Lludd and Llefelys

Lludd and Llefelys, one of the medieval Welsh tales collected in the Mabinogion, is a vision of the internet. In fact, it describes the internet twice. Here, a terrible plague has settled on Britain: the arrival of the Coraniaid, an invincible supernatural enemy. What makes the Coraniaid so dangerous is their incredibly sharp hearing. They can hear everything that’s said, everywhere on the island, even a whisper hundreds of miles away. They already know the details of every plot against them. People have stopped talking; it’s the only way to stay safe. To defeat them, the brothers Lludd and Llefelys start speaking to each other through a brass horn, which protects their words. Today, we’d call it encryption. But this horn contains a demon; whatever you speak into it, the words that come out are always cruel and hostile. This medium turns the brothers against each other; it’s a communications device that makes them more alone. In the story, the brothers get rid of the demon by washing out the horn with wine. I’m not so sure we can do that today: the horn and its demon are one and the same thing.”

Sam Kriss, “The Internet is Made of Demons.” Damage Magazine. April 21, 2022.

Interesting metaphor.

The Good Guy/Bad Guy Myth

“Less discussed is the historic shift that altered the nature of so many of our modern retellings of folklore, to wit: the idea that people on opposite sides of conflicts have different moral qualities, and fight over their values. That shift lies in the good guy/bad guy dichotomy, where people no longer fight over who gets dinner, or who gets Helen of Troy, but over who gets to change or improve society’s values. Good guys stand up for what they believe in, and are willing to die for a cause. This trope is so omnipresent in our modern stories, movies, books, even our political metaphors, that it is sometimes difficult to see how new it is, or how bizarre it looks, considered in light of either ethics or storytelling…

When I talked with Andrea Pitzer, the author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps (2017), about the rise of the idea that people on opposite sides of conflicts have different moral qualities, she told me: ‘Three inventions collided to make concentration camps possible: barbed wire, automatic weapons, and the belief that whole categories of people should be locked up.’ When we read, watch and tell stories of good guys warring against bad guys, we are essentially persuading ourselves that our opponents would not be fighting us, indeed they would not be on the other team at all, if they had any loyalty or valued human life. In short, we are rehearsing the idea that moral qualities belong to categories of people rather than individuals. It is the Grimms’ and von Herder’s vision taken to its logical nationalist conclusion that implies that ‘categories of people should be locked up’.”

-Marina Benjamin, “The good guy/bad guy myth.” Aeon. January 29, 2018

Directive

Beginning of a six-part fiction series about a man working completely alone aboard a spaceship bound for a new planet. His fellow passengers will remain cryogenically frozen for the 20 years it will take for the ship to reach its destination; Frank’s work is to maintain the environment and make sure all is proceeding as it should. Despite his solitude, the show is actually a dialogue between Frank and Casper, the spaceship’s AI. They have an abrasive, dependent relationship, and the progression of the series made me think a lot about where our current interactions with AI tech might lead (12m38s).”

—”Hebrew, Frozen, Dark.” TheListener.co. September 19, 2019.

Why Fiction Trumps Truth

“When it comes to uniting people around a common story, fiction actually enjoys three inherent advantages over the truth. First, whereas the truth is universal, fictions tend to be local. Consequently if we want to distinguish our tribe from foreigners, a fictional story will serve as a far better identity marker than a true story…

…The second huge advantage of fiction over truth has to do with the handicap principle, which says that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler. Otherwise, they can easily be faked by cheaters…

…Third, and most important, the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you.”

—Yuval Noah Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth.” The New York Times. May 24, 2019.

Gratuities at Your Discretion

“Opera is, in fact, a quite close cousin to video gaming or porn, in that the storytelling really is not much more than an excuse for a bunch of insanely gifted singers to belt out a succession of heart-rending crowd-pleaser torch songs. Ditto, to some extent, Shakespeare – let’s face it, you’re not at a production of Lear or Othello or Macbeth to see how the story comes out. You’re in it for the visceral thrill of the language, the delivery of soliloquies and declamations, the soaring, gut-wrenching sight of those time-worn characters getting wrung out and destroyed in iambic pentameter glory. But no-one talks about gratuitous chunks of metered verse, or gratuitous extended melodic range, because to do so would force a reassessment of what’s really going on. You’d get short shrift if, like me, you bellyached about all the gratuitous singing and dancing in a Bollywood movie – that’s part of the conventions of the form, you’d be told. You have to tune up, you have to take a more culturally sophisticated approach to these things.

Damn straight, we do.

All of us.”

—Richard K. Morgan, “Gratuities at Your Discretion.” RichardKMorgan.com. April 5, 2016.

The Minto Pyramid Principle for Writing

Barbara Minto‘s “The Minto Pyramid Principle” is a how-to guide for writing concise reports in a management consulting firm that has been around for years. I wrote a one sheet summary of her book over a decade ago that I still sometimes find to be a useful aid for writing. While it might be overkill for most writing we do, it is still a useful reference.

First Things First, Subject/Predicate

  1. What is the subject you are writing about?
  2. What is the question you are answering in the reader’s mind about the subject?
  3. What is the answer?

Make It a Story

  1. What is a situation where the Subject/Predicate can be illustrated?
  2. What problems complicate the situation?
  3. Do the question and answer still follow?

Find The Key Line or Take-Away

  1. What new question is raised by the answer?
  2. Will you answer it, inductively or deductively?
  3. If you answer inductively, what is your plural noun?

Always Do

  1. Dramatize the main idea using imagery.
  2. Imagine a doer – for analysis and writing.
  3. List all the points you want to make, then find relationships.

Rules

  1. Ideas at any level must always be summaries of the ideas below.
  2. Ideas in each grouping must always be the same kind of idea.
  3. Ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered.

For Beginners

  1. Always try top down first.
  2. Use the Situation for thinking through the introduction.
  3. Don’t omit to think through the introduction.
  4. Always put historical chronology in the introduction.
  5. Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.
  6. Be sure to support all key line points.

Initial Questions

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Where does it lie?
  3. Why does it exist?
  4. What could we do about it?
  5. What should we do about it?

Introductions/Openings

  1. Introductions are meant to remind not inform.
  2. They should contain the three story elements.
  3. Length of introduction depends on reader and subject.

Headings

  1. Never use only one element for a heading.
  2. Show parallel ideas in parallel form.
  3. Limit to the essence of thought.
  4. Don’t regard headings as part of the text
  5. Introduce each group of headings.
  6. Don’t overdo.

Critical Focus

  1. Question the order in a grouping – time, structure, or ranking.
  2. Question source(s) used in the problem solving process.
  3. Question the summary statement.
  4. Question your expression.

Structures for Evaluation

  1. Financial structure – consider strictly financial issues.
  2. Task structure – focus on how work gets done.
  3. Activity structure – focus on what needs to happen to create problem.
  4. Choice structure – bifurcate choices.
  5. Sequential structure – combination choice and activity structure.