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Postorbital just hit 100 subscribers. (None of 'em adbots; all verified real people who aren't trying to sell me anything.) Some recent updates (not remotely the most popular ones, just some that I like):

"Everyone wore shirts like nylon billboards, sleep-recorded dream images trembling across their chests."
(Nov 21)

"On second look, it wasn’t eyeliner, but a second set of eyelids, black and bionic. When we stepped into the sun, she blinked them into place."
(Nov 9)

"Hill cities were like islands; you would no sooner leave one by foot than walk into the sea. Travel past a curtain wall was airborne and remained above the pathogen line. Rumors passed from older to younger children that sirens lived in the valleys, mermaids who lured men into the waterless ocean and infected them with flesh-eaters. Adults knew mermaids weren’t necessary. Those who descended from the mountaintops, they called drowned."
(Aug 31)

"It’s a strange experience to watch Luli as she works the pedals of her drone, parrot claws dropping and pulling the levers. I ask her if she can explain what she’s doing; “original flying bird,” she squawks, one of her favorite phrases."
(Aug 26)

On the other side of science fiction, I just re-read my blog entry about problems with police privelege in the court system from back in April. Note how much time I felt I had to spend at the beginning convincing people there was a problem that ought to be addressed. And maybe I still do, I don't know.
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[This is the outline of the talk I gave at Readercon 25 about Dystopian Economies. I am currently in talks with glyphpress to expand this and some other writings into a sourcebook for gamebuilders and GMs that use the Shock system (and for anybody interested in inventing fictional but reality-influenced futureworlds). You can download the original Shock: Social Science Fiction here, or buy the follow up, Human Contact, here. ]



I'm going to start with a personal anecdote. When 9/11 happened, I was a senior in college.

                - changed majors late (operations engineering; program folded)

                - taking all econ classes

                - in-class experiments. You play games as a teaching device.

                                a) prisoner's dilemma

                                b) deciding how to split money

                                c)  choosing to give $5 to class or $1 to self

                - 9/11 "broke" the games.

                                a) always a little broken; people not perfectly selfish even "Best" of times

                                b) measurably more generous with each other

                                c) similar effect across country

                                d) has happened after other national tragedies

                - after a year or so, tapers off, like our response to Katrina, Boston Marathon. Back to "normal."


My point is: you don't make people better by changing the game. By which I mean:

                - incentives are important, as are penalties

                - but behavior is too complicated to "fix" with conditioning tricks

                                a) don't get rid of criminals by making perfect laws

                                b) don't get rid of kindness in concentration camps

                - I say this even though there's a sub-field, econometrics

                                a) tries to quantify, predict, measure effects of policy change

                                b) Psychohistory

                                c) CBO, Fed - if futurist, be following their press releases

                                d) econ like weather forecasting

                                                i. real science

                                                ii. better than random chance

                                                iii. but a lot of chaos


I don't believe an economic utopia is possible.

                - not a SYSTEM which fixes the problem independent of PEOPLE


I do think you could get to a kind of utopia even in a very compromised system

                - it's the goofiest thing in the world, but the answer really is LOVE

                - family, social bonds

                - seeing yourself as part of something bigger than you, something noble


So I'm going to talk about economics, and what I'm going to say is mostly about the bad actors

                - because antagonists are good for stories

                - and I trust you all know how to be good guys

                - RIGHT? (laugh line)


Anyway, keep in mind when I talk about EVIL corporations it's because I'm talking about EVIL corporations.

                 - "not all men"

                - yes, I know.

                - OK….

Read more... )
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It seems to me I regularly see people (perhaps many people; perhaps just a few people loudly and frequently) extol the utopian value of airships, with a sense that in a just world we would all be cruising around in zeppelins rather than planes. While I will grant that air travel has become absolutely miserable and is now basically like catching a greyhound (Airbus is honestly named), there are very good reasons nobody's using balloons anymore. Among other things, they are tremendously difficult to steer. So sure, you can take off, and it's very stately, but where are you going? When will you get there? Difficult to know.
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I don't trust the police. I don't think you should either, based on both anecdotal experience and reams of data. The police are a loaded gun, and although they might have preferences for who they're going to shoot, their overriding preference is that they shoot someone. Even if you're the one who called for help (and it can sometimes be useful to have a loaded gun), the shot person could be you.

Most lawyers would similarly tell you never to talk to police without a lawyer present, even if you're not being accused of anything. As it happens I trust lawyers more than I do police. And I don't trust lawyers. The American judicial system is in need of significant reform. When 90% of cases settle instead of going to trial, when trials are expensive and temporally far-removed from the events under examination, and when the language and processes of the law are increasingly esoteric and impossible for a common citizen to understand, we are clearly in a system that is in violation of about half the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, and it's only the same unconstitutional parsing of the law that allows the system to define itself otherwise.

Better people than I am are working to fix our judicial processes, many of them from within the system. I am optimistic they will eventually prevail; human beings care too much about justice for it to be otherwise. It's part of our animal monkey-screaming-in-a-cage nature. And the people who want to be judges care about this stuff even more than the general population; it's a profession that self-selects for moral fiber, even though some individuals get myopic after too much time in the system (which, for the reasons stated, does a poor job of reflecting reality).

But to really reform the justice system, you have to start with the police. Technically, police are part of the executive branch and the courts are in the judicial branch, but do you really believe they act to check and balance each other? Let's be straight: It's one branch. The pay stubs might come from different accounts, but it's a rare judge who's going to take the word of a private citizen over the word of a cop. Juries too - juries are presented with officer pomp and circumstance, instructed by the judge and prosecutor to respect rather than doubt the officer. (Have you ever felt when listening to officer testimony that the court wanted you to presume the innocence of the accused?)

There's compulsion, too: I'm intimidated by cops. Are you? They certainly do their best to look scary. They certainly can make your life hell if you go against them, pretty much with impunity. Are you going to doubt the cop who says that guy was tresspassing and find the guy innocent, or are you going to figure the cop will be annoyed with you if you find not guilty and might hassle you later? It's just a small fine. Maybe he was tresspassing. I'm not sure he wasn't. Why are you going to trust the person who got arrested? He got arrested.

This is the opposite of reasonable doubt. For this reason alone, we can't reform the justice system without police reform.

It's not the only reason. It almost goes without saying that you don't enter the criminal justice system without police funneling you there. How and who they do and don't funnel determines, more than anything, who is a criminal, often for behavior that looks downright identical to behavior which is not considered criminal.

Example: You walked across my lawn without asking my permission (criminal tresspassing). You were carrying a walking stick (weapon). A receipt fell out of your pocket (evidence; littering). You messed up the growth pattern of my grass (more evidence; vandalism). You jumped off the low wall at the end of the garden, which the next-door toddler witnessed and may try to repeat (more evidence; child endangerment). My neighbor was worried (disturbing the peace).

If this scenario sounds absurd to you, you are probably white. Not all white people find it absurd. I for instance am white.

If this arrest scenario happens to you, the police will say they are following the letter of the law and trying to enforce it uniformly. Ha ha ha. The courts will repeat this when you bring up how the police acted, and tell you it's in the interest of fairness and caution. Ha ha ha.

This assumes you entered the justice system at all, rather than dying unarmed in an officer-involved shooting. You will be glad to know the officer will not be convicted of murder or even manslaughter. At least someone is getting a reasonable doubt, amIright?

Ciro and I, being science fiction writers, have been kicking around ideas about what an ideal police force would look like, and how we might get there. In theory, the police exist to protect people from predation by the cruel or exploitative, which sometimes includes protecting cruel and exploitative people from predation by other cruel and exploitative people, including cruel and exploitative people who might work their way into the police force.

Some possibilities, varying levels of plausible, no particular order:

1. Drastically redefine how we imagine the role of police officer, and shift our recruiting efforts accordingly. Most police calls are not to stop heavily armed supervillains dangling children off rooftops. Most police calls are to take a report because somebody's car got keyed, or to ask partygoers to keep it down. You know it; I know it. The thin blue line? Is ballpoint ink. Most of the time, we need the kinds of people who are dorm mothers. The police recruiting ads, on the other hand, are full of guns and muscles. These are not attracting peace-loving people.

2. Obliterate SWAT teams at the local level; call in the national guard in SWAT-type, which yes means involving the governor. Higher standard. This is what we always did until the 80s. Local police, even in big cities, do not need paramilitary units. Relatedly, it's downright jarring to see someone standing by a flag as an honor guard, holding an AK-47 for no particular reason. I just don't think people are that determined to get the flag. Appropriate levels of armament, please.

3. In much the way the fire department has retrained to provide emergency medical services, and spends as much or more time working in the healthcare system than fighting fires, the police force needs to cross-skill to offer social and psychiatric services, currently something of a patchwork of underfunded agencies. Considering how often criminal problems overlap with social services and/or psychiatric problems already (both with troubled homelifes spilling over into criminal behavior and with police asking social services to conduct wellness checks), this seems like a no-brainer.

4. Issue google glass to all police while on duty. Require them to provide a copy of the relevant section to anyone they arrest. Pull random sections monthly for departmental review.

5. More radically, stop letting the police force self-select. Use a draft police force at the beat cop level, the same way we serve jury duty, although for longer (paid) terms of service. The supervisors remain professional specialists (detectives, social workers, and the armed guys you have to call in and feel sheepish about calling in).

None of these are perfect solutions, and I'm still thinking. But we can do better. I know we can.


Apr. 10th, 2014 10:42 am
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I'm irrationally angry about the media response to the Heartbleed bug. (Or as I would argue, rationally angry.) Not the existence of the bug - exploits happen; it's inevitable. But the enjoinder once again to change all my passwords, a different one for every site, long and gobbldygook.

You know what? I have different passwords and different user names for everything. They're many characters long and use capital letters and asterisks and nonstandard spelling.

How much does this protect me from security bugs and backdoors, like, for instance, Heartbleed? Not at all.

(Also, how many sites do I actually keep secure data on? Not many. Hackers, you are welcome to see what manuscripts I have under consideration at what magazines and how many of my friends' facebook photos I have viewed but not clicked "like" on.)

To put it another way, I don't walk around thinking that because my house has a lock on the door that nobody can break in the window. In fact, every time my house or car has been robbed, somebody has broken the window. Usually it has cost me more to fix the window than to replace the stolen stuff. When somebody breaks in, I call the police and my insurance company.

To put it another way, every merchant who has accepted my credit card has my credit card data and could run other transactions with it. I could change my credit card number every couple of weeks, or I could take the more reasonable, normal action of checking my statements at the end of the month, flagging the rare fraudlent charge and turning it over to the police. I also don't do business with credit card companies who don't indemnify me from fraud, which they all do because otherwise their product would be worthless: to act as credit, you have to be creditable.

To put it another way, anyone at all could sell a story and put my name on it, claim I directed their film, try to vote as me, and use my social security number - it's on all kinds of public records. I could panic all the time or I could realize that I'm not a very lucrative or interesting target, and that when that stuff happens either it doesn't hurt me or I find out about it and can fix it - by which I mean demand the fooled parties fix it. Because the burden isn't on me to prove that everyone in the world but me isn't Romie, and fraud has existed since the beginning of humanity. (Note the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. It's in Genesis.)

We're in a post-password society. We don't have magic words and secret handshakes. That only works for kids' clubs, and the Internet is all growed up.
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Ciro said yesterday that American politics is no longer about right v. left; it's a battle between people who want to make policies that reflect the world which exists and people who want to craft laws for the world as they think it ought to be. There ought to be no childhood disease, so make laws as if there isn't. Having money shouldn't mean you have outsize political influence, so make judicial decisions as if it doesn't.

Everyone should have the skills and opportunity to get good-paying jobs, so no more unemployment coverage. Parents should be in an uninterrupted state of joy and engagement with their chlidren and have ample resources and no opportunity costs, companies shouldn't pollute, I should never be attracted to anyone inappropriate, roads should be perfect and without cost, everyone should agree my taste in design is the best, nobody online should misuse apostrophes, doctors shouldn't make mistakes, and everyone should have a close relationship with God; therefore. . .
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[In that imaginary world where I have free time, I could pitch these as articles and then write them up at much greater length for money. For the time being, I am simply copying comments I left in other people's blogs.]

A comment on Val's Blog

Medicine is in a weird place right now. There is a ton of information to keep up with, whereas before it was like "here, you can use this for a cough, and if that doesn't work just wait and if that doesn't work I guess you're going to die."

At the same time, practictioners don't particularly know their patients anymore. Everybody moves; everybody changes insurance; everybody is going to a bunch of different specialists and the doctor has certainly never been to your house.

The only way to cope with this is large databases, most of which are online. And either you're putting your own information in, or doctors are doing the exact same thing at the office.

As much as I am a Person of Science, I kind of feel like doctors have turned into librarians. You find the thing and come to them and they say "yep, you can check that out, here's the treatment" or they say "hmmm, that reference is out of date and also you've been checking out a lot of books and not returning them, so no."

Which is very useful! But not the way doctors are used to thinking of themselves at all, and certainly not the way they are trained (which cost them a lot of time and money). So there's friction and dissatisfaction all around.

A comment on Spacefem's blog

The whole "turning on each other" thing happens a lot in marginalized groups - that thing where suddenly we have a new superhero we all love and will not hear criticism about, and then a few weeks later we all hate that person and anybody who likes that person. It happens a lot in feminism, but I've also seen it happen a lot in queer spaces, and among mid-list fiction writers.

I suspect it's related to the Bases of Power theory. People who don't have much access to coersive power, reward power, and legitimate power (the stuff that comes from being on top of an org structure) or expert power and informational power (because they're getting most of their information from the same sources as the people they're talking to and/or believe it's been corrupted by the self-interested) have to lean really hard on referent power: I approve or disapprove this, loudly. I get to say what's good, and you can't take that away from me.

[As feminists of color have repeatedly brought up, including Flavia Dzovidan, blackfeminpower, and Gradient Lair, this power can be appropriated - white people trading on the referent power of black people, straight people trying to assume the moral authority of gay people, etc. My personal feeling is that building a movement solely on referent power is standing on shifting sands.]
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A friend from college shared another of those "disgusting things you don't realize you eat" lists that tells you how various food additives come from coal tar, sand, hair, etc and how some of those chemicals are also used in flame retardants, antifreeze, and so forth. And while everybody is doing the "oh my god gross I only eat organic" dance in the comments, my reaction is. . .


I already knew about those chemicals, but it's a pleasure every time someone points them out. Any time I start to doubt humanity, I see a list like this, and I think, I am an omnivore and I eat the world. The whole world.

Anybody who tries to tell me other animals are as impressive as human beings doesn't understand how dominant we are. The world for our dominion indeed.

Tomorrow, Mars.
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I find the Nicholas K fall collection hilarious, because the aesthetic it seems to try to express is: Imagine that we lived in a post-apocalyptic world. We're still very rich, though.

It's notable because post-apocalyptic depictions tend to be characterized by a certain equality; they're awful, but awful for everybody. Or perhaps I should say precarious for everybody. There is usually some form of (needless to say villainous) paramilitary organization, whether it's Water and Power in Tank Girl, the Thunderdomers in Mad Max, or whatever those cannibal guys are in The Road, but not a lot of comfort seperating the goodies and the baddies, and in keeping with that scarcity, a lot of baddies turn on each other rather than being united in their privilege.

Bear in mind I'm not talking about dystopian fiction generally, which is often characterized by wildly unequal wealth distribution. I'm talking specifically about the post-apocalyptic sort, which as a genre convention tends to shuffle the deck in favor of the gritty. It's almost entirely devoid of the idle rich. (Possible exception: Land of the Dead, which I haven't seen.)

But is that realistic? It doesn't seem to be what happened in most of the pre-industrial past, or areas of the modern world affected by desertification. You start to get kings and queens and powerful religious beliefs to tell you they deserve to be there.

Nicholas K may be accidentally, ridiculously, on the money.
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There's a book out called The Geek's Guide to Dating. Geek of course equals male. It has adorable chapter titles like "Escape from the Friendzone" that certainly don't imply that women are only useful as sexual partners. Overall, the way the book uses the framing device of women as goals in a game doesn't remind me at all of the sexual predation of pickup-artist culture; how about you?

Leaving aside whether this particular book is odious rather than cute, it doesn't address the central mating problem of heterosexual geek culture, which is as follows:

1. Geeks of any gender for whom geekdom is a central part of identity would prefer to date other geeks.

2. Straight male geeks are more likely than the general college-educated US male population to believe in firmly steriotyped sex-based categories - to believe that a man is like this and a woman is like this.

3. Female geeks of any orientation are much more likely than the general population to be genderqueer and/or believe that gender is an oppressive social construct.

This is not merely the source of geeky dating woe; it's the driver behind all of the harassment at conventions. Female geeks don't want to be treated as female; they are drawn to geekdom as a safe space in which to be post-gender. Male geeks absolutely want to be treated as masculine, and are drawn to geekdom as a safe space to practice rococo masculinity. These safe spaces don't overlap in their safety.

Obviously, this is a generalization; I know plenty of straight male geeks who aren't like this at all. But they're not the ones who are going to buy a geek's guide to dating. Those guys are pretty much stuck, I'm afraid.
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The Arc advisory board continues to try to work out what exactly we are, with a general notion that we are a think tank who accumulate interesting ideas and speculate about them, and that some of these speculations might eventually suggest outside courses of action. Possibly somewhere between a salon and the Royal Society. Lately, this has taken the form of weekly internal e-mail threads with the prompt "what is the most futuristic thing you have seen this week."

Mainly what this winds up doing is drawing my attention to the ways in which my futurism is not technology-based. Or I should say: is not gadget-centered. It takes account of gadgets. It looks at cell phones and says "interesting how cell phones are allowing money transfers to happen in areas where banking infrastructure has previously been unavailable." It looks at social media and says "hmm, interesting piece over here about how facebook and YouTube are reshaping Chicago street gangs, which is a jumping off point to think about mass media's influence or lack of influence on warfare and state-building." But my futurism doesn't really care about the surfaces of those gadgets, about which company is manufacturing them or whether they're disposable or whether they're implanted. More accurately, I'm not uninterested, but I don't have much attention span.

I could put it like this: If someone at the beginning of the industrial revolution predicted that looms would get smaller and faster, and many of our fibers would be made from things like bamboo instead of cotton, I would be mildly impressed. If someone at the beginning of the industrial revolution predicted that we'd all be living in tall buildings in cities, I'd be mildly impressed (because that was fairly obvious; it was already happening). If, instead, someone predicted child labor laws and the legal implications of defining someone as a minor, I would be more impressed. What would really impress me would be a prediction that mass production would transform the way we manufacture and consume goods, with assembly lines and mechanization replacing the need for skilled labor, but that this change would only last 100-200 years, at which point we would move back to a desire for customization, in which the big technological trick is sending an e-mail to a dressmaker in East Asia, something that looks a lot like sped-up 16th century East India trade.

Such a prediction would, of course, be insanely impossible. But this is the kind of goal I am always shooting for, as you might expect from someone whose path to futurism runs not through Ray Kurzweil but through Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Thorstein Veblen, and Karl Marx.

It is also, probably, why most of my science fiction is often not very interesting to fans of science fiction. Someone says "what's futuristic?" and I say "the difficulty of getting good data on the conflict in the Central African Republic," something that doesn't even seem particularly new (although to my mind there is quite a lot about it that is testing current theories and technologies in ways that might guide future developments).

Anyway, it's this sort of thinking that either makes me uniquely useful or uniquely annoying.
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Sent off another Arc essay; writing these makes me nervous in a way other submissions don't, for structural reasons. They start out friendly and jokey, and then stay superficially friendly and jokey but are stealth critical essays that try to run you through a lot of data to support an argument I am making (which I may not have stated directly), and then on the last page I suddenly base jump while screaming "I am a science fiction authorrrrrrrrrrrr." At this point, I propose a radical philosophical shift in how we think about technology, usually with some accompanying shift in public spending priorities, which you are maybe suckered into thinking is not radical because I have given you a lot of data, but which maybe you think is a joke because I have been superficially friendly and jokey.

Contextually, this ending should not be a surprise, since that is why you are reading an essay by me and not somebody else. But out of that context (or in light of the high percentage of works classified as science fiction that do not do this), it has a "wait, what did I just read?" quality. It is perhaps the nonfiction equivalent of a prose poem.

However, this particular essay struck me as odd in an additional, different way, which is as follows: the science is mainly mammalian biology. And it is presented as a wonderous fronteir.

It's odd for that to be odd. But it kind of is. Science fiction, speaking broadly, has a love for shiny surfaces. (Or these days, gritty pitted surfaces.) Bio is squishy. Human bodies are not otherworldly. Of the poetry submissions I receive at Strange Horizons that I would classify as science fiction and not fantasy, ballpark 90% of them are about astrophysics. 9% are about mechanical technology - robots, spaceflight, internet. 1% are chemistry or number theory.

Bio is not so much in there. I am not sure science fiction people think of it as one of the hard sciences, possibly because it is entangled with medicine, which is not science as much as it is a combination of technology and religion. Yet science fiction people are comfortable writing about technology, and about religion. And cell biology, for instance, should be unaffected by this, but only mitochondria are considered SF-worthy.

It reminds me of an attitude I somehow picked up in high school, or maybe even middle school, that bio is for girls and physics is for boys. (Chemistry, which is my favorite, was kind of bisexual and kind of a consolation prize for people who weren't good enough at physics.) I don't know how this was communicated to me, and I don't remember it being stated (except the bit about Chemistry being a physics stepchild), but it was communicated as clearly as math is for boys and English is for girls. Or for that matter Science Fiction is for boys and Fantasy is for girls.

Never mind that my classes in all these things (and the genre readers I knew) were pretty evenly gender divided, and my teachers were similarly not gender segregated. The masculinity of physics/math/scifi and the femininity of bio/English/fantasy simply were, in the same way words in Latinate languages have genders. And in all cases, of course, the male subjects were indefinably superior, indefinably prestigious, and widely accepted as more difficult.

This last part is boggling to me. I know a lot of people struggle with math. But math has one right answer. English does not have one right answer. And in physics, I can derive stuff, but in bio I have to memorize it. Harder.

I don't know whether I defaulted to the "harder" sciences (in both the SF sense and the percieved difficulty sense) because of this perceived prestigious maleness, or because I would have anyway. (I am not big on memorizing, although who knows why, because I'm good at it and for instance learn my lines as an actor without any fuss. But this is a reason piano performance went nowhere for me; I just don't want to memorize the sheet music, out of pure stubbornness. Somebody wrote it down. I respect that.) It took me easily ten years to shake off my feeling that learning about biology was "slumming."

And I am glad I did, because biology is a lot more hackable than physics. Not to mention really, really weird. Much moreso than black holes.
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I have, to this point, spilled on the kaftan or accidentally dipped the kaftan into:

red wine
salad dressing containing multiple oils plus vinegar and spices

In each case, all I have had to do is dab the kaftan gently with a damp cloth and it all comes off with no stain and no smell. The kaftan dries almost immediately. I don't even have to remove the kaftan during this process.

What have I been doing messing around with natural fibers all these years? Polyester forever.
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I am pro-drone, by which I mean I like drones. I like the technology, which strikes me as more accurate and more cost-effective than piloted fighter planes. If you ask me whether I like drones, you are asking me whether I like robots - and I love robots.

However, I suspect that some percentage of the people who ask me about drones are actually asking me about drone use policy. (Another percentage is definitely trying to get me to be paranoid about Skynet or the Matrix or something, which no thank you. I robot.)

Our current drone policy rests quite a bit on an official making a determination that the targeted individual presents an "imminent threat," which is an interesting use of "imminent," usually defined as "about to happen," given that the targeted individual who is imminently threatening us is typically halfway across the globe and does not possess a drone. One starts to suspect that "imminent threat" means "I feel threatened," or even "I might imagine feeling threatened," particularly since "imminent threat" is sometimes placed close to the phrase "could conclude." It all gets rather "Stand Your Ground."

I prefer laws that rest on the judgment of "a reasonable person." This strikes me as the only workable standard, the reason one would look to a jury of peers to determine criminality or lack thereof: Was my behavior reasonable? Or was it instead criminal? But it seems that time has not been kind to the reasonable person.

Meanwhile, Ciro has made me chocolate pudding, and so there is some kind of kindness to some kind of person.

Big Data

Jul. 25th, 2013 06:33 pm
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[I wrote this a week or two ago, in the context of a private e-mail discussion]

The frightening thing about PRISM, in large part, is the security holes. Which points back to big data for me - now that computers store and sort so much information, and it's so easily copied, it is difficult if not impossible to know who knows what about you. The information exists; I'm generating it all the time. I'm being photographed if I go out in public; we don't have a CCTV network, but after the Boston Marathon Bombing, all the stores volunteered their security tapes and masses of spectators turned in their cell phone videos. Sure, a few people could hold out, and probably did, but enough to make a difference? Probably not. We're also leaving our genetic information all over the place - shedding hair and skin, throwing away paper cups we've drunk out of. It's all there, and it's all public.

It's entirely plausible that many private companies know more about me than I know about myself, or than my close friends know. Target (a big box store) recently had to manually change an automated system that sent out coupons in the mail because its pattern analysis had gotten very good at guessing from a cluster of innocuous purchases that a woman was recently pregnant, and their mailings were often "outing" her to her family before she had a chance to say anything. What I'm doing when I shop at a big box store is in the public sphere, and I've agreed to let them collect the data by using a customer loyalty card to get discounts - I have sold it to them. (Although in some cases, I haven't exactly - they're using my credit card as a tracker, and what I am getting in return is the ability not to carry cash.) But when they share it back with me, I may be upset. I may essentially feel as though I'm being blackmailed with public information.

More broadly, I think we're seeing a test of the notion that "he who would sacrifice freedom for safety deserves neither." At this point, freedom largely means consenting to be relentlessly monitored; if you start rejecting all the terms of service that would have you sign away your rights, you're left sitting with a lot of rights and absolutely nowhere to use them except your own kitchen. It's not clear what the practical difference is. I'm a young and attractive woman; I'm looked at all the time, and judged all the time for the minutest details of what I'm wearing, and told by strangers in every circumstance that I ought to be smiling and must talk with them whether I want to or not. How is a blanket of public surveillance with implied but rarely stated compulsion going to be different from my normal life? Is it actually worse to be monitored by a centralized entity like a government, or a decentralized entity like a culture? That's the question we're starting to run into.
rinue: (Star)
In one of those thoughts you have before falling asleep, it occurred to me other other day that if the US mail worked the way webmail does, it would be free, but all letters would be postcards and stamps would be advertisements selected by the postal clerk.
rinue: (inception train)
I am extremely peevish at the moment, "the moment" easily encompassing the past month and probably longer. There's a longer post in that, related to ways in which both leftist and rightist intellectuals have been saying things so extraordinarily stupid that I have to question whether there are still intellectuals anywhere at all, and the simultaneous meltdowns of a number of organizations and subcultures into open racism, sexism, and general denial of reality. Every day is almost literally like waking up in a madhouse, surrounded by the kind of disordered thinking I associate with schizophrenics and people with varying levels of organic brain damage. (I am not speaking in metaphor. I have spent significant time around schizophrenics and people with varying levels of brain damage.)

I reassure myself by remembering "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity" was written 90 years ago, well before the Internet, and it is probably not that things are getting worse so much as that stupid is always actively on display and what varies is probably how much attention I am paying. But it's isolating. Ciro and I have talked about making August a mental health recovery month, when we might set aside some of each day to read or watch things that we know are excellent, listen to very elevated music, look at flowers and things, and to try to spend time with people we actually like. Just anything at all to build back some scaffold of civilization.

The main thing that's bothering me, which has been on display nonstop thanks to drones and Snowden, is the notion that computers have morality - that machines do things. We don't have artificial intelligence yet, and maybe not ever; we don't have a "laws of robotics" or an emotion chip. Computers are totally amoral, and it's absurd to talk about them as if they have a morality. If you are afraid of computers, what you are afraid of, still, is people.

Machines do not make judgments. Hammers don't hammer in nails; carpenters do. Cameras don't spy on you; people watching through cameras spy on you. It's the "guns don't kill people; people kill people" argument, which is absolutely true. If you are on the side of gun control, which I am, you still have to acknowledge that what you're trying to limit is how efficient a tool a person can get his hands on. When someone follows my movements through my cell phone, is that better or worse than having someone tail me on the street? The cell phone signal is certainly less intrusive, and less likely to add editorial comments about whether I "look stressed." On the other hand, the organization following me doesn't have to commit an employee's time to following me, so the "yeah, worth it" calculation is different. So do we want to make this more efficient tool legal or not? Good question. But a question about people.

Organizations are people, too. There's no "the government." There's no "big agro." Sometimes it's useful to think of organizations as single entities, both legally (corporate personhood, so the assets and liabilities are tied to the company instead of the confusing tangle of individuals that make up the owners and operators of the company) and out of a recognition that people roleplay (as demonstrated by the behavior of the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment, among others, as well as a casual tendency for working women with children to say things like "this is who I am at my job, but when I get home, I'm mom"). Stereotypes are similarly useful when making quick judgments, and similarly flawed. You will be led down a lot of blind alleys if you make the leap to thinking that corporations really are possessed of motivations and moralities divorced from the people making decisions, or that "the government" should be trusted or not trusted regardless of who is making up that government at a given time. You will build odd regulatory frameworks, based on regulating imaginary friends instead of human beings.

Secular colleagues, we have rejected the idea that our lives are at the mercy of disembodied moral forces playing out whimsical and personality-driven games. You can't just start calling God "technology" or "the market," or Demeter "Monsanto," or insist that information, like Prometheus, wants freedom. That's still theist. It becomes a shell game.
rinue: (eyecon)
I'm having trouble continuing to watch the Game of Thrones miniseries; the most recent episode has been sitting on my DVR for several days, and not because I don't have time. It's not the boobs; I just roll my eyes at the boobs, which are sometimes given porn-level script justification. ("Ooops, I guess this is the wrong room! And I forgot my shirt!") Instead, what I find unpalatable is the pervasive narrative disempowerment of the female characters, which goes well beyond adding breasts to any scenes where they can be featured.

Obviously, any time you adapt a book for the screen, there are going to be changes, usually in the name of expediency (books are long), streamlining the cast, or externalizing an internal conflict that would otherwise be unexpressed. This . . . is not that. It makes motivations less clear and lowers the dramatic punch of the scenes in question, often while adding to scene length. The only reason you'd do it, as a writer or producer, would be to advance a specific sexual-political agenda, and it's pretty much something you'd have to do consciously. I'll give you some examples.

Danerys, that chick with the white hair who married the horse guy. Raped by her husband in the first episode. In the same scene in the book, she realizes that with this marriage her brother arranged to effectively sell her into slavery, that actually he finally set her free. She rides around on the horse Drogo (her husband) gave her, laughing and jumping over fires, and when she and Drogo have sex, Drogo won't make any move on her if she seems at all upset or recalcitrant, and she's the one who undresses him and decides how the sexual encounter will go, and she has a great time.

In a later episode, there's a scene where one of her handmaidens teaches her to have sex and suggests this will allow her to get what she wants. Unnecessary in the book. She's already taking charge of things and totally empowered and doesn't have to be activated through the classic anti-feminist trope that women have always had power by being seductive. Book Dany gets what she wants when she says she wants it, not because she figures out how to have sex in a way that's more exciting for her male partner. For instance, that order that Viserys (her brother) will have to walk after trying to accost her? In the book, it comes from Dany, not some random guy on a horse while she stands there looking scared. In the book, she also hits Viserys before that guy whips him; in the book, the whip guy is following her lead, not rescuing her.

Cat, Ned Stark's wife (Sean Bean's wife) has been dumbed down a lot too. In the book, she figures out who pushed Bran out of the tower by thinking about who was doing what that day. In the series, she finds a blond hair in a tower. Ok, ok, externalizing a thought process in a way that only happens to make her come to a conclusion based on an emotional reaction to a hair instead of a thinking person's understanding of who might have something to gain or lose. But they continue that "emotional" character idea in other scenes, all of which cast her as family focused to the exclusion of all thought.

Like, did anybody think it was weird in the first episode when Cat's sister sends a sealed message to Cat which she doesn't let anyone read that says various plots are afoot and would Cat look into it, and then Cat freaks out about Ned going to the capital but Ned firmly says he has to? It's weird because in the book it's the reverse; Ned wants to stay in Winterfell, which is his family home that he likes, and not someplace particularly interesting to Cat, and Cat says "you have to go and figure out what is going on for the safety of everyone." None of this "how could you leave the family I'll never forgive you."

By the same token, later when they're talking with Littlefinger (that guy from the Council that hides Cat in the whorehouse), in the series Cat trusts him as a little brother and Ned knows he's bad news the first time he lays eyes on him and has to warn Cat that Littlefinger, who dueled for her and stalked her in the past, might still have some kind of crush on her. (HBO Cat batting eyelashes: "No! I'm sure he's totally over that!") In the book? Cat totally knows Littlefinger's agenda and doesn't trust him except that she thinks he's useful as someone whose biases and drawbacks they at least know.

It extends even to the kids; there's not a lot you can do to write Arya (little girl with sword) as a traditionally feminine character, but they manage to mess with her scenes too, via other characters. That speech Ned gives her in episode three about how Sansa (older sister) lied to protect Joffrey because he's to be her husband and women must stand by their husbands and never contradict their husbands, and so Sansa was doing the right thing? Speech does not exist in the book. Not anywhere in the book from any character, even Sansa. Everybody pretty much agrees that what she did was shit and are only nice about it because she's a kid.

There's no reason to add the speech narratively; the moment doesn't need explaining. It's only useful if that's something you want to be sure to say to the audience, just like you said it by making sure that an unnamed horse guy gives orders instead of main character Dany, and making sure that Ned makes the call to go to the capital instead of bowing to the judgment of his wife. The message is that good, heroic women never tell men what to do, good men never allow themselves to be bossed by women (note how fallen hero Robert is whipped by his wife), and women are irrational emotional people who only care about wanting to be home with family (so that Cat can't dislike Winterfell, Dany can't act out against brother Viserys, and Cat must trust Littlefinger because they grew up in the same house).

To drive the point home further, heroic male characters have been purged of "weak" feminine traits.

Tyrion (the dwarf) - seeks out a room full of hookers the moment he gets to Winterfell (TV) rather than raiding the library (book)

Drogo (horse king guy) - super macho (TV) instead of innocently sweet to Dany (book)

Ned (Sean Bean) - gets to the capitol and stares a dude down for suggesting he might want to do something unmanly like change out of his dirty riding clothes before meeting with the council (TV). In the book, it's Ned who asks for a second to change clothes so he can be appropriately respectful, and who borrows a flash suit from somebody because he hasn't had time to unpack his stuff yet.

As I said, very sinister, often not only unnecessary but counter to the movement of the plot, often requiring extra scenes or characters to explain, when the writers and producers should be trying to reduce both. (Except when it comes to boobs. Extra scenes and characters that add to the boob count are de rigeur.) I find it aggressive and hard to take in passively, especially in an adaptation of a book series notable for its female fan base, perhaps the only major work of epic fantasy that has a female cast almost as large and active as its male cast. The only reason to adapt that series like this is to put women in their proper place, and hope it reprograms the viewer correctly. And that is scary.
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