Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I go to the Sunday Assembly

The Sunday Assembly is a humanist organization which runs church-like meetings, minus the religion part.  It's a growing movement (28 assemblies exist today, 100 will exist by the end of the year), so it holds some interest to me.  What are they like?  We decided to find out empirically!  With a few friends from BASS, I organized an outing to a Sunday Assembly.

I thought the service was short and punchy (but I grew up with Catholic services, which are the opposite).  When it started, we immediately jumped into singing pop songs, with lyrics shown on a screen.  "Life is a Highway" and "Superstition" were first.  Following this, we had some very brief presentations by various members of the assembly, a guest speaker, and even more pop songs.

The Sunday Assembly's motto is "Live Better,  Help Often and Wonder More."  So the guest speaker came to talk about wonder.  He had a powerpoint, with videos of cellular motion and millions of gallaxies.  He spoke briefly about why we have wonder, but my impression was that the primary purpose was to evoke wonder rather than discuss it intellectually.

The assembly was diverse in ages.  But it was also predominantly white, which is more striking when you compare to the demographics of the city it's in.

One person in our group really liked it, but most of us didn't care for it.  For me a major sticking point is the singing.  The problem is, I like a very narrow range of music (like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails) and I actively dislike pop.  And I'm not too fond of singing either.  Singing pop songs in a group is wonderful for people who like it, but it really isn't for me.

I feel similarly about wonder.  Wonder is great for people who like it, but personally I'm not into it. Yes, even though I'm a scientist, deal with it.  Overall, I confirmed my prior belief that the Sunday Assembly was a perfectly fine organization, but not something I'd personally enjoy.

I thought the Sunday Assembly might be pretty similar to the Unitarian Universalist Church.  Both are humanist groups that try to adapt Christian traditions.  My boyfriend grew up in a Unitarian Universalist Church, and offers the following perspective:
The Sunday Assembly meeting was rather less like a Unitarian Universalist service than I had expected. A UU service is very much like a Protestant church service. It is run by a minister who wears a special outfit. It opens with a benediction by the pastor, the congregation may recite a statement of principles, and the chalice is lit (this part is unique to UU's). There may be a call-and-response or readings from some sacred text or other. At various points the choir sings alone, and at other points the congregation sings too. The songs are often Christian hymns that have been edited to get rid of the stuff about Jesus and God, or they may be from other religious traditions. The minister gives a sermon, and then there's more songs/readings, and then there's a parting invocation by the minister and the chalice is put out. Everything is full of ritual and vague spirituality.

The Sunday Assembly felt very different. The group sang a bunch of songs together, but they were all pop songs and we were singing along to the original track. There was no symbolic act like lighting or putting out the chalice and the person running it didn't have a special outfit to symbolize the occasion. Instead of a sermon, there was a PowerPoint presentation by a guest speaker. The (not very good) PowerPoint was on the subject of "wonder," which was the closest thing at the event to the vague spirituality of a UU church.
If you're interested in seeing what the Sunday Assembly is like, I also recommend this video on youtube.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

More on atheist and skeptical disorganization

In my last post, I wrote about the struggles of the skeptical and atheist student groups I've been involved with.  Since it related to many of my meat-space friends, it provoked quite a discussion on my Facebook, mostly agreement.  Here I share some points made by other people:
  • We are not the only student group with problems.  Hemant Mehta, a former chair of the Secular Student Alliance said the following:
    Your group was/is pretty similar to most student groups nationwide. When I worked with the Secular Student Alliance, we knew these were the obstacles everyone had (getting funding, getting meeting ideas, identifying leaders) -- and all current groups get constant reminders of the (financial and other) resources available to them, ideas for meetings, and reminded that they should know next year's president when this year begins. But, despite all of that, you still need at least one leader willing to figure out the school's tricks (because every school is different) and learn how to run the group effectively. The groups that tend to do the most either have very effective leadership or they've just passed down information over the years. More importantly, their biggest events are planned many, many months in advance, sometimes even the previous year. That gives them time to request funding from the school, get the meeting space, publicize the events, etc. On my blog, I tend to highlight the cool things that people send me, but that's obviously a small fraction of the several hundred college atheist groups out there. My hope is that they can see other ideas and get inspired.
  • Controversy is a major problem.  One friend talked about trying to organize an interfaith panel.  She could not do it within the main group, because no one could agree on anything.  Instead, she did it within a separate student group where she had more power.

    I might as well say, part of the reason I wrote the post in the first place was because I saw a post on Greta Christina's blog arguing that atheist groups should do social justice service projects, despite them being "too controversial".  I had a very negative reaction to Greta's post, because in my experience, controversy is poison to action.  On reflection, I shouldn't have reacted that way, because it doesn't even have anything to do with social justice.  Just something like an interfaith panel was too controversial.  Greta argued that if we can do highway cleanups, we can do fundraisers for Planned Parenthood.  But sorry, a highway cleanup would have been too controversial for our group.

  • Inexperienced leaders can't deal with controversy.  Someone reminded me that when I was a leader, I kept on trying to put things to a vote during general meetings.  This is a major reason why controversy was such a killer.  People would reject any proposal, and spend time arguing over all the little details, and I lost my motivation in the mean time.  I know better now.

  • Lack of institutional memory is a root problem.  The reason leaders are inexperienced is because they change very quickly and no one passes on the lessons they've learned.  Here's what some people said:
    It's also about institutional memory. Religious groups have the backing of their religion, which has been an institution for a very long time. Skeptics/Atheists groups are new, and building that structure is hard.
    An effective way to pass down institutional memory is critical for the success of any organization, and is probably the single biggest problem with campus secular groups - no one thinks of it (myself included) as a priority in time to set up the infrastructure to actually implement it.
  • It's got something to do with atheists/skeptics.
    A lot of us are atheists/skeptics because we question the very grounds from which leaders get their authority. That makes it hard to impossible for someone to take authority and for the rest to follow it. There is also a desire to be perfect - this is an issue I actually face at work - which ends up in having endless discussion over something, only to fail to produce anything at all.
    [Another problem] is probably lack of a unifying common interest. Without external targets to organize against (and face it, for secularism, there aren't too many in the bay,) everything devolves in to a morass of what individual people are interested in. Not thinking god should run the world in Berkeley isn't a very strong unifying factor.
    I tend to reject this as an explanation, because it feels like an excuse to me.  Is it really true that atheists/skeptics are hard to organize, or is it just that when there's so much anarchy, the people who stick around longest are people who like anarchy?  It's difficult to say.

    Anyway, I've seen older skeptical/atheist groups, and they seem to run fine.
  • Other kinds of groups have problems too.

    On Greta's blog, someone said they were part of a community group, where they have another problem:
    Student groups have, it seems, an easier time of it, given that they have ready access to space and facilities, so things like arranging for speakers are straightforward.
    When I said that older atheist groups seem to run fine, this kicked off a tangent.  My friend K had some very negative things to say about such groups:
    Many of the groups that fall in our general direction both locally, on a statewide basis, and nationally, fall in to one of two problems.

    The first: they're too churchlike. Hearing Paul Kurtz tell me to stand up, sing Imagine, and then hug the person to my left and right was creepy. It felt like I was in a baptist church, and that's just not what I'm looking for.

    The second: they are too full of assholes. More than a few atheist and secular humanist groups don't take stands for what I believe in - a just world, unburdened by the barriers that religion can impose - they take harsh stands against meaningless shit like ceremonial deism. Please note: that's not a tone argument. I'm an asshole. I don't care if people are assholes. But I do care that children are dying in religious daycares because they are exempt from regulatory oversight, and I don't care if some cross-shaped beams that first responders found meaning in are exhibited in a museum dedicated to 9-11. (Actually, it's not fair to say I don't care: I actively think such artifacts should be exhibited in an appropriate context.)

    Many groups spend too much time paying attention to cross shaped beams in museums, and too little time paying attention to children dying.
    This is (not coincidentally) similar to stuff I've said about atheist orgs.   K goes on:
    I love a lot of what CFI does... but it amazes me that until Paul Kurtz was forced out, they didn't keep a budget. I don't mean they were sloppy... I mean they couldn't tell you within $500,000 how much any individual unit of CFI was spending in any given year. I hope and presume their management has gotten better since then, but that always floored me.
    I already had a rather negative view of Paul Kurtz, but that's just ridiculous.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Atheist and skeptical student groups are such clusterfucks

I've heard of large, well-organized skeptical or atheist student groups.  This mythological creature is most often sited in the midwest, where they act as rationalist oases in a religious desert.  And I've seen their activities constantly described in atheist blogs, especially Friendly Atheist.  But of course the news stories will focus on groups that are successful, in their moments of success.

What I've never seen, in eight years of reading blogs, is any representation of my lived experience.  I was in a skeptical student group at UCLA, and an atheist student group at UC Berkeley.  The combined total is seven years of participation, a length that has been unnaturally extended by my PhD.  Despite the many people who have tried leadership (including myself), these groups have always been horribly disorganized, and come nowhere near the successful groups I read about.

To truly understand the depths of disorganization, I need to go into specifics.  The groups are always discussion-based, because this only requires the time to think up a topic every week.  (The next level of organization is getting a student to present on a specific topic.)  Discussions are completely chaotic, dominated by only the loudest members, who can never seem to stay on topic.  On good years, you might have twenty people attending, on bad years five.  It always starts higher and decreases throughout the year.  The vast majority of the people who stick around are men.

Aside from discussions, leaders always promise lots of events at the beginning of the year--big-name speakers, outings, social events, etc.--but few ever happen.  I consider it a modest success if they have two speakers in a year.

I'm inclined to blame the ineffective leaders, but I ran the student group for a year myself.  By my own low standards, it was a success: I got two people to speak (and encouraged many students to present as well), I organized two "protests" of sorts, and if I recall there were a couple parties and an outing to a Scientology museum.  But everything was always going wrong.  I too promised many events that I did not deliver.  The events I did deliver were executed poorly, and attended poorly, since I never figured out how to do advertising.


Here I identify the major problems:

1. Leaders never stick around for very long before they graduate.  Ideally, they should pass on their leadership experience to the next leader, but often they don't have enough experience to know that's what they should do.

One of the worst years I ever saw, I later learned it's because it was run by the vice-president.  The president, who had some experience, got grounded immediately after he was promoted to presidency.  Despite his perpetual absence, he still clung to power for years, most of which he spent telling people not to do things because he was doing them (but he wasn't).

Anyway, nobody told the vice-president how to do anything.  Nobody told me how to do anything either.  By then, I had recognized the problem, and tried to pass on all my experience to the next leader.  I think the group was more successful after I graduated.

2. The university is a bureaucratic nightmare.  I think it's not objectively hard to get through the bureaucracy, but it requires experience that we didn't have.  I had such problems just reserving rooms and getting projectors.  Advertising was a mystery we never cracked.  As for funding--Ha.  Haha.  One time I invited a speaker--Hemant Mehta--and it cost us a large chunk of our legacy funds because some technicality in the student union funding prevented reimbursement for travel.  And that was a good year.

I had friends who lead queer student groups, which always seemed vastly better-organized.  They told me it was chaotic behind the scenes, but they were also organizing events every two weeks so fuck their higher standards.  I was always asking them how they were so successful at navigating bureaucracy and getting funding, but I never got the specifics.  It involved lots of tricks passed down between leaders over the years.  (I found out the way to get the travel reimbursement in this situation was to make a particular lie to the student union.  My friend acted like this was obvious.)

3. Students are extremely flaky.  It's because they're overworked.  And unlike later in life, there are no hard boundaries between work time and free time for a student.

This affects who has time to attend events and stuff, but mostly impacts the leaders and officers.  One of the things that made me moderately successful as a leader was that I got As effortlessly.  So I had the free time to spend.  My officers, on the other hand...

4. The kind of people who stick around are not the kind of people who encourage more people to join.  It's always the loudest people, the people who talk over everyone else.  It's always the eccentrics--I love them, but let's face it, they're not very charismatic.  Oh, and it's almost always men.

I've never seen this done effectively, so I don't know if it would work, but I think groups should implement some strong moderation.  Someone needs to enforce taking turns, to cut off people who talk too long or off-topic.  When a group is larger, they need alternate discussion structures, like breaking into small groups.  I also think that the meeting facilitator should be separate from the president.  Trouble is, no one has the experience to do this right, or to even know that it's needed.  It always comes back to inexperience.

The lack of women is a related problem.  This is something I didn't notice at first, but is now really obvious: women get cut off much more than men do.  It's not intentional, it's something we were all socialized to do.  It is unimaginable to me that this does not contribute to the loss of women from the group.

In all the years I've observed these groups, there was only one year where there was a decent proportion of women.  That was also the one year the group was led by women.  Just having women facilitating discussions was effective beyond my imagining.  When I was president I tried to talk about women and sexism at meetings, but this was not effective.


Since that one year as president, I have not helped the leadership at all.  I have less infuriating things to do with my time.  Here's what I have to say to all past, present, and future leaders of these groups: You all suck and are doing everything wrong.  But I understand.

Update: I posted some of people's reactions to this post here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why atheism and asexuality taste great together

This is the conclusion to my "Fantastic Primer" series, in which I imagine explaining asexuality to an atheist audience and atheism to an asexual audience, as a tool to explore intersectionality. Please read the introductory post, which explains the premise.

In an earlier post in this series, I explained why I don't trust you atheists to get asexuality right.  But apart from what some atheists say and believe, asexuality and atheism taste great together. These are two identities that have nothing to do with each other, and yet they mesh in a way that gives me philosophical warm fuzzies.

Here are a few connections between atheism and asexuality that I personally enjoy pondering.

Naturalistic asexuality

Humans weren't specially created, and certainly not intended to fulfill any particular purpose.  Humans aren't an essential category of beings with souls.  We're all a bunch of soulless objects which happen to share many similar properties.  So why couldn't there be some humans which simply don't share one of those properties?  Nothing is impossible or wrong about it.  It's practically expected.

Humans appeared by the process of evolution.  In evolution, variation is the rule, and a key element of the evolutionary mechanism.  On a superficial glance you might not expect asexuality to persist, since individuals that don't reproduce are selected out in evolution.  But there are any number of possible resolutions, including genetic drift, biological correlates, developmental factors, and the fact that most human sex is not procreative.  It's not really a problem unless you think homosexuality is also a problem.

You might say that evolution, metaphorically, wants us to have lots of procreative sex.  But I say that evolution, metaphorically, is a jerk, so who cares what it metaphorically wants?  Unlike a personal creator, evolution doesn't literally have feelings so screw evolution's hurt feelings.

The power to reject what I don't want

One of the common responses to asexuality is, "I like sex so much, I don't understand how you can not like what I like."  I've heard this often enough that I've realized how ridiculous it is, and I've become inoculated against it.  And now I realize how often people say the same thing about other things I don't like, and I feel more empowered to reject it every time.

Like geeks, who are always telling me I should like such and such TV show or movie.  Or when people tell me I should enjoy traveling or dancing more.  Or when stories tells me I should be more "adventurous".  Or when society tells me that "classic" works of fiction and art are superior to more modern works.  I'm willing to try stuff when people suggest it, but it makes me happier to know that I don't need to take that crap.  People enjoy different things, and anyone who acts otherwise probably isn't worth taking advice from.

Oh yeah, religion and religious practices are in this category too!  I really don't like religious ceremonies, "spirituality", or religious music.  I've been unhappy with those things since I was a little Catholic kid, and I had trouble making sense of a benevolent god which would torture us with church, prayer, and boring music.  But now the explanation is simple.  Other people like those things, and therefore incorporate it into their religion.  Some atheists like it too, and find secular practices to fulfill their desires.  But if I'm not the sort of person who likes it, I don't have to like it, and that's that.

Skeptical social justice

One idea I'm enthusiastic about is combining ideas from skepticism and social justice (which overlap with the atheist and asexual communities respectively).  I feel like if you just have skepticism or just have social justice, you only have half the picture.  In skepticism, we talk a lot about the difference between things that can and can't be studied by science.  Unfortunately, this leads to some errors, like assuming that something which would be difficult to study scientifically must not be real.  Or thinking that operational definitions of gender define what gender "really" is.

On the other side, social justice advocates are used to talking about social constructs, and when there are problems with our social constructs.  This is a great addition to our intellectual tool set, but its overuse leads to errors, like declaring certain scientific results "problematic" and therefore incorrect.  I often think social justice needs to be tempered with a better sense of pragmatism and reality.

For this reason, I tend to gravitate towards the social justice parts of the atheist movement, and the part of the asexual movement which is enthusiastic about research.

Having ideas from both skepticism and social justice helped me understand my doubts better. When I wondered whether what I experience counts as "sexual attraction" I realized that this is not a scientific question, because the definition of sexual attraction is socially constructed.  When I wondered whether I would eventually feel different about my orientation, I realized that this is a scientific question, albeit one that hasn't been studied yet.  Two different doubts, two different understandings, two different responses.


I hope this was a positive ending to my series on atheism/asexuality intersections.  Nobody has questioned the relevance of this series, but I'd like to take this moment to justify it anyway.  When we talk about intersectionality, we're so used to the big ones like race, gender, orientation, and socioeconomic class.  But are those always the most important identities to every single individual?  Being ace and half-Chinese is an intersection alright, and so is being ace and male.  But to me, none of those have had as large an impact as being ace and atheist, even though they seemingly have little to do with each other.  That's why I talk about it all the time, and this series won't be the last of it.

1. Introduction
2. Why I don't trust you
3. Yes, I'm one of those atheists
4. A skeptically-oriented Asexuality 101 
5. Atheism as minority, atheism as political cause  
7. Why atheism and asexuality taste great together

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Triply-linked cubes

Triply-linked cubes

This one is simple, yet so elegant.  There are three standard open cubes, and they're all linked together.  I got this idea from someone offline, and I thought it must be a classic modular origami design, but I can't find anything like it on the web.

The windows on each face of each cube are exactly half the length of the cube's total face.  Therefore, each cube has room to link with two other cubes, making for a three-cube maximum.  In the link above, there's a picture of fourteen linked cubes, but the fourteen cubes are linked in a chain fashion.  In this triply-linked design, each pair of cubes is linked, including white to black.

ETA: I have since found some examples of this model on the internet.  Here's one on Flickr.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I want to write a novel

Once before, I jokingly wrote a list of my "life goals", one of which was to write a novel.  I am actually serious about that particular goal, but I've been taking my time about it.  I figured I'd start after this blog died, but for some reason that's not happening.  So I'll do it while the blog's still alive.

Here's where I'm at.  I have not written anything.  I do not have any plot ideas.  I do not know what genre I want--either sci-fi or "literary" fiction.  I have some character ideas and structure ideas, but they're pretty vague and haven't been written down.

I do not have any particular end in mind.  Traditional publishing?  Self-publishing?  Keep it all to myself?  I have no idea.  Maybe I'll only make it part way through and decide that writing books is unenjoyable.  I'm not terribly optimistic, because I figure most people who set out to write books have higher hopes than outcomes.

It's hard to tell how good my writing is.  I've had this blog for many years, but being well-practiced doesn't necessarily make me any good.  To really improve my writing I'd need some sort of feedback, but all the feedback I get as a blogger is thoroughly biased.  Furthermore, it's far from clear that writing skill in short-form nonfiction transfers over to long-form fiction.  Basically the only thing I do know is that I am not afraid of a keyboard or a blank page, for whatever that's worth.

Step one: Write this post as a pre-commitment strategy.
Step two: Start collecting any character ideas I have, and try to think of plot ideas.
Step three: Report back in a month
Step four: ???
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Christian doubt

When I grew up in Catholicism, I was never taught to think that doubt was a bad thing.  In fact, doubt was a good thing, ennobling even.  Doubts were something that everyone experiences.  Why then, is it said that Christianity is all about faith, dogma, and purging all doubt?  Where does this image come from?

Let me tell you what happened next.  I started doubting Catholicism.  And even though I was never taught that doubting was bad, I knew that the particular way I was doing it was bad.

What I was doing was reading on some arguments against Catholic beliefs, comparing them to the arguments for it.  I knew that changing my mind on so many things all at once was impossible, so I considered each issue independently, one at a time.  I worried about the consequences of deciding one way or the other, but I tried not to let that affect my judgment.  Finally, I collected my many thoughts and tried to draw some overall conclusions on Catholicism and God.

In my mind, this is more or less the proper way to deal with doubt, so why did I know in my gut I was running afoul of some rule of my religious upbringing?  The truth is that doubt was accepted in the Catholicism I grew up in, but only if the doubt fit into a specific narrative.  Doubt was not an epistemological tool, but a personal struggle to be overcome.  This is a fundamentally negative depiction of doubt.

Even the supposedly positive narratives about doubt are fundamentally negative.  When doubt is seen as ennobling, it's the same sense in which a chronic illness is seen as ennobling.*  It's not the doubt which is good, it's that we respect someone who maintained (or even strengthened) their faith despite their painful struggle with doubt.**  When everyone is said to have doubts, this is not a way of saying that doubts are good.  It's a way of saying that Christians are not Mary Sues.  Christians are imperfect (being afflicted with doubt and sin), and thus relatable.

*Even when someone literally has a chronic illness, I do not think we should see it as ennobling.
**This is largely how Catholics saw Mother Teresa's "Dark Letters", in which she expressed her struggle with doubt.

This isn't just my personal experience growing up, it's a pervasive narrative about doubt within Christianity.  To show this, I will pull out quotes from the top three page hits for "Christian doubt" (bold emphasis all mine).

1. A letter to William Lane Craig:
Natalie: When my best friend told me she was struggling, I figured it was just a phase and started thinking about what books to recommend to her. But then something hit me that had never really been an option before—what if Christianity really isn’t true?

My intuition is still that it is, but I am in dire need of your help—someone whom I know has a strong faith as well as a strong philosophical background. What advice could you offer me, my best friend, and the non-believers we know to elucidate Christianity and rekindle our faith?
Craig: I find that when folks are struggling with doubt, the doubts can balloon all out of proportion, so that their belief system comes to look rather like those maps of the world which show a country’s size according to its economic wealth rather than geographical area.
 2. Dealing with Doubt in our Christian Faith:
So what can we do if we find ourselves struggling with doubts about the truth of Christianity? Why do such doubts arise? And how can we rid ourselves of these taunting Goliaths?

First, we must always remember that sooner or later we'll probably all have to wrestle with doubts about our faith.
I know of a young man who had converted to Christianity, but who's now raising various objections to it. But when one looks beneath the surface, one sees that he's currently involved in an immoral lifestyle.
3. An interview with Greg Boyd, author of Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty:
Many today assume that doubt is the enemy of faith–as though a person’s strength is as strong as they are free of doubt. I argue that this common model of faith today is neither biblical nor healthy.
When we embrace a biblical model of faith, we no longer need to squelch doubt. To the contrary, we will find that doubt can sometimes prove beneficial in helping us grow spiritually and in keeping us honest in our relationship with God and others.
Sadly, many today think that people are “saved” simply because they espouse certain beliefs, apart from any consideration of how they live.  This is why research demonstrates that the vast majority of Americans admit to believing in Jesus (and a host of other Christian things) while also demonstrating that this belief has very little impact on how they actually live.
The reason I choose the top three hits on Google is to avoid cherry-picking on my part.  Note that #3 does not espouse the negative views on doubt that I grew up with, and in fact #3 rebels against such views.  Also note that #2 states that doubters are really trying to justify an immoral lifestyle, and this is not something I believed as a kid.  I conclude that some Christians have more positive attitudes towards doubt, and some have more negative attitudes.

I understand why Christians see doubt as a struggle.  I've seen similar patterns among questioning queer people.  But even if, in one situation, doubt is causing you distress, I think it is best to see doubt as a tool--neither good nor bad, only useful.  Doubt is a tool used to better align our beliefs with reality.  "Giving in" to doubts is bad if and only if the thing being doubted is justified and true.  Thus, the only way to know whether doubting is good or bad is to not have doubts!

(This topic was inspired by Greta Christina, but my perspective is entirely independent from hers.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Currently reading

What have I been reading lately?

I read The City and the City by China MiĆ©ville, a mystery novel taking place across two city-states, but the city-states actually seem to be in the same location.  The unusual setting got far more mileage than I thought it would, but I didn't think much of the flat characters.  I would be willing to read more MiĆ©ville in the future.

I read A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem, a collection of reviews of books that don't exist, mostly books of the postmodernist sort.  This format allows it to describe really fascinating books that probably wouldn't work in practice.  My major complaint is that Lem didn't use the premise to its full potential--most reviews simply summarized the books they were reviewing, without much actual judgment.  I would have liked to juxtapose the contrasting perspectives of the book's characters, the book, the reviewer, and the reader.

I read The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling, which is mainly an exercise in juggling lots and lots of characters and the dynamics between them.  The main plot arc is about class struggle and urban development politics.  I enjoy having lots of unsympathetic characters, so this was a book for me.

I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which takes after the apocalypse, with the prior dystopia described through flashbacks.  The dystopia is a world where scientists are developing pigs that grow human organs, where sex slavery is common, and where the upper class (mostly researchers) live in compounds separated from an increasingly impoverished lower class.

I'm not generally a fan of speculative fiction, but I liked the parable of a coffee company that developed a coffee plants whose beans would ripen all at the same time.  This of course leads to rioting because all those coffee pickers are out of jobs.  It's funny how the technology leads to more efficient production, but ultimately harms the quality of life because it concentrates wealth.  One hopes that in the real world, as scientific technology progresses, political "technology" can keep pace.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Brief blogging break

Due to lack of time I will not update until April 15th or so.