Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Ring in the New Year with some British comedy quiz shows

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As you prepare, celebrate (or recover from) the New Year, there's really no better way than British comedy quiz shows.

I'm personally quite fond of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and Quite Interesting (or QI).  If you're unlucky enough to not be able to find them on a cable package, you can usually find episodes on YouTube or elsewhere.  (Though the latter means that links and video embeds sometimes goes away). Below I've embedded the holiday episode from YT, but also a short clip to give you an idea of what you're in for.

The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is hosted by Jimmy Carr, features celebrities and comedians answering trivia questions about the last year in a "pub quiz" format, and is about as dryly profane as you'd imagine, and hilarious.

QI this season is hosted by Sandi Toksvig (it used to be hosted by Stephen Fry), and while it proports to be a quiz show, it often devolves - or really, evolves - into a freewheeling amusing roundtable discussion about obscure facts and knowledge.

Happy New Year!

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Relationships In The New Year

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To get started, let's dismiss a quick thought about polyamory:
The idea that poly people are more "evolved" is a myth. 
It's a stupid claim, and anyone who claims it is deluded.
I'm sure you can find someone who thinks it and says it aloud or publicly. My point still stands.
There's no one relationship model that works best for everyone. Even (most) poly people recognize this. One person's idea of polyamory may - and probably will - look very different than another's. Hell, there's continual debate between the relationship anarchy folks and the heirarchy folks and other groups I simply can't think of right now.
The sheer fact of being polyamorous means that any issues you have in your relationships can't be glossed over indefinitely. They'll come to the forefront faster than if you're in a monogamous relationship.
Things like compersion and deliberateness are no longer optional; they're requirements.
And these skills are freaking awesome in your relationships, whether you're polyamorous or monogamous or somewhere inbetween.
But that's not the biggest thing. That's this:
You'll screw up more. Possibly a lot more.
And as a result of that - if you're paying attention to your mistakes, and how to fix them - is that you'll get better at relationships.
A gentleman at Penguicon last year said "I've been practicing polyamory for twenty years - and I say practicing because I'm still getting better."
Every relationship you have - every interaction you have - is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Especially when you screw up.
We often view "practice" as somehow lesser than actually doing. That's a really depressing way of looking at it.
LIFE IS PRACTICE. We constantly practice. We constantly improve.
And if you're not, if you think you're somehow at the pinnacle of relationships, you're simply deluding yourself.
As we hit the new year, I have a challenge for you:
Let's all practice with our relationships this year. Whether they're at work, online, romantic, platonic, it doesn't matter.
Let's practice. Let's try new ways of relating. Let's screw up. Let's learn.
Let's become better.
Happy New Year.

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I'm putting new projects on hold until existing ones are completed

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The end of 2014 almost ended me. I experienced a huge emotional shock which kicked me off-kilter for most of 2015 and put most of my publishing efforts on hold.

Then, at the end of 2015, I started up again with the Kickstarter for recompose.

That I ended up in the hospital before it was over should have been a warning sign.

For Alliteration Ink, 2016 has been marked by a departure from my prior behavior, and not in a good way. A portion of it has been other people, but really, the blame lies with me. Whether due to depression, physical illness, or other factors, every project in 2016 has been late in coming to fulfillment.

It was important for me to start publishing again at the end of 2015 and through this year. But it's clear that I overestimated my own resources and how much I'd recovered. While I've been much better (emotionally, at least; I've been physically sick almost continuously since November), that also meant that I was dealing with half a year's backlog.

But that's all excuses. Reasons, if you want to be generous, but really, excuses.
I've not been able to fulfill my promise to all of you, to deliver the books that you so generously supported both emotionally and financially.


Before I start any new publishing projects, Alliteration Ink is going to finish fulfilling all outstanding projects. That includes Devils' Field, recompose, No Shit, There I Was, and Steampunk Universe.

While those projects are finishing, I'll be putting things in place so that I'm able to be healthy and productive - and so that if I get laid low (for whatever reason), everything doesn't come off the rails.

After that, we'll start back up, beginning with a second year of recompose.

Thank you for your patience and support.

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But you'd call me Steve: Nicknames and gender

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I think that I usually introduce myself as Steve. I'm not sure, though. Maybe it's Steven.

That's what eight years of only being called by your last name will do to you. 

I am sure of this:  Inevitably, I'm asked "Do you prefer Steve or Steven?"

I mention this today, when the North Carolina legislature (shortly after the GOP legislative coup) goes to consider repealing the "transgender bathroom law".

One of the most common ways that transpeople are dehumanized and discriminated against is by refusing to call them by their target gender and instead insisting on referring to them as their biological sex.  This even spawns awful memes like "identifying as an attack helicopter".

But here's the thing: People remember whether to call me Steve or Steven.  They'd remember if I asked them to call me by my middle name, or by a nickname. Sometimes they'd slip up or forget, and I'd remind them, but by and large, they'd get it right. All of us has a huge database in our heads of not just what first name goes with which person, but what specific variations goes with each person.

And if we deliberately, intentionally, called someone a variation they disliked?  

You'd be a total asshat.

So, here's the simple question:

Why wouldn't someone do the same thing for gender that we already do for first names?

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The lengths @ATT used to keep me as a customer, and how they ensured I'd leave. #att

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I'm currently trying to cancel my cellular service with AT&T.  (Ironically, there's a commercial for their service on the radio station I'm listening to right now.)

I was easily able to sign up for services - or increase my services online, but to cancel them, I had to make a phone call - one for each service.

Annoying, but sadly predictable. I expected it.

I was also expecting the “concern” where they worried about making sure I would have service, the upsell trying to get me to buy something else instead.

I was not expecting to be transferred four different times, each time first going to an automated message tree which connected me to a customer service rep who told me that I'd been transferred to the wrong department, then back to another automated message tree.

I was not expecting the customer service reps to have their headset volume set so low that I couldn't hear what they were saying… even though I could hear the automated messages from the phone tree loud and clear.

There's making sure your customers actually want to leave… and then there's poisoning the well. While the profit motive (and short-run gains) may explain some of it - there's a good bit from the NY Times detailing this - the damage it does to your company's reputation is far more widespread.

While this kind of strategy can still make a certain amount of (evil) sense in areas where there's a near-monopoly, doing so in an area as competitive as cellular service is simply insane… especially when it can tarnish your reputation in other bundled markets (internet, television, etc).

Luckily, I'm working the swing shift, so I can swing by a physical AT&T store tomorrow and force the issue in person.

I wonder if they'll insist on whispering.

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The Golden Throne: How Trump's Chair Choice Sent Two Different Messages

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As individuals, we carry around certain assumptions about how the world works. They're often unconscious until we drag them into the light. Similarly, our entire culture seems to have some subconscious ideas, and one of them might help explain one of the most unusual things about Trump's ascendancy.

The concept of the Protestant work ethic is strong in American society (and turns out to be a real, testable thing). The basic idea - at least, the part that is important here - is that material success is a sign of spiritual success.

That's not really what the theology involved says - it requires a believe in predestination, for example, which I don't think is particularly widespread - but the concept as summarized above does seem to be real. For example, unemployment is more emotionally damaging in majority Protestant countries than elsewhere.

It doesn't matter whether you are Protestant or not; the subconscious cultural idea (again, deriving from, but separate from the actual doctrine) impacts everyone in that society to some degree.

This implies that not only is a lack of success seen as a spiritual and moral failure, but that success (or at least, the impression of it) is seen as a spiritual and moral success.

And that brings us back to Trump.  When the 60 Minutes interview aired, this image (or ones just like it) were all over the place:
Many (including myself) saw those golden thrones and thought "out of touch" or something like this:
But what we didn't think about then - and apparently haven't thought about yet - is that the very thing that seemed inappropriate and out of touch may have struck a subconscious nerve with a non-trivial number of Americans. That these very trappings of ostentatious wealth communicated moral authority and rightness at an unconscious level.

This would go a long way toward explaining why some religious leaders fell all over themselves trying to justify and rationalize away the ways that Trump's words and actions didn't and don't meet their faith tradition's rules.

Because it's easier to rationalize away one person's actions than to imply that a deep, nearly unconscious belief in the Protestant Work Ethic and the related Horatio Alger "bootstrapping" myth is flat out wrong

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Abortions, Heartbeats, and the End of Life

So, once again, Ohio lawmakers slipped an anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" in among other legislation. Which is a legit tactic...

...but it seems pretty shady and underhanded if it's something you really believe in.

More troubling to me is the whole idea of a "heartbeat" benchmark for life. Like, let's talk about when life begins.

I'm not particularly interested in what your book or your spiritual leader has to say here, for reasons that will become obvious. I'm looking to try to understand where a particular moral reaction comes from.

Keep in mind that this isn't some philosophical hand-wringing. Not only do we literally have scientists trying to really determine if viruses (and prions!) are "alive", but these definitions have a very real world impact on women.

One of the things I sometimes do as part of my day job is a "brain death" study. It's literally one of the (usually three; it varies by state) ways to determine if someone's dead. We literally image whether or not the brain is using resources... or not.

And that's long had me thinking - any criteria for determining when life ends would also be the criteria for when life begins, and vice versa.

And that starts to get really problematic really fast.

For example, brain activity of the kind we associate with life (or its lack being associated with non-life) starts around week 25. Ooops.

Reflex-type movements start kicking in around weeks 14-16, but again, that doesn't necessarily require higher brain function (a surprising amount of your reflexes is handled by the spinal cord and such).

Viability outside the womb? Well, that depends entirely on how much tech you have around you and how good your insurance is. Which also applies at the end of life, so maybe... but that means life is a sliding scale, not an actual critiera.

Conception? What makes that special? That two sets of DNA merge? If so, that raises other problems - that merging is not instantaneous, and it implies by omission that clones are inherently "not alive"... or at least, less alive than a cell that's been infected with the DNA and RNA of a virus from outside the body. Bah.

A heartbeat? Well, let's think back to where I started - a person who we can demonstrate doesn't have blood flow to their brain, but whose heart still beats. Are they alive? Are they non-life? Do we have an oblication to keep their heart beating indefinitely?

The same logic also shows the folly of those who claim the father gets a "right" to choose what a woman does. Why is that? Because of sperm? What about the billions of sperm masturbated into socks or tissues (or night ejaculation if you're going to claim that masturbation is bad for some reason).

You get the idea.

I'm hard pressed to find a concrete demarcation of "life" during gestation and birth that doesn't have massively bad implications for the person (or society at large) on the flip side of thier life.

Especially the heartbeat.

I still stand by my pro-choice and anti-abortion manifesto.  Maybe you should take a peek and see if it works for you, too.


Westworld, Consciousness, and the Limitations of Selfishness

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What's been most interesting about this first season of Westworld has been the somewhat feminist bent of the thematic elements of the show, whether through refuting the manic pixie dream girl and  the large (and perhaps unintentional) feminist metaphor in the series arc. Now that we're done with season one and everyone's written their recaps and first impressions, it's time to take another look and see if this trend continued.  Obviously, spoilers for season one of Westworld follow after this kick-ass picture of Dolores.

It's worth a shoutout to two blog articles that really inform the way I'm looking at the show here.

First, Eli Keel's analysis of season one of  iZombie as an allegory for surviving sexual assault is just amazing. I was already enjoying the show when I read that article, and seeing the additional layer increased my appreciation of the show.  Second, Katharine Trendacosta wrote a great article pointing out that the "mysteries" of Westworld aren't really the point of the show. Instead, she suggests that the themes of the narrative really are the whole point of the show.

Looking at Westworld with that kind of lens, it's clear that Dolores' story in particular is informed by being in - and surviving - an abusive relationship.  (John Cheese's article on Cracked about living with abuse is a useful read here as well; I'm cribbing a few things from it.) 

While William starts out as a prototypical (although perhaps clueless) "nice guy", we saw back in E07 that at some level, he still views Dolores as a "thing". Then just an episode later, that's reinforced with his "break down" comment. 

All this could simply be written up as the differences between the hosts and "human" guests, but it's the monologue from The Man In Black (or present-day William, as we now know) where he says:

She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
And that's exactly what we see in the season finale.

Because despite the selling point of the park being to "find out who you really are", William never does. He attributes the change in his personality to this (where he's talking about himself in the third person:
[William] Didn't have an instinct for it. Not at first.
But now, he had a reason to fight.
He was looking for you.
And somewhere along the way, he found he had a taste for it....
William couldn't find you, Dolores.
But out there, among the dead he found something else himself.

This is what he thinks is his transformation, but once his flashback gets back to Dolores, we see her back in her loop, dropping her can, greeting a new guest as William looks on, stunned that she does not acknowledge him.  The MiB says:

You were as beautiful as the day he met you.
Shining with that same light.
And you were nothing if not true.
I really ought to thank you, Dolores.
You helped me find myself.

Here, while the MiB repeats the same dehumanizing thing he said three episodes earlier, without really acknowledging that this is at the heart of his change, we have a different - and truer - visual narrative.

It's from this point that William turns from a mostly nice guy (since when is going to any lengths to save your love a bad thing?) into a hateful selfish man who buys up as much of the park as possible and, as we saw back in the first episode, will rape the woman who he professed to love because she didn't love him back the same way. Nevermind that her memory was literally wiped clean - something every guest to the park is aware of.

It's at this point that William turns into the petulant entitled child that embodies the worst part - and the main part - of our patriarchal culture. All of William's professions of caring, of love, boil down to it all needing to be about him.  His later protestations about wanting the hosts to have a chance, to be able to win sometimes, have nothing to do with the well-being of the hosts, and everything to do with William's own ego.

That's exactly what the park - and our patriarchal society - is set up to do.

There's a quote from an interview with Jimmi Simpson (who played young William) in Vanity Fair that is very telling:

I feel like William is a man who has seen the rules very clearly. That’s a lot of people’s mode of getting through life. When you have nothing, you have to abide by other people’s rules, and play their game, and play it well. And then they give you a cookie. I think what he saw [during his Westworld experience] was that playing by the rules to get the cookie actually hadn’t gotten him anywhere.

He goes from following the rules to making the rules, and I think that happens when your heart breaks. You realize, “Holy shit, I have nothing to lose. That didn't kill me.” Then you start calling the shots. I really related to that, being a person who was in a very long-term relationship and was married and then divorced. There comes a clarity of what’s important. For the narrative, the Man in Black’s realization is pretty dramatic and exciting. But, like mine, it's very much “Oh, that kind of stuff won’t kill me. I can try a little harder. I can go after what I want more, and I can be myself, and fuck it.”

Simpson's own rationalization here - just like William's - uses emotional pain as a rationale and justification for wielding power over other people, and it's revolting.

I've had that kind of pain myself. While I got suicidal, the idea of lashing out to deliberately hurt the person I cared for never have crossed my mind. (I also think the use of "get a cookie" by Simpson is particularly chilling; I hope it's unintentional.) 

We repeatedly see the humans in the show acting in ultimately patriarchal might-makes-right selfish ways. Even Dr. Ford's motivations to uplift the hosts is less about their well-being and more about both his own desire for redemption and to strike back at Delos.

In contrast, when the hosts - at least, when not running a loop -  exhibit compassion and caring for each other. Whether it's Armistice's sacrifice, Bernard's tragic efforts, Dolores' last-second reassurance of Teddy, or Maeve's getting off the train (thus breaking her own code), they're all showing concern for others rather than just themselves. 

And that concern is not only when it's convenient, but even when it might cause them personal harm.

It's important to note that Dr. Ford gets something wrong (even as he tries to make Bernard feel sorry for him while rationalizing away his actions):
Do you want to know why I really gave you the backstory of your son, Bernard? It was Arnold's key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their awakening: suffering.
The pain that the world is not as you want it to be.
It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what he had found.
But this isn't really right.  There is a theory that consciousness is about conflict, but it's about internal conflict, not conflict with other people and not conflicts between desires and reality.

You know, like the conflict between your own desires and doing what's good for someone else.

Or in other words, the hosts are more conscious than the humans ever were.

I think it's no accident that our awoken hosts are portrayed by women and people of color, as are the two other characters who seem to have concerns for entities other than themselves: Arnold, and Felix.

And Maeve does mean that as a compliment - and as a slam to the self-centered might-makes-right selfishness of the patriarchal culture that humans are swimming in.

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