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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Post #390 - Right Wing Book Review

And most of them are well-thought out drivel. Back when I had some limited amount of traffic, I produced better material.

Well, I hope no one's dying for the next Tales of the Cypherpunk. My PC isn't connecting to the internet lately, and I don't remember to post when I'm hunched over this laptop. This laptop, by the way, is the best 1000$US I ever spent. The past few days it's been on continuously, sucking down anime and... um... anyway, I got a new 500 GB external drive, so that should accomodate me for the forseeable future.

Book Review Starts Here--------

"The Gospel According to Larry" by Janet Tashjian is slightly amusing. I pulled it off the bookshelf at random and read the entire thing, just now, while standing up. The protagonist is a 17-year old pseudointellectual with an IQ around 135, I guesstimate, and specific intelligence ratings somewhat higher in mathematics and such. The book doesn't say that, but I'm pretty good at estimating these things.

The author, of course, might be in the 115 range. Hard to say on that one; She's put years of work into her craft, and you can't use skill to judge intelligence. Although, the nature of consciousness isn't really understood, so let me say more on that. Is an uneducated genius really "smarter" than a mathematician who can solve 43 different problems with only the Fourier series? There are basic physiological aspects of the brain and corresponding mental processes. For example, the nature of electrical resistance and the teensy variations in individual chemistry tell us that some people probably, simply, think faster than others. Is there a measurable difference? I don't know, but my own thoughts vary in speed significantly depending on my mood and the time of day. So a creative genius might well be a slower thinker than Billy Bob the fighter jock.

Then there are higher-level processes, such as the ability to call up associations to pieces of information and then store knowledge effectively. These things can be improved with experience and conscious effort, but can some people simply bring up more associations at one time? Generally, a person can remember five positions on a chess board after seeing it for a few seconds; a grandmaster can remember five "clusters" of pieces, potentially covering the entire board. This is due to experience, rather than greater memory per se. On the other hand, even a rank amateur like myself can memorize the current layout of the board as well as all the moves made, as long as I'm the one playing the game. It is a matter of allowing enough time and attention. Some savants, like this guy, can remember vast numbers of details in a short period of time, presumably because there is a fundamental difference in some physical aspect of his brain. However, I think, based on observation, that his basic method is the same as the one that allows me to play chess by calling out numbers. (Not that I can ever find anyone willing to play chess without a board. I've only done it once. When I was about 16, I met a Russian expatriat hacker and we played two games. He won won, and I almost won one but stupidly allowed a draw. Well, neither of us were that great at chess to begin with.)

And then there is the system of logic, thought patterns, knowledge, skills, and beliefs that are the accessories of the conscious mind. They are not "intelligence" per se, are they? I refer to that set of things as my "Tao" and the brain running them as "hardware." Silly, but whatever. The Tao is easier to improve.

Back to the book review. The 17 year old protagonist adopts the standard pseudointellectual tropes about third world workers' rights and anticonsumerism. He writes a blog about it (in 2000, before every lolicon on the internet had one). He becomes famous due to Bono of U2 fame googling his site, and his real identity is exposed by some harridan known by the screenname "betagold." The ensuing orgy of celebrity worship runs counter to everything he believes in and he eventually fakes his own death. Oh, and his lack of romantic success is pretty much more of the same.

I wouldn't normally give out so many spoilers about the plot, but I am NOT recommending you read this book. I just wanted to talk about some things related to the book. That's what makes Ethermind(TM) so delightful.

It bothers me slightly that when an author tries to portray a character more intelligent than herself, he comes out as a commie. Now, the kid is still in high school- he graduates in the course of the book- and so yes, communist propaganda is what he has mostly been exposed to. He has, apparently, no real knowledge of anything except Dr. Seuss and the ramlings of H.D. Thoreau, yet he is able to concoct a workable scheme to fake his own death. Apparently, in the mind of the author, geniuses are driven to read the dictionary and check out math books from the library compulsively. Oh, and multiplication is an interesting pastime to them. Oh, and Princeton is a good university. I kid - I'm sure that east coast pseudointellectual commie teenagers adore Princeton. Feh.

There are plenty of other stylistic and believability nits to pick, but it really wasn't a bad book. It's just patently obvious that the author knows nothing about the topics she's writing about (except for the inept high school romance and the oh-so-original "I'm an author and I am publishing this nonfictional account on behalf of the real author" endnotes). I just can't figure out if she intended for me to despise the main character this much. I was actually happy at his misfortunes. Maybe he'll learn something.

Oddly for a book about a philosopher, it contained absolutely no philosophy. Well, it wouldn't be so odd except that the tenets of his philosophy became major themes of the narrative. And yet he never makes any attempt to justify or explicate his inane positions. They're basically opinions that he picked up from history class, or so I am forced to conclude. The thing is, anyone with actual, rather than fictional, high intelligence knows that international trade and human rights aren't matters of personal opinion in that sense. Opinions exist because there is not a definitive proof for the correct course of action in most fields, but these are not opinions based on emotion and what seems right at the time. Vast amounts of empirical study and theorizing went into forming them.

Well, it's hard to tell what exactly the author thinks of all this, but I'm inclined to believe that she's as naive as her protagonist.

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