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Satori of a wandering mind.


October 30th, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates @ 04:52 pm


My oldest child (and I wish I had an icon of just her and me together) took me to hear Joyce Carol Oates last night.

"Do you like Joyce Carol Oates?" she asked when she called to invite me.
"Joyce Carol Oates is the breakfast of intellectuals," I replied.
"You don't have any grandchildren because I think that's hereditary."
"Does it help that I was quoting someone else?"
"No."

Despite that rocky beginning and against her better judgment, she took me along anyway.

The program, which was hosted by the English and Creative Writing Departments of UNC Wilmington, consisted of Oates standing on stage behind a lectern and talking for a bit about her life and writing, then reading one of her stories, then answering questions submitted by creative writing students and read in stilted academic tones by an English professor. There was a reception of sorts and a book signing after, but the poor woman was so mobbed we did not stick around for the chance to say what everyone else was no doubt saying about appreciating the honor of meeting her.
More on Joyce Carol OatesCollapse )
 

October 19th, 2010

Condi does Ronnie @ 11:51 pm

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Just saw Condoleezza Rice channel Ronald Regan. (Actually I think the Daily Show is a repeat tonight, so she actually did it a few days ago.)

Most of you are too young to remember Ronnie's famous denial of racism in America.
He said: "The American people are not prejudiced against blacks."
A statement that can only be true if you assume blacks are either not people or not Americans. (Or neither people nor Americans.)

Condoleezza Rice said she did not believe Islamophobia is as virulent or as widespread as the media makes it seem.
She followed that hopeful assertion up with: "Americans are not prejudiced against Muslims. For one thing many Americans know at least one Muslim and knows they are not extremists."
Evidently you can't be both a Muslim and an American.
At least she left the "people" part out.
 

My October 19 column is up at Novel Spaces @ 12:43 am

October 3rd, 2010

October 1st, 2010

Something I never thought I'd have to think about. @ 12:33 am

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Leaving for Williamsburg tomorrow to visit our youngest at William & Mary.

Had to arrange for someone to look in on my homebound father and maybe take him to lunch on each of the three days we'll be gone.

For those of you who haven't met him:
Some pictures of him I posted on Father's Day.
And a couple of more I posted on his birthday.
 

September 26th, 2010

This is not a (lifeboat) drill: @ 07:42 pm

Writing update: Skein @ 12:10 am


Reading what I've written I realized there was a problem: Everything is much too generic. Yeah, I think my rules of magic and the story itself are interesting and original, but unless I shake Skein up mightily, I am in danger of creating yet another interchangeable Euro-centric costume piece.

So what to do? Make my magic more weird? Introduce mythic beings -- maybe from the Eastern European traditions of my father's parents?

Thinking of my father's parents got me thinking about my own. And their deep love for the place they met: West Africa. Specifically what is now Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.

I wouldn't be too literal, of course. Just as most Euro-centric fantasies take elements from a variety of traditions and cultures to create the medieval world so familiar to western readers, I'll blend aspects of Ibo and Yoruba and other cultures of the region; [edit to add: This next phrase is a howling mistake. I chose not to correct it, but I do straighten out what I meant to say in the comments.] probably blend in aspects of the Benin and Mali Empires before Islam for my politics. I may include some European technology -- like wheels.

It's still in the brainstorming stage, but what I'm talking about is a ground-up rewrite; what I was taught to call a redrafting. It will be the same story -- maybe even the same characters -- but re-imagined in a completely different world.
 

September 25th, 2010

How the Bush tax cuts devestated the American economy @ 10:54 am

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At a time when the Republicans are blaming President Obama for the bank bailout and the housing crash and the rampant unemployment he caused while serving as the junior senator from Illinois while heroic President Bush was unable to stop him, it's refreshing to see a clear explanation of what Bush policies actually did to the economy. (I was going to copy a few graphics and telling paragraphs here, but it's better to go there and read the analysis in its entirety.)

What strikes me as odd -- is actually maddening -- about the Democratic leadership is that they seem to assume everyone knows this already. President Obama has consistently lowered taxes, reduced government spending, freed up funding and eliminated fees so working class people can send their children to college, keep their homes, and have more money in their pockets. And Republicans are running attack ads claiming he's destroying the economy and driving working people out of their homes while burying them in unnecessary taxes and debt.
Political rant concealed out of consideration for the uninterested.Collapse )
 

September 24th, 2010

Begging the question? @ 01:42 am

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What is the name of the logical fallacy that conflates fact with opinion to support a foregone conclusion? I want to say begging the question, but begging the question, I think, would be something like "There will always be more because that's what more means."

The construction I mean is:
1. Observable fact.
2. Opinion accepted as fact.
3. Conclusion based on perception of fact and opinion as dictated by personal beliefs.

I've been thinking about this since reading an article by Stephen Hawking last month. He used an argument that has long been a favorite of creationists and deists and intelligent designers to prove there is no intelligent designer, no creative entity.

The time-honored construction of the faithful is familiar to anyone who's engaged a believer in conversation:
1. The universe as we know it appears exactly balanced to produce life.
2. It is inconceivably unlikely, to the point of impossible, for this to have happened by chance.
3. Therefore the universe was created to nurture us and provide for our needs.

What Stephen Hawking presented as science was:
1. The universe as we know it appears exactly balanced to produce life.
2. It is inconceivably unlikely, to the point of impossible, for this to have happened by chance.
3. Therefore there is an infinite number of universes filling the cosmos, and random chance put us in one that supports life.

The problem with indirect exchanges like this -- or even direct exchanges like this -- is that they look like a conversation. If you don't pay attention, you might come away with the impression that something substantive has been said.

1. It's questionable whether this can be considered a fact, but I'm willing to give both debaters the "the universe as we know it appears exactly balanced to produce life" bit. The fact is we will probably never see any more of the universe than we're seeing right now -- prognosis for humanity keeping its act together long enough to get off this dust mote is not good. Sure it's scientifically shaky to extrapolate the whole place from the minuscule amount we can see, but the parts we've observed -- including way more suns than were predicted with planets in their "temperate zones" -- do tend to support this.
2. Bad statistics. We do not know what variables are involved -- or even how many variables are involved. We cannot base probability on our ability to imagine alternatives to the reality around us. We have exactly one universe at our disposal and in that universe conditions for life exist. Based on that, there is a 100% probability that the universe will support life. With a bit of a stretch you can make it a 50/50 bet: either reality exists or it doesn't. Because we can imagine alternatives ("parallel" universes have been a staple of science fiction and fantasy since the dawn of speculative literature), we can say there is a theoretical potential for these alternatives to exist. But our ability to imagine does not mean what we imagine is real.
3. To believe that there is an infinite number of universes sharing our cosmos that we will never, by definition, be able to interact with or explore -- in fact will never be able to see or touch or measure or detect in any way -- is as much an act of faith as belief in God.

I have no problem with Stephen Hawking or anyone else expressing their faith; sharing the unknowable in which they believe. I respect faith and I'm interested in all of humanity's myriad belief systems. And I understand that one criterion of faith is the belief that what you believe in is right. But I am easily annoyed by those who present themselves as too intelligent/mature/evolved/rational/self-affirming-adjective-of-your-choice to be fettered/deluded by faith then present what is essentially their own unprovable personal beliefs as irrefutable fact. ("There is no evidence of alternative universes." "Aha! Proof none of the infinite number of universes can be detected from another!")

As for those who try to use the physical or the natural to examine or explore or refute or defend the spiritual, I've said this before: To try and understand the spiritual through the application of scientific and rational means is like trying to understand light through the study of acoustics.
 

September 19th, 2010

My September 19 column is up at Novel Spaces @ 06:11 am


My latest column is up at Novel Spaces:

The NaNoWriMo themed Write a novel in a month addresses the skills the month-long exercise teaches more than the competition itself.

My 26 previous columns are behind the cut:Collapse )
 

It only looks random ...

Satori of a wandering mind.