
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Lessons in workflow management, #927

Do not make it too easy to send out a marketing email.

This lesson brought to you by today's advertising email from Audible (which I use avidly, and don't mind the ads). The entire content of the ad is, literally, "TBD".

jducoeur: (Default)
2017-08-25 09:21 am
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Do *not* toss the phrase "Constitutional Amendment" around lightly

I usually reserve my scorn for the Republicans these days, but right at the moment I am deeply cranky at the Democrats.

I just got a spam email (that sounds like nothing quite so much as a loud used-car ad) pointing me to this page. Suffice it to say, the Democrats have apparently submitted a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and they are trying to get zillions of signatures on a petition supporting it.

Now don't get me wrong -- Citizens United is a problem, and not a trivial one. The notion of the "corporate person" has taken deep root in American jurisprudence over the years, and this decision demonstrated that there are some real downsides. And while I'm pretty passionate about the first amendment, I also think there's a place for reasonable campaign finance rules: CU swung things a bit too far towards the fundamentalist viewpoint, IMO.

But I am deeply angry with the Democrats for tossing around a constitutional amendment as if it was just another political football. I am especially angry that, after a couple of minutes of looking around, I haven't yet found the proposed text of this damned amendment. It's not on their home page. Hell, it's not even on their "About" page. I'm sure it is out there somewhere, but they are, as far as I can tell, deliberately obfuscating it, and that is a fine way to lose my support. You can't just say, "We made a Constitutional Amendment, and we're on Your Side, so you know it's good!"

One of America's strengths is an exceptionally streamlined constitution. Compared to many countries, it is short, clear and highly focused on principles, rather than fine-grained rules. It is extremely difficult to change, and for good reason: it isn't a legal code, it is an architecture for that code, and the fundamental guidelines that everything else draws from. No, that isn't consistent, and you can certainly argue about whether you agree with all of those guidelines, but by and large it's still an impressive system, and we should be cautious about tinkering with it.

To me, the way the Democrats are handling this is demeaning to the Constitution. This game of screaming, "CU is evil! We must stop it at All Costs! And we aren't going to bother you with the details!" is deeply insulting to the electorate and the country.

Yes, we need a serious, reasoned debate about the influence of money on politics. And yes, that might eventually lead to an amendment. But hysterically insisting that we should sign This Petition Right Now is not the way to do it...

jducoeur: (Default)
2017-08-22 09:28 am
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Wag the Dog

Mind, I largely agree with the decision, at least for now. But let's not lose sight of the obvious attempt to distract away from more contentious matters...

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2017-08-21 02:49 pm
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Yay -- science still works

Having not done the advance planning needed to procure a pair of the dorky-but-necessary goggles for directly looking at the eclipse, I did the quick-and-dirty version instead: creating a "pinhole camera" by taking two index cards, punching a hole through one with a needle, holding them a couple of inches apart, and adjusting the distance between them until I got reasonable focus.

Quite neat -- while not nearly as spectacular as being in totality no doubt would have been (both my parents and my boss flew to the Carolinas for it today), it provided a good firsthand illustration of the principles as the visible dot in my "camera" went from circle to crescent over about ten minutes or so.

The one negative observation: I am now nearsighted enough that actually observing this now requires taking off my glasses. (Even my bifocals aren't good enough to resolve that level of detail. But at least my eyes are Really Good at Up Close and Tiny nowadays.)

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2017-08-21 02:37 pm

Signal Boost: Fatal Encounters

Spreading the word (h/t to [personal profile] mindways) -- Fatal Encounters is a site doing research that everyone has talked about for decades but ever-so-conveniently not actually performed: how many people are being killed by police, under what circumstances, and how has that been changing over time? In an absence of data, talking heads fill the void with their own assumptions, and that needs to change. So they are building out an as-comprehensive-as-possible searchable database on the subject.

They're currently running a modest IndieGoGo campaign to fund operations for the next six months. It looks to be a good cause, and I've tossed a few dollars into the pot -- check it out...

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2017-08-20 04:56 pm
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Socialism, Fascist-Style

In the wake of Charlottesville and the past week, I strongly recommend reading this article in the Guardian, which explores a bit of the ideology of this particular chunk of the far right. The heart of it is a reminder that Nazism is national socialism, and they are making hay with a philosophy that is basically a racist (and inegalitarian) corruption of classic socialism. It's bullshit, but seductive bullshit, now just as it was to Germany in the '30s.

It's a bit skin-crawling to think about (it's a bit hard to come up with a more exact opposite of my own worldview), but we're going to have to understand the enemy if we're going to fight them. And I think it's clear that we are going to have to fight them -- at the very least, this is a dangerous and rising memeset that needs to be opposed now, and vigorously...

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2017-08-07 01:15 pm
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Erasure of the Moderates

Just finished this interesting article from Yonaton Zunger, which tries to break down the major groupings in American politics, in the context of the rifts we see in the Democratic Party. It's not a bad analysis, and much of it is correct, but I'm particularly struck by the way he lumps most people who don't belong to one of his six major activist groupings into the "Comfortable Middle".

I'm honestly unsure whether he intends that term to be pejorative or not, but he is explicit that:

Unlike the other groups, this group’s most salient feature is that politics is not at the center of their lives.

I see this a lot, and I confess, it gets under my skin, because of the implication that being moderate means being politically passive. And that is bullshit.

I've always had some difficulty summing up my political leanings, but I've gradually come to some variation of "Classical Liberal" (by the European definition of that word, not the American). Or simply "Economist reader".

The term often used in political writing is "Technocrat", although I dislike the connotations there: the word has a flavor of being cold and unempathetic, which misses the point almost completely. My viewpoint is passionate about both social and economic justice -- but on the large scale, recognizing the massive inequities around the world, not just the ones at home.

The "technocrat" term is correct in that it's a viewpoint that is focused on what works, empirically, without the BS economic religions that both the left and right are prone to. It is a passionately globalist viewpoint -- again, because the world works better all around when countries are working together and trading together, not retreating into little nationalist fortresses. But that doesn't imply the sort of ruthlessly (and short-sightedly) Darwinian approach of the Corporatists, mind -- open trading must be paired with deep investment in trade adjustment, education and retraining, something the right wing tries desperately to ignore.

Most importantly, there is nothing passive about it: it's a viewpoint that demands active thought and engagement, understanding that reality is complicated and that overly simplistic solutions will usually backfire, often tragically.

Really, I'm increasingly fond of the term "Radical Moderate". For all that it sounds like a contradiction in terms, it's exactly right, recognizing that the middle ground isn't just a default stance, it's a position to be argued for with every bit of fire and passion one has. And it doesn't mean fuzzy-headed muddle: it just recognizes that the extremes are usually wrong, and that the best position is weighing and balancing the concerns.

Not that either American political party has any damned interest in advocating that viewpoint nowadays. I'm genuinely tempted to see whether the American wing of En Marche! has been created yet...

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2017-08-02 08:13 am
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So this? This is how to really alienate your customers

I just got this email from Norton:

Hello Norton Customer,

We are sad you decided to stop receiving helpful tips & tricks, security reports, insightful newsletter articles and great discounts. Everybody else that has signed up is benefiting from these great emails.

So why not sign up today? We will not contact you often and you can unsubscribe at any time. If that still does not convince you, maybe our furry friend will.

Yes, it is accompanied by a big picture of a sad-eyed dog.

Seriously, what kind of moron thinks this is a good idea? If I said that I don't want you spamming me, then sending me an email trying to guilt-trip me about that is just going to make me angry.

It's enough to make me seriously consider dropping their products entirely -- not as if there isn't competition in that marketplace. Idiots...

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2017-07-29 05:59 pm
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Brainstorming: Gaming Panels

I've just found myself as the Gaming Track Manager for next year's Arisia, which means I need to assemble a roster of panels, right quick. I have a moderate pile of suggestions so far, but they're of varying quality, and a bit "clumpy" in terms of subjects, so I'd like more ideas for the mix.

My friends have lots of knowledge of the subject, so: here's a request for a little quick brainstorming of suggestions for panels on the subject of Games, broadly defined -- this includes Board/Card Games, Videogames, Tabletop and Live-Action RPG, Game Culture, etc.

Please focus on topics you would like to attend or talk about, not just notions for their own sake. Not all suggestions will be used, but all are welcomed. "Yes, and" comments about other peoples' suggestions are okay, but please don't shoot down other peoples' ideas. Diversity of viewpoints highly encouraged. Feel free to email or direct-message me if you would prefer to make a suggestion privately.


jducoeur: (Default)
2017-07-17 10:30 am
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In the news today are a bunch of obits for director George Romero. Pretty much all of them focus on Night of the Living Dead, and to be fair, it's the work he is best known for.

But let's pause a moment and remember his movie Knightriders -- the closest thing the SCA has to its own motion picture. Legend (maybe true, maybe not; I honestly don't know) has it that Romero happened to attend a particular SCA Crown Tournament, and was swept up by the drama he saw there; his producers weren't thrilled by the idea, and said, "Enh -- maybe if you add motorcycles and a good soundtrack, we'll think about it". So he did.

Knightriders has always been on my personal list of Movies Every SCAdian should see. Not because the club portrayed is the SCA, mind. It very much isn't: it's essentially a traveling RenFaire where they joust on motorcycles. But the feel of the group, I've always thought, reflects the SCA beautifully. You have the folks who are dead-serious about The Dream, who see something better in the ideals of their club. You have the stick-jocks who are here for the sport and the babes. You have the craftsmen who are making it all possible, and, yes, you have the folks who are just here to party. (There's even poor Patricia Tallman, better known for Babylon 5, in her first major role as the token mundane who is enamored by the whole thing but doesn't quite seem to get it.)

The movie gets a bit full of itself at times, and some people mock it mercilessly, but I love it -- not least for Ed Harris (in my favorite of his roles) as King Billy, who is trying desperately to keep his people both safe and united, and to pursue his dreams while everything around him is falling apart. He is a wonderful study in obsession, illustrating both the advantages and problems of having a strong leader.

If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's not the most brilliant movie ever, but it's wonderfully human. For pretty much every character in it, I can say, "Yeah, I know folks just like that". That's one of the higher compliments I can pay a director...

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2017-07-12 01:19 pm
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100 Demon Dialogues

For the past several months, Lucy Bellwood (author of the delightful nautical graphic novel Baggywrinkles: A Lubber's Guide to Life at Sea) has been posting a series of single-panel comics titled 100 Demon Dialogues. You can find the full series here.

They are little vignettes of conversation between herself and her inner demon, a personification of all the insecurities and doubts that any creative person (really, any person) is prone to. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, frequently thought-provoking, they're one of the better reflections of basic inner life that I've seen.

The series ended today, and the much-demanded Kickstarter opened at the same time. She's collecting the cartoons into a book (both soft and hardcover), and producing a plushie little demon.

There's a fun little cartoon on the Kickstarter page that introduces the project. I'm getting both the book and plushie -- frankly, I had decided that I wanted the collected book even before she announced that she was going to do a Kickstarter for it. I want it for my own personal reflection, but I suspect it may also be an good book for helping kids work through their feelings and understand that grown-ups aren't as secure as all that, so parents may particularly want to give it a look.

Check it out, and spread the word: it looks like it's going to be a great result, from a fine artist who is really hitting her stride...

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2017-07-12 09:08 am

You are the Product! You must be accurately labeled!

Okay, yes -- complaining about how creepy Facebook can be is shooting fish in a barrel.

Still, I was taken aback by the notification I just got there. Un-asked-for, it popped up with, "You last updated your profile 2 weeks ago." Which, on the one hand, is just a statement of fact. But it's a statement loaded with connotation.

Seriously -- why is Facebook telling me this? When I have something I care to say on my Profile, I say it. I don't need reminders -- I certainly don't need automatic, non-opt-in reminders after only two weeks of profile inactivity. And mind you, this isn't saying "you haven't posted" -- I post to FB moderately often. This is saying that I haven't revealed new and updated information about myself.

There's a weird sense that FB is trying to guilt-trip me for not being sufficiently naked: that the system and the audience have the right to know everything that happens in my life, and that if a whole two weeks have gone by without updating my profile, something is clearly wrong.

Yes, it's a little thing. But it's the combination of all those little things that remind me of why I dislike and distrust Facebook...

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2017-07-03 11:29 am
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Review: Sunstone

Okay, let's get the awkward part out of the way. Sunstone (a 5-volume graphic novel from Image) starts out with, "This is a love story about two BDSM-loving girls".

No, it's not porn.

Well, mostly not. Bear with me.

Our narrator is Lisa, a struggling writer (and novice sub), who works as a barista by day and writes BDSM porn online by night. Her primary series of stories is "Lisbeth", something of a MarySue featuring the title character and Allison, who is based on...

... Ally, a successful game programmer (and moderately experienced domme), who has been Lisa's online penpal for some time now.

The story opens when Lisa finally gets up the nerve to ask to meet Ally in person, and they get together to play out their fantasies a bit. They hit it off really well, and the book follows their evolution from play partners, to best friends, to roommates, to...

... well, that's the hard part. Sunstone isn't porn; it is very much a romance novel, about the difficulty of admitting to your best friend that you've fallen in love with her. It head-on tackles the not-unusual problem of modern society that sex is easy, but romance can be much, much harder.

Now, normally I'm not a huge fan of romance novels -- I've hit a few too many stories that depended on someone being outrageously dumb, or some Terrible External Force Keeping Our Protagonists Apart, or something like that; stuff that I can't really relate to all that well, and which has made me a little cynical about the form.

Sunstone has basically none of that: our heroines are smart and witty, there are basically no antagonists (indeed, pretty much everyone in the story is quite likeable), and nothing horrible happens. Rather, both Lisa and Ally are real, well-rounded people -- but both are smart enough to be horribly prone to over-thinking things, a little bit proud, and insecure enough to be lousy at communicating about the stuff that really matters. In short, they remind me an awful lot of me and many of my friends.

It is pure character study, and most of the content of the five volumes is simply people talking. I credit the author, Stjepan Sejic, for managing to pull that off well enough that I intentionally read the story quite slowly, a few pages a day, just to savor it. (At the end, he confesses how terrifying it all was. He seriously contemplated putting an alien invasion into the middle, just so it would be more in his comfort zone. Fortunately, he thought better of it.)

Now, I should explain that "mostly not" above. While Sunstone is a pure romance novel in structure and style (and quite a sweet one at that), it is a novel about two people who get together over their shared interest -- and their shared interest is BDSM. So bondage is a constant element of the story, and if you get off on beautiful women in leather and vinyl, you'll find plenty of lovely artwork here. There's a moderate amount of nudity, and there is occasional partial porn -- you'll sometimes find yourself three pages into a scene, and just around the time you start going, "Wait, this is getting kind of porn-y", it snaps back to reality as you realize that it has digressed into Lisa's latest story, which she is using to process what's going on in real life. And at times it gets a wee tad didactic about Safe Bondage. Suffice it to say, it's not porn, but it's not SFW either.

There isn't much "will they or won't they" tension to it -- the entire story is told in retrospect, from a viewpoint about five years later, and it's pretty clear that they will wind up together eventually. This is all about the road to getting there: the initial nervousness about meeting, the passion at the start, the settling down to deep and abiding affection, the stumbles, mistakes and fights (including what amounts to some hard-learned lessons about poly), and eventually figuring it out.

It's a delightful journey, and I regret getting to the end -- I've been using it as my end-of-the-day reading, because it pretty much always leaves me feeling good, as few comics do.

Highly recommended, especially if you like romance stories. Not quite High Art, but excellent enough that it's going onto The Shelf, at least for the moment. The story reaches a clear end with Volume 5, although Sejic is by now having enough fun that he is moving on (as often happens in romance universes) to spin-off novels about Lisa and Ally's friends. Check it out...

jducoeur: (Default)
2017-06-29 08:11 am
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A Question about "Doubt"

Here's a random etymology question; I'm curious whether anybody has any insight.

One thing about the increasingly-interconnected tech community is that I wind up chatting with folks from all over the world on a near-constant basis. (At the Scala eXchange conference in December, my roommates were folks I knew from Finland, Switzerland and Singapore.) It's mostly in English, which makes life easy for me.

But I keep noticing one curious bit of language usage, that comes up constantly in technical discussions -- the use of the word "doubt", specifically usages like "I have a doubt about this feature".

In American and British English, this carries a connotation of roughly, "I don't think this is right, but I'm trying to keep an open mind", but that seems to never be intended in the online conversations: instead, it seems to be a strict synonym for "question", without any of the usual meanings attached to the word "doubt". This confused the heck out of me the first ten or so times I heard it; I'm now used to it, but it still jars the language pedant in me.

Anybody know how or where this arose? I seem to hear this usage mostly from folks in India, but it doesn't seem to be limited to there -- part of what inspired me to ask about this was somebody with an apparently Spanish name using it that way yesterday...