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On Political Correctness

[Editor’s note: In reprinting this 2007 essay we have taken the liberty of updating the original with the aim of making it more palatable to today’s college students.  We have taken care to remove language that, while acceptable at the time of writing according to the standards of the era, can no longer be tolerated in the post-post-modern, pluralistic, multicultural world in which we live currently.  If the author were still living, we are sure that s?he would have agreed with these minor editorial alterations, or at least with the good intentions with which these changes were made.  In any case, we are pleased to present this classic essay updated for today’s readers in a form that is free of TRIGGER WORDS, MICRO-AGGRESSIONS, and UNSAFE SPACES.]

On Political Correctness

An Essay

 

The.

 

[Reprints available from EP Studios, Inc.  Please send a SASE to the address below.]

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The Name of the Wind Review

TheNameoftheWind_coverI just spent about two months of my life trudging through Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and now look back at the experience with decidedly mixed feelings.  The e-book was 872 electronic pages long.  If you have read many e-books, you know that is a door-stop sized e-book.  And it is just volume 1 of a 3 book series.  There are long books that make for very brisk reading.  Unfortunately this is not one of those books.  Not much happens in all those pages.  Other shorter and probably more worthy books that I want to read have been piling up, patiently waiting for me to finish The Name of the Wind.  I am one of those poor souls who, once taking up a book, will finish it no matter what.  There have been enough occasions when a slow start turns into a terrific finish, so I hate to quit a book in the middle.  My policy on quitting a series of books is not so strict, however.  If an author can’t establish my interest in the first book of a series, than it’s time to move on to another author.

Regarding spoilers, I will just discuss the general structure of the book and some characters, but if you want to read the book without any foreknowledge, then stop reading this post now.  First of all, the book is not all bad.  It is Mr. Rothfuss’s first book and there are some very good parts to it.  Inside these 872 pages there is trapped a good 300 page fantasy novel.   The problem is that not much happens in those 872 pages.  The book is essentially one long flashback of the life history of the central character, a magician turned inn-keeper named Kvothe.  The start of the book is promising, with a group of bumpkins that could have come out of a Thomas Hardy novel sitting in Kvothe’s inn relating stories that hint of dark forces on the move: demons, black supernatural spiders, and so forth.  Kvothe is soon revealed to the reader as more than just an inn-keeper.  He has a deep past, which the reader will spend the rest of the book starting to explore (I suspect this is the subject of all 3 books).  He has a student named Bast who lives in the inn who is non-human and concerned that this teacher is just a shadow of his former self.  Along comes a chronicler named, aptly, Chronicler, whose job it is to write down Kvothe’s life story, which for some reason needs to be written down.  So the beginning of the book is just a frame to set up the autobiography of what might be one of the most insufferably annoying central characters of any book.

Kvothe experiences tragedy early in his life, is forced to live as a beggar for a while, eventually gets himself entry into a University that among other things teaches magic with eccentric professors, has a rivalry with a rich kid, meets a girl who constantly dumps him for superficial relationships with other men, and spends the book trying to find out about a group of evil beings known as the Chandrian who were responsible for the tragedy in his life.  There is much that is reminiscent of Hogwarts here though I have to admit this is coming from someone who has only read one Harry Potter book and seen just a few of the movies.   Anyway, Kvothe spends much of book trying to get into the University Archives from which he was banned early on because of a stupid action on his part in order to research the Chandrian so he can track them down, only to find the books in the Archives are indexed chaotically, so maybe it will take another 872 pages to find the right book.  So there is very little plot.  Things do happen, but much of it is uninteresting and there is little that drives the story forward.

Kvothe himself is fairly annoying.  Seemingly without much effort he is a master lute player, master magician, and generally just better than everyone else.  Nevertheless he spends the book impoverished, only occasionally translating his skills into material rewards.  His arrogance constantly gets him into trouble.  He is overly trusting and quite gullible for such a self-proclaimed genius.  And the great love of his life, Denna, just seems like a caricature of a superficial female, using her good looks to mooch off of men that she doesn’t really care about, and constantly walking off and abandoning our main character.  One wonders what he sees in her.   Other characters such as Wil and Sim, Kvothe’s student friends, are interchangeable, and Ambrose is a stereotypical school bully without redeeming qualities.  The female characters are mostly flat too.  Denna gets the most time on the page, but in not endearing at all.  Fela is present mostly to have someone to be rescued by Kvothe.  Auri is a half-mad former female student who lives in the sewers and admittedly is charming.  The other half-mad character, Professor Elodin, is also well-drawn and interesting.  But overall it is hard to get excited about a book when most of the main characters are self-centered and annoying.

As mentioned the book could have used a good editor.  Are editors a dying breed?  I have read many recently published books that have extra fluff that should have been cut out.   And I hate to be a grammar Nazi (that’s my wife’s job), but both the author and his editor need to review the principal parts and usage of the verbs lie and lay.  “He lay a firm hand on my shoulder…” (page 95) is not correct.  This error is repeated countless times in the book.  It is ironic because Rothfuss thanks in the Acknowledgments his high school English teacher.  I’m sure his teacher is proud of his student, but I can picture him shaking his head at some of the grammar.

So, will I read the remaining two books (only one of which is published so far)?  Maybe.  I’m curious how it turns out.  I would bet the second book is tighter than the first.  First novels are first novels, and, as someone who has never written a first novel, I can appreciate the accomplishment.   Meanwhile though, other books beckon me…

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2011 — The Year In Review

A whole day of 2011 has gone by.  So far 2011 has been very similar to 2010.  Shortly after midnight I went to sleep, after my daughter texted me a happy new year text.  I was awakened about 2 in the morning by the answering service, chastising me for not answering my pages.  I have occasionally slept through my pages, but when I checked my Droid, there had been no more pages since my daughter’s at 12:01 AM.  The answering service listed off 6 pages that they had sent out.  Apparently something was wrong with the paging system.  She sent out a test page.  It never reached me.  I went ahead and started calling back the pages.  The answering service called again: it seems that the other doctor on call for our group, Dr. A., also was not getting the pages.  I wondered if this was some kind of Y2K+11 problem, with the failure of the paging system the beginning of the end.  Surely civilization would collapse if the ability to send text messages was interrupted for any length of time!  Then, realizing that sirens were not going off around town, I concluded it was probably a more local problem.  Our group, Cardiovascular Associates, had been purchased by a large hospital system in town, Norton Health Care.  At the stroke of midnight, while on call, I had changed employers, and something had gone horribly wrong, causing the paging system to collapse.  After further careful bleary-eyed reflection, this too seemed fanciful.  Eventually I came to the conclusion that the reason for the failure of the paging system was that there was no reason for the failure of the paging system.  Just another random failure in the American Infrastructure!

So, the answering service called me directly instead of paging me all through the night, ensuring that my REM sleep cycle was interrupted as much as possible.  Today, the first day of the New Year, I trotted off to work, rounding on a lot of patients.  This afternoon and evening, the only time I am “off” during the long holiday weekend, I went to Whole Foods with wife and son, had some good food, spent a lot of money on good food (why does the natural stuff cost more than the genetically modified stuff?  It seems the opposite would be true).  I went to the Y with my son, worked out only 45 minutes because they closed at 7 PM, came home, checked my email, carefully avoided looking at my task list from work, got tired, and went back to bed early.  Had a tooth ache, woke up at midnight, took some aspirin, decided to have some herbal tea and toast, and … wrote this blog entry!

New Year’s resolution: Get more sleep! Happy New Year!

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What's It All About?

No, this entry is not the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (we already know that answer is 42).   I’ve noted (using awstats, a free web site statistics program), a bump in the number of hits on this blog site since my last entry which my friend and colleague, “Dr. John M,” cited in his own popular blog. If there are new readers of my blog (which apparently there are), I owe them an explanation as to what this blog is all about. The short answer is: things I am interested in. I am not a prolific blogger, like my friend John. I am lucky to produce an entry each month. Unlike John’s blog, this is not primarily a medical blog (nor am I a cyclist). It’s not that I am uninterested in medicine. Because I work in medicine it inevitably consumes 99.9% of my life, crowding out the other things that interest me. So when I have some precious free time, the last thing I want to think about is medicine.  To paraphrase Number 6 in The Prisoner: “I am not a doctor, I am a free man!” If I look back to my college days, I see how I transitioned from a truly liberal arts type individual to a doctor of medicine. When I entered college, my interests were, in no particular order, literature (especially science fiction and fantasy), classical languages, music, computers, and mathematics. By the time I was in medical school, some of these interests had been stamped out (mathematics and classics) and the rest had been marginalized to “hobby” status. My mathematical bent probably did survive in some fashion in the fact that I eventually went into one of the more analytical branches of medicine, cardiac electrophysiology.  It also survived in my interest in computers, though mathematics and computers are less related than most people realize.  My interest in computers resurged when in the early 1980s I purchased an Apple II computer and started hacking away again after a brief hiatus following college. My musical interests never waned, though they have been frustrated for the last several years here in Louisville, lacking a piano (I miss my Yamaha back in Colorado).  On the other hand, I have been able to watch and listen to more artists and music than I ever imagined thanks to the magic of YouTube!  Over time I have developed other interests, including politics, social issues, travel, religion, and history. So all these things are what I write about in this blog.

All of the above is an attempt to explain why on this blog you will see an article on the C++ programming language next to an article on harmony in Rachmaninoff next to an article on the 1960s TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Douglas Hofstadter in his book “I am a Strange Loop” makes an argument that your consciousness persists in a real way in the minds of others who remember you even after your physical demise. Mathematician and cyberpunk science fiction author Rudy Rucker created the concept of a “lifebox” which digitally stores all your interests and memories (your lifestory) hyperlinked together, to the point that the lifebox is almost a simulation of you. I don’t think a weblog is anything close to his concept, but I do think that there is a quest for persistence that drives us to leave little digital pieces of ourselves out on the web for others to examine.

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Panera Wants My Phone Number

Like so many other businesses, the coffee/pastry chain Panera Bread has launched a rewards card program.  I was given the card a week or so ago and was told I needed to register it online.  When I went to the website there was a form requesting a whole slew of personal info: address, phone numbers, email, etc.  I thought about all the other businesses that have collected the same info over the years, who have then sold that data to yet other unknown people, and so on.  Taking a bold stand for privacy, I decided not to fill out the registration form.  There used to be a little card that they gave you at Panera.  It would be stamped each time you bought something there and when you had 10 stamps you got a free pastry.  No personal info exchanged.  Apparently this kind of system is not good enough anymore.  Panera needs my phone number!  Today when I went there to buy a coffee and pastry the cashier asked me if I had a rewards card.  I said I hadn’t registered it.  She told me I could have gotten a free pastry if I had the card.  So… should I sell my privacy for a pastry?  Maybe I should just pay for the pastry.

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Hello world!

This is the brand-new EP Studios weblog.  Some actual content is coming soon.  Please feel free to comment on any issues relating to EP, software, computers, politics or anything else.  EP Studios is a pretty laid-back company, in addition to being a pretty small company, so the opinions expressed here actually do reflect the opinions of EP Studios!