Archive for June, 2004

Verbal IQ

Monday, June 21st, 2004

The latest installment of La Griffe du Lion considers why Asian incomes lag behind that predicted by their IQ’s. The math may bore the average reader to tears, but his answer is quite striking - Asians excell in the spatial reasoning portion of IQ but lag in verbal IQ, and this difference has an impact on the GDP of East Asian nations.

The relation between GDP and IQ doesn’t keep me up at night, but it surprised me to hear that verbal IQ (whatever that is) was a more important factor than the other kind. I’d have guessed that spatial reasoning, vital to engineering and physics, gave more of an advantage. Maybe this explains why the majority of students in higher education now are women, despite a lower average IQ - because women tend to have better verbal skills and men better spatial ones.

Olympic Bush-Bashing

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

Ace of Spades asked whether conservatives volunteer the liberal-bashing as much as liberals spread the Bush-hatred:

Let me tell you what liberals in New York are like. They have absolutely no hesitation about injecting stridently liberal politics into conversations with perfect strangers they only just met. They have no sense that perhaps they ought not to be insulting those with different beliefs.

The vast majority of commentors agreed, and one linked Larry Elder (part 1 and part 2) on the same topic.

Why do the “decent, tolerant and open-minded” people throw social caution to the wind while denouncing President Bush? […] Bush’s critics call the president “arrogant.” But there’s a special type of arrogance that assumes any fair and open-minded person must think as I do.

He seemed to think it was simple anti-Bush media bias that made Bush-haters so forthcoming - if the press can say it, so can the average man. I didn’t find his explanation convincing. Ace’s commentors leaned towards the religion theory - liberalism is one of those religions that requires constant proselytization. A Christian will slip praise of Christ into casual conversation - he’ll risk alienating listeners for the chance to keep the message front and center. Likewise, a liberal will bash Bush, and when he finds out you voted for him he’ll try to save you from your political sins.

It’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure I buy it. So if you’re one of those people who feels free to bash Bush in the course of casual conversation, maybe you can tell me why. The comments are open.

Satan vs. the Spammers

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Classical Values has a fun list of Google results, showing that the spammers are now bigger than Satan, and as John Lennon once said, the Beatles are bigger than Christ.

Cyberduck 2.3.1

Friday, June 18th, 2004

There’s a new Cyberduck out, which I’m hoping will be less flakey than the last one. I’m downloading it now over a connection that feels slower than dialup. (Cyberduck is an open-source FTP client for Mac OS X.)

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Thursday, June 17th, 2004

Quote of the day: Antes com Deus contra os homens do que com os homens contra Deus. –Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Aristides de Sousa Mendes
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches died 50 years ago in April, but commemorative services are being held on or around the 17th of June at synagogues and churches around the world. Those of my readers who are not Portuguese are probably asking themselves one of two questions: Who was he? or, if you happen to know who he was, then Why June 17th instead of April 3rd?

The long answer is here, but the short answer to the first question is that de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux in 1940, and probably the single individual who saved the most Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Although the Salazar government had forbidden granting visas to Jews (explicitly) and displaced persons (in general), thousands of refugees beseiged the consulate begging for help as France was falling to the Nazi onslaught.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes decided to help them. Beginning on June 17th, 1940, he issued at least 30,000 hand-written visas allowing refugees - among them the Habsburgs - to cross the Pyrennees into neutral (or non-belligerent) Spain. A third of the visas went to Jewish families (not necessarily to individuals), and Mendes also issued passports and helped people across the border, so the actual number of people he saved is unknown but much larger than 30,000. He was recalled to Portugal a week later as the Wehrmacht were occupying Bordeaux, but he did not obey orders for two more weeks.

After his return to Lisbon, Salazar took credit for de Sousa Mendes’ humanitarian efforts, yet stripped him of his honors, barred him from his profession, and refused him his pension. He and his large family became as refugees in their own land. He died unnoted, in poverty, in 1954. Though he was posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile (ironically so - he was proud of his Jewish ancestry), and even partly rehabilitated recently by the state, his story remains a uniquely Portuguese tragedy. Que a sua alma descanse em paz.

The H Word

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

I remember the days when the h word was taboo. Saying that writing fanfiction was just a hobby meant that you couldn’t be bothered with the little details of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and characterization - and why should you? Why should a fangirl sweat the details? A hobby is just for fun.

Now, suddenly the h word is in style, as the newly-discovered answer to the Eternal Question, Why don’t you write original fiction instead? Certainly the h word is an answer to that question as well as to the more traditional questions: Why couldn’t you be bothered to spellcheck that atrocity? and Why don’t you use a beta reader like the big girls do? “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is always a good answer, if you really don’t give a damn. But methinks the h-fen protest too much.

The other questions to which the h word is an answer imply that calling writing a hobby is primarily a way to avoid personal responsibility for the nature of one’s output - whether the issue is spelling or originality. The Eternal Question is not an attack on fandom - no one cares that tens of thousands of fans are writing hobbit smut. Contrary to popular belief, people do understand what it is to have a hobby - in fact, they understand it better than fanfic writers seem to.

The average short, pudgy sports fan has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a pro basketball player - but teenagers still dream of making the big leagues. There are few sports fans who would turn down the opportunity to play pro if they had it. After all, what kind of fanatic doesn’t give a damn? Most people who are as obsessed as fanfic writers are would pursue their hobbies full-time if they could.

The Eternal Question is not Why doesn’t everyone in fandom write original fic instead? although that’s a reasonable question, too. The Eternal Question is Why don’t you? Why do you, someone with an obvious interest in and talent for writing, waste it all on hobbit smut? Maybe your day job is saving lives and you’re morally torn between the two, but art, like sports and brain surgery, is a highly respected line of work. If you have the talent to be a writer, people will naturally ask you why you’re marking time as a CPA.

It’s a question of human potential. Imagine a waiter or a janitor who came home at night and wrote free software. Say he did it for years on end, for no recompense beyond geek cred, became well-known for his excellent and popular code, but never even tried to get a real job as a programmer. For one thing, this would never happen - the overwhelming majority of people who write software for free have day jobs writing software for pay or teaching other people to write software for pay. And they tend to be men.

People who write fiction for free don’t usually have day jobs writing fiction for pay, and they tend overwhelmingly to be women. IANAF (I Am Not A Feminist) but I sense a pattern here. Maybe the reason there are so few male fanfic writers isn’t that men can’t write (though they tend to be worse at it than women) but that men don’t consider their time and effort to be quite so disposable. Of the male fanfic writers I’ve known, I’d say a third to a half had pretensions to my knowledge of writing original fic. Of the females, only three come to mind and one of them is me. We are vastly outnumbered by the people who’ve said explicitly that they would not write original fic. The men are not.

I’m not counting those who’ve written for Strange New Worlds, since the Eternal Question isn’t about getting paid per se but about writing original fiction. Yet SNW is a good example of the phenomenon - the gender balance of the winners is at best even, and probably weighted slightly towards the male side, which is not the proportion one would expect from reading alt.startrek.creative. The female writers tend to come out of fandom while the men wouldn’t touch free fanfic with a ten-foot pole. Also, the men and those women who haven’t come out of fandom seem more likely to publish elsewhere (that is, outside of the media tie-in market).

I’m not against fanfic as a hobby, but calling it one does not absolve the individual writer of the obligation to answer the Eternal Question - if not for others, then at least for herself.

Another Award Season

Tuesday, June 15th, 2004

Nominations are up for the Stargate SG-1 Fan Awards. Please do not stuff the ballot box.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Rocky’s first SG fic. I couldn’t comment on it in her LJ, but I did enjoy it.

The Fall of Paris

Monday, June 14th, 2004

On June 14th, 1940, Paris fell to the Nazis.

The Prisoner of Azkaban

Sunday, June 13th, 2004

Warning: spoilers ahead.
Note: this is a wallaby-free zone.

Veronica has been found, so we went to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Thursday night. As I’d expected, the movie was visually stunning but a bit weak on the plot side. Since I’m pretty much the only one in the blogiverse who hasn’t read the book, I’ll be tossing spoilers right and left. Don’t make me say I warned you…

I can see why people say this movie is darker than the previous two, but I wouldn’t put it that way myself. I would have said that the Potterverse is getting more unjust. This is a separate moral inadequacy from the one I noted in The Sorcerer’s Stone and HP as Star Wars - Harry is still a problematic character, but he’s overshadowed now by a problematic society.

The movie begins with Harry being excessively cruel to his aunt - the proper response to snark is snark, not helium. It’s understandable as a spell of passion, but even in his post-meditation Harry has no regrets. Maybe he’s never regretted abusing his abusive guardians, but now that his power over them so obviously exceeds theirs over him he seems out of control - and yet the magical authorities are surprisingly disinterested in this offense.

Next up we have the discombobulators (pardon me for munging the technobabble), who try to suck the life out of Harry at every opportunity. The trouble here is that they’re supposed to be helping the good guys. Instead they’re a nightmare of quis custodiet ipsos custodes? With friends like these… but more on them later.

Hermione is clearly up to no good being in two places at once, even before she goes for Draco’s throat and nose. But breaking the laws of physics is a minor offense in the new lawless Potterverse. I’m more interested in the cruelty to hippogriffs. Poor Mr. Ed did nothing wrong - certainly he did no more damage to Draco than Hermione’s right hook, and with more provocation - so why the death sentence? Why the exceedingly baroque reprieve, in lieu of simple justice?

Next in the hit parade, Harry takes down Snape for no good reason, indirectly allowing the escape of Bubonic Pete. At this point I suppose he has good reason not to expect a fair hearing for godpapa from Dumbledore, Slayer of Innocent Beasts, but he doesn’t handle the situation any better himself. By the time the moon comes out - oops - the whole situation has degenerated into farce…

…relieved only by the return of the discombobulators, in force. Again I have to ask, what use are guards who attack only the good guys? What kind of people would hire them to watch a school full of defenseless children? And who uses vicious demonic creatures to carry out cruel and unusual death sentences on criminals…

…never mind on innocent men? The most disturbing bit of PoA is that godpapa has been locked up for twelve years with the discombobulators despite his innocence, and even though Dumbledore knows it he’s sentenced to death by discombobulation. The great Oz needs a couple of children with a souped-up pocket watch to set an innocent man free - another exceedingly baroque reprieve - and even then his name isn’t cleared. He and Mr. Ed are fugitives from injustice.

If this is the wizarding world, Harry was better off with his inflatable guardians. Better life under a staircase than Azkaban. I’ll have to read the book to see if the world is really supposed to be this out-of-whack. Someday.

Canned Preserves

Saturday, June 12th, 2004

Birthday of the day: Liz!

The management apologizes for all the canned content, but I’m going away for part of the summer and I’ve been canning blog entries in preparation. Topics may be more random than usual.

Jade has a few new J/C stories up, which you can see on her index page. I wrote some drabbles but didn’t get them out to beta in time, so they may not show up here until August.