A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘popular literature

[LINK] “Generation Z”

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Seen on my blogroll, science fiction writer Charlie Stross argues that dystopian young adult fiction is so popular because young adults in developed countries are plausibly expecting dystopia in their own futures.

So: low or stagnant income, the services my generation depended on and took for granted will no longer exist or be private monopolies, you either take on a crushing debt burden or consign yourself to unskilled labour for life, the cost of housing is an unsuperable barrier. To that you can add childcare costs: it’s estimated that the cost of day care for one infant is around 70-80% of the average female wage. One ray of hope for Generation Y is rising life expectancy—but by the same token the retirement age is rising, because there’s no way that working for 40 years can cover the costs of education and housing debt and a pension or annuity that will support you for another 25-30 years. Generation Y will probably work until they become too infirm, some time in their late 70s to early 80s, then experience the final 3-5 year period of decline in poor health and poverty if this goes on (because of course we’re talking about the state of the nation between 2060 and 2080).

If you follow this blog you already know my views on how we have created a security panopticon surveillance state the like of which would have given the East German Stasi wet dreams. Generation Y have come of age in this state; to the Millennial generation, East Germany probably looks like a near-utopia. (You have a 90% chance of your phone conversations not being bugged, and the state will pay for your education, housing, and healthcare! What’s not to like?)

There has been a boom market in dystopian young adult fiction over the past decade. There is a reason for this. Play and recreation is an important training mechanism in young mammals by which they practice or rehearse activities that will fit them for later adult life experiences. (It’s also fun, but bear with me while I discuss the more ploddingly puritan angle for a moment.) Could it be that the popularity of YA dystopias reflects the fact that our youngest generation of readers expect to live out their lives in dystopia? (The alternative explanations hold that (a) high school in the age of helicopter parenting, fingerprint readers in the library, and CCTV in the corridors is an authoritarian dystopia anyway, and YA dys-fic helps kids understand their environment; and (b) that worse, their parents (who influence their reading) think this.)

What is to be done? There’s some discussion in the comments about potential individual and societal strategies, for what it’s worth.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 17, 2014 at 3:57 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • 3 Quarks Daily asks whether parenthood is morally respectable.
  • blogTO has vintage photos of Toronto’s neighbourhood of Corktown.
  • Centauri Dreams notes that a small moon may be condensing out of Saturn’s Ring A.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes evidence that close-orbiting “hot Jupiters” influence their stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes continuing progress in teasing out evidence of Neandertal ancestry from current populations.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that some Muslim cab drivers in Cleveland refuse to drive cabs with signs advertising the upc9oming Gay Games.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes on the minor scandal of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s non-receipt of a symbolic degree from Brandeis University.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen seems unduly skeptical about Norway’s program of buying books by local authors for libraries, so as to subsidize literary production.
  • New APPS Blog contrasts the open citizenship of the Roman Republic with the closed citizenship of the Greek city-states, with Carthage being somewhere in between.
  • Towleroad explores continuing controversy around the use of Truvada as an alternative to condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Transit Toronto notes the closing of several streets, notably Church Street, in downtown Toronto on the occasion of former Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty’s funeral.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that contemporary Russians like their country’s open egress to the world and wouldn’t be pleased by transit restrictions, and observes that ethnic Russians in Estonia seem to be mobilizing against Russian annexation.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait revisits the skydiver/meteorite video. It looks like it was just a rock in the chute.
  • Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly writes about the benefits of leaving one’s comfort zone.
  • At False Steps, Paul Drye presents the life of Mercury capsule designer Max Faget.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Doug Merrill warns (1, 2) about the growing scope of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • The Financial Times‘ Gideon Rachman argues that Russia under Putin is trying to destroy the current Ukrainian state.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the two daughters of Lyndon Baines Johnson think that American president would likely support same-sex marriage based on his principles.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott Lemieux celebrates the defeat of the Parti Québécois as something that would protect religious freedom.
  • Marginal Revolution hosts a discussion in the comments surrounding the economic policies of Narendra Modi, aspirant for the Indian presidency.
  • John Moyer writes about the virtues of revisiting some books (here, James Joyce’s Dubliners).
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if Russian expansion into Ukraine will encourage imperialism generally and wonders how the ZunZuneo social networking project in Cuba was supposed to prmote democracy.
  • At the Russian Demographics blog, the author notes that Russia stands out not only among European countries but among the BRICs.
  • Window on Eurasia holds that Ukrainian Muslims prefer Ukraine to Russia and argues in favour of a sustained policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s annexation.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait evaluates a video of a skydiver almost hit by a meteroroid and finds it plausible.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that we don’t know which processes lead to stars and which to brown dwarfs.
  • Language Log’s Mark Liberman notes interesting gendered pronoun usage in a new science fiction novel.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is not sympathetic towards Brandon Eich and argues that multicultural accomodation isn’t inherently irrational.
  • Marginal Revolution seems to have grudging respect for Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys.
  • Towleroad notes the recent statement of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, that embracing same-sex marriage could inadvertently lead to the persecution and murder of Christians around in the world, particularly in Africa. (One finds one’s allies where one can.
  • At Window on Eurasia, note is made of various arguments: one argues that Russian national identity is synthetic and assimilatory; another argues that, given Ukrainian public opinion, Russia’s only prospects for further expansion lie in force; still another takes note of Eurasianist threats against Azerbaijan.

[LINK] “Creative Constraints and Starflight”

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I’ve been a big fan of the Canadian science fiction writer Karl Schroeder ever since I came across his Permanence in 2003. His Centauri Dreams essay explaining the thinking behind his new novel Lockstep, which makes use of cyrogenics to simulate the social effects of faster-than-light travel,

Creativity under constraint is the best kind of creativity; it’s the kind that really may take us to the stars someday. In this case, by placing such mutually contradictory — even impossible — restrictions on myself, I was forced into a solution that, in hindsight, is obvious. It is simply this: everyone I know of who has thought about interstellar civilization has thought that the big problem to be solved is the problem of speed. The issue, though (as opposed to the problem), is how to travel to an interstellar destination, spend some time there, and return to the same home you left. Near-c travel solves this problem for you, but not for those you left at home. FTL solves the problem for both you and home, but with the caveat that it’s impossible. (Okay, okay, for the outraged among you: as far as we know. To put it more exactly, we can’t prove that FTL is impossible any more than we can prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’ll concede that.)

Generations of thinkers have doubled down on trying to solve the problem, unaware that the problem is not the same as the issue. The problem — of generating enough speed to enable an interstellar civilization — may be insoluble; but that doesn’t mean the issue of how to have a thriving interstellar civilization can’t be overcome. You just have to overcome it by solving a different problem.

The problem to solve doesn’t have to do with speed (or velocity, for you purists), but rather with duration.

Enter Lockstep. In the novel, all worlds, all spacecraft and all habitats participating in a particular civilization use cold-sleep technology “in lockstep:” the entire civilization sleeps for thirty years, then simultaneously wakes for a month, then sleeps for another thirty years, etc. All citizens of the lockstep experience the same passage of time; what’s changed is that the duration of one night per month is stretched out to allow time for star travel at sublight speeds. In the novel I don’t bother with interstellar travel, actually; the Empire of 70,000 Worlds consists almost entirely of nomad planets, wanderers populating deep space between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Average long-distance travel velocity is about 3% lightspeed, and ships are driven by fission-fragment rockets or ‘simple’ nuclear fusion engines.

The result is a classic space opera universe, with private starships, explorers and despots and rogues, and more accessible worlds than can be explored in one lifetime. There are locksteppers, realtimers preying on them while they sleep, and countermeasures against those, and on and on. In short, it’s the kind of setting for a space adventure that we’ve always dreamt of, and yet, it might all be possible.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2014 at 2:49 am

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • At the blog Buffer, Kevan Lee shows what lengths–in characters and in words–tweets and blog headlines and blog posts should be, according to science.
  • Patrick Cain notes that Canadians have no way of knowing how many banned guns there were under the former registry since its junking.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining what, exactly, is needed for a planet to become Earth-like.
  • The Dragon’s Tales, meanwhile, links to a paper claiming that the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity was a product of a nearby gamma-ray burst.
  • Geocurrents explores the question of whether and how it matters to call the eastern European country “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine”.
  • Joe. My. God. links to a site gathering the first and last lines from noted gay novels.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, bloggers question whether the American soldiers who perpetrated genocide in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 should have their Medals of Honor stripped from them, and have no truck with the idea that American airpower can save Ukraine.
  • John Moyer responded to OKCupid’s boycotting of Mozilla for its anti-gay president by quitting Mozilla, and explains why.
  • At the Planetary Society Weblog, Emily Lakdawalla examines the latest thinking on Titan’s methane lakes and oceans. Where do they come from?
  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of Hungarians in former Hungarian territories in central Europe.
  • Strange Maps examines how maps are used to lie in George Orwell’s 1984.
  • Torontoist shares a picture of a vintage streetcar on the streets of east Toronto’s Scarborough.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy comments on the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Japan on the subject of its supposed scientific whaling program, and argues that a federal system for Ukraine might not be bad notwithstanding Russian bullying.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russia’s military depends heavily on the technological and industrial output of southeastern Ukraine, relying on now-suspended cooperation.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster comments upon Brian Stableford’s argument that modern science fiction traces its origins to 19th century France.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes a new study suggesting that 0.5% of G dwarf stars and 0.8% of K dwarf stars have very close-orbiting planets.
  • At Eastern Approaches, Joe’s Biden’s reassurance to Poland that NATO would defend Polish frontiers in the case of conflict is noted.
  • Far Outliers observes that, at the beginning of the Second World War in the Pacific, Australian defenses in Melanesia were quite weak, additionally commenting on the first Japanese naval deployment south of the equator.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog notes that, while the Cypriot economy is doing less badly than predicting, the ongoing dependence on Russia is a problem.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair is critical of a new system for learning Chinese script.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen observes, after the New York Times, that the economy of South Ossetia five years after the Georgian war isn’t doing very well.
  • Open the Future’s Jamais Cascio, reacting to the Crimean crisis, doesn’t think much of futurological methods which keep making errors.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes Ukraine’s exceptional economic dependence on Russia.
  • Visiting Toronto, Peter Rukavina quite likes the inexpensive integration of the TTC into Pearson International Airport.
  • Towleroad notes that Susanna Atanus, a Republican congressional candidate in Illinois who said autism was God’s punishment for same-sex marriage, won the party primary.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Eugene Kontrovich observes the difficult situation of France, which has contracted to sell helicopter carriers to Russia.
  • John Scalzi at Whatever commemorates twenty years of his online presence.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that the Russian annexation of Crimea is accelerating the disintegration of the post-Soviet space and warns of a crackdown on Russian civil society.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Anders Sandberg of Andart links to a paper suggesting that mind emulations–uploaded human minds–are likely to arrive not too late after 2050.
  • Cody Delistraty wonders why writers are so often depressed and in bad relationship.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that analyses of the atmospheres of five hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tale observes evidence that First Nations in British Columbia practiced mariculture.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog observes that Euroskepticism and hostility towards the Euro is growing in Italy.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes note of Paul Ryan’s tone-deaf statement about inner-city men.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that, at least in the United States, large amounts of property are held by governments which don’t make use of them.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wades into the question of just how many constitutions Argentina actually has had.
  • Towleroad links to Stephen Colbert’s interview with former Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl.
  • The Way the Future Blogs shares an old Frederik Pohl article from 1988 describing his experiences on a book tour.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that apparently more Russians don’t believe Ukraine is a nation and think Russia has legitimate claims on Ukrainian territory, and shares an article written by one man who thinks this threatens Russia’s future.

[LINK] Andrew Solomon on Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza and Sandy Hook

Author Andrew Solomon‘s extended interview in The New Yorker with Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza, is very compelling reading. “The Reckoning” lets Peter Lanza tell his own story about his family and his son who went so very wrong.

On the anniversary of the massacre, Peter and Shelley finally went through “the stuff,” reading letters of support they previously hadn’t felt able to face. Peter wanted the writers to know how much their words helped him. “There was a woman whose brother shot up a church,” Peter said. “Killed a bunch of people and himself. Saying how sorry she is. There was a woman whose husband stabbed and killed a child. People having Masses said for Adam.” Some included phone numbers and said to call if he needed anything. Other letters were peculiar: one suggested that Adam had been drugged by the C.I.A. and forced to his acts in order to foment support for gun-control legislation. The anniversary itself felt insignificant. “It’s not like I ever go an hour when it doesn’t cross my mind,” Peter said when we met that day.

Peter has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” he said. “A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son.” The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event. “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good. If I could generate something to help them, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t—” He struggled to find the words. “But I would trade places with them in a heartbeat if that could help.”

[. . .]

The last time I saw Peter, he had taken out a picture of himself at the beach with his two sons. “One thing that struck me about that picture is that it’s clear that he’s loved,” he said. Peter has dreamed about Adam every night since the event, dreams of pervasive sadness rather than fear; he had told me that he could not be afraid of his fate as Adam’s father, even of being murdered by his son. Recently, though, he had had the worst nightmare of his life. He was walking past a door; a figure in the door began shaking it violently. Peter could sense hatred, anger, “the worst possible evilness,” and he could see upraised hands. He realized it was Adam. “What surprised me is that I was scared as shit,” he recounted. “I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. And then I realized that I was experiencing it from the perspective of his victims.”

I wondered how Peter would feel if he could see his son again. “Quite honestly, I think that I wouldn’t recognize the person I saw,” he said. “All I could picture is there’d be nothing there, there’d be nothing. Almost, like, ‘Who are you, stranger?’ ” Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. “That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one conclusion, when you finally get there. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s totally where I am.”

Solomon was well-suited for this assignment. I’ve liked Solomon since I read his The Noonday Demon, on depression and issues of the mind and suffering. More germanely to the Lanza issue, friends have really liked Solomon’s more recent Far from the Tree, about the problems of parents faced with children who are different.

See also an audio interview with Solomon at The New Yorker and another interview with Solomon on NBC’s Today for more.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 11, 2014 at 2:37 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams notes that some astronomers have come up with methods for measuring the densities of the atmospheres of difference exoplanets.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram thinks that the state of the migration debate in the United Kingdom is grim, given what he thinks is the toughness of even a liberal proposal.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the Czech Republic and Slovakia aren’t as vocal in their support of Ukraine against Russia as Poland.
  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer explores the role of justifications and excuses in culture.
  • Far Outliers notes that, on the eve of the First World War, Germany lacked settler colonies.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog worries that Croatia might not be able to make effective use of European Union funds.
  • Language Hat notes that Western-style romance novels were popular samizdat in the Soviet Union.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair argues that, between influence from foreign languages and technology, the Chinese language is evolving rapidly.
  • Marginal Revolution notes an argument that state-formation in Europe might have been driven by economics not military affairs.
  • Towleroad notes the recent progressive court ruling on gay sex in Lebanon.
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