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Links 1 through 10 of 1274 by Chad Orzel tagged culture

I wish more discussions of fraternities and sororities were conducted with this level of thoughtfulness and respect. Also, the application of these ideas to stuff like "What's the matter with Kansas?" is left as an exercise for the reader.

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I've had this open in a tab for a week now, but between my job and my family, I haven't been able to find time to blog about it. Irony sucks, sometimes.

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Travis is a native of New Hampshire. He likes to show me, as I’ve only lived in New Hampshire 17 years, some of the back roads and byways of the state. One evening we were taking a very rural shortcut when the headlights fell upon a creature. It crossed the road in front of the car, Travis had slammed on the brakes, and we just sat there for a moment.

“Did you see what I just saw?” Travis exclaimed.

I took a breath and think I answered something like “Yeah, if you think we just saw a chupacabra.”

At this point, we just started to laugh. The last people that need to see a mysterious creature crossing the road late at night are leaders of the local skeptic group.

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William Gibson’s Neuromancer is perhaps the closest thing to a Nostradamus that fiction has produced. And it feels like it’s getting truer every day. Think about that for a minute. Of all the realities in speculative fiction since the beginning, the ones that look most authentic in the here and now are the ones that remained more mundane — bound up in the struggles we have today posited a century hither. What does that say about science fiction’s success?

Science fiction as a genre requires one thing, and one thing only. It requires the story to engage with the future. Not merely be set in the future, or use some form of technology to accomplish a goal, rather it must engage with that future in way that is reflective of both now and then. If a story’s science fictional, or fantastic, elements can be removed and the story remains largely unchanged then it cannot be science fiction.

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Captain Kirk's Enterprise was a ship of phaser-happy explorers always pressing onward toward the next undiscovered planet on which they could stage a fistfight; in comparison, Captain Picard's Enterprise is a calm, sleek vessel of end-of-history galactic administration — a kind of faster-than-light embassy, complete with chamber music concerts. There's very little fighting; there's a great deal of personal growth and trade-pact negotiation. Many, many episodes turn on the decidedly nonstandard TV plot of something has gone wrong with a diplomat.

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The letter that Robert Heinlein sent in response to Theodore Sturgeon suffering writer's block, containing 26 "Sturgeon-ish" story ideas.

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Entrepreneurial action can represent the best social and imaginative potential of modern liberal societies. It’s also a great way to focus and challenge any new initiative or project. Do you want to mobilize groups, sustain collective action? Then it’s totally fair to ask, “With what resources? With what costs or liabilities? With what kind of plan for organizational and financial sustainability?” Do you have a great creative vision, or some change in material practices you’d like to encourage? Thinking “entrepreneurially” is a great filter or structure for approaching those aspirations.

What I do not like about “entrepreneurship” is when it starts to collapse into itself, when it’s an alibi for a gold-rush approach to life and aspiration, when it’s part of a frenzy.

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There is a massive, ever-expanding class of Americans who cannot remember a connection to pro football that did not involve the drafting and owning of skill players who work on their personal behalf. And the result, I fear, has been the mild dehumanization of humans we were already prone to perceive as machines.

Now, I realize dehumanization is a melodramatic word to use when discussing millionaires. I would guess that most people reading this column would love to be "dehumanized" in any context that pays them $9 million a year. But this isn't about feeling sympathy for pro athletes. That's not my point. What I'm proposing has more to do with how a few grains of personal investment prompt normal people to think about strangers in inaccurate, twisted, robotic ways. It's about how something fun quietly makes us selfish, and it's about the downside of turning real people into algebraic chess pieces.

The person who is making me think about this is Chris Johnson.

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The book is greatly beloved by some. My copy has essays by Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle praising it to the skies. For myself, I enjoyed it, with reservations. It’s a fun book, but I couldn’t help but feel that Myers bit off more than he could chew — or, perhaps, that the idea was setting up greater expectations (as it were) than he or anybody could fulfill. Still, the book did seem to me to be worth writing about, because whether or not it’s wholly successful in itself, it raises a host of interesting questions about the nature of fictional characters, and how they work, and how we read them, and how these things may change in time.

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As a kid, I remember watching Star Trek at 7:00 on Saturday nights with my Mom. At the time, it struck me as the most amazing show ever made, even though I frequently only half-understood what was going on.

Through the miracle of streaming video, I’ve recently introduced my kids to Kirk and Spock. And I’ve been reintroduced with adult eyes.

Seeing again as an adult a show you loved as a kid is a little uncanny. It’s recognizable, of course, but everyone seems so much younger. Now the subtexts aren’t nearly as subtle, and it seems more 60’s than futuristic. But the cheesiness of some of the effects has a charm of its own.

The Wife is duly mortified, of course; to her, Star Trek is of a piece with Renaissance Faires and Hobbitry. Affection for Star Trek, in her mind, is a sort of voluntary cultural exile. I think she’s half expecting that the kids and I will start wearing Vulcan ears around the house and speaking Klingon at the table.

But the kids don’t carry that baggage.

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