3. Other Things nuts & bolts Writing Life

Stop and Think. That’s all I’m asking.

I get angry-tired like a toddler who’s awake three hours past bedtime every time I hear comments about Covid-19 like the ones below:*

“The science keeps changing.”
“All the experts are saying something different.”
“The rules are confusing and don’t make sense.”
“So many statistics are overblown/confusing/don’t tell the whole story.”
“The whole crisis is being exaggerated for headlines.”
“It’s impossible to tell what’s true, there’s too much hype.”

No. No, no, NO. ALL WRONG.

The science is NOT changing, and it ISN’T contradictory, and it isn’t exaggerated. If you feel like the news is overwhelming, confusing, and full of hype, you are not filtering out the crap and only absorbing the facts.

There is a LOT of crap information in the world. Always has been, always will be, and it gets worse all the time. Blame conspiracy theorists, the news media, arguing scientists, the way social media works, human nature…I don’t care.

What I care about is stopping the spread of defeatism that goes along with those complaints. So, then. How to do that?

There are two systems of crap-filtering: do the critical thinking work yourself, or farm it out.

The second one is the easier and historically proven system. People routinely base their practical, everyday life choices on advice from a set of trusted, knowledge-having, opinion-dispensing friends.

Word of mouth recommendations. They’re the gold standard. Ask anyone.

In modern life, we have an alternative that also works well: find and collect a few–a VERY FEW–information sources known for rigorous fact-checking and analytical, easy-to-understand reporting, and only base your actions on them when all those sources agree. But that’s a little harder.

Either way, I strongly suggest farming out your info-filtering unless you are a wonky, information-obsessed, research specialist trained in scientific analysis, critical thinking & education. (Hi. It me.)

Prefer to do all the work yourself? Don’t trust any research you haven’t done yourself? Cool. Then DO IT & stop pretending the problem is in the information being too confusing. Here are some tips from your neighborhood wonky, information-obsessed research specialist trained in scientific analysis:

  • The words “forget everything you’ve learned” mean “ignore this, it’s bunk.”
  • The more times an article about anything medical refers to “poisons” & “toxins,” the more likely it’s bunk.
  • Never trust any data provided in an article unless it comes with citation links.
  • When provided links, follow them. If I had a dollar for every time I discovered the original study said the opposite of the what it was being used to prove…I could feed all my friends steak for dinner every night for a year. Not exaggerating even a little.
  • Never assign the same persuasive weight to opinions as to analysis.
  • Never trust an expert’s degree or fields of study alone. Dig deeper. Are they experts in the field they’re speaking on, or only something that makes them look relevant? What do they do for a living NOW? (Example: whose opinion should you believe about cloth mask effectiveness, someone w/a phD in industrial design who works for a company selling respirators, or surgeons & nurses who can confirm they’ve remained unharmed despite decades-long careers wearing masks for hours at a time?)
  • Learn the difference between expert opinion and expert analysis. (Hint: are they asking about their own research, or someone else’s? Some people are willing to pass judgement on studies they haven’t even read. investigate the expert’s background, determine how current their credentials are, etc. And again, check for “further research citations and check THOSE!)
  • Don’t dismiss a new analysis because it contradicts an older one–or because it contradicts someone else’s opinion. (Are you seeing a trend here?) In rapidly changing environments, older information becomes obsolete.
  • Example: in early March there was ZERO data to support wearing basic masks. No public studies had ever been designed, and in the medical field, the results were 50/50. Sooooo, I was all-in with Team No-Mask in March. But GUESS WHAT? That was months ago, and the Grand Uncontrolled Experiment that is Pandemic 2020 has produced a LOT of data that confirms mask use helping.

Does that list sound like a lot of work? Does it make you tired just reading it? The people shoveling bullshit information into the world on purpose count on that. They know very few people want to do all that filtering just to get a little useful, practical advice. They rely on that defeatist reaction to spread self-serving spin and outright lies. They make money off it. GAJILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

Meanwhile, I look at that list of techniques and think, “Oh, look, another day ending in y, another new topic to chase back to its primary sources.”

The current mask situation as I see it stems from the collision of America’s Two Big Twitches: its fetish for personal responsibility and its distrust of intellectuals. But that’s a topic for another post, and maybe one best left to someone else.

My wonky friend recommendation, gleaned from way too much research & analysis: if you’re going out of your home to face other people, put a mask on, keep your distance, and don’t touch your face. And don’t let anyone INTO your home if they won’t abide by those safety guidelines.

Look, if you want to buy me a glass of wine, I’ll grab my soapbox and I can rant (at length) over Zoom about the nature of science, evolving bodies of knowledge, the dangers of being “fair & balanced,” and the unintended consequences of using analogies instead of facts… but I warn you, it will end up with me saying, “JFC, do the math. Wear a mask anywhere indoors and outside where you can’t keep your distance, keep your distance when you can, and follow basic hygiene. Look at the infection rates in every country that’s done those three things–and in some cases, nothing else!–and it’s fucking obvious. Do the easy things, nobody has to shut down again, everybody wins.”

Stay safe, amigos. That’s it for now. Until later.

*I grant there are worse things to declare & share than the comments up at the top of the post. There’s ACTIVE disinformation. But refuting false statements has a way of giving them more weight than they deserve, so I will NOT be indulging in an exhaustive & exhausting debunkery post. I have more Valerie & Jack scenes to write.

PS: I mean, in person I burst out laughing at people who think masks can make their blood toxic, scoff at people who feel oppressed by being asked to stand back six feet and give the Mom Stare Of Doom to anyone cold-hearted enough to say Covid won’t be serious for them, so their grandparents deserve to die from a preventable disease…but I don’t have the time to get into online arguments.

So. That’s a long explanation of why I’m not taking comments on this post.

3. Other Things Book reviews Media Consumption

What I did while I wasn’t gone

I took myself on a writing retreat last weekend. It was mostly a mental trick to take advantage of physical preparations for travel to a convention I ended up not attending.

Since I had planned and prepped be away from home for a four-day weekend, I figured that meant wasn’t responsible for anything at home those fourdays. I could ignore my whole Regular Life guilt-free and wander off to my computer any time the urge hit.

I finished a short story I’ve been tinkering with for over two years and published it for my email list subscribers (I also set up that process from scratch, a post in its own right.)

I also made headway on a second short story and wrote about 5000 words in Ghost Town, my current novel in progress. I write slower than a Galapagos turtle walks, which is why I rarely post word counts (and loathe them as motivational tool)  For reference, that’s about a usual month’s worth of writing. In 4 days. Yeah. So mental writing retreat as a working trick…definitely helped. I plan to do it again. Sometime.

But writing isn’t all I did. This is a media consumption post too, so here’s what I took in.

Throne of Glass series. Sarah A Maas. Finished all the books currently published (yay!) now have to wait until at least October to read the one that’ll wrap up the current series. (BOO!)  There’s a lot I could say about her books, but I said most of it in a previous post. One thing to add: the things that bugged me in A Court of Thorns & Roses series are less overt in this one. No idea which came first, don’t care, just liking them more.

Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach. Kelly Robson. SWOON. So good. Go read it now. It’s a short book, (novella) but it will stick with you in the best of ways. I inhaled it over two meal breaks and a walk.

Yes, I read on walks. I was tripping off curbs and veering towards lamp posts long before it was trendy with Pokemon Go. Don’t worry, I’ve never run into anything, and I always pause at roadways to watch for traffic. But I digress. As usual.

Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach reminds me of Connie Willis & Kate Wilhelm ( two of my SFF favorites) at their very best. Not because it had time travel, although it does, nor because of the science, which it is ALL ABOUT,  but because of the way both those elements were presented: brilliantly, elegantly, and enjoyably.

Time travel was an essential element but not a pitfall of paradox or an excuse to wander into theoretical physics for far longer than the narrative could bear (Woo!) Science was at the center of the plot without ever stampeding over the characters or dragging the story into a slough of exposition, (WOO!!!) Plot & characters were also amazing.

Basically, if you want fresh, new classic-style SFF relevant to and written for today’s world, this is it.

A Divided Peace. Tanya Huff. Happy sigh. Always a joy to read her words.  Aaaaand now I have to go back and re-read all the Confederation novels. If I could write military science fiction a tenth as well as she does, I would do a whole novel about Mercury Battalion. But I don’t have the chops for making the Corps a realistic centerpiece. Maybe if someone with experience wanted to co-author…yeah, I would totally be up for that that.

ANYWAY. Onward.

In the viewing circle, I watched a fun season of superhero television show, Black Lightning, and a serious movie about a real world hero. Marshall. (it’s a biopic-style movie  about one of Thurgood Marshall’s early cases.)  

I enjoyed the drama of the movie, but it seemed bizarre to me that the titular character, an AMAZING human being who was part of so much civil rights history–who MADE so much history, was not even the narrative center of his own movie. (A white guy was.)  I am not surprised that was the angle Hollywood took, just angry and aggravated. They could have done so much better.

But I’m loving Black Lightning, so I’m batting over .500 in viewing satisfaction.

Still haven’t seen Deadpool 2 or Ocean’s 8, but they’re on my list. And Jurassic Park Episode whatEVER is next up in Major Hollywood Kaboom Movies.

So until then, it’s back to writing-writing-writing.


Media Consumption Writing Life

A Host of Things Viewed

This post is made of movie & TV reviews. NO, NOT AVENGERS. all the same, ahoy, maties, SPOILERY WATER AHEAD.

Shape of Water: Yes, it won umpteen awards, and I can see why.  The movie is an phenomenally cohesive, polished work of cinematic craftsmanship from start to finish,  from the acting and directing right through soundtrack, cinematography and costuming.

It’s also still Creature from the Black Lagoon Falls In Love, so despite the amazing ambiance of the scenery, the moody music, and the adept acting of the cast, it…didn’t wow me.  I guess I like my creature love stories with a lot less messaging about Othernesss meaning people aren’t whole, a LOT fewer of the Obvious Evil style of baddies,  and happy endings that involve a inclusion WITHIN society rather heroes than having to flee into isolation to be their true selves.

I over-think things, perhaps. Doesn’t make me wrong.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. Yes, yes, I watched a documentary. GO, ME.  Depressing as hell, about a brilliant, beautiful woman whose brilliance was dismissed–even declared impossible–because she was also beautiful, a woman whose government and bosses cheated her, a woman whose reputation was blackened and misrepresented by a media machine more interested in headlines than truth. A woman who ended up broke and broken by the system.

Outrageous. Me being me, of course I went out and did a bunch of booky research to fact-check and bias-check the film’s claims. Result: turns out the movie bent over backwards to give the impression that no malice was ever meant when in reality, there is plenty of evidence to suggest jealousy, bigotry and misogyny played large roles in her defeats.

The careful approach the creators took makes sense. Any appearance of outrage would have gotten it ignored as weak girly shrieking about unfairness.

Because that tactic still works, doesn’t it? The events in the documentary took place decades before the long-running campaign to tarnish and diminish Hilary Rodham Clinton’s reputation ever began.  I wasn’t expecting to see resonances. But there they were, BIG AS LIFE.

Anyhow. That was my takeaway.

Darkest Hour. Ah. Hm. Maybe I was not in the right mood for Oscar-nominated/winning movies? Because this was 2+ hours of brilliant acting, fabulous costuming and cinematography, but at the end it left me wondering WHY WAS THIS MADE?  The plot covers a momentous month in Britain’s history, (NOT, its darkest hour by the way, only the time leading up to the “FINEST Hour” speech being given) but it wasn’t not exactly a month that lends itself to storytelling drama in London.  Dunkirk? That got its own movie. Ditto all the other places major action and sacrifice were taking place.

So despite a whole lot of fictional dialogue and dramatic elements being added, it felt like a long parade of “Golly, Churchill, wotta character, eh?” moments. To me.

The YMMV principle applies to all my reviews.

One more! The new Lost In Space. TV series, season 1. Did I gush about this one already? I don’t care. Among my social circle this show  seems to be a polarizing topic. People either love it or hate it.  I  love it with a passion equal or greater than my loathing for the 1990’s era movie, and I LOATHED that movie.

Why do I love this one?

Scientists winning with science instead of science being Dangerous and Not To Be Trusted. Characters who are true to the campy originals without being the campy originals (because traits that were acceptable in the mid-60s do not always translate well to today’s mores.)   A plot that keeps an optimistic, we-can-fix-it feel without falling into perky positivity.  Is it perfect? Oh, hell no. Plot devices and coincidences abound, the dialogue is sometimes painfully stilted and the surprises were, with one exception, telegraphed well ahead of their reveals. So there’s room for season 2 to get better or for the whole thing to crash and burn. I’ll watch it and see.

That’s it for now. I also watched Into The Borderlands and the latest Avengers movie, but I’ll hold off on reviewing either one until I’m done with them.

Which for the Avengers won’t be until next May.  Until then…

I write books.  They’re quite excellent, or so people tell me. You can buy them all. & judge for yourself on Amazon or anywhere books are sold. Choose from paperbacks, ebooks, and even audios.  Click the BOOKS link on this site to get a free peek.

Or, you know, not. Your choice. Until next blog.


3. Other Things Detours Writing Life

Can I call you friend?

Can I call you friend? It’s a curious little question, one apparently more complicated than I thought it was.

Here’s the article that sparked this musing:  Only half your friends actually like you.

This study bugs me for many reasons. First and foremost, the assumptions and value judgments floating around the margins were not addressed in any way, and the conclusions have been rolling around in my brain ever since and bumping into other thoughts.

These studies didn’t define friendship for the participants. The study administrators used a word they assume has the same meaning for all participants. That’s a big assumption. Huge. Big enough to bury the methodology in muddied responses. If you want to compare opinions of a fruit and half your subjects think they’re rating oranges and half think they’re rating grapes, are the results meaningful? I say no.

Nasty, tricksy things, assumptions. But, okay. Lets say we accept the (absurd) premise that everyone was operating with the same criteria when they rated their “friendships.” The conclusions still baffle me.

These studies found that perceived affection was unequal, and also that people are lousy at predicting the affection levels of others towards themselves. In other words, people overestimated how much other people liked them in ways related to how much they liked the person they were evaluating.

Let’s put this another way: studies show that if Beverly likes Ginny at a level of 10, she assumes Ginny likes her at level 10. But the reality is many of the Ginnys of the world only like their Beverlys at a level of 4. Okay, fine so far, right?

WRONG. The studies conclude that this is A Problem.  The horror! People like some of their friends more than they’re liked back? The inequity! /sarcasm

The conclusions–that unequal affection is inherently bad–reduces the value of a friendship to  a binary. Their conclusion is that anything other than full reciprocity of affection means the friendship itself is flawed.

I find this an immensely puzzling conclusion. It runs counter to my entire experience of friendships. It seems reductive and devaluing.

Friendships come in as many different shapes and varieties as humans do. The conclusion itself — that friendships are a singular type of relationship which somehow cheats one side if it’s not evenly mutual like a simple business transaction…it bugs me.

I like a lot of people. I consider them my friends if I like them. I  don’t ever expect to be liked back. (when it happens it’s a perpetual surprise and pleasure.) Why can’t I call someone friend simply because I like and respect them?  Why should my appreciation obligate them to hold me in precisely equal regard?

That whole idea seems silly to me. It even smacks of blackmail.  Consider this statement: “I like you, therefore you must like me back just as much, or else we aren’t friends at all!”

Does that sound odd to anyone else? It puzzles and itches at me, and so I shared it here.

(Note: I am not looking for anyone to “explain” the study to me. I understand its point I simply disagree with it on a visceral level.)

Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers. Handy one-stop-shopping link:

1. Storysculpting 3. Other Things Detours

Facts are facts.

Another of my “Something someone said on the Internet pissed me off” rants.

First, the thing that got said (paraphrased for simplicity.) “Historically speaking, facts accepted in the scientific community get proved dead wrong all the time.”

No. Nope. Wrong. The above statement is bullshit of the stinkiest kind, and I am sick to death of shoveling it out of conversations on science.

No scientific fact has ever been proven dead wrong, nor will one ever be. None. Zero. Zilch. Not even a one.  A conclusion being disproven and replaced is a whole different matter.  A disproved conclusion is not the same as a fact being proved dead wrong.  (Memorize that statement if necessary.) Not equivalent. Not even close.

I can see why people who aren’t paying attention get confused by those two points. It’s those pesky words “facts” and “proof” and the human brain’s difficulty processing complex concepts. Disproving an accepted conclusion is the evolution of understanding. Replacing facts with their opposites is merely an exchange of position.

Let’s pause and turn a hairy eyeball on the phrase scientific fact itself. It is a misnomer. It’s shorthand in public discourse for “Generally recognized consensus about a singular conclusion.” It’s also a useless, lazy misuse of vocabulary. Unanimous acceptance (that’s what consensus means)  is a rare creature in the scientific community.

Here’s a suggestion: the next time you see the phrase “scientific fact” used in a news report, go ahead and substitute “unicorn.” This might serve as a reminder you are being told a fairy tale rather than being told the full, complicated, amazing truth.

See, in scientific fields nothing is permanently accepted as correct, period.

This is How Science Works in a nutshell. Today’s accepted conclusions are tomorrow’s hypotheses to be tested and challenged.

For something to be accepted as “scientific fact,” by the scientific community as a whole,  it has to be a point so big, so obvious, and so well-documented that almost everyone in the field of study agrees on it. And even when a cherished unicorn is birthed–meaning something that mostly everyone accepts– it is wrapped in multiple cushiony layers of contingency before being let loose in journals or symposiums, poked, prodded and disputed.

But dealing with ugly layers of complexity and ambiguity  isn’t half as fun as stripping away everything but one shiny click-baitable tidbit.

That’s how the reasonable scientific conclusion of “we did a study of a bunch of people on a certain diet expecting one result but getting another, so we plan to study more people with more variables to pinpoint whether the result comes from the cause we think or something else” turned into “OMG STOP EATING WHEAT IT’S POISON” with one news article.

The fact is, complexity doesn’t sell, sensationalism does. Conclusions get promoted by various media, by medical professionals and through other organizations tangential to science for many reasons. They are hardly ever presented with complexity attached because it dilutes the message du jour.  Thus what gets declared as “scientific facts” in popular media are rarely either.

Another fact: complexity can be used to obfuscate a conclusion no one wants to believe.  Even when it’s so widely accepted that scientists call it a fact.

Take climate change, for example.  By climate change I mean the way science has tied objective measurements to a perfect correlation with historical production of carbon dioxide. The conclusion human actions are affecting climate has attained fact status atop a mountain of data from hundreds of years’ worth of global, independent multi-disciplinary studies. That consensus is neither monolithic nor free from contradictions, but calling the general conclusion anything but fact is as ridiculous as questioning the existence of hats. (the jury is still out on owls. And the cake is a definitely a lie.)

But when you take complexity, add a hefty misdirection courtesy of “Oh, well, science is always changing its mind and contradicting itself,” and it’s been nigh impossible to get public support for critical conservation efforts. Which is why I hate that particular little piece of bullshit so much.

But I digress. I grant that the ever-popular conflation of confidence  with fact has led to major crimes against humanity — but this usually happens when badly tested ideas (or outright frauds) are bent to the service of social or personal agendas. The fault lies in the human frailties of arrogance, laziness, desire for attention, and greed, not in the “scientific facts” themselves.

OK. That’s it for a while.