Coming to terms with being human.


Vengeance Inside Us

I've been reading Jared Diamond's article, Vengeance is Ours. It is an illuminating piece, not only about the politics of revenge in a non-state society, but also about the individual response to vengeance.
When I asked Daniel how he felt about the battle in which Isum became paralyzed, his reaction was unapologetically positive: a mixture of exhilaration and pleasure in expressing aggression. He used phrases such as “It was very nice,” and his gestures projected euphoria and a huge sense of relief. “I felt that it was a matter of ‘kill or else die by suicide.’ I was prepared to die myself in that fight. I knew that, if I did die then, I would be considered a hero and would be remembered. If I had personally seen the arrow go into Isum, I would have felt emotional relief then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually there to see it, but, when I heard that Isum had been paralyzed, I thought, I have everything, I feel as if I am developing wings, I feel as if I am about to fly off, and I am very happy. After that battle, just as after each battle in which we succeeded in killing an Ombal, we danced and celebrated and slaughtered pigs. When you fight with thinking and finally succeed, you feel good and relieved. The revenge relieves you; now it can be your turn to help someone else get his own revenge.
I often tell people that I am a philosophical urbanist. I need a better term for this, but in short, I honestly believe that when human societies organize at the city level, human life becomes better. The very fact of advanced organization creates the opportunity for positive change. I believe this has to do with the increased communication of ideas. I am not claiming that urban individuals are a better breed of human. I'm not talking about individual change at all. I'm saying that the social environment of the individual will cause that person to act more pro-socially (at the species level) than if he had been raised in a less connected environment. Why bring this up? The article got me thinking.

I absolutely empathize with the feelings mentioned in Diamond's article. In a similar environment, I believe I would act in much the same way. It is the outlets afforded me by society that allow me to react in less destructive ways. Well, enough of that. I think the article is interesting.


You Are Not Wasting Your Time

Clay Shirky's latest post is receiving so much attention that I'm basically just going to do a repost. "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus" is a really good article. In short, Shirky argues that collaborative media is taking advantage of a surplus of thought hours that has built up with the advent of leisure.

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

As an aside: If anyone finds out what book had the historical gin antecdotes in it, let me know.


Geeky Affirmation

Time magazine has used the quote "There can be only one" on a cover. This means that Time believes a significant segment of its audience can spot a Highlander reference. I respect their boldness, but am guessing they are wrong. Most people that have seen this film are like this jackass who believes that Immortals are referred to as Highlanders...and most people have not seen this film. Still, I like the image of the Democratic candidates fighting with swords to decide the nomination. Although Obama should probably avoid beheading white women on camera, even Clinton.

Edit: On closer inspection, the Time headline is "There can only be one". The question becomes, did a Highlander fan create this cover, or did a Highlander fan happen to read this cover?

Examples of What I'm Doing

Here are two very short stories that I finished recently.

The Nature of Miracles

Good Fortune

The basic world concept of Good Fortune is informing the stories I am working on right now.


America: Now Gattaca Safe?

I don’t want to become “the guy who reposts Wired articles,” but they did just mention another interesting item.

A bill designed to protect Americans from genetic discrimination has just passed the Senate and is ready for Bush to sign it. This bill is supposed to keep employers, insurance companies, and the like from using genetic tests against us. This is a very good thing, assuming the language of the bill is effective. With laws like this one in place, research can move forward at a quicker pace.

Without protections, it is likely that people would have been reluctant to use new genetic screening technologies. Why find out you might be prone to a rare cancer if that information could raise your insurance premiums? This new bill was crafted with foresight that will pave the way for better preventive medicine, with much more desirable social consequences. Good job, Congress (1).

(1) Good job contingent on S.358 being crafted effectively.

I’m a Writer!

Writing fiction is something that I’ve often dreamed of doing, but rarely have put into practice. Sure, I’ve sat down and pumped out the occasional poem, maybe a story that’s so short it barely qualifies as a paragraph, but that’s all. So recently, I turned my life into an experiment and I have been testing what it takes to get myself to really write. I have been somewhat successful. Here’s how.

1. Allowing myself to suck…badly.

I have to thank Mur Lafferty for this. It’s good to be reminded that you don’t get to be a world class writer on day one...or ever, really. I’ve been writing to enjoy myself and that has done more for my abilities than anything.

2. Sacrificing time.

I took a creative writing class so that I would have to write. Now it’s a habit. I go everywhere with a notebook so I can write when it suits me, or just jot down story ideas. It’s either this, or keep refreshing Yelp. I try to choose writing more often than not.

3. Call myself a writer.

I’m a writer, damn it. Sometimes you need to label yourself. It forces action. I write, therefore I am a writer, it’s that simple. Plus, it says writer on my business card, so there.

Anyway, I’m excited. It’s fun to work hard at your craft. I’m trying. It’s working out.


Buzz Hacking

Wired has a short piece on the best way to keep that beautiful caffeine buzz going. Basically, small amounts of caffeine ingested throughout the day will do you best. This hardly surprises me, as I find most of life follows this pattern. Take my work ethic or my fantasy life: small amounts, spaced throughout the for me.


My Little Friend!

My Little Friend!
Originally uploaded by selfunfocused

Now that Flickr allows video, I'm going to make a series of inane videos and post them here!


OK. How's about I revive this after the next Easter. Seriously, I'm going to shift around the sidebar stuff, link to all the new content I've been creating this year, and see where this goes.