Everything Everywhere All at Once

Posted in Things You Should See with tags , , , on June, 2022 by melendwyr

It’s like Douglas Adams and Monty Python converted to Buddhism, then decided to collaborate on an Asian martial arts film where Jamie Lee Curtis beats up Short Round doing a Jackie Chan impression, then makes out with Michelle Yeoh for a while.

And I’ve had multiple people tell me that this description undersells it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Wikipedia’s Hidden Failure

Posted in Politics and Society with tags , , on March, 2022 by melendwyr

No, I’m not trying to attract views by being controversial, which is why I posted previously about famous historical figures who were failures by their own standards.

Wikipedia certainly has problems, even arguably failures, in the way it operates – as with so many things, it’s largely a matter of opinion and perception. But the sorts of things that it has problems with are generally apparent from observation of the present.

I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed Wikipedia’s beginnings, and I’ve been an interested observer of its functioning since then, and I’ve noticed something that people wouldn’t have become aware of otherwise.

Wikipedia was founded with the ethos of the digital gift economy, by (roughly speaking) the freeware community. From the very beginning, it opened itself to vandalism, operating on the faith that there would be enough decent contributors operating independently and without top-down organization to counter the people trying to ruin things.

And to a degree, they were right. About vandalism.

But Wikipedia quickly developed problems with arguments between ideologically opposed factions. Some users were willing to acknowledge positions and arguments they disagreed with, but others insisted on removing them from articles they were monitoring. And thus the Edit Wars raged across the databases, until finally the idea of non-hierarchy was abandoned, and a system of monitors with greater power who were monitored in turn was put in place.

Equal power to all users seems to work fine, if a sufficient fraction of the population agrees roughly on goals and methods to reach them. But hierarchies seem to spring up whenever humans need to impose standards on a population that doesn’t necessarily agree with them.

It’s clear that “top-down” structure is effective at the task. Is it truly necessary? Or is it a matter of old human instincts asserting themselves, instincts which reliably result in a social order capable of persisting, but which exclude potential alternatives? I don’t know, and I suspect no one else does.

As an attempt to demonstrate the viability of democratic social design, where everyone has the same level of influence and power, Wikipedia has failed pretty completely. It’s just that the aspiration was largely abandoned and forgotten as our failure to attain it was accepted. It’s worth remembering, and thinking about – or so I think, at least.

Painting the Bullseye with Churchill and Gandhi

Posted in Politics and Society with tags on February, 2022 by melendwyr

I once read a humorous anecdote about a wanderer who came across a wall painted with shooting targets, each with the marks of gunfire at its center. Impressed, he sought out the wall’s owner and complimented him on his remarkable aim, only to be told that the shooting was easy – painting the targets around places the bullets hit was much harder.

As obviously ridiculous as the behavior in this joke is, it’s disturbingly common in real life – not usually in a literal sense, but it’s almost ubiquitous when it comes to abstract and conceptual matters.

Some time ago, I happened across a book in my local library – I think it may have been titled Churchill & Gandhi, but I haven’t bothered seeking it out after I sat down in a comfy chair and read it cover-to-cover. It discussed the historical struggle for India’s independence from Britain as a very personal one between two men – which almost certainly simplifies the complexity of the subject – but also pointed out that, relative to their intended goals and by their own standards, both Churchill and Gandhi failed. Churchill wanted desperately to preserve the “British Empire” and maintain the dominance of Britain over its subject territories, while Gandhi dreamed not only of independence but of creating an India that was self-sufficient and free from dependence upon other nations. Neither one got what they wanted, although I suppose Gandhi could be said to have ‘won’ – the endstate is arguably closer to his desired outcome.

As lionized as the two legends are, I suspect that the common narratives surrounding them are examples of painting the target around the shot.

More on this later.

What are the vaccines for, anyway?

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society, Things You Should Hear, Things You Should Read with tags , , on February, 2022 by melendwyr

On January 28th I happened to turn on the radio, and heard an interview with infectious disease expert Andrew Read. Nothing in the interview was new to me, yet I daily encounter scores of people who are in desperate need of listening to it or reading its transcript.

Andrew Read Interview on Take Note

The most important part in my opinion?

Vaccines have no effect on whether a person contracts COVID from first exposure, and only a one-in-three chance of preventing infection upon later exposures.

Meanwhile, I hear that local governments are in the process of repealing mask mandates. The mandates for masks. The masks that have been demonstrated to be highly effective at reducing transmission when used properly. Repealed.

Wearing masks sucks, I know. But they seem to work. People went out and got the vaccines, and various authority structures demanded that people be vaccinated in order to attend school or university or all kinds of social functions. And those vaccines provide no protective function against infection, which was the whole rationale behind making vaccination mandatory for schoolchildren – they very rarely get sick from COVID, the purported purpose was to protect teachers and the families of those kids. But that doesn’t work.

When is success not success?

Posted in Uncategorized on January, 2022 by melendwyr

TV Tropes is all-consuming, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to read it. But, I’m building up to something, and it’s not all that dangerous. You can stop any time you want, right? Right?

Magnum Opus Dissonance

When a creator and their audience disagree as to their greatest work, or whether a given work is successful or not, who is correct? We can hope that our actions will be justified by history, but is there any reason to value the judgment of the future more than that of the past? What if other people never perceive the quality we do, or perceive it where we don’t?

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but especially check out the ‘Other’ section at the bottom.

When and Why to Reject Language Shift, or, Another Reason to Hate NPR

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December, 2021 by melendwyr

My bedside clock radio is set to NPR, because it’s very effective at getting me moving in the morning, because I hate it so very much. Passionate feelings are the best way to chase away that early-morning sluggishness; no one said they had to be good feelings.

Anyway, one of their “human interest” stories caught my interest this morning. Morning Edition – A pelican in Naples, FL

It’s the typical drivel that is of no significance but that people like to hear, until it comes to the end of the story, in which we are cheerily informed that the pelican’s eyes were literally bigger than its stomach.

[meaningful pause]

I’m an amateur conlanger, and I’ve hung out around a lot of linguists and people with linguistic interests. In my experience, they tend to generalize the scientific dispassion and strictly passive observation required for the study of language to how they approach languages issues generally, particularly when it comes to pet peeves surrounding how words and phrases change their meaning.

Well, I still believe that it’s appropriate to oppose certain changes of words. It’s often hopeless, of course, and practicality means we simply have to accept things. ‘Gay’ will probably never mean “cheerful, joyous, or happy” ever again, no matter how much we might wish it had kept that original meaning. But there are plenty of synonyms for the older meaning of ‘gay’, which is part of why the word’s usage shifted so easily. But the increasing use of ‘literally’ as a mere intensifier? NO!

There aren’t all that many ways to say that something is meant literally, not figuratively, other than actually using the word. I’m reasonably fluent in English, and I had to stop and think for a while, then break out a dictionary, to double-check the formal definitions and find acceptable synonyms. ‘Plain’, ‘straightforward’, and ‘factual’ are among them, but none of them quite match the meaning of ‘literal’. Which is, of course, why we have that word in the first place.

When a shift in language makes it difficult or impossible to convey meaning in a useful way, that’s when we should dare to insist that the change is actually an error. If we asked that reporter if she used those words as a figure of speech, she would of course affirm this. The idea of accepting the statement as a factual claim is absurd. Yet that’s precisely how the statement was tagged.

NPR ought to be ashamed of itself for abusing the English language in such an ignorant and counterproductive way.

The Liars Who Cannot Be Forgiven

Posted in Doom, Medicine, Politics and Society with tags on December, 2021 by melendwyr

Now that I finally have a steady job again, I should take up this blog once more. I haven’t had the time and energy required.

Today, though, something happened that made me decide to make the effort.

My clock radio is set to wake me up with NPR, because I hate them so very much that it pulls me right out of sleep. When I awoke today, the current story was the “Omicron Variant” of Covid, and a patient who attended a convention in New York and has been confirmed to have contracted Omicron.

Vaccination was required for attendance, and so presumably all attendees, vendors, and venue employees had been fully vaccinated. The patient certainly had – but he contracted Covid anyway.

The doctor being interviewed stressed that the patient had a very mild case, and claimed this demonstrated that vaccination provides a protective effect against Covid and everyone should be vaccinated.

We now have enough reports about the spread of this strain of Coronavirus for it to be clear that vaccination doesn’t provide much immunity to it. And, of course, vaccination doesn’t even provide much immunity to the previous strains, which is why people are now being urged to get booster shots. (Presumably the plan is to offer boosters from now into forever, or… something.) But we simply don’t have enough data yet to conclude that vaccination moderates the course of Omicron, or any other strain for that matter. If nothing else, research on the early spread of the virus has demonstrated that most people who contract Covid don’t have seriously life-threatening or even necessarily noticeable symptoms. A single case of a vaccinated person contracting Omicron and having mild symptoms proves… basically, nothing at all that we couldn’t reasonably conclude is probable from our past experience.

I don’t have a whole lot of life wisdom, but what little I do possess has been hard-won. And it has been my experience that people who lie to you for their own benefit can sometimes be trusted again. Conscience plagues decent people, and indecent people recognize the danger in being found out in a lie and avoid doing so if means for others to verify their claims exist. But the people who tell you lies “for your own good” cannot ever be trusted once recognized, because those who deceive you with the full approval of their own consciences will do it again and again and again. They will fall into the same pattern more reliably than an addict. And they virtually never repent; contrition is almost always another deceit.

Consider what authorities tell us carefully, and doubly so when it’s for our good.

The Fear of Empty Spaces

Posted in Uncategorized on August, 2019 by melendwyr

It’s been, what, two years since I could bring myself to put things here?  They’ve been pretty awful years for me.  And possibly for you.  But that’s not so relevant.

I think I’ll see if I can’t find a way to fill up some of the empty spaces screaming at me.


Rupture: Movie Review

Posted in Fiction, Reviews, Things You Should See with tags , on August, 2017 by melendwyr

I am so often disappointed by small, independent films that I find it noteworthy when I come across one I approve of wholeheartedly.

So I recommend ‘Rupture’.  It’s not what I would call a perfect film, but perfection is often boring and hidebound, and this certainly isn’t that.

A single mother interacts with her young son, unaware that her home is filled with secret cameras and strangers follow her car.  After she drops off the child with her estranged ex-husband, she is abducted and taken to a bizarre facility by inappropriately genial and empathetic captors… and things get weirder from there.

I particularly appreciate the use of color to create tension and atmosphere – really well done.  I didn’t feel the musical background was always used well – too much heavy-handed dissonance can draw a viewer out of the experience if there’s no obvious reason to feel tension in a scene, so going to that well too early in the film is a mistake.  But it’s a small matter, and I only care because I enjoyed the movie enough to nitpick.

‘Rupture’ is unrated, and must have had a very limited distribution, but it can likely be found at various streaming services and temporarily at Redbox kiosks.

Good news, everyone!

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized on June, 2017 by melendwyr

Now there’s a title that will inspire dread in every geeky heart…

On the plus side, I have steady work now, which means I no longer have to worry about starving to death on the streets.  On the negative side, it’s kept me so busy that I haven’t had much time to devote to my all-important hobbies, like gardening or occasional blogging.

Hopefully I can manage to get more of those things in.