Thursday, February 26, 2004

Insert Snappy Title Here

Had a very nice vacation 2/16-2/23. We were in St. Martin, French West Indies, at the Grand Case Beach Club. Mid 80's, light rain twice for 10 minutes, color and life, surf crashing 15 feet from the door of our room. It was a 10 minute walk to Boulevard de Grand Case, "the Gourmet Capital of the Caribean". Restaurant after restaurant, mostly French, some Italian, Indian, Creole -- no Chinese or Sushi. Every meal we had was excellent, but, man, after the 3rd rich French meal, I had to give it a rest. The Lolo was also fantastic -- sidewalk cafes, half oil drums charcoal grilling ribs, chicken, fish, shrimp, lobster -- sides of red beans and rice, curry rice, cole slaw, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, johnny cake, fantastic conch chowder -- and $10 for a slab of ribs, 1/4 chicken, and 3 sides, and Carib beer for $1.50. The money was weird, they would take dollars straight up for euros. I couldn't figure out that model.

My wife got to water-ski twice (no-hands, rope between the legs and everything, cheers from the watching boats) so she was happy. We also took a speed boat to the reef north of Anguilla and snorkeled. My 1st time, it was OK but I swallowed about a pint too much seawater, and looking at the pretty fishies got kind of dull after a while. I got to speak some French, I love the way it tickles my brain to get that 2nd language thread running. Had a fun evening our last night there. Had a very nice dinner at Il Neptune (Italian). They had a guy playing guitar and singing. I sang harmony to "Happy Birthday" at the next table (family tradition), so he came over after and I sang harmony with him on "Ai, Yi Yi Yi (I am the frito bandito)" and "Santa Lucia". At the end of both, he held a note a long time and bent it down to the step below. I had a good column of air going so I stayed right with him -- boo-ya! Then we found another place with a singer and we finally got to do some dancing.

So, on the trip I read:

  • "Dune: Butlerian Jihad" -- guilty as charged. I read the other three Dune followups, they are competently done. But, I realized that they are lacking the thing I really liked about a lot of Herbert, which was stories that really are about evolution. The followups seem mostly concerned with checking off "that was in Dune, now we've done the secret origin".
  • "The Other Wind" and "The Telling" by Ursula K. LeGuin. She still writes very well, simple tales with a lot of heart. But, no surprises, kind of dull.
  • "Black Cherry Blues" by James Lee Burke. A David Robichaux Cajun detective novel. I saw a new one of his books and decided I'd try him -- this was the oldest David Robichaux book I could find. I was reading the jacket material and was afraid I'd already read these. But, starting it, I realized that this was the character from the movie "Heaven's Prisoners", with Alec Baldwin and the Teri Hatcher fully-nekkid scene. It was OK, I may try some others.
  • "Picoverse", by Robert A. Metzger. Nothing new, creating pocket universes with particle accelerators. like the one by Steven Gould and lots of others.
  • "Vectors" by Michael Kube-McDowell. Ugh. I thought I had liked some of his stuff in the past, this was really crap. Scientist takes pictures of brainwaves, unique as fingertips, discovers identical ones from an old man and a kid born after the old man's death. His Wiccan, video game genius new girlfriend is killed by gang-bangers after he has scoffed at her suggestion that this is proof of reincarnation, so he goes on a mission to prove her theory. After a bunch of plot, he kills himself so he can be reincarnated soon after she is, so he can hook up with her again -- good plan.
The "mind is magic" crowd just won't go away. They just don't get it. I go see my dad who now has basically no short-term memory, and it is recognizably my dad, but at about a 60% level. On the snorkeling trip, there was another couple with us. The guy was a 6th grade teacher and I had thought it was odd that he would search for words or form odd malapropisms. Then both he and his wife told us how he had had 5 brain surgeries and gamma-ray treatment for brain tumors, the largest of which was cue ball size. Ahh, now it makes sense. One of the contentions of Descartes, the pappy of Dualism, was that the mind/spirit was indivisible. But, it just ain't. You can lose one or more of thousands of pieces, or just degrade horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or however. But, are you still yourself? What self? There is no self.

Before the trip, I read "The Crystal City", by Orson Scott Card, the 6th Alvin Maker book. Card writes well, but he lost all edge years ago. Still, I empathize with the guy, he has 5 kids to try to feed and raise. His stories are always strong because they are about the moral decisions the characters must make. In this one tho, they build "The Crystal City", actually "The Crystal Building", where you can go and get weird visions and reflect on them -- and the women decide they should call it "the Tabernacle" rather than "the Observatory". Card seems to be downward spiraling into his Mormon roots -- ugh. Well, at least we probably don't have to worry about him getting DOM (Dirty Old Man) syndrome in his declining years.

No links to any of the above books. Not enough edge to really recommend any of them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Belated or Belittled Insight

I did get some insight from "You Just Don't ..." in the last blog that I didn't mention.

1st, on the contention that men verbally spar to establish a dominance heirarchy, protect their feeling of independence, and thumb their noses at authority, I agree. I have always been a smartass, and it has definitely been about saying "I'm smarter than you, I don't care if you are the boss or whatever". Serious nose-thumbing.

2nd, on the contention that men mostly exchange information in conversation. I have (sadly) always only pursued friendships where I feel that I learn from the other person. My friend David, for example, always has something new on business, technology, wine or food.

This is one reason that I really hope that I can stay close to my children throughout our lives. I have learned great things from all of them.

I remember, about 8 years ago, my oldest daughter had gone to the grocery and had not accomplished the mission exactly as I wanted, so I was giving her shit about it. My son then totally busted my chops for it. He was totally right, I was being my dad, who never missed an opportunity to criticize meaningless "failures". I sure wouldn't have thought I was running my dad's software, but I was, and my son pointedly pointed it out to me. Children that help you grow, how bizarre yet great.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

The Book I Read for my Wife

Today I finished reading You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation", by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. Basic premise, women want love and intimacy, men want respect and authority. Women have "rapport" talk, men have "report" talk. I pretty much agree, I guess. She doesn't go much into any of the evolutionary reasons for this. I think men are always verbally sparring and establishing dominance heirarchies because at heart they are still the race's warriors, and as such are always trying to have a military structure ready to go, just in case. Men are taught to repress emotions because they are seen as luxuries that may get in the way of survival. Particularly as young men develop testosterone-fueled tempers, they must learn to supress and control them. So, you wind up with an overall structure of supressed emotions. And, guess what? You don't care that your emotions are suppressed, because you have been taught that they are not important to survival, and, in general, you don't care about trivialities. So, maybe the follow-up book can be "I Do Understand, but I Really Just Don't Care".

The book also did a lot of quoting from novels, movies, and plays. This somewhat put me off. I find most modern literature unreadable and totally irrelevant -- it's not somewhere I would go to look for insight.

As Hilary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child" -- probably true, but it only takes one man to impregnate all the women of the village. That is why men are the natural warriors, genetically we are expendable. The growth and survival of a population is determined solely by the number of fertile females. I think this is discussed in "The Lucifer Principle", by Howard Bloom.

I had forgotten, I e-mailed Howard Bloom in November of 2002 after reading that book. It's a good read, a lot of good stuff on the instinctive nature of human behavior, particularly pecking order. Here's what I sent:

Having had 4 children go through high school, I didn't need much convincing as to the instinctive nature of much of human behavior, particularly in matters of breeding. If you want to observe heirarchies of pecking order, any high school is the perfect place to start.

Some other thoughts:

  1. Columbine as "revenge of the betas". I think that video games, where betas get to be the heroes (alphas) and kill the bad guys, undermine the normal pecking order, which is strongly reinforced by physical interaction. The betas play video games long enough and say "to hell with a bunch of alphas, I'm not taking it anymore".
  2. Someone recently told me that they thought that there was a continuum between alphas and betas. Probably somewhat true, but I would bet that there is a statistical survey that could draw a pretty clear line to distinguish alphas: "Have you deflowered more than n virgins?", where n = 0 or 1. "Droit de signeur" was the institutionalized version of this.
  3. Another difference: when women say "no" to betas, they mean "no". When women say no to alphas, they mean "yes" and the alphas know it.

I, of course, am a beta all the way. But, geeks rule!

This also reminds me of a zen lesson I gave my middle daughter when she was in high school. She was upset because one of the magnet program girls was dissing Revelers (sorority-girls-in-training high school club that mostly just throws parties). I told her that this was an incredibly boring topic. She was incensed and wanted to why I thought it was boring. I told her, her high school (2000 kids) was too big for pecking order to be established between all the individuals. So, cliques were needed to establish a pecking order heirarchy. The various cliques can have their place in the heirarchy, and then the individuals can establish pecking order within their clique. Everything with a backbone establishes pecking order (per The Lucifer Principle), backbones are 250 million years old. So, if 250 million year old software is not boring, I don't know what is. I don't remember if she bought it or not.

I guess this is something else that didn't ring true to me with "You Just Don't Understand". The claim seems to be that women are less heirarchical than men, that they stress equality rather than superiority. I don't know, the female cliques at Dunbar seemed to be stronger than the male ones. Does the fact that they are about who is liked vs who is respected really make a difference?

Before "You Just ...", I read "Chindi" by Jack McDevitt. He writes great space operas, with lots of astro-archeology. Seems very plausible, particularly if advanced civilizations do have short, 10,000 year life spans, that you're going to find a lot more dead alien civilizations than live ones. A good read, but I think he is getting in a bit of a rut.