Previous Posts: Uncategorized / General: March 2012

You'll Pay To Know What You Really Think Dept.

The love of money, the root of all evil? Well, maybe the root of a fair amount of heads-in-the-sand ignorance.

Paul Krugman gets it right often enough, but sometimes he gets it so right that I wince:

Crankocracy -

... what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas never go away — indeed, they can gain strength even as they fail in practice again and again.

Money is a great way to decouple actions from consequences. The more of it you have, the less you feel the pain of anything stupid you do — until, of course, the day comes when no amount of money can buy breathable air.

I once had a discussion with someone who believed, in all seriousness, that the coming virtualization of everything would make the excesses of the rich go away. If you can simulate for yourself having ten cars or three houses, then you don't have as much of a need for the real thing, right?

I suspect he didn't understand that most of why people want such things is not because they want the thing in itself: it's so they can use the fact they have it as a way to separate them from others. If someone gets an epic mount in World of Warcraft, we don't tend to think of them as being a world apart from us in the same way as someone who has five cars in his driveway, four of which are just for show.

(I also don't believe for a second we'll ever really get to a state where that kind of real-world stuff is also "virtual" and therefore ubiquitous ... but that's another story.)

Tags: economics politics

Ignorance, Bliss, You Know The Drill Dept.

The idea that adults reading YA fiction is embarrassing or silly is itself embarrassing and silly.

There's little that's more embarrassing than a intelligent person saying "I've never experienced X for myself, but I'm going to tell you why it's no good." Look no further than Time columnist Joel Stein shaking his head at the proliferation of teen-lit in the hands of adults, and sticking both feet in his mouth for an encore. Right, because as we all know, books for children have absolutely no intellectual substance.

The last time this happened was when Harold Bloom weighed in on Harry Potter, which he was proud to have remained uncontaminated by when he slammed it as well.

I cannot for the life of me understand how people can say things like this with a straight face. I know I've done it myself, before, a number of times, but I learn fast. I haven't read The Hunger Games, but I'll put a "yet" after that, too. It's not something I consider to be beneath me on principle. Given all the manga I read and take pretty seriously, I rather owe it to myself to have that attitude.

Tags: books fiction writing young-adult fiction

Yes, It Really Is All In Your Head Dept.

The reason reading gives us a thrill like nothing else: it sticks its graphics where the sun don't shine.

The Neuroscience of Your Brain On Fiction -

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

Infocom, makers of a revolutionary brand of text adventure games for PCs, had a great ad once: "WE STICK OUR GRAPHICS WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE." They were proud of how being text-only gave them the freedom to build a sophisticated textual interaction engine, and to free up then-precious disk space for more of the game. Irony: the company later did add graphics to many of its games — Shōgun comes to mind, although even there they tried to make it interesting by designing the images in the manner of ukiyo-e painting. (Heck, I thought even that much imagery was still a sellout for them.)

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Tags: creativity entertainment fiction Infocom reading writing

Isn't Branding For Cattle? Dept.

How to market yourself without feeling like a creep.

Steven Savage, my cohort-in-creativity over at Fan To Pro, was interviewed for a piece called "The Importance of Platform" where he and the interviewer both talk about, well, the importance of having a platform. Meaning how useful it is to have a central point, a launching pad, for all that you do — a way to brand yourself.

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Tags: branding creativity marketing writing

Think Once Dept.

Is it wrong to want to improve yourself?

A bit belated, but here goes:

HARDCORE ZEN: Thich Naht Hanh is Wrong

Pretty much all of our religions and our various self-help practices are based on the idea that what we are right now is not good enough. We then envision what "good enough" must be like and we make efforts to transform what we are right now into this image of ourselves as "good enough." We invent in our minds an imaginary "mindful me" and then try to make ourselves into that.

The real conflict, as Brad points out, is not in trying to improve ourselves. It's in aiming for a target that is produced entirely by our imaginations, and which may well be forever out of our reach because of that.

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Tags: Buddhism dharma self-help

Just Now Getting Caught Up, I Guess Dept.

Why is it only innovation when mainstream literature does it?

A quote from a book review:

‘Gods Without Men,’ by Hari Kunzru -

This new [post-9/11] reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let’s call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader’s mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present.

Hm. In other words, exactly what the best SF has been doing for decades now, I'd wager. Didn't Clifford Simak's City do just this, to the thunderous applause of absolutely no one but the alleged ghetto of SF (and fantasy) readers? Is it only okay if it's "real" writers who do this sort of thing, not folks like Simak — who had at least as much to say about human destiny in City as most any other, larger, better-promoted, or more allegedly ambitious book?

The author of the review, by the way, is Douglas Coupland.

Addendum: The above is not meant to be a patch on Kunzru's book. I'm just frustrated at the way critics and reviewers talk about this or that thing being "new" in literature when SF/fantasy have been doing it for a good long time, and doing it quite capably thank you.

Tags: literature science fiction

Acting Up Dept.

When is writing most like acting? When you're getting out of your own way.

One of my favorite actors speaks about his role in the upcoming John Carter (which really isn't getting the attention it ought):


.... sometimes I feel like if I need something to put me in the right place I’ll make a project out of it. Like sometimes you think you’ll need a look. Or you’ll need a costume. Or an accent. You look for things to trigger you to put you in the right place, to make a shift from your everyday consciousness to the consciousness of the character. Or you’re everyday impulse to the impulse of the character. And sometimes those little choices can direct in the right way. So as soon as someone tells you that you’ve got a distinctive voice, you gotta be careful. Because you don’t want to use your voice in that way, like they love you to do. And when you do voice work, there is some of that. Because that’s what you’re using. So you become very conscious of what comes off your voice and what you can accomplish with it.

(Emphasis mine.)

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Tags: acting creativity John Carter of Mars performance Willem Dafoe writing

And Now You Find Yourself In '82 Dept.

What it was about 1982's explosion of moviemaking that is making so many of us misty-eyed.

There's been a whole raft of articles lately about how Hollywood 30 years ago, in one single year, somehow managed to produce so many of the films that became high-water marks for SF / fantasy / action cinema (and cult filmmaking, too). Among the best retrospectives around is this piece at the Guardian, which also nails how what happened in '82 dictated the future path we'd take:

With Conan and The Thing back at the cinema it's like 1982 all over again | Film | The Guardian

With the success of ET and the relative failure of the rest of the crop, Hollywood took the safest, most obvious lessons from what had happened and the trend towards today's bland, boisterous multiplex began. It was also around this time that executives from multinationals pushed out actual film-makers in studios. Creative decisions were now made by non-creative types, there was no glory in losing money, and much more to be had in making as much as humanly possible.

Funny thing was, by '82 so many of the pieces for that kind of by-the-bucks filmmaking were already in place.

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Tags: 1982 Hollywood movies

Scraping Off The Labels Redux Dept.

Is it OK to cheer if someone you hate dies?

I don't normally post about politics, but I had a curious line of thought about Andrew Breitbart.

Someone I know mentioned that he was sorry Breitbart was dead. Someone else I know (in parallel, not as a response to that comment) mentioned he was not sorry Breitbart was dead, because Breitbart had done a great many reprehensible things with the power and attention he had wielded during his time on earth.

I can think of one reason to be sad at the passing of someone even that contentious: now that he's dead, there's no chance he'll ever be able to make up for the bad things he did. A dead man cannot own up, save face, or mend his ways.

The problem is, I'm not sure I can make myself believe that.

I've noticed that when people get a lot of power and use it for demagoguery, the odds of them ever having a turnabout and changing their minds about what they've done approach zero. They have so much invested in being who they are, even if who they are is grotesque. To become anything else requires such an effort of reinvention that most people never bother unless they have no other choice — and even then we question their motives.

We like the people we know to be simple, predictable, easily-labeled and just as easily discarded. I am no more immune to this than anyone else. I suspect this exists because in many cases human inertia is such that to label people is a remarkably good survival mechanism. But that doesn't mean we can't see it for what it is and be skeptical about it.

So, I'm sorry he's dead, and I'm not sorry he's dead, and the above is my explanation for why that's not a cop-out or a contradiction. At least until I come up with a better way to think about all this.

Tags: dharma sociology

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This page is an archive of entries in the Uncategorized / General category from March 2012.

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