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|Monday, October 26th, 2009|
|Thought Of The Day
During World War II, FDR called the city of Detroit the arsenal of democracy
, because of the rapid conversion of its auto factories to produce the tanks, planes, warships and weapons that defeated the Third Reich. Now, corporate greed and government indifference have reduced the arsenal of democracy to this
"DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) -- At 1300 E. Warren St., you can smell the plight of Detroit.
"Inside the Wayne County morgue in midtown Detroit, 67 bodies are piled up, unclaimed, in the freezing temperatures. Neither the families nor the county can afford to bury the corpses. So they stack up inside the freezer...."
On behalf of my dying home state....don't worry about it. That whole beating Hitler thing wasn't a big deal. Any time, really.
But if could spare a few bucks for the city that saved the world from fascism to use to bury its unclaimed corpses, that might be nice.
|Sunday, October 25th, 2009|
|What I've Been Up To On Other Blogs This Week
On my day-job blog, (Blog&~Blog)
, I talk about one of the most excellent philosophy papers ever to be published in a respectable journal:Possible Girls
On the collaborative blog I do about all things post-ironic with David, Matt, Bryan and Andrew, Awkward Haiku
, I talk about the health care debate through the prism of the tv show Mad Men
, since, honestly, what better prism is there through which to look at any subject whatsoever?Mad Men, Mamie's Funeral and the Public Option
Meanwhile, David wrote up some very excellent bio's for all the Awkward Haiku contributors, which can be found here
. Here's the one he came up with for me:Ben Burgis
The second brother to be roped into writing. Ben Burgis may be best likened to an 18th century rake/scoundrel. The similarities between him, Casanova, and the Scarlet Pimpernel are in fact uncanny. Except of course that he supports the use of the guillotine. Read more at http://benburgis.livejournal.comBenjamin writes a weekly column on Lovecraft, Phil Dick, the Obama Administration, and good scotch.
|Friday, October 23rd, 2009|
My flash story "Five Weird Things" is in this week's episode
of the StarShipSofa podcast. I just listened to it on my way to the beach, and I was really happy with the narration. (Also very strange, like hearing your stuff read by another voice always is, but in a good way.) It starts right around ten minutes and eighteen seconds into the podcast, and the whole thing, including the Intro, lasts for about five minutes.
|Thursday, October 22nd, 2009|
|Atomjack Story And Other Updatery
[UPDATE: A few hours ago, when I wrote this, I threw in a reference the StarShipSofa acceptance because the story had been accepted a while back, and I realized I hadn't mentioned it in any previous entry. Then, just now, as I was about to syc up my iPod before taking a walk to the beach, I went to iTunes and noticed that there was a new StarShipSofa episode up. I clicked the description to see what was there and, lo and behold, saw "Flash Fiction: 'Five Weird Things' by Ben Burgis." I haven't listened to it yet, but the link is here
. Alternately, of course, you can just download it directly from iTunes. It's the current episode, which is 105.]
Four things that seem worth mentioning:
(1) My short story "Five Weird Things" has been accepted for podcasting at StarShipSofa.
(2) I finally finished my doctoral dissertation, or at least a rough draft of it. (Obviously, in real terms, that makes me about halfway done.) Weighing it at 221 pages, it's tentatively entitled "Truth Is A One-Player Game: A Defense Of Monaletheism And Classical Logic."
(3) Related to (2), I've finally achieved a regular, routine schedule over at my day-job blog, (Blog&~Blog)
. Also, I joined the team over at Awkward Haiku
a while back, and I've been making a stab at being a bit more regular and predictable there as well. If you have an all-consuming obsession with philosophical logic, or with all things post-ironic, (Blog&~Blog)
is updated every Monday and Wednesday, and my posts go up on Awkward Haiku
(4) Speaking of philosophical logic, there's some discussion of it in my Israeli/Palestinian role-reversal short story Dark Coffee, Bright Light and the Paradoxes of Omnipotence
, which was recently published over at Atomjack. Here's a teaser.
Dark Coffee, Bright Light and the Paradoxes of Omnipotence
by Ben Burgis
Avi realized with moments to spare that the coffee house was about to go up in flames.
He'd been sitting alone at a table by the window, sipping strong sweet Arabic coffee from a tiny ceramic cup and trying to grade a pile of "Intro to Philosophy" papers, when the man in the trench coat came in off the street. This guy would have caught Avi's attention anyway, if only because he was the only other Jew in the trendy East Jerusalem café.
A Sephardic Jew who could afford the pricy designer jeans below that trench coat was hard to tell from a Palestinian, but there was a colorful, hand-knit yarmulke poking out from underneath the man’s baseball cap. That identified him as being not only a Jew, but an observant Jew, and of the "national-religious" variety at that.
Avi was close enough to him to see the man's face was glowing with sweat, his eyes dilated with excitement. If Avi had been more paranoid by nature, he would have been able to take those physical details, and the sheer improbability of that kind of Jew stopping in a place like this for a cup of coffee, and deduce the nature of the object lurking beneath the trench coat.
He didn't, not until the man opened his mouth and began to very softly recite the Shema...Read The Rest Here
|Thursday, October 1st, 2009|
This week's episode of the Diet Soap podcast, This Podcast Is A Lie
, features an interview with me about my doctoral dissertation topic (paradoxes, the philosophy of logic, etc.), as well as a (very condensed) version of my Clarion West Week 4 story, "Sing, Goddess, Sing Me To The Stars," which was originally published in the final issue of Flytrap. Since the podcast version was pretty condensed, and the magazine that it was published in is now defunct, I've put my Doctorowish principles into practice, Creative Commons licensed it and put it on-line here
, in case anyone wants to read the whole thing.
|Tuesday, September 8th, 2009|
|Why I Like Living On South Beach
Last night, I was watching tv, I got up to get some food and realized my cupboard was basically empty. So I walked down a few blocks to Pizza Rustica, which btw is for my money by far the best pizza place in South Florida. I got a nice big slice, then found that all the tables outside were taken up, so I walked two blocks down to the beach to eat it there. I sat on the sand, finished eating, then thought, 'hmm, while I'm here....' So I swam in the ocean for a while before I walked back to my apartment. Just spur of the moment.
There are probably worse places to live.
|Wednesday, August 12th, 2009|
|Sunday, August 9th, 2009|
|The 2009 Hugo Results: A Very Short Commentary
I haven't read the novel or the novella, so I have no idea if they deserved it, but both the novelette and the short story were things that I'd previously caught in podcast form (Chiang on Escape Pod, Bear on Starship Sofa), enjoyed tremendously and enthusiastically recommended to others. David Anthony Durham is a talented writer, but I'd still say that Gord Sellar got robbed for the Campbell. I mean, Jesus, "Lester Young and the Jupiter's Moon's Blues." Enough said.
|Saturday, August 8th, 2009|
|Friday, July 31st, 2009|
|Awkwardly Haiku-ing Now
for my inaugural entry.
This new unpaid writing commitment basically resulted from D--- asking me to do it while I was feeling buzzed and generous, then holding me to it.
|Monday, July 6th, 2009|
|The Best And The Brightest Kick The Bucket
My feelings about the death today of war criminal Robert McNamara, who died in his sleep at the age of 93, rather than being burned alive with napalm or torn into little pieces by a cluster bomb, like so many of the millions of peasant men, women and children who died in the genocidal war in Vietnam of which McNamara, as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, was one of the primary architects*, are best expressed in song form.
Burn in hell, Secretary McNamara.
*If we choose to take seriously his later, self-serving and self-pitying claims that he'd realized years before the end of his term as SecDef that the war was unwinnable, and that his continued public support for it was a matter of loyalty to the administration, this, to my mind, makes his crimes even more inexcusable than they otherwise would be.
|Saturday, June 27th, 2009|
|Write-a-Thon & Kind Words About "T-Shirts, Tentacles and the Melting Point of Steel"
San Francisco has been great, but I don't quite have the energy to work up a post about it just yet. Meanwhile, though, there are a couple things worth mentioning.
(1) The Clarion West Write-a-Thon is going on right now. For those not in the know, it's a fundraiser...think of a walk-a-thon, but with, well, writing. For those who read my blog but don't know what Clarion West is....
....wait, are there any people in that category? Seems kind of unlikely, since I'm always prattling on about how awesome it was. If there are any, we'll talk in the comment thread.
In any case, I'm participating this year, and my Write-a-Thon page is here
. If you'd click on that link and sponsor me, it would mean a lot to me.
When I went to Clarion West, in 2006, I was in academic transition and my financial situation was pretty grim. I'd graduated from my MA program in December, and my PhD program in Miami wasn't starting up until August. In the interim, I'd very reluctantly moved back to East Lansing for the semester. I was substitute-teaching and putting away the money that I could, but, Jesus, it wasn't much. (Substitute-teaching, btw, is an unmitigated joy. You wake up ungodly early in the morning, wait for the phone call or troll the district website to see if you can snatch up work for the day before anyone else in the army of desperate subs does, make some depressing calculations about whether to cross your personal red lines for the sake of getting paid--mine were "nothing that says 'Special Ed Behaviorial Issues' and nothing at the crazy-ass, discipline-obsessed ‘Leadership Academy’ charter school downtown"--and then you're in the car driving out to some school in the middle of nowhere to apply everything you've learned in your far-too-many-years-of-higher-education to the difficult and demanding task of following a lesson plan that, at least half the time, consists of turning the lights on and off, locking and un-locking the doors, taking attendance and pressing "play" on the VCR.) So that was the job situation.
But I was writing like crazy. After a long dry stretch--basically from my second year of high school to my second year of graduate school--in which I’d convinced myself that I was incapable of writing a decent paragraph of English prose, I’d finally churned out a story in the summer of ’05. Between then and the following summer I wrote fourteen more. When I sent that first one--a story about smoky bars, bad drugs and trippy multi-colored demons called “How To Light A Cigar”--to my older sister, she sent me (a) hands-down the most useful crit that I’ve ever gotten on anything, and (b) an e-mail in which she said, among other things, “y’know, if you ever wanted to apply to Clarion, I’m sure this would get you in.”
At the time, I laughed that off--I knew perfectly well that I wasn't anywhere *near* ready for that yet--but the seed had been planted, and I kept thinking about it. And reading over the Clarion and Clarion West web-sites. And obsessively reading every old blog entry I could find by anyone who’d gone. And thinking....shit, I need to do this.
So I applied. I got in. I didn’t have anything like as much money as I needed. I did a bit of on-line fundraising. That helped. I borrowed some money from people close to me. That helped a lot
. But a huge, crucial chunk of what I needed, a really ridiculous amount of my tuition, came from the scholarship fund. If not for that, I would not have been able to go.
You know how they say that you can’t solve problems by throwing money at them? Bullshit. Some problems can only
be solved by throwing money at them.
So, please, throw some money at the next guy who gets into Clarion and can’t afford it by sponsoring me
or one of the other participating writers, or just making a donation elsewhere on the site.
(2) On a more selfish note, I was happy to discover this
today, from a blog entry a couple months back from Eric Naone.
“I said that I might talk about the stories that I selected for the notable stories list for the Million Writers Award. The first thing that comes to mind is how incredibly impressed I was with Atomjack. I’ve loved the site for a long time, and have written about it here before. Atomjack’s editors nominated these three stories for the Million Writers Award:
Story 1: ‘Monkey Heaven’ by Sam J. Miller http://atomjackmagazine.com/10/monkeyheaven.html
Story 2: ‘T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel’ by Ben Burgis http://atomjackmagazine.com/11/tshirtstentacles.html
Story 3: ‘Swimming Pool of the Universe’ by Nick Cole http://atomjackmagazine.com/11/swimmingpool.html
“Now, keep in mind that when I was reading nominations I was sleep-deprived and drowning in words to the point that I wasn’t even sure if I liked fiction anymore. Then be impressed when I tell you that I loved every single one of these stories, to the point that I kept changing which one I put on my final selections. In the end, I chose ‘Swimming Pool of the Universe.’ But both of the others spent some time on my top ten list. I was gratified to see that ‘Monkey Heaven’ was selected by other judges, and sorry that ‘T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel’ missed out.
“Obviously, Atomjack has an overall vibe that really works for me, but I loved each story for its own particular qualities...
“....‘T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel’ was refreshing to me because it deals with politics without being pedantic or preaching to the choir. It’s funny and well-written, and it doesn’t give easy answers. To me, this was a pleasant contrast to Joseph Bates‘ ‘How We Made a Difference,’ which was nominated by the editors of Identity Theory (and did end up on the notable stories list, though I did not select it). ‘Difference’ also aimed for humor, but I felt that the humor came out self-satisfied, and that the story would appeal only to someone who was already liberal (for the record, I am liberal). ‘Tentacles,’ on the other hand, though political and perhaps liberal-leaning, is going to make anyone a little uncomfortable, which I think is a good thing. And the heroine, a conspiracy theorist, is too whacky to command my complete sympathy, but is too appealing to be completely dismissed. I think ‘Tentacles’ is about the unknown at the heart of politics, and I find that a more respectful position than that of ‘Difference.’ So, ‘Tentacles’ was robbed. By me, apparently, since I could have placed it on the list.”
|Saturday, June 20th, 2009|
|No Flower In The Hair, Though, Thank You Very Much
After a long, mostly sleepless night on planes and in airports, I'm in San Francisco now. Met up with my brother for lunch, now holed up in a coffee shop working on the index for the "New Waves In The Philosophy Of Mathematics" anthology.
I started reading The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
on the plane, and read a bit more while taking the airtrain to the BART and then heading downtown. Nice to read passages like...
"Walt shut off the TV, rose, and walked barefoot to the window; he drew the shades, saw out then onto the warm sparkling early-morning San Francisco street, the hills and white houses. This was Saturday morning and he did not have to go to his job down in Palo Alto at Ampex Corporation; instead--and this rang nicely in his mind--he had a date with his girl, Pat Christensen, who had a modern little condo apt over on Potrero Hill.
"It was always Saturday."
...and be able to look up from my book and see hills and white houses and whatnot through the train window.
|Saturday, June 6th, 2009|
|New Story, Diet Soap Interview
Just finished writing a new short story (actually ended up in that annoying gray area between long stories and short novellas) called "Which Way The Wind Blows," which was heavily inspired by reading Harvey Pekar's graphic history of SDS. A short excerpt:
When I wake up, the house stinks of grass being smoked and spagetti being cooked. House rules, all decisions are made by consensus, all chores rotate, and all the residents, guys and girls alike, have an equal share in the cooking. A lot of us never so much as boiled a pot of water before we got to Michigan State, and who has time to learn anything complicated, so we all eat spaghetti at least three nights a week.
The smell is the first thing I notice, then the Dylan record playing in the background and finally the hard floor under me. Reluctantly, I open my eyes.
I’m in the kitchen. Gray early evening light comes in through the window. Rich and Mike stand around the counter passing a fat joint back and forth between them while Mike stirs the spaghetti. Rich’s chick Nancy sits cross-legged a few fet away from me on the floor, painting a banner. So far, it says 'Fuck Johnson! End The Wa.'
“I’m personally against the Wa,” I mutter.
“It lives.” Nancy doesn’t bother looking up from her work. “We can cancel that call to the coroner.”
“Cool,” Rich says. “Pretty sure the phone company cut us off again anyway.”
Mike gives the spaghetti a lazy stir with the big wooden ladle. “You OK, man? With everything?”
“Sure.” I move to a sitting position. I still have that washed-out post-psychedelic feeling, like everything's fine and the world is way more beautiful than it was before you started to trip. It takes me a few seconds to remember what Mike’s talking about.
“Yeah,” I lie. “I’m fine.”
Meanwhile, I just got interviewed by Doug Lain for the Diet Soap podcast. The conversation ranged over, among other things, philosophy and logic and socialism and the political role of fiction and the coming alien invasion and the pro's and con's of putting philosophy aside entirely and just devoting one's time getting stoned and reading comic books, so I have no idea how much of it's going to make the final cut when the podcast goes up in a couple of months, but it was certainly a fun conversation. I think Doug's also going to be reading Sing, Goddess, Sing Me To The Stars
as part of the podcast.
Speaking of which, I just noticed this
review of Flytrap #10 from Green Man Review, which includes the following:
"'Frequent Flier Miles,' by Greg van Eekhout, is tragic, but with a gentle tragedy. Ben Burgis' 'Sing, Goddess, Sing Me to the Stars' is also tragic, but much less gently, dealing as it does with imperialism and war and the terminal loneliness of being surrounded by otherness."
See, everyone? No fluffy pulp sf hack I! My fiction's all about the terminal loneliness of being surrounded by otherness. So there.
|Tuesday, May 26th, 2009|
|Yet Another WisCon
Just got back to the palm trees late last night. So, let's see, what did happen in Madison last weekend?
Got in late Thursday after a bizarrely insane run-around at various airports. At least the last eight times I flew, the procedure was very simple--find a cheap ticket on-line, buy it, spend three seconds waiting for a machine to open up at the check-in counter, swipe my card, get my boarding passes and head over to security. No fuss, no muss, nothing had to be printed out or discussed with anyone. This time, well, not so much.
My Expedia itinerary said "Continental Flight Whatever-It-Was On It," and so, naive person that I am, I tried to check in at the Continental line. When I got to the front of the line and swiped my card in the machine, it said "reservation requires special handling." So I duly saw a gate agent, who lo, asked me where I was going--Madison via Detroit I said, and she said, "oh, no, you must be mistaken. We don't fly to Detroit. Must be some other airline." Said I, "I'm pretty sure it's not." Said she, "no, no, you should check your paperwork." And this I did, loading up the Expedia e-ticket on my phone and, when I could get back to the front of the line, showing it to a different gate agent, who told me, "oh, that must be Northwest." (I don't say that it didn't say "Operated by Northwest" somewhere on the e-ticket. I will say I couldn't find it.) So I went to the place where, according to the airport map, the Northwest counter was supposed to be, and found it abandoned. "Curiouser and curiouser," I thought, and eventually found someone who said that Northwest had moved to the Delta counter. So I headed to the Delta counter, where eventually I was confronted with yet another machine, I swiped my card in it, and it informed me that I was too close to my flight time to register, and proceeded to a screen where I was presented with various options for later flights I could switch into...only all of them said "unavailable" on them. Not sure what else to do, I stood in the Northwest check-in line for about forty-five minutes (possibly slightly longer...I didn't start timing right away), at which point I could talk to a Northwest gate agent, an older gentleman who cheerfully told me that he could barely navigate the computer system and frequently had to call his supervisor for help. At which point....well....you get the idea. There were many further shuntings back and forth between counters, delayed connections, "sorry, sir, I know what it says on your itinerary, but I don't see any reservation associated with that ticket in our system" shennanigans, and so on to an extent that may rival what goes on at the Franz Kafka International Airport
, and at the end of it all, I got into Madison not a five in the afternoon as planned but at one in the morning.
On the plus side, while just about to board my flight in Minneapolis (don't ask), I ran into tinaconolly
, who was on the same flight, and caught up for a minute. Next morning ran into various and sundry acquaintances, had some pretty good non-Cuban-but-non-Starbucks coffee, which is kind of a novelty for me after three years in South Florida and had lunch with not only tinaconolly
. Hung out in the afternoon doing Friday afternoon WisConny stuff, then ran into velourmane
and her entourage in the hotel bar, then when they all split off, had dinner at some Indian place with the Tinas and the insanely talented Heather Lindsley, who I think was amused in a what-the-fuck-are-you-on-about sort of way when I told her that I assign her short story "Just Do It" in Intro to Philosophy classes since (although it's obviously not what was on her mind when she wrote it) it happens to be an excellent illustration of manipulator-based objections to traditional compatibilism.
(Causal determinism is the claim that every physical event--including all human actions--is caused by previous physical events plus the laws of nature. Compatibilism is the position that even if causal determinism is true, we still have free will...the two are compatible. After all, even if you believe that there's an unbreakable chain of cause and effect going straight from the Big Bang to the neurons firing in Ghandi's brain when he decided to fast to protest British imperialism in India, and an equally unbreakable chain of cause and effect going straight from the big bang to a mechanical failure in Bob's plane causing Bob to wander around the mountains for days without being able to find any food, we still want to make an intuitive distinction between the *reason* why Bob isn't eating and the *reason* why Ghandi isn't eating. Determined or not, the latter still looks like a choice. Traditional compatibilism tries to capture this intuition with the idea that as long as we're acting in accordance with our desires, and, if we had desired to do otherwise, nothing would have stopped us from acting on *those* desires. The obvious objection, illustrated beautifully by the "chemical advertising" darts in "Just Do It," is that if you have desires forcibly implanted by an external agent, that still technically fits the definition. Of course, more sophisticated forms of compatibilism seek to plug up that hole--and I'm actually extremely sympathetic to the underlying project--but it's still an interesting point.)
In any case, on Saturday morning, I did my "Sex, Drugs, Magic & Rock'n'Roll" reading with Sarah G. Micklem and Fred Schepartz. The scheduling was terrible (we were up against Ellen Klages' GoH reading) so attendance was not exactly great, but I'm still glad I did it, if only because I got a chance to hear Sarah and Fred's selections, both of which I loved a lot. I'll definitely be looking for both books when they come out.
That afternoon, I did the Codex meet-up, which was fun, and had a chance to chat with a bunch of interesting people, then went to the excellent "Taboo II" reading. After that, did the usual running-into-people-at-hotel-bar-wanderi
ng-off-with-a-group-to-dinner thing, and ultimately ended up at the 6th Floor parties in the evening. Did my official mea culpa to Ted Chiang about the Chinese Room Argument
(much as I hate to admit it, on further reflection, it is a very silly argument), talked with him and some random folks about our mutual love of Ian MacDonald's India-in-2047 stuff and got him to come to my paraconsistent logic presentation the next day. Somewhere in there also spent forty minutes or so chatting with a lovely redhead whose name I'm ashamed to admit that I can't actually remember, loaned her my iPod speaker so they could have music at her party, chatted with Ben the Greater
about the incompleteness theorem for individual happiness, helped Nisi clear a room, got the speaker back, and turned in.
I woke up on Saturday morning feeling inexplicably dehydrated, went to Michelangelo's for some coffee then went to my "Five Months Of The Obama Administration" panel, which as you might expect, was pretty lively and well-attended. I think I was the only panelist who hadn't actually volunteered for the Obama campaign, and a couple months ago when I found out I was on the panel, I was a bit apprehensive about it, but I think the tide of liberal opinion has shifted somewhat in my direction in the last few weeks for a variety of reasons (the torture photo cover-up, the announcement that some of the Gitmo detainees will continue to be held indefinitely without charges or lawyers, the embrace of military commissions, etc., etc., etc.), so, although I was definitely the book-end guy on the far left of the spectrum of views expressed on the panel, I didn't sound as crazily off-page as I might have under different circumstances. The points that I tried to hammer on every time I got a a chance were:
(1) Refusal to prosecute recent war crimes and blatant violations of the Constitution for the sake of 'looking forward instead of back' sends a horribly dangerous precedent. The message it sends is that the executive branch is above the law, and if it breaks it, the officials responsible have nothing to worry about, since whoever comes in next will, like Ford after Nixon and now Obama after Bush, let you off scott-free for the sake 'healing' and 'not being divisive' (who knew enforcing the law was divisive?) and 'moving forwardd.' You can do what you feel you need to do in the confidence that you will never face legal consequences for your unlawful behavior.
(2) Related to (1), we should all be embarrassed that we now live in a country whose President has publicly endorsed the "just following orders" defense for CIA thugs who tied people up and slammed them against walls, subjected them to simulated downing dozens of times over, kept them up for days and days without sleep, stuck their heads in closed boxes with insects (which, btw, substituting insects for rats, is pretty much what happened to Winston Smith in Room 101) and so on. The rule of law doesn't mean you have to follow the law unless you can get an in-house lawyer to write you a letter saying that breaking it isn't breaking it, and for no one in the equation to get prosecuted because we're 'moving forward' is beyond obscene.
(3) This preventive detention law Obama was talking about on Thursday night, whereby if the government is really really sure you're a terrorist, but somehow not in a position to convince a jury, they can lock you up for the rest of your life without charging you with anything? It should scare the shit out of you. No matter how much you love Obama and trust him to do the right thing, that's not the point. If you give the executive branch this power now, it'll still have it in 2016 when Sarah Palin or someone gets elected President. Not good.
(4) Obama says the only health care plan "not on the table" is single-payer, Canadian-style national health care. This is supposed to "centrist." That's pretty confusing, given that polls consistently show that most Americans support single-payer.
(5) The bailout was justified on the grounds that the banks were "too big to fail." Of course, we used to have laws that prevented them from getting quite so big, until a lot of the people on Obama's economic team helped push through ridiculous de-regulation in the 90s. For them to turn around now and say that their buddies in the financial industry are "too big to fail" is a bit like someone who killed their parents begging for mercy because they're an orphan.
(6) Assume for the sake of argument that my assessment of the Obama administration is totally wrong and the maximally optimistic one is correct....all goes well, we have a real chance for good, positive progressive change in the next 4-8 years. Fine. Even if that's true, the best thing you can do to sabotage those hopes and make them less likely is to keep your disappointments quiet, give him the benefit of the doubt, etc. If you do that, the only angry opposition the administration has to compromise with is the one on its right.
Anyway, that was the panel, and it was fun. Afterwards, grabbed lunch at a Mexican place with Brad Lyau, and chatted about the very cool-sounding academic book he's writing about French science fiction after World War II. Went to a good reading whose name escapes me at 1, then watched a bit of the Red Wings game in the hotel bar while sipping Laphraoig, working on my presentation notes for the paraconsistent logic talk and chatting with various folks about their respective Clarion classes...all of which, I have to say, makes for a combination of pleasures I don't normally get to experience all at once. And hey, the Wings won the game and everything, although I was in a different room going on about paraconsistent logic during the Third Period.
The presentation itself went surprisingly well. It was called "The Sky Above Baker Street Is Not Green: How To Reason Paraconsistently About Inconsistent Fiction." It was basically designed as Paraconsistent Logic 101 for non-specialists, with an eye towards one application of obvious interest at a fiction conference...fictional worlds often contain internal inconsistencies, but despite the fact that contradictions entail anything and everything in classical logic, we don't, for example, conclude from Watson's war wound being on his shoulder, and also on his hip (and hence, given that there's just the one of them, not on his shoulder) that the sky above Baker Street is green. Spiderman comics have often been so riddled with inconsistencies that they give readers "No Prizes" in letter columns for resolving them, but we don't conclude from any unresolved inconsistencies that Peter Parker and Norman Osbourne are secretly the same person. Etc., etc., etc. Now, what you want to make of this in terms of larger issues about classical logic vs. paraconsistent logic, One True Logic vs. logical pluralism and so on and so forth is a larger issue which I have some detailed thoughts about that I didn't get into in this context, since I just wanted to lay out the basic issue. It wasn't crazy well-attended, but there were 10 or 11 people, including Ted Chiang and Brad Lyau, and the Q&A was surprisingly lively and on-point.
The rest of the day was the usual dinner-then-bar-then-6th-floor-parties pattern, high points of all of which included:
(1) Arranging to be theerinth
's back-up husband if things didn't work out with the current guy.
(2) Making mkhobson
actually taste-test a few different gins, since in the state I was in, I was morally offended by people who just order gin-and-tonic without specifying which kind. (I mean, c'mon, they could bring you *anything.*) Which, ok, is some pretty obnoxious shit to get on someone about, but she at least seemed to enjoy the taste test itself, and had some perceptive stuff to say afterwards about the differences between the flavors.
(3) Getting to meet some folks from the most recent Clarion West class.
(4) Having a long, sprawling conversation about the philosophy of logic with Ben Rosenbaum, with detours into reliabilist epistemology, the Gettier Problem, care ethics, phil of science, theism/atheism, time travel consistency and so on. Two and a half hours in, I had to cut it off to go to sleep before I slipped into total incoherence, but in the morning, he came up to me and gleefully announced that, having thought about the conversation, he now had Something New To Argue With Ted Chiang About, since he was pretty sure Ted's a logical monist (i.e. someone who believes that systems of logic can correctly represent the singular way things really are) whereas he's a hard-core pluralist. "We will be calling you in as a technical consultant."
So that was pretty much WisCon. Got in late last night after a couple of much more reasonable flights, which actually included having time to sip a martini in a lounge in the Atlanta airport and getting to watch a couple of episodes of "Entourage" on the in-flight entertainment system on the flight back to Miami.
...and now, back to work. Pretty sure there was a dissertation or something I'm supposed to doing.
|Friday, May 15th, 2009|
|My Final WisCon Schedule
Saturday, 10-11:15, Conference 2
"Sex, Drugs, Magic & Rock'n'Roll"* (Reading)
Ben Burgis, Sarah G. Micklem, Fred Schepartz
Sunday 10-11:15, 623
"Five Months Into the Obama Administration" (Panel)
"Five months of the Obama Administration—what’s the grade? The first 100 days are behind us (we’ll be at roughly 150 by the start of WisCon 33). Is he fighting the Man, or has he become the Man?** What do you see happening, politically between WisCon 33 and WisCon 34?"
Matthew H. Austern, Alyson L. Abramowitz, Ben Burgis, Rich Novotney, Betsy Urbik
Sunday 4-5:15, Conference 3
"WisCon Geographies / How to Reason Paraconsistently About Inconsistent Fiction" (Academic Papers)
"1) Wiscon Geographies In light of recent discussions about WisCon's growth and the 1000–member registration limit at the Concourse, can we identify locations that might be able to support the creation of a new feminist sf con? Using maps and related analysis of the geographic distribution of WisCon attendees, and considering how we experience WisCon as a place, the paper will highlight regions with the highest density of WisCon folk and consider why we come to Madison year after year. The presentation will conclude with a group discussion of what criteria might be relevant for (theoretical) site selection. 2) How to Reason Paraconsistently About Inconsistent Fiction If you ever took a symbolic logic class in college, what you were taught was Classical Logic (CL). In CL, everything follows from a contradiction. If we used CL to reason about the world of the Sherlock Holmes stories, that would mean that since Watson’s war wound is both on his shoulder and on his leg (and hence not on his shoulder), it follows that Moriarty is a giant insect and the sky above Baker Street is green. Paraconsistent logics like the 'Logic of Paradox' (LP) reign in these inferences. These logics also have surprising real–life applications in Computer Science."
Ben Burgis, Heather H. Whipple***
*Not 100% sure which story I'll be reading yet, but the panel title doesn't exactly narrow it down.
**Three guesses which position I'll be taking?
***She'll be talking about paraconsistent logic and I'll be talking about WisCon geographies. Obviousy.
|Wednesday, May 6th, 2009|
|Well, That's Just Annoying (Stonecoast Follow-Up)
In the last entry, I mentioned rushing my submissions for this summer's MFA workshops into the mail at the last possible second after madly revising the story currently entitled "So Green And Sticky It Makes You Want To Cry."
I still think that, as far as the substantive what-happens-in-the-story part goes, those revisions were all to the good, but on the line-level....yikes. I took another look at it just after and realized that the revisions introduced all kinds of sentence-structure awkwardnesses and word-use redundancies that weren't there before. ("So," the voice of my conscience says, "have we learned a little lesson about punctuality from this experience? Might have been good to do your substantive revisions in time to give yourself a day or two to go back through it and line-edit, hmm?" "Yes, yes," I reply, "my problem was never that I didn't acknowledge in an abstract sense that better time managment would be a good and helpful thing.") Anyway, here's hoping that, in the last two residencies, I've established enough Not Completely Illiterate street cred that this won't make everyone wonder what someone so hopeless is doing there, and that I won't, I don't know, be forced to wear a dunce cap during workshop sessions or anything like that.
UPDATE (5/15): Not sure if I was being paranoid before or complacent now, but... I got the packet of workshop manuscripts in the mail last night, and neurotically re-read the bits I'd revised in "So Green and Sticky..." I still think that the subsequent re-revisions were all to the good, but still, the trouble passages read a lot less awkwardly than I'd remembered. I think.
|Thursday, April 30th, 2009|
|MFA & Concert Tickets
So, aside from a ridiculous amount of grading, I did two things today.
The first was to buy a couple of tickets to an Of Montreal concert in Oakland on July 24th, since that's during a period of the summer when I'll be in San Francisco anyway, visiting my little brother.
The second was to prepare and send off the two stories for my MFA workshop in Maine this summer. One of them was Part I of the superhero novella I finished a couple of weeks ago, "Jack Shadows and the Scarlet Warrior." The other was a revised version of the story that used to be called "The High Road," but which is now entitled "So Green and Sticky It Makes You Want To Cry."
I was finishing up revisions on "So Green and Sticky..." right up until about 5 PM, at which point I went to a different building so I could print all this out, double check the guidelines a few times and get down to the South Miami Post Office, where I shelled out a depressing amount of money on an express mail envelope which the cashier assured me should get to Maine by noon tomorrow. This is important, since tomorrow is the hard deadline for the manuscripts getting to the MFA office.
When I finished up at the post office, it kind of hit me....
I send off something for an important academic deadline less than 24 hours before it's due, but I buy concert tickets months in advance.
What the f--- is wrong with me?
|Tuesday, April 21st, 2009|
|Lovecraft, 4/20 And The Social Role of Speculative Literature
If you grew up in the midwestern heartland, you were probably raised on the urban legend that the holiday celebrated yesterday owes it's origins to "420" being used as a police code for pot possession.
Definitely not true. There is, in fact, no evidence that any police department, ever, has used "420" as a code for anything of the kind.
There are at least a few competing theories of the holiday's origin. My very favorite--and since first hearing it, I've gone back and read the story to verify that's in there--is that it comes from H.P. Lovecraft's short story "In The Walls of Eryx." It's not one of Lovecraft's best stories, but it's fun enough, and there's something kind of cool about reading an old-style space opera story *by Lovecraft.* In any case, in the story, the protagonist loses track of time under the influence of a "mirage plant" but, when he looks at his watch, sees that it's only 4:20.
Now, this is definitely the earliest instance of the association of the time with anything pot-like, decades before anything else that might have influenced the 4/20 association. Of course, we are talking about Lovecraft here, and it's very unlikely that he intended the pot association....he died when that sort of thing would have been associated with the sort of Shifty Negro Jazz Men who old H.P. would have wanted nothing to do with....but it does seem like the sort of thing that might have tickled the hell out of giggling counter-culture types reading anthologies of Lovecraft stories thirty or forty years later. "Dude, check it out....mirage-plant..."
OK, you say, so that's both technically possible and incredibly cool, but without any actual evidence of a causal connection between the story and the association of 420 and pot, isn't it more likely to be a goofy coincidence? To which I respond, "fine, what's your theory?"
Well, you might tell me, the alternate theory is that in the early 70s, in San Rafael, California, after-school detention got out at 4:20 in the afternoon, so it became the time that high school kids met to smoke under the Pasteur statue, the association was born, the kids moved to different parts of the country and the meme was spread. In support of your stupid boring San Rafael theory, you might point me to Snopes, to an investigation by "High Times" magazine, and to an article in the New York Times.
Fine, I say, the stupid boring theory is probably...well...true
, but the Lovecraft thing is much cooler, and that's the one I fully intend to keep on spreading around.
Meanwhile, this comic
is just awesome.
|Sunday, April 19th, 2009|
On Saturday, under the bad influence of a good friend (who obviously had to twist my arm to get me to come along), I had a ridiculously fun, slightly juvenile day at the mall, watching the Red Wings game*, going to a movie (not even going to admit to which one), and drinking a bit, but mostly just spending hours playing stuff like "PacMan" and "Frogger" at Gameworks. Coming near the end of a stupidly busy semester, this was exactly
what the doctor ordered.
Then I woke up this morning, happy and refreshed, made some fancy-ass coffee** and brought my laptop out to the pool to check my e-mail, which meant that the day started with me finding out that I'd sold my short story "Broken in the Shadow of Mind" to Afterburn SF. This is the one that my Clarion classmate Ian called an "AIpocalypse" story, and I always liked that.
It's been far too long since I've sold anything, so always always, it's a breath of fresh air. It won't be coming out until February, but in a weird, slightly irrational way, I kind of like that....having an upcoming publication always feels good.
Anyway, here's a quick sneak preview of the story:
I downed the last of my mojito, slammed the glass on the counter and did another quick visual scan of the club.
“No Janesians in here,” a lightly-accented female voice told me. “I already checked.”
I laughed, despite myself, and turned around. She was a slim, dark-eyed girl with skin the color that coffee turns after you add the second packet of cream. She was wearing this sparkling, skin-tight synth suit that almost hurt my eyes to look at.
She waited while I got composed enough to introduce myself and ask if I could buy her a drink. I could, and her name was Lisa-Roja Chavez. She pronounced that name like she was testing each syllable in her mouth as she spoke.
I held up two fingers to the bartender. He nodded and mixed us two new mojitos.
Lisa-Roja shifted position as she took her drink. The synth-suit captured the motion in exquisite shimmering from her shoulder to her waistline. “Just out?”
“Already sick of people asking you that, I'll bet.”
I laughed and took another sip. Definitely starting to feel buzzed now. “That would be an affirmative, yes.”
She laughed, and it was like tinkling glass.
“How about you?”
“Almost a year. Infantry,” she added quickly, “but my ex-boyfriend was in the Special Forces. Let's just say that you got painted in the same place and I recognized the brush strokes.”
I wasn't sure I liked that analogy, but a second later she ever-so-casually grazed my arm with her finger tips and I decided I liked whatever she had to say...
**Not the brand name, but it should be.