Thursday, September 25, 2014

Challenging Books

A friend challenged me to list ten books that have had the most influence on me. I honestly don't know if I can choose ten from the loads and then rank them. I think I'd just rather list the ten important books that come to my mind immediately, and explain why they're so important to me. If you'd like you can see this list as a sort of 'suggested reading' for getting to know me better.

Here they are, in no particular order, ten books that are important to me.

1) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (translated by Ralph Manheim)
Ok, so I said I wouldn't rank them but this book is the exception. I could go on and on about how symbolically central this book is to my life. I have the Auryn tattooed on my arm and not a day goes by that I don't think about my relationship to this story. I still have the hardbound copy my parents read to me when I was six.  The physical book has accompanied me since I was a child. It's been to the other side of the world and back. It's beaten up and water-stained and the dust-jacket is long since gone.

I re-read it often. I have a Japanese language copy as well that I have also read.

The themes of escapism, dealing with grief and depression, love for the endless expanse of fiction and the characters in it, and the dangers of drowning in your imagination all resonate with me strongly. It has endless depth and detail like a fractal that becomes apparent with each re-reading. But that's another story, for another time...

If you pick up a copy, get one with the colored text. It's just not the same in standard grey ink.

2) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
I read this book in college and it is one that really stuck with me. I have been a fan of Murakami in general, but for my money this is his best one. It's atmospheric and you pick up so much more from how it speaks to you than what it says directly. That said, it's never boring or snooty or intentionally obtuse. A fun, deep-drive of a read that taught me a lot about what I like, and a lot about what is possible.

3) Count Zero by William Gibson
You should totally read Neuromancer first, not only did it come first, but it's also the one that's going to get adapted into a movie or TV show. But I like Count Zero a lot more. It's an essential cyberpunk novel from back when the genre was pretty much just whatever William Gibson was writing. It's really, really good.

4) Hero with 1000 Faces by Joseph Campbell
The hero's journey has a lot of insight into the kinds of story I find really compelling, and why I find them so compelling. Like most of the other books on this list, I've read and recommended this book to people multiple times.

5) Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein
After becoming disenchanted with angry atheism and assholes like Richard Dawkins who shout about it, I found this book in a basement bookstore during a visit to California, and finished it before I got home. Greg M. Epstein talks about how atheism informs a compassionate and engaged worldview for people like myself. I highly recommend this book if you are a person of faith and have preconceptions about what non-religious people believe.

6) The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
This is the pulp fantasy that I tore into as a 13 year old. Mopey, sexy, violent, and fucking metal as all hell, this series has everything a growing nerd needs. 

7) Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams
This one is on here not so much because I think it should be read, as that it's emblematic of a big part of my life. I've been a tabletop role-playing nerd since I was eight. Gaming has led me to my closest friends and shown me how much I love being involved in the creation of stories. I actually play-tested this edition of D&D and you can find my name in the credits in the back.

8) Sandman by Neil Gaiman
This is one of my favorite comics. My RAs at Evergreen had the complete set in their dorm and they let me borrow them one weekend. I had given up on reading comics, (at least American ones) at the time, but Neil Gaiman re-ignited that appetite with a vengance and I am very glad.

9) Superman - Birthright by Mark Waid
Hands-down, the best take on Superman's origin and arrival in Metropolis that I have ever read. Mark Waid gets how to write Superman, and as someone with a deep love for the character, it makes me very happy to read it.

10) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
This is an excellent examination of Comics as a medium. Reading it made me realize that I wanted to be an advocate for media like comics, animation, video games, and any other art form that is regularly dismissed as being incapable of being serious art.

Special bonus books because I ran out of numbers:

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester - essentially the Count of Monte Cristo in space, I fantasize about adapting this novel as a television mini-series with my older brother. Though I still think about how you'd do the synesthesia parts.

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi - Paolo Bacigalupi is the best author I've encountered in the past five years. I first read The Windup Girl, and then immediately read everything else of his I could get my hands on. I like to think of his work a 'Biopunk', where William Gibson wrote the future the 80s were bound for, Paolo Bacigalupi writes the future we're pointed at now.

Kekkaishi by Yellow Tanabe - I love this manga maybe more than it deserves. It's pretty standard shonen faire, but they way it does it just resonates with me at points. The relationship with the badass older brother, the way the magic works, the mystery and deception from people who you want to trust. It's very enjoyable.

Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa - Holy crap this manga is so good. The art, the story, the science, the characters, all amazing. If you don't read it, at least watch the Show, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (that's the version that's more faithful to the manga)

There are so many more, but I think I will stop here. If you read this list and feel like doing one of your own, consider yourself challenged. Provide me with a link and I will read your list.

And let me know if you have read, or have decided to read any of the books I listed here, I'd love to know what you think.

Disentangling

So yeah, I'm leaving facebook.

I think their name policy is bullshit and demonstrative of the general disdain for the user-base they operate on. Sure it's legal but I don't think it's ethical and it absolutely isn't considerate. Who says they get to demand vulnerability from people without accepting any kind of accountability?

I think the service they provide is internet on training wheels: there is nothing facebook does that isn't done better elsewhere.

But most of all I've been noticing that the person I am on facebook isn't the person I am in my day-to-day life, and is even further from the person I aspire to be. He's angry, belligerent, arrogant, sometimes petty and mean. I'd get worked-up and it'd bleed into my time with people in the real-world.

...and then I found out they were doing it on purpose.
I've been thinking about the reveal of their illegal and completely unethical research, and their response to being exposed. I've been thinking about how when I use facebook, I am the product they are selling to advertisers and the data they gather from me is monetized six ways from Sunday and then some. I've been thinking about all of that and I've decided that whatever I've been getting out of using facebook, whatever charge I get from arguing with people and seeing my comments and posts garner ephemeral approval from friends, family, and acquaintances, it's just not worth being manipulated into being an asshole so I can make someone else rich.

So fuck Facebook, I'm out.

Over the next week or so, I will be moving all of the content I want to keep from facebook to other media and making myself more actively available to people in other forms. This need not be goodbye, I'm still on the internet every day. I'll just be leaving this gross little section of it and heading out to somewhere where I can be a little more grown up and positive.

You can find me here, on my blog. I will be posting a myriad of things as often as I can.
You can find me on Google+ which is my preferred social media.
You can find me on Twitter
You can find me on Ello if you're in the beta

Thanks! I'll see you around.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

So you want to ban a book...

If for whatever reason it strikes your fancy that a particular book should be banned or restricted from a given audience, I have a question that I suggest you ask of yourself:

What does this say about me?

Trying to ban a book says much more about you than it does about the book.

It shows us what ideas you're afraid of, and how very afraid of them you are.

Attempting to ban a book isn't just an objection to an idea, it's an abjuration of one. If you weren't afraid of whatever you're calling out in the book, you'd be able to engage with it critically, call out its flaws, and feel confident that your views will triumph in a free and open discussion. By making an end run around the discussion entirely, you signal that you don't want to be challenged. It says that you don't have the courage to defend your views, and don't trust the audience's ability to make up their own minds.

In attempting to ban a book, you put your own prejudices on display.

You state that you believe your judgement should supersede that of other people, that you know best, and that you don't have to expose yourself to argument.

You probably don't have the authority to decide what students read, or what is or isn't placed on library shelves because the people with that power express it positively. Most often, they're making lists of books for people to read, and regretting that those lists can't be longer.

You certainly don't have the power to truly enforce a ban. Even if you get what you want and the book in question is removed from the summer reading list or the school library or whatever, that doesn't stop the book from existing. You can't un-write it, and while you may have closed one avenue of access to it, there will always be countless other paths to connect an interested reader with the book they're looking for.

Libraries are a thing.
Bookstores are a thing.
The internet is a thing.
Friends' bookshelves are a thing.

Whether that's sex, harsh language, violence, or a political theme that you're opposed to, by trying to ban the book, you're shining a spotlight not only on the book, but directly on the aspect of the book that you find objectionable. Where before that might have been overlooked for one reason or another, you have called attention to it as directly as if it were featured on the cover in neon lettering. People are not only going to look at the book in question, they're going to know what to look for. And when they find it, they'll know what frightens you.

Most people I know don't take well to being told what they can and can't do. Children, teenagers, or adults: people just don't like being pushed around.

There are people who read banned books specifically because someone, somewhere tried to ban them. Hell, we even made a week where we celebrate the practice.

When you try to ban a book you draw our attention to the book you don't want us to read and the reasons you don't want us to read it. You make a public declaration of your prejudice and your self-righteous need to see it inflicted on others.

You issue a challenge, and the people who will take you up on it are much, much better at getting books into the hands of interested readers than you will ever be at keeping them out.

Friday, August 29, 2014

PAX prime 2014

After such an awful week of people who identify as Gamers behaving indefensibly, I want to say that I hope that this PAX weekend is the best one yet. Not because we need to take attention away from the negative aspects of our community, but because we need to be motivated to stand up for our community against those who would like to claim it for themselves as their hateful little club.

Stewardship is important to me, and for me, being a nerd and a gamer has always been about liking things enthusiastically and unapologetically, and sharing them happily with anyone who was willing to give them a try.

The argument has been made, that being a 'gamer' as a identity is dying, and that that is necessarily a good thing. I don't know if that's true, but it seems a sad thing to me, because I've always felt identifying myself by the joy I take in a thing was ... well, joyful.

I hope that the wonderful, progressive, and thoughtful people who I know will be going to PAX and talking about it in person and online will take the opportunity to come together against the toxicity in our community, and become galvanized to speak out against it both during and after the event.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Prince Privilege

Once upon a time, there was a really big, really strong prince.

He stood taller than everyone else in the kingdom, had big strong arms and massive feet. He liked to wear thick heavy boots when he went out so he could ride out into the forest or do something heroic and princely at a moment's notice.

He genuinely loved his people and wanted to be good to them, but sometimes he noticed how they acted hurt or upset around him.


Then one day, as he paraded through the marketplace someone shouted "HEY, watch where you're walking BOZO! You stepped on my foot!"

No one had ever dared to speak to the prince this way, and he was taken aback and his feelings were hurt. He had been stepping on feet all this time but because of his strength and status no one before had ever spoken out to him about it.

Now, the prince never meant to step on any feet, and he can't help that he was born a prince or grew really big. And no one had ever told him to look where he was going before so how could he have known?

But that doesn't make stepping on feet a good thing to do. And it doesn't make it not the prince's responsibility to avoid stepping on feet. And it doesn't make the prince the injured party in the incident where he's called out on it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Affluenza Quarentine.

Ok, everyone sounding off about the DUI teen getting off on the 'affluenza' argument, a word please.

I don't know what happened in that courtroom, and honestly neither do you. People are flipping out about the double-standard between rich and poor and pointing to this as an example, and they totally should.

But I'm not sure the judge in this case is to blame.

I think it might just be possible that instead of being taken in by a bullshit argument and coddling a rich, white shithead, the Judge in the case looked at the odds of a minor given twenty years (the maximum sentence) only serving two and then having their record expunged (totally possible) vs 10 years probation, which puts him under the thumb of the law for a decade with no chance of shortening that term and if he breaks probation the case for harsh punishment is much stronger.

I don't know if that actually is the reasoning behind the verdict. But I hope it is the case, because I'd like to believe there a judges who pragmatically put the good of society above how their verdicts will play out in a sensationalist media.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gun rights advocacy: You're probably doing it wrong.

The other day I got into a Facebook discussion about gun rights.

A friend had posted an article from a gun rights webpage wherein they praised an armed man for stopping a mass shooting. I pointed out that with at least 250 mass shootings in the US this year alone (defined as an instance of four or more people being shot -not including the shooter themselves) that brings what I've taken to calling the 'Gunman Savior' strategy's success rate up to 0.4%.

I've since read some actual research which suggests that the rate of successful armed intervention may be as high as 1.6% of mass shooting incidents.

This is not the rock upon which to build an argument in support of the idea of gun ownership as a thing of practical value to society.

(By the way, I don't think defense against a tyrannical government is a very good one either. There have been plenty of groups and individuals in recent history that thought they were doing just that, and it worked out poorly for everyone.)

My friend responded to my -admittedly snarky- post with a good deal of defensiveness and personal indignation. When I pointed out that throwing a tantrum was not a good way to convince me he was someone who should have the unfettered and unregulated right to own and bear firearms, he deleted the entire thread.

It may surprise you to know that I am not altogether opposed to a society where private citizens may own and even carry firearms. I used to be, but I was convinced by polite and informed discussion in a FARK comment thread that reasonable adults willing to take on that responsibility should be allowed to do so. (Though we also agreed that increased scrutiny and culpability for said individuals was also reasonable.)

It made so much sense, I wondered why no one had gotten through to me before. And then I read some of the voices that came into the thread later and understood.

Gun rights advocates are their own worst enemy.

I know a number of people who own guns, and they are amongst the most responsible, stable, and trustworthy people I know. One is an instructor who teaches victims of sexual assault and domestic violence how to own and use guns safely.

I have no doubt that reasonably crafted legislation that came out of an informed conversation about second amendment rights and public safety would leave the circumstances of their gun ownership wholly unchanged. They'd still store their guns safely, practice or hunt with them lawfully and safely, and enjoy them and the feeling of security and confidence they have described to me without feeling threatened by other people who don't think owning guns is such a great idea.

But we can't have that conversation with people shouting at each other. Extremists and zealots are the proverbial assholes that ruin it for everybody, and honestly, if gun ownership is put up as an all-or-nothing proposition, I'm much more comfortable with nothing.

I'm not saying there isn't unreasonable extremism amongst gun control advocates -there are idiots everywhere, but the narrative of the gun control argument isn't being dictated by the extremes, and I feel like the gun rights narrative is (with some help from cynical interests who stand to profit.)

For everyone's sake, I hope that the reasonable voices start to speak up, because we could certainly use them. And if you think you are a reasonable voice, here are a few tips on how to speak to a person like me:

1) Acknowledge that guns mean the power to kill.
Don't trot out the bullshit lines about guns being for targets or whatever. If you're not willing to admit that a gun is a tool designed to take life, you're not going to convince me of anything except that you shouldn't have a gun.

2) Acknowledge that it is reasonable to be concerned.
If you accept tip 1, tip 2 is pretty obvious. The power to kill should not be taken lightly, and when someone says that they should have access to that power, it's not unreasonable to want assurances that it will not be misused or abused.

3) People are not stupid for knowing less about firearms than you, and liking them less is not the same thing as knowing less.
In response to the 1994 assault weapons ban, and in 2004 during the discussion of whether to extend the ban or allow it to lapse, many characterized the outlawed modifications as purely cosmetic. This is not the case, and while you may disagree that modifications outlined in the assault weapons ban truly made a weapon more likely to be used against people rather than targets and game, using a such an obvious straw-man does not help your case with moderates like myself.

If you have facts about the operation and capabilities of a gun that you think people like me are ignorant of and you think are pertinent to crafting policy, believe me we'd love to hear your input. But if you want to dismiss arguments that are uncomfortable to you as being the hysteria of people who don't and can't know what guns are really like, don't expect to have your own arguments taken very seriously in return.

4) Understand that in the end, we all want the same thing.
We all want to be safer and more secure. We all want to keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them to do harm. We all want responsible adults to be free to conduct their affairs in a way that affords them dignity, respect, and agency over their actions and circumstances.

People may disagree on how to go about accomplishing these goals, but that disagreement does not define a line between good and bad, or smart and stupid.