Holy crap, he’s blogging!

Well I was all set to go to the BCSFA meeting tonight, but while at Denny’s, my IBS decided to throw me a loop and I had a highly unpleasant time in the bathroom, after which I knew that I had to skip the meeting and come home.

I can feel things twitching down there. Right now, just about anything could happen. I know this from experience. So I thought I had better come home, where I can relax, be mellow, and never be more than six feet from the toilet.

That, of course, leaves me with nothing to do but sit in front of this a-here computer. So I figured, WTF, I’ll blog.

In truth, I have really missed you, my audience. I am loving the writing I am doing, but I miss sharing my thoughts and experiences with an audience. In theory, I could blog once I am done writing, but by then, I am pretty much out of words.

So it just doesn’t happen.

But what the hey, I am here alone, I am done writing, and I have a lot of Diet Coke in me. Let’s share!

The work is progressing nicely. I had a bit of a writer’s epiphany when I was between chapters earlier : I do not think I am capable of rewriting. I just can’t do it. To me, it’s all about the act of creation. The very idea of walking in my own footprints again makes me wanna barf. This vehicle only goes forward.

And I know that’s a problem. A lot of people say writing is rewriting. Well, if that’s true, I am fucked. I can’t imagine doing it.

I can edit my stuff, if I make myself do it. Go back in, proofread, tighten up sentences, maybe rework a paragraph or two. But that is it. I can’t imagine ever being able to write the same thing again but better.

So it seems that, like with everything else in life, I have to take an approach that is perpendicular to the usual way. I learn to write by writing, like, a lot. And it works… my writing definitely improves over time. I get better and better at saying things in fewer words and getting a lot more content, a lot more of me, across in my writing every day.

I hope this means that my work is becoming more refined as I go, and so my first (and only) drafts are better than most people’s first attempts. That way, maybe I can attract an editor, and then together we can make the thing as good as we can.

Dunno what I’d do if he told me to rewrite something, though. That would be a real pickle.

Of course, I have continued to bake, with varying degrees of success. My success rate should be going up, though, because I have figured out that our oven is very… moody. Sometimes, despite what the dials say, it just doesn’t turn on. Other times, it does turn on, but only just barely. So I am not getting even 10 percent of the temperature that I need.

Turns out that in order to get things to bake properly, I have to set the oven timer then slam the oven door REALLY hard to get it to actually engage. It is all starting to feel rather BDSM, with the oven as my demanding, disobedient bottom.

Still, every day I bake something. Most days, that’s what I am doing between 5 and 7 in the evening. It’s fun, it’s exercise (relative to my usual totally sedentary lifestyle), and I get healthy desserts out of it.

Well, relatively healthy.

Recently I have branched into cakes. I have not made a lot of cakes in my life. Squares, yes, but not cakes. Squares are less of a commitment. Some of them, you don’t even have to bake. You just mix it together, spoon it into the cake pan, and stick it in the fridge till it sets.

Cakes are just a bit more technique heavy. For example, I made a lovely sugar-free chocolate cake yesterday, then neglected to turn it out of the pan when I was supposed to, and so it burned on top. Dough!

Oh, and the icing… oh the icing. The recipe included two different icing recipes, and I much prefer vanilla icing on a chocolate cake over chocolate, I tried the vanilla one.

The first sign of danger was that the recipes was like half shortening. Shortening in icing? Who wants to smear fat all over their nice tasty cake?

But I figured, there’s not a lot of Splenda icing recipes, so I will give it a try. And the results were… utterly vile. It looked like rancid cottage cheese, smelled like a candle factory fire, and tasted like vanilla lard, which is basically what it was, when you get down to it.

At first I thought I had over-thickened the milk. This was the sort of icing where the first step is to heat up some milk with cornstarch in it. When it gets warm enough, the milk turns into a thick paste.

Why? Because cornstarch is some freaky ass stuff, that’s why, It is weird as heck to watch happen. It’s like… where did all that moisture go? How can a cup of milk turn into a quarter cup of paste in a matter of seconds?

The answer : the cornstarch took the remaining liquid as tribute for its demonic master.

Anyhow, eventually I figure out that the real problem was that the recipe assumed you had an electric mixer (you know, a social dance where electrons from different schools get to mingle), and I do not. Normally, that is not a problem. I can do most things an electric mixer does, it just takes more elbow grease.

Although to be fair, my elbows have a heck of a lot less grease than they used to.

But one thing an electric mixer can do better than a mere human is homogenize things, and so it might be that if I had a mixer like that, it would have been able to fully homogenize the mixture and made something edible out of it.

It also occurred to me that I might have been able to treat it like a lumpy gravy and heat it up very slowly, stirring constantly, to make the lumps disappear.

But alas, that thought only occurred to me after I had flushed the stuff down the sink. Luckily, even without icing on its burned top, chocolate cake is still pretty good.

Next time, vanilla cake. Partly because I actually like vanilla cake more, but mostly because I am out of cocoa.

And I don’t know what kind of icing it will be, but it definitely will not contain shortening. That’s just too gross to me now. That probably leaves me with boiled icings, which is also an issue for obscure reasons.

See, when I was a kid, my mom found this boiled icing recipe that she really liked. Apparently it was simple and easy. So that stuff became the default icing for everything, and I started out not liking it. It was thick and syrupy and heavy and has this sort of greasy texture and a very shiny surface. It was nothing like you would get at a bakery.

So you can imagine how sick of it I got. So now when I think “boiled frosting”, I think of it and I go eww. I am sure there must be very nice ones out there, light and sweet and thin, but I have to get over the bad memories first.

What else…. hmmm. Not a heck of a lot, really. My life is pretty much writing and baking lately. I rather like that idea, honestly. It sounds like the sort of thing you are supposed to be upset about, but I like thinking of my life as something simple, honest, and productive.

Makes me feel like an artisan, which is not easy when you are a writer. I love writing and I love reading, but it’s hard to escape the basic intangibility of writing as an art form. Perhaps that is why books are so important. They are at the very least a physical manifestation of the writer’s craft. Something you can point to and say “I did that!”.

You can’t do that with an eBook.

Well, anyhoo, I an done for now. Time to lay down. Do glad I got to blog at you nice people tonight.

Closed for renovations

Totally was gong to do this yesterday but got onto that whole honor kick instead. My bad.

As man of you know, every year I do the NaNoWriMo thing. That’s the National Novel Writing Month, and it’s this thing where every year a bunch of us wacky writer types take the thirty days that hath November and try to write fifty thousand (50000) word towards what we pretend will be a novel.

That means that this here space might not get a lot of attention this month. Every day, the novel will come first. Once I have done my 1667 words for that day, then we will see if there is any more gas in the tank for a blog entry.

So if you don’t hear from me often for the next month, all you nice people who read my words, rest assured that everything will go back to normal on Dec 1.

If I don’t see you again before that, have a great November.

The two kinds of honor

There are two meanings to the term “honor” as used in modern society.

One is the summation of all the traditionally male virtues. A man (or woman) of honor holds true to a very strict code of conduct that accepts no excuses. They do the right thing in every situation no matter what and accept whatever consequences fate chooses to deal out rather than violate that code.

A person of honor is courageous. They step up to the plate every single time duty calls. They define courage as the ability to do what is right no matter how you feel, and it is a definition they live out every single day of their lives.

A person of honor is honest. They mean what they say and live what they believe. Their word is sacred to them and they will not break it except in the direst of circumstances. And even then, they will regret it, and seek to make amends.

A person of honor is courteous. An honorable person strives never to hurt another unintentionally. They are polite and considerate in all public discourse, and are meticulous in their dealings with others.

A person of honor is noble. They do not allow petty personal concerns keep them from doing what is right. The greatest good is always on their minds, and part of the strictness of their code of conduct is the upright and forthright way they keep their heads above the fray, always striving to uphold the highest of ideals.

This version of honor is all about maintaining personal integrity. What motivates the honorable person is the desire to live their lives in a morally correct way. They know that there is nobody out there keeping score on what they do and do not, and they do not expect to be rewarded for their virtue.

It is the desire to be able to look oneself in the mirror and respect the person looking back at you that motivates the person of honor to live each day in as upright, noble, and honorable way as they possibly can.

Then, there is the other sense of the word honor, which is basically just an excuse for men to respond with violence when they get their feelings hurt.

I am serious about this. This is the mis-use of the word “honor” that used to lead to duels, and still does to this day, just in a far less official and regulated way. It is the perversion of the concept of honor that leads to the unthinkable madness of so-called “honor killings”, where a father will kill his own child just to keep the other men from making fun of him. It is the mutation of the word “honor” that leads to blood feuds, saber-rattling, and even war… just to keep men from getting their feelings hurt when they lose face in front of other men.

Think about it. Say a man is in a bar when some no-good sidewinder comes up to him and makes a string of highly vulgar speculations as to the breadth of our hero’s wife’s tastes in sexual partners, including various local lowlifes and the local wildlife and, of course, the sidewinder himself.

Now obviously, what our hero wants to do is attack. That’s basic caveman human nature. When someone makes us angry, we want to thump them with our club. Our hero wants to beat the sidewinder up for saying something that hurt the hero’s feelings, but he knows that civilized human beings are not actually supposed to do that. So he needs an excuse.

Enter the terrible miscasting of “honor”. The sidewinder has not actually injured anything but the hero’s feelings. It’s not like anyone is likely to take the sidewinder’s word on his wife’s broadly accessible virtues. Once you pull back the testosterone veil of pseudo-respectability from this farce of “honor”, you realize that all that is at stake is our hero’s feelings.

Under this bullshit idea of honor, a man has to beat up (or even kill) anyone who says something that hurts their feelings so that everybody will be too scared to hurt the man’s feelings in the future. This is honestly how men deal with their emotions, women and girls.

The problem is that, deep down, men want to fight. There is a drive deep within the male psyche to butt heads with other men and find (or challenge) our place in the hierarchy. We know we are not supposed to fight, and so we keep it in check or redirect it into other forms of competition. But it is always there.

The very flimsiness of this grotesque misuse of the idea of “honor” demonstrates how deep this desire goes. We will take nearly any excuse to drop civilization (symbolically enacted by taking off your jacket) and enter a primal world of brutality.

That is why action movies are structured as they are. It is all to support a male violence fantasy. The villains are a genuine threat to the safety of the innocent specifically because that makes the hero’s acts of violence justified. The girlfriend has to die or get captured so that the hero both has a personal reason to take down the bad guys and is free to do so, without any messy personal involvements holding them back. The enemies the hero fights have to get stronger as he goes, because the violence thrill has to get stronger to have the same effect.

The only righteous use of violence for any honorable person is to protect people. Anything else is just a paper thin justification for acting like any old caveman by using violence to resolve disputes instead of reason.

Remember this the next time some man (and it will be a man) said he was defending someone’s “honor”.

Bullshit. All they really did was try to beat someone up for making them angry. That is not civilized behaviour, and therefore it is the exact opposite of truly honorable behaviour.

And if anyone disagrees with me, I’ll beat the crap out of them.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

The ethical traitor

Yup. I’m talking about whistleblowers again.

But more than just them. I am talking about all the ethical traitors out there. The people who, through the power of their convictions and the sense that something terribly wrong is going on and they are the only ones who can stop it, have the courage to sacrifice all they know in their day to day lives, break with their tribe or sub-tribe, and reveal the truth to the world.

It is not surprising that this is so rare, and the reasons are not merely practical. Sure, a lot of people have a pretty good idea of what would happen to them if they broke from their group and took the truth to the outside. And not a lot of people are willing to sacrifice that much when they can do nothing and have nothing bad happen to them personally.

But it runs deeper than that. For most human beings, their social group is their universe. Their workplace, their home life, maybe a few social commitments, their friends…. this is the whole world to them. Everything else is just a pale mural on a distant wall. To go outside that world is to go past the edge of infinity into the universal unknown.

This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why people stay in bad relationships when they could easily just walk away. Our personal universes are made of relationships. TO leave a relationship is to face the darkness.

And then there is the issue of loyalty. Make no mistake, loyalty is one of the most powerful social instincts we have. It is fundamental glue that holds all our tribes, big and small, together. There is always Us, and Them. And to do something that benefits Them and hurts Us is, for many people, literally unthinkable. Unthinkable like performing surgery on oneself.

That is why we can never truly accept these ethical traitors, no matter how much we applaud what they did and why they did it. We can support a whistleblower one hundred percent and still not want to associate with them. Because how can you trust someone who turned his or her back on everyone they knew?

Part of the problem is that loyalty is part of our primal ethics. It is one of the moral universals. There has never been and will never be a society that does not value loyalty and punish disloyalty. You will never find a people who consider it just fine for people to be out only for themselves and to turn traitor any time it suits them.

As one of our primal ethics, loyalty operates on a deeper level than the more abstract ethics that are usually what drives the ethical traitor to his or her act of disloyalty. The desire to protect a number of total strangers from a theoretical harm, as one would be revealing some bit of corporate corner cutting on safety, will never have enough gut-level appeal to completely overcome our revulsion at any act of betrayal, no matter how noble.

Even very intelligent people who are completely capable of grasping and agreeing with the whistleblower’s motives and actions might find their revulsion overcoming their reason, especially if they are in the group betrayed, or identify with it. A professor at one university might find his or herself trembling with rage at the news of another professor betraying his employers to reveal some dastardly goings-on, even if in the abstract they completely agree that not only was the individual act justified, but that indeed there needs to be more of that kind of thing.

And there truly does. The world needs whistleblowers. We need all the ethical traitors we can get. Evil requires darkness in which to operate and whistleblowers are the only ones in the position to yank the cloak of darkness away from acts of evil and expose them to the cleansing light of day.

But the demand for these brave people will always far outstrip the supply. The barriers against it are simply too high. Even the most famous one of the moment, Edward Snowden, was only a sub-contractor and thus not part of the group he betrayed. People still treat him as a disgusting and horrible traitor because he betrayed the amazingly large and potent in-group known as the military, but he did not, in fact, betray people he knew and worked with.

Becoming an ethical traitor is simply too wrenching and unnatural to most people. Human beings, as a group, will always be more loyal to their in-groups than their high ideals. Often, the only people willing to become ethical traitors are the people who never fit in with their group in the first place. And that creates an entirely different set of problems of the “bitter, disgruntled worker with an axe to grind” variety.

So how can we encourage more people to go out in the cold and reveal what desperately needs to be revealed? I think the most important thing is to immediately take them into the warmth of a new group : the group of noble whistleblowers.

And I mean that in more than just the abstract sense, like Abraham Lincoln is part of the group of American presidents. I mean this has to be a group that meets, socializes, and forms a common identity. We would find people far more willing to turn against their current group if there was another, possibly even more glamorous group to take them in.

That’s why I think that the only way to truly make this work is to have it backed by a few wealthy concerned citizens who are rich and powerful enough not to give a shit whose toes they step on and who can afford to create this special group and use their wealth and power to make it well known and high status.

Sure, you might get people wanting in for the wrong reasons, but that’s what background checks and private detectives are for.

So raise a glass to the ethical traitor, folks. Those few who do it face unbelievable hardship from those for whom disloyalty is the absolute worst crime imaginable.

I will talk to all of you nice people again tomorrow.

A few smaller subjects

I have a few idea in my notes that aren’t quite big enough for a whole article, so I thought I would deal with them tonight.

The Emotional Roots of Heroism

People often wonder what makes a person into a hero. What causes a perfectly normal human being to spring into action when danger knocks on their door and do the sort of things that we normally only see in movies? What motivates these ordinary citizens?

And while what pulls the hero forward is things like courage and compassion, I think the wind that pushes them from the back is something a lot more like terror : the terror of being witness to a tragedy, and all the harm it would do to said witness.

Call it empathic horror. We know deep down that seeing something horrible happen to someone will be extremely damaging to us. That alone would be a large enough trauma to seem unthinkable. The sort of trauma that destroys people.

But then add in the possibility of feeling like you could have prevented it, and you can see how an ordinary (but caring) person would be willing to take all kinds of heroic risks in order to prevent their own psychological annihilation.

That’s why, in tales of real life heroism, the hero or heroine often replies to questions about the dangers they faced with something like “I wasn’t thinking about that. ” The real danger, in their minds, was failure. If they failed to save the person or people, that would have been a trauma so large that it might as well have been death.

Note that this is an inherently empathic operation. Not only does the fear of empathic death drive the hero, but it is the hero’s empathic nature that makes them feel “involved” in the situation and act as though he was saving someone they knew and loved, even though they are actually saving total strangers.

When danger threatens one of us, we are all of the same tribe.

The Nature Of Faith

Faith is, at its heart, chosen belief. It is belief chosen completely independent of evidence or reason. Its origin is in emotional need, not careful examination of the evidence. It is born of unmet human needs and takes the form of whatever will fulfill those needs. Like a child’s imaginary friend (the prototype of all faith), the chosen belief(s) will fill the gaps in the human soul, and when something does that for a person, they become ferociously attached to it even if the outside world does not agree. They will defend this belief till their dying breath because said belief fixed them when they were broken and, in the case of religious faith, filled a whole host of emotional needs all at once.

There is no point in trying to argue with someone whose chosen beliefs have become such a fundamental part of their psyche that they could not function without it. These people know what it was like before the faith came to restore them, and they will never, ever go back to that state. You might as well be trying to talk them out of their arms and legs.

To clarify, this is true of all forms of faith, most of which are not, in fact, religious. Most people have their own set of things they will keep believing till the day they die because these things have become part of them. It might be belief in a person, a news channel, a political movement, a religious practice, or even a television show.

But we are born to believe.

Hence the resistance to science. Science does not concern itself with the emotional need for belief. It finds the objective truth, without concern with people’s subjective realities. Hence, to some, it seems cold, and even cruel. And by extension, those who practice it and promote it are cold and cruel as well.

It’s easy for us rational science types to say “Well then, don’t emotionally invest in things that can be disproven”, but are we so sure of our own innocence in that matter that we are willing to throw that stone?

The Value of Diversity

Modern democratic societies have, as one of their strongest cultural values, the treasuring of diversity. From cradle to grave, society tells us how important it is to embrace diversity and eschew divisiveness, bigotry, and intolerance.

And most people have a basic, gut-level understanding of why this is a good thing. You mind your business, and I will mind mine. My freedom to be who I want to be requires others to show tolerance to me, and in return, I show tolerance to them. We all benefit from a diversity rich system that practices tolerance and respect for all.

But this sometimes seems to fly in the face of our judgment. Surely we can’t tolerate everything. Some things are just plain wrong, and should be stopped and/or punished. Right?

This arises because we have lost sight of the roots of diversity, which lay deep in the foundations of the humanism that founded all of our great democracies. At the heart of this humanism is the understanding that, as diverse as the human race is, below the surface we have far, far more in common with one another than we have in difference.

This is the counter-argument to the seeming anarchy of total tolerance. We embrace all the wonderful ways in which people are different from one another because we know that, deep down, we are all the same, and all those differences are merely ripples on the surface of a very deep pond.

It is also wise to understand that a tolerant society does not judge the contents of someone’s skull. In a tolerant society, what is between your ears is your own business. That is the ultimate privacy and it is vitally important.

Only your actions are judged. So yes, it’s fine to be a criminal, or evil, or a pervert, or even a racist, as long as you do not break the law.

That is hard for some to believe, paradoxically especially amongst the supposed “law and order” crowd. Human beings inherently want to judge one another’s characters, and the short-sighted think this judgement should, at least in some ways, be reflected by society and its laws.

But you are free to be whatever you want to be, and the law is and should be completely indifferent to your character, your beliefs, and your personality. Only actions matter.

And when we lose sight of that, we lose our grasp on democracy and freedom themselves.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

What’s your excuse?

There is nothing depression loves more than excuses.

Excuses are its armor. It collects excuses like a hunter collects knives, because it never knows which one it will need when a time of crisis occurs.

What’s a crisis to depression? Anything that threatens its grip on you. Things like hope, happiness, ambition, positive emotions, and the realization that there are people out there who love you.

An excuse is the perfect thing for defusing potential hope. Hope equals stress to a depressed person, and their depression has taught them that the only way to deal with stress is to flee it, and the connecting link is the excuse.

Maybe I could get a date… but I’m too fat. I should start drawing again…. but I don’t have the energy. I need to get out of the house more…. but I’m too scared.

These excuses form a cozy nest for your depression right smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone. Your depression can rest easy knowing that it has you trained to look for the very first exit out of the tension and that will always be an excuse.

And if someone dares to try to dislodge one of your excuses, your depression will fight back hard. Any counterargument to one of your excuses will be met with a level of vehemence and even anger that is usually only found in religion, and other forms of irrational but emotionally necessary belief systems like racism or religious intolerance.

If I wasn’t too fat to date anyone, then I would have to go out there and look for dates, and I am too scared to do that, therefore I MUST BE TOO FAT.

People can tell you that you are not even that fat and that fat people get married all the time and it won’t matter because the depression has convinced you that it is vitally important to maintain all your excuses or you will have to leave the “safe” haven of depression and go out there and deal with the world without its protection.

That comes dangerously close to making you fully awake and exposed to a world with a high level of stimulation that happens in realtime. That is the worst thing possible for a depressed person, or at least, that’s what their depression tells them.

And we all know that depression lies.

Ask a dozen depressives if they would take a pill that would make their depression disappear forever, and most will say yes, because anything else would be logically inconsistent with their time-honed negative belief system. The last thing they would ever admit to themselves is that they actually want to be depressed and that many of their beliefs and activities are purpose designed by their depression to perpetuate itself.

When all is said and done, even your worst demons are also your employees.

The curious thing about their answers, however, is that for most of them, there will be a certain hesitancy to their answers to what one would think would be the easiest question in the world. It will be like a shadow flit across their face as their depression reacts to the notion of its own destruction by filling its host mind with fear and doubt… its usual defense.

You can watch the unexpected conflict play out over their faces. Some will even retract their answer or modify it with something akin to “I guess…. I don’t know. ”

Curious, isn’t it? You would think that if you ask a prisoner “Would you like to leave right now and never come back?”, they wouldn’t hesitate to jump up and holler HELL YEAH. But if you stay in prison long enough, whether you like it or not, it becomes your home, and the outside world becomes frightening in its intensity and complexity.

And the ones who answer no to the cure will give reasons like “I don’t want some pill to change who I am”, even though who they are is a depressed person who at least in theory does not want to be depressed any more. That kind of implies change, doesn’t it?

It’s like turning down a lotto win because you didn’t want the money to change you.

That’s why all the problem-solving advice in the world falls on deaf ears with a depressive. The problem is not a practical one. Often the depressive has thought of anything you say already, and already dismissed it. That’s part of how depression works in the background of the mind. It brings up possibilities just to practice destroying them to further its hold on you, to secretly reassure you that no progress is ever going to be possible so you can relax and stop trying forever.

There is a peacefulness to despair. Despair frees you from all responsibility to help yourself. When no progress is possible, you are entirely safe from any impetus to go out there and deal with the real world. You can retreat to the tiniest corner of your panic room and when you get there, curl up and have a nice nap.

The only thing that can disturb your slumber is when well-meaning idiots who are not in on the scam (and you can be one of those idiots too) try to convince you that there might actually be hope for improvement after all.

Then, out come the excuses, and no amount of reason will dislodge them. You can never talk someone out of something they have to believe or their whole psychological system crumbles to dust. They will hold fast to that belief for however long it takes them to think up another justification for it, even if it’s exactly the same as the one that was disproven.

In times of such existential crisis, people are completely capable of simply freezing their mind in place until the damning data simply fades away.

So ask yourself, what’s your excuse? What is your defense against progress? What do you use to deflect hope?

And where would you be without it?

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.