Category: Stuff

Today’s GIF

timzoom

This was supposed to appear in the book trailer video for McEdifice Returns (not at 50% off the previous price here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/764769 ). Unfortunately, the video export wasn’t working for this animation (plus some others, including some space ships and a shot of the spooky cathedral). Said technical issue has since been resolved.

Just remember, when you stare into the Timothy it stares back into you.

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Royal Commision on Child Abuse Final Report

This has been a long and painful process for survivors of institutional abuse in Australia. The Royal Commission was established in 2012 and delivered its final report on Thursday (14/12/17). The 200+ Preface and Executive Summary is itself a harrowing read https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/final_report_-_preface_and_executive_summary.pdf The full report encompasses 17 volumes https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/final-report

It is notable the extent to which among the vulnerable, those that were more vulnerable were so often targeted. The report looks at how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not only targets for abuse but how the wider social policy would often enable that abuse.

The report also highlights how children with disabilities were targetted by abusers. Again, systemic and institutional failings enable abuse and sidelined the stories of those being abused.

More positively the Commission has outlined approaches for both justice and redress on multiple levels. https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/redress-and-civil-litigation

While much of the focus has been on religious institutions and specifically the Catholic Church in Australia, the issues go far beyond those particular issues and included secular institutions including schools and care homes as well sporting bodies and the criminal justice system. The themes that re-occur between each of them are the abuse of the powerless by the powerful, the marginalisation of people and the silencing of voices.

This is not easy reading but without work like this we cannot understand how to provide the protection that children, younger people and indeed anybody who can find themselves marginalised, deserve.

Disney, Fox and MCU

I’m inherently suspicious of anything and everything Rupert Murdoch does. If Murdoch is behind something then it is safe to assume that he wants ordinary people coming out worse in the deal and that somehow he is trying to make the world a shittier place. That doesn’t mean he always succeeds or that everything with “Fox” or even “News Corporation” written on it is cursed like some artefact from an RPG.

In the current Disney/Fox deal, the Murdoch empire is divesting itself of its entertainment properties and retaining its news properties. I don’t know what the full implications of that are but “Murdoch controls less’ sounds partly like good news, whereas “Murdoch ends up as the biggest shareholder in Disney” sounds like bad news. Of course, Disney only sounds good when compared with Rupert Murdoch. The deal is another step in Disney controlling a hefty chunk of IP. It isn’t exactly monopolistic power but it is reasonable to fear one corporation having that much cultural clout.

Given Disney’s chain of acquisitions (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasarts) the move also is of deep interest to multiple fandoms. Some fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are seeing this move primarily in terms of how the move will bring more of Marvel’s characters back under Marvel’s control. Given the success of the MCU, I can see why fans of superhero films (and I would count myself as one) would be excited. Yet, I don’t see it.

The specific result is that Marvel’s beloved X-Men franchise would now be owned by Disney and hence X-Men characters could become part of the MCU. This does not strike me as a good idea.

Within Marvel’s comic book universe, characters have swapped between teams and in and out of comic books. Notably Beast, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are characters who have been players in both The Avengers and X-Men. However, there is nothing particularly essential about those characters in either setting. Further, I just don’t think the premise of the X-Men works in conjunction with the rest of the Marvel Universe. I don’t think it has ever really worked in the comic books and I don’t see how it could work in film.

A comic book universe relies on somehow making superheroes whose basic premise is quite different work together. Marvel has juggled this by having elements that work together and elements that work as given character’s own domain. Thor can be a god-like alien being on Earth and exist side-by-side with Iron Man a human with fancy gadgets but their separate adventures put the characters in quite different worlds. Some suspension of disbelief is required to accept that these characters can have their own stories without every film requiring all the Avengers to turn up to help but the settings help and each character can have separate stories.

Now add the X-men. The X-Men aren’t the X-Men without the key premise that they live in a world in which:

  • Some people get random mutant superpowers.
  • That the wider population knows this.
  • That the mutant population is feared and persecuted and suppressed.

Captain America has to be cool with this. I mean, obviously, he isn’t but for the X-Men to have their stories, basically The Avengers have to not do anything when the US government starts hunting people with giant killer robots. Also, the wider public has to be relatively OK with one bunch of super powered people and raging bigots about a different bunch. It has to be OK to get superpowers from a spider bite but not from a genetic mutation AND people have to believe that story (i.e. people don’t think Spiderman is a dangerous mutant).

Put another way, the X-Men and The Avengers as stories can’t share the same space but there isn’t a simple way of separating those spaces. With other characters (e.g. the Netflix version of Daredevil) local spaces can be created (e.g. a fictional Hell’s Kitchen) and the antagonists can exist in a world where there other kinds of superheroes – Daredevil fighting secret ninjas and/or an evil property developer can happen in a world where off-screen Captain America is fighting Hydra.

The flip side of this is the creativity that arises from restrictions. Marvel has made a success out of its own stable of films but it did so without having access to its biggest properties: X-men and Spiderman. Yes, it was nice for there to be Spiderman films that were not another rehash of his origin story and which give the character a bigger field to play in but it was not having Spiderman that pushed Marvel into the more creative decision – Guardians of the Galaxy for example.

Which brings me back to Disney. It was great seeing another Star Wars film yesterday and yes, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War but the obvious IP danger in Disney’s accretion disc style of aquistions is that  it will become little more than a strip mine of IP rather than a source of new ideas.

If it avoids that trap then the popularity of its properties will only enable an economic behemoth bully governments and exploit its workers.

Book Cover Thing 2017: Functionality

Previously: Start, Longer list, Culling, Artwork, An Aside, . . .

Functionality: 0 to 3 points. A cover has a basic job to do. Can you read the title and who wrote it? Is all the relevant information there? Is the information well ordered?

There is a bit of a built in advantage for book covers that don’t have a lot to say. Each cover needs firstly these two things:

  • A title
  • An author

In addition there are other text elements:

  • Subtitle
  • Series title
  • Publisher name (pretty rare these days)
  • Egoboo thing ‘Number 1 New Yrok Tines Besteller!’, ‘Thrilling to the last page!’ Stevan Kring

A sequel that’s being promoted can end up with a gaggle of text elements.

Somebody IRL asked why do these weird points and that they don’t make it more objective. That’s right – the categories don’t make the judgements less opinionated or subjective but they do make you look at different aspects. Using subcategories is an attempt to make a judge reflect on their own opinion.

If you were using lots of judges you could also better see where there was consensus and disagreement.

Having said all that – this remains just me messing around with working out what I like and dislike about covers and your own mileage will vary!

More after the fold…

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4. Ask A Triceratops

askatriceratops

This week I take a look at choosing your sub-genre:

“Dear Susan,
I’ve written an urban fantasy set in Victorian times. My boyfriend says that I can’t call it ’steampunk’ because it isn’t science-fiction but I don’t want to call it ‘gaslight’ because the whole story takes place outside in daytime. My mum says I should just call it urban fantasy but my Dad says paranormal romance will attract more readers.

Any advice for the right sub-genre?

Yours
Ms. Difference Engine”

Triceratopian literature also has many genres and sub-genres. A few examples:

  • A stupid t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘tragedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and everybody stands around laughing at them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘comedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [tragi-comedy]
  • A drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them [drama]
  • A t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard [fantasy]
  • A t-rex invents a new way of getting drunk [science fiction]
  • An allosaurus gets drunk and tries to climb a tree and finds a wizard and eats it [historical fantasy]

Saying “my novel has a drunk t-rex and some trees” really isn’t enough to pick what genre it should be in! What story is not going to have a t-rex, some trees and some alcohol related incident?

One solution would be to add elements that make it clearly one genre rather than another. This can be quite forced and can make your story seem odd or unnatural.

A different solution is to clarify the genre-boundary in your book blurb e.g.:

“This novel is a cross between a t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard stories and a drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them stories.”

See? The reader knows what to expect now!

“Urban fantasy” will probably work just fine for your novel if you clarify some of the other features in your blurb. To help you along here is my suggestion:

“In Victorian London Elizabeth Hopsworthy finds herself lost in London’s majestic Hyde Park. Who are the strange figures she can see from the corners of her eyes? What kind of enchantment has befallen her? Did she drink one too many sherries? Maybe she could use her font limbs to climb a tree? Ooops! She has fallen out of the tree and landed on a triceratops injuring it. I bet that triceratops has quite the story to tell! Well I’m going to tell you about the time somebody told you the story that triceratops was going to tell!”

Or something like that. I should imagine that humans climbing trees does not have the same inherent dramatic tension as a t-rex trying to climb a tree, what with your longer fore-limbs and twiggy finger things and simian ancestory.

Review: Neoreaction – A Basilisk By Philip Sandifer and Jack Graham

The latest collections of essays from Philip Sandifer is named after the first and longest entry. Thematically the collection takes the reader into a strange world that has intruded into our space in the form of the alt-right. The first four are the most closely interconnected thematically:

  • Neoreaction – a basilisk: a look at the deep but incoherent ideas of a trio of thinkers behind neoreaction.
  • The All Seeing Eye of Gamergate: a reprise and discussion of the events and nature of Gamergate as a phenomenon.
  • Theses on a President: a discussion of Trump – primarily in terms of his prior history as a character.
  • No Laws for the Lion many Laws for the Oxen: an examination with regular collaborator Jack Graham of the Austrian School of economics

These are followed by two more:

  • Lizard People, Dear Reader: A look at the strange ideas of former UK TV personality David Icke
  • My Vagina is Haunted: A discussion of the anti-transgender prejudices of a set of some feminists.

And finally, the collection is capped off with a reprise of some of the themes in an essay entitled Zero to Zero.

The first four provide a historical tour of an idea-space that is both alien and familiar in which psychic monsters wrestle with the Enlightenment. Arguably they fall out of sequence, with the fourth essay perhaps making more sense as a starting point.

The Austrian School of economics should be little more than a footnote – or perhaps a case study in the pathology of ideas. It remains significant as an obsession among libertarians and libertarian influenced members of the right, particularly in the USA. As a form of economics, it is deep nonsense. Deep in so far as it has a complex set of ideas and represents an extensive philosophical program to establish a unique approach to economics within an ideological frame. Nonsense in so far as it makes no methodological sense. For anybody who has discussed politics on the internet for the past few decades, you’ll have encountered the apparently bright, earnest but oddly incoherent ‘libertarian’ who would assert that Von Mises had demonstrated such and such but was unable to explain what they meant. The key element is a strong and fundamental rejection of empiricism as a principle – the Austrian School attempted to build up economics as kind of axiomatic discipline.

To call it pseudo-science is almost misleading – pseudoscience implies a superficial imitation of the scientific approach. Instead, the Austrian school was what might be called a pseudo-geometry – one of many failed attempts to rebuild a discipline following the model of Euclid’s elements. This approach can create some magnificent but fragile intellectual architecture – Spinoza’s Ethics being the most lasting example. As an approach it is rather like dead reckoning as a means of navigation: it requires a sound starting point and no errors in the steps taken on the way but the further you progress without checking to see whether your calculated position matches observations, you are inevitably doomed to get lost. In the Austrian’s case, neither their starting position nor there derived conclusions were sound and the resulting edifice of a theory is essentially bunk. Yet this bunk remains influential as a repeated idea within the libertarian influenced the US right.

As an essay, I thought ‘No Laws for Lions’ was less successful than the others, mainly because it sought to contrast the Austrian School with Marxist economics. It isn’t that the contrast isn’t interesting but in the company with the first three essay (which I will come back to) feels like a diversion. That is not really a fault with the essay as a thing in itself more with how it fits with the historical theme that develops when you look at the four topics as they develop in historical order:

  • The Austrian School as an influence on modern US rightwing thought (chapter 4).
  • Neoreaction as a 21st-century philosophical pathology grounded within internet culture. (chapter 1)
  • Gamergate as an intrusion of the ‘alt-right’ into the mainstream popular culture. (chapter 2)
  • Donald Trump (chapter 3)

The steady decline into nightmarish incoherence and simplistic fascism on the right are what becomes clearer through these essays.

The title essay is the longest and most complex. It has more of the complex (perhaps self-indulgent) structural play that Philip Sandifer does well (well I enjoy it – your mileage may vary) and inevitably that means a lengthy diversion into the visionary mythology of William Blake. However, even if Blake isn’t your thing, this is worth a read (and you can skip the Blake bits if necessary).

Neoreaction: A Basilisk looks at three figures that play a kind of foundational role among the rightwing of internet culture. They are simultaneously figures of great influence and nearly no influence at all when it comes to the alt-right. They are highly influential in so far as they helped create (for one of them, unintentionally) a dialogue which encouraged a rejection of much of the development in political-philosophy since (and including) the enlightenment – if you’ve been wondering why when talking about the alt-right we keep bumping into a distorted view of the middle-ages or find that we have to re-litigate debates from the 14th century, this is why. On the other hand, the current alt-right really have no intellectual foundations at all and best understood as the same toxic form of racism, misogyny, paranoia and authoritarianism that is best described as fascism.

The three figures examined are Eliezer Yudkowsky, Mencius Moldbug, and Nick Land. Of those Yudkowsky is the most interesting and, as Sandifer does repeatedly point out, not a ‘neoreactionary’. What Yudkowsky has in common with not only Moldbug and Land but also the Austrian Economic school, is this same expectation that a broader understanding of the world can be built up from some secure intellectual foundations. As a way of understanding the world, it is doomed to fail for the same reasons I’ve described above.

We lack a good word for the process. ‘Madness’ is to associated with mental illness and as a fallacious way of discrediting those you disagree with. However, it is the best analogy we have. I’ve used the term ‘pathological’ but that still has medical overtones – what we need is a word for how a person can follow apparently (or superficially) rational steps and find themselves advancing anti-rational positions. In Yudkowsky’s case, this is particularly ironic as he has been overtly concerned with avoiding fallacious reasoning.

With Land and Moldbug, this push towards a philosophy that is both far-right and anti-rational is more intentional – a desire to create an edifice of connected ideas to reject modern assumptions about democracy, society and humanity. Sandifer connects all three with their sense of horror about the world that is best described as ‘Lovecraftian’ – as if they each peered into their own ideas and saw horrors and two of them found the horrors particularly attractive.

The Gamergate essay is more familiar territory. Familiar villains (Vox Day, Milo et al) and their villainy. A more simplistic alt-right the baroque complexities of the neoreactionaries but connected by a common theme of internet culture, as well as a kind of nihilism used to justify authoritarianism. Within the process of Gamergate, the kind of epistemological angst explored by Yudkowsky’s thought experiments about future AIs becomes a direct and immediate problem as Gamergaters faced their own confusion as to who was who, which false-flags where which and what anything meant anyway. As the Gamergate proceeded, flinging deep and serious harm at individuals, the epistemological nihilism grew in turn with pranksters and trolls not always clear whether they were one, the other or sincere campaigners for a set of ideals that nobody could adequately express.

Which takes us to the punchline: Donald Trump. The escape from the crisis for the right becomes as inevitable as the Greek tragedy. With a loss of any sense of truth (empirical, observational, logical, ethical) the singularity becomes not some all-knowing future AI but an authoritarian solipsist. A man for whom truth is purely subjective and who the right puts in charge apparently because he is the only being who does not doubt – of course he does not doubt because he doesn’t understand why he should (again rejecting empiricism, observation, logic, ethics and empathy).

The essays chart a landscape of something – a monster or a mad-god that we encounter as either unvarnished evil in our modern world or as gibbering edifice of ideas that simply do not form a coherent whole and which seek only to justify the unvarnished evil. I’m not sure these are even ideas that can be understood or should be but I think collectively these essays help define the ugly shape of them.