Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If they boycott Vox Day...

Then why not boycott China Miéville...? 

But first, a bit of context:

Among the left wing of the science fiction community, there is much consternation of late over the Hugo nomination of rightwing blogger Vox Day. 

For example, the always fashionably politically correct Kate Nepveu writes:

“ is perfectly moral, or ethical, or taking the high road, or good on whatever axis you want to consider, to refuse to honor the work of …Vox Day. Period…Me, if I know that someone holds views I find morally repugnant, or if I personally dislike them, etc., then I can't keep myself from looking for evidence of those disliked traits in the work, which is unfair to the work, and so I don't even bother…So, no, I feel under no obligation to read Vox Day's work, under the guise of fairness or anything else, and neither should you.”
An "obligation to read"? Well, let's be careful about how we define "obligation". The average reader has no specific moral duty to deliberately read a work of fiction out of "a guise of fairness", if the work has no intrinsic artistic appealI don't read the books of Michael Moore because they're dumb, not because of Michael Moore's political persuasion.

On the other hand, though, it is reactionary to deliberately avoid a book one might otherwise read based on the fact that the author disagrees with one's cherished views on same-sex marriage, U.S. foreign policy, the proper role of government, or what have you. Therefore, I do read China Miéville (more on him in a moment), even though his political pronouncements suggest him to be either daft or a sociopath. 

But some people are now calling for what amounts to selective ideological litmus testsThe aforementioned crowd (of which Kate Nepveu has long been a representative) is not only reactionary, but selective in its outrage: These folks have no trouble with horrendous beliefs that fall left of center (see below). However, viewpoints that run counter to a specific narrative on race, gender, and same-sex whatever-it-is-this-week are regarded as specially and uniquely inviolable

Which brings us to Vox Day. 

First, an obligatory disclaimer: I don't agree with all of Vox's conclusions on race, gender, and social issues. And I have no qualms with anyone out there refuting him. (In fact, I have publicly disagreed with Vox myself in the past--to the point where his followers once referred to me as a "progressive"--a term I naturally loathe.)  

Let us remember, though, that these particular viewpoints are only one part of Vox Day's overall body of work and activity. And if Vox is sometimes wrong, he's also sometimes rightVox Day is an often astute observer of economics and international relations. He is mostly correct about the effects of unfettered globalization. He deftly lays bare the sophistries of the self-important New Atheist community. Vox's blog posts on writing and publishing are not only insightful, but frequently devoid of any political rhetoric whatsoever.  

And despite many attempts to marginalize him, his novels and short stories have acquired a respectable following--which is why Vox is now a Hugo nominee.

At the same time, some of Vox Day's conclusions regarding race and gender roles will give even conservatives like myself pause. My vision of conservatism is inclusive--not something that can only be achieved under a Gerousia of hand-picked white males. 

My chief disagreement with the "boycott Vox" movement, though, is the premise that an author's views on these topics--and these topics alone--should constitute a litmus test. For as I shall explain below, this would constitute a highly selective litmus test.

(On at least one now overblown and notorious occasion, moreover, I suspect that Vox simply allowed his temper to override his better judgment. Vox--you should not have called NK Jemisin a "half-savage". You should have called her a racial opportunist. (A professional grievance monger, Jemisin even played the race card when she spoke in Australia, for goodness sake.))   

Ideally, a literary community should include a broad spectrum of ideological leanings. It should resemble a bell curve, with the vast majority of participants somewhere near the middle, and a motley assortment of socialists, anarchists, and right-wingers on the fringes. 

Ideological diversity apparently doesn't work in the atmosphere of political correctness and knee-jerk conformity enforced by the current and recent leadership of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Back in high school, these were the kids who decided to be "different" by slavishly mimicking each other. (Read the blog posts of Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, John Scalzi, Jim Hines, etc., and you'll find very little diversity of opinion. This is the "hive mindset" at its worst.)

If the objective is to ensure ideological innocuousness among writers and bloggers, then so be it. But the nattering busybodies of acceptable speech must apply this standard evenly.

Which brings us to China Miéville. China Miéville is an open advocate of Marxism. (This isn't an exaggeration or an epithet. Miéville regularly delivers Marxist propaganda in his writings and speeches.)

This offends me--to the same extent that Vox Day's views on homosexuality offend othersMarxism was responsible for more death and human misery in the 20th century than all the racism, sexism, and homophobia combined and multiplied by a factor of a thousand. Compared to the Communist Party of anyplace where communists successfully seized power, the Ku Klux Klan were rank amateurs. The KKK killed people one or two at a time; communists killed people by the millions.

In living memory, the ideology that China Miéville so smugly advocates is responsible for about 94 million deaths, including: 

  • 65 million in the People's Republic of China
  • 20 million in the Soviet Union
  • 2 million in Cambodia
  • 2 million in North Korea
  • 1.7 million in Africa
  • 1.5 million in Afghanistan
  • 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
  • 1 million in Vietnam
  • 150,000 in Latin America

(And the death toll of Marxism continues to increase in at least a few of the above places.) 

Casual advocates of Marxism might have had their excuses in 1914. But given the preponderance of evidence since then, anyone who is a Marxist in 2014 is either idiotic, evil, or deliberately obtuse. (I'll give China Miéville the benefit of the doubt and put him in the latter category.)

So yes, by all means let's boycott Vox Day. But let's also boycott the science fiction/fantasy author who is a mouthpiece for an evil philosophy with the murders of 94 million on its books. (Yes, I'm talking about the bald guy with the faux-hip earring that looks like it was cadged from my grandfather's fishing tackle box.)

I'll join the boycott of Vox Day on the day that his rabid opponents also boycott the skinhead Marxist. 

That much seems only fair.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ayaan Hirsi Ali responds to Brandeis

Attacked by the goons at CAIR and sold down the river by the PC cowards at Brandeis University, Ayaan Hirsi Ali--a true feminist hero--was denied an honor she deserved.

Now Ali has responded to the university that cared more about appeasing Islamists than supporting the rights of women and girls suffering under the tyranny of sharia law:

“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The 'spirit of free expression' referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much…I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater. 
 “I take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me and my work on behalf of oppressed woman and girls everywhere.”

On a related note, read "Where is the Feminist Anger at Brandeis?" by Jeff Jacoby. 

Language learning and political conservatism

The Chinese government has made efforts to promote the study of Mandarin abroad. This article from China Daily discusses the popularity of Mandarin in the U.S. (China Daily is run by the Chinese government.)

Yes, you should learn Mandarin. If your time, resources, and circumstances allow, you should also consider Russian and Arabic. (If you're an American, learn Spanish first, though.)

Yes, I'm a political conservative and I advocate the learning of foreign languages. 

These two positions are not incompatible. You cannot evaluate the ideas of other cultures until you fully understand them; and learning foreign languages is a big part of doing that. 

Free speech on campus

I became a conservative partly because I was repelled by the hypocrisy and orthodoxy enforced by leftwing professors during my student days.

That was back in the 1980s--before the Internet, obviously. In those days, college dissidents in the leftwing monoculture had few options. 

Today the situation is different. If you are a college student who is also an independent thinker, you might consider an organization like FIRE,  the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

During my student days, the cult of political correctness and leftwing orthodoxy was still in its formative phase. It is now fully established. 

Speak out. Don't let the thought police silence you. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The sci-fi film "Paul" and the religion of atheism

This evening I watched the sci-fi comedy film Paul. Here is a good review of the movie.

First of all: Paul does have its legitimately humorous moments. This is a funny movie, and it zips along at a fast pace.

However, Paul also reeks of the aggressive New Atheist agenda in its comic-book portrayal of Christians as ignorant, bigoted, and murderous. This movie is not subtle in this regard. It is not "nuanced". Paul is openly ideological, depicting Christians in derogatory ways that would never be tolerated if the artistic targets were gays, Muslims, or illegal immigrants. 

But this is nothing new. Biased and unrealistic portrayals of Christianity have become the lowest common denominator in our popular culture. What is more interesting about Paul, though, is that the movie reveals the ultimate vapidness of atheism as a wannabe religion. 

The eponymous Paul is a foul-mouthed, wisecracking alien, the sort of hero that every self-consciously ironic New Atheist could admire. 

But "Paul" also embodies spiritual characteristics that the atheist crowd claims to disdain. He can bring the dead back to life. He provides various forms of spiritual absolution. He is all-knowing. And at the end of the film (spoiler alert) he offers his human companions a choice that is very much like heaven.

Paul, the atheistic alien, is in effect a Christ figure--in a movie that oozes superficial, faux intellectual anti-Christianity. 

Just like those "Darwin fishes" are modeled on a Christian symbol, the religion of atheism is consistently reliant on religious symbols, metaphors, and aspirations. 

The New Atheists know, on some level, that no one can be inspired by the message that life is ultimately meaningless and devoid of higher purpose. So here they have invented a higher purpose and a quasi-theology--modeled on Christian theology.

If atheists really believed that religion was nonsense, they wouldn't feel so compelled to rant against it in a society that is already legally and culturally secular. If atheism "freed the mind", then atheist filmmakers would not need to mine the New Testament in order to create characters and stories that appeal to the heart. 

Obama in Japan this week

And apropos of that visit, Forbes contributor Stephen Harner considers the revision (or abrogation) of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty (MST):

"There is more doubt now about the [U.S.-Japan] relationship than at any time since the early 1960s when leftist activists and students sought unsuccessfully to block renewal of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty (MST).  
Why this is the case should be no mystery.  Rather, it should be and is perfectly understandable:  Times have changed. Asia has changed. The world has changed. Why, then, should not the U.S.-Japan security relationship change?  
It should. To be blunt:  the MST should be abrogated and U.S. military bases withdrawn. The MST no longer serves U.S. core strategic interests, or, fundamentally, those of Japan.  With the rise of China, and the relative decline of Japan, and with vastly changed circumstances in the Koreas, Russia, and Southeast Asia, a new security order is needed.  
Unfortunately, deeply entrenched bureaucratic interests in Washington and Tokyo–including most of the putatively objective and disinterested “think tanks” like Brookings, CSIS, Carnegie, and, le pire, the American Enterprise Institute–refuse to acknowledge or even seriously debate the current raison d’etre of the 60 year old MST."

Read the entire article here.

BTW: The first U.S. President to visit Japan was Gerald Ford--back in 1974.

Hyphenated professors and "microaggressions" at Duke

Duke University—by no means a rightwing institution—began a concerted effort to increase the racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation diversity quotient of its faculty in 2003.

Ten years later, what amounted to an affirmative action program for academics yielded objectively verifiable results. Between 1993 and 2012, in fact, the number of African-American faculty members had more than tripled. Asian-American faculty comprised 13.9% of the Duke academic staff members in 2013.

The university has also begun the aggressive recruitment of “LGBT groups”.

But in the struggle among hyphenated Americans, no diversity program ever goes quite far enough. Jason Mendez, a visiting professor at Duke, used the occasion of his departure to chide the university for not recruiting enough Hispanic professors, too. He also complained about (undefined) “microaggressions”. (He was upset because he was the only Hispanic professor in his particular academic department.) Mendez told the university newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, that “[his] program's leadership is not committed to recruiting or retaining diverse faculty and has failed to provide minority students, faculty and staff with the support that they need to succeed.”

We have a few problems here. First of all, this demonstrates the mission creep of the PC/affirmative action agenda. What began as a very specific and limited policy to address the unique injustices of the Jim Crow regime in the American South has swelled into a free-for-all power grab among a bewildering array of hyphenated Americans. The demand for equal, colorblind opportunity has become a demand for multipolar, bureaucratically micromanaged egalitarianism. It is not sufficient for a university’s faculty to have “diversity”—it must have bureaucratically prescribed numbers of each hyphenated identity group.

This goes far beyond the reasonable redress of historical wrongs in the post-Jim Crow South. (Unless I missed a chapter of American history, Hispanic Americans were never enslaved; recent generations of Mexican-Americans have come here of their own free will.) Such policies also encourage Americans to perpetuate their self-Balkanization—because one’s status as Hispanic, gay, etc. might give one the edge in a job interview.

Mendez also demonstrates the hypersensitivity of twenty-first century grievance mongering; and the Chronicle’s failure to challenge it demonstrates the near paranoia that surrounds this topic.

A bit of perspective: Jason Mendez is not an 18-year-old freshman who needs to be sheltered. He is an adult member of the university faculty. If his superiors or colleagues have addressed him in racial terms, then let him define them. Let him name names.

On the other hand, a “microaggression” can mean just about anything—from one person’s failure to say good morning on a particular day, to a professional disagreement about teaching methods. Although Mendez more or less claimed that he was a victim of racism, he was extremely vague about the details.

And that is the point: In our current culture, such grievances are routinely given credence in the absence of any proof—or even specific charges. Any accusation of racism, homophobia, or sexism immediately tars those on the receiving end of it. As a result, few individuals or institutions dare to challenge frivolous or spurious claims when they arise. It is much easier to make a contrite promise to be even more sensitive in the future—and to pledge even more funds for diversity training.

Moreover, what exactly does Mendez mean when he charges that minority students, faculty, and staff need special “support”, over and above an environment free of discrimination, which is characterized by objective measures and evaluations? For if we follow Mendez’s logic to its natural conclusion, we might conclude that Duke needs a separate support system for Hispanics, and a separate one for every other racial group, etc.

A half century ago, Martin Luther King called for a colorblind society. Today’s New Left calls for the opposite: a society in which Americans are relentlessly sorted by race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. This is not a recipe for unity or equality. This is a convoluted and hopelessly corrupt system that incentivizes societal Balkanization, and bogs down our institutions in trivial grievance mongering. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rock star professors and college costs

I can't share's enthusiasm for the $225,000 salary CUNY offered Paul Krugman to  teach a light course load at a public institution. 

But Northern Kentucky University offered Jim Votruba an even cushier deal two years ago.

What ever happened to the idea of education as public service? Keep in mind, both of the aforementioned academics were hired to teach very light course loads

While Krugman and Vortuba rake in the cash, middle-class parents and students struggle to pay college tuition that is rising faster than the rate of inflation, and college debt is shaping up to be the next big financial crisis.

Obama and the post-Cold War global order

From the WSJ's "Putin's March Westward":

"Mr. Putin sees Western leaders preoccupied with domestic concerns with no appetite for a great power showdown. He sees European leaders unwilling to pay any economic price to sanction Russia. And he sees that Mr. Obama cares more about securing Russia's help to strike a nuclear detente with Iran than about keeping Ukraine out of Russia's clutches. Until that changes, Mr. Putin will march on."
As the WJS notes, the recent partition of Crimea is part of a larger decline of the post-Cold War geopolitical order under Obama:

“Mr. Obama's second term has been marked by the advance of revisionist powers seeking to rewrite the post-Cold War global order. Iran is attempting to do this on nuclear weapons, retaining a capability just short of exploding a weapon with a goal of dominating the Middle East. China is pressing its territorial claims in the East and South China seas. And now Russia is marching west with a goal of reclaiming the influence and perhaps the territory it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Pope Francis on global economics

Pope Francis used his Easter Day message to call for an "end to economic inequality."

All fine and good, but the devil (no pun intended) is always in the details. 

No Catholic Pope is going to embrace socialism, which makes individuals the property of the state. Some say that Pope Francis is an advocate of some undefined "Third Way".

Which is basically what we have in the US under the Obama Administration, where the government picks corporate winners and losers, and channels resources to wasteful government programs.

Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church; but Pope Francis is also a product of Peronist Argentina, and the larger economic and political dysfunction that has characterized Latin America for decades. Latin American states have typically been either crony capitalist or socialist, with few examples of free-market economies governed by the rule of law.

None of this bodes well for the prospect of meaningful economic advice from the Roman Pontiff in the months and years ahead.

Ben Carson on the culture of PC

Speaking at a town hall meeting, Ben Carson said, “We’re being manipulated. We’re being played by those people who want to divide, conquer, and control.”

Remember: Political correctness is always about the control of others, and this means keeping people in their proper place.

Nothing upsets white progressives like an African-American who refuses to play his/her assigned role in the Great Oppression Narrative.

A few years ago the corporate diversity hustler Luke Visconti compared black Tea Party members to Jewish guards in Nazi concentration camps

No wonder: Visconti has made a fortune from the oppression narrative, and he does not want to see African-Americans rise above their current station. He wants them to remain dependent on the government--and on white progressives with vested interests in the cottage industry of PC. His business model depends on this status quo.

Ben Carson is not the sort of African-American that white progressives want to see, because he doesn't need them

Therefore, look for white progressives to begin a smear campaign in earnest against Ben Carson in the near future--especially if Carson becomes a serious candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016.

Real Cherokees don't like Elizabeth Warren

White progressives--many of whom secretly long for minority status--often make false claims to be part Native American.

There is a long history of white-Native American intermarriage. Therefore, it is much easier to make a plausible (though ultimately false) claim to be part Native American--versus being part Asian, part African-American, etc. 

Real Native Americans often call these pretenders "fake Indians".

One of the best known "fake Indians" is Ward Churchill, the leftwing academic who referred to victims of 9/11 as "Little Eichmanns". 

Another is the current heroine of the Left, Elizabeth Warren. Warren previously made false claims of Cherokee lineage. Then she recanted.

But now real Cherokees are holding Ms. Warren accountable.

FIghting jihad online

During the Cold War we relied on Voice of America. In the war against Islamic extremism, we rely on online social media:

"In recent years, the U.S. State Department has launched social media efforts to engage jihadists and their sympathizers online, contesting their claims with the intention of dissuading potential converts to Islamic extremism. 
"We are actually giving al Qaeda the benefit of the doubt because we are answering their arguments," says Alberto Fernandez, coordinator of the State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), which runs the program. "The way I see it is we are participating in the marketplace of ideas." 
That marketplace is now online, and the corners of it dedicated to Islamic extremist talk can be surreal, noisy, sometimes horrifying places."
According to the article, on online Islamist social media sites, pictures of decapitations are juxtaposed with appeals for wives. 

This is not coincidental. Sexual repression--and the violent rechannelling of male impulses--are core elements of Islamic radicalism. 

I've always believed that much of this stuff would go away if more of these guys had girlfriends.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The GOP the "iPhone" party?

One lesson I've learned as I've gotten older: Don't try to be trendier than you really are. Here, Lamar Alexander suggests that the GOP should be the "iPhone party":

In a call for free markets and open platforms, Alexander argued that government should be more like Apple, Inc. - working to give private citizens the means "to create a happier, safer, more prosperous life."
It's an idea that "Republican enablers" have fought for for years and that "Democrat mandators" have prevented, he said.
"Republicans want to enable and empower you. We want to be the iPhone party."
Now, for the record, I've been a dedicated Apple user since 2010. (Apple products really are better than anything that runs on Windows, etc. but that's another post.) 

I've also voted Republican since 1988, when I helped George Bush (Bush 41) score a landslide victory against Michael Dukakis. 

Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that Lamar Alexander's analogy doesn't fit: Apple is about closed systems, not open ones. (This is one reason why Apple products have fewer virus/malware issues--but again, that's another post.) Lamar Alexander should have described the GOP as the "Linux party". 

Proof that people over a certain age shouldn't attempt to be hipper and trendier than they really are. 

It's enough to say that the GOP wants to free America from the corruption, incompetence, and divisiveness that has been the Obama administration. Software analogies aren't particularly necessary.

The Hugo nomination that's killing John Scalzi

"Opera Vita Aeterna" by Vox Day. Scalzi graciously acknowledges the nomination--sort of:
"I just know you’re all dying to know what I think of Vox Day’s nomination in the Novelette category. I think this: One, I haven’t read the story in question, so I can’t possibly comment on it. Two, the Hugo nomination process is pretty straightforward — people nominate a work in a category. If it gets enough votes, it’s a nominee. If the work’s on the ballot, it’s because enough nominators wanted it there. Three, the Hugo rules don’t say that a racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit can’t be nominated for a Hugo — nor should they, because in that particular category at least, it’s about the work, not the person.  
In sum: Vox Day has every right (so far as I know, and as far as you know, too) to be on the ballot. You may not like it, or may wish to intimate that the work in question doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot, but you should remember what “deserve” means in the context of Hugo (i.e., that the nominators follow the rules while nominating), and just deal with it like the grown up you are."
Or well, actually Scalzi is not so gracious: But at least Scalzi does acknowledge that someone who disagrees with the proprietor of the Whatever has a right to exist and publish. I believe we may consider this to be progress.

I also disagree with Vox at times--almost as often as I disagree with John Scalzi. 

The chief difference between the two men is that Vox Day has the ability to civilly address those who disagree with him, whereas John Scalzi immediately resorts to ad hominem attack and arrogant sarcasm when challenged. 

Congratulations to Vox Day. John, you'll get over it.

PETA, and Michelle Obama's war on poultry

There is simply no making these folks happy: PETA is upset that Michelle Obama is using real eggs in this year's White House Easter egg roll. 

First the War on Women, now the War on Poultry. And people think I overreact when I get upset about honor killings in Islamic countries. I'm glad the folks at PETA are there to refocus us on eggs.

But that's enough for now: This story makes me hungry for an omelette...

Review: "Reconstructing Amelia" by Kimberly McCreight

From the promotional blurb:
"In Reconstructing Amelia, the stunning debut novel from Kimberly McCreight, Kate's in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.  
An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump."

Superficially, at least, Reconstructing Amelia shares much in common with Gillian Flynn's Girl Gone: As the book opens, something bad has happened to a female protagonist who leads a complicated life. Another protagonist attempts to discover what happened. 

The narration involves two points of view: that of the protagonist who knows the whole story, and that of the protagonist who doesn't. Eventually this knowledge gap is narrowed. There is a surprise ending. 

There was a final sentence in the promotional blurb that I omitted above: "Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save."

As the above would suggest, the publisher of Reconstructing Amelia seems to have targeted the book at a female audience; but this is by no means "chick lit". I'm a very politically incorrect, unapologetically heterosexual 45-year-old male, and I found this book to be a compulsive page-turner. While the viewpoint is overwhelmingly female, the action is also unrelenting. Fans of Joseph Finder and Nelson DeMille will enjoy this book.

Narration: About 45% of the story is told from the flashback perspective of Amelia, the 15-year-old suicide victim who is dead in the opening chapter. 

I find that by my age, stories with adolescent protagonists can seldom grip me: Either I'm just not able to take that world seriously anymore--or the writing of such books is obviously slanted toward a young adult audience. 

Not so here. McCreight lends a deadly realism to the the hidden world of digital-age private high school students. Although this story is set in an exclusive Manhattan private school in the present time, the conflicts involving cliques, crushes, and adolescent awkwardness are universal. McCreight uses these childhood slings and arrows to lay the groundwork for the book's darkest moments and more outlandish plot elements.

Plot: As I said, Reconstructing Amelia is a fast-moving novel. There were only one or two plot turns that stretched my credibility. (And these were mostly forgivable  in the big scheme of things.) 

The plot is also more complex than that of Girl Gone (to which so many reviewers have compared it). At least one of the book's final outcomes is predictable by the time the reader has completed 75% of the novel. But several others are almost impossible to guess until the very end.

Characters: The book's two main protagonists (Kate Baron and her daughter Amelia) are multifaceted characters who are simultaneously flawed and sympathetic. The villains (and there are many) are also multidimensional. The bad people in this book aren't mindlessly bad; they are driven by authentic human desires--love, jealousy, and (since so much of Reconstructing Amelia is about adolescents) the desire to fit in.

Female readers often complain that male authors stereotype female characters. Female novelists, likewise, have a tendency to stereotype male characters along certain lines. 

McCreight mostly avoids the worst of these. This book is thankfully free of the hackneyed male-hero-as-tall-dark-and-handsome-soap-opera-hunk.

(Note: My intention here is not to overplay the gender aspects of this book--but rather to encourage potentially skeptical male readers to give it a try.)

Ideas: Readers will be divided regarding whether or not Reconstructing Amelia is a simple thriller, or a book that is intended to Say Something Significant about Teenage Bullying. I think it's mostly just a thriller; but there's nothing wrong with that.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars: Reconstructing Amelia is commercial fiction, but of the more intelligent variety. This book will keep you turning the pages until the end. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Anne Applebaum on Western realism about Russia

Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe: 1945-1956, explores Western misperceptions of Russia as a "flawed Western country". 

"Russian politics has never been all about us. In truth, we’ve had very little influence on Russian internal politics since 1991, even when we’ve understood them. The most important changes — the massive transfer of oil and gas from the state to the oligarchs, the return to power of men formed by the KGB, the elimination of a free press and political opposition — took place against our advice. The most important military decisions — the invasions of Chechnya and Georgia — met with our protests. Though many appear to believe otherwise, the invasion of Crimea was not primarily intended to provoke the West, either. As one astute Russian commentator noted, the most important lines in Putin’s annexation speech this week were largely overlooked: his reference to the fifth columnists and the Western-funded Russian “traitors” who will now have to be silenced. Putin invaded Crimea because Putin needs a war. In a time of slower growth, and with a more restive middle class, he may need some more wars, too. This time, it’s really not about us."
This is the opposite of the Thomas Friedman school of international relations. Contrary to the hopes of many in the 1990s, culture still matters; and Russia's culture is very different from that of the West.

Can charisma be taught?

“Charm hacker” Olivia FoxCabane claims she can make anyone more likable--for a price. But can charisma really be taught?

Superficially, yes. But introversion, in my experience, is an innate set of preferences that never really goes away. 

I'm an introvert by nature. I know how to "turn myself on" when I need be more extroverted for a specific purpose. (I used to work in sales, after all.) But that ability doesn't change my preferences

I still prefer an evening with a book to a party--even though I can attend parties when I have to. 

Latin and logical reasoning

Need a good, Latin-based word for “logical reasoning”? Try this one: ratiocination.

This comes from the Latin verb ratiocinare "to calculate, deliberate".

There is also and English verb form of ratiocination: ratiocinate: “to think or argue logically and methodically; reason”

Usage examples:

“For the inhibition of the process of ratiocination leaves the mind in a state to carry out the one idea which has been placed in it.” –William Breathes “His ratiocination on this subject is, however, purely speculative, and does not touch the ordinary obligations of men considered as social or patriotic duties.” –John Owen Evenings with the Skeptics, Or, Free Discussion on Free Thinkers, Volume 1