Thoughts on “A Single Man”

I may have mentioned before the King County Library System 10 to Try challenge I’m participating in this year. Reading 10 books over the course of a year doesn’t present much of a challenge, but I like how the 10 different categories push me to read outside of my comfort zone.

Last year I read The Satanic Verses, a book on the banned book list that I never would have normally found. I hated it, but it was very educational and a good experience. Also, now I can say I’ve read a book that people were killed over. Can’t stay that about much literature. Continue Reading >>

Inherit the Sexism

I was proud and excited when my sister, writing as Gwen C. Katz, author of Among the Red Stars, kicked off the “describe yourself how a male author would describe you” phenomenon. It’s a topic I know she’s passionate about, and I completely agree with her points.

I’m reading the book Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan, and it’s a perfect example of what she was talking about. It was written in 1977, and envisions a near-future scenario in which people are colonizing the Moon and Mars. On the Moon, they discover a mummified human body in a space suit–and the whole thing is 50,000 years old! Dum da dum!

I’m not going to ruin the story; Mr. Hogan did that himself, the way he visualized women in the future. Here’s what I mean.

  • The first woman character doesn’t appear until page 28. A couple other ladies are mentioned, but only as a clerk or receptionist.  The book leans towards more hard science and explaining technical details, and none of the main characters are technically competent women. Not one. This is particularly noticeable when the author has characters say things like, “I’ll have the boys in the lab” do X, Y, or Z, or “The time has come, gentlemen, to dally no longer…” (p. 57)

    Caveat: I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but I’ve read it before and I don’t recall any technically competent women appearing later.

  • When the first female character is mentioned, here’s her full introduction:

    Lyn Garland, his personal assistant, greeted him from the screen. She was twenty-eight, pretty, and had long red hair and big, brown, intelligent eyes. (p 28)

    Thank goodness he included “intelligent” in the description. Otherwise I might’ve thought she was just a piece of ass stuck in there to keep the guys interested!

    Garland doesn’t get any actual dialogue during that introduction, however, beyond saying “Sure thing” to the boss’s request to bring in coffee. As noted previously, she’s not actually a researcher or engineer, like the other characters; she’s a secretary.

  • After her introduction, Garland disappears for 20 pages, during which it’s all dudes talking technical stuff. (Way too complicated for the ladies!) She finally reappears on page 48 as the two main guys are trying to figure out what this mysterious table of numbers and letters means. Here’s how it goes down. I’m going to reproduce it in its full glory:

    His mumblings were interrupted as the door opened behind them. Lyn Garland walked in.

    “Hi, you guys. What’s showing today?” She moved over to stand between them and peered into the tank. “Say, tables! How about that? Where’d the come from, the books?”

    “Hello, lovely,” Gray said with a grin. “Yep.” He nodded in the direction of the scanner.

    “Hi,” Hunt answered, at last tearing his eyes away from the image. “What can we do for you?”

    She didn’t reply at once, but continued staring into the tank.

    “What are they? Any ideas?”

    “Don’t know yet. We were just talking about it when you came in.”

    She marched across the lab and bent over to peer into the top of the scanner. The smooth, tanned curve of her leg and the proud thrust of her behind under her thin skirt drew an exchange of approving glances from the two English scientists. She came back and studied the image once more.

    “Looks like a calendar, if you ask me,” she told them. Her voice left no room for dissent.

    Gray laughed. “Calendar, eh? You sound pretty sure of it. What’s this–a demonstration of infallible feminine intuition or something?” He was goading playfully.

    She turned to confront him with out-thrust jaw and hands planted firmly on hips. “Listen, Limey–I’ve got a right to an opinion, okay? So, that’s what I think it is. That’s my opinion.”

    “Okay, okay.” Gray held up his hands. “Let’s not start the War of Independence all over again. I’ll note it in the lab file: ‘Lyn thinks it’s a–‘”

    “Holy Christ!” Hunt cut him off midsentence. He was staring wide-eyed into the tank. “Do you know, she could be right! She could just be bloody right!”

    [the guys go into why she might be right. Then they ask:]

    “What on Earth made you say a calendar?”

    She shrugged and pouted her lips. “Don’t know, really. The book over there looks like a diary. Every diary I ever saw had calendars in it. So, it had to be a calendar.”

    Hunt sighed. “So much for the scientific method.”… (p. 48-50)

    What does one even say to this? How do I even start to express the depth of insulted disgust I feel at the entire scene?

    The girl gets to contribute, but not before the dudes lasciviously ogle her ass, proving she really is just there as a delectable hunk of meat. At first the men completely dismiss her insight as “female intuition.” It’s not until a man thinks she might be right that they start taking the idea seriously. And then, when she explains her reasoning, the men dismiss her logic as flawed, even though it’s actually reasonable: Nobody knows what the book mentioned is; it’s some alien artifact. It could very well be a journal or diary. But nooooo, some girl came up with that conclusion, so it’s clearly not in keeping with the “scientific method.”

    A little later, the same scientist is in a meeting with all the technical folks, Hunt goes on to introduce Garland’s ideas, without any attribution, as if they were his own:

    “What’s that?” asked a voice.

    “It’s from one of the pocket books,” Hunt replied. “I think the book is something not unlike a diary. I also believe that that”–he pointed at the sheet–“could well be a calendar.” He caught a sly wink from Lyn Garland and returned it.

    He then goes on to say he analyzed the pattern on the page and that the book is remarkably like a diary with a calendar. This, after mocking and poh-poh-ing a woman’s analysis that reached that very conclusion! So much for the scientific method, indeed.

  • Continue Reading >>

    A Moment of Opportunity

    I think I mentioned that on Thursday, I’m doing this 160-mile (give or take) bike ride, Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). That’s why my family took off for the beach this week: Because on Wednesday I’ll be getting ready for this ride, and then on Thursday Dad and I will get up about 3:00 am (!) to drive down to Enumclaw to start riding at 5:30 am.

    In preparation for this insanity, I’ve started getting up slightly earlier every morning. Yesterday it was 5:00 am; this morning, 4:30; tomorrow, 4:00 am (!!!!!! I try not to think about it too much). The theory is that I’ll be able to go to bed earlier each night, and that maybe it’ll make 3:00 am feel a little less like the middle of the night. A month ago, it actually wouldn’t have been so middle-of-the-night-ish, because the sun started rising about 4:00 am. But alas, we’re down from 16 to a measly 15 or so hours of daylight, and it’s definitely quite dark even at 4:30 am.

    Anyway, getting up this early gives me some time, and I’ve spent a bit of it reading meta-analyses and discussions about the current global political situation. Many people I know have noticed it’s depressing, alarming, intolerable… but these couple articles I’ve been reading go farther than that, into interesting (and, yes, alarming) 10,000-foot views.

    In the first one, titled “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump,” the author argues that people periodically inflict chaos upon themselves, but because we–all people–are short-term thinkers, we don’t remember that we’ve done this before. The academics who do notice are dismissed by the masses as “academic elites” who know nothing about the real world. The author suggests that

    based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one. …It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it.

    He argues that things are likely to get really bad, possibly for many people, and cites a number of historical examples (think: Communist uprisings; World War I) where really horrendous numbers of people died from self-inflicted choices. Of course, nobody saw it coming, because we don’t look back at the past. But it’s there.

    …it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end?… this will be their Somme.

    I find this conclusion particularly interesting. He begins his article arguing that the Black Death may have actually strengthened and improved humans in the long run (see article for full argument), and perhaps this will be our Black Death/Communist revolution/Archduke Ferdinand moment. But taking this period in the broader view of history as one of many similar events, which will eventually be overcome and perhaps even strengthen us–this is not an easy view to take, because today, right now, we have to face the reality of the possible misery we’re inflicting on ourselves. But maybe it’s a little bit hopeful for the long-term.

    Also, it would sure be great if we didn’t inflict this on ourselves. If we could learn from those past mistakes. History didn’t have the kind of global communication network we enjoy today; it’s easier than ever to communicate with thousands, millions, perhaps even billions of people around the world. Unfortunately, it’s also easier than ever to live in an echo chamber, continually hearing our own views and thinking they’re the only truth. This is how people come to believe that everything is worse than ever before, and the world is falling apart: Now we can instantly receive news of every bad event happening around the world, and then our chosen voices reinforce the fearful belief of spiraling insanity. Even though we can communicate more easily than ever before, this may not actually be good for us.

    In the second article, written at the beginning of May before Trump sealed the nomination, is titled “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” In it, the author compares Plato’s “Republic” to today. Now, I can’t claim to have read it (my classical education was woefully neglected; my parents have so much to answer for!), but fortunately the author assumes we’ve all missed our classical educations, and he summarizes for us:

    And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

    [Plato describes the tyrant this way:] He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

    The article goes on to discuss the fragility of democracy against tyrants, how our amazing freedom literally allows us to choose our own downfall:

    I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself. …[American democracy] is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history. …It is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

    This goes back to the previous article I mentioned, how people forget the bad choices of the past and will repeatedly pick options not in their best interest. With democracy as democratic as we have it — and the article argues that it’s more democratic than ever before — people literally do have the power to choose harmful leaders, with increasingly weak checks that can no longer serve to protect people from their own bad decisions.

    It also goes into how the rise of the Internet media and the decline of, well, mediated media has exacerbated the situation, as I noted above in my own thoughts:

    The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before. …And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

    Then, of course, the stage is set for Trump:

  • We’ve got people who don’t know history and aren’t aware of the many precedents of masses choosing catastrophic options;
  • We’ve got the loudest voice being heard the most, and traditional media tossing out editorial quality in favor of pursuing higher ratings and more traffic;
  • We’ve allowed the power to transfer to all of us, giving great power to ignorance and foolishness, with no balance or check to prevent the most compelling foolish choices (the article says, “The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force”);
  • We love to be entertained! Let the most entertaining person win.
  • Continue Reading >>

    Digital Awakening

    At first, coming back online felt so much like waking up that I thought I still operated on wetware. I rose up into consciousness slowly, a drop of oil in a deep pond. I pried open sleep-heavy, crusted eyelids reluctantly, lethargy clinging tenaciously to my limbs still heavy after a deep, deep sleep. I felt the satiny sheets cradling my body heat in a cocoon I was loth to break. I even felt my breaths, inhaling and exhaling with the steady rhythm achieved only in the deepest level of sleep, although I also knew some practitioners of meditation who could slow their bodies in the same way.

    I didn’t want to wake up. Restful sleep visited me so rarely, it seemed a veritable sacrilege to rush into wakefulness, like eating the Communion bread from hunger. Nights had become my silent companion, a time I spent at quiet, simple tasks while others rested. No sense fighting to sleep. I embraced the reality of my sleeplessness and lived in it wholeheartedly. Thus it was that waking up felt like a benediction, a blessing only rarely received.

    When I finally accepted that I was awake, I opened my eyes and the bubble of illusion popped. No wet technology could produce those distinctive iridescent cubes floating motionlessly over that unnaturally glassy viridian sea, stretching off into the horizon like an exercise in perspective. Their multitude exceeded the mind’s ability to grasp, a number so vast as to be incomprehensible. Each one housed a mind, the unique workings of an individual entity, that which made it separate from its neighbors. Intellectually, I knew that I – that which made me me – existed in one of those cubes, just as did everyone I knew (which, at this point, was everyone). I didn’t know which was mine; only the Mind was large enough to grasp the kind of numbers required to locate a point in that vast space. It didn’t really matter, because the concept of where no longer obsessed us the way it did in the past.

    But the wet brain’s thinking patterns subside slowly, so I thought I lay naked in the body-temperature sand beneath all those cubes, toes just dabbling in the water, arms comfortably nestled at my sides, hair spreading in a fan beneath my shoulders, a silky contrast to the slight sandy roughness. One advantage of being a digital construct, though, is sand stays exactly where you want it, and never where you don’t.

    One disadvantage, however, is that you can never truly be alone. Sure, you can put up firewalls, but someone will always spend the processing time to break them, usually with no better reason than it was there. I didn’t even have any firewalls, waking up as I had, so when another figure approached, I couldn’t repel it.

    For an appreciable time – it must have been whole hundredths of a sec – the figure remained indiscriminate, like a person obscured by sea mist walking toward me. But this sea has no mist, and anyway, as I already said, location is meaningless. Then the figure seemed to solidify, and I felt my (nonexistent) heart skip a beat.


    Let me go back a bit, if there is such a thing as back. I never took seriously the possibility of digital shanghai. Oh, I knew it was theoretically possible, had seen and confirmed the code myself – elegant yet brutal, like the nuclear weapons of an earlier age. But though I could come up with an extensive list of others who might want to take me or of the picture for some unknown duration, the Mind made it nearly impossible.

    With a benevolent, all-powerful entity actually keeping an eye on everyone and everything – literally – it’s impractical to get up to anything nefarious. Not actually impossible, unfortunately, because the Mind chooses to respect the sanctity of an entity’s thoughts. That means that one individual can think up and attempt to execute harm to another, but that many entities would be hard-pressed to collaborate in such activity. We’d seen younger entities execute mischief, perhaps swapping bits of their elders in sometimes amusing ways, but the Mind always had a backup to restore the maligned ones to their proper configurations.

    Digital shanghai was a different level of malignancy from harmless bit swapping. To be shanghaied meant to be taken offline without your consent, to vanish from the community for some unknown time, to have your input nullified, to be erased from the conversation and decision-making structure. A millisecond shanghai executed at the right time could shift the entire course of the decision tree’s branching.

    Don’t get the idea that I’m some kind of egomaniac, thinking other entities would go to all that trouble just for me. The fact is that, although we don’t have leaders or government or any of the trappings of wet society, to varying degrees we still think with wet patterns. This means some want to lead and others want to follow; many still seek and find comfort in organization. My pattern is such that entities often follow me, or structure according to my suggestions. And that motivates others to want my removal, because they disagree with me or want another organizational structure. At least, I assume that would motivate one to risk the Mind’s displeasure.

    “Silverware,” an art installation by B. Ferguson


    The artist rejects our outdated, imperialistic, and deeply bourgeois sorting methodology. His arrangement speaks to the desire within all human beings for freedom – of expression, of choice, of speech, and, ultimately, to determine one’s own destiny, unconstrained by the rigid mores imposed externally by society. With this installation the artist expands upon this theme using the epitome of banal, everyday objects – common flatware – juxtaposing their very ubiquity and normalcy with the jarring use of chaos and disarray to express rejection of confining, societally-imposed strictures even within the larger cultural dialogue.

    About Depression

    Ian and I have been talking about depression lately, about what causes it and how to overcome it. We’re told these days that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and that with the right prescription of drugs (particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) and therapy (CDC), it’s readily treatable. According to a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) brief from 2011,

    Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years. From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%. Continue Reading >>


    Day’s Verse:
    This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step. …He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
    1 Peter 2:21-25-ish

    My heart has been hurting lately for many reasons that I won’t be getting into here, but that have kept me from posting for the last couple weeks, too. Instead of going into the depressing details, I’m going to share some really excellent Other Katie emails I’ve gotten lately.

    From: Dexter Fugerson
    Date: Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 7:54 AM
    Subject: Paper inventory

    2 cases ,1 white legal
    1 case ,8 reams of legal
    2 cases ,4 reams,0 legal
    1 case , 5 reams , 0 legal
    3 reams, 0 leagal

    Maybe he meant to send this to Katie Fugerson? In any case, it’s handy that I know how many reams of yellow paper they have. I’m sure it’ll come in useful any day now.

    From: Dexter Fugerson
    Date: Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 9:14 AM
    Subject: Dexter’s resume
    To: Katie Ferguson

    See attached…
    [Dexter Resume 2(3).docx attached]

    Not sure why I’m getting Dexter’s resume; maybe he’s considering changing his career from paper-counter to something more challenging, like paper-sorter?

    Several from SiriusXM:

    From: SiriusXM
    Date: Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 2:29 PM
    Subject: SiriusXM Requests Your Feedback
    To: [me]

    Dear Valued SiriusXM Customer,

    On behalf of SiriusXM, we have a special opportunity for you to participate in a survey about the call you made to our Listener Care Department on 03/21/2013. SiriusXM is focused on delivering excellent customer service and therefore, would like to include your valuable opinion on how well we took care of your most recent need. The survey takes less than 5 minutes to complete.

    Please take a moment to complete the survey now since this link will only be available until 12:00 noon EST on 03/25/2013.

    Please click HERE to take this survey.

    If the above link is not clickable, you may copy and paste or type the URL below into your browser window:
    [link redacted]

    Thank you for your participation.

    SiriusXM Listener Care Department

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    To: [me]

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