June 25, 2015

Flying the Confederate Flag

So I've been thinking about this, and I have to play devil's advocate. I never really felt myself a southerner, even spending as much as my childhood south of the Mason-Dixon as I did.

But the recent controversy over the "confederate flag" has me thinking. As far as I can remember, it was just sort of dumb. In North Carolina, I was around so many people of different colors, there was not hate. In West Virginia, there were no people of any color, so any hate was silly.

But I have seen very passionate remarks on both sides of the current debate. So that made me think of Ferdinand Saussure, like you do. He was talking about language, but any symbolic system fits. There are two sides to every symbol. The symbol itself, and the meaning that people take from it, The rebel flag seems to have two meanings. It is both a symbol of exclusionary hate, and of an in-group pride. These seem to be mutually exclusive. The people claiming it as a symbol of pride are not necessarily overtly racists. They feel that an attack on the flag is a personal attack, especially when the flag has existed for so long   without a concerted call-out as has come about with the recent Charleston tragedy.

The flag is a symbol with separate meanings. As if you asked a North Carolinian native to the red dirt to imagine a tree, the same imagination would conjure up a different object to the person from Maine. A pine tree is not a maple tree.

So the context matters. What's important is awareness of the context. I don't really feel like I have a heritage in this country as I moved around so much as a kid. When asked, I say I'm Polish and Croatian, and a mix from my Mom's side. Here's the thing. I realize context, The current Croatian flag, which is my patrilineal heritage, has this cool red and white checkerboard pattern, It has a long history. The funny thing is that it was appropriated by the Fascist government that ruled the area during the second world war. It is my heritage, but I realize that it is not something to celebrate. So I don't defend it. Period.

Basically, that means from my point of view, the people that defend the confederate flag or any derivation of it are not overt haters, but people that lack context of the ill that was done in its name. It is still a point of contention, but not something to lose friends over. It's something to talk about. Unless they are racists. Then fuck them.

June 19, 2015

High Praise for Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin"

I just finished this. Normally when I finish a book, I put it on my pile and I think to myself that I will review it when I get some downtime, or when that pile gets so high that I feel like I have to make some progress on the reviews.’

Not this book. I had to review it right away. I’ve been making my way through science fiction giants lately, and I keep finding myself disappointed. If there’s not an issue with the world then there’s one with the characters or the plot that goes on with the world and the people in it. So many writers in the genre have such great imaginations, but are not storytellers or students of how people interact. Nor are they experts in the craft of writing. Wilson excels at all of these.

The book is so good that I found myself wanting to read at the detriment of my other responsibilities. I started this book on Monday. This week is the end of my semester, and I have three papers due and a two presentations to do. Today is Friday, and I somehow finished it in spite of all the other things I have going on.

One small structural point. The book is mostly linear, and you figure out what is going on at the same time as the characters. There is peril, and you want to see if or how it is resolved. The weird thing is that interspersed with the linear chapters is a different section that shows a different storyline which is the characters in the future. It signpost that the big issue has been resolved. This is interesting, but it eliminates some of the tension around if or how the thing is resolved. I’m not sure why he structured it like that.

So then it comes to the end, and it sets up for more books and more adventures in the world he built. Here’s the thing. I liked this book so much, I’m a bit scared of reading the following books in the series. I probably will though. I hope I’m not let down.

Review: Niven's "Ringworld"

I picked up a graphic novel adaptation of this several months ago.
The problem with that adaptation was that it was really only the first half of the book, and just when some action started, then the book ended.

So I had to get the book, because I wanted to know what happened.

And I read and enjoyed the book There is a quest to a mysterious world, and there is an interesting if maybe two-dimensional cast of characters. The problem for me was that it didn’t really get going for me until about page 200 of my edition. You could chalk that up to me having read a good bit of it already in graphic form, but the reality is that there is a lot of exposition done through a sort of “we’re getting the band back together” sport of way. I suppose when this was written it was more like a magnificient seven sort of way, but I digress.

So it does get going, there is some loss of characters you grow to like, and then it ends.

Not in a satisfying way, but one that seems like it was set up for sequels. The problem was that though the book was good in itself, I’m not sure if it was good enough to make me want to read more in the world. At least the exposition is out of the way.