Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reading and Writing (with a nod to Arithmatic)

First the Arithmetic nod; does anyone know a good reference for writing textbooks or reference books? A mathematician asked me to co-author. Meaning he wants to do the math, and wants me to do everything else from the non-math content to finding a publisher. Since most of what I've read on non-fiction indicates platform is king and god, and the mathematician has multiple (New Jersey large) school districts salivating over the idea of using the hypothetical book, the platform is solid enough I'm willing to give it a go IF I can find a good reference for writing reference.

That said, I've been having a problem reading lately. Formerly, the storyteller in me would consistently be telling more stories based on what I read. Sometimes those stories were fan-fic-esque, other times they were just inspired by the original. At any rate, I enjoyed the story as written, then riffed off of it.

Lately, however, I've been noticing a different pattern in myself. As I read, I'm actively noticing writing techniques. Foreshadowed twists are no longer surprising. Deus-ex-machina were never my favorite, but now I look on them as completely unsatisfying. Flat prose is no longer compensated for by originality, character or plot. Flat characters annoy me more than they used to. Lack of plot can still be excused on a first read, but I don't reread or recommend plotless books. Excessive political or other viewpoint evangelism is more annoying than it ever was.

I worry that I'm becoming a snob. More than that, I worry that what used to be one of my favorite hobbies is now rapidly becoming more a chore than a relief and release. I'm also worried that the few authors I could count on for a solid book with all the things I'm looking for and none of the things I'm avoiding are dead, dying, or succumbing to age.

Still and all, I enjoyed Vorpal Blade, and I'm generally enjoying Earth. I just noticed the flaws in each more than I would have five years ago. Or did I just notice myself noticing?

Meh. Either way, I'm off to write a bit, followed by going off to some conference with the aforementioned mathematician.

Just because you say it...

...doesn't make it true.

I've been cruising through the archives of Not Always Right recently, and found this gem. Why is it that people can't understand that certain sets of behaviors have certain results that are dictated by the laws of physics? In my own experience, those people seem to be the same ones who feel that their own immoral / unethical / bastardly behavior is dictated by the laws of physics as well. The 'your valuables weren't secured well enough to stop me, so I had to take them' attitude.

I recently read a Brin quote (in character, this may not be his opinion) suggesting that humans are attractive as individuals, but horrifying as a species. I've always felt the opposite was true.

Beauty and Truth

OK, probably more along the lines of 'Bob rambles on about Beauty and Castle's mom', but I couldn't resist.

My wife was watching Castle a few days ago and Castle's mom comes out with a line about women seeking things to cover their imperfections, and when those imperfections are covered the woman thinks she's beautiful, and that's what makes a woman beautiful. Which is, to a small degree, true. It is also, to a much, much larger degree damaging and counterproductive.

First, note that most people equate Beauty and Attractiveness. The two are not co-equal, and never have been. Beauty is a highly subjective thing. Attractiveness, on the other hand, has been studied to a fare-thee-well using reasonably scientific methods. There's even an amusing and informative series of shows on the topic narrated by John Cleese. Then again, if it were narrated by John Cleese, it could be about war crimes and be fairly amusing, but I digress. Point is that Beauty and Attractiveness are not the same, even if people tend to conflate them.

Standards of Beauty are subjective, but in most cases they are based loosely on the physical aspects of Attractiveness. Those aspects include a certain arrangement of features. for which there is a mathematical formula. The imdb for the series, which has more details, is here. Cleese will back me up on this, he's my homie and has my back. Not really, but I couldn't resist. At any rate, the physical aspects of Attractiveness are fairly straightforward. For the face, even features in a particular layout. For the female body, hip to waist ratio and hip in a narrow range and hip to bust ratio in a rather wider range. Everything else, like hair color, eye color, shape of individual features, height, weight and precise hip to bust ratio is more based on what culture tells us is attractive than what our genes tells us will make a successful mate.

So if we posit that Beauty is the bare bones of physical Attractiveness with the socially keyed 'everything else' layered on, that tells us two things. First, in a multi-cultural society each individual is going to have different standards of Beauty, with standards varying wildly in radically different segments of the society. Second, Castle's mom is full of it. There is no way that masking one deficiency is going to make a woman Beautiful, unless they're quite close to it already and the imperfection is fairly insignificant. In other words, some have it, some don't, and some can achieve it with varying levels of work.

However, there is another aspect to this discussion. When Castle's mom (Martha Rogers, played by Susan Sullivan) talks about Beauty, she's not talking about Beauty. She's either talking about Attractiveness, in which case she has a small yet important point, or she's talking about the philosophical concept of Beauty, which is such a massive divergence from the subject at hand, both in this essay and in the conversation she's having on screen that I'm going to set that idea aside for later. Like much, much, later. Maybe when I'm dead, or rich, or both. At any rate, assuming she's talking about Attractiveness, then her point is basically that confidence makes a woman Attractive. In this, she's correct. Healthy adult males like confident women. Note that differing societies have had differing ways for each gender to display confidence, and that there have been (are?) entire societies that were dominated by non-healthy adult males. My point here is that confidence* is probably one of the biggest general non-physical keys to Attractiveness**.

There is still a problem with Martha's statement, and it is what makes it so damaging and wrong. The statement basically posits that to be confident, a woman must find something external to herself which, when she uses / wears / carries it, makes her believe in herself. When she does, she will then be Attractive / Beautiful. Men will want her and women will want to be her. The problem with that approach is that it relies on something external, and confidence is not an external trait. The damaging part of the approach is that it teaches women to look outside themselves for the answer to a question which is, in the end, internal.

That's the real shame of the attitude illustrated in the show. It takes the one aspect of Attractiveness which could be attained by any woman and makes it something external to the woman herself, and then only if she seeks out the external thing which will offset some real or imagined flaw in the portions of Attractiveness which can't be changed short of plastic surgery. The problem, in other words, is not that women are trying to look like 'unhealthy' runway models. The problem is that women are trying to look like someone other than themselves.***

*Confidence, not bossiness. This does, unfortunately, require you to have something to be confident about. However, this can be as simple as knowing exactly what it is that you want. Or even confidence in what you do and don't know. Everyone can find something about themselves to be confident about.

**The other major key being attraction itself. Very little is more attractive than a person confident enough to say openly 'I find you attractive.' when they mean it. Please note, people who are very physically attractive may be inured, as they hear the same words uttered insincerely on a regular basis. Also note that extreme physical unattractiveness may torpedo the entire endeavor, but most people don't get that 'extreme' tag without poor hygeine and general maintenance, which are controllable.

***Men have an entirely different set of problems, which I shant go into here. OK, maybe if soemone asks me to.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I've finished looking through the Novel & Short Story Writer's Marketplace, and I've picked out the agents I'll be querying. From what I've read, given a query of sufficient quality, two in ten agents should reply for partials. Given an MS of sufficient quality and relation to the query, one in ten partials may generate further interest. Given further pursuit success, one in ten should offer. Ergo, should XLI actually be ready or nearly so for publication, proper selection of agents, and proper query writing, it should only take five hundred queries to acquire an agent.

Of course, my complete list is only twenty five agents long.

Wish me luck.

Edit to update on Ordinal - I've gotten Tram & Ten & Inge to the 'changeover' scene. From here on out it's one long, brutal action scene. Should be fun.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Church, Atheism, and Faith

An interesting, perhaps ironic situation I find myself in.

Whenever I wind up in church, I find myself having a crisis of faith. I listen to the inaccuracies, misinterpretations and outright lies the pastor and congregation feed back and forth to one another and think "I know this stuff is wrong. All of it. At best, some of what they're saying is correct but taken out of context. At worst, it's outright lies. I don't believe anything that they're saying." Except, of course, that I really do believe some of the core tenets of the faith, but like I said, associating with believers shakes my faith to its core.

I often cruise through Atheist, Pro-Evolution and Anti-Fundamentalist blogs. Quite a few are funny, although it's often scathing anti-fundie humor. Bay of Fundie, Fundie Watch and Evolved Rationalist, I'm looking at you. Sometimes it's more thought provoking analysis of the divide between theists and atheists, like Dangerous Intersection. Wandering through those sites, seeing the arguments put forth, I realize that there really isn't any concrete evidence for the faith I have. However, a common argument put forth really brought things into perspective for me. The argument, in its most basic form, goes something like this:

1 - The theist has no logical basis for his faith (cue long queue of examples of failed proof)
2 - The burden of proof for the existence of god lies with the theist (tea, anyone?)
3 - The theist fails to prove god via logical or rational means
4 - The theist should now dispense with the belief in a deity

Now, it's that last one where I see the logical flaw in the argument. I heartily agree that anyone who wants to convert others to their mode of thinking should do so through reasoned discourse. However, the core problem with the argument is the belief that faith is rooted in rationality. Faith can be rooted in emotion, tradition, or just about anything, but I've rarely seen it rooted in logic. Most belief I've seen personaly is a combination of emotion and tradition, sometimes with a smidge of denied self interest ('my business relies on my image as a pillar of the community, but I am not fundamentally dishonest enough to go to church without believing, ergo I must believe, so I do').

However, all that led me to really look at why I believe. I agree with the atheists; there is no proof of god. At the same time, I really don't see any good proof of not-god either. The best proof of not-god I've personally seen has a glaring flaw in that it is fundamentally circular. It presupposes a failure condition in the argument, then assumes that argument is meaningful. To use examples from the preceding link, my immediate response to premise 1 in argument one, or premise 3 in argument 2 is "Why?". Maybe it's a factor of growing up with too many anti-heroes, but why does 'good' mean 'kind'? No, seriously, someone shoot me a link on that, if you have one.

OK, so I don't see any positive proof for god, but I don't see proof for not-god either. I dislike making what are or may be important decisions for emotional reasons, so I have to avoid that if possible. However, I do believe in personal choice in matters of belief where all evidence is equal, so I have justification in making a choice. With the knowledge that there is no proof of god, and the likelihood is that there never will be, but there may someday be proof of not-god, I therefore choose to believe in god.

What, a fellow can't be perverse?