Ad Hominem Behind Someone's Back

Scalzi gave a platform to Vox Day, and Chad Orzel got upset with him for doing so.

In one of the comments (#88), MikeT says that

Chad should be ashamed of himself for writing a seven paragraph long post that is almost entirely ad hominem, and that doesn't even take a stab at proving why Vox is a "poopyhead" for making his arguments...

Now, I obviously used to spend a lot of time at a website where ad hominem was not allowed, and edited whenever seen. For most of my time there, it was my job to edit it. However, I don't always think that all ad hominem is necessarily immoral, bad, or even incorrect.

The problem is that I've seen examples of people consistently unable to address arguments against them. Peace girl, or whatever her name was at IIDB, was sure that she'd found the true secret to universal happiness which basically boiled down to: Everyone should ignore the bad things that they see, because if they pretend not to see them and do good things, everything will become perfect.

Yeah, if that was possible for everyone to overlook bad things to happen, it might make it easier to live on this planet (probably not perfect, bad things will still happen), but unfortunately the implementation of that is utterly impossible.

And over the course of months and thousands of posts, Peace girl just couldn't understand the arguments against her. At all. She was so utterly sure that she was right that her sense of logic and her common sense were swept away. Folie à deux, in her case.

She was wrong though. Her perfect solution depended on convincing everyone on earth that her ideas were just as perfect as she thought they were, despite the flaws and the misconceptions and the just pure wrong facts (she thought that since c was a universal constant, it meant that what we see has no time delay to it, that visible light traveled instantaneously). She didn't understand that people can't just accept that people wouldn't and couldn't accept her mentor's theories. She didn't understand that some people would look for ways to take advantage of believers and only pretend to convert if they felt it was in their best interest.

If I could have gotten Peace girl to reconsider her opinion through ad hominem attacks on her, I probably would have done it myself.

After a few days it was pointless to argue with her but people kept trying, remaining remarkably civil in their attempts to convince a mule to dance for months at a stretch.

Specific to the case of Peace girl is the fact that she was engaged in behavior that was couched in the most polite possible terms, but with the rudest possible intent: she wanted to convert people.

So people argued with her for months, trying to convince her that most people were rational enough to realize that there were so many flaws in her plan that it was impossible to make real. Eventually people did issue attacks against her, and I empathize with them.

Ad hominem attacks are what happens when someone reaches the end of their ability to argue coherently. Sometimes people go to it quickly because they are poor advocates for their position or their arguments suck. After a long, long time of valid arguments that are constantly ignored and dismissed out of hand because of deeply held irrational beliefs, sometimes even the best of us do it.

Orzel calls Day a lunatic. That's his opinion, and from what I see Orzel isn't the type of person to call someone that lightly.

I think that TheOtherMichael from IIDB is a moron. That's my opinion, arrived at through a long process of examination. I think the same thing about George W. Bush, for the same reason.

My father thinks that Thom Hartmann is a tool. That's his opinion, arrived at . . . uh, based on his assessment of Hartmann's opinion gleaned from a few minutes of radio exposure.

I can't say that I agree with Orzel yet, but if the faithful pack of Day supporters that shows up whenever his name is mentioned is any clue, then I suspect that Orzel's not completely out of line for having dropped the logical arguments in favor of the ad hominem attacks.

He's just tired of saying things that are ignored.

Why is Harlan Ellison Consider to Be Great?

A long time ago, after a bit of exposure to Harlan Ellison's personality based on second hand accounts from people like the Penny-Arcade guys, the fans that he sued for passing around e-texts, and that video of him and Connie Willis floating around, I told myself I would never buy a Harlan Ellison book.

Let me revise that: I won't ever buy a Harlan Ellison book from any source from which Harlan will receive royalties.

So, at the paperback exchange a few months ago I picked up a ratty old copy of Deathbird Stories by Ellison. It went into my catch-all reading pile and a week or so ago it got picked to be read next.

Now, this was partially due to Harlan Ellison's staggeringly great reputation as one of the phenomenal science fiction and fantasy writers of his age. I mean, that's why he's tolerated in the community, right? He might be a prick, but he's also supposed to be a really brilliant writer.

I read the first story . . . and this guy has a lyrical tongue. Each sentence seems to be a complicated masterwork wrought from the finest ingredients. The tone and the timbre and the pure fluidity are at a level that I suspect that I will never reach.

After a few more stories though, I realize that while the language is brilliant, the stories themselves are deadening. They're mind numbing. They're twisted in the way that a Steven King novel is twisted, but at least Steven King has some mastery of that indefinite quality that allows people to empathize with what they're reading. King engrosses his readers, but Ellison just grosses me out.

The story "Bleeding Stones" was really the one that turned me from only uninterested to actually repulsed. The depictions of violence, apparently for no other reason than to revel in his perfect syntax while describing the motion of blood, disgusts me.

Take for example this passage:

A gargoyle has backed a dozen Jesus People and elegant Avenue shoppers into a doorway and jabs at them with bloody talons, taunting them till they howl with dismay. The gargoyle scrapes its talons across the stones of the building till sparks fly . . . and somehow catch fire as they shower the shrieking victims. The fire washes over them and they run screaming into the fangs and talons of the marauders. They die, smoldering, and pile up in the doorway.

From page 163 of Deathbird Stories, published by Collier Books in 1990. Used for purposes of criticism.

That language is exquisite, but the entire story is basically carefully crafted paragraphs mimicking the one above, repeatedly reciting the gory details. And I didn't even go anywhere near the paragraph where the nun is raped with a stop sign.

Why? Pollution. Who? Humans, especially Christians. And those questions are explained almost that simply in the story.

Why should I care? I don't. This is a Sci-Fi Channel movie of the week in book form, but at least the Sci-Fi Channel will usually give me an "everyman" character with whom I can attempt to empathize with.

At this point, I'm lingering, my hand on the cover but my interest disabused, wondering if it's worth it to continue. Is all of his like this? Should I have started with something else?

Is this what is supposed to make him great?

Right now, I have to say, the closest that I could come to describing this book is that it's exactly what I would expect from someone that's sold their soul to the devil: the language is perfect, but there is no soul and certainly nothing that makes me want to keep reading. Not that I believe in the Devil, but the metaphor is apt.

Update: Okay, I finished it. The only worthwhile story was the last one: The Deathbird. And I suspect that I might be biased toward it by the heavily anti-Christian themes in it.

One good story doesn't seem like a particularly hit to miss ratio.

200th post

I can't think of anything lofty and meaningful enough to say for a 200th post.

Arg. Well, I have to think of something. How about a personal introspection?


Darn it.

I'm really bad at these double zero posts.


Don't get me wrong, The Hidden City, first book of the House War was amazingly brilliant, but I wish it hadn't been a prequel.

I want to know what happens next, and while the fleshing out of Rath was amazing, as well as really getting to know the creepy Duster and Carver, I shiver to know what happens next to Jay and her den.

Because I know who grows up and who dies. I know who is important later and who isn't.

And the final battle is coming. The epic moment toward which Evayne plays is slowly drawing near.

Still, this book doesn't annoy me nearly as much as "A New Spring" did. Or, at least it won't unless she dies before finishing the House War series.

That would be unendingly upsetting to me.

I have found that the next one is going to finish the Pre-badassness that is Jewel, and go on to the conclusion of the House War after that.

I'm totally looking forward to that.

The Strangest Dream

Okay, I had the weirdest dream last night.

I was in this house, and it wasn't my house or any of the houses that I've ever lived in. It was a traditional wood frame house, probably more like the house that Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbs) grew up in than the one that I grew up in. There were slanted roofs with shingles and big windows.

I don't remember how I ended up there, but I certainly remember that it felt like home to me.

And then the Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared.

I'm not kidding, there was a Tyrannosaurus Rex in my dream, and it was relatively friendly. True, it was a little chatty and I couldn't get it to shut up, but not unfriendly.

At least, until it got ticked at me. I think it was because I told it that it couldn't come inside. It seemed to think that this was an intentional slight, and so it got angry.

I ran into the house and it started attacking the house to get at me. I remember at one point it was in the backyard and it smashed through the large window to get at me. Throughout all of this though, I couldn't help but to remember that this wasn't some random and mindless dinosaur attack but a personal vendetta against me.

If only I hadn't ticked off that carnivorous thunder lizard.

The funny thing was that eventually I got tired of running around the house trying to avoid the Tyrannosaurus head smashing through the walls, gave up and let him catch me.

So he pulls me out through the wall, chews on me, but I don't get hurt. I expected it, but the sharp teeth simply don't connect with me for some inexplicable reason. Or perhaps, as it crushed my bones, I simply didn't feel what's going on with my body.

Finally he gets annoyed and one of my faceless compatriots uses a shrink ray to shrink the Tyrannosaurus down to the size of a large mouse. The Tyrannosaurus is shocked by this outcome for a bit, but then realizes that now he can come in the house and that everything's okay.

I opened the door for him, and the little dinosaur wanders into the sun room.

And that's about the point that I woke up.

To me, the oddest point of the whole dream was that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was never just destroying things mindlessly, like the one from Jurassic Park. He was personally upset with me. It isn't like I cavort with Tyrannosaurs Rexes on a regular basis, so I have no idea why my mind decided to make up a dinosaur with a personal grudge.

Royal Blood

Two things that I've read recently coalesced in my head, and I'd like to talk about them for a moment.

More than a year ago I had a post called Divine Right of Kings about the term African-American, and how I use the term "black" instead because I think that former term "others" the person and also about the way that our plural culture gives me a plural background. The content of that post doesn't have much to do with what I was thinking about, but the title does.

While reading a thread on Whateveresque about the Iraq war, someone mentioned the massive amount of wealth that has poured into the middle east due to their oil reserves. He pointed out that people there should be living in relative ease, but they aren't. Only a few, the richest of the rich, the Sultans and Emirs, are living in palaces and driving Lamborghinis and Ferraris. They are essentially dictators that have made themselves immensely wealthy while holding their people in poverty.

He went on to say that this presents a problem for the dictators: If people are allowed to draw those conclusions about their poverty and oppression, they might be overthrown. Thus, they look for suitable targets for popular hatred. Currently, the target of much of that popular hate is the U.S., and this is encouraged by the dictators because it allows them to continue their super-rich lifestyles without interruption.

My mind began to wander, and I thought of something that many children dream of: discovering that they are really a prince or a princess and getting swept off to a castle to live in absolute luxury for the rest of their lives. That's the lifestyle that these sheiks are living, the dream of growing up in a palace with servants.

I don't believe that the blood of the Windsors in different than mine in any way. In point of fact, it's their name that makes them special. True, name and blood usually correlates, but it isn't an absolute correlation.

As books like S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series have pointed out royal lines are usually based on an ancestor that does something heroic or takes charge and then the line is passed down from there.

Now, granted, I have a crush on William Windsor, but it's not because he's a prince. It's because he's wealthy, cultured, blond, tall, and fairly attractive. And British accents are sexy.

Those despots in the Mideast are no different than their subjects. They have no blood right to rule; no one does.

This sort of spoils the whole long lost prince/princess fairy tale which is so common. I understand why such a romantic notion is attractive to people, but to me it's worse than silly. It's propagating the idea that certain bloodlines have an inherent authority. The Divine Right of Kings, as it were.

I was just thinking to myself that I'd like to see a subversion of this popular fairytale, but the truth is that there already two examples out there. The first is Mark Twain's The Prince and Pauper, although at the end the prince resumes his rightful role and becomes the King of England. The second example is Tatja Grimm's World by Vernor Vinge, which I dislike for reasons other than Tatja's eventual rise to royal status.

Since Twain eventually plays the Trope straight and Tatja's rise is not at all fairytale-like, I'd still like to see a more conventional subversion where the glass shoe actually checks to make sure that the person is a competent leader before it allows them to slip their foot in.

After all, one of the things about America is that we're supposed to be about the best person to do a job (discounting the two recent disastrous presidencies of the cowboy-in-chief). From the European fairy tales what could be a more American adaptation than removing the necessity of blood from rule?

I might try to write such a subversion myself, but I suspect that I'm simply too dark of a writer to do a good job. I never feel happy at the end of my own stories, and I haven't figured out how to change that yet.

50 Most Influential Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels

Bold are the ones I've read, strike-out are the ones I hated, italics indicates those I started but never finished and I put an asterisk beside the ones I loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin*
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke*
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett*
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card*
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman*
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling*
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin*
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner*
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

27 our of 50 on this one, not including the ones that I haven't finished, yet.

Loose Ends to Old Posts

Because I referenced it in a recent post I was thinking about something that I'd written and I decided that there was something else I wanted to say about it. So I went back through some of my old posts and just checked to see if there was anything else that I wanted to say about them.

Divine Right of Kings (again): So, I would say that calling someone African-American rather than saying that they're black is actually less PC than the other way around. When someone says "black" they're at least acknowledging the physical trait that the people were oppressed for.

Graduation: I'm not the sort of person that tries to define my life by ceremonies. I enjoyed high school graduation, but not because of the graduation, rather because it was fun to see all my friends of that year gathered together and having fun before we were all split up.

I am really glad that I went to college graduation though. It's one of the few ceremonies that I look to as a change between one part of my life and another part of my life.

Also, it provides me with a great excuse about why I left my job with Marriott.

Catcher in the Rye: I hated Catcher in the Rye, if that wasn't already clear by my post, but I can't deny that it was a moving and powerful book. I just didn't like it and wouldn't choose to read it again.

I don't feel that this is a hypocritical stance, either. I don't think something has to be necessarily well crafted to be good, nor do I feel that everything well crafted is necessarily good.

Science Fiction Psychiatry: See, the books that I should have been mentioning all along were The Foundation Trilogy. I reread them for that 10 Intellectual Sci-Fi books list, and it suddenly occurred to me that the Foundation books are the absolute perfect example of optimistic psychology and sociology in science fiction.

Not only can Seldon predict hundreds of years into the future with his mathematically precise version of sociology and psychology, but normal human interactions are accounted for. So in each case the actions of a few are expected by the social factors around them.

Sociology just doesn't work like that. No one can mathematically model a social system, even taking into account a quadrillion people spread across the galaxy. I don't even think it will be possible 12,000+ years from now, around when the books take place.

The most optimistic prediction that Asimov makes in his books has to do with the Second Foundation citizens. In their councils and communications, Asimov specifically points out that they barely use language any more. Instead, they each understand the human condition so well that they only have to twitch and mutter to convey complex lines of reasoning.

Er, no. Poker players, our current equivalent of people that study the reactions of others, still require the use of words. Granted, they can probably tell when someone is lying and when someone is telling the truth, as well as probably being able to tell when someone needs to go to the bathroom, but they can't take from the twitches of another person a complex dialog about the social patterns of a society. It is impossible to convey the amounts of information without a complex system of semantics.

That doesn't mean that the Foundation Trilogy aren't great books; they are, but I still think that we're never going to reach the point where the actions of thousands are predictable for a hundred years into the future.

Morality on Sale
: My point is that morality isn't determined by market conditions, and it never can be. Morality is about doing things that are not efficient, just because they're still the morally righteous things to do.

Frustration: I did find my compass, eventually. It was on the floor behind my bed, and apparently it's invisible in the dust, being clear plastic and all. This was after I'd ordered a replacement from the art store, of course, just like Stross' Accelerando turned up after I bought a new copy.

Recent Thoughts From Online Chats: As far as I can tell, from a female perspective Objectification is the worst thing ever. If you aren't appreciative of the person as a whole, then you must be completely dismissive of a person as a whole.

I don't think that this is an accurate way to parse the situation. Just because someone places more emphasis on certain features, that doesn't mean that they're dismissive of the whole. Yet, commonly I see people treat any partial dismissal as a full dismissal.

Of course, eventually this destroys debate. It's not a binary comparison, it's a incremental axis along which there are numerous shades of gray. As soon as you say that any movement toward the negative end of the axis is a complete loss, it becomes impossible to debate.

It's like the fundamentalist Christianity version of feminism.

Don't get me wrong, treating a person as an object is wrong, and the darker shades of gray can be emotionally damaging, but sometimes limited sexual objectification can be used to exploit a kink or actually enhance sex. Just because a guy is into breasts, that doesn't necessarily mean that any enjoyment of breasts by him is going to automatically be abusive to his partner. Perhaps she likes the attention, and understands that even though the attention is given to a certain part of her that this act doesn't devalue her as a whole.

National Security Disgust

My local hometown paper is running a series of articles from the AP about contamination of the water supply of major metropolitan areas by various pharmaceuticals. The only source that has been tested as clean without caveat is Albuquerque, so far. (Sorry, no link to the local paper, as it's been overwhelmed by other sources in a google news search, and the local news websites suck.)

However, that isn't what really ticks me off. After all, I currently live in one of the places where the air and the water are clean. What really ticks me off is that several water providers have declined to release the test results that their drinking water is contaminated citing National Security.

Uh . . . no. I'm sorry, but that's the absolute antithesis of protecting national security. They are making the United States less secure by lying to the American people about what their water contains. If we don't know that there is a problem, we can't work to fix it.

Besides, does the horrible irony of claiming that less knowledge will protect us strike anyone else as absolutely insane!?! I mean, if a way to hijack ships or planes is discovered, then someone needs to be informed that there is a problem immediately so that we can figure out a solution to that flaw in security.

What possible aid to our enemies could be construed from the fact that we are drinking pharmaceutically contaminated water? That they need to ship themselves bottled water before carrying out terrorist attacks here in the United States? It only hurts us, the long term residents and citizens, the people that National Security is supposed to protect!

That is mind numbingly idiotic and I don't know what else to say. Anyone who claims that not releasing these test results is a matter of national security should be tried as a traitor. There is absolutely no logical reason to cite national security when talking about the safety of utility provided drinking water.

An imperfect analogy: This is like finding out that your son has bad grades in school, but the school administration has neglected to inform you of this fact, and cites national security as the reason that they didn't tell you. That's how moronic that this appears to be to me.