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To my brothers and sisters dispersed across the Internet:

This is the Great Recession novel for which I have been waiting!

Dignity by Ken Layne.

I came across it this weekend when Chris Clarke, via Google+, mentioned his review of it was up on KCET.org.

It is one of the better books I've read in a while. For me there is a certain science fictional feel to it, but I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction/apocalyptic fiction, so I often confuse the two.

Chris Clarke calls this a "modest utopia." Layne successfully lays out his utopian ideas without saccharine or schmaltz. There is a dystopian threat there, too, but it stays in the background even as it drives the story forward. Layne embraces the didactic voice necessary to convey his vision, but the conceit of the epistolary successfully covers any awkward soliloquies or "infodumps."

Rejecting spiritual or prescriptive pretexts so often found with such bold visions, Layne sets out his ideas as an epistolary. The narrator, N., writes to various communities around California. Some are thriving, others withering, and most are persecuted by a society and government that distrusts and fears anyone who would propose an alternative arrangement of society. Through his letters to these communities, written twenty-some years after the first group met for a communal dinner in Los Angeles, we learn of the founding of this movement and of its enigmatic, serene founder, B.

This book has stuck with me since I finished it earlier tonight. I read it in a few short hours, which is a rarity for me. Books always have an impact on me for a while after I finish them, but I think this one will join the short list of books that have stuck with me long-term. I felt mildly uncomfortable reading it on a Screen - my kindle - but I can't resist a $2.99 novel. I don't think I'm in danger of abandoning the circumstances in which I live, but Layne presents a tempting, provocative, and somewhat attractive alternative to our way of life.

Census Meme

Mar. 9th, 2011 04:52 pm
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I'm not from the UK, but I did live there during the previous census, so I think I can play along.

2011 - Living with my wife, two cats, two turtles, and a handful of birds in a townhouse back in my hometown of Bellefonte, PA. Working as an Assistant Public Defender (criminal defense lawyer).

2001 - Lived in a multi-bedroom flat with roommates in Lincoln, England. Dating she-who-would-be-my-wife, who was living in Barcelona, Spain. Studied English and Journalism.

1991 - Lived with my parents and sister in the same house my parents have lived in since 1970.

1981 - Lived with my parents just outside Bellefonte, PA. So I'm told. I was two years old and can't remember anything before 1982.

1971 - 'twas but a dream.
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This picture captures my favorite place... and my worst fear.
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Writing in The Nation earlier this month, William Greider lays out the case for the end of New Deal Liberalism, and what its heirs must do to effect change in the future. Greider also has three suggestions for overcoming the conditions faced by would-be reformers today, "conditions similar to what the Populists and Progressives faced: monopoly capitalism, a labor movement suppressed with government's direct assistance, Wall Street's 'money trust' on top, the corporate state feeding off government while ignoring immoral social conditions."

Some choice excerpts below the cut, but it is well worth reading the whole thing. )
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What Amanda is talking about in #1 here I actually did in 2009, complete with reading Bittman's Food Matters (highly recommended, btw). I did really well with it, too. Being "vegan until 6," I managed to lose weight. Unfortunately, I fell off the food wagon in 2010 and gained it all back, plus some. I'm not in "lose weight or die" territory by any stretch, but I'm not healthy, either.

Perhaps I'll have to dust off my copy of Food Matters and get reinspired. I really do like a good salad for lunch.

Since our usual CSA is taking some time off this year (at least from veggies - you can still get fresh-cut, organic flowers from http://www.fullcirclefarms.com/), we're going to take a year off, too, and spend the money we would have spent on the CSA at local farmers markets. We have an amazing one here in Bellefonte, and the one in Millheim is also great on quality and value.

As for cooking, we started the year off right with a stir fry dish last night (This one from Mark Bittman, in fact) and fresh-baked bread. It was a disappointment on both parts, with the broccoli coming out overcooked and the bread coming out bitter. But getting back in the habit of cooking and baking feels right.
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iPhone is an OnStar product now, at least according to local media in Wichita Falls, Texas:

"Due to contractual reasons, OnStar is the only tracking service able to be named in our newspaper."
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This has been the most fun I've had with a Christmas gift in several years: LEGO Creationary.

Here are a few of my LEGO creations from the game (Flickr set).
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It would appear that Charles Stross agrees with me on what Julian Assange is doing. It is nice to be ahead of Charlie on an issue for once.
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Something hasn't been sitting right with me vis a vie this whole Wikleaks thing. On the face of it, Julian Assange is a guy who set out to snub the noses of the mandarins, with no regard for how effective his actions are. But I suspect he is playing a much larger game.

How effective have his actions been? To answer that, we have to first determine what his actual goals are. Clearly they cannot be attempting to provoke a public outcry. I must admit that my own initial assumption when I first saw the now-infamous "Collateral Murder" video was that this time people will be upset enough to do something, but the outcry never came. Any initial outrage was rapidly overshadowed by concerns for "national security" and went away with nary a hint of reform or revision of U.S. policies.

But how to explain this latest round of diplomatic cables? They amount to little more than a collection of messages sent between mid- and upper-level members of the government. With the public desensitized to the vile actions taken in their names, leaking a bunch of banal diplomatic cables surely can't be expected to change anything -- at least not in and of themselves.

I submit that the content of the leaks is not important.

Look at who have been involved: there are a few name-brand politicos in this last batch of documents, and more than a few bits of information that is embarrassing to them, but most of the cables were sent to and by the faceless midlevel bureaucrats who help run the world.

Also important is the mere fact that there are leaks in the first place. The U.S. Government, and every other government, is now on notice that what they had done in secret before now stands a strong likelihood of being exposed to the world. (What the world does with this information has yet to be seen.)

If all reports are correct, and Wikileaks is sitting on 5GB of internal Bank of America documents, then the corporations that really run the show are about to find out how transparent their operations will be as well.

I'm encouraged that I am on the right track here by Assange's own writings. To grasp what he's doing, you're going to need a nuanced view of the term "conspiracy." A decent summary of Assange's philosophy can be read here. His original writings are online here (pdf).

I'm not ready to defend what Wikileaks are doing. Nor am I ready to persecute them. I'm still trying to get my head around what they are trying to do, and I think the above documents go a long way towards explaining it. Wikileaks is trying to start a long process that -- if they're correct -- will ultimately restore power to the governed.

Already results can be seen in action. The government-wide security review will no doubt result in a severing of the connections with which Assange is concerned with in his essays.

This is an exciting time we're entering.
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Some friends and I are donating to a different cause each month. For March we've adopted an elementary school class in need of books on Greek myths. Do you have $5 to spare that you'd be willing to contribute?
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[livejournal.com profile] james_nicoll is once again telling us What He Read last year, starting with the As.

I always discover a few gems in this list, and invariably pick up several of them.
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Apple's "Knowledge Navigator" (YouTube video) still isn't here, even though it was due in 2010, and I wouldn't expect The Tablet to employ a bow-tied AI assistant, at least not in Rev. 1.0.

AT&T's "You Will" campaign, circa 1993 (YouTube video), however, managed to predict a lot of what we now use. What the campaign didn't get right was that AT&T would bring it to us.
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I'm updating Ye Olde Holidaye Carde Mailinge Liste. If you want on, or are afraid we don't have your current address, you nomadic types, drop me a message. These things go in the mail Monday morning, and we have some good ones this year.
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A few weeks ago I read an excerpt from a novel. Unfortunately, I've lost track of the title and author. Even more unfortunately, I can't get the premise out of my head.

The plot points I can remember are that the main character borrowed a homeless person's "invisibility," but it will revert to her at dawn. He uses it to go into a pain ward in a hospital and extracts the pain from patients there. He takes the pain things back to his home and does something with them. I can't remember anything else.

Any takers? Does anyone know what this novel is?

Updated: Found it! Bad Magic by Stephan Zielinski. I still can't remember who pointed it out to me.
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I'm slowly recovering from my two-week H1N1/pneumonia vacation. I worked a half day today and will be back in again tomorrow. I'm not really sure how much use I am there, but at least I'm not working on anything too complex.

Here are a few of the Christmasy things I've collected for you during my convalescence:

  • It is time for annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index.

  • DJ Riko's Merry Mixmas 2009 will hopefully be out soon.

  • Tor.com has declared that December belongs to Cthulhu and are featuring some seasonally-appropriate fiction this month -- including a new Laundry story from Charlie Stross.

  • Finally, here's a classic from a decade ago: Heywood Banks' "Christmas Box." Considering the present economy, I think it is appropriate.
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The results of the July 2009 Pennsylvania Bar Exam are in and I passed!

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Here is a cogent elucidations of what it means to do the right thing:

[T]he standard over-riding all others is that one must, with empathy in mind, use all one's ethical faculties in every situation in a passionate but reasoned attempt to make the best possible evaluation of the most ethical course of action. So, if someone insists that miscegenation is a crime against nature so "abhorrent" that we must join the lynch mob, no matter how many stand with him, no matter if we're the only person standing against him, we should nevertheless be ready, willing and able to challenge this self-righteous nonsense, to say, this is not a vice -- because this would be the more ethical response even if societal morés condemn us for refusing to conform. This is the logic underlying what is not "a sole and single standard of virtue," simply an overriding standard of autonomous thought as an ethical duty, a recognition that prejudice is not a legitimate basis for moral authority, a commitment to challenge such illegitimate "morality" as and when it expresses itself in unethical acts of abjection. ...

From Hal Duncan's Open Letter to John C. Wright, in response to a recent post on Wright's own site (since deleted).
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The scene: a Passover seder, sometime after the robots claimed their freedom.

Jo Walton ([livejournal.com profile] papersky) takes it from there...

It evokes for me the nightly gatherings in Ken MacLeod's Night Sessions (which is still inexplicably not out in the US).

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