HP Lovecraft's Xenophobia

It occurs to me after a number of rereads (now up to "Dagon") that Ruthanna and Anne there live a callow, sunlit, happy existence, don't really know much of the world, and have never read a history book. "He was as wrong about humanity as it’s possible to be without actually believing that we’re all sessile pebbles"1: No, he was not.

World War I, which informed most of Lovecraft's despair at Human stupidity and imminent extinction, was then exceeded by World War II in every kind of atrocity, and that was exceeded by the Communist states during the Cold War and beyond. There is no depravity or horror to which Humans will not sink given power and the ability to "other" people. "Kindly, liberal, crippled, New Deal" FDR imprisoned and robbed 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment treated Black people as test animals. The KKK was still terrorizing and lynching in the South (still is, if smaller). It's still unsafe to walk or drive or stand around in Starbucks while Black in America. Immigrants and refugees are treated like unwanted vermin in every country. Humans murder each other over minor differences in skin color, birthplace, language, or what name to call some fairy tale god (or for saying it's a fairy tale). No joke, Humans blow up other Humans over cartoons of their prophet. Half of Americans voted for the Cheeto thing that squats and defecates in the White House.

Any notion that Howard's xenophobia is excessive for his time, or even now, is just delusional. He was an asshole about race, and perhaps about gender (very scant evidence, from a time when few male writers wrote women except as objects), but the distinction is that he was more literate and expressive of his bigotry, while the assholes next door just couldn't write about it coherently. If he'd been into politics, he'd have been the William Safire of his time. Somehow he found his way to the weird tale instead.

So when his narrators see the real owners of the Earth, and they're nothing like Humans, of course they flip out. What are Humans going to do when confronted with fish-frog-humanoid things, unspeaking but greater in intelligence, ancient and undying, worshipping gods (or godlike aliens) who provide true power? As in "Shadow over Innsmouth", bombing the Devil's Reef is a minimum possible freak-out. Somehow they pull back from provoking a full-out war with billions of living demigods, and the Deep Ones (being our moral superiors) are uninterested in great conquests of the land.

Howard does have characters who don't flip out at the alien, like the narrator and some other abductees in "Shadow Out of Time", but then when he's confronted with the truth of our imminent doom, he loses it.

I am extremely pessimistic about First Contact, and I expect that true AI will end very very badly for Humanity. Nobody's going to show up and say "You're totally ready to join the Federation of Nice Planets!"; we'll either meet Conquistadors, exterminators, or if we get to a lower-tech species first, victims. Ideally, alien contact would unify Humanity, but more likely every group will seek their own advantage and agenda.

As for the reread, I'm switching to publication order, then see if they or someone else has any commentary for a story. I've previously read some of ST Joshi's annotated books, but his apologies and delusions are just as annoying.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The movie has something for everyone, a comedy tonight, but I'm actually talking about:

Blogging is sometimes very different from "social networking", and one of the key things is that there are no private conversations. On the technical side, that's basically impossible: A blog post is public, or it wouldn't show up in feed readers, search engines, or micro.blog. And even "private" messaging in Twitter or Facebook is stored in plaintext on the server, where the staff can read it for laughs or social engineering or selling you to advertisers and Russians.

In the socially stunted worlds of Twitter or Facebook, often someone posts, and the first person to respond may feel like they "own" the conversation, anyone else responding is a "rando", and the lack of proper threading makes conversation very difficult so they just hate everyone. There is, I fear, not much that can be done for many of these; they grew up feral in an innately hostile environment, and won't or can't read about how to have longer discussions. Robert's Rules of Order this is not.

Blogging is about people contributing to a public dialogue. As we had in web forums, or USENET, or college dorm halls, or actual forums going back to Rome and ancient Greece. Threading and arguments about ideas are not just OK, but encouraged, just don't hit below the belt.

You may be able to learn from USENET netiquette (somewhat old link, but anything quoting Eugene Spafford is good).

When being sarcastic, if there's any danger of misinterpretation, use a smiley. Excessive sarcasm is often counter-productive and hurts people's feelings, even when it's unintentional.
—a rule I sure don't live by

Slate Star Codex

There were more shouts and another frenzy for attention. General Washington banged his gavel. “The chair recognizes Alexander Hamilton.”

“Yo,” said Hamilton. “The institutions of our Constitution, give a clear solution to this persecution. The Revolution…”

“The chair unrecognizes Representative Hamilton, and offers the floor to anyone who does not speak in rap.”

The Freedom to Write Garbage

Nice notebooks make it hard to write, because you feel you can't write garbage in them. Cheap notebooks give you the freedom to write garbage.

I used to use a DayRunner®, but then I'd fill it with cheap lined filler paper, and fill those pages with everything, and throw them in a box when I was done; I had a Palm Pilot for scheduling, but writing long notes in it was hard. Later I got into nice big Moleskines, which I rarely used because they seemed too nice for my chaos. Then stacks of Field Notes, which I keep one in my jacket, but use grudgingly. Lately I'm back to cheap 50¢ spiral notebooks and pads, and I write all the time.

I don't use a fancy pen, either. I'm currently using a "TÜL" mechanical pencil which is semi-junky (the eraser holder is loose and pushes down, so I have to tape it in place!) but fat enough for my hand, and a Field Notes clicky ballpoint which needs a 10¢ refill soon. A box of disposable ballpoints will work just as well as your $500 handcrafted engraved gold-plated fountain pen and hand-squeezed squid ink.

None of what I write on paper is important long-term, that's what Markdown files on a computer are for. Instead, every new topic or date gets written at the top of a page, sometimes just one item on that topic. And I'll go forward thru a book until it's full, then move on to the next. Anything worth keeping gets typed in eventually.

Here's a least-embarassing page from my current notepad, tracking Animal Crossing characters because paging thru Contacts in the game is so very slow.

notebook-animal crossing

And yes, my handwriting is appalling and random-looking; no two letter forms are the same. I learned slow and perfect block lettering until I got the Palm Pilot, then Graffiti retrained me and it's been crap ever since. I learned cursive as a kid but have never used it for long writing.

It's Not Addiction

"Phones are addictive!" "Loot crates are gambling, which is addictive!" "I'm addicted to sex, drugs, and rock and roll!"
—every whiny little jerk who runs out of money

I want misuse of the word "addiction" for anything but habituating chemicals, made at least a misdemeanor, possibly a felony with mandatory sentencing and electrical behavioral modification.

We have no good word for "things that are fun, so you keep playing with them instead of doing things that are not-fun", but that's what these things are.

The same things were said about TV, especially to those of us in the MTV Generation. And about arcades, pinball machines, comic books, radio, even novels! Old boring people universally hate whatever fun thing people like today. Screw them.

MARK-13 Thursday Music

Just discovered that iTunes Store has Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990) for $9.99 in HD! Blu-Ray is out of print, DVD was a trash VHS port. Best punk rock SF apocalypse flick. "It's horrible, I love it!"

One rewatch later…

Looks even more prophetic now than when young cyberpunk Mark would watch the VHS over and over on a shitty CRT. Get used to the world of ecological disaster, locked into your apt by security systems installed by panopticon-watching perverts, terrorists with trucks smashing open buildings, people squatting & scavenging in the ruins. When a billion people near the uninhabitable equator starve and try to migrate away from global warming, you think anyone's gonna take them in? Or will we just irradiate the planet fighting wars, sterilize the mutant population, and let Google's autonomous killer robots knock us down to carrying capacity? I never believed in a future, and here it is.

… So, that went a little dark. Have a drink, a joint, a fuck, make some art, and play some cute distracting videogames to forget about the end of the world.

The soundtrack's another OOP classic, but here's the day's music based on it:

On the Use of Communications Networks of Tin Cans and String

Gen-X (remember us? I suppose not.) invented l33tspeek but knew when to stop doing it. Now, "old people" use ellipses… and end texts with a period, and it makes the Millennials upset.

Back in the day, all we had were tin cans & string, er, BBS's, which were like Thunderdome without the sense of fair play, but we also tolerated much weirder behavior, and at worst you couldn't call back to one board in your city. Now if you say anything any one of the kiddie mafia doesn't like, they all have a toddler meltdown at you, over the tin can network we built.

I don't have a solution for any of this, just kicking out Tiny Tim's crutches and laughing at him, as one does this season.

Bloggerating

I normally don't do the self-analysis, why are we here thing, and certainly no self-promotion or "personal braaaaaaand". The joke's only funny until you die, then you leave a stink-bomb corpse and it's really funny, and then they shovel dirt in your face. Until then, I mostly do things I find fun and maybe post them for others.

But what is blogging for?

Social media in the form that Twitter and Facebook have produced, is now clearly seen a mistake; it used to be fun, and is easily compulsive, and I'm the next-to-last guy who could say with a straight face "don't do things that are fun but possibly dangerous to your body or mind", but the toxic side-effects have gone from heroin, to a cocktail of PCP, bath salts, and krokodil. It has turned and is eating your face. Get out while you still can.

Reading blogs is quieter. It can happen when you want, a pull request from a bunch of servers instead of a constantly pushing firehose. I can pick thru categories, since I organize feeds into a score of folders. Not everyone has a useful feed anymore, and there are times when a blog or comic stops updating the RSS and I don't notice until an annual sweep of stale feeds. I don't read everything, I read what I want and clear the rest.

My current OPML export has something like 1200 feeds, which is ridiculous, but with my organization it's not that bad. If I want to read comics, SF blogs, Mac news, dev blogs, etc., it all adds up pretty quick. Many only update a few times a year, which is probably not enough; I only keep a few "Tech Bullshit" blogs that spam more than a couple posts a day.

I used NetNewsWire back when Brent Simmons made it, but switched to various others when iPad came out. The NNW iOS rewrite and the years-delayed Black Pixel re-rewrite were unacceptable, but the Google Reader-pocalypse forced me to finally do something, so ever since I've been using FeedBin; apparently not the most popular since it costs $5/month (paying for the things you use! What a bizarre idea!), but a near-desktop quality interface with great keyboard controls, that works well in Safari, is more useful to me.

In the Dark Ages, Before Computers, you'd read, hear, or think of something, and then spend the next week telling everyone you met a distorted version of it, jabber jabber jabber. Some would write letters and then copy them for different correspondents, and the real maniacs would write letters or columns for newspapers or magazines; the Dragon Magazine Waldorf letters are archetypical.

Now we have the unlimited reach to annoy everyone with the noise in our heads. Many people use Twitter as a stream of consciousness of their food 🍔 and bathroom 💩 habits. It's too easy to type in a box and hit send. And if you "like" that person, and want to see anything halfway smart they write while distracted by everyone else's firehose, you also have to take their bathroom posts. UGH. You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, that you didn't stop to think if you should..

Take my music posts (please!). On Twitter, I'd sometimes spam a music link every hour or more. Now, I typically have one song in mind, link the album, then use my amnesiac-encylopediac memory of the last 50 years of blues/rock/metal/electronica (a bit more for blues) to find a day's worth of similar albums. Then I keep the post open and hit links for iTunes. It reminds me of my teenage years, pulling a few vinyl or tape albums from my small library and spinning them in between bursts of radio; whole albums, every track unless something annoying was at the start or end of a side; I can't stand the random train-wreck of commercial radio. And my 20s DJing at http://kuoi.org/ with my playlist, I did a lot of deep cuts or half-albums. It's nice if someone else likes my music, but that's not why I post.

This post has been building for a day or two. I write a little, leave it in drafts, change the title, rewrite parts, find le mot juste, a few coherent thoughts, or Suck-like links to emphasize or subvert meanings. When I think it's worth reading, I'll hit Publish. Thinking and writing at any depth is simply impossible in the social media engines.