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November 30th, 2016
11:32 am

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Not quite trusting Rumi
"'There's no courage', The Prophet said, 'before the war has begun.'
Drunkards vaunt their bravery when you speak of war.
But in the blaze of battle they scatter like mice.
I'm astonished by the man who wants purity
And yet trembles when the harshness of polishing begin...
When a man beats a carpet again and again
It's not the carpet he's attacking, but the dirt in it."
-- Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (b. 1207, d. 1273-12-17), translated by Andrew Harvey

I used to be a big fan of Idris Shah, possibly the best known modern Sufi. Now, when I say I was a big fan, this means I read all the books of his I could get my hands on, not that I tried to live according to his ideas. I was a big fan of G.K. Chesterton, too. This doesn't mean I wanted to be a Catholic.

Anyway, I read the poem and was attracted to the metaphor of the carpet beater. It's a brilliant metaphor, and a hazard for humans. (I don't know what God is up to.) If you are a human, you just might not be an expert on what part of a human (yourself as well as other people) is simply dirt to be gotten rid of, and what is the real brilliantly colored valuable carpet.

Improvement is possible, but perhaps purity is a bad goal and something else, maybe excellence, would be better. Purity is limited by what people can imagine, and what people can imagine is much simpler than the real world.

At this point, I'm primed to notice it if I see people who took damage from Sufi training. This subject is complicated by the fact that it's hard to tell who's a real Sufi and who isn't. One of Shah's very reasonable points is that when you start out on a mystic path, you aren't a mystic, so you can easily make mistakes about what you're doing and who you're following. For that matter, I've seen some question about whether Shah was a real Sufi.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1086730.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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November 28th, 2016
09:02 am

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Predictions
A whole lot of people are making a whole lot of predictions.

I recommend keeping track of your predictions so that you can learn something about how accurate your model of the world is.

If you have a testable prediction, there's Prediction Book for keeping track of whether it comes true. You can make your predictions public or private.

Not a testable prediction, but I promise to try to not gloat if you turn out to be wrong.

My informal prediction is that Trump and his friends will steal a tremendous amount of money. I'm less sure about governmental and street violence. Things will probably get somewhat worse, but I don't have a strong feeling about how bad things will get.

Annoyingly, we can only test predictions about the effects of one candidate's victory.

We are in historically unprecedented territory so far as I know. Normally, when a country starts to become authoritarian, it then becomes authoritarian. America, as a relatively free country with a strong opposition, is in an unusually good position to resist.

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November 13th, 2016
11:49 am

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Preparedness
The subject came up of what to do because of the Trump victory.

At this point, I don't have much. I'm not panicking, and it's possible I should be much more worried than I am.

One general point-- you've got a minimum of three months before political changes.

Some reasons for less worry. A high proportion of people generally survive bad times. The worst thing you can imagine is not a good guide for prediction, usually. America has a lot of checks on political power. We know about the Nazis. That last isn't a guarantee of safety, but it was a lot easier for people to kid themselves about Germany being a civilized nation.

Guesses for preparation: build general capacity-- take care of your health, your finances, and your social network. Have cash. (The Handmaid's Tale is a nightmare, and part of it is about centralized control of money.) I realize people's resources vary a lot. You can only do what's possible. You may be able to get or give help.

The big picture: I don't trust government as much as a lot of people seem to, but I also acknowledge that it's useful. I think it's very early to be thinking about violent revolution, and things would have to be very dire for revolution to be a better bet than working on and with the system. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should be law-abiding if it looks very dangerous or debilitating. We're talking about guesswork, not bright moral distinctions.

Two Cheers for Anarchism is good about informal resistance.

Political: https://storify.com/editoremilye/i-worked-for-congress-for-six-years The short version is that a phone call (expect it to be picked up by a staffer) is the best way to get attention to members of Congress.

Discussion of how to tell when things are getting really bad:

http://ask.metafilter.com/302522/Knowing-the-warning-signs

From Making Light:
Go bags
General preparedness
First aid-- this is overwhelming, eat it one bite at a time.

I'd appreciate information about de-escalating street confrontations. I've done a little of that, mostly for myself, and my approach is so weird that I'm not sure how many other people can use it.

Please note that what I'm talking about is for relatively slow-moving confrontations and a shared language.

My underlying premise is that the most important thing is to lower the emotional intensity. My concealed premise is that there's nothing between people but dominance transactions. I believe that people mostly don't know what they want, so it's possible for the person who is more certain (in this case, that I don't want a dangerous confrontation) can take charge.

So I start calmly arguing. I'm not talking nonsense except that I apparently get so abstract that I'm incomprehensible-- if the other person says they don't understand me, I apologize and keep on going.

The point isn't what I'm saying. It's that they've been moved into a discussion.

I am not trying to shame them or change their life. I just want them to not be angry. If I can get them mildly bored this is good.

I feel faintly ill after I use this method. I think it takes a lot of repression.

I have no idea where this ability came from-- I've lived a pretty safe life.

Oh, and ask for what you do want rather than telling someone to stop what they're doing.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1086409.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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November 9th, 2016
12:52 pm

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"That is not who we are"
Every now and then I hear "That is not who we are".

It gets on my nerves because of a process which started when I first heard about My Lai. My initial reaction was "An American wouldn't", followed almost immediately by "An American did".

Now, it's fair to say that wasn't typical American behavior, and that it was eventually treated as a crime. Much later, the soldiers who protected villagers were treated as heroes rather than traitors.

Individuals are complicated. Societies are more complicated.

My best understanding is that "That is not who we are" is aspirational. It's a hope that we will live up to our best dreams, which is to say the dreams the person speaking holds. It's an effort to get psychological leverage, and I don't think it works terribly well.

What I believe is true is that we are making ourselves all the time.

The important thing is what people want and what they're working on.

I recently discovered the Reith lectures, and they looks like a good source for high qualtity thought. I'm linking to one by Kwame Appiah about how values are promoted by people who care about them-- it's not tied to race, culture, or geography. I don't think the transcript is up yet.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1086195.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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October 31st, 2016
11:48 am

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More about metrics going wrong
A major problem with having metrics (measurements intended to change behavior) is that the real world is complex-- anything that's simple enough to measure isn't going to be what you actually want.

Now we get to the SNAFU Principle-- the idea that information doesn't move in a hierarchy. The people at the bottom know what's going on, but can't take action. The people at the top can take action, but don't know what's going on.

Presumably, the more severe the punishments and the higher the rewards, the less competent the system becomes.

From memory of something Gregory Bateson said: Living systems don't maximize any one thing. Consider a rain forest. Compare it to a money-based economy.

I'd say that governments trying to maximize obedience are in a similar bind.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1085774.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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09:10 am

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Something genuinely scary
Here's a very frightening thing that I've been meaning to do as a Halloween post. I realize that Halloween is for things that are fun scary, but it's not night yet, so this is isn't really Halloween.

You may have heard of Goodhart's Law. It has nothing to do with being good-hearted, Goodhart's just the name of its author.

Here's my current formulation: Any measurement which is used to guide policy will become corrupt.

You understand? Not might become corrupt. Not won't become corrupt if it's well designed. WILL BECOME CORRUPT.

Are you shaking? You are living in a culture which gives more and more trust to using measurement to guide policy.

Good long discussion of metrics (metrics are measurements used to guide policy)

The Wells Fargo accounts scandal is a classic example of measuring the worng thing-- top management set up impossible demands for new accounts, and staff both pressured customers into getting accounts they didn't need and also added accounts to customers who didn't ask for them. This has turned into a disaster for Wells Fargo.

This sort of thing doesn't just happen in business. If there's a demand for crime to go down, it might just get translated into make crime statistics go down, so the public is discouraged from reporting crime.

Does GDP measure somehting important? Do unemployment statistics?

I think you can get a rough measure of which places are better to live in than others by looking at immigration/emigration and adjusting it for the level of risk and cost people are willing to endure in order to move.... but if this were used for policy it would go wrong some way or other.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1085632.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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October 30th, 2016
04:33 pm

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Problem with the recent comments page
For a while,the recent comments page was down.

Now, if I go to the page, I get the most recent comments on my lj, but not the links to comments I've made on other people's ljs.

Is anyone else having this problem? Has lj changed its policy?

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October 23rd, 2016
06:50 am

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Orson Card Card, politics, the temperature of tap water, etc.
So james_nicoll linked to Card about the election and various other things on his mind.

Firstly, the temperature of tap water-- it's quite true that there's a big difference with the seasons. I will also note that there's much more hot water for showers precisely when long hot showers are least desirable.

I have seen complaints about Card's long discussion about tap water, but I found it fairly engaging, certainly much more so than Card's political rants. I was reminded that I used to be a Card fan.

I dropped him in the 80s or thereabouts. I realized that he had a recurring pattern of older males being physically and emotionally abusive to boys, and I was getting squicked. It actually seemed like psychological progress when Card had a father in Alvin Maker who wasn't comfortable with wanting to kill his son. Also, I got fascinated by Card's character torture in a way I didn't feel good about. People would look at me as though I was crazy when I talked about dropping an author for those reasons.

Anyway, Card likes McMullen, and in the comments to James Nicoll, Sean O'Hara links to an interview with McMullen.
No, McMullin said, the GOP is already mostly right on the issues. The party's real problem is something much more fundamental. "The Republican Party has a problem now with people, candidly, in its ranks, members and some voters, who don't embrace, I think, some foundational truths upon which our country was founded and which it has drawn nearer to over time."

"Number one is that we are all created equal," McMullin continued. "That is something that Donald Trump, I don't believe, has embraced, nor have some of his supporters. And it's a deep problem in the Republican Party, and that's just the truth."

...


McMullin explained that he, like other Republicans, has heard for years from Democrats that the GOP is racist. He always rejected that kind of thinking. He rejected it, that is, until the last few years, when he worked in a senior staff position for the GOP in the House of Representatives.

"I spent a lot of time in the Republican Party believing that that was something Democrats and liberals would say, [people] who weren't interested in really understanding who we were," McMullin said. "But I have to say in the time that I spent in the House of Representatives and leadership and in senior roles there, I realized that no, they're actually right. And Donald Trump made it ever more clear that there is a serious problem of racism in the Republican Party. That is the problem. Not conservative ideals. Racism is not conservatism. And that's what I'm talking about. That's the problem."

Weirdly, the Washington Examiner page looks vaguely like Facebook while being less cluttered and less readable. I have no idea how this is possible, but I'm forced to conclude that creating the Facebook look is harder than it seems.

Not connected to the Nicolls piece, but how American politics shifted from interests to values, and why this is a problem. I'm not sure this is right, but it's at least interesting and plausible.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1085357.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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October 19th, 2016
09:36 am

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Most sensible sf about rebuilding after catastrophe?
Discussion of sf which portrays catastrophe as bringing back the Good Old Days

So, who does a good job? For purposes of this discussion, I'm talking about rebuilding which isn't a simple matter of playing out dreams or nightmares, plausibly fits its setting, and doesn't look much like the past.

Offhand, the only one I'm thinking of is Three Parts Dead (seriously alien society after a magical catastrophe), but there must be others.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1084973.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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September 16th, 2016
12:29 pm

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Canons are becoming less possible
An English professor explains why she isn't reading or assigning David Foster Wallace

I think what I'm writing isn't even an essay, it's a ramble.

Once upon a time-- I'd say until sometime in the 70s-- it was possible for a dedicated reader to pretty much keep up with science fiction, or at least I think I was managing it, with some time left over for reading earlier sf and rereading my favorites. Perhaps it was even possible at some point to keep up with the fanzines.

Admittedly, I didn't like everything and didn't read what I didn't like. Still, I wasn't the only one who had a shared vocabulary of a large body of first and second-rate sf.

Then, it seemed like I was getting swamped. What's more, the field started expanding into more media. Star Trek fans had been scraping by on three seasons worth of shows. Comic book fans were stuck with only two major companies.

I'm going to be sloppy with the decades, but for some time we're got huge numbers of tie-ins, games, movies, fan creations.... I think you could spend the rest of your life on just Harry Potter fan fiction and not keep up with it.

I'm not viewing with alarm, though with some degree of nostalgia. It's pleasant to have such a large shared vocabulary. I think it's relatively possible to still have the shared vocabulary from art that's more expensive to produce (movies and television), though there gets to be more of that because the past isn't getting lost and also because the amount getting produced in visual media is increasing and the market is becoming more international. There's still some shared vocubulary for print sf, it's just getting harder.

These days, there's more good art and more great art, which seems like a fair trade.

I recently read about people trying to keep up with short sf stories for the Hugos.... there are resouces, but you really can't.

Anyway, I'm looking at the foggy future and I'm assuming there will be some art which is broadly popular, but there's also going to be a lot of (even more?) fragmentation of audiences. We might get competent advice to computers-- programs which can accurately say "this isn't much like you've liked in the past, but you'll probably love it". I have no idea what academe will look like. Will there still be as much done with consensus masterpieces? More idiosyncratic choices by professors?

Anyone else remember the bit at the beginning of Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand? The protagonst is absorbing what seems like a fascinating bunch of book cubes, but as I recall they weren't a collection, just random packing material.

Speaking of that second rank stuff, what was the Chandler story where some handwaving science expanding the size of the ship and crew, so that stars really were like glowing grains of sand?

Maybe I'm overgeneralizing from myself. What have other people seen about shared knowledge of sf or other sorts of art?

Oh, right, I do have a title for this ramble. Actually, there's academic work done about canons, and I've only nibbled around the edges of it. My impression is that canons exist partly because of theories about what is good for people and partly out of habit. I think canons are also a result of having too much material to hold in a mind, but little enough that it's possible to think about what's worth treating as essential.

The idea that there are universal human classics that people need to be forced to read is pretty funny, though I think part of what happens is at least some of the material is fair to middling universal but students are forced to read it when they're too young for it.

My bet is that consensus is going to weaken, making canons harder to maintain, but I'm open to alternate predictions.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1084730.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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