Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading: Unmentionable

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill, uses the same conceit as The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer: the author accompanies us back to a certain time period (here, the Victorian era) and explains how you would be expected to live in order to fit in. In the case of Unmentionable, the focus is on upper-to-middle class women and the expectations and prescriptions particular to them.

Info-wise, I found the book interesting, even though I was familiar with quite a bit of the general outlines. The explanation of how forceps (or the lack thereof) may have changed the course of British monarchy was fascinating, though. I also found the quotations well chosen and well "interpreted".

Style-wise, I generally enjoyed the tone, especially in the more straightforward explanations and in the ironic commentary, but sometimes the book veered too far into "humor blog" style for my taste, especially in places where I had difficulty parsing what was meant because of the fragments used, mostly in the first half of the book.

All in all, I found it a quick, enjoyable read for the holiday break,

Nee in Germany has a big To Be Read pile

Friday, December 30, 2016

Trying something new

"There's nothing new under the sun", as the saying goes, but I am going to try something new for me. I have avoided politics and social commentary here for the most part, except to occasionally snark on people, but I need a place to think about things, so to speak, so I will do some of that thinking here.

Today's article that resonated with me:
"The lesson of Trump and Brexit: a society too complex for its people risks everything", by John Harris in the Guardian

John Harris touches on some aspects of modern society that I have been noticing myself:
Complexity, after all, is a 21st-century leitmotif, captured in those news-channel screens on which scrolling tickers and stockmarket data combine to create the impression of a world so elaborate it is beyond anyone’s control.
I can't bear to watch American news channels anymore when we are in the States because of this. I find it overwhelming. It is almost impossible to focus on what is being said, and it feels like I am being flooded with information, yet most of that information is of no interest or use to me. I imagine that might be the case for lots of people.

For a lot of us, in fact, modernity is a mess: not just of multiple user accounts, passwords, contracts for smartphones and Wi-Fi, and the generalised insanity of consumerism, but working lives that now have to undergo endless peaks, troughs and reinventions.
I've been feeling conflicted about consumerism for a while now. On the one hand, I am very practical, so I am often loath to buy anything that is not useful; John is also aesthetically opposed to knick-knacks, for the most part, so our decorating style might be called 'spare'. On the other hand, I am not immune to the lure of fandom merchandise or craft supplies, so I have my share of those things, both things I have bought and things I have received. On the third hand, I realized this xmas that once I had bought the things I had earmarked throughout the year because I thought certain people would enjoy them, my enjoyment of xmas shopping went straight down the crapper, and it became a chore, just a way to funnel money into the maw of capitalism.

Moreover, I cringe every time I peel the plastic packaging off a gift (given or received) and look at the mounds of packing material required by modern modes of producing and selling goods.

But sitting down and trying to think my way out of these conundrums is difficult. If I lived closer to my loved ones, I could figure out a way to give more of myself, but I don't, so I feel kind of trapped in my current system. This contributes to a base level of anxiety that doesn't ever seem to completely go away, at least for me.

I found myself wanting to quote whole paragraphs from the rest of the article, it made so much sense to me, but instead I will summarize a few key points:

  • When there are no longer increasing returns from increasing complexity, people turn against it, hence the type of voting we saw this past year (Brexit, Trump), where people were essentially voting for simplification of complex systems.
  • There is historical evidence for increasing complexity playing a role in the collapse of civilizations. I'm adding the book cited, The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph Tainter, to my to-read list.
I know people who are basically preppers, and I can see the attraction when you are afraid of (or excited about, in some cases) what will happen when the complex system around you collapses, but I try to remember that there are alternative solutions to howling barbarism and apocalyptic upheaval, such as technological advancement, but now I wonder if technological advancement might automatically bring increasing complexity with it, if only because it means more options to have to differentiate between and choose from.

Nee in Germany is getting her think on

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, y'all!

We're at the stage of xmas where we are watching the videos we gave each other, but since I am not that interested in John's favorite absurdist German comedian--Helge Schneider--I am up here trying to decide what to do with myself.

First things first:

Hannah got a set of luggage from us, and now it is upstairs in my office, offgassing, which makes hanging out not so fun. As a matter of fact, I'm getting a bit of a headache, so I think I will cut this short for now.

--Nee in Germany is breaking the tradition of the all-cookie holiday diet, and it sucks