4. The Plot Against America (Roth)

Feb. 18th, 2017 04:36 pm
mrs_leroy_brown: (Default)
[personal profile] mrs_leroy_brown
Roth imagines an America where Charles Lindbergh is nominated as Republican candidate for the 1944 presidential election. He runs a populist, isolationist America First campaign, and his shock win ushers in a new and terrifying era of bigotry and antisemitism.

The story is told through the character of young Phil Roth and his family's experiences during the aftermath of the election; a device that cements the alternate universe he's created. Whilst his brother Sandy just wants to fit in, the rest of the family are wary of Lindbergh's Office for American Absorption, a programme that sends young Jewish kids to gentile rural areas to work on farms and become "more American".

I do love me some Philip Roth - his meticulous research paired with staggering imaginative detail almost always pays off, and this book is both chilling and apt.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
[personal profile] wildeabandon
This is technically a reread, but the first time was around eight years ago, and I could remember very little of it. I found the first half, where he sketches out his model of consciousness - very condensed, a disparate and competing set of “content-fixation events” in the brain, some of which get retained as speech acts or memories, some of which get discarded and forgotten, but lacking any central “meaner” or “observer” co-ordinating these individual elements, and the bit of the algorithm that feels from the inside like being conscious is content-fixation events that are about other content fixation events - quite hard and slow going, and as I was reading them, wondered whether my memory of having found the book illuminating and clear was inaccurate.

Then I got onto the second half, which started looking at specific examples, and suddenly everything became much clearer, and I polished it off in about a tenth the time the first half took me. There are still bits that I don’t quite understand, or at least can’t articulate, in particular what ‘aboutness’ means as a property of a content-fixation event, but in general the theory felt quite comfortable and intuitive by the end of the book.

One thought that came out of the book that I want to follow up on is that there’s a fallacy in thought experiments, which is common to philosophical zombies, Mary the colour scientist, and the ontological argument, which goes “I can imagine this phenomenon, and using the properties of the thing I have imagined, such and such a proposition must be true (or is impossible)”. The fallacy being that you can’t actually imagine it accurately. I’m curious how much this crop up elsewhere. It almost feels as though it undermines the very concept of thought-experiments - or at least relegates them to ways of generating ideas, but not of providing any further insights.

State of the Sebastian

Feb. 13th, 2017 11:27 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
[personal profile] wildeabandon
Gosh, has it really been more than six months since I last did one of these? It's been quite an eventful few months as well.

I am largely continuing to react to the giant trashcan fire that is UK and US politics by burying my head in the sand and not thinking about it, although I am guiltily conscious that I'm only able to do this from the top of giant pile of privilege that I'm sitting on. I need to make space to give some thought to what I should actually be doing about this, but that's a whole separate post, and in this one I shall concentrate on the personal.

The big exciting news is that we just bought a house. As it turns out, it's the place we'd had an offer accepted on nearly a year ago, but thought it had fallen through. It unfell in October, and after a fairly moderate amount of faff in the house-buying scheme of things we completed a couple of weeks ago. We've got the current flat until the 6th March, so we're taking the opportunity to get some minor bits of work done whilst it's empty, but we'll be moving in soon. I am very excited! Amongst the things that I'm excited about are having a bigger kitchen, and a proper dining room, and enough social space that hosting dinner parties and cocktail parties and readthroughs becomes much less logistically faffy; having a proper spare room so that we can put people up; Ramesh having a room that's big enough for him, so we can both share each other's space; being able to set up a home gym just the way I want it; getting a cat; having a permanent home, rather than somewhere I'm expecting to leave in a couple of years; never ever having to move house ever again; not having to move furniture around every time someone want to switch from using the dining table to using the piano; having double glazing, so Ramesh is consistently warm enough, and hopefully catches fewer colds; exploring the restaurants and cafes and shops of Green Lanes. Yes, many exciting and pleasing things.

Work is bobbing along reasonably enough. I'm currently working at the University of Northampton, doing much the same stuff I've been doing for the last few years, but no longer working for a raging narcissist makes it far more enjoyable. I've got a little flat out here where I stay Monday-Wednesday nights, and then work from home on Fridays, and although I'd rather be living at home full time , for some reason a 3/4 split feels far less arduous than a 4/3 one was (and Ramesh seems to find the same), so I think it's reasonably sustainable. Since I moved out here I've had a couple of interviews for interim positions at the 'next stage of my career' level, and although I didn't get either of them, in both cases it was close enough that I'm now feeling a lot more confident that something else will come up that means I'll be able to make that step without having to go back into permanent employment.

Health is mostly good. I've not been exercising as much as I'd have liked over the winter, because cold and wet and running don't mix that well, and the combination of some persistent tension in my shoulder, plus the logistics of living in two places has limited how much strength training I've been doing. But it's warming up now, and I'm seeing a physiotherapist tomorrow, which will hopefully lead to some progress on the shoulder, and I'll get a decent gym set up in the new house before long.

Relationship stuff is great. Ramesh & I celebrate our eighth anniversary this week, and I continue to be astonished by how lucky I am to be with him. He brings me delight and excitement and warmth and security; he's kind and clever and considerate and interesting; he goes out of his way to make me happy, and always notices and appreciates it when I make an effort to be good to him; he listens to me and makes me feel safe showing my vulnerability to him, and he opens up and trusts me with his in turn; even when we have conflicts to work through, he comes at it constructively and kindly and charitably, and then when we've reached an agreement of how to handle it he follows through. And if that weren't bounteous overflow of joy enough, I managed to spend time with all three of my FWBs in the last couple of months, all of whom remain charming and delicious. I do sometimes think it would be nice to have a secondary partner, someone I saw more than a handful of times a year, but without the commitment of lives entwined. But I don't want it enough to seek out new people, and my social life is shaped such that I rarely meet them through happenstance, so unless something changes, I think that will remain an occasional idle thought.

Tales of the Civil War — out now

Feb. 13th, 2017 09:00 am
juliet: (waveform tree)
[personal profile] juliet

Mirrored from Juliet Kemp.

Tales of the Civil War, another City of the Saved anthology, is available to buy now and shipping in physical form now-or-very-shortly! It’s edited by Philip Purser-Hallard and contains stories by Kara Dennison, Kelly Hale, Louise Dennis, Helen Angove, Selina Lock, and me.

Book cover, text "The City of the Saved", "Tales of the Civil War", "Edited by Philip Purser-Hallard". Behind the text a comic-style drawing of various people supporting/grabbing/fighting over a flag.
Cover art by Blair Bidmead

For a taster, try Kara Dennison reading part of her story, ‘The Tale of Sir Hedwyn’.

My copy hasn’t come through yet but I am greatly looking forward to everyone’s stories.

wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
[personal profile] wildeabandon
Aulis is the chef's development table at Fera, where they have a menu which is more experimental and changeable than the main restaurant, and is where they try out and showcase new ideas. With the exception of the first amuse bouche (which was rather bland, and an unfortunate note to start on) it was consistently very good, without ever reaching "this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth" moments of rapture.

There were three courses that stood out as particularly highlights to me. First was the taco where both the taco itself and the filling were primarily made of celeriac, with flakes of cured egg yolk on top. Secondly the venison, momentarily blow-torched but almost a tatare, served with beetroot that had been dehydrated and then rehyrdrated with beetroot and blackcurrant juice (amazingly intensely flavoured, with a distinctive and pleasing texture), and a sorrel sauce, which tasted as vividly green as it looked. And finally the calcot onions (somewhere between a spring onion and a baby leek) with tiny mushrooms, mushroom goop (technical term, that), and grated truffles. I'm a simple creature, and it's not hard to please me if you cover a dish in fresh truffle, but this was an especially good use of the ingredient, with just enough sharpness from the onion to balance the rich warmth of the mushroom and truffle.

Film: Kinky Boots

Feb. 9th, 2017 11:47 am
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
[personal profile] liv
Reasons for watching it: Kinky Boots is just the sort of film I like, with a drag queen helping to save a struggling family business in a narrow-minded small town.

Circumstances of watching it: [personal profile] jack was able to come and stay with me for a few days, which meant that for once we had time to settled down with a DVD in the evening.

Verdict: Kinky Boots has a lot of heart but didn't quite work for me.

detailed review )

Reading Wednesday 8/02

Feb. 8th, 2017 06:53 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
Recently acquired: Psychohistorical crisis by Donald Kingsbury, a present from [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel which appears to be Asimov fanfic, I'm quite looking forward to it.

Recently read: Dipping my toe into Yuletide stuff, thanks to people who wrote things and mentioned them where I would notice.

I have a couple of kinky erotic pieces to recommend:
Promotion by [personal profile] silveradept. This is something I wouldn't have expected to work, namely fic about the game of chess. The author warns for dubious consent and violent death, but it's not very realistic, it's about sentient chess pieces. I personally found the erotic elements really vivid and definitely hot, and the disturbing elements quite glossed over.

Lovely in her fall by [archiveofourown.org profile] edonohana / [personal profile] rachelmanija. This is fanfic of the setting of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books, but it's only about the setting and not the plot; there are no spoilers and you don't need to know the originals. The setting being pseudo-Mediaeval France, with a fantasy religion based around paid sex work, with different Houses offering different styles. The published books are about a divinely-inspired masochist so are very focused on S&M, whereas [archiveofourown.org profile] edonohana has chosen to write about all the other kinks that are not to do with pain. The piece is a very nice example of characterization via a series of sex scenes, and I think sheds some light on how the sexual / religious institutions portrayed in Kushiel might actually work; Carey's world-building can be somewhat thin. As well as paid-for, kinky sex, this story includes references to death, but that doesn't happen on stage.

Currently reading: In theory, A journey to the end of the millennium by AB Yehoshua, but I'm still not really making headway with that.

Up next: [personal profile] doseybat's mother recommended me My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante; I generally trust the Batmother's recs, and she said that the books were really engaging even if not amazingly well written, plus I like books about deep friendships.