Friday, May 29, 2015

Western women flocking to ISIS?



Well not so many: about 550 from the US and Western Europe…But even one is one too many.

Remember that old adage: History repeats itself. There will always be individuals who, due to whatever personal circumstance or psychosis, will be attracted to the radical and the violent. And yes, some of those individuals will be women (though women are usually in the minority of any such crowd).

In the 1960s, it was all the rage for disaffected youth to join the radical violent Left. Where do you think the Weather Underground came from? 

Diana Oughton, a bright, pretty young woman from Illinois, joined the Weather Underground movement, became the lover of William Ayers, and plotted the mass murder of those who disagreed with her views.

The last of these proved to be her undoing: Oughton died in 1970 when the bomb she and her comrades were trying to build exploded prematurely

Had Oughton lived, she might have become a professor at Illinois University at Chicago, as her fellow criminal and former lover Bill Ayers became. She might even have become a close confidant of President Obama. (We can safely bet that Oughton would have voted for him, at any rate.)

That aside, Diana Oughton's fate was tragic. But a greater tragedy might have resulted had she not been killed that day in 1970: Oughton and her fellow Weather Underground members were planning to detonate their bomb at a dance for U.S. service personnel and their dates at Fort Dix. 

Let us hope that any Westerners whose delusions now draw them to ISIS are soon dissuaded from those delusions. 

Let us hope more, though, that they don't manage to take any innocent people with them as they act out their delusions, as Diana Oughton was so eager to do back in 1970.

The mediocritization of science fiction

I disagree with rightwing blogger Vox Day about all sorts of things. But his pithy and trenchant analysis of the decline of science fiction is usually on-target.

Which brings us back to John Scalzi's $3.4 million book deal. 

As I said the other day, this deal represents a financial win for John Scalzi. While the raw number of $3.4 million may be a tad misleading, the fact remains that Scalzi has secured for himself a high six-figure income over the next decade. Not bad.

What Scalzi's brand of science fiction is doing to his chosen genre is another question. As Vox Day noted:

"...the fact that Patrick Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi have combined to prevent more than 500 authors from getting published and receiving paid advances. Opportunity cost is a bitch, especially when you're the one upon whose fingers the window of opportunity has closed.  
As Scalzi himself says, it's going to be a bad decade for them. But at least we'll have a few more snarky, derivative and mediocre novels from Tor to not read. So that's nice."

The primary problem with John Scalzi is not his political views. Scalzi has no desire to start a revolution, nor even to "change" much of anything. Most of his political opinions are, at the end of the day, rehashed leftwing boilerplate about the evils of white maledom, etc., etc. There is nothing new there: One can find similar platitudes in any number of left-leaning blogs, or in the content of any number of university-level humanities and social science courses. 

The problem, rather, is that Tor's left-leaning editorial management, in the form of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, has chosen to elevate ideological orthodoxy over quality in choosing Scalzi as one of the company's leading lights. John Scalzi's self-serving political correctness and constant snark would be far more forgivable if he delivered better goods to science fiction readers. Nielsen Hayden's decision to champion Scalzi, likewise, would make sense if Scalzi really were the next Robert Heinlein.

But what Scalzi has delivered thus far is a series of very tepid and openly imitative novels that primarily function as ancillary products to the author's blog (which is his real claim to fame). 

Am I being harsh? Consider the following snippet of dialogue from Scalzi's 2012 novel Redshirts:

“Man, I owe you a blowjob,” Duvall said.  
“What?” Dahl said.  
“What?” Hester said.  
“Sorry,” Duvall said. “In ground forces, when someone does you a favor you tell them you owe them a sex act. If it’s a little thing, it’s a handjob. Medium, blowjob. Big favor, you owe them a fuck. Force of habit. It’s just an expression.”  
“Got it,” Dahl said.  
“No actual blowjob forthcoming,” Duvall said. “To be clear”  
“It’s the thought that counts,” Dahl said, and turned to Hester. “What about you? You want to owe me a blowjob, too?”  
“I’m thinking about it ,” Hester said.

Redshirts is not even original in its premise; the book is blatantly set in the Star Trek universe. 

So what we have here is Star Trek fan fiction in which the members of the Enterprise trade quips about oral sex. Yes, how refreshingly post-modern it all is. But is this the best that the genre of science fiction can do nowadays? (No wonder science fiction fans are obsessively reading and re-reading Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and Orson Scott Card.)

There is, to be sure, a market for such stuff. The Internet is a big place, after all. But if John Scalzi's novels are to serve as the flagship pieces for the industry's largest science fiction publisher, then the genre is in serious trouble. Having invested so much money in Scalzi, Tor will have no choice but to promote books like the above. Readers, meanwhile, having numerous other entertainment choices--from competing literary genres to movies and video games--are unlikely to hang around. 

So I reiterate what I said the other day: John Scalzi's now much trumpeted $3.4 million book deal is a good one for the author. It will likely prove less beneficial to the long-term health of the genre in which he operates.

White restaurant patrons dine free!

Well, not quite, but we had to get your attention, didn't we?


The Mexican-American owners of a Colorado barbeque plan to give all white patrons a 10% discount on June 11. Their logic is as follows:

"We have a whole month for Black History Month," Antillon said. "We have a whole month for Hispanic Heritage Month so we figured all we could do—the least we can do—is to offer one day to appreciate white Americans."

The sad part about all this is that the above argument does make perfectly good sense, given America’s obsession with identity-group politics.

This particular restaurant will likely get away with it because the owners are Mexican-Americans. But what happens when some white bubba down in rural Georgia wants to copy this promotional technique at that diner of his—that cozy little place with the Confederate flag hanging above the bar?


Simply put: We need to have a ten-year moratorium on all discussions of race, and references to race. Or—even better—how about we simply leave racial politics where they belong: somewhere around the middle of the twentieth century?

The right way to fight radical Islam?


We in the West need to speak out against radical Islam and the limits that many of its adherents would impose on our freedoms of speech.

I’m not sure, however, that this is the right way to go about it. When gay groups hold “kiss-ins” at Catholic churches (as they have occasionally done) it strikes me as tacky and needlessly provocative.

Likewise, drawing Mohammed in public was edgy ten or twelve years ago. Today it has become a tiresome publicity stunt.

The Europeans have opted to roll over for the Islamists, always careful not to offend. American groups like the one above have decided that the best way to oppose radical Muslims is by willfully offending all Muslims in front of their places of worship.

I would much prefer a series of speakers talking about the importance of the First Amendment, and the Western tradition of liberal tolerance toward people of all faiths—including those who have no faith at all.


But that would require a deeper level of thinking and planning. It is far easier to simply get everyone together, have a few beers, and take turns drawing Mohammed.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bernie Sanders: nothing new here



There is nothing new about the proposal of confiscating and redistributing other people's money. 

As Berne Sanders was born rather early in the 20th century, he might try to grasp that century's history better. Socialism was tried on every continent in the past century and failed on every continent. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."

A President Sanders would run out of other people's money, too. No matter what he's promising at the moment.

Test driving the new Kindle font



Since purchasing a new iPhone 6+, I've retired my 2011-model Kindle reading device, and now do all of my Kindle reading on my phone. (It's a lot easier than carrying two devices around.)

Yesterday my iOS reading app updated with the new Bookerly font described in greater detail in the above article.

Overall, I see a significant improvement. I recommend updating your app if you read Kindle books on your smart phone.

As a company, Amazon makes mistakes, to be sure; but the company usually does things right. If only our government were half as efficient and innovative as Amazon.


Scott Walker for president?



Almost any GOP nominee would be better than the current occupant, Hillary Clinton, or (heaven save us) Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

That said, much of the enthusiasm surrounding Scott Walker is focused on the Wisconsin governor's demonstrated willingness to curb budgets and stand up to self-serving public-sector unions.

Those are valuable skills, to be sure. But they are far more central to what a governor does than to what a president does. 

When questioned on foreign policy, Scott Walker's responses have often given this conservative observer pause. Most notably, he has rashly suggested the introduction of US troops into yet another quagmire in the Middle East. 

This isn't conservatism. While an actual President Walker would like be dissuaded by more level-headed advisors, his statements on foreign policy thus far suggest that Scott Walker may have found his niche in state--rather than national--politics.

Diminishing marginal utility

Diminishing marginal utility is an economic concept that will help you manage your consumption, because it will help you to roughly quantify your desires. I briefly explain the concept in the video that follows:


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The party of racial demagoguery



The Clintons certainly hope so. But let us not forget Michael Pfleger's absurd diatribe about "white privilege" when Hillary had the gall to challenge Obama back in 2008.

The Democratic Party's Clinton coalition will fall apart if a serious minority candidate arises before 2016--and there is still plenty of time for that to happen.

The Democratic Party is the party of racial demagoguery. That was abundantly demonstrated in 2008; and it may be demonstrated again in 2016.


Scalzi's $3.4 million deal: a win is a win

This blog has, on occasion, taken John Scalzi to task for his shameless pandering to leftwing identity politics.

That said, John Scalzi's recent $3.4 million, 13-book deal with Tor is another matter. 

John Scalzi is either one of the most loved, or one of the most hated men on the Internet, depending on your point of view. 

His detractors have already begun picking his book deal apart, mostly on the charge that Scalzi is a hack who has wormed his way into Tor's good graces by making the right political statements on his Whatever blog.

This blog does not plan to join that particular fray.

I played organized sports for many years. When the opposing team scored a win, you seldom bolstered your position by declaring that the other side won because of favorable weather, luck...clever self-promotion, or friends in the social justice warrior camp of New York publishing.

Money is one way of keeping score, and John Scalzi just scored a $3.4 million win. Whatever you think of him (and this blog has severe reservations about his character and motives) a win is a win.

Politics in fiction: Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

My video review of Gray Mountain by John Grisham.

Not a bad book, overall. Even when John Grisham mostly fumbles something, he fumbles it well. 

Nevertheless, Gray Mountain stands out as an "issues book" first, and a novel second. 

Watch the video below for more details:


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trigger warnings in academia

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan recently took trigger warnings to task. (Trigger warnings are a recent innovation of PC-obsessed academia):


"...social justice warriors always portray themselves—and seem to experience themselves—as actively suffering victims who need protection. Is that perhaps an invalid self-image? Are you perhaps less needy than demanding? You seem to be demanding a safety no one else in the world gets. If you were so vulnerable, intimidated and weak, you wouldn’t really be able to attack and criticize your professors, administrators and fellow students so ably and successfully, would you?"

For my recent thoughts on the same topic, watch the video below:



Monday, May 25, 2015

Bring back the military draft?





On Memorial Day, a hearty thank you to all who have served or are serving in the U.S. military and allied forces.

And for today, a military question: Representative Charlie Rangel and others have argued that the military draft should be reinstated.

The arguments of Rangel and other are not frivolous: Since the end of the Vietnam era, military service has become the task of an increasingly smaller group of Americans. 

However, a military draft of the 20th century variety likely would not meet the needs of the US military in the 21st century. 

Moreover, mass participation in the military really was a 20th century phenomenon, due to the unique conditions imposed by the Cold War and World Wars I & II. For most of history, military service has been regarded as a highly specialized occupation for a select number of well-trained individuals with unique skill sets. 

Listen to the video below for more details:



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Old Norse and the English language

Modern English is drawn from many sources, including Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Norman French (Old French) and Old Norse. The video below (from my YouTube channel) discusses Old Norse.

What is interesting (to me, at least), is that the Vikings more often than not linguistically assimilated in the new lands that they occupied and conquered to various degrees. This was true in Russia, Ireland, and Carolingian France. 

But in England, the Vikings retained their language for longer than usual (I explain why in the video). 

This ultimately enriched the English language, giving us a wide range of words that derived from Old Norse. 


Thoughts on the Duggar debacle

It has recently been revealed that Josh Duggar, 27, fondled underage girls when he was himself a teenager.

The Internets are predictably gleeful about the probable downfall of the Duggar family. TLC has yet not made plans to drop the program. However, it is doubtful that the show’s high ratings can continue, even if Josh is dropped from the roster (the current plan).

I’m not happy about the news. But nor am I particularly surprised by it. As someone once said, history repeats itself. Josh Duggar’s embarrassing revelations are reminiscent of the sexual imbroglios of two televangelists of the 1980s: Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The charges against Josh Duggar should be viewed in context. Duggar was 14 at the time, and by all indications the inappropriate behavior stopped at touching. But still.

There is a lesson here. Even to conservative eyes such as mine, the regimen imposed by the Duggar parents seems extreme. In an effort to protect their children from our aggressively secular, hyper-sexualized, post-modern society, the Duggars have imposed a set of draconian rules: Their children are not allowed to wear shorts. The two married Duggar girls were effectively forbidden from even kissing their husbands when they were dating. The marriages of Jessa and Jill Duggar weren’t technically arranged marriages, but they might as well have been, given the cloistered lives that both young women led before their nuptials.


The hyper-sexualization of today’s society has had negative consequences, to be sure. But the quest for sexual purity can be equally dangerous. If you doubt this, look at Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Individual planning and the 2-month increment

Businesses often carry out their planning in quarterly units. In our personal lives, we are conditioned to think in terms of the four seasons, which are based on the solar cycle. Each season (fall, winter, spring, and summer) is three months long.

The quarterly unit seems to work for organizations. Organizational plans require the mobilization of a wide range of resources.

But three months is a long stretch for mid-range planning for the individual. When one three-month period passes, the year is 25 percent gone. Two such periods and the year is half gone.

Some people therefore try to base their short-range plans on the calendar month.

The calendar month, though, is too short a period when attempting to implement a plan of any real complexity. Seldom can the results of any new initiative, change, or focus be meaningfully observed within a 28- to 31-day calendar month.

I've found from experience that it makes sense to base your individual short-range plans on increments of two months.

At the personal level, the quarter or season is too long to be truly short-range, and the calendar month is too brief--even for short-range planning purposes.

Two months is just right.


Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms": Discussion and reading

Hemingway's semi-autobiographical novel set in WWI provides a solid introduction to the author's writing style, and his doctrine of "write what you know":


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning Japanese: general advice

From my YouTube channel: Some general advice for those who starting the Japanese language:


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Naughty nurses in the Middle Kingdom

As China modernizes, the ultra-post-modern is often juxtaposed with the feudal and the old-line Maoist.

On one hand, China is entering a demographic crisis brought on by three decades of one-child-per-couple family planning policies, and a cultural discrimination against female infants.

On the other hand, many among China’s Internet-savvy, Western-leaning entrepreneurial class sometimes swing in the opposite direction.

A promotional campaign by JD.com, a large Chinese retailer, provoked public outrage when it created a series of racy ads to commemorate International Nurses Day. The ads featured an assemblage of winsome Western and Chinese female models clad in skimpy “naughty nurse” attire—the sort of outfits that you would tend to associate with Victoria’s Secret rather than your local hospital.

The ad campaign resulted in widespread outrage from the public—as well as a backlash from real members of the nursing profession in China. After a few self-defeating attempts to convince everyone that the promotion had been intended in a spirit of good clean fun, JD.com’s management pulled the ads.

Here we see a case of how Westernization in Asia often proceeds unevenly, and with less than beneficial results.

I can’t claim to have sifted through all 4,000 years of China’s cultural artifacts, but I’m pretty sure that the lingerie ads sprung not from Chinese influences, but from foreign ones. The “naughty nurse” is a Western motif. And it has its place, at least in some imaginations.


But Amazon.com and Walmart would know better than to explicitly associate lingerie-clad nurses with the real ones—who do everything from emptying bedpans to monitoring the condition of intensive care patients. Western companies’ marketing execs would harbor no doubts about the reactions that the lingerie shots would provoke.   

"Giants in the Trees" free May 20th and 21st on Amazon Kindle

From my Hay Moon short story collection. Supernatural mayhem in a backyard in suburban Ohio. Get it free today and tomorrow on Amazon.com.





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on reading Shakespeare

Some simple advice for better understanding and appreciating Shakespeare's plays. Disclaimer: There is nothing ultra-profound here; but you may find it useful if you're struggling.




The politics of horror fiction

Writing in National Review, Tim Cavanaugh suggested that the horror genre is reflexively conservative, even if the explicit political ideologies of some horror authors are not:

“The King of Horror himself, of course, is a political lefty who calls Maine governor Paul LePage a “stonebrain,” but his work is shot through with hard-headed pragmatism and traditional morality that, if viewed from a certain angle (i.e., directly), seem clearly conservative. Few horror creators (Clive Barker being an occasional exception) ask us to root for the devil.”

Stephen King isn’t the only horror author who reflects conservative values—perhaps subconsciously. Brian Keene (author of The Rising and Ghoul) is a self-declared independent. But when he does sound off on political issues in his Twitter feed, he usually criticizes conservatives and Republicans rather than liberals and Democrats.

Yet one of Keene’s recurring protagonists is Levi Stolzfus, an ex-Amish magus who begins each battle against the supernatural with an explicitly Christian prayer. Keene’s two linked zombie apocalypse novels, The Rising and City of the Dead, contain an (Judeo-Christian) theological subplot.

All horror fiction (as opposed to science fiction or fantasy fiction) is based on a fundamentally realist (and therefore conservative) message: that individual human lives are fragile, and that much of the universe is beyond human control.

In some novels, that “much of the universe” is supernatural (The Exorcist). In other works, the “beyond our control” element is naturalistic, more or less. The well trodden subgenre of zombie film and fiction has become reliant on the convention of animating the undead by viruses, radiation, or toxic chemicals.

Other works seem to attempt (with varying degrees of success) to adopt a middle position. H.P. Lovecraft declared himself an atheist; and there is no trace of a recognizably Judeo-Christian cosmology in his stories.

However, it is difficult to imagine Lovecraft’s fictional universe without some version of supernatural (i.e., spiritual) beliefs. Lovecraft saw humanity as pawns at the mercy of impersonal but undeniably supernatural forces. The main difference between Lovecraft’s worldview and a Christian’s worldview was that Lovecraft saw the triumph of evil as a foregone conclusion. H.P.’s spirituality was dark and nihilistic, without any hope for salvation or redemption. There is no concept of “heaven” in Lovecraft’s work, but there is a fair approximation of hell.

Any variety of horror fiction strikes a contrast to the hyper-optimism and hubris that surrounds the contemporary cult of science. Horror authors do not deny the practical, limited benefits of science, it should be said. But scientific advances often bring untended and negative consequences—like nuclear weapons and zombie plagues. Science, moreover, has its limits. Science cannot conquer the inevitability of death, nor answer the question: “What happens when we die?”

And for some problems, conventional science is useless: In The Exorcist, numerous doctors attempt to find out what is wrong with Regan MacNeil. They end up mostly doing more harm than good. What Regan MacNeil finally needs is a priest—i.e., spiritual faith.


Is Latin "useful"?







People who ask, “Where can you speak Latin?” aren’t necessarily asking an irrelevant question, but they are missing the point.

Latin, admittedly, has not been a conversational lingua franca for centuries. (Nor is its revival in this capacity likely in the foreseeable future.)

People don’t learn Latin because it will useful for travel or gathering marketing data on the Internet. People learn Latin because a knowledge of Latin has long been a hallmark of being an educated person. Latin also helps one learn other languages (including English).

There will, of course, continue to be those who insist, “But you’re never going to use Latin!” I would ask these same individuals: When was the last time you made use of your knowledge of quadratic equations?


Does this mean that the study of algebra is worthless? Of course not. Some things we learn because they are immediately applicable. Other things we learn because they enhance us intellectually. In this way, the study of Latin (like the study of algebra) might be compared to weightlifting for the mind.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harvard vs. Asian-Americans?



Further proof that the concept of "white privilege" is an anachronism. (Otherwise, how do Asian-Americans manage to be more successful than whites, on average, in "racist" America?)

I think it's unlikely that there is a specifically anti-Asian bias at Harvard. This is, however, further evidence of the follies of trying to deal with people as representatives of racial groups rather than as unique individuals.

There is a simple way to use the university admissions process to counteract "privilege": Use socioeconomics as a factor in selection, and forget about race entirely.


Fitness for bookworms

As I've mentioned previously, I've spent a lifetime engaged in the War on Weight. I know I am not alone, which is why I made the video below.

And if you happen to be one of those rare people who can scarf down doughnuts and pizza "without gaining a pound": Yes, you may safely assume that I hate you.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

When product names don’t translate


Japan has come up with some truly fantastic English product names. “PlayStation,” for example, is terrific. Then, there are some product names that are bad. Wonderfully so.  
This isn’t really Japan’s fault. The country’s language, like English, borrows a bunch of foreign words and has done so for hundreds of years. In Japanese, these words and phrases become “gairaigo” (外来) or literally, “words that come from abroad.” They’re Japanese, but foreign in origin. To the Japanese ear, these borrowed words and phrases might sound a-okay! English can often take on a different meaning or nuance when it’s absorbed by the Japanese language, just like English gives foreign words new meanings when it takes words from other languages.



My two favorites from the article: Creap and Calpis

Thomas Edison’s creepy talking dolls

Dolls and mannequins have always freaked me out, anyway….


Friday, May 15, 2015

"An army of exorcists"?

Whatever you believe, this is an interesting development.



“The Vatican are training up ordinary doctors, teachers and psychologists to cope with a rising tide of demonic possessions.

More than 40 years after The Exorcist left cinema audiences green, the Vatican has gathered a team of experts including practising exorcists to give ordinary Catholics the tools needed to recognise a case of demonic possession when they see one – and teach them what to do about it.”

An important point made in the article is that skepticism is built into the church’s process. The vast majority of people who believe they are suffering from demonic possession are actually suffering from mental illness, a physical ailment, or severe stress. (An overactive imagination is another possibility, of course.) Even from the Catholic Church’s perspective, demonic possession is a rare phenomenon, and should only be seriously considered after other, more prosaic factors are ruled out.

Nevertheless, there is a predictable number of readers who use the comments section of the article to proclaim their superiority over anyone who believes in "any of that religious stuff".

*     *    * 


Interested in reading a coming of age horror tale set in the early 1980s?