Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Just World Theory, or How Religion Punishes Victims

The just world theory, essentially, says that we like to think of the world as a just and fair place, and so rationalize any evidence to the contrary.

In an article for Santa Clara University, two ethicists put it thus:
According to the hypothesis, people have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve. Such a belief plays an important function in our lives since in order to plan our lives or achieve our goals we need to assume that our actions will have predictable consequences. Moreover, when we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we quickly act to restore justice by helping the victim or we persuade ourselves that no injustice has occurred.
This theory is used to explain some sickening reactions to misfortune. You may have heard that a woman who was raped was "asking for it" by the way she was dressed, by where she chose to be, or any other reason. This is disgusting. It's sickening, and it makes me mad.

And it makes me think.

There is a real, concrete philosophy that acknowledges the just world theory - and agrees with it. That philosophy is called religion. Nearly all religions explicitly support the just world theory. They tell us that the world is just and orderly, whether or not it seems that way to us.

"Everything happens for a reason." You hear this a lot.
Does everything happen for a reason, or does the narrative of our lives always follow the events as they actually occur? We're resilient animals, and there isn't one path toward happiness. Good things make us happy, and bad things make us strong - regardless of what happens, we wouldn't be who we are if things didn't happen the way they did.

What I'm getting at, is that our focus on narrative makes it easy for us to find order where there is none. Perhaps that is ok. What is emphatically not ok is any belief system that encourages us to believe that there are no victims. That encourages us to believe that there was a good reason these particular people were targeted for tragedy. There is not. They were not. To believe otherwise is to punish people who have already had awful things happen to them.

What would it be like to be told that the man who raped you is going free? More than that, what would it be like to be told that, really, you deserved what he did to you? That, somehow, you caused this thing to happen - this event that was traumatic partly because of the loss of control you experienced.

I am lucky enough to have never been in this position, but if I ever am, I hope that your belief in a god does not lead you to feel that "everything happens for a reason."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sometimes, This is How I Feel

I'm not always sure what I'm doing is art.

Credit goes to Silhouette Masterpiece Theatre.

The Only Difference Between Men and Boys

Cross-posted on Air Theremin

For your edification, Nicholas Ozment explains.

This work of short fiction is one of many posted on Every Day Fiction: "Short fiction in your inbox, daily!"

It's a cool concept, and I think I'm going to sign up. Who knows how many good stories I could discover that way?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lies That are True

Whatever happened to Jeffery Harrell?

He used to have a great page of stories online and a blog, both of which appear to be AWOL.

His book is here - and I may buy it, because the stories are wonderful.

This appears to be his twitter - which offers no clues to his site's disappearance.

If I can't get some information on the site, I'll have to take it off of my blogroll. Sad face.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


First off, hello again! I have been fairly busy and have not blogged here in some time, especially given my new status as a blogger at Air Theremin.

I've been having some conversations recently about religion, and a new opinion has blossomed from these talks.

If your religion features a hell, it is the most important thing about your beliefs.

We can talk for hours about loving thy neighbor and turning the other cheek and, eventually, basking in the presence of god; None of these things approach the importance of avoiding eternal agony.

How can you claim a peaceful religion if any sin or collection of sins committed over the course of one mortal life can be (and will be) punished by a sentence of perpetual, unending pain?

Furthermore, if you accept the existence of hell as true, what could be more important in your life than avoiding it? Yeah, paradise sounds good, but I'll settle for avoiding eternal torment.

Interestingly, this change in my thoughts has been accompanied by an increase in my understanding of Evangelicals and a proportional decrease in my approval of religious moderates.

If you believe, truly believe that your secular friend's soul is in danger - that if she does not accept Jesus Christ as her savior, she will burn in agony forever, then I would expect you to do everything you can to aid her salvation, up to and including alienating her as a friend.

What is your friendship compared with saving her from hellfire?

Which is why my opinion of moderates has also changed. You hear a lot of talk of tolerance, but is that really the best way to frame what is going on? Moderates tolerate your beliefs, but what does that say about any who believe in hell? That keeping social interaction smooth is more important to them than attempting to help someone avoid infinite suffering? If even one person could be helped to avoid such a ghastly fate, wouldn't the price in social capital be worth it?

So, those of you who believe hell exists - are you tolerant? Do you care so little for your fellow man? Or, deep inside, do you think that maybe hell doesn't exist after all?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Air Theremin

I've been invited to blog with the folks at Air Theremin. They've got a nice little community going on, and I've accepted. You should check out the blog.

I plan to keep blogging here, but some of the stuff will be cross-posts.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

All The Books in the World

A good graphic work here.

I've been getting more into comics and graphic novels, and this story was touching enough to share, if a little simple, a little flat.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Women From Words

I don't know what to call this - flash fiction perhaps?

Regardless, I was fairly disinterested to start, but found myself drawn in by c.vance's personification of each author's prose.

There were definitely bits that didn't fit, but overall I was impressed - or at least impressed enough to go back and browse the fare at Word Riot.


Friday, September 5, 2008


I'm not generally a political blogger, but I've seen a particular lie repeated over and over as of late.

McCain has an ad out claiming that Obama is going to be a tax and spend liberal, with huge deficits. To be fair, neither candidate is going to balance the budget, despite the implication of the McCain ad.

This chart, published in the Washington Post, breaks down both of their tax plans.

Go back and look at it again - and pay special attention to the three bars that amount to 60% of the population. Not one of those income brackets gets even a 1% tax cut from McCain, while they all get between 2.4% and 5.5% from Obama.

So, it's your call whose plan you like better, just don't buy the lies.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Little Brother Update

I'm well into Little Brother now (I don't know exactly how far), and I admit to being somewhat underwhelmed at first. Hype can do that. The introduction is definitely not the strongest feature of the story, and I have some critiques about everything I've read so far, but...

Well, let me give you some background.
If you speak to me while I am reading, I may be grumpy. The grumpier I am when I respond to you, the more engaging the novel you've distracted me from.

I was pretty grumpy when my Little Brother reading session was interrupted.

So. When I put out a review griping about all the things wrong with the book (which I probably will), remember that I quite enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Doctorow, Finally

I'm finally reading one of Cory Doctorow's novels, Little Brother. Anyone who has been paying attention to web fiction knows of Doctorow, and I'll soon be joining those of you who have read his work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sometimes We All Feel Ineffective

When presented with issues that really matter, when presented with true human suffering, like genocide in Darfur the shipbreakers in India, or the downtrodden in Afghanistan, it's tough to know how to react. You may, like me, develop a literal ache in your gut.

Frankly, what is happening to so many of these people makes me angry - angry at those who have destroyed these people's lives, and angry at the rest of the world for not doing something.

And right there I stop in my tracks.

What, exactly, am I doing to aid these folks? Well, I've written letters to my representatives and I've always made a point to raise awareness, much to the annoyance of my peers. But really, what action have I taken that prevents a child from starving to death?

I haven't done one single thing to put food in the mouth of a child, or to provide clean water to a refugee. And, frankly, the amount of money I could donate is pitiful. While my $25 donation might make me feel better, and it might keep a child alive for a few weeks, it's really a drop of water in the desert. I'm not just fighting a losing battle, I'm fighting a hopeless battle. How, HOW do I make any long term difference?

Well, I came across something today that gives me a little hope. A company called Kiva is giving you and I the opportunity to fund entrepreneurs in the developing world.

This is all done by offering microloans. In this case, the loans are financed by you. That is, you provide as little as $25 in capital for a poor entrepreneur, and you will get that money back. Can you put 50 bucks on hold for a little while? Excellent.

The best thing about this plan is that it moves people toward a sustainable future, not continually based on aid or charity. My $25 might be part of making a family stable for years to come, and that, I think, is an admirable goal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tales of Ascension

I've been reading Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman, and I've been continually assaulted by the feeling that I've read something much like this before. No, I'm not thinking of The Forever War, by the same author, though that was an excellent novel, and one I heartily recommend.
I've realized that it reminds me of Technogenesis, by Syne Mitchell

As always, it's entirely possible that I am being far less original that I imagine, and far more derivative, or at least repetitive. However, an idea, new to me, at least, has been developing slowly in the stew of my consciousness. As usual, the idea relates to an unexpected commonality between disparate things. I suppose, as science fiction novels, the subjects of my stewing aren't really terribly disparate... but enough of this. Let me actually get to the point.

The Forever War, Technogenesis, and others (perhaps Childhood's End by Clarke, or Blood Music by Bear, and certainly The Changeling Plague, also by Mitchell) are what I would like to call "tales of ascension". Generally these novels could be considered singularity fiction, but I contend that these examples are something else as well, and something worth keeping in our collective mental libraries.

I call them tales of ascension because they are hopeful but deeply frightening stories of the future of the human race. The mechanisms are different, from disease to gengineering, to AI, to alien races, but the result is the same: a fundamentally changed human race. A changed humanity, and one that is greater than that which we currently experience. Often there is an ascension to a higher or group consciousness. Sometimes humanity becomes one undifferentiated unit. Sometimes we are provided the opportunity to move beyond the current boundaries of our bodies and brains. Regardless, the hopeful tone of this huge accomplishment is always tempered by the sheer scariness of the new. One real problem with ascension is that in order to move up, you must abandon your current position. Most of us experience that fear of change (regardless of its apparent positive impact) in our own lives, and I think it is this personal anxiety about change that informs our visceral emotional reaction to a species-wide change on such a high level.

When expanded to the species, however, the issue takes on philosophical overtones. What, for instance, can we call this post-ascension species? Are they still human? In many cases, the ascension is not presented as a sudden event, but rather as something gradual, affecting some before others, or phasing in through our natural generations. In these cases, how do the unchanged react to the ascended?


Well, I'm not a writer. YOU go write it. Let me know how it goes.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

State of Hypocrisy

I have long condemned Crichton's novel State of Fear as a long, drawn out anti-environmentalist rant poorly disguised as a novel. "Paugh!" I said, (that's to be pronounced phonetically, with the 'augh' involving a stereotypically German level of phlegm.) "Doesn't he have the creativity to write a real work of fiction, instead of a redundant neocon editorial disguised as a thriller?"

Recently, a friend of mine has been actively pursuing my recommendations on novels, particularly the serious reading, as opposed to the fluff. For this reason, I've been confronted with my taste for Dystopian novels, cautionary tales, and social commentary. (Feed, The Handmaid's Tale, and, of course, Fahrenheit 451 number amongst my favorites, in case you were interested).


Yes. While more sophisticated than Crichton's lambast of the environmental movement, each of these novels is, essentially, a rant (or social commentary, if you prefer) delivered via fiction. That is, the novel is a platform for these authors to express their political views. Now, this is somewhat less obvious in my favorite novels, since the politics espoused tend to be somewhat more transcendent than Crichton's 600 page jab. However, literary merit and staying power aside, Crichton and Bradbury appear to be utilizing their fiction in a similar manner - as a platform for their soapbox preachings about social ills.

Can then, the difference between my feelings toward Atwood and Crichton be reduced to mere political differences? My goodness, that makes my earlier criticisms somewhat hypocritical, does it not?

Well, yes and no.

My earlier criticisms are certainly less valid in light of my own literary preferences, but, the more I consider it, the less I think that hypocrisy was my problem (sheesh, rationalize much?). Instead, I appear to have misunderstood exactly what it was about the novel that raised my ire. Obviously it wasn't the politicization of fiction, since that's exactly what some of my favorite novels do. Instead, I'm becoming more convinced that I'm offended by the co-opting of science.

Part of why State of Fear is such a long novel is Crichton's extensive use of footnotes, charts, graphs, etc. They make the novel feel less like a novel, and more like a patronizing speech - thus my original complaint. However, I think my real problem is Crichton's pretension of scientific expertise. I don't think I need to really delve into why such a delusion is foolish as well as pretentious, but there's one part of his novel that really sums it up.

He finishes State of Fear with an afterward. In the afterward Crichton explains to us why the book's heavy-handed message is, in fact, true. So here Crichton is frankly and openly admitting that he believes the thematic basis of his book, a theme that he supports with what is essentially fake evidence.

In fact, Scientist Peter Doran wrote "... our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear."

Hopefully this prolonged rationalization session has been successful. Perhaps I've convinced you, along with myself, that not only am I not hypocritical, but I'm also justified in my righteous indignation.

Take that, Crichton!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Collective Editing?

Some good conversation going on here.

Basically, my take is that the "collective filter" idea as proposed by Lexy is spot on. However, it could be of great benefit to many individual writers (and therefore the web fiction community as a whole) for an editing process to be developed for writers of web fiction.

Yes, there is a certain level of community editing that occurs in the comments of the more successful serials, but small time authors never see it. And, anyway, those comments basically amount to copy editing, and what I'm suggesting is something different.

A good editor helps to fine tune and shape up writing in a multitude of non-grammatical ways. Editing can help an author recognize the relative strengths of his or her work, and how to push those, while minimizing the weaker parts of the manuscript.

Certainly, there are some examples of web fiction readership aiding an author in this way, but in my experience, this isn't the norm. Generally, the author gets some good copy editing alongside some crummy copy editing, and has to sort out the conflicting advice for themselves.

So, what am I suggesting?

I think an editorship collective could be an invaluable tool for web fiction authors. Perhaps the participants could be restricted to authors, or to writers, or other folks who put their words on the web, or perhaps anyone could participate. I certainly have neither the time nor expertise to coordinate something like this, but I would happily support any of you who chose to do so.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

CatchMe Drafts

Somebody shot this link my way. The author only has one story up so far, called "Off Guard," but it's a fairly intriguing entry. It's awfully short for a short story, but a bit long for microfiction (about 600 words). Regardless, it's an odd little tale, and I can't quite remember what it reminds me of.

I'm really not certain I agree with the point it makes about love and relationships, but, then again, I'm not certain the author does either, just the protagonist (antagonist? Like I said, it's a confusing little story).

Off Guard

Friday, May 2, 2008

Winnie and Walter

Warily we wondered what worth was wrapped within "Winnie and Walter."

The entire story is like that. It doesn't seem very impressive until you read all 450 words of it. It's wearying.

Much credit to the unknown 19th century author who generated this gimmicky gem.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

PU update

Lexy now has a Forum up at Pages unbound. I haven't spent too much time there (I've been a leetle bit busy lately), but there do seem to be some good discussions happening already.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Those of you who run your blogs independently should really consider replacing your normal CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) with reCAPTCHA.

reCAPTCHA uses people's responses to their CAPTCHAs to help transcribe old books to text format. Unlike the image formats that you often find old books in (the pdf copies and such), the texts resulting from reCAPTCHA can be copy & pasted and ctrl-F'ed (not to be confused with "F'ed up").

I bring this up for two reasons. First, I've been meaning to for a while, especially since I strongly support their goal, and seriously wish that all my books were compatible with the ctrl-F feature. Second, I just discovered that stumble upon uses reCAPTCHA, which pleases me greatly. I hadn't realized that reCAPTCHA was well enough known to catch the attention of the folks at Stumble.

I would use it myself if I didn't host this blog on Blogger. Speaking of which, how 'bout we switch over to reCAPTCHA, guys?

Monday, March 17, 2008

More on Spaghetti Sauce

I don't know if he reads this blog or not, but shortly after my last post, Jeff Harrell over at Lies That Are True posted about Malcom Gladwell's spaghetti speech at TED.

At first, I was somewhat put off by the title of his post, assuming that it was a negative post criticizing Gladwell's message in his lecture, but I was incorrect.

Instead, what Jeff is doing is suggesting another positive change he would like to see. I'll leave you to read his post yourself, but I will mention that a certain service is the closest we've gotten to his suggestion in the retail world.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Synthesized Happiness, Intellectualism, and the Elite

Watch it.

It'll be interesting to see how many people don't buy it. I do. 100%

In fact, I really love the TED conference. There's so much great stuff going on there, and they really do bring together the foremost minds of our time (as well as some of the most optimistic and proactive). In addition to synthesized happiness, you can see talks on Cheetahs vs Hippos, Spaghetti, sliced bread, and the history of violence. These are just some of those that I have watched and enjoyed, but there are many videos available, and I advise that you browse through them.

The ranty side of this post is brought on by the idea of a gathering of the elite. You may have noticed, as of late, that "elite" has become something of an epithet - particularly in the realm of politics, but in general as well. Somehow, believing that your years of training, thought, and research somehow give you a greater understanding of the intricacies of an issue is not OK. Your opinion couldn't be any more valid than mine, because we're all equal. Well, if you buy the Lockian philosophy that the US of A is founded on, all men were created equal (notice the lack of women...). What those men (or people, as I prefer) do with themselves after that is a matter of circumstance and their own volition - and that's if you accept the premise, which I'm not certain I do.

In other words, when I am getting surgery, I would prefer the surgeon who has been through med school and has years of experience - that is, the elite surgeon. The same thing goes for any other area of human interaction. That surgeon is not an elite mechanic, which is who I would prefer to work on my car. When we get together a lot of elites in fields relating to thought and ideas, I would expect some pretty good ideas to surface, and that is exactly what we see at TED.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Check Out My Body

No-no-no-no-no... THIS body, by Shelly Jackson.

It's a great example of a non-gimmicky utilization of the unique capabilities of the web for fiction. What's really amazing is that it's done in basic HTML - the same stuff that could have been used to design the site back in the dark (preferable?) ages before CSS and Flash took over everything. Come to think of it, The text of My Body is copyrighted 1997, so maybe the site is quite old.

Dunno. I do know that you should check it out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Am I Already Obsolete?

Cell phone novels.

13 Bullets

...which, incidentally, is the number of bullets held in the magazine of the glock 23, which is issued to FBI agents on graduation from academy (unless they want a 22).

13 Bullets is also the book that David Wellington feels is his best work. It's a vampire action/horror novel. Mr. Wellington claims to be reacting to the Anne Rice vampire archetype wherein the vampires are smooth characters in lace collars, and intensely sexual beings. This is the current norm in the genre, but certainly not in Wellington's novel.

Wellington's vampires are hunters - more like sharks than gentlemen. Like many vampires they look as though they were carved from marble, but unlike most, they have rows upon rows of sharp teeth. They don't puncture veins to get at blood, they rip off arms.

Like most good books, however, the vampires and the morbid atmosphere are secondary to the character relationships. I find the reason hard to pinpoint, but Wellington's novel reminds me of Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. (which, by the way, have the most consistently hokey, over-manipulated photo covers. *sigh*).

I think it is largely the protagonists of the series - both are sort of cops, but not. Both are fixated on getting the monsters, but simultaneously afraid of their own inner monster. They aren't the same person - not by a long shot - but they fill a very similar role. They're the same archetype, if you will.

Wellington might cringe at the comparison, since Anita Blake is the kind of vampire hunter who he is reacting to - one who, as the series goes on, is seduced by the monsters she was (and often still is) fighting. But it is actually this fact that provided the clincher for me in terms of character similarity. Anita Blake is horribly frightened that she might be as much of a monster as those she is constantly fighting, largely (though not entirely) because of her continually increasing involvement in the "monster world." Although the cause of the feeling is different for Wellington's Laura Caxton, she too becomes frightened of her own perceived lack of humanity.
Ironically, this precise worry helps humanize these leading ladies.
Well, OK, neither of them are very lady-like, but you get the idea.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Books That Make You Dumb

OK, I don't like the title of Books That Make You Dumb so much, but that's because I feel that the study also goes to show which books make you smart.

OK, pretensions and condescensions aside, Virgil has compiled a very nice chart, backed by very nice statistical analysis (OK, it wasn't that complicated, but it must have taken a lot of work).... as I was saying, a very nice chart correlating favorite books with people's intelligence, or at least their scholastic aptitude.

He took the top 10 favorite books (as listed on facebook) of 1300 or so universities. He then used the average SAT scores of undergraduates at said universities to give each of the most popular books it's own average SAT score. Actually, he gives us a range, but you get the idea.

He uses this data to present us with three excellent charts - all with the same information; only the grouping is changed.

Two of the charts group books by genre, and here is the only place I quibble with Mr. Virgil (OK, Virgil is his first name, but I like to say it this way). A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is Children's Lit? What particularly makes Brave New World Sci-Fi, but A Clockwork Orange Dystopian? And Wuthering Heights is a classic, but Pride and Prejudice is Chick Lit? Really?

Anyhow, you know of my inability to praise without poking, but really, I love the study, and you should all definitely check it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Zombie Love

Maintaining the morbid theme developed in my last entry, I present to you some good ol' zombie lovin' by Isaac Marion

I find it difficult to admit that I liked reading a touching story about zombies, but I did. I'm not really sure why the author chose the subject, but he made it work - and I do mean made it work. It almost feels as though the topic was a creative writing prompt, and Marion just ran with it.

Perhaps I will continue this theme by reviewing Thirteen Bullets in my next post - or maybe I'll review The Prestige. We shall see.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cthulhu and Gaiman, sitting in a tree

Arr apostraphe ell why eee aych.... yeah...

So Neil Gaiman has posted some Lovecraftian fiction here.

Or, at least, I wanted to call it "lovecraftian" at first. Unfortunately, the more I think about it, the less I am able to differentiate between what Gaiman has done and fanfiction. Perhaps that's why it is posted on his blog?

So tell me - is this truly fanfic, or is my head unable to catch something that my gut does? Perhaps it is merely that I generally dislike the fanfic I come across and tend to think of it as intellectually lazy that I fail to acknowledge the potential for genuinely innovative, clever, and appealing fiction within the... genre?

Go read the story and tell me what you think.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Hey everyone - I'm currently in training for my job (for the fourth time.... either this is a teeensy bit redundant or I've been working for two years without being properly trained. *sigh*).

Anyway, It might be a week before I post again. Things are pretty hectic (12 hour days, plus an excrement-load of stuff to get done before training ends).