Archive for the ‘Braak’ Category

On the internet today, someone that I know said that, even though she wasn’t an atheist, she thought we all deserved a better atheism than Richard Dawkins gives us.  I am an atheist, and I’m inclined to agree — I think Dawkins (et all those guys — Hitchens, Harris, &c) did an important service by making atheism a reasonable subject of conversation in the national discourse.  But they also did it in sort of the only way that you CAN do that in the national discourse in America, which was by being huge fucking pricks about it.  This is kind of not their fault, I guess — Richard Dawkins didn’t decide that the way that we all ought to communicate our ideas is by having our individual platforms and then yelling at people from them.  And it’s important that SOMEONE carved out the space, but it’s also misleading to let these guys define what atheism is for everyone.

This is especially because “atheism” isn’t really a tradition or a philosophy; it’s a broad category of many different traditions and philosophies, unified only by a single characteristic that they share in common.  “Atheism” is as, or more, diverse than “theism”, and only some terrible prick would insist that all theists believe the same things.

Anyway, this got me thinking that maybe I ought to write down my own ideas about my own kind of atheism in a systematic way.  I’ve had a lot of occasion to think really long and hard about what I believe and why.  A lot of this is because of my challenges with depression and alcoholism — you know, I think a lot of us can get by pretty well without having thought rigorously about our (for lack of a better term) LIFE PHILOSOPHY (our own individual theories about “how we should be in the world”), but when you go through some of the emotional and psychological challenges that this kind of philosophy specifically provides a bulwark against, you end up putting a lot of work into it.

A lot of people find religion, or find a philosophy to help them get through rough times.  I went through rough times, but I mostly just made mine up.  This is it; I figure if I write it down, maybe someone else who’s having a rough time might find something useful in it.  It’s what you might call Religious, but Not Spiritual.  There isn’t a name for it so far as I know, but it technically breaks down as Atheistic Materialist Zen Mysticism.

I will not elaborate.

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Causality: A Game for Time Lords

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Braak
Tags: , ,

This is the game they play on Gallifrey, to teach young Time Lords how to start thinking along timelines, instead of within timelines.

The Short Game of Causality is played on 22boards.  The long game is played on 1,534.  The boards are arranged above and below a line called the Horizon.  Below the Horizon is the Point of Origin board.  This board has two generations; each of these boards has two generations, and (in the short game), each of these boards has two generations, for a total of fifteen.

Above the Horizon there are seven more boards.  The first four each have two progenitor boards, the next two likewise, and the final board (the Singularity) similarly.

sketch; board layout is not accurate

sketch; board layout is not accurate

Each board is six squares by six squares, and contains six pieces for each player (Black and White).  The six pieces are the Regent, the Regis, two Castles, and two Elephants.

Each board also has an Orientation:  a board is either Orthodox or Unorthodox.  At the start of the game, the Point of Origin is Orthodox, and the Singularity is Unorthodox.  On an Orthodox board, Elephants behave like bishops (long diagonal movements only), and Castles behave like pawns (advancing one square, attacking on the diagonal).  On an Unorthodox board, Elephants behave like pawns, and Castles behave like knights (advancing two squares up and one to the side).  The Regent and Regis always behave like the king and queen, but swap places when the board changes its orientation.

A player is able to make one move each on two separate boards per turn.

At the outset of the game, half of the boards are Orthodox, and half are Unorthodox.  Each pair of boards is in the Obverse Arrangement.  When Black puts White in check on any board below the Horizon, the orientations of that board’s generation are swapped to Reverse alignment — the Orthodox board is now unorthodox, and vice-versa.  When White puts Black in check, the orientations return to Obverse.

Above the Horizon, a board’s orientation is determined by its progenitor boards — if they are the same, the board remains in its Obverse alignment.  If they are different, the board changes to its Reverse alignment.

When a Regent is in checkmate, the board is Locked, and no further moves on that board can be played (however, moves on boards closer to the Point of Origin CAN be played; if the board’s orientation changes and checkmate is disrupted, the board is Unlocked and can be played again.

The game is won by creating checkmate on the Singularity board.

[POSSIBLY: there are only four pieces per player per board (Regent, Regis, Elephant, and Castle), arranged in opposite corners.

POSSIBLY: The game ends when checkmate on the Singularity is achieved, and no further moves on previous boards can be made; the player wins who has the most points -- the Singularity is worth five points, the individual boards are worth one point each.

am still working out the details]

In response to Ruth Graham’s article at Slate, “Against YA“, but REALLY in response to the sudden eruption of hand-wringing defenses of why it’s okay to read Young Adult books.

1.  I am in a bookstore and I see a book in the Young Adult section that I think about buying. Another customer looks at me askance, as though I am childish for looking at a Young Adult Book.  “Fuck that guy,” I think to myself, “this looks interesting.”  I buy the book anyway.

2.  I am reading a Young Adult Book on the train.  Someone sits down across from me  They have got a face like they think I should be embarrassed by my reading material.  For a second I am worried.  “Oh wait, I just remembered,” I think to myself, “Fuck that guy.”  I continue reading my book

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The funny thing is that I was thinking about how to explain privilege the other day, and I wrote this without any particular incident in mind, figuring to myself: “Give it time; eventually SOMEONE is going to act like a jackass in public and make this piece topical.”

And lo, the universe gave me Tal Fortgang.

So, let’s talk about the nature of “privilege” in a social context, and how it works. I’m not here to talk about privilege in the literal sense, which is a set of “private laws” that some people get to be subject to instead of the regular laws (that’s a real thing, but it’s not what I’m getting into here), and it’s not what we typically mean in the metaphorical sense, “privilege” as in “a child of privilege” – “I grew up wealthy and isolated from harm, like Gautama Siddhartha before he encountered the Four Signs” kind of privilege. That’s ALSO a real thing, but when people say “white privilege” or “male privilege” or something like that, that’s not what they mean.

I am going to try and elaborate how this works in order to avoid confusion. If you run into a Tal Fortgang in your life – i.e., “Oh, I have privilege, huh? Well did you know I was POOR?” – please send them here, I am providing it as a public service announcement.

Here is how to understand privilege. You nerds like Dungeons and Dragons, right?

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I caught this article from Gabriel Valdez’s Wednesday Collective in a sort of a roundabout way – it’s a defense of something like “The Expert Review”, in which a reviewer criticizes a work of fiction with some level of expertise – pointing out historical errors and the like. Some people think the Expert Review should die; this Historian who goes to the movies makes a pretty good case for it.

For the purpose of contributing to this consideration, I’d like to suggest that there’s a bright line we can draw between historical errors that matter and historical errors that don’t, and that actually we’ve got two ways of looking at a narrative’s relationship to the past. For the sake of argument, let’s call these two things History and Historicity.

History, we all know what history is, but just for the purpose of this article I’d like you to accept the following definition, even if it’s not how you’d usually define it: “History is a complex set of narratives, evaluated in the present, encompassing more or fewer artifacts from previous time periods, generally established for the purpose of creating, destroying, or reinforcing a cultural or political identity.” In this case, we might say that a history that encompasses very few artifacts from a previous time period is a bad history, but creating a narrative based on them is still the process of history, however we might like to wish it isn’t. And you’ve noticed, I’m sure, the interesting feature about history being evaluated always in the present, and what this means for all previous histories – don’t worry, we’ll get to it.

Historicity might be something that I made up (or, alternately, a real thing that I am describing incorrectly), but for the sake of this article let’s work with this definition: “Historicity is the quality of resembling one point in history or another.” I don’t think that his necessarily means that something with a high degree of historicity is historically accurate – I think that as we go forward, I’m going to show that “historical accuracy” can fall into one or the other category – but I do think that something with a high degree of historicity has a lot of details that are meant to make it resemble something that is historically accurate.

So, here is what I am proposing: historical details matter when we’re talking about history; historical details do NOT matter when we’re talking about historicity.

Here, let me do a few examples.

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Christopher Durang – America’s most beloved author of community theater audition monologues – has a new play called Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.  In 2013 it won the Tony Award for Outstanding New Play.  It won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Production, the Drama League Award for Best Production of a Play, the Drama Desk Award for Best Play, the Outer Circle Critics Award for Best Play and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike prominently features a Magical Negro housekeeper who has the power of Voodoo.

If, after reading that, you think to yourself, “That’s enough.  This is the 21st century and I have no interest in racial caricatures of any kind.  Nothing in this play could possibly make up for this conspicuous, shameful, and easily avoidable failure; I am happy to condemn this play to company with the rest of the detritus of civilization left behind as humanity continues on its long moral arc, without hearing another word about it,” well, then, I agree with you.  You can ignore this play for the rest of your life, and not be one degree the worse for it; go forth, and be not bothered by Christopher Durang.

In criticism, though, as in life, it is important to be thorough.

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Guns of Cydonia

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Braak
Tags: , , ,

Behold! Here is a new thing!

Cities on the Red Frontier is the name for a series of interlocking sci-fi/western epics set on Mars in the 27th century. This is the background material for these stories, which I am probably never going to get around to. I wrote the screenplay for the first one, Guns of Cydonia, but Bruno Heller has since announced that he’s making his OWN sci-fi-western-on-Mars, so the heck with it.

I am putting the screenplay up here and all the background material that I thought of, and giving it to you, the world. Read it, steal it, add to it, take from it, do whatever the hell you want.

The script is available at the Cities on the Red Frontier Site.

Happy birthday, everyone!

Imagine This for a Second

Posted: February 21, 2014 in Braak
Tags: ,

I am just saying, like, imagine this, imagine that Leni Riefenstahl made a move in the 1930s, and in that movie an army of sub-human rat-monsters tried to destroy Germany with the aid of a sneaky shape-changing mastermind with mind-control powers, and so Hermann Goering got together a Nazi Obermensch, Werner Von Braun, a berserker soldier, Ed Harris’ character from Enemy at the Gates, and the Viking war-god Tyr. And these guys got together, and without any attempt at communication or negotiation or anything, they all get together in Berlin where the manipulative shape-shifter has managed, due to the failure and incompetence of Germany’s old ruling bureaucracy, to bring his entire army of hideous rat-men to fight them. Then they just end up wrecking all the rat-monsters, finally Werner von Braun invents an atomic bomb and shoots it at the Rat King and it blows him up, and this causes a psychic backlash that annihilates the entire rat-species. Victory for the German people, &c.

If you saw that movie now — like, if someone had unearthed it from a trove of forgotten secret Leni Riefenstahl movies — you’d be really uncomfortable with it, right? At the very least, you’d watch it and think to yourself, “Yeah, that pretty much IS how the Nazis saw the world — the Germans are outnumbered surrounded by subhuman enemies, undermined by spies and traitors, governed by corrupt buffoons, and only military might and technology and the purity of their mythic heritage can win the day, and they’ve got no choice but the complete destruction of all of their enemies.”

I’m not saying that’s what the Nazis DID, obviously — they did a bunch of horrible other things. But this is how they SAW themselves, right?

I’ve just been thinking about this, it’s started to make me uncomfortable with…certain movies that I may have seen recently.

I saw this movie the other day.  It…could have been worse, I guess, but it also could have been better.  On the one hand, I guess if you’re going to use the Comanche as a plot point, it’s nice that the war is started entirely by greedy white guys, and propagated by a white guy who can’t admit that he did anything wrong.  That’s a step forward.  On the other hand, a hundred Comanche get massacred and it doesn’t have any bearing on the story at all, the Lone Ranger just wants to rescue that lady, Tonto just wants to get his revenge.  No Comanche massacre was required for either plot OR story in order for that to happen.

It’s especially galling because let’s be real, that entire movie was just a set up for an amazing 20-minute railroad battle climax set to Hans Zimmer’s orchestration of the William Tell Overture.  And that part was great!  It was fantastic!  But also literally every single minute before was interchangeable plot filler.  I heard that they were going to have werewolves in it originally, I wish there had been werewolves.  That’s the thing about this movie; if you’d taken out the Comanche massacre and put in some outlaw werewolves instead, it would have been exactly the same movie.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about any of that, or even about why did Johnny Depp play Tonto, or any of it.  Instead, I’d like to take a few minutes and talk about Frame Stories.

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I think the way to describe the “best” narrative – that is, the narrative that, regardless of its content, is the most structurally-sound, streamlined, well-put-together – is that it is both unexpected and inevitable.  While watching it, you can’t predict the outcomes of the events you’re seeing onscreen, but once you’ve seen it and you look back on it, you realize that it couldn’t possibly have happened any other way.

What I think is interesting about this is that it seems to describe two different modes of appreciating a movie, so what I’m going to do is assume that this is (as it intuitively seems) a correct assertion, and proceed from that to elucidate what I think are the two fundamental elements of narrative.  Some of this is going to seem pretty obvious, but just because a thing is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring a little bit.

Those two elements are Plot and Story.

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