March 31st, 2015

Jon Ronson's new book is out!

I'm a little distressed about it, because I'm afraid he's going to take all the fun out of pointing out wrong doing and condemning it. I think that's basic human nature, and I'm hoping he is only going to focus on one form of this, because saying no more pointing out wrong doing is just not gonna fly. Right up there with, all violence is wrong. (Yes, I come from a long line of pacifists and yes, I have pacifist friends, but we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.)

Anyway. I've started reading it, and he has already confirmed something I've suspected for a while!

"he'd just had a job offer. The Washington Post had invited him to blog for ten days. Not that the timing was so great: "It was July Fourth. Everyone was on vacation. There were no readers and there wasn't a lot of news.""

I've been saying for a while that I just have to quit paying attention to the news on certain holidays (notably, from shortly before school lets out until shortly after Labor Day, and from just before T-weekend until well into the first week of the New Year) because all the Real Adults are busy with the rest of their lives and the people left doing news are just random and aggravating. Ha! I did not imagine this phenomenon.

_Kris Longknife: Tenacious_, Mike Shepherd SPOILER

Amazon's detail page for the book says this is Book 12. I have no reason to disbelieve, altho I have no idea if that includes the Vicky Peterwald book(s) (probably not). If you want to read entertainingly silly military sf with a female lead and you are okay with the author being male, this series may be for you, but don't start with this book.


Oh, wait, it's been desecrated by a Longknife. *sigh*

Shepherd has actually done some really weirdly interesting things in this entry. Of course we don't know if it is possible to have a space faring empire much less conduct wars, and all speculation on this topic is a bunch of foolishness, but it's fun foolishness. In this outing, Shepherd has taken on some tropes (crazy powerful alien race won't communicate and is annihilating everything in its path, wackadoodle mutineer/mutiny, feeding an armed force "off the land" in while space faring) and I think he may have actually come up with some genuinely new explanations.

I am _so not kidding about the spoilers_. Just leave now.

All right. Let's start with the wackadoodle mutineer. Someone comes out to Alwa, and then wants to go home, but of course no one is going home lest they be followed by the crazy powerful alien race which won't communicate and is annihilating everything in its path. Said someone hijacks a ship and hightails it. This is wackadoodle for a variety of reasons (obvs, the Longknife will give chase, more importantly, a very high risk run home unescorted plus the crew doesn't include people with the right skill set to keep the ship running all the way home), and the person who conducts the mutiny comes from a wealthy background and is a high ranking officer. So, why? Brain tumor! Great explanation! I like this _way_ better than some other author attempts to explain The Cray Cray which they had someone commit for plot purposes.

Shepherd doesn't stop there with the, Why Are You So Crazy? answers. Once Longknife and the boffins get to the alien home world and do their Sherlockian detecting, they start looking at the hunter gatherers hanging out on the home world and conclude from brain analysis of them (and listening to their sagas) that the earliest trophies in the Holy of Holies (the royal family right down to the twin babies, encased in plastic for all eternity) were the folk who enslaved the crazy powerful (before they were crazy powerful), and part of that enslavement process atrophied (okay, this part is weak) that part of the brain that let's people feel like they are part of something bigger than them. This both provides an explanation (oh, they don't listen because they can't see any connection to anyone who isn't them, wait that doesn't make sense, but Shepherd explains it as sort of monolithic groupthink? Okay) and a potential fix (maybe we can fix their brains!).

And about that Holy of Holies. It's a TV/movie/fiction serial murderer trophy collection, only for entire species. Unfortunately, when you take the repulsive ick factor of a serial murderer's trophy collection and cross it with ALIENS WILL KILL YOU AND EVERYONE EVOLUTIONARILY RELATED TO YOU which is pretty horrifying, it turns out (at least for me) to be sort of boringly overwrought. But I applaud it on a technical level, because I Love Genre Smooshing.

Also in this book: matriarchal cat people! Really, the cos play opportunities here. Divine!

The best part of the book, IMO, is the How Do We Feed Everyone problem. It makes a great contrast between the planet-independent space faring crazy people and the planet-dependent space faring rescuer types.

At times, I get confused about which crazy powerful alien race that will destroy you and everything evolutionarily related to you right down to the microbes I am reading about. I find that if I remember King Arther Duct Tape = Jack Campbell and the heroine is related to everyone and hangs out with a bunch of birds = Mike Shepherd really helps keep it straight in my mind. If you stick to reading either Campbell/Hemry OR Shepherd, that'd work, too.

Liveblogging Ronson's _So You've Been Publicly Shamed_

I _like_ Ronson _because_ he is overwrought. But that doesn't stop me from occasionally experiencing a sense of unwilling detachment from his tale and going, okay, that's just way overwrought.

Michael Moynihan's takedown of Jonah Lehrer for making shit up in a book about Dylan is summarized. "Michael asked me if I'd ever ... stumbled on a piece of information that, if published, would destroy someone? ... "Don't ever do it," he said. ... "What we do, when we fuck up, we don't lose our job. We lose our vocation.""

Okay, so that's not Ronson, technically. That's him quoting a source. Anyway. First of all, no vocation is lost! Jonah Lehrer is still posting longform journalism over on his blog, right here:

Ronson mentions Stephen Glass (inevitable comparison). You can make a slightly better case for end of a vocation in Glass' case, altho I would argue that even that case is weak (and weakened by the fact that, assuming you _believe_ in the idea of a vocation, it is questionable whether Glass had a journalistic calling in the first place).

ETA: And Ronson notes the parallel and comes to a comparable conclusion.

Sort of.

The choices at 12% of the way into the book for characterizing Lehrer are: "Michael had called his [Lehrer's] cover-up a "great deception that was very, very well plotted." But I think it was just chaos, and on that last day before the story broke, Jonah wasn't "icy" but wrecked."

I think Lehrer is a really smart guy who is slightly sloppy, talks fast and recovers well. The other two characterizations fail to capture any of that, imo. "Chaos" doesn't account for the continuing success. And the "plotted" characterization gives Lehrer credit for a degree of forethought entirely absent in the story so far.

I will say this: I'm catching up on a lot of scandals that I missed at the time (how do I miss this stuff? I must be doing something wrong. Or right? Unclear). Altho I will add that I prefer rehabilitation attempts that do not minimize the original error. If you made a racist, sexist or whatever remark (even if it was a misunderstood bit of sarcasm or whatever), your rehabilitation should not ask the audience to think that racist, sexist or whatever remarks are now okay. Rehabilitation attempts should direct attention to what the shamed person has substantively _done_ that can be generally understood as A Good Thing. You know, _deeds_. Deeds are what will redeem you. (Obvs, if you got shamed for something which we now _do_ recognize as a good thing, that's different. No rehabilitation needed, per se.)

So, I don't know, but I'm starting to wonder about Ronson. He has just finished pointing out that Lehrer got paid $20K for the Knight speech (Ronson did not give honest feedback to Lehrer on that speech! Altho I doubt I would have even agreed to read it, but if I had, judging by my behavior with my friends, I would have nitpicked that sucker to death.) and then that Moynihan only got $2200 for the original expose that started the avalanche. Then there's a discussion between Moynihan and Ronson in which they emote ambivalence about their role in the avalanche and revulsion at the villagers behind them. "They had all gone for the part of the people in the lithographs being ribald at whippings."

I dunno. On the one hand, he's pretty up front about how ambivalent he is feeling, so picking on Ronson for being rhetorically ambivalent (how unfair that Moynihan got $2200 and Lehrer got $20K -- but then picking on the villagers who are stampeding along because of other observations on the subject of injustice as it relates to Lehrer) would be weird. On the other hand, I kinda just want him to own it. ""I'm watching people stabbing and stabbing and stabbing Jonah," Michael said, "and I'm, 'HE'S DEAD.'"" Nobody died here. $20K. A book deal due out in May. A blog. Etc. Save the drama for something worth while. You know, climate change.

"As Jonah Lehrer stood in front of that giant screen Twitter feed on February 12, 2013, he experienced something that had been widely considered appalling in the eighteenth century." I dunno. Being whipped in public, and giving a speech in front of a live feed (for which he was apparently compensated monetarily) do not seem to be _precisely_ the same.

Looks like Ronson-the-ultimate-empath knew he gave bad feedback on the speech. Here's his explanation: "I thought that telling him it was fantastic was my best chance of winning the interview." On the one hand, tempting the reader to say BUT THAT IS DISHONEST AND SLOPPY. On the other hand, his point is clear: see, this is what we nailed Lehrer for, but we all do it anyway. Well, maybe this all comes down to where we fall in some two dimensional space defined by an axis of rule enforcing and a crossing axis of rule abiding. Moynihan is both rule enforcing and rule abiding -- and maybe as a result, suffers from difficulties making money. Lehrer is not particularly either, and for a while did pretty good. I don't think it is actually that simple. I think we actually care a lot more about some rules (don't make shit up and don't steal other people's stuff) than others (don't re-use your own work and sell it a second time). And the fact that Lehrer keeps pointing to the latter as a problem and sort of evading around the former makes a lot of people nervous. Sort of like my erstwhile friend: first I learned she cheated at poker, then she told me about her hit-and-run (where she did the hitting and running part), and eventually, when I RSVP'ed on a (3rd) wedding invite saying my boyfriend was out of town but I'd be bringing my girlfriend, and she found a bunch of ways to try to disinvite the girlfriend (she won't know anyone, my fave, since the girlfriend knew more people in the social circle than I did) before finally stammering out something that amounted to No Don't Bring A Girlfriend. I chose to interpret that as homophobia, and that was the end of that friendship (couldn't have been racial bigotry because both the girlfriend and the boyfriend were the same in appearance). I think when people break certain rules in certain ways, and non-apologize for them in particular ways, we all get a little, wha-? And wonder what is going to happen next.

About a third of the way through, Ronson gives a thumbnail history of his experience of Twitter. At the beginning, no one picking on anyone. Later, righteous takedowns. Then constant criticism, disproportionate and poorly targeted. "In fact, it felt weird and empty when there wasn't anyone to be furious about." I recognize this feeling. It's usually a sign that I need to quit reading news and go for a walk or read a book or work on a project or something. That's a real process, almost like a criticism avalanche. His description of it is really excellent.

Next: "I was recently at a spa -- my wife booked it for me as a special surprise, which shows she really doesn't know me because I don't like being touched" Ha! Well, my husband knows better than to do this. ;-) Altho I have had at least one significant other in the past who made that error.

Amazon Dash Button

h/t BI, and Nate over at Inks, Bits & Pixels h/t Zatz Not Funny and the FCC (links at the bottom)

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Okay. WiFi only button device, stick it to your washing machine or whatever, press it when you notice you need more detergent, it is part of the Internet Of Things and basically orders you up a batch of your default via Amazon. You get an email asking if you meant to do that to deal with the playful child problem (or bumped it by accident, presumably).

Discussion in the comments at Nate's blog is basically, who needs this? Twitterverse is full of gee I thought this was an April Fool's Joke.

I have a theory about what is going on here. When I was a child, my father stocked up on things like paper towel, toilet paper, tissue boxes. There was an exposed beam between the two bays of our two car garage and he put shelves on either side the whole length and that's where they went. When I got my own place years later, I had a storage unit (basically a locked closet in the condo basement/garage level) and I found places that would give me case discounts on similar items and I kept back stock also (there's a funny story about Y2K preparation that other people were doing and I just laughed, because this was my normal way of doing things. Anyway.). Now, my husband goes to Costco and we have metal shelving in the garage with shelf stable food and paper products. Do I need a Dash Button? No more than I need trepanation.

But just because I am part of a network of control freak-y, hoarding people obsessed with domestic order (why yes, about 80% of my ancestry is Dutch; why do you ask?) does not mean everyone is. And I can easily imagine a Dash button as an IoT implementation of domestic Just In Time inventory control that does not require the user or users to co-ordinate supply orders. See what I did there? Basically, the Dash button means you don't have to talk to your spouse any more to tell them you are out of X and could they please order some more -- and you never have to worry about them yelling at you for forgetting to tell them you were out of X before they went to Costco to buy stuff.

I have no idea if this is going to take off or not. But I will say this. I sure do love that I've got an app that controls my garage door, and another one to control the up and down stairs thermostats. Those made my life better, even tho I did not need them. For all I know, the Dash button will make someone else's life better. We'll find out.

Don't Make Jokes

I'm about a quarter through Jon Ronson's latest book, and it is enjoyable. I recommend it, as I do pretty much everything by him, because even when I don't agree with him, I learn a lot about how he thinks about the world and how I think about the world, and the combination gives me a little angle on how still other people might think about the world. For me, this is a Big Deal and super valuable.

When I read the excerpt about Sacco that caused me to pre-order the book, something really stood out, and it stood out again this second time through.

"To me, it was so insane a comment for an American to make I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was a literal statement."

There are awful people who say awful things and then when you say, "That was completely unacceptable," they say something along the lines of what can't you take a joke. I see no indication that Sacco is that kind of person.

I think Sacco is a lot more like my cousin B., who I adore, but who I absolutely dread going certain places with, because he, like other people who we both are related to, seems to be congenitally unable to NOT make jokes when going through security lines. Despite the signs clearly saying don't make jokes. Despite everyone with them saying clearly, in advance, don't make jokes.

Probably a wiring problem, but one really, really, really worth compensating for if at all possible. My solution, for the most part, is Don't Make Jokes. Don't Be Sarcastic. Don't Use Indirect Speech. As bad as literal minded bluntness is, when I try to deliver a message under a different other message, I cock it up 9 times out of 8.

ETA: When I read this in excerpt form, I got hung up on another quote, "I was making fun of that bubble." Which is sort of the security line part of this situation. Don't Attack the Bourgie project that is our bubble of safety and happiness. You can lobby to get more people in, or rearrange the furniture, but attacking the bubble is Not A Good Idea.