Friday, September 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes vol. 37

Still hosted by Conversion Diary, which is the reason I now regret giving back my parents' XM radio.

1.       It’s been so long since I’ve done these that I’m tempted to just tear down and start over. That happens kind of a lot. I’ve made several attempts to restart the series, but I kept getting distracted while deciding what to include and then forgetting to finish. I do most of these at work, you see, so when an actual, you know, assignment comes across my desk I kind of have to drop blogging and do it. Often that leads me to other things I need to do, at least one of which will make me want to walk out the door and start that rattlesnake sanctuary I’ve always dreamed of. If nothing else, the temperamental printer or my stroke-inclined computer will be sure to do the trick if they think I’m enjoying myself too much.

2.       Still working on finding other jobs (around Michigan now: no longer moving to Texas). I just applied to one that I really hope I get, but I won’t say anymore because I highly doubt I will (lack of retail experience, you see). It does, however, encourage me to look more into that particular field for other possible jobs, because I think I’d really like that sort of thing, and might be pretty darn good at it. More later.

3.       Writing wise, I’m slowly slogging my way through The Order of the Rattlesnake: a book about a secret society of knights battling witches in the modern day. The idea behind it was partly because I wanted to try my hand at a young adult book (so of course it features horrible murders, heavily-implied rape, and sociopathy, because apparently I have a horribly dark imagination) and partly because of a comment I found on John C. Wright’s blog (highly recommended, btw). I don’t remember which post is was from, but it ran:

“But I have to say, what I’ve found is that the ideas [in modern fantasy] mainly boil down to “They say witches are evil – BUT THEY’RE NOT! They say vampires are evil – BUT THEY’RE NOT! They say werewolves are evil – BUT THEY’RE NOT!” and so on.”

And so I decided “I’m going to do the complete opposite: I’m going to make this about knights vs. witches in which the witches are actually every bit as bad as they’re made out.” We’ve had quite enough of these “OMG! Vampires are totally innocent victims!” stories: time to start nudging things back a bit. My witches are really evil and magic is a very bad thing.

4.       This has been a really staggering year for film-industry deaths: Shirley Temple, Bob Hoskins, Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall (the last of the Golden Age Hollywood stars), and now the mighty Richard Kiel. Kiel is, of course, most famous for playing the beloved Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker: one of the two essential Bond henchmen (the other, of course, being Harold Sakata’s Oddjob), though he had many, many other roles during his long career (several of which ended up on MST3K). His most famous role apart from the Bond films was probably as the intimidating alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man (“That sounds encouraging!”). Like many actors famed for playing bad guys, Kiel was by all-accounts a good-natured soul and was a fervent evangelical Christian. As something of a cinephile, I’ve always had especial fondness for working actors like Kiel, and his intimidating presence will be missed. May eternal light shine upon him, and may he rest in peace.

5.       Problems I don’t think normal people have: I’m in the market for a gas-mask, but I can’t find one that will fit over my glasses. I plan on checking out a nearby Army surplus store to see what they’ve got (Why am I in the market for a gas mask? You read the same news I do, right?).

6.       I note that some people seem to consider the Charley Chan movies racist. I’m really not sure what hateful racial stereotype is advanced by having a courageous, polite Oriental gentleman travelling around the world out-witting predominantly white opponents.

7.       Sign on the entrance to REI: “Service animals only.”
Me: “You can’t bring animals in here! This is an outdoors store!”  

Vivat Christus Rex!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Diversity

                Yesterday, my office had its annual ‘diversity training,’ in which the message ‘don’t be rude to people just because they are superficially different than you’ was clumsily presented for our consideration. Because, I guess, if we somehow missed the message that every piece of media in this country has been screaming at us for the past few decades, an hour’s review of company policy will do the trick.
                Okay, to be fair, if you do encounter actually discriminatory behavior, it’s good to know the procedure for dealing with it internally.
                Another valuable lesson we learned is that Orientals are stupid. No, seriously; that’s the takeaway. They explained that stereotypes are always ‘wrong’ and that one stereotype is that Oriental people are smart. So, apparently, to avoid that harmful stereotype, we must assume they are stupid. Diversity ftw!
                On that subject, one of the videos they showed us was a brief clip of a talk being given by a charismatic gentleman from Vietnam. For the first part of the video, he spoke with a very thick ‘Asian’ accent, only to switch to perfectly normal English for the second part. We were then asked to consider why we assumed an Oriental person would speak with an Oriental accent.
                I pointed out that we assumed he spoke with an accent because he was, in fact, speaking with an accent. Apparently, proper diversity means assuming that anyone with an accent is faking it in an attempt to be amusing. At least, I can’t conceive any other lesson to take from the video (I was told that we weren’t supposed to think about it that deeply. Alrighty then).
                The whole ‘diversity’ thing rubs me the wrong way, and not just because in practical terms it usually translates to “confess your blood guilt, white-Christian-male!” In the first place, I need to point out that ‘diversity’ is not a noun of value. ‘Diversity’ is not positive and ‘uniformity’ negative, as ‘strength’ is positive and ‘weakness’ is negative, or ‘beauty’ is positive and ‘ugliness’ is negative. The mere fact of being diverse does not make a thing better or worse in any way.
                For instance, imagine two groups of six executives: one is comprised entirely of white men. The other has one white man, one black man, one Oriental woman, one Indian woman, one Hispanic homosexual man, and one Jewish homosexual woman. Only with the information provided, can you tell me which group is likely to come up with a more profitable idea than the other?
                Of course not! Because none of the factors listed are remotely relevant to the task at hand. For all we know, the ‘uniform’ group is made up of Nobel Prize nominees and Mensa members, while the ‘diverse’ group is comprised of a variety of deadbeat executive offspring riding high on a wave of nepotism. Or the reverse could be true, and the diverse group could be comprised entirely of geniuses (except the Oriental woman of course, because that would be a hateful stereotype) while the uniform group was made up of janitors from a special needs work program who snuck into the executive office on a whim.
                You simply don’t know. ‘Diversity’ tells you nothing about a person’s skills, interests, education, background, intelligence, thought-process, experience, integrity, or any other element that actually matters in business or society.
                Incidentally, it doesn’t even give you an idea of how truly diverse a group actually is. For all we know, the group containing the white man, black man, Oriental woman, etc. all grew up in the same town, went to the same college, subscribes to the same beliefs, vote for the same candidates, watch the same shows, and eat at the same restaurant. The only thing you know about them is that they all come from different ancestors (and two of them have different sexual habits). The group may be, in fact, as bland and uniform as drywall, once you get passed the superficial facts of sex and skin color.
                On the other hand, the group comprised entirely of white men may include one man who is an ex-Belgian Special Forces Commando haunted by the terrible things he had to do in Zaire, another man who spent twenty years in Greenpeace until he was kidnapped by a drug cartel, had his left thumb chopped off and mailed to his family, then escaped by tearing a guard’s throat out with his teeth, another man who was an Olympic curling champion from Miami despite the fact that he lost his left eye in a training accident and who regularly volunteers at children's hospitals, another who is struggling to decide between his love for the curling champion’s daughter and his dedication to the Buddhist way of radical detachment, another who was born in the Alaskan frontier where he killed and ate his first grizzly at the age of five, and another who graduated from Harvard business school.
                My point isn’t that ‘diversity,’ as it is generally thought of by our current society, is bad. My point is that it’s not good. It simply doesn’t matter. No group, no organization, no community is better or worse for having members showcasing a wide variety of different ethnic and religious groups. Diversity, as we generally think of it, is neither an advantage nor a defect; only superficial nonsense. It’s a big fuss over nothing.
                Though, I must add that I think if it does have any moral character, it must be a bad one. Focusing on diversity necessarily means emphasizing the various boxes people can be imagined to fit into, and though the ostensible point is to encourage us to look beyond these boxes, I think the practical upshot is more often that the habit of lumping people together into faceless categories is reinforced. I heartily agree with Justice Clarence Thomas in his assessment that it makes no sense to try to get beyond issues of race by constantly talking about it and emphasizing it. I mean, does it really help us look beyond differences in appearance and ancestry by making the presence of such differences a major selling point of your organization? “Look at how many blacks and Hispanics and women we have! Now if you make an issue of their sex or race, we’ll fire your ass. Isn’t it great to work in such diverse company?”
                With regards to corporations, the only thing that should matter is a person’s qualification for the position, not an eager desire to be ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive.’ If you end up with all white men, or all black men, or all Orientals (blindly advancing the racist stereotype of their vast brain power in the process), then so what? As long as you select for qualifications and no other reason, you haven’t done anything wrong.
                With regards to people, there’s a largely-forgotten notion that encompasses all you need to know to navigate a diverse community: ‘courtesy.’ Just be polite, for goodness' sake! Don’t try to list all the different boxes of people you can think of and resolve to acknowledge their ‘okayness:’ just learn your manners and use them. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Don’t think about what box a person may or may not fit into, just be polite and courteous.
                Personally, I have all the social skills of an autistic rat snake, so I’m probably not the best person to be offering advice on this point. But it seems to me that all this talk of diversity and inclusiveness which is drilled into our heads over and over and OVER again is not only clumsy, ill-conceived, and often counterproductive, but unnecessary. Why go through all the complex sorting of people into a variety of different categories and then explaining how those categories are used against them, and then emphasizing that you really shouldn’t do the thing we just spent ten minutes going over? Instead, just say something like “this is the way a gentleman treats others. This company only employs gentlemen.”
                This policy worked well for Robert E. Lee. Do you think you know better than Robert E. Lee? (dials) "Hello? State of Virginia? I'd like to inform you of someone who hates Robert E. Lee. Yes, I'll hold for the National Guard."  

“We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman…what do you mean I’m fired? I only said Mr. Sakura showed great intelligence…'racial slur'?!”

Vivat Christus Rex!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Today...

Feeling…Lonely. For those who don’t know, most of my contact with friends is via e-mail, and right now I’m in one of those ‘between’ stages where I’ve emailed most of them, but haven’t started getting any replies. Meanwhile, my best friend has been stuck working for the past few weekends, my own job happily sucks the life out of me like a gourmet vampire, my favorite blogs haven’t had any major updates lately, and I’m experiencing a slight crash from gorging on romantic fiction (okay, mostly Teen Titans and Monster Hunter International, but those are the kinds of romances that really get to me: the kind with super-powers, monsters, and lots of explosions. Not to mention brainy-brunettes and super-sweet redheads. Sigh…).

Seeing…My cluttered work desk. At least I’m supposed to get rid of that stupid nameless package that’s been sitting there for over a week waiting for someone to claim it today.

Smelling…My own coffee-breath. One of the reasons I got hooked on coffee was because I like the scent of it on my breath. Of course, this is really bad work coffee, but still.

Tasting…The aforementioned really-bad work coffee.

Listening…To the lawn guy working the weed-whacker.

Grateful…For a very nice weekend during which I got more of a handle on where I want my life to go and started hashing out some specific goals. Not too specific, but I’ll work on that. Plus I got to see my parents experience The Lego Movie for the first time. Enjoying people’s discovery of things I already love is one of my favorite things.

Hopeful…That I’ll continue to get a handle on my life. And, of course, that I’ll start getting some emails soon. And that I’ll find another job soon.

Reading…The Crusades by Hillaire Belloc, Le Mort d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory, and Monster Hunter Legion by Larry Correia (not sure why I’ve suddenly decided to re-read the first couple Monster Hunter books: I just kind of started doing it after finishing the latest entry in the series).

Working on…The Order of the Rattlesnake: about a teenager who discovers that orders of knights work in secret against clans of evil witches in the modern world, battling monsters and sorcery with nothing but sword, shield, and prayer (sort of a reverse-Harry Potter kind of deal, where the young hero is inducted into a secret world dedicated to fighting magic). I’m not sure how happy I am with it at the moment: I love some of the characters (the heroine is a cheerfully politically-incorrect Sioux and one of the hero’s mentors is a sociopathic priest), but the story isn’t quite grabbing me (though that might be the aforementioned loneliness and soul-sucking talking). Anyway, I’ll probably keep working on it for a while, then I might switch to something else.  Oh, and starting to blog again, obviously.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, May 2, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 36

1.       So, been a long time since I’ve blogged at all. Kind of a lot going on:

2.       I’m actually getting writing gigs now. I’m writing for a group called ‘Freedom Kids’ which is all about getting kids interested in history and using it to teach American Values. There were some creative differences for a while which made me wonder whether I should keep going, but those seem to have been straightened out and they say they loved my first ‘official’ story for them, so that’s good.

3.       Also may have a job writing shortish (10-12 K words) stories for a guy in Prague (!). I’ve sent him my signed contract, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet, so I’m not quite sure of the state of that one. In any case, I’ve started work on my first story for him.

4.       For that, and for a short story contest that caught my eye, I’ve developed a new fictional universe (that’s, what, six now? I’ve really gotta start knocking these off) involving the End of the World and what happens after. Naturally, what happens after involves giant snakes (I think I have one, maybe two fiction ideas that don’t involve giant snakes in some way. What can I say? I like snakes), giant mutant insect monsters, and a lot of pseudo-western type elements. Oh, and Michigan gets transformed into a Mordor-like evil empire (insert ‘Detroit’ joke here).

5.       I had been planning on going down to Houston next week to do some on-the-spot job hunting, but that has now been pushed back to two weeks from Monday. There are a number of reasons for this (my intensely frustrating last-minute attempts to book a flight were kind of the catalyst), but primarily it’s because I’ve suddenly taken my career search in a new direction and want to work more on that before I go down. It came about when I suddenly realized “wait a second: I’m a moderately intelligent, college grad with three years professional experience under my belt; why am I looking at retail jobs?”

6.       My chief area of focus right now are zoos, because come on; how cool would it be to work at a zoo? So cool that I even applied for what, effectively, was the same type of job I have now (which would be a lot more interesting if I could make ‘feeding people to the crocodile’ jokes). I actually applied for a position at the Houston Zoo Reptile House, but that’s probably a long shot, since I don’t have a natural science degree or any real experience handling venomous animals. Still, can’t hurt to try.

7.       Quote:
“Have you ever heard of some fellows who first came over to this country? You know what they found? They found a howling wilderness, with summers too hot and winters freezing, and they also found some unpleasant little characters who painted their faces. Do you think these pioneers filled out form number X6277 and sent in a report saying the Indians were a little unreasonable? Did they have insurance for their old age, for their crops, for their homes? They did not! They looked at the land, and the forest, and the rivers. They looked at their wives, their kids and their houses, and then they looked up at the sky and they said, ‘Thanks, God, we’ll take it from here.’”
-John Wayne, Without Reservations

Vivat Christus Rex!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today

Today:

First time joining in on this.

Feeling: Excitedly overwhelmed by the fact that I actually have an actual paid writing gig with deadlines and everything! And that I have to respond about another potential one (with some guy in Prague). And resentful that I have this job eating up so much time and energy every day.

Smelling: The lobby and my own coffee-breath. Sorry, not much to smell here.

Tasting: Coffee! Coffee coffee coffee. Made a perfect sized batch this morning: none went down the drain! I have a tendency to over-do things, and my instinct is to make eight-twelve cups of coffee and use it for the next couple days. I’ve been trying to improve on that lately, and it’s satisfying to have just enough. Anyway, at least I can drink my coffee instead of work coffee (which is repulsive, but necessary).

Listening: To the screaming of the wind (Country Music fans: Blown Away has been a staple of my listening diet lately, mostly because the lyrics put me in mind of the upcoming Godzilla movie). We’ve got quite the storm going on at the moment, and the building is creaking ominously. Of course, I can’t quite enjoy it as much at work, but at least I’m in the lobby with a huge window to watch. Also listening to that stupid video-advertisement that plays continuously in the lobby.

Grateful: You read the first bit about the writing gigs, right?

Reading: Lord of the Rings. Missed last year, for the first time in forever. Also perusing The Temperament God Gave You repeatedly for Melancholic life tips and slowly making my way through Introduction to the Devout Life again. Oh, and also listening to On Stranger Tides.

Loving: The photo Masha posted of my adorable niece and her dog united against her (Masha). That, and the fact that I now remember what ‘warm weather’ feels like.

Hoping: To find that new job I’m looking for in Texas.

Working on: Writing gigs. Specifically, forging better work habits, since mine are currently, to put it bluntly, atrocious. Also, being better about not letting little annoyances (like my slow and jerky work computer) get to me.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why the 99% Failure Rate in Publishing

I found the following at the excellent John C. Wright's Blog and thought it was pretty funny.

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

1. Author is functionally illiterate.

2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.

3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.

4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.

5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.

6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.

7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

8. It’s nice that the author is working on his problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.

9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.

10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.

12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

14. Buy this book.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday vol. 35

Let's pretend I posted this yesterday, Conversion Diary readers.

1.     As you know, I wasn’t all that impressed with Frozen. I confess, however, that I have been listening to Let It Go incessantly for the past couple weeks. The thing is like crack for your ears! I would, however, like to reiterate that the ending is terrible; a limp, dry note that leaves you thinking “wait, what? That’s how they decided to end it? A massive crescendo, and then…a dismissive little semi-spoken line?” It’s the A Nightmare on Elm Street of songs: brilliant up until the very last second, where it fumbles in a truly jaw-dropping style.

2.     Yes, I did just seriously compare a Disney song to a horror movie! That makes me awesome!

3.     I mentioned Harding last time, so I’m going to share another anecdote about him: Harding’s presidency, as you probably know, was rife with scandals (a large reason for his low standing among Presidents). Harding himself, however, like his predecessor Grant, wasn’t involved in any and was pretty much a wholly honest man (some politicians still were in those days). When the scandals started coming to light and he came face-to-face with one of the men responsible, Harding went ballistic: he seized the man by the collar and screamed at him, calling him a dirty rat and (presumably) other choice epithets while he “shook him like a terrier.”
We sure could use a man like Warren G. Harding again (and that is the first time that sentence has ever been uttered by human lips). 

4.     Warm weather is finally here! And by warm I mean “above freezing and sunny.” Sometimes. Feels close enough that I’m running again. I don’t get very far, since I’m still stiff and out-of-practice from winter, but at least I can say I’m doing it, and that’s really the important thing (yes, Let it Go has joined my list of running songs).

5.     Well, The Chronicles of Hendricks is finally posted in its entirety. So far the little reaction I’ve gotten on it is pretty positive, which is certainly encouraging. Only now I don’t have anything ready to replace it! The next book in the series is still at a pretty primitive stage, but with the reactions to Hendricks I’ve decided to put more time and effort into that one, so we may see it sooner than I think! In the meantime, feel free to pop over and read Hendricks if you like (WARNING: This book contains violence, the phrase ‘mucous pool,’ and copious references to justifiably-obscure works of fiction that only I get).

6.     I'm already late, so let’s round it out with a couple pithy quotes I recently added to my quote list:
“But then I am a bit old fashioned in that I still believe in truth, that people ought to be able to distinguish by smell a Big Mac from a filet mignon.”
-        David S. Oderberg, "Perennial Philosophy's Theory of Art"

7.     "Is emptying bed pans in a hospital menial work? What would happen if bed pans didn't get emptied? Let people stop emptying bed pans for a month and there would be bigger problems than if sociologists stopped working for a year."
-- Thomas Sowell

 Vivat Christus Rex!