At this weeks SF/F reading group meeting the question was raised: what really makes a good book. So I’m trying to describe, at least to myself, the dimensions in a work of fiction that I enjoy and consider when trying to decide wheteher some book is good. So far here’s what I’ve come up with. Sympathy and empathy for characters. There should be some connection between me and the characters of the book.
Looking to the Future via Reality Television Dave Pollard at How to Save the World posts a very intriguing set of theories about the sucess of reality television in the last few years. Is it conservative propaganda, schadenfreude, the hero myth, attention deficit, or self-preservation? Dave thinks its the latter. The theory that answers this question, and does make some sense to me, is the Self-Preservation Theory, and it holds that we are intuitively so pessimistic about our future that we need to insulate and inure ourselves against the sadness and suffering that we are likely to face.
I went out for the first Wiscon dinner party this evening, even if it’s actually my second Wiscon. It’s fun to meet new people interested enough to make the pilgrimage to Wiscon. I met Rain from Ann Arbor, Kasi from West Virginia, and others. Conversations ranged through biology, science journalism, paganism, women’s studies, etc. Opening ceremonies were delayed by technical delays, once the projector was working we watched a short slide show featuring previous GoHs.
I arrived yesterday afternoon after a 7 hour drive from Ann Arbor, met up with Adrian to get the key to the room at the hostel, and then went out to dinner at an excellent Nepalese restaurant on State Street. Today Wiscon kicked into high gear with panels starting at 10 a.m. and running continuously for the next four days. I think Wiscon is the only convention I’ve attended, except for Worldcon, that can maintain such a crazy pace for four days.
Henry Gould wrote the following it about the radical nature of democracy.: But the question got me thinking. Perhaps democracy is only realistic as a radical commitment. By that I mean one must be - thoroughly - a committed believer in popular sovereignty and the intelligence of the common person and ordinary opinion - radically so, despite the debilitating processes & events so conducive to despair & cynicism. Because only such a commitment is strong enough to say nay to the centuries - millennia - of elite thinking on politics (from before Plato, to Plato, to Macchiavelli, etc.
There is something happening inside the soul of man right now and it doesn’t look good. Fundamentalism and rationality are coming into conflict more directly than ever before. One of the worst bits of cant I heard after 9-11 was that the world had changed completely on that day. I thought that was a stupid thing to say then and it’s still rather silly today, but I’m beginning to see that the change for some was very real.
My quest for more information on defense technology continues to move through odd paths and unexpected troves of information. Today I followed a single link from Wikipedia to the Federation of American Scientists and discovered a whole set of pages on current military technology, some we know is true and other we can only speculate about There’s stuff on space, smart weapons, ballistic missile defense, etc. I’ve been a subscriber to Stephen Aftergood’s Secrecy News email for some time and it appears he’s now publishing similar information at the Secrecy News Weblog.
Listmixer has become one of the key parts of my online life in the past few months. It’s clearly inspired by del.icio.us but has one feature that has been amazing - bookmark expiration. Bookmarks that haven’t been visited within a month disappear from the list. This works great for me because there are always tons of tabs open in my news aggregator or browser that I think I might write about.
I officially started my summer internship at Tablus today, although I’ve been working there part time for the past two semesters. My current project is creating a dictionary/taxonomy of terms connected to ITAR, the International Trade in Arms Regulations. The United States Munitions list has about a dozen categories, from firearms to satellites, and I have to break each one of them down into terms that can be recognized by the Tablus filter programs.
Jessica Litman delivered a paper today to a rump crowd of SI students and faculty about the economic costs of law journal publishing. Her thesis was that the major costs for law school publishing are mostly externalized as the cost of the faculty who perform the research. The actual production and editorial costs of the journal is a fraction of the total cost of production. Given this fact there seems to be no economic reason to suppose that an open access model would do any harm.