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October 9, 2004

Home again
Posted by Teresa at 11:03 PM *

We’re back from teaching at the Viable Paradise writers’ workshop, just held for its eighth year on Martha’s Vineyard. We had a great bunch of students. I’d list them if I could find my schedule from the workshop, or from memory if I weren’t so exhausted.

…G’morning. Students this year:
Andrew Willett Anna Feruglio Dal Dan
April Grant
David Barr Kirtley
Deirdre Saoirse Moen
Geoff Alex Cohen
Greg London
Jackie Swift
Jacqueline Schumann
Joe Lee
Lisa Mia Moore
Margaret Ronald
Marie Lu
Martha Janus
Michael Jarantilla
Scott H. Andrews
Valerie Emanuel
William Kohler
Yoon Ha Lee
It was intense, as usual, and I’m fairly sure we taught them a lot of stuff about writing. Whoops. “We” = instructors:
Debra Doyle Steve Gould
Jim Macdonald
Laura Mixon
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Now to stagger around, drink coffee, unpack, see what happened in the garden while I was away, catch up on my e-mail…
Comments on Home again:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2004, 11:55 PM:

Heh. That's a wonderfuly timely announcement - I was just trying to remember the name of the workshop to recommend it to a writer-fiend for the future. Thank you!

#2 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 12:59 AM:

I wanna atted (self indulgent whine)..... Maybe I'll try soon.

#3 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 08:41 AM:

That's quite a team! If they couldn't lern from all of you--they can't learn!

Jane

#4 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 09:14 AM:

I wanted to go myself. Actually I'd written the check, and tried to print the story I wanted workshopped before quailing in a fit of No Good, No Good, No Good. (Although I suppose the point is to make the No Good, well, Good.)*

*Before you start weeping for that poor story that didn't get to go to Martha's Vineyard, I must tell you that it had a nice restful convalescence here at home, after a beta reader picked it apart and identified several unfortunate growths, which have since been hacked off. Er. I mean, removed with surgical precision.


#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 09:20 AM:

Thank you, Jane. Along with all the critiques, lectures, and writing exercises -- we worked 'em over good -- we taught them to play Mafia and Thing, and all walked down to the beach in the dark to see the jellyfish and stars.

As customary at VP, one night over beer and pizza we divided up the roles and cold-read an entire Shakespeare play from start to finish. This year we did Henry V, once more into the breach for hairy England and all that. Andrew Willett read the Constable of France in a devastating Python-French accent, Greg London did Bardolph as played by John Wayne, and Kate Salter and Yoon Ha Lee turned out to have enough real French to do a fast, fluent version of "Katherine and Alice maul the English language." Jax Schumann put on a strong Texas accent for the role of King Henry himself, which in context of this year gave the whole thing an interesting slant.

...Kate Salter. Oh fout, I forgot to list the staff. List TK, RSN.

#6 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 09:24 AM:

"writer-fiend", eh?

Does this link across to the Electrolite discussion at "October Surprise" on the possible surprise unveiling of Karl Rove as The Great Fiend, Father of Lies - or at least one of the anti-seraphim, the Principalities of Pandemonium?

Sorry I can't give the link, but computer is so unstable, I can't open another window. Am cutting & running (going back to m& abuse of carbohydrates, chocolate, as part of mourning over our election result).

Am glad you had a worthwhile time.

#7 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 09:47 AM:

Paula & PiscusFiche: I encourage you both to apply for next year. It's a wonderful experience, from the group critiques to the one-on-one sessions with the instructors to the jellyfish to the lovely deep immersion in all topics writing.

Damn, now I want to go back.

Beth (aka Falstaff)

#8 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:02 AM:

Anna Fergulia Dal Dan is a great name. And she certainly came a long way to attend.

Sounds like a great program. One year I'll be there.

#9 ::: Greg (Viable Paradise 3) van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:17 AM:

Viable Paradise is the kind of deeply embedded education that continues to seep through one's pores years later, revealing fresh lessons and insights.

Only not so gross as that.

Seriously, an immensely valuable experience.

#10 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:48 AM:
Anna Fergulia Dal Dan is a great name. And she certainly came a long way to attend.

Except I think the second name-part there is spelled "Feruglio."

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:57 AM:

Blast, this is what I get for blindly picking up names from administrative e-mail. It's "Feruglio."

#12 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 12:22 PM:

That's what I get for using Windows cut-and-paste. Surely if I used a Mac the name would have been spelled correctly.

#13 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 12:23 PM:

Welcome home! I hope I'm correct in my assessment that it sounds like almost the right kind of intense. I also hope that some relaxation managed to sneak its way in there, perhaps with the jellyfish.

At one of Shakespeare in the Living Room's readings, a newcomer had the most perfect, natural unaffected Robin-Williams-doing-John-Wayne-doing-Macbeth voice I have ever heard. He was reading Cassius. He didn't mean to make Julius Caesar into a spaghetti western, I'm certain he didn't, but, somehow the reading's gravitas never really recovered. To nobody's great regret, I think.

#14 ::: Lisa Moore ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 12:26 PM:

Thank you, Teresa and all the staff for an awesome week. You were still sparking me on the plane ride home and I figured out how to solve a big plot problem in my new novel. I have so much work to do now and it's all FUN!! I love you all.

Lisa

#15 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 01:12 PM:

I'm looking forward to debriefing Jax (who is in my workshop in the Bay Area). She did send us an email during the workshop to say she was loving it, working her butt off, and had read Henry V. Wish I could have seen it...

#16 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 03:41 PM:

". . . and cold-read an entire Shakespeare play from start to finish."

I wish we were still doing that around here. The Warners Dream -- "Iww met by moonwight, pwoud Titania, heh-heh-heh" -- was, uh, guess you had to be there.

But I digress, as ever.

#17 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 04:46 PM:

It is indeed Feruglio, and I did have a great time, and I encourage people to apply with faulty things because having people maul your stuff is precisely the occasion you are paying for. I regretted all the time having sent an OK story and not the truly bad first chapter of the novel that would have profited from being devastated.

Jax and Andy indeed were the hight points of the Henry V experience. As was Andy's "Giant Robot Teenagers destroy Manhattan" and Jax's "Siamese Twins get Ayn Rand and decide to blow up stuff" stories. And we had the cutest little kid I've seen in a long time prowling the living room and making bubbling happy noises at all the weird geeky pals of his dad.

I look forward to having the heartfelt and somber testimonials each of us students recorded put up on the web.

The part where we sacrificed one of our fellow students and ceremonially ate her heart was also lots of fun.

#18 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 05:29 PM:

The part where we sacrificed one of our fellow students and ceremonially ate her heart was also lots of fun.

Did you make the skull into a drinking cup, like Lord Byron was known to do?

(If you haven't read the grisly story of Percy Shelley's death, try here. Scroll down. The story is gory and not very believable, but after seeing Shaun of the Dead on Friday, I am numb. Supposedly the heart turned up in Mary Shelley's effects after her death.)

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 05:41 PM:

Supposedly the heart turned up in Mary Shelley's effects after her death.

This bodes bad for the next wannabe-writer eBay stunt.

And, of course, Dante Gabriel Rosetti was not a man to be trusted with a shovel.

The great Del Close (of the Compass Players, forerunner of Second City and pretty much Improv As We Know It) arranged to play a supporting role in Hamlet for all eternity.

#20 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 06:18 PM:

The part where we sacrificed one of our fellow students and ceremonially ate her heart was also lots of fun.

Did you make the skull into a drinking cup, like Lord Byron was known to do?

That was indeed the plan, but after the long drunken hours playing football with it on the beach, it was sadly unfit as a drinking vessel.

#21 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 07:44 PM:

This bodes bad for the next wannabe-writer eBay stunt.

Fortunately, eBay forbids trading any actual body parts. Otherwise we'd have half the slushpile selling their kidneys...

#22 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 07:47 PM:

And, of course, Dante Gabriel Rosetti was not a man to be trusted with a shovel.

Or Mrs. Morris?

(I was just thinking to myself that Jane Morris was quite the hottie, then I realized that I probably wouldn't think so but for Rosetti, who (Google tells me) developed the modern notion of sexy. If he hadn't thought Jane was teh sex0r then he wouldn't have painted, sketched, and photographed her, which would mean that I wouldn't know what she looks like, so I wouldn't be able to agree with him. I haven't had such a headache since Back to the Future II came out.)

#23 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 09:51 PM:

Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Chopped his girl into confetti
Reconsidered the costs and risks, and
Rebuilt her from backup disks

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:05 PM:

The cute small child was Geoff Cohen's son Sawyer, who has to be the world's most cheerful and sociable toddler.

I was immensely pleased by Jax and Andy's "Siamese Twins get Ayn Rand and decide to blow up stuff" and "Teenagers with Giant Robot destroy Manhattan" stories. Aside from the stories' undeniable virtues -- good thing I was sitting down when they read them -- they made me think I've finally come up with the right approach to the Evil Overlord Plot Generator.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:24 PM:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/gtrout/43655.html

#26 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 10:43 PM:

Wow, Patrick. What was that, five minutes post-posting? I'm going to resist the urge to turn around and make sure you aren't actually standing behind me with a laptop.

(Hi: 'gtrout' is me. My 'official' blog at strangeradiation.com/blog/ has the same stuff and is prettier to look at. It's in the trackback list for this thread, even. But if you're interested in reading my blather at all, you're welcome to take your pick.)

Anyway...gawrsh. I should be thanking Anna for laughing at Giant Robot Go! when it was still a wee thing only four paragraphs old. She gave me strength to carry on. I'm letting it sleep for a few days—and then it gets a quick editorial pass and out it goes into the cold world.

What at excellent week! Among so many other things, I learned that our Charming Hostess is an unspeakably ruthless Thing player. It chilled the blood. Don't let the girlish giggle fool you.

#27 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 11:33 PM:

[*] - Thing?

#28 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2004, 11:47 PM:

Hello, Teresa! I learned much. I think my primate brain has even processed some of it. I am currently scheming to engage the ten-month-old in the destruction of dirty laundry while I writewritewrite.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, after I get some sleep.

*happy blood dance*

#29 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 12:24 AM:

Explain Thing? First, look at Mafia.

Thing is much like Mafia, except that the scene is an isolated Antarctic research station.

The game starts with one Thing, a shape-shifter who looks and acts exactly like one of the scientists.

Each night, if the Thing (soon to be Things) aren't caught, they make a new Thing, until the Things outnumber the scientists, and the game is over and the Things win. (If the scientists manage to identify all the Things, the game is also over and the scientists win.)

Every day the scientists can test two of their number. If the second one they test is a Thing, they can test a third. If that one is a Thing, they can test a fourth, and so on.

#30 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 12:55 AM:

That's an awesome variation, Jim. Thanks!

I learned this game as "Werewolf" and have never played it as "Mafia," alas.

#31 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 01:12 AM:

Andrew: Prettier to look at is all well and good, but when I have the choice of something with only excerpts in the feed in NetNewsWire, or the full text on my LJ friends page, I'll take the latter.

(Besides, "prettier to look at" translates on my Palm browser to "insanely annoying scrolling" in most cases.)

#32 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 01:58 AM:

Mike, Mike, don't you remember the reading of Jo's Tam Lin set on Barrayar a few years back?

#33 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 02:08 AM:

Marilee -- oh, yes, indeed, not on the List of Forgettable Things (which is, by definition, blank). It was just that the Shakespeares were more-or-less regular, until gradually they became not so. And the Warner Bros. version was something of a variant -- they were usually played fairly straight. (Fairly, but not necessarily balancedly.)

#34 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 03:00 AM:

Alas, poor Yorick-- I knew him, Del.

Del Close was always a fan of science fiction and horror, devoted to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and many others. When he was 14, he co-created the world's first science fiction poetry fan magazine.

He knew L. Ron Hubbard when he ran the Dianetics Institute in Wichita, Kansas (he told Del that because of taxes "I'm thinking of turning this into a religion" (a tale told in part in Wasteland #9).

He ran away from home at 17 to join a traveling show called "Dr. Dracula's Magic Horror Show," in which he served as a fire-eater, and later, when the lights were turned off, would call out "A plague of worms shall descend upon you!" as he ran through the audience tossing handfuls of cooked spaghetti.

Eventually, he wound up in New York, where he resumed his bass drum studies in a class with fellow student James Dean. He resumed an earlier career as a human torch/fire-eater, calling himself Azrad the Incombustible.

Then there's the improv days, his days as house metaphysician for Saturday Night Live, the comic book writing days (ah, Grimjack and Wasteland), and the final going away party... followed by the lethal drug overdose (it took three tries). He died on my birthday, five years ago.

He's not going to just be in Hamlet, BTW. He'll show up all over, it's a "Where's Del?" thing. He's not picky, he just wants the work.

#35 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 03:33 AM:

I'm just a humble villager. Really.
And I'm not the Thing either.

I'm never the Thing. I fumble the cards and stuff like that.

Really, Honest and Truly.

#36 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 07:33 AM:

Have any of you ever played the card game Bang!? It's much like Mafia or Thing--you have three outlaws, a sheriff, a deputy, and a renegade, none of whom know who the others are. And you basically play various cards to kill each other off, which is harder than it seems since everybody comes with a certain amount of "life levels". Each character also has a special ability, like being able to drink beer to get health back.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 08:09 AM:

Part of the charm of games like Mafia and Thing is the fact that they don't use cards or other impedimentia. (Aside from the use of dealt cards to randomly assign player status at the start of play.) There's a directness and elegance to them: they're all about storytelling, secrets, psychological warfare, and lies.

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 09:48 AM:

...they're all about storytelling, secrets, psychological warfare, and lies.

And they bring such simple, pure pleasure to writers. This is because writing is all about storytelling ... and the rest.

#39 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 09:56 AM:

Kate Salter:
I'm never the Thing. I fumble the cards and stuff like that.

Really, Honest and Truly.

From Worldcon experience, I can attest to this. Kate is never the Thing.

Even when she is.

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Hah!

See Kate Salter there? The one who's explaining that she's always a villager, and never the Thing? Kate is usually the world's most transparent Mafia and Thing player. If you say "I think Kate is a Thing!" she'll turn bright red and look hideously guilty, even if she isn't playing the game! It's a wonderful effect, and a good way to distract your fellow players.

Anyway, this year Katie triumphantly woofed everyone at Mafia. She followed this a few minutes later by stopping the fell Thing in its tracks (it was Yoon Ha Lee that time) on the very first round. It was the completest thing.

Practice, practice, practice.

As for my supposed ruthlessness, I acknowledge that I behaved wickedly in one game of Thing; but when you're assigned the role of an evil soulless shapechanging extraterrestrial, what else are you supposed to do?

What actually happened was that I figured out that Thing has tactical differences from Mafia. When you're one of the Mafia, there are a fixed number of players on your side. You don't win until your guys outnumber the villagers, so you don't want to lose any of them.

But in Thing, you turn one more research scientist into a Thing every night unless you're stopped. A research scientist who's turned into a Thing, and is then killed on the very next turn, does not increase the total number of Things. However, he or she has been subtracted from the total number of humans. A round of play in which the humans only kill one Thing may seem satisfactory to them, but it's a net loss for their side. This becomes increasingly important in the later stages of the game.

I will admit that Thinging a research scientist one night, and then next morning leading the lynch mob that killed him or her, was an awfully good way to allay suspicions about my own Thingitude. But if you believe that Things owe loyalty to the greater Thingish cause, only consider that by making those sacrifices, I was able to remain undetected, and lead the Things to victory over the humans.

It did happen to be convenient that those newly-made Things never got a chance to find out who the other Things were, and thus couldn't denounce me when they were killed; but that's an emergent property of the rules of the game. I didn't invent it. I just noticed it. And anyway, if the Things created senior to me thought I was behaving improperly, they could easily have denounced me to the humans, which they did not; and who knows more about appropriate Thingish behavior: my ancestral Things, or some ol' human who's looking on in pious horror?

As for joining in on the vote to test persons whom I knew to be fellow Things, which (no use denying it) I did quite a number of times, I offer this defense: if it's obvious that the vote to test them is going to carry, abstaining will not save your soon-to-die fellow Thing. All it will do is make you look like a Thing yourself, which is of no benefit to the greater Thingish cause. The appropriate action is to swallow your bitter personal regrets and join the lynch mob.

Likewise, if it's obvious that the vote isn't going to succeed even with your help, there's very little harm done by voting to test a fellow Thing, and it makes you look aggressively anti-Thingish. If in some later round the players vote more heavily to test that same Thing, and he or she is exposed and killed, you can then announce, in slightly injured and self-righteous tones, that you've been saying that person's a Thing all along! They're going to die anyway, right? Denouncing them won't kill them any deader; and if doing so helps to deflect suspicion from one of their fellow Things (who will, after all, be sticking around to avenge them), it must surely be the right thing to do.

Finally, leaving Pippin and Kate unThinged throughout that game was art, not wickedness. Innumerable tests were wasted on Pippin by players who couldn't believe that anyone could naturally look that poised and innocent. If I'd earlier helped that misapprehension along by telling everyone that Pip is far sneakier than I am, who's to say that I was incorrect? As for having Kate there to blush and look guilty any time someone suggested she was a Thing, it was an excellent and amusing distraction. I made use of it several times, right up to the end when I Thinged her to win the game.

Go, Things.

#41 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 11:42 AM:

Teresa, I'll be sure to remember this posting of yours if I ever have to negotiate a contract with you.

#42 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 12:24 PM:

Teresa . . . um . . . have you any plans for world domination?

And if so, what is the best method a person could use to avoid standing in your way?

#43 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 12:47 PM:

Sadly, when I was a shy young lad at Viable Paradise II, neither Thing nor Mafia had made its way to the shores of Martha's Vineyard. It was actually thanks to Kate, Deb Green, Scott Janssens, Erin Denton, and Sullydog that I finally learned the game at Worldcon this year.

That was a really good group to play with. Of course we also learned that there are risks in playing open games in a public place like Worldcon -- other people may join too, and at least one of those people may turn out to be a different kind of Thing. A Raging Twit kind of Thing. But we had fun regardless.

So thanks for introducing it to all those other people so I could catch up. If a slip in the timestream ever causes VP II to be repeated, I'll be ready. >8->

#44 ::: Joe Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 02:09 PM:

Going back to work after a week of VP is really painful. Thanks to everyone there who made it such a wonderful, educational and enlightening experience. I've learned a lot, and everything hasn't even begun to fully sink in yet.

To everyone who is considering applying, just go for it (If I got in, you shouldn't have any problems). On the other hand, there were so many extremely talented people at VP8. I'm not sure what's the norm is for a VP class, but being in VP8 was a very humbling.

... as for Mafia and Thing... all I have to say is...

vengeance ... VENGEANCE!!!

oh, and the ever popular:

"I am so not the thing. You're just wasting your test on me."

#45 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Teresa, your Bushisms link is hopped up on goofballs.

Looks like this blog's URL is devouring the Bushism page URL in your link.

Almost as though it were a Thing...

#46 ::: Deirdre Saoirse Moen ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 04:28 PM:

My blog entries about this year's Viable Paradise can be found here. For some reason, my earlier attempt at a trackback failed.

#47 ::: Maggie ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 06:24 PM:

It appears there's really an art to Thing and Mafia. For my part, I just liked lynching people or (in Thing) watching them skitter away in their horrific alien states. Guess Yoon's attitude of blood, blood, doom, and destruction was contagious.

I had a great time, and while it was humbling to be among so much talent, as Joe says, I also emerged with more confidence in my own abilities. With this many people cheering each other on, I can take anything. Bring on the rejection slips!

I really hope the promo spots we did will go up on the web. Yes, even mine.

#48 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 06:25 PM:

First in a projected series of LiveJournal VP VIII posts. My notes are sitting in Boston (whoops), so they may be temporally unstuck. Plus, I have a weird rambling brain anyway. You have been warned. :-)

#49 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 06:45 PM:

From a game theory point of view, I believe "Thing" breaks down into a "prisoners dilemma" situation, where things are rewarded for ratting out other things, and it becomes a brutal game of survival from there. The scientists are rewarded for working as a team, but once you're a thing, you are on your own.

Mafia, at least, has the approach that teamwork is rewarded on both sides. But then I'm of "lawful good" alignment, so I prefer Mafia over Thing.

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 08:30 PM:

Alas, we never did get to do the Masonic varient of Mafia, which I was all ready to run if we ever got enough folks (which we didn't after the first night ... something about "too much homework").

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 08:50 PM:

One of the things I learned is that Greg London really, truly is lawful good, probably down to the mitochondrial level.

#52 ::: Marie Lu ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2004, 10:59 PM:

Well, if it isn't a huddle of scientists and Things, chattering away about days gone by. :)

Just wanted to pop in and add my VP-rocks-my-socks comment to everyone else's. I learned more about writing in the span of this past week than I probably knew for all the rest of the time I've been alive. I also learned that seafood is only worth getting on the east coast, and that there really are people who can imitate a French accent to the dime (Andrew, I bow to your skills). I've developed a strange obsession for soup, too.

I love you guys to death. It's back to writewritewriting!

#53 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:02 AM:

I've been called a lot of things, but I've never been called a mitochondria before...

;)

#54 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:41 AM:

Since, to a first approximation, one inherits one's mitochondria from one's mother; and since, to a first approximation, one is Jewish if one's mother is Jewish; then may I infer a Theobiological element of Talmudic praise?

#55 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 03:04 AM:

Marilee writes:
>Mike, Mike, don't you remember the reading of Jo's Tam Lin set on Barrayar a few years back?

Um, Marilee, Mike was the title character. Or have you forgotten?

For me, getting to be Sir Simon was the high point of what was really a spectacularly good con all around.

(And anyone who doesn't remember that reading owing to feeble excuses like acute Alzheimer's or not having attended Minicon 36, can find it here. Terrific stuff.)

#56 ::: Jax ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 04:18 AM:

Feeling compelled to put in my .02 on the whole VP-is-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips party line: VP's all that and a bag of chips!

As you all know, I was a terrible introvert before I joined VP...now, I'm an outgoing, fun-loving ham with a penchant for reading Billy in hicksvillian.

Seriously, to those who would apply: just do it! You absolutely will NOT regret one moment.

And Kate will never ever again be trusted with that whole, innocent, "I'm NEVER the thing!" act again.

#57 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 06:49 AM:

What actually happened... (according to TNH)

This does rather remind me of a classic survival mechanism for dangerous times, and also a song "The Vicar of Bray" -- for whom George Orwell had A Good Word.

#58 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 07:28 AM:

I'm not the Thing, I'm just chaotic neutral.

It boggles me to realize that I spent most of that week simulating an extrovert. For hand-wavy values of "extrovert." I am back to my normal, introverted, far-less-bloodthirsty state now.

Oh, Lord, those testimonials will haunt us years from now, won't they...

(Writingwritingwritingwriting...)

#59 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 08:14 AM:

Clean style shall stand until the Trump,
And glorious are its tools, mum;
When independent clauses bump,
The semicolon rules, mum.

#60 ::: Joe Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 10:41 AM:

Yoon, you are so the thing. In fact, I remember a game on ... thursday night, I think... where somehow, with only 5 people left, you somehow convinced everyone to give you choice over who should be tested. Yes, the scientists gave absolute power to the thing (and they were doomed for it).

To add even more evidence, the only reason I didn't get stabbed in the back by Teresa immediately after getting thing-ed during that one cut-throat game was because I singled you out as being a thing that round (But you can't call me a back-stabber cause I had no idea you were a thing too at the time =). Of course, I didn't last long under Teresa's ruthless reign of terror.

damn... I just admitted being a thing... At least I can still say that I'm not mafia.

#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 10:49 AM:

omygawd, Kate and her whole "I am so not the thing, I am never the thing", don't get me started! uh oh, I'm started...

In Act 1, she non-chalantly establishes the "fact" that she blushes at the mere mention of being the thing, even when she isn't in the game.

Then, in Act 3, I watch her with the straightest, non-blushed face I've seen and tell people to their face that she is so not the thing.

It was quite possibly the most underhanded, dirty trick I had seen in years. At that point, I realized that I was dealing with the Evil-Overlord herself.

#62 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 12:38 PM:

Joe Lee: Yoon, you are so the thing. In fact, I remember a game on ... thursday night, I think... where somehow, with only 5 people left, you somehow convinced everyone to give you choice over who should be tested. Yes, the scientists gave absolute power to the thing (and they were doomed for it).

Joe, you mean scientists aren't Things in denial to begin with?

Besides, my mom tells me I'm as open as a book and that I should never, ever play poker. And I had NOTHING on the two Ur-Things, Evil Overlords, Colours out of Space, our gracious hostess and Kate "I'm so not the Thing" Salter, y'know?

#63 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 01:43 PM:

Oh, I'm nothing compared to Kate. In truth, I'm just a run-of-the-mill Thing who noticed a useful strategy implicit in the variant rules. Decades hence, I'll still be trying to live down that one game, and Kate will still look like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

#64 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 01:54 PM:

But, but....(splutters helplessly) I'm not the Thing, and I'm not Mafia. REALLY. My face is bright red right now, and I'm not even where you can see me. The people in the computer lab can see that I am blushing furiously.

(but none of _you_ can...hmm so much for this argument.)


So, anyone want to buy some yarn? I've got some really neat ribbon yarn, and some mohair that would look lovely on you.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:01 PM:

See? I'm not the only one who deliberately throws in distractions.

#66 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Now I wanna play Thing, except I would probably be terrible at it (as the closest I've come is some games of Bullshit in high school; I wasn't bad at that, but that game's a far cry from Thing).

#67 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:38 PM:

Kate Salter:
So, anyone want to buy some yarn? I've got some really neat ribbon yarn, and some mohair that would look lovely on you.

Mohair? I'll take some! I'd been worrying lately about lesshair.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 02:55 PM:

Can the Thing infection be passed through yarn like anthrax? Wouldn't trust Kate if I were you.

#69 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 03:10 PM:

Revolt the Monarch's English grieves,
Its rules are solid set, mum.
The purblind Ego shoots the leaves
She in Arcadia et, mum.

The Vicar now rings vespers and performs sprint d'escalier, the act of rapidly departing the vestry after such an utterance, known also as mot-and-bailing.

#70 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Fordga, I kill you deadly.

#71 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 03:43 PM:

I am not sure how useful Thinging skills would be in an ongoing contractual arrangement. Or even, indeed, in a series of games. Lots of useful game theory here. But anyway. I used to be quite good at this sort of thing, but I'm less good now because the skills I use for work (ongoing contractual partnerships) are very much more effective if you never ever lie to anybody.

Not that that prevents gamesmanship of course.

#72 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 05:23 PM:

Thing and Mafia (T/M) have all sorts of real-world applications.

For example, T/M are useful in demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge before the scientific method was developed. With no capacity for observation and repeatability, you are left with mob-rule and witch-hunts and random decision making.

For those who were in the room at the time, I cite the game with 4 people left and Andrew (as Commandant) had just discovered that Kate was a Thing. The rules prevented direct observability of Kate's Thing-edness or any sort of repeatability (since a scientist one turn could be a thing the next turn). Andrew failed to convince the mob that Kate was a thing. and the Things won the game.

One could also use Thing as a model for something non-emperical such as a political debate. Imagine a game of Thing where Kerry/Edwards and Bush/Cheney are Things, and the rest of the population are scientists, and you start getting a sense of how political debates have nothing to do with facts, truth, or evidence, and have everything to do with opinion management and mob rule.

#73 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 08:21 PM:

I was fooled for much of the week into thinking that Thing and Mafia were variants of the same game. This, while superficially true, is misleading.

The main difference between Mafia and Thing is that in Mafia, your role never changes, and in Thing, it can change overnight. This entirely drives the strategy. In Mafia, you're looking for constant patterns of behavior: voting in blocks, consistently voting or not to lynch, etc. In Thing, you're looking for sudden changes in behavior: physical tells, suddenly talking or suddenly quiet, accusations or lack thereof, etc.

While I'm convinced that there's an interesting information theoretic analysis to be done (well, probably has been), really that stuff is completely drowned in the noise of human behavior. Perhaps that's the point.

While I'm posting: anyone who thinks that Teresa is chaotic (of any flavor) hasn't read "On Copyediting" carefully enough. Wasn't anyone paying attention on the lesson on villains? To Things, Things aren't the bad guys: the humans are.

I, however, am quite happy to be chaotic good. Where would the world be without the Trickster?

#74 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 08:38 PM:

Yes, David, I know Mike was Thomas, that's why I was so surprised that he seemed to have forgotten it. I know it's not Shakespeare, but it's of the same type.

#75 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 09:06 PM:

Alex --

Tricksters? Chaotic good? Bu?

Consider that Loki's notion of de-escalating a tense social situation was to claim that he'd slept with all the goddesses present, and to start comparing their skill in bed in unflattering terms, which lack of skill he inventively attributed to a combination of the bad side effects their incompetent (and present) husbands and own generally depraved natures.

I can't think of a good Raven story right now -- the one about the exploding frogs won't coalesce in memory -- but we're talking about a deity who might well feed you to bears for the sake of the amusing crunching sounds produced by your long bones snapping.

#76 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 10:49 PM:

Tricksters are absolutely good. They are essential to the creation and maintenance of the universe. When the Aesir bound Loki beneath the mountain, they indirectly brought about Ragnarok. And by the way, many of the Loki stories we know were rewritten by Christian missionaries to cast him into a more familiar role.

Without trickster, there would be no change; without trickster, there would be no mocking voice to question the assumptions of the ruling order; without trickster, there would be damn little light in the world. Shakespeare's Fools are tricksters, as are Miles Vorkosigan and Slippery Jim diGriz.

This is not to say that when trickster plays, that people don't get hurt. Oft as not, though, it's trickster himself (and tricksters are indeed almost always male figures).

Go, read Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, which I'm mostly channeling here.

#77 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2004, 11:47 PM:

Alex Cohen channeled:

Tricksters are absolutely good. They are essential to the creation and maintenance of the universe. When the Aesir bound Loki beneath the mountain, they indirectly brought about Ragnarok. And by the way, many of the Loki stories we know were rewritten by Christian missionaries to cast him into a more familiar role.

Without trickster, there would be no change; without trickster, there would be no mocking voice to question the assumptions of the ruling order; without trickster, there would be damn little light in the world. Shakespeare's Fools are tricksters, as are Miles Vorkosigan and Slippery Jim diGriz.

I'd have trouble agreeing that Trickster figures are always good - or always male, for that matter. Kali is a wonderful example of highly unpredictable forces of change in a female form.

My take on the Tricksters is that they're never content without change, and they're completely uninterested in the morality of the changes that they're involved in - a profoundly sociopathic trait, in fact ;)

If there's a closed door, or a locked box, the trickster will be the one poking at it - if there's an idea that most people would say "Uh, maybe that's a bad idea" to, that'd be the one that the trickster decides to bring into play [Why am I picturing Loki snowboarding off the roofs of Valhalla?].

I think my summary for the trickster would be "Chaotic neutral"

#78 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 12:03 AM:

xeger: Hence the Coyote to Wile E. Coyote transition, where the locked box being poked at is labeled ACME.

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 12:24 AM:

Geoff, I figure tricksters might be good or might be bad. On balance they're likelier to be good, because being bad all the time is dull; but they're not going to be entirely good, either, because trickster victory conditions consist of being well fed, frequently laid, and never, ever bored, which makes them subject to distraction and sudden moral swerves.

I'll admit, I was wondering why you kept trying to apply structured analysis to an inherently chaotic game. Mafia's a live-action strategic board game. Thing's more like a cross between tag, Marco Polo, and blind man's bluff, played in the dark.

#80 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 10:04 AM:

Well, let's begin (or begin again) by admitting the sheer impossibility of reliably or meaningfully mapping actual mythic and folkloric figures to the Dungeons & Dragons alignment map. Nevertheless...

I won't disagree with xeger's or Teresa's spot-on characterizations of trickster; surely, trickster is a trouble-maker, and if your definition of good excludes that, well, then, trickster is (as always) outside looking in.

But that's a poor definition of good, I'd argue. Let's start from the other side: trickster is uninterested in gathering personal power, or oppressing others, or any other typically "evil" malevolence. Trickster is trickster, and is more or less a victim of his own irrepressible urges. Yeah, locked boxes drive me crazy, too.

But in actual practice, trickster makes the world a better place when he's done. Trickster is necessary. Perhaps I'm just considering him as "good" because the functions he performs are so vital: a force for change, a questioning of authority.

Trickster victory conditions consist of being well fed, frequently laid, and never, ever bored.

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. No, more seriously: that sounds essentially human. Trickster is us, you know.

I'll admit, I was wondering why you kept trying to apply structured analysis to an inherently chaotic game. Mafia's a live-action strategic board game. Thing's more like a cross between tag, Marco Polo, and blind man's bluff, played in the dark.

Well, at first because I thought it would work. After that, because it kept me alive (especially once I tuned it down below the "we'll kill him to shut him up" level). I may have blown the Kate Mafia game, but I did stay alive until the end. And in a game before that, I won as the Mafia when Steve, the only other Mafioso, was taken out in the second round.

It's the first rule: if it works, it's right.

#81 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 11:43 AM:

trickster is uninterested in gathering personal power, or oppressing others, or any other typically "evil" malevolence.

I would call that type of evil "lawful evil," since in order to gain power over others you have to force them to follow your rules. Maybe it comes down to whether or not one believes that lawful always equals good, and chaotic always equals evil.

I wouldn't define Trickster as either "chaotic good" or "chaotic evil" - just chaotic, period.

#82 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 01:51 PM:

My interest in studying "Thing" was to determine if it was inherently stable or unstable. This is basic engineering. Not that either one of them is better or worse.

Basic airplanes are inherently stable. If they start slipping sideways through the air, the wind will catch the tail and straighten it out. A combintion of the aerodynamics and center of mass cause a plane flying through the air to want to point in the right direction. You can let go of the controls in an airplane for a while and nothing bad will happen.

Helicopters are inherently unstable. If you start slipping sideways, if not corrected by the pilot, the helicopter might start slipping more and dropping altitude at the same time. Attempting to correct the altitude may cause more slippage as the torque spins you further around. In a small helicopter like the Robinson R22, you can NEVER let go of the control stick.

They are so unstable that the second you let go, it'll nudge in one direction, which will get amplified and effect other aspects that push it in another direction until you're spiraling out of control.

Take a yardstick. Attach a tennis ball to one end.

Flying an airplane would be like hanging the yardstick on a nail and letting the ball hang down. If the wind blows the stick in any direction, the weight of the ball, combined with the position of teh nail, will cause the yardstick to return to center like a pendulum.

Flying a helicopter is like trying to balance the yardstick in the palm of your hand with the tennis ball up in the air (inverted pendulum). If the ball nudges in any direction, you have to quickly move your hand to compensate or the stick falls over.

"Thing" is inherently unstable. A scientist can get turned into a Thing, and that person's entire strategy has inverted instantly.

I wouldn't define "good" as "not making trouble" I would define "good" as "long-term viable". But my alignment is "lawful good", so I'm biased.

A helicopter is unstable, but you can fly the thing and get yourself someplace, so helicopters are "good" in my book (and really cool to fly).

As to whether or not a trickster makes the world a better place when he's done, I'm not so sure. Chaos is not long-term-viable if it isn't corrected by another force. A chaotic wind might nudge a helicopter in a direction, and if the pilot doesn't correct, a crash can result.

Chaos makes the engineer want to design a more robust helicopter, which is good. but I'd refer to chaos as a force of nature.

#83 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 02:03 PM:

I think chaos is pretty much equivalent to change. For example, wind is a chaotic thing because it causes change (by blowing things around). I know nothing about aerodynamics, but would it be possible to fly an airplane in an atmosphere with no air currents whatsoever?

"Long-term viable" is a comfortable kind of idea, but there is really no such thing. Everything changes all the time.

#84 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 02:28 PM:

any aircraft flies by moving air, so even if the air had no currents when the aircraft entered it, it'll be sloshing around as the aircraft is moving through it and after the aircraft is gone.

Long-term-viable doesn't mean no change. It simply means a system that survives long enough for the people who are interested in it.

When you're riding in the back of a helicopter or airplane, the ship may get into unstable or wildly changing conditions. But if you can land at your destination and walk away from it, it's "viable".

#85 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 02:35 PM:

defining "good" as "long-term-viable"
leads to my definition of "evil" as
"unsustainable" and/or "short sighted".

Chaos exists in both good and evil systems,
its just that a good system can sustain
itself in the face of chaos, whereas a
bad system must eventually collapse.

#86 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 02:59 PM:

I agree that evil is short-sighted.

It sounds like you're saying that a bad system is one that doesn't work or is badly designed. That's a very interesting convergence between morality and functionality - "it works, therefore it's good."

#87 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 03:00 PM:

I know you don't mean it that way, but that sounds like a snide comment about my life.

Granted, I'm still alive, somehow, but I honestly don't know what my next dose of chaos will do to my bank account.

#88 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 03:37 PM:

Teresa wrote:
I'll admit, I was wondering why you kept trying to apply structured analysis to an inherently chaotic game. Mafia's a live-action strategic board game. Thing's more like a cross between tag, Marco Polo, and blind man's bluff, played in the dark.

This was exactly the problem the Raging Twit guy I mentioned above had with our Worldcon game. He kept trying to argue with us that the game was broken because he didn't understand how to get the information needed to win. And when I say he kept trying to argue, he kept trying.

(Helpful Worldcon Tip #47: It is acceptable to think that a game is stupid. It is acceptable to not play the game again. It is not acceptable to rail for several minutes about a game that everyone else enjoyed, in a passionate effort to convince them they shouldn't have; nor, when they flee your presence, to follow them down the hall and out of the building shouting after them.

(Really. When the smiles become wooden, the walking gets faster, and the girls look at each other and giggle, that's just about time to shut up. Everyone really ought to pick that up as a general lesson in high school, well before they become scruffy thirtysomething fans.)

#89 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 03:52 PM:

I hope no one thought I was calling Thing stupid.
It's a very interesting game, reveals a
great deal about the alignment of the players,
reveals a great deal about your own personality
if you pay attention, and also happens to be
wildly chaotic and unstable.

But the same could be said about helicopters,
and I think helicopters are immensely cool too.

#90 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 05:06 PM:

I think chaos is pretty much equivalent to change.

I'm going to have to disagree, Laura: I don't think they're equivalent. If I take the stack of paperwork on my desk and file it into neatly labeled, relevant folders, I have changed the situation on my desk to a more ordered one. If instead I just throw more paperwork on the desk as it arrives in the mail, I have more chaos and very little in the way of change.

#91 ::: Joe Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 05:58 PM:

I think the charm of games like Thing and Mafia is that any basic logical analysis of the game mechanics yields so little information. If it could be boiled down to a number of logical rules, it would be much less interesting. Also, (at least for me) winning wasn't as much of a focus as having fun (and messing with people... "I don't care if he's mafia or not, I just want to kill him"). I think if people started playing it seriously, as in hard core "I'm playing to win," it would get old pretty quick.

#92 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 07:11 PM:

Hm, Teresa claims that her Thing strategy was
a sudden burst of insight that simply came to
her in the moment. However, some of her retail
products appear to reflect that she may have
understood the strategy of thinging someone
and turning them in, long before VPVIII. Quoting:

http://www.cafepress.com/nielsenhayden

"just because you're on their side,
doesn't mean they're on your side"

;)

#93 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2004, 07:50 PM:

Graydon: wrt character of Raven, at Westercon 44 Teresa called my attention to the sculpture of Raven doing (IIRC) some large-scale good for mankind -- I forget whether it was opening up the world or bringing fire into it. (De Lint had an interesting take in a novel a few years ago, in which Raven had become so paralyzed by responsibility/decision-making that he was uninvolved; the Crow Girls drove much of the action.) And some tricksters (e.g. Coyote) are merely chaotic stupid -- they \usually/ wind up hurting themselves, where a proper trickster wins sometimes.

Laura/Greg (re air currents and flying): when I was an active light-plane pilot (30 years ago) there was a raging debate over the claim that turning downwind was different from turning upwind even if you were high enough to be out of ground effect -- not in terms of how hard you had to turn to make a certain ground track but in terms of the turn itself. I found this even less believable after seeing that an airplane was in fact \in/ the air demonstrated: I flew through the same warm front several times in a morning and watched carefully-plotted courses go to pot.

It's interesting to see how people react to "chaotic"; IIRC, Moorcock popularized the term specifically to get away from good-and-evil in some of his early heroic fantasy. I favor tricksters despite having no skill at it myself; I agree with Arthur Clarke, who realized when he reworked Against the Fall of Night that he needed a trickster both to keep the eternal city from stagnating and to provide a plausible way out of it.

#94 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 08:45 AM:

I agree that evil is short-sighted. It sounds like you're saying that a bad system is one that doesn't work or is badly designed. That's a very interesting convergence between morality and functionality - "it works, therefore it's good."

Wouldn't this invalidate the idea of Hell?

#95 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 10:11 AM:

>> I agree that evil is short-sighted. It sounds
>> like you're saying that a bad system is one
>> that doesn't work or is badly designed. That's
>> a very interesting convergence between
>> morality and functionality - "it works,
>> therefore it's good."

>Wouldn't this invalidate the idea of Hell?

I'm not sure what you mean exactly.

I think it fits Satre's definition of hell
when he said "Hell is other people".

It might not jive with some religious versions
of hell, though. There is a school of thought
in christianity that believes hell is not
eternal damnation in flames, but rather a
place where souls are burned up and extinquished.

see Hinnom: A place for burning refuse in later
Israelite times, it provided imagery for a fiery
Hell in the Books of Isaiah and the New Testament

Some religions that believe in reincarnation
view the endless cycle of reincarnation as a
version of hell (Goundhog Day) and something to
be escaped.

So, it depends on which hell you speak of.

#96 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 10:54 AM:

Mris mused:

I'm going to have to disagree, Laura: I don't think they're equivalent. If I take the stack of paperwork on my desk and file it into neatly labeled, relevant folders, I have changed the situation on my desk to a more ordered one. If instead I just throw more paperwork on the desk as it arrives in the mail, I have more chaos and very little in the way of change.

I think it depends on your idea of 'chaos' vs 'order' :) I'd be inclined to think that all the paperwork ending up in the same place was 'order' - filed or not!

At any rate, it seems as though you're talking about chaos as a state, where Laura's talking about chaos as a process.

#97 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 11:01 AM:

Mris said:

If I take the stack of paperwork on my desk and file it into neatly labeled, relevant folders, I have changed the situation on my desk to a more ordered one.

Ah, I would call that an example of chaos allowing itself to be changed into order. And once you have achieved order, you're not going to change where things are filed.

Order is the final result, but often when I'm cleaning/tidying, I've observed that I have to make things more chaotic before they can be ordered again.

I was thinking yesterday, but didn't post, that chaos probably has a tendency to destroy itself. To put it another way, if Trickster ever managed to create complete chaos, s/he would most likely get bored of that and desire to restore order . . . just to have something to rebel against?

But this is all so subjective - one person's order is another person's chaos, etc. We're just playing games with words.

#98 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 11:04 AM:

Whoops, xeger got in there. Yes, I do seem to think of chaos as a process.

I'd be inclined to think that all the paperwork ending up in the same place was 'order' - filed or not!

Like I said, one person's order is another person's chaos : )

#99 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 11:09 AM:

"it works, therefore it's good."

Wouldn't this invalidate the idea of Hell?

I'm afraid I don't understand either. Unless you're saying that Hell is only for people who make mistakes?

If Hell is a place you get sent to as punishment, could you argue, "If anything that succeeds is good, then I don't deserve to be punished for any crimes that I successfully pulled off?"

#100 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 12:00 PM:

Oooh, chaos as a state or as a process, interesting. I never even saw that interpretation. chaos is always a process to me, not a state.

To help clarify, I'd change the definition of "good" to "long term sustainable". The word "viable" is open to interpretation, but "sustainable" conveys a fairly specific meaning.

This is a systems view of things, looking at the world as a process.

Evil would be either a system that is not sustainable or a force acting within a sustainable system that will cause it's collapse.

Systems are usually designed within limits. An aircraft can only take so many G forces before it breaks apart. A good airplane subjected to a really bad wind (like a tornado) will fall apart.

#101 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 01:35 PM:

So what happens when two systems, "good" in themselves, come into conflict? As in the case of one animal eating another.

If I can only sustain myself at your expense, am I automatically evil? What about my right to sustainability?

I see we're avoiding the issue of intention, too. The tornado doesn't intend to be evil. It's not even aware that it just crunched up that airplane.

#102 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 01:55 PM:

two systems coming together becomes another, bigger, system. An ecosystem with a balance of predators and prey, plants and herbivors, and all the trimmings is a good system in my book.

I was avoiding intent only because that's a second level. The first level is objective. Second level is subjective.

If the system isn't balanced physically, no amount of good intentions will save it. If the system is balanced physically, then you can look at intent and decide if that balances out as well.

self-defense is good, because it is long-term sustainable. If you have a chaotic individual running around with a gun shooting at people, then if the rest of the individuals act in self defense, the chaos is removed, and the system balances out again. Think of it as the tail of an airplane straightening the ship out after a gust blew it sideways.

Where intent comes into play is when you get a system which is physically long-term sustainable, but is subjectively "unfair". I can't think of a good example off the top of my head, but "The Lottery" is one. The population can handle losing one individual being stoned to death on a once-a-year basis. It can be sustained indefinitely. But subjectively, it is an abhorrent system.

#103 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 01:57 PM:

"I agree that evil is short-sighted. ...it works, therefore it's good."

Wouldn't this invalidate the idea of Hell?

What I mean, is that Hell shouldn't work according to that premise. Hell isn't good, and it is suppose to (at least according to some ideas) be run by evil. My understanding of what you are saying is that evil will eventually stop working--become ineffective.

Yet according to some religious traditions, Hell has been around for a long time, and will remain around for even longer. If Hell is truly run by people who are evil (i.e. if Satan/Lucifer/the Devil is evil) then the whole system should have fallen apart long ago.

My second thought was that the sentence "it works, therefore it's good" seems to say that hell is good (if we assume that it works properly).

In other words, for the quoted statements to be true, then hell would not be an evil place run by evil beings.

Or am I missing something here?

#104 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Getting back to Thing for a moment . . .

Can someone explain to me how, exactly, to play Thing? It seems a game everyone in my current circle would enjoy, and we have a large enough group, I think, to have a really interesting game.

How do you decide who's the first Thing? How does that Thing thing other people? How do you decide who's tested, and how often? What happens when someone tests positive for Thingness?

Is all of this written down somewhere in a buyable or downloadable format?

#105 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 02:19 PM:

Working backwards:

My second thought was that the sentence "it works, therefore it's good" seems to say that hell is good (if we assume that it works properly).

Yes, exactly. If hell works properly (functions as designed), then it's a good thing.

If Hell is truly run by people who are evil . . .

My personal interpretation would be that God allows Hell to exist, because bad people need a place to be punished in. I mean, people don't get sent to hell for no reason. If that's what you're into, punishment is good : )

It is also true, though, that the beings who run hell are described as evil . . . I think there is an error in logic there, but fortunately I don't believe in the Devil, so it's not my problem.

It sounds like Greg's definition of good and evil is not the one used by traditional religions, but that certainly doesn't make it wrong.

#106 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Yes, a source for rules for Thing, please. If only so I can say to my friends, "Thank you, Thing."

#107 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 02:29 PM:

Michelle pondered:
What I mean, is that Hell shouldn't work according to that premise. Hell isn't good, and it is suppose to (at least according to some ideas) be run by evil. My understanding of what you are saying is that evil will eventually stop working--become ineffective.

Well - the theory does seem to be that there will be a judgement day, and all things will come to an end, with an associated "all the evil things will perish" and "all the good things will exist forever".

Yet according to some religious traditions, Hell has been around for a long time, and will remain around for even longer. If Hell is truly run by people who are evil (i.e. if Satan/Lucifer/the Devil is evil) then the whole system should have fallen apart long ago.

Well - what's a long time? I mean - if we're talking about entities that consider the creation of the world to be a six day process, they clearly don't work on the same schedule as we do.

My second thought was that the sentence "it works, therefore it's good" seems to say that hell is good (if we assume that it works properly).

... and in a functional sense, that could well be true.

In other words, for the quoted statements to be true, then hell would not be an evil place run by evil beings.

Or am I missing something here?

I think you're missing something here. We're overloading 'good' and 'evil'.

We've defined 'good' as a system that works, and 'bad' as a system that doesn't - but there's a societal implication of 'good' and 'evil' as ethical judgements.

It's possible to have a system that's functionally 'good' and ethically 'evil' - or a system that's functionally dreadful, but has 'good' results (this brings to mind a chaos of elderly women knitting volumes of penguin sweaters for some reason).

Wandering a bit sideways, I seem to recall Lackey, having one of her characters describe evil as ultimate selfishness, which seems workable.

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 02:57 PM:

>Wouldn't this invalidate the idea of Hell?

>Hell isn't good, and it is suppose to (at least
>according to some ideas) be run by evil. My
>understanding of what you are saying is that
>evil will eventually stop working--become
>ineffective.

Ah, I think I understand your question.

The problem you're running into is that you're taking an approach whose priority is grounded in objectivity, certainty, and facts, and applying it to an idea (Hell) that cannot be measured, seen, probed, or tested.

When you give objectivity the priority in seeking knowledge, you generally arrive at a place of agnosticism: the existence or nonexistence of God, the Devil, Heaven, and Hell, can never be known one way or another with any certainty at all.

From this point of view, spirituality is a personal belief, a personal relationship between the individual and God.

So, the definition I gave for good/evil does not invalidate the concept of Hell. It's that the approach of objectivity says Hell is something of which you can never know anything with any certainty. If you believe in hell, that's fine. But it is outside the objective definition of Good and Evil.

#109 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 04:32 PM:

Wandering a bit sideways, I seem to recall Lackey, having one of her characters describe evil as ultimate selfishness, which seems workable.

I would define evil as anything that is false, or deceptive. If you design a system based on bad data, it will fail. That's "evil".

#110 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 04:44 PM:

how to play Thing.

get a referee and a group of players.
referee counts players, say 20. referee then takes a deck of cards and pulls out 3 black cards and 17 red cards. referee secretly hands out one card to each player, lets the player view them, and secretly collects them.

If player got a red card, they are a scientist.
if player got a black card, they are a thing.

Start of turn:

Daytime:

A player calls for a vote to test another player to see if they are a thing, and the rest of the players vote. if a majority vote is reached, the referee tests the player.

If the player is a thing, the player dies a horrible death.

if the player is a scientist, no harm is done.

The group as a whole gets to test two people per turn at a minimum. If the second person tested turns out to be a thing, they get to keep testing for things until they miss and test a scientist. (note this makes the game highly unstable)

Nighttime:

At night, all the players "go to sleep", which means they put their heads down, close their eyes, and hit their legs with their hands to make noise.

The referee then announces "all the things wake up".

The things lift their heads, open their eyes, and vote on which scientist to turn into a thing. The referee has to do this with no verbal cues from the things so as to keep the identity of the things secret. one approach is for the referee to run around the circle of players, and when the ref is behind the play to be thinged, the things all nod their head.

The referee then has to secretly inform the new thing that it has been turned into a thing. This is done by the referee running around in a circle and quietly nudging the player.

The referee then announces "morning comes and everyone wakes up".

End of turn.

At this point you have one more thing than you did during the previous turn. The players then have to decide who to test for thingedness.

Turns repeat until either all things are dead (scientists win), or things outnumber the scientests (things win).

#111 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 04:58 PM:

> I would define evil as anything that is false,
> or deceptive. If you design a system based on
> bad data, it will fail. That's "evil".

The problem with that is any transaction involving characters acting in their own best interest (i.e. any real-life situation) rewards deception.

Some situations can legislate the problem away. for example, it is illegal to turn the odometer back on a car.

Other situations are intractable. For example, it is impossible to legislate away a presidential candidate from putting their own spin on reality.

Still other situations may cast deception as good. Sun-Tzu said "All warfare is based on deception". And assuming you have a good cause for war (a big assumption, but work with me here) or use of force or self-defense, then deception is good if it means you're alive at the end of teh day.

camouflage is basic military deception and it can be used for good or evil.


#112 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 05:52 PM:

Greg, I was impressed by your catching the connection between one of my t-shirt slogans and the way I play Thing. When I came up with that line, it was the Republicans I had in mind, not evil soulless shapeshifting aliens.

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 06:38 PM:

Kali isn't particularly a manifestation of the Trickster archetype, to my way of thinking. When enemies try to kill Coyote, he humiliates them, escapes them cleverly, shits on them, whatever. Kali, on the other hand, tears their heads off, drinks their blood, and dances on their quivering corpses.

Yeah, Trickster has been known to kill his enemies. But the style is all different.

Trickster makes our lives and social rules etc. look as ridiculous as they really are...even though we need them, getting too attached to them is dangerous and stupid, and Trickster forces us to see that -- forces, because if we were willing we wouldn't need Him!

#114 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 06:38 PM:

President Bush announced today that he was displaying the coloration of a monarch only to avoid being eaten by birds. No intentional deception was involved.

In related news, Tony Blair denied that he had turreted eyes and a long, sticky tongue, after snatching a fly that was circling the Deputy Minister for "Coupling."

#115 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2004, 07:55 PM:

Thanks, Greg!

#116 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 02:00 PM:

Laura Roberts:
I would define evil as anything that is false, or deceptive. If you design a system based on bad data, it will fail. That's "evil".

So are stage magicians evil? What about fiction writers? The Blair Witch Project? The Tooth Fairy? A feint during a fencing match? Genetic algorithms? Religion? The game of Thing?

It's possible your definition could be the good start of a definition of evil, but you need to be more precise.

#117 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 02:02 PM:

Xeger:
Wandering a bit sideways, I seem to recall Lackey, having one of her characters describe evil as ultimate selfishness, which seems workable.

My favorite definition comes from Pratchett, via Granny Weatherwax, via Carpe Jugulum. Paraphrasing from memory:

"Evil begins when you start treating people as things."

#118 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 02:58 PM:

"Evil begins when you start treating people as things."

And insanity begins when you start treating things as people.

Unless you're an AI researcher.

#119 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Computer's should be treated as
chaotic-evil people.

That's not insane, it's self defense.

I prefer Al's definition of insanity:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
--Albert Einstein

"Stay the course" should be considered insane
especially if it has been repeatedly shown to
not produce a desirable result.

#120 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Greg London wrote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
--Albert Einstein

"Stay the course" should be considered insane
especially if it has been repeatedly shown to
not produce a desirable result.

I once had a Director (not quite a VP, but he had aspirations), who was on a grand old kick about repeatable processes with predictable outcomes. I often think of him as I repeat the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results.

[The example that comes immediately to mind - no matter how hard I try to get a certain motorcycle into a certain van, I will inevitably make it 2/3rds of the way up the ramp, before coming to a shuddering halt, making a valiant attempt to complete the sysyphean task, and then rolling back down the ramp. It is, however, a repeatable task with a predictable outcome.]

#121 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 04:18 PM:

I would define evil as anything that is false, or deceptive. If you design a system based on bad data, it will fail. That's "evil".

Attempting to clarify my definition . . . well, I would start by saying that self-deception is the most fundamentally evil type of deception. That is mostly what I had in mind.

Deception for entertainment purposes, such as the entertainment of people who go to see stage magicians or The Blair Witch Project is not evil, of course (but is anyone really deceived, or do they just suspend their disbelief?). Deceiving people for your own purposes of entertainment is not so nice, if they don't appreciate being deceived.

Deception for your own advantage, as in war or fencing . . . oh, well, this is when I start going, "Can't we all just get along?" More pragmatically, I think that the concept of "deceiving someone" carries with it the implication that the one being deceived is an easy mark, or a helpless victim.

We can ask, "Is it wrong to deceive people?" or we can ask, "Is it wrong to let yourself be deceived?" We do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves - failing in that is also IMO evil.

As for the question of whether or not fiction is "untrue" and therefore deceptive - oh no, I wouldn't say that at all. Somebody has talked about the difference between what's real and what's true. Good stories are true, even when they describe things that could never happen in the "real" world.

#122 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 04:35 PM:

Computers should be treated as chaotic-evil people.

If you meant that, as a worst case, you should assume that computers will act in the most chaotic-evil way, then I'd agree.

But they aren't really evil, I think, by any reasonable definition, since they (as yet) don't have intention at all.

And computers are among the most lawful things out there: they, by their very nature, can only act according to the set of rules given to them.

Geoff Landis's Laws of Robotics (with corrolaries):

First Law: A robot will do what it's instructed to do, no more and no less.

Corollaries to Geoffrey's first law of robotics:


  1. It doesn't care what you thought you said.
  2. The way in which the robot interprets instructions is up to the robot, not up to you.

Second Law: The language in which instructions are given to the robot is designed to be convenient to the robot, not you.

Corollaries to Geoffrey's second law of robotics:

1. Robots don't understand English.

2. If robots simulate understanding English, the English they understand is not the same as the English you speak.

3. If the language seems to be clear and straightforward to you, this is an illusion.

4. No matter how well-documented the language, some commands are undocumented.

5. The undocumented commands usually include "halt and catch fire."

Third Law: All consequences of the robot's actions are the responsibility of the programmer, not the robot. The robot doesn't know, or care, about consequences.

Corollaries to Geoffrey's third law of robotics:

1. Causing harm to a human, or through inaction causing a human to come to harm, is of no particular concern to the robot.

2. It doesn't care about whether it causes harm to itself, either.

3. Those "keep out" zones are there for a reason.

4. Artificial intelligence isn't.

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 06:06 PM:

Laura wrote
> Deception for your own advantage, as in war or
> fencing . . . oh, well, this is when I start
> going, "Can't we all just get along?"

Hm, well, you see, I believe that the community spirit of "cant we all get along" must be grounded in the reality of self-defense. This is distinct from supporting Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive strike. I'm talking about a subtler combination of yin and yang that achieves a balance. You cannot have the yin of "can't we all get along" without it being grounded in the yang of "self-interest". You cannot have a strong community without a counterbalance of strong individuals.

The problem, as I see it, is that individuals generally tend to one or the other side of the center-line. You'll see a community-minded-democrat (CMD), or a rugged-individualist-republican(RIR), and they see the other as the enemy, rather than as their missing half.

So, if you're a CMD talking to a RIR about something extremely emotional like the "war on terror", and you say something like "can't we all get along", the RIR will see you as soft on terrorism, will tell you thats how they feel about you, and you'll react by seeing the RIR as militaristic nut job.

I am utterly amazed that the Bush campaign has successfully maligned Kerry as soft on terrorism to the that Kerry has to come out and explicitely say he'll hunt down terrorists. Of course he will. The president's job as commander in chief is to protect the country.

But the reason the Republican smear works is because rugged-individuals are more likely to see community-mindedness as weak.

Kerry proposing that our military actions should hold up to a world standard sounds like weakness to a rugged-individual-republican.

The solution, as I see it, is to integrate community-minded and rugged-individual into every citizen, to balance yin with yang. And to be mindful of our natural tendancies to revert to one side or the other in times of crisis.

So it comes down to this: "cant we all get along" is fine when you're preaching to the choir, when you're preaching to other community-minded individuals. But if you want to convert any rugged-individuals to incorporate some community-minded notions into their way of thinking, you have to ground your community-based message such that it INCLUDES the world of a rugged individual.

This is basically what Kerry did when he said on the one hand that he will hunt down terrorists and on the other hand would do it in a way that meets the global standards of warfare.

All this is a very long-winded way of saying that if you want talk to your rugged-individual friend who is leaning towards Bush and convince them to vote for Kerry, you have to ground "can't we all get along" into the language of a rugged-individual.

tell your story in a way that is mindful of where the reader starts from.

#124 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 06:40 PM:

> But they aren't really evil, I think, by any
> reasonable definition, since they (as yet)
> don't have intention at all.

my objective definition of evil does not require intention. it only requires that the system be unsustainable. computers break and they don't correct themselves. I'm an electrical engineer and I've worked on computers that went into satellites and software that went into fly-by-wire computers in airliners. To make a "stable" computer system (one that handles chaos), you need three power supplies, three processors, three banks of memory, and three hard drives. You also need a lot of extra hardware to actively detect failures and correct or switch to good hardware. I've designed them and worked with them.

The computer on your desk is one stray glitch away from catastrophic failure, but "catastrophic" in that sense means you lose all your data and have to go buy a new one. In an airplane, catastrophic means people die.

> And computers are among the most lawful things
> out there: they, by their very nature, can
> only act according to the set of rules given
> to them.

they follow the laws of engineering and the laws of programming, but they are extremely chaotic as a system without the added expense of self-correction and self-healing.

Neutrons bouncing around near the surface of the earth can randomly invert bits while your computer is running. You'll see RAM for sale now commonly has ECC which is extra storage bits and logic so that it can detect a randomly flipped bit and automatically correct it.

but if a neutron or a glitch from the power company, flips a control bit in your processor, you're toast.

Harddrives and CD-ROMs are designed to handle scratches that cause permanent loss of data, but there are not immune. scratch the boot record in your hard drive badly enough, and you're toast.

So, view the PC on your desk as chaotic-neutral at best, or chaotic-evil if you've got some really important files. Back everything up to off-site storage. And if a virus hits you, your computer should be treated like a lawful-evil minion of Sauron.

Larger computer systems like the Internet are more stable and can survive random chaos. Individual computers can go down, but the system as a whole can pretty much keep running. But it still isn't perfect. The site you want can go down, and a lot of other things can happen that prevent you from doing what you want. So I'd probably describe the Internet as chaotic-good: long term sustainable, but not exactly dependable.

#125 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 09:22 PM:

Xeger: The example that comes immediately to mind - no matter how hard I try to get a certain motorcycle into a certain van, I will inevitably make it 2/3rds of the way up the ramp, before coming to a shuddering halt, making a valiant attempt to complete the sysyphean task, and then rolling back down the ramp. It is, however, a repeatable task with a predictable outcome.

Next time, duck your head under the doorframe.

#126 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 09:48 PM:

John Houghton pithily suggested:

Next time, duck your head under the doorframe.

I think a procrustean bed might have been more to the point.

#127 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 10:14 PM:

xeger: I think a procrustean bed might have been more to the point.

Last time I checked, no pickup offered a procrustean bed as an option. Is it aftermarket?

#128 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 11:07 PM:

Larry wonders:

Last time I checked, no pickup offered a procrustean bed as an option. Is it aftermarket?

Yes - I had to install the tie-downs myself!

#129 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2004, 11:24 PM:

Laura: Good stories are true, even when they describe things that could never happen in the "real" world.

"But it's all true, even if it didn't happen."
(last line of the prologue of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

#130 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2004, 01:58 AM:

Here's a fun slippery slope for writers:

Good=whatever feeds the book
Bad=whatever starves the book

#131 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2004, 06:15 PM:

I thought, in light of the writing exercises, VP VIIIers would find this especially piquant: Germans say they've find Luther's toilet, via Jerz's Literacy Weblog.

Ponder, if you please. Or pass. (Or, ah, vowel of your choice in that last unparenthetical word.)

#132 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:32 PM:

.
[Spam posted from 66.246.218.220]

#133 ::: joann sees not-quite spam at 132 ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:36 PM:

link is rather non-specifically corporate.

#134 ::: Carrie S. thinks #136 is spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 09:08 AM:

Though it does not appear to contain a link.

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