Monthly Archives: May 2011

Slashing Technology’s Tires

Get ready for this.

I’ve finally submitted my manuscript for the short story book (the title’s acronym is BitB — best guesses might get you a free copy) for Matt’s deliberation. While I have a spare moment to breathe and annoy my WordPress install I thought I would let everyone reading this know that I’m going to singlehandedly stop technology from developing any further.

When I started writing A Season Underneath I included in the story the common communication technologies and social media sites of the time. When most of the people about which you’re writing are in their 20’s you pretty much have. I tried leaving the specifics open ended because I knew things were changing rapidly in terms of consumer electronics and I didn’t want to date the novel by mentioning outmoded devices. Of course, as time wore on and I needed to do rewrites, technology advanced and the big social sites changed faster than my hairline to the back of my head. More editing needed to be done. Small changes, really, but I fear it’s going to keep happening until I finish the stupid manuscript.

The idea of advanced tech in fiction – i.e., cellphones and smartphones – is actually a pretty spicy enchilada. The center cut of the fiction-steak is that characters n know xyz while characters f do not, and cell phones (and GPS, and foursquare, and Facebook, and Twitter) really cut down on the possibility of the crucial knowledge gap that makes fiction enjoyable. Authors have to rely on their characters having bad memory, being accident-prone or hasty, or cursed with low battery power, or not knowing how to not to cross a street when cars are speeding, in order to render those devices non-working and plot-preserving. There are some authors that I know of that just forgo cellular technology altogether in their story and just rely landline and a web 1.0-level environment, but that would take more work to revert my manuscript.

So, the easiest solution is for me to stop technology altogether in real life until my manuscript is finished. Get ready to light up your Twitter hashmarks because I think I have the moratorium nailed down. Don’t be expecting slashdot or Wired to be mentioning anything new or exciting for a short time, and and hopefully your iPhone 20G Puff-up Pizza Blitz or Andoid Droid AI Coffee Maker Tablet will last you a little while longer. Think of it as a retroactive Y2K that actually happened. I’m sorry I had to do it but I have to get this done.

Photo by edge of the continent

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Hitting the Lights But Lighting a Candle

Things will go dim for a little bit on this here site while I finish up my acceptable e-book for suitable consumption and destruction by Mr. Of Good Speech. Speaking of e-books, Mike Duran has a recent post (about a recent post) which touched upon the growing hordes of free or low-cost e-books invading amazon. I don’t have an e-reader so I’m not predisposed towards checking them out but chances are if you’re a first-time fiction novel writer without an editor to reign in your silliness, your first book will be ghastly. Maybe even adequate, like I’m making mine to be.

Either way, I’m running through very short stories and tightening the screws, and writing a few more stories to round things out.

I will also be churning out a story for Power Line Prize contest, which is accepting entries that dramatize the current economic issue in the U.S.. There’s a $100k prize that I won’t win — I have it in the back of my head a story won’t evoke the level of emotion that, say, a short film would do. I think that contests would favor the more emotional, but who knows. I’ve barely read Power Line in the past (it seems too right-statist for my tastes), but after having read End the FedEnd the Fed - Ron Paul the issue interests me a little more.

Stay tuned.

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Book Review: Lament for a Son

I first heard about Nicholas Wolterstorff from reading Platinga’s Warranted Christian Belief (reviewed here), and I bought Lament for a Son because I didn’t want to delve into another philosophy book quite so soon.

Wolterstorff is best known for his work with Plantinga, William Alston, and others, in constructing reformed epistemology and the Faith and Philosophy journal. Wolterstorff lost his 25 year old soon, Eric, in a mountain climbing accident, and Lament is a novella-sized compilation of writings that chronicles his emotional and spiritual distress in the aftermath.

Most people would rightly parallel this with C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, a book which Wolterstorff mentions in Lament. There are no chapters and most of Wolterstorff’s standalone observations are no longer than a page long — it read more like a diary than a book. Wolterstorff obviously loved his son but he was careful not to beatify him too much, as grieving parents tend to do: he extols Eric’s positive qualities but refers to him as “self-centered” more than once.

I can’t say how this compares to his philosophical writings but some of his outlook in that area seems to peek in a bit here. Without knowing the author, one can tell there is a deep thinker trying to rationalize the loss of a loved one with respect to his religious belief system that doesn’t seem to have the best answers:

So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For Love is the meaning. And Love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history.

But mystery remains. Why isn’t Love-without-suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning? Why does God endure his suffering? Why does he not at once relieve his agony by relieving ours?

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Book Review: The Bible, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

The New Testament books make up for a smaller section of canon yet they read much more densely because of the theological implications of the words and actions of a Jewish preacher named Yeshua bar Yoseph, which is the original Aramaic name for Jesus Christ. Instead of the religious regulations, historical accounts, and poetry of the Old Testament we have four accounts of Yeshua’s life as a preacher, followed by letters written mostly by a Jewish preacher named Paul, to various other groups of fellow followers. Closing out everything is a strange apocalyptic prophesy written by an exiled disciple.

Yeshua was probably one of many Jewish ascetic preachers of the time, and he had gained a significant following despite the controversial theology. I don’t know to what degree his teachings were different than his contemporaries, but he seems to have constantly invited antagonism, intentionally or not, from fellow Jewish leaders and, to a lesser degree, the Roman government.

Though he was quite culturally and religiously Jewish, he did and said some very non-Jewish things: he talked to non-Jews and women publicly, openly dealt with undesirables (even going so far as to invite them into his inner circle of apostles), labored on the Sabbath, and spoke some intense words to religious leaders. He preached at length about money, hell, moral and religious duty, and the arrival of the Jewish God’s kingdom on earth. There were many accounts of his miracles, which were very body-centric in nature in that they involved the recovery from sickness or food and drink.

This garnered him a lot of attention for sure, but nothing did more than Jesus’ claims, both implicit and explicit claims, to be God. Jesus’ insistence on the matter looks to be what got him in the most trouble, since equating oneself with God was a big no-no in Judaism. Enough religious leaders with influence within the Roman government wanted him dead. Nothing unusual there, as criminals, insurrectionists and sundry “problem citizens” were executed daily by the Roman state.

Besides claiming equality with God, nothing caused an uproar more than the claims that Jesus rose, very literally it seems, from the dead after his execution. After his death, Jesus’ followers, calling themselves “The Way”, were hell-bent (sorry) on carrying on his teachings using the resurrection as the capstone theological event that made everything make sense. Paul, in his letters to groups of believers abroad, takes a cue from the Greeks and Socratically develops the logical implications of Jesus’ resurrection and how it should be regarded by this growing new strain of Judaism.

A wonderful example of Paul’s method and a summary of the importance of the resurrection is in his first letter to the believers in Corinth, and it also makes clear the theological weightiness of the event:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Like I said in the first part, there were many ways this review could go. This ended more like a book report (remember those?) rather than a review because I didn’t want to turn this into a marathon of didactics. There are, however, a few things I wanted to say about criticisms of the Bible and Judeo-Christian thought in general. There are some that believe the Bible promotes slavery, subjugation of women, or racism, or anti-scientific thought, or some other undesirable belief or institution drawn from the grab-bag of historical ills — ills that very few today would purport to endorse. In my reading I saw very little of this, and most of it was non-prescriptive accounts of “what happened” rather than “God commanded” such things. With such a large collection of texts written pre-Galileo and in pre-hyper-egalitarian Eastern social climates, someone is bound to find something unsettling if they look hard enough, neverminding the chronological/anthropological snobbery that accompanies it. I don’t expect 21st century Americans to think and act like 30th century French neo-feudalist (how would we begin?), so why would I expect Jews from 1st century, Roman-occupied Israel to think and act like me?

Even if all of these charges were true, it doesn’t really breach the question of whether the supernatural events — the ones meant to be taken literally, such as the resurrection — actually happened. In a strange way that’s not even my concern here. It’s rather the idea that, throughout the millennia and passing through many different hands, that the religious thought presented in in Judeo-Christianity is a product of a conspiracy to control people. Though, who is doing the controlling, why they chose to exploit people’s tendency toward the supernatural, and to what purpose or end people are being controlled, is not crystal clear, but that doesn’t stop people from creating all sorts of pretzel-logic backstories to explain away misguided religious belief. It seems to me that the amount of effort to keep whatever it is secret from the millions of Jews and Christians would not be worth the benefit. If such a cabal of conspirators of had the resources to keep their true purposes secret, why would they need to control anyone? The details of such a claim would need immense e support — support that I don’t think has been found yet.

The easiest and most sensible explanation, based upon what we know, is that the writers of Biblical supernatural events sincerely believed what they saw and experienced. Whether or not the some or all of the writers were under mass hypnosis, suffering from a delusion or psychosis, or just plain mistaken, depends on our own individual bank of knowledge and belief system.

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So You Can Wear Books Now, Too

An illustrator I’ve worked with in the past, Dave Quiggle, recently designed a shirt for Miles To Go Clothing. The shirt is based off of Plath’s The Bell Jar, as is a lot of the shirt designs from Miles. I, for one, am dashed — combining references to classic literature and clothing design? This manner of syncretism cannot be allowed to persist.

He (Greg Kerr, proprietor) has a page up with a list of the books that prompted the designs. Don’t worry, that overquoted line from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five got the treatment.

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Young Adult Fiction: The Kids are Alright and They’re Not Stupid

If you’re involved with publishing at all, you know that the young adult market (YA, but I like words and not alphabet soup, remember) is jumping right now, most of it attributed to the successes of the Twilight and Harry Potter series. So publishers have been scrambling, I suppose in the last few years, to cater to the demand for young adult literature. I won’t inundate you with links, but there’s the Top 50 Young Adult Dystopian Novels and The Rise of Young Adult Dystopian Fiction, both dealing with books for a demographic that had to look up the word “dystopian”.

The idea of fiction tailored for young adults makes sense for publishers to adopt, but it’s really an arbitrary standard, I think based on the arbitrary standard of Westernized, state-sponsored education. You’re a teenager — technically, though it’s based on linguistics — when you turn 13. Then there’s four years of school, then you magically become an adult at 18, though still a teenager for two more years. You can gamble and be shipped off to war, but you can’t drink booze nor rent a car and get those hands off the high school students. It’s a dizzying complex of socio-political “rules” that don’t really coincide with nature. In more sane times, if you could bear children you were pretty much an adult, both culturally and in the literal sense.

My point in mentioning this is that I believe teenagers can mentally apprehend the same things adults can, but they’ve been socialized by a host of psychological rules, for good or bad, that have crept into educational systems and cultural modes. To this end, really, teenagers should be able to contextualized “adult” material in books just as well as “legal” adults can. I don’t know what is really that keeps Western/American teens from really achieving this; but my guess is that a lot of it is the ridiculously immense social pressure from all directions to just stick with the randomized, transitional period of life called adolescence.

And so we have this niche market that has exploded into something not as small as something we think of as a niche — this market that ncompasses teens up into maybe college-aged adults, with their own set of conventions and outlooks. I don’t believe this is top-down created by the publishing industry but it is in response to consumer demand, which is formed partly by social conventions. In reality I don’t think there should be much of a distinction between the things that adults read and the things teenagers read, if things were done “right” or “better” (whatever that means). I’m no psychologist or sociologist so take my opinion as highly amateur.

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No, You’re at the Right Place

So it appears the customizations I made to the default WordPress them were overridden when I installed the update — which is why you see what you see now. Hold on a sec while I fix this.

EDIT: Well, looks like most everything is back in order, but I’ll be bughunting for the next few days. Enjoy.

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